Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January 3, 2018


I've used this word in the past – most recently in September of 2106 as I took a hiatus from writing the Wednesday Word while my family and I moved from Grants Pass to Hagerstown. Unfortunately I find myself needing to take another hiatus from writing.

After Christmas my family went to Ocean City for a few days to relax and watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. During the afternoon of our second day I went ice skating with our daughter. And during that skating session I took a spill and dislocated my right shoulder. I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that my right arm is currently non-functional.

Doctors have been visited and scheduled, tests have been or will be done, and I'm learning to cope with the use of only my left arm and hand. I would ask that you forgive my apparent clumsiness, that you be patient with the absence for a time of what so many of you have found beneficial, and for your healing prayers.

As soon as I am able I will begin writing again. In the meantime, here are a few links you may find interesting:

May you have a safe and blessed 2018,

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 27, 2017

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life. – Collect for St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist, our patron saint. This is a hard feast day to celebrate coming as it does on the heels of Christmas Day and the tradition of many clergy, myself included, of taking a few days off immediately after the rush of services.

For today's Wednesday Word, I thought I would give you a little information about our patron.

Tradition says that John the Evangelist was the brother of James, son of Zebedee, and a fisherman. He was a close friend of Jesus, often portrayed as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He and his brother were ambitious, asking Jesus to sit at his right and left hand when he came into his power and glory. He was the only male disciple at the cross during the crucifixion. He was the author of the gospel that bears his name and the Revelation. Or maybe it was that he was the author of the gospel and the three letters, but not Revelation, Or maybe it was that he was the author of everything that bears his name, Church traditions are a little fuzzy. And, according to tradition, he was also the only disciple/apostle who died a natural death, ie he wasn't martyred.

As we move forward into 2018, may we, as disciples of Christ and parishioners of St. John's, work to manifest the words of today's Collect in the world around us.

May the light of Christ shine brightly through us.
May we walk in that light and truth.
May we illumine the life of those with whom we come into contact.
May we, by our word and example, reflect a life of love which was so central to John's theology.

Blessings to you on this Third Day of Christmas,


Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 20, 2017


Christmas is, seemingly, only hours away. And, to be honest, with all my talk of waiting and preparation, I will have to confess that I am not all that prepared.

Empty boxes of Christmas decorations still litter the house. Thanks to Joelene, at least the majority of our Christmas cards have been mailed out; but other than putting them in the blue box, I really didn't have anything to do with that. The dining room table is cluttered with any number of pieces of mail, scraps of wrapping paper, shopping lists, tape, and I-know-not-what-else. Currier and Ives we are not.

I am, however, (mostly) ready for Christmas at St. John's. I have one sermon written and two to go. Thanks to Joelene, Paul, and the J2A group, the Christmas pageant is taken care of. Thanks to Joyce and the Altar Guild, the church will be ready and look like Christmas on time. Thanks to Mark and the choir, the church will sound like Christmas. Thanks to Kristy and Chad, our acolytes have been scheduled and are ready to go. Things are coming together.

And, if you haven't noticed, this Christmas is different from other Christmases in a long time because it falls on Monday. The last time Christmas was on Monday was in 2006. I was still in Montana.

Christmas on Monday poses an interesting problem in the church because the day before is both the Fourth Sunday of Advent as well as Christmas Eve. This can be a stressful time for clergy, musicians, altar guild, parish secretaries, spouses of all the above, and any number of other people involved in the life of the church. But nobody said that being a worshiping community, let alone a Christian, would always be easy. There are times when things aren't as convenient as we would like.

With that in mind, I would encourage you to participate as fully as possible this coming weekend – both on Advent IV, Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning. We are a community that worships, and sometimes, like Holy Week or when Christmas falls on a Monday, that means we have the opportunity to worship God many times in a condensed period of time.

However you choose or are able to celebrate this Christmas, whether your home resembles a Currier and Ives photograph or not, whether you are traveling or staying home, whether you are hosting parties or have been invited as guests, may you remember to breathe these next few days and may you have a most blessed Christmas season.

In closing, I will leave you with a Christmas video of St. John's from 2011 that our own Helen Stevens put together. Some of the faces have changed and some new faces are missing, but it is a lovely visual of this place in this season that is our spiritual home:

Merry Christmas,

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13, 2017

A hermeneutic of love.

Hermeneutics is, basically, defined as “a general theory of how people interpret stuff.” This can apply to all kinds of things. For instance, if you are a chef, you may apply a hermeneutic of cooking to a travel log of Europe. If you are a historian, you may apply a hermeneutic of history to a novel about colonial America. If you are a referee, you may apply a hermeneutic of officiating to any game you happen to be watching.

Hermeneutics, however, tends to be specifically focused on biblical reading/study; because, honestly, nobody really talks about the hermeneutics of officiating.

I have a friend named Paul whom I've mentioned before. Paul and I have a standing appointment on Mondays to discuss where we are each coming from in our particular biblical interpretations and my sermons. Paul leans more conservative and evangelical than I do, and he really doesn't have any experience with liturgical churches, let alone the Episcopal church, and ever since we met he's been fascinated with my take on scripture. So we get together every Monday and talk and/or study and reflect on scripture. Our first attempt at this was the book of Ruth, and now we're tackling Colossians.

Paul is also a historian, so he tends to come at texts with a hermeneutic of history behind him – what was society like when this was written, who was it addressed to, what was the author trying to get across in that time and place, and the like.

And in our most recent session, he asked me, “What hermeneutic are you using when you read scripture and as you develop your sermon? What is your baseline that you want your people to know?”

In good Episcopal fashion I said, “That depends.”

But after sorting out and pushing to the side all of what depends, I eventually said, “I suppose I operate from a hermeneutic of love.”

That opened up a whole new can of worms. But in essence I said this:

All of scripture is trying to bring humanity and God back into a full and complete relationship. The prophets called us to return to God. God is continually searching for ways to reach us. Scripture shows our struggle to understand God. Jesus showed us what it looks like to live in complete harmony with the will of God. Jesus taught God what it is to be human. And all through the Old and New Testaments, love is at the center.

If we read scripture in a way that belittles, ostracizes, casts off, treats others as less-than, or treats ourselves as more-than or better-than, we are reading scripture incorrectly. And the only way to properly read scripture is with an eye toward the restoration of humanity and God to a full and complete relationship. That is a hermeneutic of love.

How are you reading scripture? More importantly, how are you reading life?


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December 6, 2017


We generally don't like that word.

We got tired of waiting, so check-out lines of 12 items or less were invented. When we got tired of waiting there, or when we got tired of dealing with people who brought 15 items to the line, self-checkout kiosks were invented. We are annoyed at having to wait at railroad crossings. We are apparently to impatient to wait at stoplights that, as long as nobody is coming from the other direction, we don't care what color the light is. We couldn't wait for dinner to be baked in the oven, so microwave ovens were created to cut cooking time to five minutes or less; and sometimes five minutes is too long.

I have to go through three stoplights in quick succession on my way to the office. I've learned that if stoplight #1 turns red at the right time, I can turn left to avoid it and come out ahead.

We have entered the Season of Advent where waiting is not only part of the process, it's the entire focus of the season. In Advent, we wait for the coming of Christ – both in the manger and at the end of days. The birth, like the end of days, will come at a time of Christ's own choosing; for nobody can tell a baby when to arrive, and nobody can tell God incarnate when to return. And so we wait. We wait, and we prepare.

Christmas decorations are going up in homes all over. For some, that means a lot; for others, it is just a few. But how many of us, when we get to the magic date on the calendar (November 1 for the holidays, the day after Thanksgiving, the day before Advent, some other time?) rush to find, unpack, decorate, and place all of our decorations as quickly as possible? I think we do this so that we can enjoy the full impact of the holiday season. Or maybe it's because we're in competition with our neighbors who have already put up their outside lights. Add to all of that the rush to remove Christmas decorations as soon after Christmas as possible and it is clear we don't like waiting.

Why the rush? Christmas will come as it always does. And, as a side note, if you want to participate in the “war on Christmas,” hold neighborhood Christmas parties and go Christmas caroling in the days between December 25 and January 6, being sure to remind people that these are the 12 Days of Christmas.

But back to Advent – why the rush? Advent is the season of waiting. It is the season of hopeful expectation. It is the season we need to take time and intentionally slow down.

This Advent, try doing things a little slower. Take some time and read Luke 1:1 – 2:20 over the next few weeks, not rushing through the story, but taking time to hear and listen what is being said there. If your tree isn't up, try decorating it in stages. If you have a nativity set, begin the practice of walking the pieces toward the manger as Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Don't be in such a rush to get to Christmas that you miss the beauty around you while you wait for his arrival.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November 29, 2017

Creation is not so much an event that took place at the beginning as a process initiated then and completed by the age to come – Rowan A. Greer, quoted in “Blessed Are the Image-Bearers: Gregory of Nyssa and the Beatitudes,” Rebekah Eklund, The Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2017.

We are in the last week of Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost. This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, marking the beginning of a new year on the Church calendar. It also marks the beginning of the season of waiting, of hopeful expectation, of looking forward to the coming of Christ while looking back to his birth.

In Bethlehem, God participated in the miracle of birth. This incarnational event was the result of God's active participation in the very human event of creating a new life.

As we look back to both the beginning and back to the first coming of Jesus we can see the hand of God at work. “In the beginning, God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was.” In the beginning there was a child born to a homeless couple in the shelter of an animal stall. Yet neither of these events were the last word of creation.

As Paul wrote in Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” All of creation is moving toward its fulfillment on the last day. In Advent, we wait expectantly and hopefully for that last day, while also participating in the ongoing movement of creation.

How would our perspective on creation – both the creation of the physical world around us and ourselves as created beings – change if we saw creation not as a one-and-done event, but as an ongoing process that leads to the ultimate fulfillment of God's purpose on the last day? How would our perspective on creation change if we saw ourselves as active participants in God's creation rather than as consumers using what God had already produced?

This Advent, may you see the world around you in a new way. This Advent, may you see the world around you as the unfinished story of creation that you are helping to write.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22, 2017

Silence is golden – ancient proverb

This old proverb was on my mind most of last week as I struggled with a bout of laryngitis. But as I struggled to talk, as I entered into a period of self-imposed silence, and as I looked for creative ways to communicate, I began to wonder if this old proverb was correct . . . was silence golden?

For those who know me well, you know that I tend to lean toward the introvert side of the scale. My motto for conversations could very well be, “Why use ten words when one will do?” And silence is less often awkward than it is a respite from trying to think of things to say.

But even I was having difficulty with the loss of my voice and the inability to speak. It seemed that during this time silence wasn't golden as much as it seemed to be a millstone around my neck.

What was it that made silence golden as opposed to annoying?

When the work crew that has been jack-hammering and digging and hauling outside your window all day suddenly stops, the overwhelming silence that follows is golden. When the neighbor's dog finally stops barking, silence is golden. When you walk into a quiet house after a long commute, silence is golden. When you sit with a good friend or your beloved without saying a word but are happy to be in their presence, silence is golden. When you spend time with God in quiet prayer, silence is golden. When you have the wherewithal to not respond in kind to verbal attacks, silence is golden.

But silence is not golden for the child placed in a timeout. Silence is not golden for people who have been shunned by their community. Silence is not golden for the person who is not allowed to voice personal concerns. Silence is not golden for abuse victims who are forced to remain silent out of fear.

As with anything, I suppose, whether silence is golden or not all depends on the context.

With Advent a week and a half away, and with its focus on slowing down and waiting, spend some time looking for the silent places in your life – when do you have silence thrust upon you and when do you intentionally become silent?

And if you don't have enough times of silence in your life, work to carve out some silent time in an otherwise hectic and noisy world. Sit, pray, think, and notice what you may have been missing. Hopefully it will be in those times that you will indeed find that silence is golden.