Thursday, May 24, 2018

Praise

How can I praise your stability
in the midst of high anxiety
when the only truth to frame
is that you won't leave me alone
when despite my repeated warnings
of stormy seas and high winds
you row out determined
to keep the world together
when the only care
despite the lashing rain of tears
is that we remain forever
stubborn as a rock they say
stubborn as a rock I grin
the grey cliff withstands the stormy sea
until it falls into its arms

(5/26/17)

Spiritual Disciplines


Spiritual disciplines? What are those?
A good question for anyone in the Christian faith and life. Many people, when they take a moment to think of spiritual disciples, think of things like prayer, bible reading or study, and going to church. While those are good spiritual disciplines, those are not the only ones out there. Far from it! In seminary one of my professors gave me a book which outlines 62 different spiritual disciplines: their practices, their functions, and their strengths and weaknesses. Sixty two different practices! That is a lot of different ways to connect to God!

"Spiritual practices don't give us "spiritual brownie points" or help us "work the system" for a passing grade from God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us." (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook p. 19) Spiritual practices help us connect our desire for God in our lives with the work that God is doing in our lives. While there are lots of books out there which outline different practices, ways of connecting to God are not limited to 62 or 100 or even 1000. There are thousands of ways in which we can connect to God in our daily lives. However, throughout the summer, I will be talking about some spiritual practices to try out. Maybe you do some of these things already, perhaps you've never thought of them as spiritual disciplines, maybe they will all be new to you. See what fits your life and desire for God in your life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost Sermon


I want you to take a look at your hand. 
Right or left, it doesn't matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don't think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different. 
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts. 
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly differently than the other fingers... opposable thumbs! 
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same. 
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, "a range of different things."
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people 
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from Acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
"The disciples were all together in one place." 
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fisherman, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
Its quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus. 
Together, this little community of men,
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them. 

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church, 
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn't tell the disciples to go only 
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn't all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse,
even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way 
was so new, 
so amazing, 
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat. 
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear. 
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside of our comfort zones. 
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn't call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasing separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who are differently minded, 
the world lacks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world. 
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves. 
Everyone is different and has different gifts. 
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them for as uniquely themselves. 
It is only by working together, 
using all the gifts which we bring to the table, 
can we really ever accomplish anything. 
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us. 
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili, 
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church's greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world 
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen. 


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Singing


we are
sounds without words
haunting melody
it curls around the mind
changing mood, imagination
what I know as home
became deeper
sunk in memories
subconscious amniotic fluid
the voiceless cry
of a lone viola
stringing through the wind
my heart provides
accompaniment beneath

(3/7/17)

Pentecost Reflection



"O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (BCP 227)

Pentecost was a huge change in the life of the community of Jesus followers. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and changed everything. It opened up the way of Jesus to new people, through the disciples being able to speak new languages. It opened up questions about the place of the Holy Spirit in people's lives with sweeping changes in how the community of Jesus followers saw themselves. It lead the disciples into truths they had never faced before.

I love how the prayer for Pentecost above asks that we can rejoice in the 'holy comfort' of the Holy Spirit. Most times when people experience the workings of the Holy Spirit it is in a new and uncomfortable way. The Holy Spirit sweeps into our lives and turns them upside down. Yet, there is something comforting about the presence of the Holy Spirit, even as it is changing our lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit allows us to know that God is with us and that what is happening is for our much greater good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prayer


There is a phrase in the global church community
which can be said in many different ways.
Almost like the southern, "Bless your heart"
which can be everything from a prayer to a derogatory comment,
the phrase, "I'll pray for you"
can be used in both good and bad ways.
Sometimes it is said in a way that is demeaning,
or makes you wonder if that person will actually pray for you.
However, it can also provide great comfort,
allowing people to know that they are not alone and that someone else cares about them
and loves them enough to pray for them.
Prayer for another is a powerful tool in the Christian community tool box.
Prayer for another is an action of the love of God in us.

Naturally, when we talk about prayer,
we have to recognize that there are different types of prayer.
We pray for ourselves,
we pray in order to communicate with God, and have God communicate with us,
we pray for others specifically in intercessory prayer,
and we pray on behalf of the world.

In the gospel passage for today,
we see Jesus in the midst of prayer,
showing multiple different kinds and uses of prayer.

Chapter 17 of the gospel of John is solely Jesus praying.
He prays for a whole chapter,
While sitting in the garden of Gethsemane
between the Last Supper and his arrest.
Jesus prays fervently to God.
The story says that he was alone during this time period
yet, in the gospel of John,
we have the text of his prayer,
written down for all of us to read and hear.
Jesus probably told his disciples about his prayer afterwards.

The whole chapter-long prayer can be broken up into three parts:
Jesus praying for himself
Jesus praying for his disciples
Jesus praying for the world.

In the first six verses, Jesus prays for himself.
He knows what is coming at this point and he wishes that it didn't have to happen.
However, Jesus is obedient to God and acknowledges that he was sent to do God's will
and God's will he will do.
He prays that God will be glorified through him and that he can join God in glory.
Jesus loves God and thus prays to God. 
In some ways, because Jesus is part of God, 
Jesus' prayers are a self-giving love to and of God.

In the portion of the chapter we heard Deacon Dave read this morning,
Jesus prays for his disciples.
He prays that they are protected,
that they know the truth about God,
that they are one together in love,
and that they go forth into the world to share their witness.
Because Jesus loves his disciples,
he prays for them, over and over again. 
He acts out his love for them in his prayers for them,
putting love into action. 

In the last portion of the chapter,
Jesus prays for the world,
including us.
He prays for all those who will believe in him because of the testament of his disciples,
which ends up being us at this time.
He prays for unity and that love will be shared throughout the world
through all those who believe in him.
Jesus puts his love of us into action in prayer as well.
Through the love of God, inside of him,
he can pray for people he loves throughout time and space.

Jesus sets us a wonderful example in John of how to pray
for ourselves,
for each other,
and for the world.
Jesus shows us how to put the love of God given to us
into action through prayer.

One of the hallmarks of a truly Christian community is their prayer for each other.
Thankfully this is not a new idea for you all here at St. John's.
I know well the prayers you have for each other,
through week day Morning Prayer and the rotation of the congregation prayed for daily,
through the number of Daughters of the King messages I receive daily,
praying for community members here, in Grace Lutheran, and in the wider Franklin community.
Prayer is embedded in this community as a way of sharing the love of God
and putting faith into action.
Practically anyone can see the love you have for each other 
in the service and prayer you give each other. 

As another example, the Book of Common Prayer
highlights this desire for prayer in the community in the service of baptism.
Not only do we vow in the Baptismal Covenant to continue in the tradition of prayer,
but we also pray for the person about to receive baptism immediately before they are baptized. 
Even before they become an official member of the body of Christ in baptism,
the community is already praying for them. 
Today, as we baptize Judson (at the 10 am service),
we acknowledge him as part of the community 
and start
what will be lifelong prayers for him
in this community. 
We act out the love of God for him, through us,
through our prayers for him and the love we show him.

When it comes to community prayers,
I have taken on my own practices of praying for this community.
Each week I move through our membership, praying for a family or couple or individual 
and sending them a card to let them know I am praying for them.
Some of you have probably already know this, having received a card already,
while some of you are still on my list for the future. 
Every prayer request which comes in,
either the DOK email chain, or into the church office, or spoken to me personally,
goes onto my personal prayer list, prayed each day in Morning Prayer.
No need to wonder, when I say I'll pray for you,
I pray for you.
And even sometimes when you don't ask or I don't say it,
I even pray for you then. 
God has poured a lot of love into me, 
and I pour it out in service of the church, 
loving you all and praying for you all. 

Prayer is part of the glue of Christian community. 
One Episcopal theologian who wrote about prayer was Leonel Mitchell.
He wrote a book called Praying Shapes Believing, 
a theological commentary on the Book of Common Prayer. 
In the book he sets out the basic idea 
that how we pray is really what shapes our beliefs.
He also talks about how the reverse is true,
what we believe affects how we pray. 
If we only ever pray for certain people or certain situations,
then even if we started with believing that God cares about other people,
we start to believe that God only cares about those types of people or situations which we pray about. 
He also says that the act of praying,
especially with repetition,
cements ideas in our hearts and minds in ways mere memorization cannot do. 
Putting our faith into action through prayer 
helps us to experience and understand the love of God 
in ways we might not otherwise be able to do.

While prayer isn't always easy,
it is an action worth all the love and commitment we can put into it.
I am grateful to have landed in a community so strong in prayer
and my hope is that we will continue,
so that everyone in Franklin might know us
because of our love and prayer for each other.

Amen. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sorry

stated simply
a turn of phrase
an old cliche
for those who care
with conscious bare
apologizing for others' sins
daunting to change
ignorant to mend
a peace offering
when all you have in exchange
is vulnerability
making its way
from eyes to eyes

(5/28/17)