Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21, 2017

On Thursday of last week I received a call from my good friend Jane wanting to know if they could show up at the house a day early. They were scheduled to arrive about noon on Friday. One of my life mottoes is, “Nothing says clean like company.” Jane and Bruce are company. We were going to clean on Thursday night. But Jane and Bruce are also friends, so we let them come early anyway.

On Friday I gave them the obligatory tour of the most beautiful office in Maryland and then we spent time at Antietam and Harpers Ferry. We got home around 6:15, had dinner and some good conversation and then went to bed.

On Saturday we drove into Baltimore where Bruce looked up a couple of Aikido facilities (he is a practitioner of that particular martial art) and then on to Camden Yards. We spent some time at the Inner Harbor before entering the stadium where we watched the Orioles trounce the St. Louis Cardinals 15-7. I also purchased my very first hat from Baltimore, where it is now prominently displayed on a lamp.

Sunday was worship and Jane's promised Father's Day gift of preaching for me was redeemed. I always enjoy working with her on the liturgy, and I especially enjoy it when I get to listen to her preach. Following the two services we hooked up with old friends of hers who just happened to have spent a lot of time in Montana; so we did some west coast reminiscing. At home later that day, Joelene cooked up a great batch of ribs and we all had an excellent Father's Day dinner. Jane and I then sat on the deck watching fireflies and discussing church stuff. She thinks I'm in a good place.

Monday was bittersweet as Jane and Bruce packed up their RV to head out on the next leg of their cross-country adventure. I cherished the time we had together, soaking in every moment, every laugh, every word, every good-hearted back slap, fist bump, and hug. The blessings of good friends came up against the realities of living on two coasts.

But as she pointed out more than once, and as was pointed out to her more than once, this is a good place. It is a place I am happy to now call home. It is a place that has happily received us. And while I do miss old friends and the frequency of our conversations, I am happily looking forward to filling in those holes with new friends, new conversations, new “old” memories – because this is now home, and I'm looking forward to creating a time together that will have as strong a place in my life as Jane and Bruce now do.

Thank you to Jane and Bruce for keeping me connected to what was.

Thank you to everyone here who help connect me to what will be.

Blessings,


Todd+

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 14, 2017

My good friend Jane, rector of All Saints in Richland, WA, is currently on a well-deserved sabbatical. She called me up one day while putting the details together and said, “How would you like a guest preacher as a Father's Day present?”

I said, “Of course!” She and her husband, Bruce, will arrive in Hagerstown this Friday and she will be preaching this coming Sunday, Father's Day.

All of that to say that, because of her gift, I have some extra time on my hands where I'm not preparing a sermon. Since I had all that free time this week, I decided I needed to rearrange my office bookshelf. This isn't just an exercise to kill time, but is a much needed reorganization so I can find what I'm looking for. A week or two ago I spent longer than I should have locating a book. It occurred to me then that I needed to file my books by title, rather than by author. For instance, I might know I need to pull a quote from A Table in the Desert, but I won't necessarily remember that Paul Jones was the author. So I made the switch.

It was hard work. It was hot. It took a full three hours. My knees and back were both sore. But when I finished, I had a new system that should . . . should . . . cut down on my search time. And after years of the old by-author way of filing books, it gives me a new perspective.

Sort of like our relationship with God.

How often do we do things the same way, seeing things as we've always seen them, without realizing we should probably make a change? How often do we see God in the same way, without realizing we should probably change how we view God?

I'm not talking about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic here. I'm talking about making substantial changes. Changes that will take hard work. Changes that might be uncomfortable. Changes that take time to accomplish. Changes that make you sore, but sore in a way that you know you've done some good, hard work.

What might those changes look like? We could start with Sunday worship. Is Sunday worship just one of many activities you have the option of attending, or is Sunday worship a priority in your life that takes precedence over all other activities? Are you willing to sit with God in the quiet of Daily Evening Prayer? And it's not just worship. We have a variety of opportunities to serve and participate in this parish. Vestry, commissions, choir, Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants, gardening, offering rides for those unable to drive, monetary pledging, Community Cafe, Bester School, Micah's backpack, these and others give you an opportunity to experience God and church in a new way.

It doesn't even have to be about church, per se. In looking to find God in different places, what if you began honestly evaluating where you have fallen short (sinned) and made an intentional effort to repent? What if you made a greater effort to see Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of all people by avoiding derogatory posts on Facebook?

This will be hard work. This will take a long time. This might make you sore. This will probably be uncomfortable. This could change your perspective. And it just might change how you view God.

Blessings,


Todd+

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 7, 2017

You shall not murder. – Ex. 20:13

“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:43-45a

“Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matt. 22:36-40

“The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” – 1 John 4:21

Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” – Rep. Clay Higgins (R), LA

Those were Rep. Higgins' recent words on how he thought this country should handle Islamic terrorists and suspected Islamic terrorists. He later attempted to clarify his words by saying he wasn't talking about peaceful Muslims, just the Islamic terrorists. But until an act of terrorism occurs, one almost never knows who is a terrorist and who isn't. Like the quiet man down the street who keeps to himself and is only later identified as a mass murder, most terrorists generally lead quiet, unassuming lives in order to not get caught. And it's telling that he focuses on people who look different while ignoring far right wing and/or white supremacist American terrorist individuals and groups.

His solution, no matter how he tries to backtrack, comes down to advocating the rounding up and killing of anyone and everyone who looks different or practices a different religion. This is his Final Solution to ending terrorism – Kill them all.

We reap what we sow. Violence begets violence in a continual downward spiral. But this is also the way of the world ever since Cain took Abel out to inspect the crops. Kill them before they kill us. This is how “honor” works, hitting back faster and harder when you, your friends, or your family have been disrespected. The world is a violent place. The world wants us to play by its rules.

But as Christians we are called to live by a different set of rules. We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We are called to respect the dignity of EVERY. HUMAN. BEING.

Maybe this is why Jesus was silent before Pilate – because he had nothing to say that the world would understand. And the words he did speak, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” were words spoken from a different playbook.

Love, however, is hard. Hate is easy. When Jesus spoke of the narrow road, I believe it was this – allowing ourselves and our lives to follow the broad and easy road of hate rather than the narrow road of love.

May God have mercy on our souls,


Todd+

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 31, 2017

On the Church calendar, there are seven Principle Feasts: Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints' Day, Christmas Day, and The Epiphany. This coming Sunday is Pentecost. It's a Greek word that means “fiftieth day,” and occurs fifty days after Easter Day.

The Feast of Pentecost, however, was not a Christian invention. It originated in the Jewish religion as the Festival of Weeks in which seven sabbaths were counted off from the Passover and an offering of new grain was made. There is a tradition that the Book of Ruth is read at this time, since that story revolves around the grain harvest. Eventually this festival/celebration came to commemorate the time when the Law was given at Mt. Sinai, forty-nine days after the Exodus. And another Jewish tradition says that King David was born and died on this significant day.

For Christians, Pentecost commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the twelve apostles (Matthias having been chosen earlier to replace Judas) in the form of fire:

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages . . .
Acts 2:3-4a

I meet with a small clergy group most Thursdays at Rooster Moon Cafe. Our discussions cover a range of topics, but we are mainly focused on the Lectionary for the Sunday next (the assumption being that our sermons for the coming Sunday are already finished and we need to get a jump on the following Sunday). Last Thursday our focus was on the Pentecost reading from Acts.

“What does it mean,” someone asked, “that the fire of the Holy Spirit was described as a tongue? Especially in light of the fact that the apostles began speaking in a tongue not their own?”

This got us talking about how we as the Church talk with people both inside and outside our walls. Every group has its own language and jargon, and the Church is no different. We have naves and narthexes, transepts and sacristies, corporals and ciboriums, credence tables, pyxes, and palls. Sometimes we toss these names around like everybody knows, or should know, what they are. Sometimes we nod our heads and pretend we know what they are because, as Episcopalians, we should know what they are. Sometimes we explain what they are. But it seems to me that we almost always use them expecting people to learn what they are by osmosis. Expecting people to know and speak church language and jargon when they first come into the church is almost like expecting people to know and speak English when they first come into the United States.

This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost. It's the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit alighting upon the apostles with tongues of fire enabling outsiders to understand what was being said by insiders.

Ascension reminded us that we are called to be witnesses for Christ. Pentecost reminds us that we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.

As both Christians and Episcopalians, we have a lot of good things to say. The question is, Are we speaking in ways that allow us to be heard?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May 24, 2017

Love.

From the way we toss that word around you would think that every use is equal to every other use. It should be obvious that that's not the case. For instance, I love pie and triple chocolate fudge ice cream. I love football. I love my mom, my wife, and my daughter. I love Canon Beach, Oregon. I love the mountains of western Montana. I love seafood. But my love of pie, mountains, and the women in my life are not equal. We can't put our love into a mathematical equation. Sometimes we can't even quantify in an emotional sense what one kind of love means to us over and against another kind of love.

At our diocesan convention, Assistant Bishop Chilton Knudsen gave her address in which she was telling us about her two-year experience here in Maryland. She relayed a story of when she was first elected bishop and a mentor told her, “Being a bishop is easy, just remember to love your people, have fun, and say your prayers.”

Remember to love your people.

This was essentially the same advice given to me when I was ordained to the priesthood. Love your people. Celebrate with them in times of joy. Stand with them in solidarity. Kneel with them in prayer. Weep with them in times of sorrow. And remember that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

When I was going through the search process, my good friend Jane (who will be preaching here on June 18), continually told me that she heard a touch of excitement in my voice whenever I talked about St. John's. Being one who tries not to get too excited, I generally shrugged it off. I mean, really, how excited could I get about transplanting my family 3000 miles and having to wait until noon for the first college football games to air?

As usual, she was right.

This has been a good move for us. It hasn't been perfect, but it's been good; and even God didn't create the perfect, he created the good. From the hospitality of the search team, to the warm welcome we received upon our arrival, it's been good. From our opening worship together on All Saints' Sunday to the quiet, small, prayerful group that gathers for Evening Prayer, it's been good. And at Mayfest, someone asked me how things were going and how people were treating us. I responded, “Everyone has been great, and people have been unobtrusively supportive.” Meaning that people aren't hovering over us, but they show up in a variety of ways at a variety of times with a variety of little gestures letting us know we are welcome.

It's hard to put into words just how good things have been, how much I've enjoyed being part of this congregation, and how good you all have been for my soul. I can't give you a list of equivalency, but know that you are right up there with pie, my mountains, and my girls.

Love,


Todd+

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017

I spent last Friday and Saturday at our diocesan convention. I wasn't sure what to expect, although I had a general idea, having been to a number of conventions in Spokane, Montana, and Oregon. For the most part, a convention in Montana is a convention in Oregon is a convention in Maryland.

But there were a few things that got my attention, and one of those things was Bp. Sutton's comparison of church to baseball. In his comparison, he pointed out that the greatest hitters of all time failed 70 percent of the time. I looked it up, and actually the greatest hitters of all time failed between 64 and 68 percent of the time, while most other hitters fail between 70 and 75 percent of the time. In what other job, meteorologist included, can you fail that often and still keep your job? The answer, of course, is none.

But do you know what a manager does when one of his players has a failure rate of 75 percent? He puts him in the lineup for the next game. And the game after that. And the game after that. Maybe the player will manage to have a failure rate of 70 percent. Or maybe his fielding abilities make his failure at hitting a baseball tolerable.

The point here, as the bishop pointed out, isn't about focusing on the failure rate, the point is about how that failure is managed.

In other words, we can focus and dwell on what we get wrong, or we can celebrate and focus on that which we get right.

It's easy for us to focus on the failures. The sermon didn't talk about the crucifixion. The sermon spent too much time on the crucifixion. There were gaffes in the liturgy. The music was too slow. The music was too fast. The bulletin wasn't correct. Dinner was too late. Dinner was too early. The food was too salty. The food wasn't salty enough. And on and on and on. Even Jesus, as the bishop said, could be considered a failure in some circles. After all, as the leader of a new way of thinking, he was executed by the state. And tradition holds that of his twelve original followers, one committed suicide, ten were also eventually executed, and one was exiled to the island of Patmos (although this later claim is most certainly not accurate).

And yet, we in the Church don't talk about those failures. We talk about and focus on those things that went right. Are we willing to do that in the life of the parish? Maybe the sermon wasn't to your liking; but was there something in it that made you think? Maybe the music didn't suit your taste; but were you able to sing God's praises? Maybe we haven't increased our attendance by 10, 15, or 20 percent; but did you notice we had one new family this past Sunday?

Life in the Church, like baseball, isn't about focusing on our 70 percent failure rate. Life in the Church is about celebrating the fact that we're batting 300.

Blessings,


Todd+

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 10, 2017

Sacrifice

Bp. Sutton recently led a gathering of western clergy at All Saints, Frederick. Before the gathering he assigned a book called, Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now, by Sally A. Brown, for us to read ahead of time. At only 140 pages it's not a very big book, but it is incredibly deep and thought-provoking. In short, Brown addresses the issue of the crucifixion of Jesus, the centrality of that event in Christianity, and how we deal with and talk about how that violent death offers a pathway to life. As I said, it's an incredibly deep book.

How do we as Christians talk about life, death, sacrifice, violence, atonement, redemption, and life? Where do people in general develop both communal and individual theories of atonement? Is Jesus a personal savior, or is he the savior of the world? What does it mean when we say, “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”?

Does sacrifice always require death?

Brown touches on a variety of theories and theological interpretations, but the one I found most intriguing was her discussion about sacrificial living over and above sacrificial dying. One example of this is parents who live sacrificially for the betterment of their children – working extra hours in order to create a college savings account, for instance.

Viewed in this way, the totality of Jesus' life was one continual life-giving sacrifice. Paul discusses the sacrifice of Christ in Philippians 2:6-8: “. . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” And while Paul does bring up the crucifixion, the point he is making is that it was the life of Christ that was a complete sacrifice.

Brown picks up on this thought when she says, “. . . it is the whole of Jesus' embodied life that is sacrificial. It is in Jesus' willingness to be clothed in flesh to live his life as a consistent, sacrificial offering of his whole being to God, by which Jesus makes whole the communion of human beings with God.”

Every Sunday we gather in worship and come to the rail to receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, that Sacrament which provide us with abundant life. Eucharistic Prayer C reads in part, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Holy Communion is the life-giving sacrifice that provides us with strength and renewal. Holy Communion is the life-giving sacrifice that allows us to participate in the life of Christ.

We are in the midst of Easter season, the time we celebrate Christ's life-giving victory over death. With that in mind, what would it mean for us individually, corporately, and, more importantly, for those around us if we, like Jesus, offered our selves, our souls, and our bodies as living sacrifices?