Hope does not disappoint?

Borrowing from the Unitarian reformer (yes, such a thing exists) Theodore Parker, in several of his famous speeches, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this reflection on the hope of the Civil Rights Movement.


Given the time in which he lived, it would have been easy for Dr. King to give up that hope.  It wasn’t just your run of the mill racists who seemed to be working against the bend toward justice, but governments, and even entire denominations were working hard to keep this nation that was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” from ever making that foolish claim in the Declaration of Independence a reality.

Some 50 years later, Parker’s original quote seems more apt than even the Dr. King paraphrase, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”  In a nation where angry rhetoric is spilling over into actual violence, it is hard to see much hope beyond the horizon that the arc toward justice creates.  I can honestly say that in my own thoughts, at times, I wonder if there really is any hope in the sort of peace that comes when every human being is afforded the rights and responsibilities of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  I fear that my children will only know a world of bitterness, anger, vitriol, and violence.

Thanks be to God, that at just the right time, I am reminded to never give up hope.  This week’s short lesson from Romans, though used to great damage by religious leaders who send battered wives back to their husbands or keep whole peoples from rising up against oppression because “we should boast in our suffering,” can and should be redeemed by the telos of our collective suffering.  For all who struggle with hope, for all who wonder if justice will ever roll down, for all who lament the violence and the fear mongering, Paul offers these words:

“suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The reason we continue to hope, despite growing evidence to the contrary, is because God’s love is at work in the world.  This isn’t some ethereal claim of ooey-gooey love without substance, but the reality that God’s love has hands and feet and hearts through the Holy Spirit given to each of us in baptism.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus are, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the agents of hope in the world.  We are they who should be calling for justice.  We are they who should be working for peace.  We are they who should be offering compassion.  We, who can see only as far as the horizon, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must continue to work to bring the end of the arc into focus.

In times like these, hope can be difficult, but with God’s help, we who continue to hope and work for a just society will not be disappointed.

How not to worry


As the rubric at the bottom of page 888 of the Book of Common Prayer reminds us, “Any Reading may be lengthened at discretion.  Suggested lengthening are shown in parentheses.”  This Sunday, our Gospel lesson has one of those “suggested lengthenings”; taking us well into Jesus’ rules for his apostles.  The part where he tells them not to take a bag or a cloak or extra sandals gets plenty of press, but what is often overlooked are his instructions on what should happen should you get arrested.

they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Worry seems to be the number one deterrent to evangelism.  Those of us in 21st century America don’t have to worry about getting flogged or dragged before the authorities.  Our worries tend to be much more superficial.  We worry about offending someone.  We worry about embarrassing ourselves.  We often worry that we won’t have any idea what to say.  We worry when there is absolutely no need to.  Jesus has shown us what we need to eliminate the worry of evangelism.  In Baptism we are given what we need to eliminate the worry of evangelism.  If only we would tap into the Spirit of God that is ready to be at work in our lives, we have no need to worry about evangelism.

It isn’t so much that we can just open our mouths and the Holy Spirit will make us say what needs to be said.  Instead, if we invite the Spirit into our relationships, and begin to see the other through the eyes of God, then all our our interactions will be fodder for evangelism.  It isn’t about having the perfect apologetic, understanding the hypostatic relationship of the Trinity, or knowing precisely how the Cross saves us.  Instead, through the Spirit, it is about how the Kingdom of God is at work in our everyday lives.  It is seeing peace when others see anxiety.  It is choosing love when others would choose hate.  It is showing compassion when it would be easier to ignore the needs of the other.  When the Spirit is at work in our lives, then these things happen naturally, and the deeper conversations of faith just happen because faithful living is happening all the time.

Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit would speak for them in front on the authorities, but I am a firm believer that the Spirit is always at work, sharing the love of God with everyone we meet.  Our job is to allow the Spirit to work, to free ourselves from worry, to live lives of the Kingdom, and to be willing to share the Good News.

Before Pentecost

The story of the Day of Pentecost is a spectacular one.  It is ready made for Hollywood special effects masters to do their work.  If Mel Gibson ever got his hands on it, we’d see the face-melting fire of Indiana Jones mixed with the cow lifting wind of Twister all culminating in Peter offering a wildly out of context antisemitic rant.  I’m on vacation this week, so I hope to have a chance to rescue the actual content of the Pentecost story from the overly dramatic 21st century image I’ve just given you, but in the meantime, as you ponder cows flying on Pentecost, I want to think for a moment about what happened before the coming of the Holy Spirit.


On Thursday of last week, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.  It is the day, 40 days after the Resurrection, when Jesus returns to his Father.  As the story goes in Acts, just before his departure, Jesus reiterates to his disciples that they should wait for the Spirit.  This makes sense, given both their impulsiveness and their lack of faith.  One can easily imagine that within minutes of Jesus’ ascension, 6 of the disciples would head home, ready to return to normal life, while the remaining 5 set out to preach the Gospel without any help from the Spirit.  Instead, Jesus says, “wait.”

How often does the Church take that advice?  How often do we forget that it is actually a pattern in the course of salvation history.  Remember how the Hebrews, having fled Egypt on the Day of the Passover, get to the banks of the Red Sea and God tells them to wait there.  He commands them to set up camp while the Egyptians pursue them.  The Hebrews, like many of us, have no desire to wait.  They want to get out of town as quickly as possible, but God demands that they hold fast.

Waiting is often a test to our faith.  It is in those moments when we are doing nothing that we have to come to grips with whether or not we actually trust God to do what God has promised.  The Hebrew’s panicked, offering one of the best lines in Scripture, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  The Disciples, this time at least, were obedient to the call to wait.  They elected Matthias to round out the 12, they prayed, they went to the Temple, and they waited.  Faithfully, they waited.

It is easy to just keep busy: to go about the business of ministry and never slow down long enough to listen for God, but sometimes, the will of God is for us to stop, set up camp, and abide for a while.  In waiting, we give the Spirit a chance to meet us.  In waiting, we slow down enough to hear the call of God.  In waiting, we are blessed.

A bad weekend for Acts 7

This weekend, at Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, the Bishop will make his annual visitation.  Not to brag too much, but it is exciting to have 1 adult baptism/confirmation, 1 confirmation, 1 reception, and 1 reaffirmation at 8 am and 7 confirmations and 3 receptions at 10 am.  What is really exciting, however, is that I won’t have to preach this week.  Of particular note will be how the Bishop will handle the story of stoning of Stephen with this good group of wide-eyed new Episcopalians.


Some things just don’t translate to a coloring sheet

Being a person of faith in 21st century America is a whole lot easier than President Trump would have us believe.  While an increasing number of people might look at us and wonder why we would believe that Jesus rose from the grave, and more people every day shake their heads at what is presented as the sacrificial love of God, we are free to exercise our faith on a day to day basis.  No one is telling us what we can and can’t believe.  No one is telling us that we can’t raise funds for charitable uses.  No one is telling us that we can’t gather to read scripture, sing praise, and offer prayers.  In fact, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the life of the average Christian American from that of the average None.

How then do we read this story of the Church’s first martyr?  What does it mean for those who are “singing up” on the day in which Stephen’s testimony leads him to be dragged into the street and stoned?  What should the life of the average 21st century American look like?  Is there anything we can really learn from the story of Stephen?

The answer is most certainly a yes, but maybe not from the 6 verses appointed for Easter 5, Year A.  If we look at the entirety of the story of Stephen, beginning with the despite between the Hellenists and the Hebrews at the beginning of chapter 6 and running through the end of chapter 7, there is plenty to learn from the story of Stephen.  It is a story about how the Church cares for those on the margins – especially those who are likely to fall through the cracks within the Church.  It is a story about discernment and how the Church calls people to ministry.  It is a story in which the apostles aren’t afraid to name gifts and talents that are required for the fulfillment of an office, which is a lesson the modern Episcopal Church could probably stand to have reiterated.

Most importantly for a service of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation: The story of Stephen is a story about how expansive ministry can become when we invite the Holy Spirit to be the source of our work.  The Bishop will lay hands on and pray over each of our candidates, inviting the Holy Spirit who has already begun a good work in them to renew their ministry, to grow their faith, and to propel them out in service.  It is a story that we all could stand hear with some regularity, reminding us that each member of Christ’s Body has a ministry, and that the Spirit equips all of us for service.

Stir it Up

“Renew in these your servants the covenant you have made with them at their Baptism…”

“Defend, O Lord, your servant with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your  Holy Spirit more and more…”

“May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you…”
(BCP, 309-310)


I remind you to stir up the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. – 2 Tim. 1:6

It has been said that in the 1979 Prayer Book, Confirmation is a liturgy in search of a theology.  While that is mostly a true statement, given the major changes that the Baptismal service underwent, the reality is that something is happening when the Bishop lays her hands upon a lay person who has come to make an adult profession of faith.

The generic collect at the time of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation as well as the specific prayers for Confirmation and Reaffirmation each, in their own way, mirror the prayer of Paul for his disciple turned Christian leader,  Timothy.  With full recognition of the work already begun by the Holy Spirit, Paul prays that Timothy himself might “stir up” or “rekindle” the gift of God, that is, the Holy Spirit, that was given to him by the laying on of hands.

It happens first in Baptism, it happens again at Confirmation, it is possible again and again during Reaffirmation, and it is the goal of every Ordination service: that the Holy Spirit might come with power and might to empower every disciple for ministry.  What is interesting about these words from Paul, however, is that he isn’t praying for the Holy Spirit to rekindle itself in Timothy.  Instead, Paul encourages him to stir it up with himself.

The work of following Jesus is not passive.  A disciple does not just sit around, hoping that the Spirit will do its work within one’s own soul.  Instead, having received the gift of grace and empowered by the Spirit through the laying on of hands, every disciple, from the very young to the very old, from the average layman to the Presiding Bishop, must take it upon him or herself to do the work of spiritual growth through the reading of the Scriptures, daily prayer, evangelism, and acts of service.

Too much to bear – a sermon

My Trinity Sunday sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.

“Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…” If you listened carefully on Monday morning, you might have been able to hear preachers across the globe letting out a huge sigh of relief as they read the opening line to today’s Gospel lesson and realized that Jesus himself was giving them a pass on preaching the doctrine of the Trinity. You see, today is the most dreaded preaching day of the year.  The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday is one of those days when we preachers put way too much pressure on ourselves to explain the unexplainable.  Over the course of some two thousand years, the Church has yet to find a suitable way to explain the Trinity that is a) easy to understand and b) not filled with heresy, and yet, every year, thousands of preachers try to take it upon themselves to come up with a twelve minute sermon that accomplishes the task.  I’ll admit it, I struggled with it too this week.  I really wish there was a simple, biblical way to fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity, but the reality is God is bigger than our wisdom can fathom and there is more to say about God than any of us can bear.  As I read through the lessons and realized that even Jesus held back at times, I breathed a little easier, knowing that maybe having a full understanding of the Trinity isn’t what’s important. Without the self-inflicted pressure to adequately describe and suitably amaze you with my knowledge of the difference between homoousious and homoiousious, I, and preachers all around the globe, have been set free to instead tell you about the equally mind boggling love of God as revealed in three persons of one substance: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the fifth consecutive week, our Gospel lesson takes place during Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.  Jesus has laid some pretty difficult teaching on their shoulders.  He’s predicted that one of the twelve will betray him.  He’s told Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the night is over.  He’s promised that the world will hate them just as the world has hated Jesus.  On top of all that, he says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”  What an unfair thing to say to someone.  What more can their possibly be, Jesus?  We can’t bear what you’ve already told us, why hold back now?  Just tell us plainly.

From past experience with these eleven guys, Jesus knows that the events of the next 24 hours will be more than his disciples can bear.  Each time he’s predicted his death and resurrection to them, they’ve freaked out.  The first time, Peter flat out told him he was wrong.  The second time, the whole group broke out into an argument about which one of them was the greatest.  The last time, James and John took it as a chance to angle for better positions in his will.  Jesus knows that the disciples are going to fail him spectacularly over the coming days, and yet he loves them so deeply that he chooses to hold back, to let them deal with the impending grief, and to allow the Spirit of truth come in behind and rebuild them as apostles of the risen Jesus.  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”  Jesus had already promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Just a few moments earlier, he told them that when he leaves, the Father will send another Helper, a Comforter and Advocate, to come alongside them.  There too, he calls this Helper “the Spirit of truth.”  This Spirit will come, Jesus says, to lead the disciples into all the  truth that right now is too much for them to bear.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrived in power and might like wind and flame and a cacophony of sound, and while that Pentecostal experience gets most of the publicity, it certainly wasn’t the first time the Spirit was at work in the world.  If Jesus’ promise to his disciples is true, then the Spirit of truth was with them at the moment of his death.  The Spirit of truth was there to comfort the disciples in their grief, even if they couldn’t realize it.  The Spirit of truth was there to help the disciples come to grips with the amazing story that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, even if the news was too much for them to handle.  The Spirit of truth was there as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and wondered what on earth was going to happen next.  And the Spirit of truth continued to be present to them every moment of every day as they went about their work of sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with a world that was hungry and angry and confused all at once.

The Spirit of truth is still present in the lives of the disciples of Jesus today, revealing the truth of God’s unfailing love slowly, over the course of a lifetime, at a pace that is manageable for us to handle because if we’re really honest with ourselves, many of us have a list of questions that we want to ask God when we get to heaven.  I know I do.  I want to know if all dogs go to heaven.  I want to know why the doctrine of the Trinity is so dog gone hard to understand.  [I want to know why that high g just before the third stanza of Canticle 13 gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.]  I want to know why bad things happen to good people.  I especially want to know why good things happen to bad people.  There are a lot of things that I want to know about the overwhelming fullness of God’s love for me and for people I wish God didn’t love so much, but I can’t bear it yet, which is why I’m thankful that God loves me enough to send the Spirit of truth to guide me into all truth… slowly… not all at once… but in due time.

In two weeks, I’ll head off to Sewanee, Tennessee for my fifth and final year of doctoral studies at the School of Theology.  It’ll be my eighth year of seminary studies.  In the course of those eight years, I’ve learned just enough about the love of God to know that there is still a whole lot more to know.  I could spend the rest of my life digging through books, reading what the greatest minds to ever think have to say about God.  I could sit in dozens of seminar classes, arguing deep theological truths until I was blue in the face.  I could write thousands of pages on the love of God, but nothing will be a better teacher than the Spirit of truth who Jesus promised and the Father sent.  Knowing everything there is to know about God pales in comparison to knowing God as revealed in the creating, loving, and sustaining Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, thankfully, we can do so without getting all caught up in how  the whole three in one and one in three thing works. Instead, let’s invite the Spirit of truth to lead us into the fullness of the truth of God’s love for us and for all that the Father has created and the Son came to redeem.  Let’s let the Spirit reveal that love to us in God’s time.  Let’s be patient, and trust that knowing God is far superior to knowing about God.  There really is way more to say this Trinity Sunday, way more than any of us can bear, but sometimes, a simple word of love is more than enough.  May God bless you with a profound experience of the truth of his deep and abiding love today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.  Amen.

Trinity Sunday as Pentecost 2.0

As I prepare to enter my 8th and final year of seminary study, I can safely say that I’ve been thoroughly ruined as a human being.  I will probably never be able to listen to a sermon without wondering what I would have preached instead.  Even with seven years of dad jokes in my bag-o-tricks, I’ll never be able to fully break free from the niche market of church jokes.  Worst of all, I’ll never attend a worship service without an ongoing and sometimes brutal Mystery-Science-Theater-3000-esque stream of criticism running through my mind.  After all, we all know there is only one difference between a terrorist and a liturgist.  You can negotiate with a terrorist.

In preparing to preach one of the most difficult Sundays of the church year, my liturgical training is trying to overpower my theological training which is trying to stamp out my homeltical training that is based on the very solid Biblical training I received at VTS, and that might be a good thing.  Reading the lessons appointed for Trinity Sunday, Year C, I’m noticing a strong Holy Spirit theme.  The Father gets a nod, the Son does some speaking and some saving, but the texts really seem focused less on the doctrine of the Trinity and more on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  With my liturgy senses tingling, I noticed that the title for this Sunday isn’t just “Trinity Sunday,” but rather “The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday.”  If you buy into the primacy of place rule of Prayer Book studies, then the more important title for this day is “The First Sunday after Pentecost,” or as I call it “Pentecost 2.0.”

The truth of the matter is that most of western Christianity is pretty strongly Binitarian.


We have a pretty decent understanding of God the Father who created heaven and earth.  We’ve got the Gospels to tell us about Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.  The key to becoming fully Trinitarian Christians is a deeper understanding and experience of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, but even our foundational creed, the Apostles’ Creed, does nothing more than mention the Spirit as something we believe in on par with the holy catholic Church, the communion of saint, and the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe the key to a strong Trinity Sunday sermon would be to unpack what Paul and Jesus have to say about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the world.  The sermon need not dig to the level of the perichoretic dance to be a fruitful teaching on the Trinity.  Instead, it seems like in a world that lacks Biblical and theological literacy, a fuller understanding of all three Persons would suffice.

The end is near!


The Pentecost story is a long one.  Peter’s speech wanders dangerously close to Antisemitism and is vaguely Supercessionist.  Rather than having to deal with the fullness of the story, we instead only get half of it in the RCL.  This is much better than the quarter of it that we got in the old BCP lectionary, but it still leaves us wanting: not just because we don’t get to hear the climax of the story – “they were cut to the quick” – but also because the focus of the early part of Peter’s sermon is so strongly eschatological is to be difficult to deal with 2,000 years later.

The end is near!

Peter fully expects that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the end of days.  His sermon begins by paraphrasing the prophet Joel’s prophecy of the coming of a new age when the Spirit of God will be poured out on all people: young and old, slave and free, men and women.  What Peter and the rest of the 120 were experiencing was, at least to Peter’s mind, the fulfillment of that prophecy: a harbinger of the end.  Jesus was coming back to finish what he had started in his life, death, and resurrection.  Peter’s word is Joel’s word:

The end is near!
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Two thousand years later, Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father.  The Spirit continues to be at work in men and women, young and old, slave and free, but the apocalyptic fervor has waned.  The realized eschatology of Peter has faded into 25 lifetimes of the Spirit helping disciples figure out life in the meantime when prophesy is hard to discern, visions are hard to come by, and dreams are often fuzzy at best.  The gift of the Spirit on Pentecost ultimately wasn’t that Jesus was going to return immediately, but that God wouldn’t leave us comfortless while we waited.  We aren’t left here rudderless, but in the Holy Spirit, we have a guide for the long, often difficult, journey of discipleship.  This gift is promised, as Peter goes on to say, to “everyone whom the Lord God calls” (2:39).

Where are you focused?


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, a Principal Feast of the Church, one that is never transferred to a Sunday, which always takes place 40 days after Easter.  The Lectionary appoints both versions of the ascension that were written by Luke to end his Gospel account and to open the story of the Church’s beginning in Acts.  While the account in Luke’s Gospel is powerful commissioning story, because of some timing issues related to the way in which Luke tells the story, I’ve always been partial to the way the Ascension gets told in Acts.

After promising his disciples, yet again, that the Spirit would come to lead them in his absence, Jesus is lifted up to heaven by a cloud while the disciples looked on.  Luke doesn’t tell us how long the disciples remained there, staring slack-jawed up toward the sky, but at some point we are told that two men (angels) in white robes appeared and said, “Men of Galilee, why do stand here looking up to heaven?”

This is a polite way of saying, “Why is your focus fixed up there, when Jesus was clear that there was still plenty of work to do down here?”  The Feast of the Ascension is an annual reminder of God’s incarnational love for the world he created.  As Christians, our call is not to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good, but rather to roll up our sleeves and get to work wherever the Spirit might lead us.  We are called to focus our attention not on the age to come, but on the prayer Jesus taught us, that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus has left the earth, and he has left us in charge of building the kingdom in his absence.  So, dear reader, where is your focus?  Where is God calling you to get to work?  Where can you build the kingdom?

A Liminal Place

Liminal is one of those great seminary buzzwords that a good priest will never utter in their congregation.  I like to think of myself as a decent priest, so I try not to say the word liminal out loud, but I feel like I can type it here on my blog.  Liminal is a fancy Latin transliteration that means “at the threshold.”  Basically, it means transitional, which, as we all know, means lots and lots of stress.  Heck, even changing rooms is enough to make our brains reset.


This Sunday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, is a liminal place, even though most people won’t recognize it as such.  Thursday marks the Feast of the Ascension: the day, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection (according to Acts), when Jesus left his disciples staring slackjawed, as he rose to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  May 15th, then, will mark the Feast of Pentecost, 10 days after the ascension, and 50 days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the upper room in power and might.  The 7th Sunday of Easter, then, sits smack in the middle – a liminal place in which Jesus is no longer on earth, but the Spirit has not arrived to kick start the spread of the Gospel.

There isn’t much in the lessons appointed for Easter 7c to clue you into this fact, but the Collect lifts of the theme quite nicely:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Holy Spirit, promised to his disciples by Jesus, is called the Advocate, Counselor, Helper or in the King James Version, the Comforter (John 14.16).  For ten days, the disciples prayed, listening for God to give them direction.  For ten days, their anxiety no doubt grew and grew as they heard nothing in response.  For ten days, their comfort level decreased as they wondered once again if Jesus’ promise really would come true.

I suspect most of us can understand how the disciples felt in those 10 days.  Maybe Easter 7 is a good time to ponder those liminal places when it feels like God is far away; when the comforting Spirit of God seems absent; when stress and worry compound until it feels like our prayers are doing nothing more than hitting the ceiling and bouncing back to earth.  Maybe Easter 7 is a chance to take a deep breath and remember that the prayers we pray matter, that we really do believe that God will not leave us comfortless, and that even in the dark times, the Advocate, Spirit, Comforter is here to strengthen us for the road ahead.