Following One with Authority

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 | Psalm 111 | 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 | Mark 1:21-28


Can you imagine being James or John, Peter or Andrew? Jesus calls them out in Galilee and tells them to follow him, that he would make them fish for people (Mk. 1:16-20). Their call was part of our gospel lesson last week. The newly devoted disciples follow Jesus, and before long, they’re in the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus is teaching, as one with authority.

Have you ever been in an experience like that before? Where you get on board with someone hook, line, and sinker? And then you find yourself in their company with others, watching from a different perspective how the one you’ve devoted yourself to is being judged, wondering how you yourself might be judged, too. Ever been in that kind of situation? Maybe you have a friend who is a seller of a particular product. It’s so good, and you’re all in. And then you find yourself in a situation with others, where now the one you’ve committed to is sharing their wares. Do you still have confidence in them, in the product? Of course you do! . . . if what you’ve experienced has been affirming. You have every reason to be proud of your relationship, of the product. Likely, you’ll share your positive experience with others in the crowd and support your friend. 

If this example makes you feel uncomfortable, however, then likely you’ve had a negative experience, have felt like you’ve been suckered into some scheme and are none the richer for it. We know for a fact that there are Christians who have felt like they’ve been duped by the church because of negative experiences with those who have professed to teach with authority, in the name of Jesus, who have proclaimed salvation and unconditional love yet left folks high and dry when times got tough. Know anyone who’s been through that?

But Jesus isn’t into schemes, suckering people into blindly following his charisma and making large donations to fill the coffers. No, Jesus asks more because he knows there’s more to gain.

When Jesus tells his disciples to follow him, he invites their whole being. The disciples left their job, their families, their comfort to embark on the adventure of following one who in a glance seemed to know them completely. It’s soul-piercing to meet the gaze of one with whom we are willing to be known. And notice that Jesus doesn’t promise them a magic cure for anything. If they’d heard him before he called them, they heard his call to repentance, his proclamation that the kingdom of God has come near, the invitation to believe the good news. (That’s part of last week’s message, but I repeat it again because it is so important.) At the first meeting, he tells them that he will make them fish for people. And maybe that’s all they needed–something new and different, intriguing even. God knows when we’ve had it with the ordinary and mundane, we get a little haphazard in discerning what to do next (I believe impulse shopping would be a good example, right? Or shopping when we’re hungry, even if we don’t know what we’re hungry for?).

So the new disciples have followed Jesus to the synagogue in Capernaum, still in the northern area of the Sea of Galilee, and he’s teaching, “as one having authority, not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). Jesus isn’t a snake oil salesman. He’s the real deal. If the disciples can pull their eyes away from Jesus during his teaching to take a glance at their fellow audience members, they’d recognize the impact that Jesus is making. They can see it on the people’s faces, too, what theirs must look like when they’re talking with Jesus. What is more, they would have increased confidence in the one whom they’ve chosen to follow. Their experiences have been validated. It’s not to say that the scribes are snake oil salesmen, but what “authority” do they lack?

One might say that the scribes do not have the authority of authenticity of relationship with God. They seem to lack meaningful experience with the Almighty.


If I am talking to someone about the benefits of Medicaid, food stamps, or WIC when they are in hard times, how much more meaningful to them do you think it is that they know I have experience with those things, too? I know the relief of having childbirth expenses covered, the benefit of being able to purchase food when the budget is impossible, of being able to buy essentials for our young family, especially formula for a child. It is difficult to have authority if we have no experience with whatever it is about which we speak, teach, or proclaim.

Likewise, commending you to a life rooted in prayer would be foolish if I did not seek to do the same, if I did not practice drawing near to the presence of God, even–and especially–when it means wrestling through the difficult times. It doesn’t mean that God can’t speak to you despite my inadequacies: thankfully the power of God and insistence on Spirit is great. But how much more meaningful is it if we can be dedicated to our relationship with God together, in community, in common effort as we are in common prayer? How richer is our journey when we practice the ways of love together, with common purpose (being to have a deeper relationship with Christ)? Talk to me long enough, and we’ll get to specific moments when the presence of God has overwhelmed me. I can’t make you experience God, but I can share my own moments of fear and trembling or overwhelming peace.


Maybe the scribes had forgotten their meaningful experiences, had lost their way getting bogged down in rules and regulations, in administrative tasks and societal expectations. God knows the world can lead us astray, even if our work is in the church. But Jesus brings the Word to life. Jesus is a breath of fresh air to teaching that had become stagnant.

Not only is Jesus teaching with authority, but a man with an unclean spirit comes to Jesus. Apparently Jesus’ Word has spread even in the moment, reaching the ears of those who weren’t welcome. Our imaginations can go wild with this, can’t they? We might envision demon possession worthy of Hollywood, or, given the lack of scientific-based  medical knowledge of the first century, we might envision someone with a mental illness. It is helpful to honor what is written for us– “a man with an unclean spirit” cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mk 1:23-24). One who is unclean shouldn’t have been in the synagogue. Everyone else is probably keeping their distance from the outcast. But the unclean spirit speaks to Jesus, knowing where he comes from and of whom he is. Jesus tells it to be silent and tells it to come out of the poor man. The unclean spirit obeys. Jesus has passed a true test. He’s utterly amazed the crowd. His disciples are probably nudging their neighbors with a “See, I told ya.”

The healing becomes a testimony to the power of Jesus, and his fame spreads. But is fame what Jesus seeks? Jesus had told the unclean spirit to be silent. Why? Perhaps precisely because of what we’re told: his fame spreads. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Because then more people know and experience Jesus. But do they have understanding? Do they know what it means that Jesus is the Holy One of God? Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet, hasn’t risen from the dead. We just thought it was a test with the unclean spirit. Wait until Jesus himself is filled with all pain and suffering, when he gives his whole self for the will and glory of God. We read these texts with the whole scope of Jesus as Christ, too. But that revelation has not yet come for those who were meeting Jesus for the first time. But from the first, powers beyond our understanding and comprehension knew the Holy One of God, and they obeyed this one who taught with authority, with determination of purpose, with intent to reveal God’s will.

Anyone in a position of authority, with responsibility of power, is accountable not only to the ones who look to them but also to the one whom they follow. Our reading from Deuteronomy speaks to the responsibility of prophets and also of the accountability of others whether they heed the prophet or not. The letter to the Corinthians speaks to the importance of knowledge of the importance of our actions, especially for those who have a weaker understanding. Both affirm the primacy of the one true God.

For all of us, we, too, are accountable to one another and to God. As Christians, we’re still among the majority in the US (though just shy of 15% of the 70.6% of Christians as part of the Mainline Protestant tradition). When others are in our company, do they know we are Christian? Do they know we follow the Holy One of God? Almost 71% of this country is Christian, but children are hungry, people are sick, people are killed. 

There’s a bill before our state legislature known as a “Stand Your Ground” law. There are those who would rather shoot first before they tried to avoid conflict. To be clear: I’m not arguing against the right to bear arms. I’m all for responsible gun ownership and safety, and I say that as someone who has been beside more than one body that has died by gunshot. I am arguing with what we as a people say is acceptable, especially people who profess faith in God. I am calling out the presence of an unclean spirit among us. Last night’s evening prayer reading from Mark, found later in Chapter 7, verses 21-22, gives us a litany of evils–among them is murder, theft, and pride. I’m no exorcist, and I know I can’t cast out evil on my own. But authority has been given me to share the Word of God, to teach and preach that others might know God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and with this authority–however little it might be viewed in the eyes of our materialistic and capitalistic society–comes great responsibility because I fully believe I am accountable to God and to those who trust me.

Tomorrow I’ll be on a call with others speaking against the Stand Your Ground law. I’ll be on social media and talking among groups about our Community Debt Relief Campaign in the coming weeks and months. I’m in our Zoom meetings sharing in study and fellowship and on Facebook live sharing the Daily Office. But it’s not about me or what I do. I’m with you. I see the faces of you and others who are also amazed at the power of people who hope and strive to love radically like Jesus. And to you who might be questioning if this is the real deal, I invite you to walk with us as we seek to follow Christ, the Holy One of God, the true one with authority.

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Who is our King?

Jeremiah 31:7-14 | Psalm 84 | Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a | Matthew 2:1-12


What do you think of when you think of a king? Powerful man? Bejewelled crown? Royal robes? Huge castle and estate? Or maybe the Burger King, comic yet iconic, fictional but sharing in many of the images we typically think of when picturing a king.

I invite you for the next few minutes to ponder with me the question, “Where is the king?” And not just the question but also the implications around it: Who is king? How do we find him? What do we bring to him? What does it mean to us going forward?

The magi at the time of King Herod arrived asked: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” They knew who the new king was–by prophecy and expectation. They were finding him by following the star–and thought the royal palace would be the logical place. (There they found a different king, maybe one of a mold that they and we might expect.) They brought precious gifts–of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And once they had found the Christ Child, they went home by a different road, becoming aware of the clash of kingdoms. Herod had been frightened at word of the new king being born, and those who challenged Herod’s authority were often sent to the grave. We’re left wondering what the magi did once they returned home empty-handed, but we imagine that their hearts and hope filled.

Reflecting on the magi’s experience, we can see that not all questions were answered in ways either they or we expect, which is often the case when we have ideas but not 100% clarity. There’s always more to consider, isn’t there? Usually something that surprises us or isn’t expected? Oftentimes what we have in mind doesn’t match with the reality we see before us.

So how do we respond to the questions? 

Who is our king? Christ is king, we might quickly reply. Is that where our loyalty lies? With Christ as king, is that how we navigate our lives? We hope. We try. Pursuing the other questions help us explore what that loyalty looks like.

How do we find our king? The three from afar followed a star, using their knowledge of astrology to find their way. If we lived in a monarchy, we’d have our governance to point toward the king. But Jesus wasn’t and isn’t the king of a particular place and time. What we know about his kingdom, we read in Holy Scripture. His references and parables of the kingdom of heaven reveal a way of living, being, and navigating life and relationships in communion with God and one another. Perhaps finding the king of this way of living and being requires our attention to an inner wisdom and practices that will cultivate such wisdom and guidance. The more we practice this Way of Love, the more we realize we encounter Christ not in manufactured moments but in mindful moments when we bring the fullness of our presence into relational encounters. That leads us to the next question, because once we’ve found our king:

What do we bring to him? To one fully human and fully divine, we bring nothing less than ourselves. In our Collect for the Day, we prayed, “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” Our bringing awareness of God in every moment and bringing all of ourselves to God is all we can do. We try to attach tangible value to our reverence to God through our tithes and good works, but God’s economy is love, grace, and mercy–all immeasurable. God doesn’t need anything of us but wants us, desires us to be in relationship. People being who we are, we desire something more like ourselves to identify with, to offer praise and loyalty toward. Typically we want figures to look up to, to cheer for, to revere, even to worship, and we like them to look like us. In the Incarnation, God says, “See me.” Seeing Jesus Christ, maybe we can more clearly see ourselves. Then, we know what we are to bring forth into the world, what gifts we have to share, how best to radiate the light and love of Christ the King.

What does it mean to us going forward?

The wise folks who paid homage to the infant Jesus went home by a different road, knowing the danger they would face if they encountered Herod again. Not only did they know where the new king was, but they also knew how vulnerable he was as an infant of poor parents. All the material rappings of riches and royalty didn’t belong to this king, nor would they ever. The perception of what it meant to be king was being rewritten, tables turned, lives transformed. The magi were taking a different road home physically to protect themselves and hopefully the infant king and perhaps spiritually, too, reevaluating what it is they value and perceive in this life. We know that once the shepherds saw the Christ Child, they went and proclaimed to others what they had seen. They, too, had followed guidance (though theirs was angelic) to find the babe in a manger. They had brought only themselves and had returned to their flock, but they had seen the baby Jesus, the one born who prompted the angels to sing glory to God and pronounce peace and goodwill on earth.

So we might ask it again in a different way: What have our encounters with Christ changed for us? It’s all a comparative exercise, rather objective when we look at other people’s experiences. As Christians, though, we’re in the business of restoration of life, liberty, and love. We’re in the work of discipleship, of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Kin-dom of Heaven here and now. When did we last taste and see and know that God is good? When did we last find ourselves on our knees in mercy or in prayer, seeking forgiveness, giving thanks, begging for guidance? Maybe it was peace or assurance that we felt in the core of our being but knew that it wasn’t by our own strength that it was possible, feeling more like a peace that passes all understanding.

Here at All Saints’ we are finding our way toward the kin-dom, practicing how we offer ourselves to the glory of God, how we share the Good News of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. We are learning and growing as a faithful community, one rooted in Jesus and growing toward fullness in the Holy Trinity. We are nourished by prayer and praise and fellowship in any way we can when these days so much is different. And the fruits of all our labors bear semblance to fruits of the Spirit (which, in case we want a reminder or to keep a checklist for 2021, they are: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity). It takes all of us to build up this community, sharing all of who we are for the glory of God.

Perhaps that’s one of the most notable aspects of Christ the King: he’s not in it for himself. Quite unlike Herod, Jesus has no pretense of securing power in the “traditional” sense. And while we have numerous stories of people who encounter God, even through Jesus himself, being told, “Do not be afraid,” we never see Jesus frightened. Pained, sorrowed, suffering, yes, but not afraid. His kingdom is secured, made only richer by those with eyes to see and ears to hear, by those who seek to follow, who believe.

So we, as a community of believers and those seeking, are finding our way toward the kin-dom of heaven by following the Light of Christ that we recognize in others and ourselves and by practicing the Way of Love and bringing our whole selves to the altar and to one another for God’s glory. And each time we find ourselves in the presence of Christ, if we are paying attention, we can run out and share that goodness with someone else, encouraging them to join us in this holy work. At the very least, we can marvel at the experience and try something loving and life-giving rather than keep wandering in darkness. For we have seen a great light, and things don’t have to stay the same.

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The Work of Christmas

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 | Psalm 147 | Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 | John 1:1-18


The First Sunday after Christmas doesn’t always fall so close to Christmas Day. Here we are on the Third Day of Christmas, and if your house is anything like mine, there are still a couple of recipes left to make, some cards to send, some movies to watch. It’s hard to maintain the Christmas excitement because it’s been widely manufactured into one day’s experience, to be consumed and done with in 24 hours or less.

Mary and Joseph know what most new parents experience: the birth of Jesus was just the beginning. When I was a doula and childbirth instructor, I would caution the mamas that three days after birth was a day to watch out for because hormones shift. Maybe the milk has come in, maybe not. Maybe the baby is sleeping too much or too little. Maybe we have good support, maybe not. There are many variables at play, but one thing is certain, it’s still a liminal time. The birthing experience itself throws things out of whack, so consuming is the labor of birth. Time is irrelevant. And now this healing of a mother’s body and the caring of the fragile, completely dependent new life is equally consuming work. It’s not only time for healing and nourishing, but it is also, we hope, time for bonding, nurturing, resting (as much as possible), and being fully in the moment. All of this doesn’t happen on its own; we have to make a conscious effort. Being a parent is a lot of work, and those early days are just the beginning.

Our gospel lesson today speaks of another beginning, of Word becoming flesh and living among us. That Word is life itself, light–the kind that enlightens everyone and isn’t overcome by darkness, and glory full of grace and truth. But this Word is not known to everyone. Those who do recognize, know, and believe, are filled with faith, and their lives are transformed.

How are lives transformed? Well, at our baptism, we are given the name Christian. As Paul says to the Galatians, we are adopted as children of God. As God’s children, recipients of the Holy Spirit, we have tremendous power to extend our personal transformation beyond ourselves. We may not all have a conversion story as dramatic as Paul’s. We may not have experienced a life-threatening illness or crippling addiction to overcome but by the grace of God and support of many. We do have–what everyone has–is choice. We all live in a time when the choices we make are intended to serve ourselves better if not best. When we choose to live a life to offer glory to God, to share the light of Christ with others, to participate in the life-giving, liberating, loving will of God, we make a personal shift to consider ourselves one among many among the children of God. Our hearts are broken open to bleed for the world, not in an act of dying but in an act of surrender to something greater than ourselves. We might be afraid to name the “greater thing” as God, and I would challenge you to consider where that fear comes from. Does naming something that exceeds our comprehension take away our sense of control? Is that what we fear? Lack of control? Because that’s valid. Being out of control is scary. Not being able to contain a deadly virus is terrifying. Not being able to heal the sick is heart-wrenching. Watching events unfold for self-serving reasons while billions suffer is sickening in and of itself. The actions of others is out of our control. But what is in our control? Our own choices. Our own actions. How we understand ourselves and how we relate to others . . . and how we relate to that which is greater than. How we relate to God.

As Christians, we name God. We try to understand God through Jesus. We believe that Jesus is the greatest gift. God’s giving of God’s self through Jesus, as through a son–the only way we could try to comprehend how God loves us. Through Jesus comes our salvation, redemption, and adoption. We have to choose whether to recognize that for ourselves, to allow ourselves to be transformed, to let go of our ego enough to let God’s grace and truth shine through our lives. When we do this, our lives are changed.

Being transformed by God’s grace, we, too, can share in God’s work. God’s work–the work that began in the beginning of Creation and which continues to this day and forever more. Here at All Saints’, we are keen to hear the gospel call to care for others, to lift up the lowly, and we act on it, sharing whenever and however we can. The words of Thomas R. Steagald in his commentary on our reading from Galatians gave me pause: “Social renderings of the gospel are incomplete unless founded on or accompanied by personal transformation.” Do we hear the call to care for our neighbors as something we do because it is the code of Christians, a law to follow, or do we share love of neighbors out of the experience of being loved by God? Does it matter, so long as we are acting compassionately? Probably not to the recipient. But in my experience, it matters to me, and it affects my relationship with God. The authenticity of work done in and out of love for God enriches the lives of all.

Just like being a parent requires time and attention, being a Christian isn’t a passive identity. Others may know we are Christians by our love, but that love takes work and requires all of ourselves. We know this because the story of Jesus’ life and death is not compartmentalized: it’s all about living in accord with God’s will–loving God with all heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving neighbors as ourselves. The gift that we’re given each Christmas we celebrate is as joyful and triumphant as it is heartbreaking and demanding. And if we are to receive the gift of Christ, we, too, are wrapped into the work of God to share that light with the world. 

All that we can or might do in our own work pales in comparison to what God has done, is doing, and has yet to do. Our Psalm today counts the ways God reveals God’s majesty, and these are beautiful images of provision and protection, intimacy and blessing, in heaven and on earth. A God who does all this isn’t impressed by human extravagance but is pleased by reverence, by those who heed the statutes given. Those who know humility in the encounter with God are the ones who will bring the transformational change into the world, who will share the goodwill and peace that Jesus Christ embodied.

While these liminal days between Christmas and New Year’s offer many folks time off from work, time to rest and stay home, my son reminded me that I have one of the jobs that doesn’t take time off for Christmas. That’s true, but it’s true of all of us who believe that we never take time off from being Christian. It’s who we are, when we’re working, resting, and playing, 365, 24/7. 

And in case we lose sight of what our work is, Howard Thurmas summed it up well:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.


from The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations

That music in the heart is the sweet harmony of finding where our lives meet God’s will, when we accomplish any aspect of this holy work. Now is as good a time as ever to make a plan for what we’ll do next. I know Padre and I are taking time this next week to plan for the year to come and maybe take an extra nap or two. May we all find a few moments to allow room for the Holy Word into our lives, to let God guide us for once, to offer thanks for all that is given to us, and to accept responsibility for what is given to us to do. We have holy work to do, and we have everything we need to do it, if we so choose.

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In a Moment of Crisis

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 | Canticle 15 | Romans 16:25-27 | Luke 1:26-38


When deadlines approach, when curtain calls are about to be made, when due dates approach, we know it’s a now-or-never moment and pray that all we’ve prepared for is enough to make it through to the other side–that our bosses will be satisfied, that the crowd cheers, that the mother and babe are safe. The stress we feel in our bodies in these moments tell us what we know: we’re in a moment of crisis. Some way or another, we’re fighting for our survival, which may or may not truly be life threatening

This past week the “Living Well Through Advent 2020” reflection for Friday was titled “When Hope is Hard.” Robbin Brent articulates what we all know: we’re in crisis mode. The magnitude of all these crises can leave us all overwhelmed and devoid of hope. Brent shares that “the Chinese characters that form the word ‘crisis’ mean both danger and opportunity.” Since I’ve become quite familiar with Google Translate in my efforts to communicate in Spanish, I checked the translation and found that that might not necessarily be the case. The characters translate, if Google is correct, to “in danger” and “machine.”

Crisis: 危 = in danger, 机 = machine // Opportunity: 机 = machine 会 = meeting

Trying to figure out where “opportunity” comes into play, I found that the characters that make up “opportunity” are those for “machine” and “meeting.” 

This whole play on words invites us to think about what we are manifesting, what we are dealing with. Are we in crisis, where danger is being created, or are we in a moment of opportunity, where we are creating something together?

Our lesson from Samuel gives us a glimpse into a moment when crisis is at bay. David’s enemies aren’t a worry, and his house is secure. Like most of us, when things are settled, we look with new eyes upon our surroundings, and David realized that his home was better than the one they had protecting the Holy of Holies. The LORD deserves better! King David’s prophet Nathan agrees, and I’m sure they were already visualizing the grandeur to come of the LORD’s house. However, the voice of the LORD interrupts, tapping his servant Nathan to share God’s will, to remind of God’s plans, and they do not include focusing on a physical structure. God’s will does include obedience of his faithful who will be in and of themselves the bearer of God’s will. Nathan and David are truly in a moment of opportunity, having been met with the clarity of God’s intention for God’s people.

The circumstances are completely different for Mary. For Mary, the crisis–the danger machine–is being put into motion. Take someone who is marginalized (a young female in a patriarchal society) and now impregnate her by someone not her betrothed. She has no livelihood, no home of her own, and no social standing. It would be hard to find hope in this situation. 

And yet, there is opportunity in this moment. Gabriel brings his announcement as a messenger of God and proclaims Mary’s favor. Does Mary perceive the danger building, the crisis at this time of her life? How could she not? If we were witnesses to this moment, would we not be shouting, “Run away, Mary! Save yourself!” As a people accustomed to looking out for our own well-being, we probably would. We’d also be looking for a weapon to get rid of the home invader Gabriel.

But who has God’s favor? Those who keep the covenant. The faithful. The obedient to the will of God.

The disclaimer here is that obedience to God’s will is life-giving, loving, and liberating. We aren’t told anything of Mary’s faith except her reply to be the mother of God: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word.” I appreciate the commentary that speaks to Mary not being violated by the Holy Spirit, being forced into obedience or submission, nor viewing the invitation as optional. Being the Mother of God is who she was created to be. It is her vocation, her calling, her identity. The opportunity for Mary here is meeting with God and becoming fully who she is, along with bringing into this world who God is, whether she can comprehend that or not.

Mary’s faith is her hope. Surely she knew that she had no idea how this would play out. Surely she knew the risks. Surely there were moments where her heart raced, anxiety increased, and tears fell. But we have her song, her proclamation of praise and her sharing of God’s will that is good news for all who have the heart to know what she knows, being in harmony with the Divine, her womb the mansion for the Christ Child.

We’ve been praying in song these weeks of Advent, “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” We’re inviting for the God with us to come now. We’re asking for God to be revealed in our lives. If you’ve been praying with intention, with sincerity, maybe your heart is starting to race. Maybe you’ve had tingling of intuition or nagging thoughts or a sense of restlessness, all good indications that you need to pay attention to what is being asked of you. We discern our thoughts carefully when they are persistent and seem to make no sense. Discernment is for all of us seeking to live into who God is calling us to be, for all of us looking for our vocation, what it is God has created us to do.

Maybe what we discern will be revealed to be our own agenda, like David. Thankfully, working in and with community, often what is a personal agenda and what is God’s will can be revealed. We all need our Nathan’s to help us along the way. Maybe what we discern will be life-changing, demanding nothing less than our whole being as we share with the world the presence of Christ.

Maybe we can do one small thing to keep crisis at bay and create opportunity instead. Working with others for the glory of God, we can keep hope alive. That’s one of the reasons I share my pledge with All Saints’. The work we do here is important to me, not only for my employment but especially for sharing the unconditional love of God for everyone. 

This past summer, my friend The Rev. Cameron Nations was interviewed for what they were doing at the parish he served then, St. Luke’s in the Birmingham, AL, area. I thought it was great, too, as they were forgiving medical debt across central Alabama, just over $8 million. Good for them. This fall in one of the Facebook groups I follow, folks were asked what they would do with $10,000 in cash. A recurring response included paying off medical debt. These are people in Northwest Arkansas, people who would put money toward paying off medical debt so they could get a better car, pay for school, or buy a house. This kept nagging at me until I reached out to Cameron to ask what they did in Alabama. He told me it was easy, would totally work in Arkansas, and sent me a link to www.ripmedicaldebt.org. I searched the website and quickly found that Arkansas is one of the hotspots for medical debt in the country, not surprising given our rates of poverty (17.2%, seventh highest in the nation). Why has this not been done, I thought? Surely someone has already done this. Surely someone else will do it, right? These are the thoughts going through the minds of people watching someone choke at a restaurant. Surely someone else will step up and do the heimlich, won’t they? In the meantime, people choke to death. In the meantime, people are at risk of eviction, calling us for utility assistance, visiting food pantries because they can’t afford food, toilet paper, or coats.

I exchanged a few emails and have been saying quite a few prayers. We now have a statewide campaign launched to eliminate the $24 million in medical debt that Arkansans carry. This isn’t all of it, to be sure. Those whose debt could be eliminated are those who are two times below the poverty level (for a family of four that’s an income less than $52,400/year). The program is also for those who have debts greater than their assets and whose debts are greater than 5% of their annual income. There is no discrimination based on residency (I asked specifically thinking of our undocumented neighbors).

We know, especially during the pandemic, that our healthcare situation is in crisis. Maybe this is one way we can provide opportunity. Medical centers get at least a portion of what they are trying to collect, boosting their revenue. People at the margins get a piece of good news in the mail rather than a collection notice.

God is with us, and we are a people of hope, even and especially when it is hard. Our practices of walking the Way of Love have prepared us for this moment so that we, too, can bear the Light of Christ to the World.


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Our Talent

24th Sunday after Pentecost ~ Year A

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 | Psalm 90:1-12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 | Matthew 25:14-30

How many times have you marveled at the energy of a young child running circles around you? A few times? Every time? It’s enough to leave us breathless, those of us with many more years of experience, wear, and tear. That’s a different kind of breathlessness than that of holding a newborn child, especially if we’re there in those first moments after birth, holding the bundle of newly emerged energy even while the lifeblood from the mother tries to find a balance. She’s exhausted, and we’re amazed. In that precious moment we are in the presence of a miracle pulsating with life and potential, acutely aware that something nearly magical has happened, that the veil between what was before and what is now has been crossed in a visible and tangible way. Gratitude wells up in our hearts and often our eyes, and a whispered “Thanks be to God” might be all we can say. We are present to something real, something meaningful (even if we don’t exactly know how yet). We mark the day annually, celebrating birthdays for the holy days they are in our lives but especially their meaningfulness in the lives of others.

Other occasions of joy and gratitude, love and meaning, we don’t often celebrate but experience in the moment. We shop and box up food for a family, doing the inconvenient thing especially in this time of covid to shop for others to provide something more than physical nourishment. Our act of giving unconditionally to another in need says we see you, we hear your need, and we give of our abundance to share with you. Again, we offer thanks to God.

We reduce, reuse, and recycle to reduce waste and our footprint on this planet, showing our care for Creation and hope for future generations. We listen intently to the person speaking to us, sharing their story, our phones silenced or forgotten while we abide in a moment together to laugh or cry but to be fully awake and present to one another. These moments and so many others give us the opportunity to recognize the value of life and presence and to glimpse a sense of our purpose, our meaning. Ahhhh. How many of us wonder what our purpose and meaning are in this life?

Especially now when life’s troubles are so great, when death and devastation are so prevalent, do we wonder if who we are and what we do makes a difference?

If we think about the most meaningful moments of our lives, are others present? Do they know how much that moment meant to us? The mother who blesses us with entrance to her birthing room, the mentor who blows our mind by holding a mirror to our brilliance … do they know how much they have enriched our lives? Do you think the people who owned the property behind my childhood home knew how much it meant to me that I could wander in their woods and play by and in the creek and imagine untold stories while perched on the fallen tree by the waterfall? These are sacred moments in time that I barely give credit for; why would I expect someone else to be aware of them?

We’re wrapping up the Season after Pentecost and moving quickly toward Advent (officially, in case we haven’t already started our preparations). I cannot help but feel our lectionary preparing us for our lessons to keep awake and not to lose hope. Our collect commends to us our scriptures–to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and I have to tell you that I was caught in a moment not necessarily of breathlessness but of love and appreciation and gratitude while studying the Word of God. Yes, I know it’s in my ordinal vows to study Scripture daily, and I share much time with you engaged in the Word through the Daily Office, Bible study, and our Sunday Worship. But those of you who also engage daily in Scripture know what I mean when we truly open our heart and mind to seek understanding and Wisdom from the Word of God. With practice and perseverance, dedication and humility, work and openness, we realize that the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus were speaking truth to their experience when they said their hearts were strangely warmed. When the one whom we know to be the resurrected Jesus opened Scripture to them, the Word that was in their hearts, the Word they knew to be of God, was enkindled in a way that reminded them they had not only ingested the Word, but they embodied it. Jesus Christ reminded them of what they had within them. A few moments later, they would be fully aware of what was with them all along, even if Jesus Christ was no longer physically present to them.

The words we hear today in our lessons invite us to live into our lives of meaning and purpose.

If we look to Zephaniah, we hear a prophet chiding a people who have become complacent, perhaps indifferent. Though they worship on the day of the LORD, they come before God in their comfort, out of habit, maybe proud of themselves for living so faithfully. They lack the awareness of their frailty and vulnerability that Psalm 90 addresses. This psalm appeals to God to “teach us to number our days / that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” If we continued to the end of the psalm, we’d find in verse 17 that the psalmist also asks for God’s graciousness to “be upon us; (to) prosper the work of our hands; / prosper our handiwork.” Unlike the Israelites Zephaniah addresses, the psalmist asks for God’s blessing, guidance. The psalmist plainly attributes God as refuge, as God of indignation and of grace and loving-kindness. The work of our hands as children or servants of God can lead to prosperity, if we receive the graciousness of God, if we apply our hearts to God’s wisdom . . . if we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

But what of this parable of the talents? Are we to pursue venture capital so we can do amazing and awesome things with all the money we earn? Well, sure, if you can. I’ve got nothing against good fortune for you and give thanks if you can share that with the church. 🙂 But this parable is a gift from Jesus, and as such, it appeals to the wisdom of our hearts, something greater than our materialistic or capitalistic world can comprehend.

A talent, I read, was equal to 15 years’ earnings for a day laborer. In the parable, the master who is about to leave gives one servant the equivalent of a lifetime’s earnings. To another he gives an adult worker’s earnings–retirement secured. To another, he gives 15 year’s worth–he’s invested in the pension. The master leaves for a long time, each person left to do what they could. Informed by the third servant’s judgment of the master, I’ve always thought that the first two played into the game, dealing and swindling like the master, likewise to be commended for earning their gains by whatever means necessary, whether it was right or legal or fair or not.

For today, I have read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested to hear a different perspective. Yes, I read commentaries alongside my Bible and printout of the readings. I don’t do this work alone, and I don’t suggest you engage alone all the time, either. 

The third servant hid his talent out of fear. Did you hear that?

When the master returned, does he count the talents? What does Jesus say the master commends? The trustworthiness. “Well done.” “Good.” Their reward? A promotion? A bonus? “Enter into the joy of your master.” I realize that the slave/master language is difficult. We can reframe it and hear it more clearly, perhaps. Have you ever had a boss thank and reward you and commend you to their joy? But what if we hear this parable from Jesus and see Jesus as the master in the story and his disciples, even ourselves, as the servants? Jesus says, I’m with you now and give you your life, a long time, or a few years. What will you do for the glory of God? What will you do to build up this kin-dom of heaven? Like a Saint you live your life to make more disciples, spreading the Good News to all whom you encounter, so full of life and love as you are. Like another saint, you commit your work to raise the valleys, to the care of the oppressed and the marginalized in whatever way only you can. Well done, good and faithful servant.

How many of us, though, are like the third? We’re given this moment, and we’re afraid. Sounds amazing, Jesus, but I’ve heard stories, and you go messing around where you shouldn’t be. It’ll be easier and safer if I just keep on keepin’ on and find my peace and security in the coins I earn myself. (That’s where the reading from Thessalonians comes in today for me. “Peace and security” was a slogan on Roman coins, reminding the citizens of the source of their peace and security. Paul reminds them that the joke’s on them when Christ returns because the source of peace and security is God alone. So instead of Roman armor and ways of life, better garb up in faith, hope, and love.) In the parable, is says the master had him thrown into darkness, but truly, didn’t he choose to turn toward fear instead of living into the life that was offered to him?

This life that we have, isn’t it easy to be afraid. No matter how many times we’re commended by scripture not to be afraid, we’re crowded by fear and prone to bury our life–our greatest gift and talent, denying the world of the image of God we’re given to share in this world.

But when we give a little space for faith, hope, and love, when we give space to receive grace and mercy, when we allow ourselves to be dependent upon the one who gives us life eternal–from before we were born to the ever after–what happens? What happens when we have God as our first priority, when simply being present in a posture of gratitude, as a beacon of light and love that guides all we meet to God? We have the opportunity to share the presence of God with others, whether we realize it or not. Have you ever done an act of kindness and worried that it meant nothing? Have you ever regretted being present to someone? When we are sick, when we are dying, do we focus on fear? Sometimes. Those who focus on fear are those who are too crowded by darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who, even at the last moment, realize that their life was full of moments that give glory to God know what it is to enter into the fullness of joy of Christ. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).There’s no doubt that these are trying times, but I assure you that our lives are meaningful and filled with purpose. Where you see the presence of God, there it is, already with you. It has been with you all along, since you were knit together in your mother’s womb. Others might recognize it before we realize it ourselves. There is joy to be had if we know where to look. We’ll see it wherever we seek God. There is nowhere we are that God is not. Thanks be to God.

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From Home to Tomorrow

Proper 24 ~ Year A

Isaiah 45:1-7 | Psalm 96:1-13 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 | Matthew 22:15-22


Where do you come from? From whence do you come? (for the grammarians out there) If we’re traveling, we’ll likely say we’re from Arkansas, and if others actually know anything about Arkansas, they might ask us where, to which we’d reply Bentonville, Rogers, Bella Vista, etc. Even if they don’t ask us which city, isn’t it funny when, let’s say you’re in Chicago, you tell someone you’re from Arkansas; they light up, saying they have a cousin so-in-so in Arkansas, and surely you know them, right? 😊 We try hard to establish connection, don’t we? To share what we know, especially what we love. Perhaps we’re even trying to establish that sense of belonging together.

This week while I was taking some time to rest and reflect, I did a lot of reading. In one of the books, the author wrote about coming home. While taking time away, I admit that when I thought about returning home, I started thinking about dishes and laundry, responsibilities, and obligations. But that’s not what she described. Instead, she described exactly what I was doing: enjoying a cup of coffee/wine, listening, praying, playing, taking a hike, resting, etc. She described being at peace in the moment, being who I am, nourishing myself in the ways I know I need to be nourished, recognized for who I am, and she called this “coming home.”

Now why on earth would someone from Bentonville “come home” to a cabin in the woods? I’ll tell you why: at that place, I have been nourished as a woman sensitive to the presence of Spirit. Since I was a child, I have loved being among the trees. As a quiet creative, I have a mind that needs silence to hear what’s being said in my conscious and subconscious. I need to hear the ocean through the leaves of the trees in the wind, the crackle of the fire, and the symphony of the birds and the bugs. As someone who has never lived alone, I need time to experience the holy solitude of being alone, which, the author points out, derives from “all one.” Whether we’re surrounded with family or living by ourselves, taking time to be all one means we take time to figure out what we need to feel and be whole. Coming home means to me, returning to the place—even if it’s a moment’s state of mind—where I am fed mind, body, and soul for who I am, for whom I’m created to be, not who I think I am or for what I’m expected to be.

 There’s a danger, isn’t there, in living too much into expectation? Those expectations stack up like precarious building blocks from childhood (and maybe that’s precisely when the expectations were given to us), and they can surround us, walling us in until they—or we—tumble and crumble into a mess. It’s okay to have expectations; roles and responsibilities are built with them, and they provide solid accountability when they are within reason, reality, and respect.

Paul, in his address to the churches, sounds like he is calling the people home to be the Church they were called to be, to be the Christians they truly are. We can read this epistle or any of the others with an anxiety of what a wreck the church has become and with a snicker of what a smooth talker Paul was. OR, we can read this with the compassion we would hope for ourselves, a summons to remember who we are and whose we are and by what power we are able to do what we do. Yes, we’ll get worried when our beliefs and aspirations don’t match our reality. (Christians are still prone to sin and make bad choices, and Jesus still hasn’t returned before faithful people have died. The problems of the Thessalonians aren’t all that different from ours today.) Still today, we make our choices, doing the best we can.

 I wrote but then erased “we cannot change our reality.” It is true that we cannot change what has been done. “It is what it is,” is a common phrase these days. I hear so many people so fed up with this present moment here in the States. It’s divided and hateful. It’s a cluster of epic proportions. The systems are unjust, and the people in power are more interested in keeping their power than in serving the people. Does this resonate with you? Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve also heard frustration about healthcare, employment, education, the cost of and access to food. The frustrations are institutional and personal—all-pervasive, affecting our waking and, unfortunately, our sleeping (or lack thereof).

I erased “we cannot change the reality” because in truth, we can change or shape the reality of our future. What can we do to be the change, as Gandhi would suggest? Do we take to the ballot or to the streets? Yes, and perhaps. But before we act, before we do anything, we must know where we’re coming from.

When’s the last time we came home to ourselves, were nurtured with the divine voice that assures us of our belovedness and worth, our gifts and our call? Not everyone is called to exhortation and prophecy, just as not everyone is called to teach and to heal. But we all need these in our lives, which is why we give thanks to the many member of the one Body. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Forgive me if this triggers unpleasant memories for you, but there’s a hymn from my Baptist upbringing that came to mind. “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” it’s called, and the refrain yearningly sings, “Come home . . . come home . . . Ye who are weary, come home . . .” There’s a bit about sinners, too, which made this particularly common at funerals and as an altar call, but Jesus calling the weary home is on point. We’re tired. We’re tired because we’ve been too far from home for too long. God’s Beloved Community, God’s dream for us isn’t this hot mess we’re in. God’s dream for us isn’t anything I could describe because it’s too great for me to understand.

What I believe with all my heart, however, is that if we’ve ever been home, been all one, then we have an inkling of what we need more of to change the reality of now to create a better tomorrow. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, gifted to persevere in faith, hope, and love, we don’t have an excuse. We may have sin—turning away from God—but we also have repentance, the constant invitation to turn or return to God.

I emphasize this coming home and knowing ourselves as God’s beloved because we need this solid footing in our lives, this firm foundation. When someone comes along, or sends someone along, to flatter and try to trick us in some snare, we need a pause, to take a moment. We don’t know how long Jesus took to look into the young eyes of the Pharisees’ disciples and the Herodians, people aspiring to the powers of the world in that moment. We don’t know how long it took for him to know their heart and their intent, to discern that they were too insensitive to subtleties and had to be told outright what hypocrites they were. Jesus called out the thing they were most concerned with: the coin, the money itself. The emperor could have the coins, but what should be given to God? His challengers were stunned, and why is that?

 What is God’s?

 If we’ve been too far from home for too long, we’re likely to have forgotten. Too far from home, we may have fortified those precarious, unrealistic expectations. Too far from home, we may think that alone means all on our own, and on our own we work within the powers and principalities that give us the materials and money to piece together the identity we think we need and some semblance of power in the reality of this moment. Too far from home for too long, we forget that in the beginning, there was a Word, spoken with a breath of love, in Spirit of Wisdom, and from there all came into being.

 What is God’s? Everything.

Before we make our next move, before we cast our vote, before we declare whose side we’re on, it’s worthwhile to pause, to take a moment or as long as we need, to come home a minute and remember whose child we are. Tell her our woes, our concerns. Share our fears and despair. Let her feed us and give us drink. Let her bathe us, washing away the grime and restore our radiance. Let her whisper, “There, there,” and then whisper the words we long to hear . . . and maybe even the words we didn’t want but needed to hear. We can take what we need from home, and stepping out the doors into the wide world around us, sure . . . we give to the emperor what’s due, but we mustn’t forget what is God’s.

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Thoughts for the Journey – Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16 | Psalm 25:1-9 | 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 | Luke 21:25-36

Contrary to what my children may think, being Episcopalian at this time of year is not solely about waiting until the last minute to put up Christmas decorations or shaming others who put up decor right after Thanksgiving (if they even wait that long!). As with any culture, there are likely to be particular practices that are different from the norm, and since they’re different they stand out, setting us apart. But all of what we do means something and speaks to who we are and what we believe. We light the candles on the Advent wreath one week at a time, watching the light grow until finally we get to light the Christ candle at Christmas, our anticipation fulfilled. In a society that can get anything right now, intentionally waiting says something. Sitting in the darkness means something. Making the intentional journey through Advent shapes us and forms us year after year.

People of faith commonly refer to our lives as journeys, and we’re no different. Like I said, we “journey” through Advent and also through Lent. We have the Season after Pentecost, which as a “season” implies growth. We have a church calendar that cycles round and round through the years and phases of the moon. We are constantly moving, traveling on a path, walking in the Way. It’s no wonder we can feel exhausted if we keep plowing forward at breakneck speed.

We need time to slow down. We need the darkness reminding us to rest. We need a mother heavy with child to remind us we can’t get anywhere too fast and might need help along the way . . . and patience as we trust in God’s timing, not our own.

Our readings for this first Sunday of Advent spoke to me about this nature of our journey.

In the lesson from Jeremiah, one is foretold who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” God’s promise will be fulfilled when there is a way of justice and righteousness. In the Psalm, we recite with the psalmist that we lift up our souls, putting our trust in God, as we try to live faithfully as believers. We trust God to teach us God’s paths, to lead us along God’s path of love and faithfulness. And in the letter to the Thessalonians, there’s a prayer that “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to” one another. The prayer continues, that the Lord might “make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” As we journey along, there’s genuine compassion for our brothers and sisters along the way but not just family but also neighbors and strangers.

And where are we going with all this journeying?

The Thessalonians heard that we’re anticipating the coming of Jesus with all the saints. We hear today in our gospel reading that redemption is drawing near, that the time is coming when we will have the opportunity “to stand before the Son of Man.”

And how do we know if the time is ripe? If the time is near?

Are all the earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, climate change reports, refugee crises our summer fig leaves telling us the time is nigh? Don’t you know that there were likely signs such as these in the decades and centuries following Jesus’ death. Since the Ascension faithful Christians have been proclaiming the second coming of the Son of Man, anticipating when things would finally change from the nightmare that is, especially if you are one oppressed. With such hope for something radically different, we want to be aware, to be the first to notice that the tide is turning, the tables shifting, the kingdom of God coming near.

Is this what we’re running toward? Our spiritual marathon is so we can run into the kingdom of God?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” Jesus says, and for those of us who are looking for a little more tangible goal, we might be puzzled at his words.

In case you didn’t know this about me, I’m not a runner. 😉 But I know runners, and they train and fuel and know the race courses, like all good athletes. There’s a definite beginning and end. Especially for marathons, the last leg of the journey is gruelling; I’ve heard folks describe out of body–or at least out of mind–experiences. There’s a loss of self, a loss of control–there’s just the movement and the breath and the hope of reaching the goal. Like I said, I’m not a runner, and the closest thing I’ve ever done to running a marathon is birthing my children. In that, too, once you’ve hit transition, there’s no going back. The pain is insurmountable, the control over the body gone, and there’s nothing but complete surrender to the process at hand. If we’re lucky, though, we have people nearby reminding us to be present, to breathe, and to keep going one moment at a time.

We don’t always lose ourselves in the journey in good, productive ways. We can lose ourselves to any number of distractions or temptations, drunkenness or worries and fall to the wayside, veering far off the Way that leads us to God. As much as we want to focus on distant goals, something out there or 24 days away, it’s much more difficult to live with the expectation that this might be the moment I realize Christ has broken into our lives.

All this talk of journeying and how to be along the way and how to be a loving, good neighbor, is really practice for how to live with presence that God’s promise wasn’t exclusively for back then or for them or for some distant time in the future, but God’s promise is fulfilled right now. Advent reminds us that it’s not just the work that we do throughout our lives as we follow the path we believe is leading us toward God. It’s preparing ourselves to meet Christ not only at the feast of his nativity but also at any moment when we’re so deep in the Way of Love that we’ve completely given ourselves over to God’s will that the Word that was present at the beginning and made flesh at Christ’s birth is as present now as it always will be.

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The Work We Must Do

Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 | Philippians 2:1-13 | Matthew 21:23-32

Saturday night marks the end of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, one of if not the most important day in the Jewish calendar. A day of prayer and fasting begun at sundown Friday evening, it’s not only a time of acknowledging one’s own wrongdoing, such as unfulfilled vows to God, but also a time to seek forgiveness. Every time we come together for corporate worship–whether it’s the Daily Office or the Holy Eucharist–we can pray our general confession as well as the Lord’s prayer. Twice in our worship today, we ask forgiveness not only for what we’ve done in thought, word, and deed but also for what we’ve left undone and for forgiveness of our trespasses, where we’ve crossed a line or committed an offense against someone else . . . as well as forgiving their trespasses toward us. We do this not to live in perpetual guilt but so we remain awake, fully aware of what is going on in our whole lives, mind, body, and spirit. We do this because when we make our baptismal vows, we promise that when we sin (not if but when), we will repent; we will re-orient ourselves toward God. We do this because we are not perfect, because on our own, we don’t have the ability to fulfill the yearning for a life lived fully, authentically, rich with wonder and purpose.

Throughout Scripture, time and time again, we get the message that it’s not us who can solve things alone.

In Exodus, again we hear the people raising their voices at Moses. They “quarreled” with him. If they didn’t have water to drink–in the desert of all places–I cannot imagine this is a lighthearted disagreement, and we get clarification when Moses tells the Lord that the people “are almost ready to stone (him).” Not only are they quarreling with Moses, but Moses says they are testing the LORD. All the things the LORD has done, now they test Him again, questioning as Moses said, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Yet God provides. Here in Exodus, Moses and Aaron do what the LORD says. The same story in Numbers (Chapter 20) has Moses strike the rock and take credit for what God has provided, receiving the promise that he will not make it to the promised land. It wasn’t Moses alone who provided water for the people of God.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, the chief priests and elders deceitfully prompt Jesus with a trick question, one they hope will incriminate himself. Jesus, however, turns the table with full transparency, unveiling the very criteria to which they themselves are held accountable. In their unwillingness to state their own position about where John the Baptist came from, they showed themselves unworthy before Jesus to receive the Truth. How different the moment in the gospel would have been if the elders had been honest about their struggle, given ear to Jesus as the Philippians did to Paul about what constituted righteousness, about what mattered. If they had, Jesus could have shared with them what Paul shares to the Philippians, what Jesus shared with his disciples: that there is complete joy to be had in love of one another through Christ who comes from the Father, that abiding in love with love of God is the utmost fulfillment we can attain this side of Glory.

Presumably written from prison, Paul shares his letter to the Philippians with love and affection, including in our reading today what may have been a “Christ hymn,” something familiar to the community. What truly matters to the welfare of the people is having the same mind, love, and agreement–rooted in Christ. This was to be their work, to “work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling” since it “is God who is at work in you.” Reading this correspondence, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to hear how the Holy Spirit might speak to us from the Word. Are we as a people of one mind? Are we willing to let God work through us, in us, for the sake of love of God alone? For love? For joy?

There’s an article titled “America Wasn’t Built for Humans” by Andrew Sullivan, noted to be a conservative political commentator. In it, the whole premise is that because humans are tribal creatures, America isn’t the best set-up. From the beginning of humanity, tribalism was a good thing, necessary for survival. You know who your people are, you’re working toward the same goals, you share the same myths to understand the world and the supernatural. I want nothing more for my daughter at college than for her to find her tribe, because our tribes can be a good thing. But tribes of around 50 are quite different than a tribe of 323 million. Naturally, we have many tribes within America, and we want to sort and classify everyone so we can understand not only others but also ourselves. From the beginning of our nation, Sullivan figures, “Tribalism was an urge our Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability.” Surely they must have thought that common values rooted in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be enough to keep us united. Sullivan himself hopes that America can find common ground under one president.

But I warrant that placing our hopes upon any one person or even a group of persons alone is not enough. This is hard work, this working out of our survival, especially our salvation. It’s okay for it to be a struggle. Our tradition provides many examples of people wrestling physically, verbally, and emotionally with God or God’s messengers. Think of Jacob, Jonah, and Paul. Like them, if we truly engage, we are not the same person after a genuine encounter with God. Most of the time, if our endeavor is entered whole-heartedly, we are transformed by the experience because the struggle moves us deeper into relationship with God. The closer we are to God, the clearer it can be to see how we’ve lost our way, how much we need God and one another to be fully restored.

The key to a full restoration, the hope for us all is that our humanity can be transformed by the life of Christ, by an understanding and practice of life that restores us to unity in God.

It’s true that we don’t have to be Christian to be good people, but as Christians, we have a unique responsibility to bring about reconciliation and restoration to unity to God through Jesus Christ. How do we do that? As Paul told the Philippians, we have to be of one mind in Christ. This might sound idealistic, but I believe it gets at the core of what a Beloved Community is. It’s neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female: it’s here and now, inclusive of all. But it’s going to be hard, admitting when we’re wrong and losing our lives–especially losing perceived control of our lives–for the sake of true salvation in God. If we can make this sacrifice, then we might be able to taste the exquisite beauty and ultimate freedom in a life given over to God . . . our best opportunity to experience joy made complete.

All this is easy to talk about, especially in context of characters of the past. But the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our Scripture now as then. The clarion call for us all to have the mind of Christ rings loudly and earnestly today, but how do we get it? As Episcopalians, we do engage in Scripture; we have Bible studies. I challenge you to take this reading from Philippians, to take it and read it at least two to three times per day this week. When the Bishop comes next week, see how you hear his message, notice how you welcome our newly confirmed and received, observe how you listen to the news. Will it have changed with a constant focus on who Christ is? Can we put on the mind of Christ and “be the change we wish to see in the world” (to borrow a quote from Gandhi)? We won’t know if we don’t try, and this is the work we must do.

 

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A Sensory God

A poem for a sense of God while in discernment.

Inspiration thanks to a prompt given at Arkansas’ Episcopal Church Women’s Summer Quest with special gratitude for St. Luke’s, Hot Springs.

God tastes like a vitamin

Bitter and nasty

if left too long on the tongue

or in the mouth.

Heaven forbid it get

stuck

in the throat.

Best to swallow quickly and whole.

God smells like a spring rain

refreshing and sweet

with the scent of death

not far away or

under feet.

God feels like a 2×4

directly slammed to the head

or heart

but also like

grandma’s arms and chest

wrapped around in full

embrace

          and

                 comfort. . .

assurance that all is well.

God looks like the twinkle

of the eyes

above a smile,

through the tears,

from the heart,

bubbling up from the soul,

unbidden yet persistent.

God sounds like “YES”

when “no” is easier,

like “Here I am”

when nothing’s left to give,

like “I’ll go”

when no clear path appears.

God is Love

when Fear is all around.

To whom would you

         rather go?

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A Pause

A typo almost dictated the title to be “A Oa..”, which made me think of “an oasis.” What is a true pause but an oasis in our day? At least, this pause is for me. This pause is at the end of a comfortably full day, when I got home before dinner was already late, while the sun is still out, and the house still quiet since the fam isn’t yet back from after-school activities. Moms and dads of all sorts know this kind of pause, a sort of calm before the storm.

And in this pause I choose to write because it’s been a while since I’ve journaled or blogged or written anything other than sermons. While sermons are a treasured part of my ministry, there’s so much unsaid in a sermon, even as I hope to have said enough, trusting Spirit to fill in the gaps.

Pausing for a moment to write grants me the opportunity to see, to open my eyes and gaze with wonder what’s going on around me, let alone what’s going on within me. Pausing for a moment to write helps me realize where my prayers manifest, especially the prayers left unsaid.

This Lent has been a time of prayer: long and intentional, short and rushed, whispered, sung, listened to, promised, and hoped for. My breath prayer this Lent has been

Let me abide in you, O God.

One night driving home it took on the tune to the Taize hymn “Bless the Lord my soul,” and it has stayed with me since then–not that I’m ready to let it go.

If Lent is about realizing our dependency upon God and increasing our awareness of God’s presence, I believe this Lent I learned more about the opposite. I find myself returning to my breath prayer as an escape from all the constraints I put on myself, mostly, and all the anxieties I hold onto when I know full well it’s out of my control. I have seen how much more I depend upon my timing and my management (even though I know how horribly that works out most times!) and see just how messed up things are in the world through our microcosm of a community, rather than trusting in God’s perfect timing and dream for us all.

Preparing for Holy Week, this insight is rather perfect, for once we know something, it’s hard to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist. (I’ll try to be sincere in my gratitude for this knowledge as I keep thinking, “Those to whom much is given, much is required.”) What has God revealed to me in the desert that I can take into the Easter season? What have I learn that, gilded with Resurrection, illuminates not only my ministry but even more importantly, God’s presence in the world?

I think I need more pauses to decipher the answers to those questions, but I know that Easter has much to say about God’s timing and God’s dream for us. In this pause, I can almost feel it in the anticipatory silence surrounding me.

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