Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26, 2017

Sacrifice, Suffering, and Easter

Next Thursday, May 4 (May is next week … wow), I will be at a clergy gathering with Bp. Sutton at All Saints, Frederick. The overall topic of the day will be a book the bishop has us reading called, Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now.

In essence, the author, Sally Brown, examines various atonement theories and how they are or are not helpful when discussing the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. It's a good book with too much depth to go into here, but suffice it to say that she comes down squarely against any interpretation of the crucifixion that picture the event as divine child abuse, a glorification of suffering, or as a systemic example of keeping vulnerable people in a perpetual state of vulnerability.

Two questions we must ask ourselves as Christians are these: What was the point of the crucifixion? and, What effect does the cross have on our lives?

It was through the cross that Jesus redeemed the world. Jesus didn't take our place on the cross to satisfy the penal requirements of a vengeful God; what Jesus did on the cross was much bigger than that. What Jesus did on the cross was to break down the walls that divide us – walls that divide us from each other and from God. The crucifixion was a sentence carried out by the powers of the world that were, and are, opposed to the system of God. This is why Jesus was silent before Pilate, because there was nothing for him to say that could be understood by this world.

Jesus' actions on the cross have broken down the barriers and walls that divide us. As we move through our lives as Christians it is important for us to recognize that. It's important for us to recognize that we do not need to spend our time breaking down walls, because Jesus and the cross already broke those walls down. What we are called to do, says Brown, is to structure our lives in such a way that we live like we believe the walls have already come down.

This is not an easy task. Because while Jesus and the cross broke down those walls and barriers, the world is busy working to build them back up. The suffering of Jesus on the cross showed us how the world treats people more interested in restoration than in division. And when we follow Jesus, when we work towards living in a kingdom of God that has no barriers, the world will make us suffer. But our suffering, and the suffering of Jesus, must never be undertaken for the simple sake of suffering. If that were the case, suffering would never be holy, it would only be pitiful.

The suffering of Jesus on the cross, the suffering of minorities at the hands of powerful elite, the suffering of women and children at the hands of their husbands and fathers, must always be taken in the context of suffering against evil. The cross is the ultimate symbol of resistance. When we stand up against evil, injustice, and abuses of power, we are standing with Christ saying, “This is not the way.”

The way of the cross sees barriers already broken down. The way of the cross allows us to resist injustices and oppression. The way of the cross may lead to our own suffering. But the way of the cross also leads to life.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! How will the cross allow you to see new life?



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017

Holy Week Reflections

Today is Easter Wednesday. Today is the fourth day of Easter. And today is the second day back in the office after taking a much needed day off following Holy Week.

But today is also a day I want to reflect on my first Holy Week at St. John's. There are probably not enough words for me to describe last week, so I'll settle on, “Wonderful.” It was a wonderful week.

The weather for Palm Sunday cooperated as both the 8 and 10:15 services began outside with the blessing of the palms and the procession up Antietam St. to the tower doors; and it was nice to hear “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” being sung vigorously at both services. The reading of the Passion was, as always, a powerful experience.

Maundy Thursday was the official start of the Triduum as we gathered in Trimble Hall for a simple meal, the hearing of Scripture, and participated in the foot washing ceremony. From there we moved into the church proper for the final Communion of the week and either watched or participated in the stripping of the altar – that moment when we, like the disciples before us, betray, deny, and remove Jesus from our lives.

Two Good Friday services followed with the Stations of the Cross, another Passion reading, and the reading of the Solemn Collects with space provided for Veneration of the Cross.

Holy Saturday featured the Holy Lamentations, chants reflective of coming to terms with Jesus dead and buried in a tomb.

And then early on the first day of week, while it was still dark, we gathered for the Great Vigil of Easter. The weather again cooperated and those gathered experienced the new fire, the blessing of the Paschal candle, a beautiful rendition of the Exsultet, traditional readings, a baptism, and the flood of lights and joy as we shouted, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! – The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

That service was followed by a wonderful breakfast in Trimble Hall and then a jam-packed 10:15 service with the full choir, joyful music and singing, the revelation of the empty tomb, and the recognition that Jesus lives and is calling us by name. The whole thing was followed by an Easter egg hunt for the children.

All of the above are my basic recollections of the Holy Week services. It was wonderful to participate in them with you all in this place. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and the level of participation. Holy Week tells a story – from triumphal entry to triumphal resurrection. Easter is best experienced when you experience the whole story. For those who missed any part of the experience, I hope you will plan to experience it all next year. For those who experienced all of Holy Week, I hope you found it transformative.

For my part, thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, who defeated sin and death and rose victorious from the grave, grant you the courage and strength to passionately follow him faithfully, and the wisdom and revelation to see things in new ways.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April 12, 2017

The Veneration of the Cross

This is Holy Week. This is the time when the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ takes center stage. This is when we remember that God's “most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified.”

This is when we pray that “we walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

This week offers many opportunities for prayer and worship as we are drawn into the Holy Triduum and Passion of Jesus. The most common form of prayer and worship this week is the Stations of the Cross, offered Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 12:15, and again on Good Friday at 12:15 and 7 p.m. The Stations (or, Way) of the Cross is a 14-step path commemorating Jesus' last human day on earth. Christians use them as a mini-pilgrimage, recalling not only his suffering and death, but our complicity in those events. And on Good Friday, the Veneration of the Cross, is added at the end of the Stations.

In the 4th Century, the Spanish nun Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She recorded the various worship services she experienced, and the Good Friday ceremony of the Veneration of the Cross was one of them. She described how fragments of (what she believed) the true Cross were brought out, placed on a table in front of the bishop, and people came forward to bow and kiss the relics. This liturgy eventually spread throughout Christendom. People today will often genuflect and/or kneel before the cross as they offer prayers and respect. On a side note, the 1979 BCP is the first prayer book to restore this ancient liturgy.

During Holy Week we are called to contemplate those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality. And at the center of our prayer and contemplation is the Cross.

The Cross is a complicated symbol of our faith. On the one hand, it is a symbol of unimaginable horror and pain. It was designed to torture and extend the death process for as painfully long as possible, sometimes lasting days. It is the place where Jesus spent his last hours of humanity, clinging to life, eventually succumbing to either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. It is the place where Jesus willingly and humbly went. And crucifixion is the symbol of ultimate power of the strong over the weak.

Used incorrectly, the cross can be a symbol of sanctioned abuse. It can be used to keep battered women in their place, abused children cowering in their rooms, or for subjugated, enslaved, or marginalized minorities to remain passive. At its worst, the cross can be used to tell people, “Jesus sanctified suffering, therefore you must also take up a cross of suffering.”

Used correctly, however, the Cross can be a symbol of unity, defiance, and victory. It is a symbol of unity when we recognize that God does not visit pain and suffering upon us, but that God is with us in our pain and suffering at the hands of others. It is a symbol of defiance when we recognize that fidelity to the mission of God will bring us up against what the world demands, and nothing the world puts in our way will sway us from that mission; even if what the world presents to us is a cross. And it is a symbol of victory when we recognize that through death Christ has defeated death, delivering us from the dominion of sin, and bringing us to life everlasting. Used correctly, the Cross allows us to sing, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

All this, and more, is what we venerate and what we submit to as Christians. This Good Friday you have the opportunity to venerate and contemplate that which both takes and gives life. This Good Friday, you have the opportunity to seriously think and pray on what the Cross means to you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29, 2017

Left Behind

I went for a rather long-ish walk this past weekend while the girls were visiting D.C. As is normally the case when walking alone, my mind drifted over and around several things before settling in on one.

One of the questions I have been asked on a regular basis is, “What's different between here and Oregon?” What's different has such a wide variety that I really never know where to begin. The weather, for the most part, has been similar. The people are both the same and different. The time zone has been an adjustment. And a plethora of other items makes answering that question difficult.


Blackberries popped into my head on that walk. While I was looking around and taking in the scenery, noticing the rolling hills of the area, trees that were beginning to bud, trees that still had some time to go before budding, and what could pass for empty cornfields, I noticed there were no blackberry bushes. Blackberry bushes were abundant where I lived in Oregon. They grew on the side of the road. They grew alongside the creek I crossed. They grew all along the school playground where I ran to prepare for the football season.

I miss those blackberry bushes that grew everywhere along the roads and paths. I miss being able to stop on my walk and pick a handful, or more, of big, ripe, blackberries. They were a special treat on a summer walk. I miss those blackberries that I've left behind in my move east.

It occurred to me, though, that if I focused on those blackberries I might very well miss the treasures that this area holds. If I dwelt on what I had left behind, I would never make the transition to where I need to be. If I continually focused on what I couldn't have, then I would never accept the home that was being presented to me.

And that, in a nutshell, is Lent.

Lent is the traditional time Christians give something up as a matter of discipline. Have you noticed, though, that people often focus on what they have given up? It's Lent, I can't have chocolate. It's Lent, I'm not allowed to watch TV. It's Lent, I can't do whatever. If I only focus on the blackberries I can't have, my whole existence in Maryland will be Lent and I will never see the beauty of where the Spirit has called me.

Lent isn't about dwelling on what you have given up, or on what you have left behind; Lent is about learning to make a transition to where God is calling us. Lent isn't about focusing on what you can't have, but on being willing to accept the home that is being presented to you.

It's Lent. Leave the blackberries behind and learn to see the beauty of where the Spirit is calling you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 22, 2017


Technically speaking, this word is probably not the word I want. Colloquially speaking, this word works. Protocol is often used when discussing how things are supposed to be handled. It's used when discussing proper procedures, especially within organizations. Protocol, or the establishment of a system, is often used to create clear lines of communications, and/or to avoid that thing called triangulation in which people talk about things or other people in order to avoid dealing directly with a specific situation.

There is a lot going on in this church. We have many people involved in many aspects of our parish life. Some of these things are directly overseen by me, and some of them are directly overseen by others. Some things I am responsible for, and other things I am basically a cheerleader, offering encouragement and support. But even when it comes to things for which I have minimal oversight . . . well . . . as Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.”

The reason I'm bringing this up is because there have been a couple of recent situations involving the Sunday liturgy in which it would have been best if proper protocol had been followed.

These situations include people other than Chad or Kristy giving the acolytes additional instructions or correction, and one in which someone tried to give the LEM's instructions on doing their task during the service.

Normally I would discuss this privately with people. However, I felt I needed to put this out publicly for a few reasons.

First, I think it's important for everyone to understand that discussing liturgical tasks with our vested ministers during the service is inappropriate.

Second, I think it's equally important that we all understand the proper protocol when addressing concerns you may have. If you are concerned about something in one of those areas in which I may have minimal oversight, you are encouraged to speak with either the chair of that organization or with me at an appropriate time. If you are concerned about something in the liturgy, please speak with me first, also at an appropriate time – and the appropriate time is never during the service.

We all have a role, or roles, to play in the life of St. John's. Please don't bypass proper protocol by offering instructions or corrections to those whom you think need it. Come instead to me, or to the person(s) with direct oversight, about your concern or observation. You may be right and we can make necessary corrections, or you may be given a good reason why things are done the way they are.

Either way, we will be much better off by avoiding the he said/she said game.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15, 2017

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins . . .
BCP 317

A few weeks ago I was asked if I offered confession during Lent. I think I offhandedly replied that I offered to hear confessions any time during the year, not just during Lent. As we talked, I realized that what was really being asked was, “When is a good time for me to come and make a confession?” They pointed out that some priests make it a practice to sit in church on certain days at certain times and simply wait for people to show up for confession.

I don't do that – sit in the church and wait, that is. What I do instead is to let people know that I am willing to hear confessions, but I prefer to do it through appointments rather than the hit or miss system of waiting in the church. And then it occurred to me that I may not have made that clear to the people of St. John's.

So let me be clear – if you wish to participate in a formal confession (officially known as the Reconciliation of a Penitent in the BCP) during Lent, or any other time for that matter, please contact me to set up an appointment and I will do so. All you need to do is say something like, “Do you have time to hear a confession?”

There are a few things you should know about this rite. First, we don't need to go through a litany of sins you have committed since 1975. Stay focused on one or two things that are troubling you at this particular time. It may help to spend some time in prayer before coming so that you are fully in tune with what needs confessing.

Second, this is not mandatory. The rite is available for all who desire it. It is not limited to times of sickness. And confessions may be heard at any time and in any place, although I prefer to use the church proper. There is an old saying that holds true regarding formal confessions: All should, some may, none must. The general confession we say together during Holy Eucharist is a catchall for the sins we commit. But you may feel this isn't getting to the heart of the matter and so desire to make a personal confession.

Finally, the Exhortation advises us to go to a “discreet and understanding priest.” And the rubrics for the rite specifically say, “The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken.” In other words, what is said under the seal of the confessional remains under the seal of the confessional until I die. This does not mean you can get away with murder (as there are procedures for those kinds of discussions), but it does mean that you can be assured I will not discuss your confession with any other person.

On Ash Wednesday you were invited to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance. If you find yourself bothered by a specific sin and feel the need to confess that sin, please know that, by the authority granted me through God's one, holy, apostolic Church, I am here.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 8, 2017

What are you doing for Lent?

That seems to be a common question around this time of year. For whatever reason, we ask what others are doing for Lent, either giving up or taking on. Maybe that's because we want an assurance that we aren't the only one practicing a Lenten discipline. Maybe it's because we want to figure out how we stack up – how does giving up desserts compare to fasting every Friday? Maybe it's just religious small talk, akin to, “How are you enjoying the weather?” Or maybe that's just me.

As a rule I don't discuss my Lenten discipline. Part of that reasoning comes from Scripture when Jesus admonishes those who fast to wash their faces, put oil on their heads, and not let people know you are fasting. “Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing,” he says.

I'm going to break that rule this year.

Since I arrived at St. John's, I have found myself busier than I think I have ever been as a priest. That happens in a parish this size with the amount of things we have going on around here. And it seems that every day when I go home, I go home thoroughly exhausted. I'm not complaining – it's been a very good busy and a good tired. But, upon reflection, I discovered that I was doing too much time reacting to things rather than having a good plan.

My Lenten discipline this year, therefore, is to fix that. And I think I have a plan.

I've been working on a weekly schedule that puts things into blocks of time. It's taken a few drafts, and a few suggestions to tweak it, but I think I've got it. This schedule includes times to meet with people both in and out of the office; it includes times for prayer, study, and education; it includes times for worship; and it includes times to be visible around Hagerstown.

My hope is that it will help me be more proactive in how I go about the job of being your priest, as well as offering needed flexibility to react when necessary. Melonie, as well as the rest of the staff, has a copy of the schedule and she knows when and where I am available.

What I'm asking from the good people of St. John's is for you to help hold me to it. Please be understanding when requesting appointments. Please call me to accountability when I seem to get out of whack. And please know I am doing this to (possibly) avoid past mistakes and be the priest you all deserve.

As it turns out, sometimes it IS important for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.

May your Lent be filled with discovery,