Undivided Attention

Jesus might be the King of kings, but he is also the King of non sequiturs.  All throughout his ministry, Jesus seemingly responds to a direct question by taking someone down a deep, tangential, rabbit hole.  When Philip tells Jesus that some Greeks want to see him, he responds by talking about his death.  When John’s disciples come to ask if Jesus really is the Messiah, he begins to talk about reeds blowing in the wind.  It’s a thing.  In reading the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday, I realized that I’ve been under the assumption that what Jesus says to Martha is either a non sequitur or comes out of the blue.


I’m not sure how my brain did this, but I guess I’ve never really noticed that what happens immediately before, “Martha, Martha…” is Martha complaining about both her sister and Jesus.  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work be myself?  Tell her then to help me.”  On Monday, I noted that the word Luke uses to describe what is going on in Martha’s mind is only used once in the whole New Testament.  She’s more than distracted, she’s literally being dragged about by her many tasks.  Her brain is so scattered that she gets angry and lashes out against her sister and her Lord.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can relate.  I’ve been so frazzled as to forget myself and lose appreciation for those around me.  I’m sure that upon reflection, Martha felt bad for what she’d said.  With this new lens at my disposal, I’m beginning to realize that rather than seeing Jesus as, out of thin air, admonishing her for being so busy, upon re-reading the text today, I think what Jesus gets so upset about in this vignette is that her distractions and worries have led to a break in relationship.  It isn’t Jesus saying, “Don’t offer hospitality” or even “Focus only on me and my teaching,” but rather, “Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Martha was offering hospitality to Jesus and his companions so that the Gospel might be proclaimed from her home.  Unfortunately, she got so busy, all she saw in the end was her lazy sister sitting on her butt, not helping.  Mary’s better choice wasn’t listening to Jesus at the expense of her chores, but to choose to stay focused on the relationship that was in front her; to stay engaged despite the many distractions that the world had to offer.  The one thing that Mary chose was love, and she lived that love out at the feet of Jesus.  Martha may have started her chores out of love, but chose resentment and frustration somewhere down the line.  It’s a story I know too well in myself.  I’m guessing you might too.

Active Love


When my kids were little and we lived in Alabama, our Target store has those red balls out front.  Presumably, the are meant to keep a car from running into the glass front of the store, but in our world, they presented an opportunity.  Maybe today, we could make one of those big red balls move.  We would push and push and push, but never did we move them, even a millimeter.  In physics, the definition of work is force exerted over a distance.  No matter how much energy we might have put into pushing against those bright red spheres, there is no work done because nothing ever moved.

This is the image that came to mind as I read Jesus’ words to Judas (not Iscariot) this morning.  “Those who love me will keep my word,” Jesus says.  Love is verb.  Love, like work, requires action.  It requires movement.  No matter how many times we may say, “I love you,” it doesn’t really mean anything unless we actually show love in how we live our lives on a daily basis.

This week, I’m at the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, GA.  I’m here with 20 or so other clergy, one from every diocese in Province IV of The Episcopal Church, on a Justice Pilgrimage, seeking together ways to confront the sin of racism in our lives, our church, and our nation. Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word.”  It isn’t enough to say, “I love my neighbor,” but rather, we must find ways to actively show that love.  We must exert the force of that love in a direction.  We must see movement toward healing the deep wounds that slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison industrial complex continue to create.  There is plenty of force working toward division.  Our task, as monumental as it may seem, is to turn that tide and to begin to see progress in the right direction.

It is 6:45 on Tuesday morning.  This pilgrimage runs until 3pm on Friday.  My brain is already exhausted, but as a follower of Jesus, who, when push came to shove summed up the requirements of discipleship as “love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t have the option of giving up.  None of us who truly wish to follow Jesus and who pray “thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” have that option of just going through the motions, pretending to push that stone up hill.  Like my children out front of Target, we must continue to push, with every ounce of being, against what might feel like an immovable object, knowing that with God’s help, nothing is impossible.

The sin of racism won’t be healed quickly.  As we learned yesterday, it’ll be 2111 before Americans of African decent will have been free in this country as long as they were enslaved, but our call is not to finish the work necessarily.  Our call is simply to come alongside God and to use the power of love to move the needle, if only an imperceptibly small amount, toward reconciliation.

Discipleship 101

On May 1, 2019, this blog became a teenager.  If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, there are more than 2,400 posts for you to go back and read.  You’ll note as you do so that I’ve changed a lot in the last 13 years.  My theology has evolved, ever being re-drafted through study, prayer, and interaction with other disciples.  Several posts from back in the mid-aughts were spent complaining about seminary classmates who in our homiletics classes preached all about love, but didn’t seem to having a working definition of what love really looks like.

Now, to be fair, it was a time of great strife within my denomination.  Sides were taken, lines drawn, and many on the left and the right spent their time deciding who was in and who was out.  At our worst, we became a church of two factions that were caricatures of themselves. One could easily define love as “I’m ok, you’re ok,” the other who would define love as “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Neither side actually believed those things entirely, but in the religio-political climate of the mid-2000s, no one was really interested in nuance.

Fast forward more than a decade, and we have a Presiding Bishop who became famous a year ago for preaching about love at a Royal Wedding.  Now, I can be critical of how The Episcopal Church and her congregations have tried to capitalize on that fame, but what I’ve most appreciated is seeing how the working definition of love that we are using has grown in depth since those challenging days of yore.  Rather than a concept of divine love which would source love within ourselves, we are now more able and open to seeing that the kind of love that changes the world comes only through the saving power of Jesus Christ.  That kind of love is our Discipleship 101.


At dinner with his disciples, Jesus invited them, and by extension all of us, to take that love of neighbor out in word and deed. This love isn’t getting everyone around a campfire to agree on some kind of lowest common denominator feelings while singing Kumbaya, but the self-giving love that Jesus modeled in his life, death, and resurrection.  It is a kind of love that is only possible through the grace of God.  In and of ourselves, love can never be fully unselfish, but with God’s help, the kind of love that Jesus commands of us, the kind of love that will show our status as disciples, is a love that is always seeking the good of the other, caring for the poor, the outcast, and the afraid, sharing the love that we’ve come to know in Christ Jesus in word and action.  Episcopalians haven’t always been good at the word bit, and maybe that’s where some of my frustration was found those many years ago, but I know for sure that we’re getting a whole lot better at it.  So much so, that I might even be willing to say by now that we are known as disciples of Jesus because of the love that we share in our communities.

A Pattern of Love – Maundy Thursday

One of the great gifts we have here at Christ Church is the front desk ministry.  In two-hour shifts, sixteen faithful volunteers and a handful of fill-ins, make sure that guests are welcomed, the phone is answered, and sundry administrative details are handled.  Having those things dealt with is nice, but the best part of it is the relationships.  I’ve learned so much about our front desk volunteers over the past few years.  I’ve heard stories of children and grandchildren.  I’ve listened to great tales of business trips and family vacations.  We’ve shared prayer concerns and laughs, all around the front desk in moments of brief exchange.  I’ve also learned of some of the neat hobbies that people have.  Richard Greer is a car guy.  Maryanne Ringo makes dog clothing.  Paula Maier is gifted in needlepoint.

I don’t have the skill nor the patience for needlepoint, but in watching Paula work meticulously on gifts months and months in advance, I’ve come to understand how important it is to work from a good pattern.  The pattern is always there, reminding you of the right path to follow in order to produce the finished product you desire.  It shows you where the outline turns.  It helps you to determine what to fill in with red and what is actually a lighter shade of pink.  The pattern is dependable.  Never failing.

On Maundy Thursday, the church gathers to mark an ending and a beginning.  The meal that Jesus and his disciples shared this night is commonly called the Last Supper.  It was the final opportunity for Jesus to share what was of utmost importance with his closest friends.  They engaged in the traditional Jewish practices of breaking bread and sharing from a common cup.  Jesus reminded them of what they would need to remember after the chaos of the 24 hours that were to come.  He gave them a new mandate for life in the Kingdom of Heaven – that they love one another.

Maundy Thursday is about the story of the Last Supper, but the Last Supper included more than just the bread and the cup.  Our liturgy isn’t simply another recitation of the Eucharist.  On this night we take part in one other activity that was modeled by Jesus on that most holy night.  We will wash on another’s feet.  You’ve just heard the story.  We know how in the middle of dinner, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and took on the dress of a table slave.  He bent down and did the most demeaning thing anyone could do, he washed the dirty, dusty, stinky feet of his disciples.

After he finished, he put his robe back on, symbolic of his role as a Rabbi, and began to teach them about what he had just done.  Almost every English translation of the Bible has Jesus telling his disciples, “I have set an example for you, that you should also do as I have done to you,” but that’s not the entirety of what he was saying to them.  No, the Greek word that gets translated as “example” can also mean “pattern.”  Whereas an example is a thing you do once to show somebody how to do a thing, a pattern is about an ongoing standard of behavior.  Jesus didn’t wash his disciples’ feet as a one-off example that they too should wash feet, although once a year we brush off that example.  Rather, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to offer them a pattern of sacrificial love.  He established for them what he hoped would be a life-long commitment to loving service.  In so doing, Jesus assured them that he, and by extension the Holy Spirit, would be an ever-present pattern for them to follow, especially when the going got tough.

Tonight, you, like me, may want to having nothing to do with this whole foot washing exercise.  Or, you might be feeling a bit timid about it.  Perhaps you are giving thanks that the Church chose to repeat the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup rather than the foot washing thing each week.  Maybe this is your favorite service of whole church year.  I don’t know, you might be strange like that.  No matter if you are dying to wash someone’s feet or would rather die than do it, it isn’t the example of foot washing that is important.  Maundy Thursday, which comes from the Latin for Christ’s mandate to love, is about the pattern of love that the example foot washing enacts. It is about the reality that Jesus’ whole life can serve as a pattern for our lives as his disciples.  It is about the promise that the Holy Spirit is here among us to help us follow the pattern, to show us where the outline turns and where the red might need to fade to a lighter shade of pink.  It is about the patterns of behavior that bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Drawn in in love – Tuesday in Holy Week

On my way to Meijer to purchase ice cream salt and rubbing alcohol for the new fire at the Great Vigil, I passed by one of our local Pentecostal churches.  Because it is a) Pentecostal and b) on the main thoroughfare, they have one of those fancy LED marquees that announces things like opening in their pre-school or special services.  As I passed by this morning, the first ad I saw on the screen was for their Good Friday service, which is a thing I’m noticing more and more in non-liturgical traditions, and something maybe for a later post.  The ad featured a black background with a silverish cross in foreground along with the service name and time.  As the image switched to announce the Easter services, the cross changed from silver to white.  The background from black to a bright blue sky hovering above an August National-type green grass hill.

In that moment, I realized something about myself.  I think there is a part of me, way back in the recesses of my soul, that thinks the tradition of veiling crosses in Lent is backwards.  Instead, I wonder if we shouldn’t remove all the crosses from our naves during the Great 50 Days of Easter.  I know that this is a dangerously triumphalist thought, but I think it stems from too many experiences in which the fast of Good Friday and the feast of Easter Day have been conflated into a cross with purple sashing sitting below a white banner the Alleluia in gold lettering.


I can’t even with this

There is no Easter without Good Friday, and Good Friday isn’t good without Easter Day, but they are meant to be honored as separate events, or maybe better said, two distinct features of a greater whole.

One of my favorite prayers in the Daily Office was written by Charles Henry Brent, the late bishop of the Philippines and later, Western New York.  It goes like this,

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: so clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.

The Gospel lesson appointed for Tuesday in Holy Week is a typically Johannine text, in which Jesus is clear that it is through his being lifted up [on a cross] that Jesus will draw all people to himself.  There is, as the old hymn says, power in the blood of Jesus.  There is redemption in Jesus stretching out his own arms in loving act of laying down his life.  This even is worth contemplating deeply during the week leading up to and including Good Friday.  In the act of laying down his life, Jesus draws us all in to himself in love.  And then, it seems to me, something different happens come Sunday morning.  Rather than shifting our focus from a gray cross on a dark background to an empty wooden cross on a happier background, our focus should turn entirely away from the hill called Golgotha to the stone that has been rolled away from the empty tomb.  There is a whole lot more to think and say about this than 600 words will allow, but suffice to say, I think it is important to consider how the events of Good Friday and Easter are different, even as together, they help to bring us all into the knowledge and love of Jesus.

Beloved by God

Having quit Greek after only a semester nearly fifteen years ago now, there is very little that I’ve actually retained.  I still know how to use a Greek lexicon, I’ll never forget the aorist tense being like the refectory’s Fiesta Dog, and because I use it in pre-marital discussions, I’ve got down the four words for “love” in Greek.  I’ve written about it before, so regular readers of this blog may want to skip ahead, but as a review:

  • Eros is the passionate love we associate with an intimate partner
  • Storge is the natural affection felt within families
  • Philia is the catch all type of love between friends and for Alabama football
  • Agape is self-giving love that seeks the needs of the other

The First Sunday after the Epiphany <colon> The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is a day set aside each year to ponder Jesus as God’s beloved.  In the Collect of the Day, new to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the author, the Rev. Dr. Charles M. Guilbert, chose to highlight that in his baptism, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and God proclaimed him beloved.  The lesson from Luke appointed for Year C, despite being mostly about John the Baptist (yet again), also makes note that the voice from heaven declared Jesus to be “the beloved,” o’ agapetos.


Jesus isn’t just loved by God because he is God’s Son (storge).  Jesus isn’t just loved by God because God loves everybody (philia).  Jesus is declared by a voice from heaven to be The Beloved (agape), the one whom God’s self-giving love is directed towards.

Here’s the neat thing, however. That belovedness, that desire on the part of God to pour out agape love on something or someone isn’t the exclusive property of Jesus. As we can infer from the story in Acts, this belovedness, shown forth in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is the status of all who have been baptized into the family of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That Jesus is the only, pre-existent Son of God doesn’t mean that he is the only one whom God loves with agape love, but rather, Jesus serves as the harbinger of that love, the exemplar of that belovedness, in the world.

Imagine how different the world would look if we truly lived into the reality that we are beloved by God? How would it change the way we saw ourselves? How might we see our neighbors differently? How might it impact how we treat the stranger in our midst, our enemies, even the creation which God has entrusted to our care? Being the recipient of God’s agape love has the potential to allow you to love the world with that same sort of love.

Guest Post – The Practice of Love

259a24_cbc7ecea06e44a36b456769c60f922eemv2The Rev. Kellie Mysinger serves as Deacon at Christ Church.  Her sermon today, “The Practice of Love,” was one of the most important sermons that I’ve heard.  Due to some technical issues, the audio in the nave at 10 AM wasn’t great.  With Deacon Kellie’s permission, I’m posting the text of her sermon so that as many people as possible can experience this powerful word.

This week as I prepared for today’s sermon, I thought about the difference between book knowledge and practical knowledge. As someone who has always loved reading, school, and classes of all kinds, I have built up ample book knowledge on a decent number of different topics. Sit me down in front of the television to watch an episode of Jeopardy!, and I can come up with correct responses in a pretty broad range of categories – sometimes even surprising myself when I can pull a word or name or phrase out of my head. What I am much less able to do, however, is to take that hodgepodge of information and actually use it in any practical way. Since I’ve never actually tried out for Jeopardy! and can’t claim any winnings for getting responses right from my couch, all I do with much of the things I know is retain the title that my husband has given me as the “Fount of Useless Information.”

Book knowledge of a subject is knowledge of the principles and ideas of the subject rather than of the way the principles are put into practice. This is knowledge gathered from reading or lectures. When you have this theoretical knowledge of a subject, you can recite the definitions of key terms and concepts and explain how things should relate within a particular system or subject. Practical knowledge, on the other hand, is specific understanding you gain through experience. There are some things that can only be learned through doing. Where theory is often taught in the ideal of a vacuum, the practical is learned through the reality of life. Practical knowledge can often lead to a deeper understanding of a concept through the act of doing or through personal experience, and gaining practical knowledge can be a messy and unpredictable process, as the actual is almost always more complicated than the ideal.

I started thinking about the difference between these two types of knowledge after reading the 12th chapter of Mark, including verses that come before our passage this morning, and listening to a few recent interviews with Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The reading we heard this morning from Mark is a pretty familiar one to most churchgoers, and one that just about everyone would describe as the story of the Widow’s Mite. As I read the passage, I noticed that despite the fact we most commonly associate this story with the widow, most of what Jesus talks about focuses not on the widow, but on the actions of the scribes and the wealthy people who come together in the temple.

Jesus is teaching and sparring with religious leaders about many different topics. Prior to our text this morning, one of the scribes quizzes Jesus about which of the commandments is most important. Jesus replies that the most important command is to love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and the second is to love others as much as you love yourself. The scribe says that Jesus has answered correctly and goes on to affirm that nothing at all is more important than these commandments. It seems both Jesus and the scribe agree on the definition of what is most important for believers to do – love God and love  neighbor.

Jump ahead to what Jesus teaches in our reading today. He warns his listeners to beware of the scribes who conspicuously walk around, looking for respect and perks, praying showy prayers, all the while cheating widows out of their houses. Their actions are all about self – their reputations and comfort and power – and they either ignore or take advantage of those who are weak and vulnerable. The scribes, who are the teachers of the Law, whose member just affirmed in his interaction with Jesus the supreme importance of loving God and neighbor over all else, may be well versed in the theoretical knowledge of love but their actions show they have much to learn about the practice of putting this love to work in their everyday lives.

The wealthy who are coming into the temple, contributing large sums into the treasury, are not lauded by Jesus for their actions either. Although the monetary amounts the people are giving may be large and might be used to assist people living in poverty, Jesus points out that for the givers the amounts don’t reflect any particular generosity or special faithfulness. In our text Jesus references their giving out of their abundance, and in other translations, Jesus describes the donations of the rich as “something they’ll never miss” or something they “didn’t need.” Giving away property that doesn’t really cost the giver anything or being willing to offer something that doesn’t require any meaningful sacrifice or effort is not an action to be praised. These gifts might fulfill social or religious obligations, but for Jesus they are not examples of responding to the command to love.

So what does it look like to love God and love neighbor? This is a question posed in different ways to Bishop Michael Curry in several interviews this week as he talked about a book he has written called “The Power of Love.” In one interview, Bishop Curry was asked to describe the kind of love he has written, spoken, and preached about, which is the love that is taught by Jesus. He described this love not as simply sentimental love, but as an “unselfish, selfless way of living that actually seeks the good and well-being of others, even something above our own self interest.” This kind of loving, selfless living is what has the capacity to change things for the good, said Bishop Curry. In another interview, the interviewer tried pressing Bishop Curry for specific examples of what loving action would look like in this or that particular situation, and Bishop Curry kept pointing back to the need to approach every encounter, every opportunity by seeking to act out of that loving concern for the good of other people – in the selfless, sacrificial way that Jesus embodies.

As I listened to Bishop Curry, I found myself frustrated, as I sometimes do when I hear Jesus’ words, because I want more tangible, specific instructions for how exactly I go about loving God and loving my neighbor. I know the book answer, but I am not always confident I know what shape that should take when I’m trying to live each day in response to this call to love. That is where practical experience comes in. At some point, talking about love and reading about God and neighbor needs to turn into practicing this love. And as with any other kind of practical learning, it’s going to be messier and more unpredictable in reality than it is in theory, and to be the love that Jesus teaches, it’s going to require something of us as we struggle to make the needs and the well-being of others our focus and our concern.

Each of us has opportunities every day to practice the love of Jesus. It might be reaching out to family members or friends in crisis. It could be stepping in or speaking up when you notice someone being treated  unfairly. You might be faced with a choice about whether or not to commit your time to working with a group that serves people in need. There may be issues at your workplace, at school, or in the community where you identify problems or crises causing hardship or pain.

Right now, we as a church are in the midst of practicing how to love our neighbors as we work with people experiencing homelessness who have sought shelter on our grounds. This is a messy process, both literally and figuratively, as we work to build mutual relationships with people who are struggling and vulnerable, and as we try to help them find ways to more stable and secure situations. Navigating the various issues, I have often wanted a handbook with specific instructions as to how, exactly we meet the needs of everyone involved, both the people seeking shelter and members of the congregation, when often times the sets of concerns are not the same. I must also admit, I’ve been tempted to make having neat, clean outdoor spaces, cleared of people and their belongings the only priority, but to accomplish that immediately would require that we run  people off, most of whom currently have no safe place to go. Our problem would be solved, but the serious problems of our neighbors would remain. So, instead, we as a church, through the efforts of staff and congregation members, are working intentionally with people sheltering here to establish effective boundaries and norms of behavior while also trying to find ways we can support them in securing better situations.

This week, when I was wrestling with my own frustration about the energy I and others have been expending on dealing with the litany of problems occurring outside, I had a chance to talk with someone who has been staying on the property. This person shared that this place has been somewhere they feel safe, and they wanted the church to know how much they appreciated being able to stay during a difficult time. The person went on to say with a big smile how pleased they were that last Sunday they were able to give two dollars to add to the church’s offering in thanksgiving for this kindness. It wasn’t much, the person said, but it was important to them to give the gift. After spending much of the week reading about Jesus making sure his disciples notice a poor widow giving her last two copper coins, this got my attention and reaffirmed for me the continued call to share Christ’s love with our neighbor. It is not a quick process as we struggle with making the needs and well-being of others our focus and our concern, but I do believe that practicing this kind of care is what we are called to do as we follow Jesus.

As we each look for the strength, courage, and guidance to navigate  the many challenging situations we face, it is an extra blessing to have a baptism this morning. When Indie Blake is baptized today (at the 10am service), we will rejoice with her and her family as she is reborn into new life in Christ. Baptism gives us all an opportunity to remember our own baptismal covenant, which includes our promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. These are promises we make initially based on our theoretical knowledge of what these words mean, and as we live our lives in Christ we, and the many people we encounter, come to experience the wonderful fullness of these promises in action. As we pray that Indie throughout her life will have an inquiring and discerning heart and the courage to will and to persevere, we join with her in praying for ourselves as well, knowing that at all times and in all places and in all circumstances we do these things with God’s help.

There is a prayer I came across multiple times this week that I’d like to share. I feel this Franciscan Benediction expresses the many challenges we face and the hopes we share as we strive to live our lives in loving faithfulness.     Let us pray.


May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.


[2 Corinthinas] five15

five15 logo 9-1

Way back when, for several years, TKT and I did an evening service called five15.  It started, conveniently enough, at 5:15 pm, and was something of an experiential service.  We followed the form of An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist from our Book of Common Prayer (p 400-407). In the course of “[Sharing] the Gifts of God,” we had various prayer stations around the themes of thanksgiving, confession, adoration, and petition.  It was a lot of fun to imagine different ways of engaging prayer with all five senses.  As we prepared for five15, I looked through every 5:15 in the Bible, to find taglines we might use in advertising, and 2 Corinthians 5:15 was one of our favorites.

And [Christ] died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

We did not discover this verse.  It has long been a part of the Eucharistic canon, thanks to its placement in our Prayer D, which dates as far back as the mid-fourth century.  It has had its place in the Eucharist as a ongoing reminder of why we gather for worship at all.  The goal of the Christian life isn’t to have “your best life now,” or to achieve self-actualization, or to be protected from harm, or even to get to heaven when you die.  The telos of the Christian life is to live for Christ who died and was raised, for us.  As the New Living Translation puts it, “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves.  Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raise for them.”

And how does one live “for Christ” or “to please Christ”?  Well, Jesus has summed that up elsewhere with the advice that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  That seems to be a good place to start.

Crazy Enough to Hope – a sermon

It feels really good to be back in Mark’s Gospel.  After spending Easter season in John, I’m glad to be settling back into Mark.  Reading John reminds me of the rides my parents would make us take on Sunday afternoons.  We would load into the family sedan and drive out into the country, not really going anywhere, in search of I don’t know what.  Depending on which direction we were headed, either my sister or I would spend most of the time complaining about the sun baking us in the back seat, while we argued over what color the sky was.  Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, is more like my trip back from the Gulf Coast of Alabama yesterday.  We pointed the car north and, with only a few traffic slowdowns and the Clanton, Alabama Whataburger trying to feed 5,000, we headed home just as fast as we could.

Mark’s Gospel moves very quickly.  You’ll recall that the author’s favorite word is “immediately.”  We hear it more than forty times, as Jesus immediately moves from this thing to that thing and on to the next thing.  In this morning’s lesson, we find ourselves only in the third chapter, and yet so much has already happened.  Jesus has been baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, and called his first disciples from their fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s healed Simon Peter’s mother, cast out demons, and cleansed lepers, and that’s only in chapter one.  By chapter two, Jesus has already gotten under the skin of the religious powers that be.  His disciples don’t fast like the Pharisees think they should.  Worse yet, they plucked a few heads of grain on the sabbath.  Clearly this man was not from God.

After what must have felt like a whirlwind couple of weeks, Jesus and his disciples returned to his hometown, presumably for a bit of rest and refreshment.  Instead, as our Gospel lesson opens this morning, we hear that the crowds that surrounded him were so thick and so desperate to hear his preaching and receive his healing that Jesus couldn’t even get a bite to eat.  His family feared for his life.  They had heard what the religious authorities were saying about him.  They could see the rabid crowd surrounding him.  They knew what he was saying and doing.  Despite the NRSV’s translation that says, “people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind,’” the Greek really seems to say that the people who thought he had gone mad weren’t strangers in the crowd, but his very own family.[1]  Having seen with their own eyes what was happening around Jesus, it was his mother Mary, his brother James, and his other siblings who were concerned that he had lost his mind.  They were fully convinced that he had gone crazy, and the only way to save him from himself, was to try to get him back under control.

Six years ago, next month, I was in Indianapolis with more than a thousand other Episcopalians worshipping in a convention center ballroom.  It was the third day of General Convention, and the then Bishop of North Carolina, Michael Curry, was preaching.  In a sermon that was later expanded into a book, Bishop Curry invited us to ponder the response of Jesus’ family to his ministry.  He asked us to look at the lives of the saints of the Church, focusing especially on the first Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and abolitionist and author, Harriett Beecher Stowe.  Bishop Curry called on us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary, and Harriett by becoming Crazy Christians.[2]  It has been six years since that sermon.  Michael Curry is now our Presiding Bishop, leading the church out into the world to be Crazy Christians.  He was elected for many reasons, not least of which is his ability to preach the truth of God’s love to the masses, but what struck me in the profile for the Presiding Bishop candidates was his desire to serve the Episcopal Church as CEO, Chief Evangelism Officer.  Not only does Michael Curry ask us to live as Crazy Christians, but he expects us to invite others to join in the fun.

The Good News of Jesus Christ that each of us are called to proclaim seems crazy to a world that is in love with power, privilege, and violence.  Jesus’ family thought he was crazy because he was challenging the status quo.  The status quo, whom Mark collectively calls the Scribes, went a step further, claiming that he was possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, precisely because he was a direct threat to their power, privilege, and comfort.  Jesus, however, knew that the only thing that was truly evil in this world was an inability to see God’s hand at work.  Jesus was, and is, seen a crazy because he showed the world what it looks like to have hope in the face of hopelessness.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy because he believed that love was stronger than hate, that peace was stronger than violence, and that God’s grace was sufficient for the sins of the whole world.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy because he lived his life to show us that the power of God’s love could keep the plundering power of evil at bay.

The promise of God’s loving grace frees us to be Crazy Christians.  It frees us to claim that hope is stronger than despair, that love is stronger than hate, and that God’s grace is open to everyone.  In that same sermon, Bishop Curry called on the Episcopal Church, gathered in General Convention, to embrace the craziness of Jesus.  “We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord,” he admonished the fairly staid congregation, “Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it.”[3]

Here at Christ Church, we call that crazy way of living “radiating God’s love to all.”  We show the world God’s crazy love through our Wednesday Community Lunch, by opening our doors to the homeless, by helping our neighbors keep their lights on, and by bringing fresh water hours into the Amazon River delta.  We live out the crazy love of God when we care for the sick among us, when the grace we share at this table goes forth to be a blessing to others, and we engage our children, youth, and young adults.  We empower the craziness of God’s grace when we take the time to support these ministries and so many others, by giving generously so that our collective ministry can continue to flourish, and by sharing our gifts and talents for the building up of the church and the restoration of the world.  We share the craziness of God’s love when we tell the story of how Jesus has changed our own lives.

To the world, it makes a whole lot more sense to sleep in on Sunday mornings, to have whatever you give financially back in your monthly budget, and to not worry about the problems that exist outside your front door.  Many see all that we do as nothing more than a crazy pipe dream, but that puts us in good company.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy, and as his disciples, we too are called to be crazy: crazy enough to believe that God loves sinners, just like you and me, and that by God’s grace, we can change the world.  May God bless us with a willingness to be crazy enough to live in hope and love.  Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3675

[2] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry

[3] Better to hear it than to read it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJMKeyCWoQ

Sue, John, and the Love of God

Every wedding is a special occasion.  We know this because of several reasons.  People tend to dress up for weddings.  In a world where business casual now includes denim, people dressing up is kind of a big deal.  Not that you can tell it, but even I wore a suit today, which is a rare feat.  People buy gifts for weddings.  John and Sue have specifically asked us not to bring gifts, but I’m sure a few of you out there picked up a little something for the happy couple.  People give up a portion of their weekend to come to a wedding.  “Time is money,” the old saying goes, and even on what was a dreary Saturday, giving up a portion of your free-time must mean that these two people are special to you.  Every wedding is a special occasion, but in all the weddings I’ve done over the past decade of ordained ministry, this one seems to be a little bit extra special.  I know that this event is extra simply by the sheer number of people, both within Christ Church and in the wider Bowling Green community, who have shared with me their excitement and joy for these two people.  Sue and John are beloved, and today, we gather to share in the joy of their coming together in Christian Marriage.

I am also keenly aware that this event is extra special because I’ve been a nervous wreck about preaching today.  I joked earlier this week that I thought I was more nervous about preaching the Parker-Wilson wedding than the Presiding Bishop was to preach the Royal Wedding earlier today.  As I read through the lessons, looked through the service, and prayed for Sue and John this week, I became more and more aware of the specialness of this and every wedding ceremony.  The marriage rite is unlike anything else we do in the church.  Neither Mother Becca nor I are really the officiants today, but rather, it is John and Sue who do the sacramental work. Their coming together in marriage, seeking after mutual joy and affection and grounded in love, is an outward and visible sign of God’s never-failing love for every one of us and for the world that God has created.

In just a few minutes, we will pray for John and Sue.  We will ask God to give them wisdom, but they have plenty of that already.  We will ask God to help them grow in love, but their lives have long since been dedicated to the cause of love.  We will ask God to help them reconcile and forgive when the inevitable disappointments and failures come their way, but they already know forgiveness to be the hallmark of a strong marriage.  Most importantly, it seems to me, is that we will pray that their marriage will be a sign of Christ love to this sinful and broken world.

In his sermon for that other wedding that took place this morning, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, noted that “There [is] power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate for living when nothing else will.”  Today, we gather to celebrate the power of love.  Love that has guided these two in their lives all along.  Love that has been shown in their families.  Love that has been shared with thousands of students.  Love that has been deeply known by their many friends.  And love, which in John and Sue, I see lived out every day, shown to the world by way of loving service, compassion, and care.

Every one of us knows John Parker and Sue Wilson to be living, breathing examples of God’s love as individuals.  What makes today so special is that from here on out, those individuals will become one flesh, and in so doing, will offer us a new way to see God’s love at work in the world.  Today, they bring with them all that has come before.  They bring two long and loving marriages, two dedicated families, years of life as widow and widower, serving the world and the church.  All of those pieces come together in this day, and from here on out, their love for each other will serve a sign and symbol of the way in which God’s love can overcome all things: bears all things, hopes all things.  We all know how special this day is.  That’s why you are here.  And so, this afternoon, we give thanks for the love that Sue and John have known in God: love given to one another, to all of us, and to the world God has created.  May the Lord bless us all this day with a deep and abiding sense of the true love that endures.  Amen.