Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Make An Allergy Cheat Sheet For Your Church

One thing that may be very helpful for when you go to a new church or learn about new allergies and want to remain an active part of your church will be a Cheat Sheet for those who are in charge of food preparation. I made up the following Sheet for my own use. It has been helpful and it has been put up on the bulletin board in the kitchen for reference. 

Elizabeth's Gluten, Dairy, Oat, and Soy Free Diet


Fruit (apples, oranges, pears, peaches, bananas, berries, avocados, grapes, grapefruit, pineapple, dates, figs, lemons, limes, melon, pomegranates, tomatoes, etc)
Vegetables (asparagus, peas, beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, celery, corn, herbs, lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, okra, garlic, onion, potatoes, lentils, squash, spinach, etc)
Meat (chicken, pork, bacon, ham, beef, lamb, duck, fish, shrimp, etc)
Grains and Flours (Rice, Corn, Potato, Tapioca, Bean, Garfava, Sorghum, Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat, Arrowroot, Amaranth, Teff, Montina, Flax, and Nut)
Nuts (walnuts, pecans, coconut, tree nuts, peanuts,
almonds, etc)

Alternatives May Be Surprising Things
(almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread, lard, coconut oil, peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, corn starch, rice flour, etc)

Simple Meal Ideas for Reference

Salad: lettuce mix, vegetables, fruits, nuts
Please do not add cheese, croƻtons, or dressing.

Breakfast: eggs, bacon, orange juice, fruit
Please do not use butter.

Lunch/Dinner: baked/roasted/grilled chicken (other meat), steamed/roasted/boiled vegetable, potato or rice
Suggested seasonings: herbs, oil and vinegar, lemon juice, honey
Please no butter, generic vegetable oil, bread crumbs, or fried foods.

Desert: fruit, with honey or sugar or nuts

Warning! I will not eat food with:

Dairy (milk, butter, cheese, buttermilk, etc)

Soy (soybeans, edamame, tofu, soy lecithin, etc)

Oat (oats)

Gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale, etc)

Be Careful! Gluten, Dairy, and Soy are sneaky!

Many processed products have some of all of these in them. Sauces, mixes, cereals, dressings, pastas, soup bases, stuffings, thickeners, mayonnaise, alcoholic beverages, and processed foods are likely to have at least one of these items in them.

Stores in ... with Gluten, Dairy, Soy Free items:

Since this diet is for health reasons, my motto must be “When in doubt, go without.” Please do not feel offended if I do not always eat the same foods. I appreciate your help, your honesty, and your grace in my journey with food.

Thank you!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Reconciliation and Hope

8 December 2013, 2 Advent
Last week Mother Leyla tried to wake y’all up. Do you feel awake yet? She reminded us that we have work to do as followers of Christ and that Advent is a time to refocus, to return to our vision which keeps us going, to remember what Christ has done for us and what Christ has promised us. Advent is thus a season of waking up, anticipation, and preparation. One of the things we are preparing for is new life, the life we have already, but not yet fully. Christ is with us, but Christ is coming. We are currently living in one life, but we are preparing for the new life that awaits us, which we anticipate.  It is mutual waiting for new life to come. We live in a time full of tension.  Yes, no, yet, but not quite yet... Maybe?
 Advent is doubly tense, since it tests our resolve to have Advent at all. We could just skip, quick and easy, from celebrating Christ the King to Christ the Incarnate God!  We live in between the secular year and the church year, the secular world pulling us to Christmas and the church world pulling us to remain in Advent. This tension is so apparent right now. The secular world has been celebrating a version of our holiday already for a couple weeks. Yet we still have a couple weeks to go before the holy day actually shows up. We still have much to prepare. This tension pulls us out into the wilderness.
The Gospel reading for today meets us in the wilderness. We need to wander in the wilderness sometimes. Physical, emotional, or relational, the wilderness can be scary, empty, lonely, can cause us to question our survival skills and our place in the universe. There is great emptiness, stark cleanliness, and lack of life in the wilderness. Yet, sometimes there is surprising life in the wilderness, like cactus flowers or John the Baptist. Sometimes the wilderness is created by ourselves, by our sins, by our problems, by our physical ailments. Sometimes the wilderness is created by things beyond our control. Wandering in the wilderness usually pushes us to see what we really need, to be truthful with ourselves. The wilderness is there to help us reevaluate. Historically, the wilderness has great significance. The wilderness is a place of testing, judgment, and renewal before returning to the world. We need this type of place for preparation and renewal in our own lives. The Israelites experienced so many defining things in the wilderness, receiving the law, wandering, eating manna, hearing a call to be a nation set apart for God.
And it is in the wilderness that we find John. So strange and striking. Offering a wake up call from God. God calls for our repentance through John because God does not want to be estranged from us. Advent is the perfect time for this call because we are preparing and waiting expectantly for Christ, but we don't always know what to do in order to prepare. John the Baptist answers our uncertainty, “Repent! Return to God!” More R-e- words, inviting us over and over again to return to God. Once we are reconciled with God and with our neighbors, we can be filled with the joy and awe appropriate to the coming of our Savior. Repentance is the contrition and act of confessing our sins. We follow through with our repentance in reconciliation when we reconnect with the people and things we have hurt. How can we be excited and prepared for God's coming if we are in tension with God? It's like preparing your house for the coming of an unwanted or disliked relative or guest. It's not joyful, it's frustrating, it's annoying! God's coming should not be like that! John meets us out in the wilderness today, knowing the troubled history between Israel and God, knowing our troubled history as people with God. In our tension between church and world, our current life and the life to come, John calls us to strengthen our relationship with God. A stronger relationship with God is exactly what we need to make it through all the confusion. Being reconciled is not being a push over or letting others walk over us for the sake of peace. That is avoidance or compliance. We want real reconciliation, requiring hard questions and hard conversations. There are many ways to start this process, recognizing what we are responsible for, opening conversations, or even using the rite of reconciliation in the prayer book. We are called to repentance today, to feel the tension between us and God and travel through the wilderness to reconcile ourselves. John calling out in the wilderness reminds us that God wants us to realign ourselves with Christ and not get hung up with all of our human standards. We do not have to worry about living up to anyone else's standards. God promises us forgiveness. We do not need to be afraid, God loves and forgives us simply because we are God’s children. However, what we do also matters. We are responsible for what we do, in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others. Many times we need to forgive others or ourselves so that we can move on with our own lives.
However, if we are not ready to forgive, the church, the community, is here for us.  It doesn't matter how many times our relationships hit the rocks, repentance and reconciliation with God are always available, like relationships with relatives we cannot ever really disconnect ourselves from. We use a lot of courage, vulnerability, and love in the number of times we return to each other over and over after fighting. It takes courage and vulnerability to admit your own fault, to speak to others about the pain you have caused them and that they have caused you.
Perhaps by design, courage involves hope, hope for something better, something new. Our hope in the face of sin is reconciliation with God. Our hope in reconciliation is opening our hearts, taking responsibility for ourselves, and strengthening our relationships. Reconciliation is one way hope is at work. We hope that with God, we will make it through the wilderness.

As we prepare with our friends and relatives, ironing out all the details before we meet so that we can be fully present and enjoy the time we have together, we are also working with Christ to prepare for Christ in our hearts and lives. This way we can greet God on Christmas morning with one of the greatest r-e- words, rejoicing! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

RE: Resurrection

Resurrection. Rebirth. Revitalization. Renewal. Regeneration. Restoration. Response.

They all start with r-e, re. R-e is a Latin prefix, if you remember your high school language studies, you might remember that it means again or back. Adding re to a word gives a repetitive or returning feeling to the new word. And we see this at work in thinking about all those re- words. Even resurrection. Believing and participating in the resurrection implies a returning quality, being redeemed and returned to life, though this time life in God's kingdom.

Luke's gospel gives us a window into an encounter in Jesus' life and it demands a response. The Sadducees bring what they think is a ridiculous question in their mind to Jesus, probably in order to poke fun at him. The Sadducees do not believe in any kind of resurrection, but the Pharisees do, so the Sadducees might be trying to see where Jesus lies in the religious politics of his day. It is almost like asking someone if they think women can be ordained. Depending on the person's answer, you automatically know something about their religious politics. Its not that hard to understand why they don't believe in any kind of resurrection, there is not much evidence for resurrection. The probability of resurrection, in any manner, is inconsistent with what we see going on in the world. Yet, Jesus believes in resurrection. Jesus believes in a resurrection completely different than what we see in this world altogether. And he gives a glimpse of this in his response to the Sadducees. Marriage is not a part of resurrection life, death is not a part of resurrection life, and we are surely witnesses to the place of both marriage and death in earthly life. Death and marriage are two staples of human existence, defining ways in which we live and relate to each other. Yet, even these defining factors do not exist in resurrection life. Life in God's kingdom is very different.

However, life in God's kingdom is not completely different. Our life in God will not be characterized by the changes in relationship we experience now, but relationships do exist, just not in the same way as they do now. Jesus points to how Moses encountered God in the burning bush and how God is God of our ancestors in the present, living, for God all of the community of saints are alive. God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The patriarchs still are in relation with each other and with God, but they are all living. They are in living, resurrected, relationships with God and each other. And not just Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also Moses, Mariam, Zechariah, Susanna, Paul, Phoebe, and the myriad of other saints. God has promised eternal life to those who follow him and God fulfills the promise. In God, resurrection happens, the dead are returned to eternal life.

The resurrection accounts of Jesus and the way Christians have understood resurrection throughout the centuries suggests that this will be an embodied rebirth, a full scale regeneration of our minds, bodies, and spirits. Fully redeemed, fully sustained, fully created, and fully loved. When the kingdom of God is revealed there will rest the full communion of saints. Embodied in a new way in eternal life, means we will be fully ourselves, more wondrously than we have ever been before.

But since this is resurrection, it does imply death. I assume we are all living this morning, as much as we might not feel quite fully awake or present, we are living. So we haven't experienced full resurrection yet in this world, but we have experienced something. We must have experienced some kind of rebirth in our lives, some kind of response to belief and presence, otherwise we would not be here. Our sharing in the Eucharist is a giving thanks for something which we have experienced. In the prayer Mother Leyla will say in a few minutes, we remember Jesus' resurrection and what God has done for us through Jesus' resurrection. The prayer says that we are celebrating our redemption. Do you feel like you are celebrating your redemption today? You have and will be redeemed! It is definitely cause for celebration!

Unfortunately, we get very complacent about celebrating our redemption since we come here for Eucharist every Sunday. In order to get involved in this celebration, we need to go deeper, deeper into living with God and believing that you have been redeemed through Jesus' resurrection. Living into our belief of the resurrection means celebrating the renewal, the rebirth, the restoration we see all around us. Martin Luther wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime.” Alas, it is fall. Instead of new life we are shown death in the created world. However, even the seasons cannot stop the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We see renewal, rebirth, and restoration in the people around us. In our political challenges, in our emotional challenges, in our relational challenges, we experience resurrection life in the changes which make us better people.

Psychology research shows that sharing our gratefulness and our joy increases our experience of those feelings. If we try to be more grateful, we will be more grateful. If we share our experiences of resurrection life, we will better understand the place of the resurrection in our own lives. Sharing our stories of growing into deeper relationship with God, helps us and others grow into deeper relationship with God.

We come to the Eucharist, to church to remember Jesus' death and resurrection, to grow into deeper relationship with God, we want to be part of God's story. We want to be part of the embodied rebirth of the world around us, but that requires response and sharing in order to live into our belief in the resurrection. We need to understand in our hearts and our minds that death does not have the last say. In God, our life means more than what we accomplish before we die, more than how we die, more than what we leave behind. Death has nothing on the power of God in redeeming us. When we live into our belief in resurrection, we are reborn into the joy of God's kingdom. Come, let us rejoice and celebrate the resurrection!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Three P's: Patience, Perseverance, Prayer

Jeremiah proclaims that the day of the Lord is surely coming! Life will be different and everyone will be in relationship with God! His words are full of anticipation!
Yet, that was twenty six hundred years ago. How long are we going to have to wait?

The Bible tells us over and over again that the world is changing and that the world is going to change, that the kingdom of God is coming. Yet we wonder sometimes if it really will ever show up. Christian hope requires more than just faith, it requires Patience, Prayer, and Perseverance.

Patience. Someone once said, “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.”1 Jeremiah shares with us an exciting vision of the kingdom of God, but we have to have patience to believe in the vision while not seeing the evidence of its coming. The second letter to Timothy also speaks to the patience needed in waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. We live in a culture which longs to have everyone’s needs and wants satisfied instantly. But sometimes instant gratification seems to cheapen our lives. Part of the joy of our lives simply comes from anticipation and the fulfillment of patience. The Christmas season would not be the same without the season of Advent, the time of preparation, when we look forward to Christmas and prepare our hearts, our minds, and our homes. Sometimes instead, we have to wait because things are out of our control and this takes real effort to let go of control and accept the need for patience. This kind of patience requires healthy coping skills, supportive relationships, and lots of prayer. Being patient doesn’t always mean being passive, especially when you can pray.

So, Prayer. In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray always. Obviously, prayer is an important aspect of Christianity. But, did you know that the BCP has prayers for before and after church services which are themselves full of prayer? The Episcopal tradition takes Jesus’ instruction seriously and layers prayer on prayer.

Why is prayer so important? Prayer is the business of a relationship with God. Prayer is the communication and presence of God necessary for building that relationship. Like any other relationship, our relationships with God need to be both communal and individual. In dating, you don't really know another person until you see them interact with other people as well, in a social setting. Communal prayer and interaction with God happens here at Thankful, every time you show up for a service. God is present and we are present, even if we don’t say any of the words. Communal prayer also happens in the daily office, the daily services of morning, noonday, evening prayer and compline. Even when you read or say the prayers by yourself, you are part of the community of Christians throughout the world who share in the daily office. We are connected to all those who say the same words every morning, the people in California and New York and South Sudan and Japan. Even if you listen to a podcast of daily prayer on your commute to work, it only takes 20 minutes, you tap into the community at prayer. Communal prayer helps us understand our relationship with God and each other by giving us new perspectives for relating to God and each other. Again, like dating, you don't want to spend all your time with God in social events, everyone needs a little alone time, time for personal prayer, and this is when we can really develop our individual relationships with God. The Episcopal tradition is full of ways of learning to be in the presence of God in personal prayer: lectio divina, which is meditation on bible passages, reading the daily psalm, centering prayer where you sit in silence, getting into Celtic, Spanish, or Ignatian spiritual practices, or simply taking up a day by day book which has readings from the bible or hymns. Humans have been trying to live in relationship with God for a really long time and have developed tons of resources to help grow that relationship.

Sometimes though, we wander in the wilderness, we founder, unable to be patient, unable to pray. We feel like we aren't making any progress. But when we continue praying when we do not feel like we should, that is perseverance. Sometimes we simply have nothing to say to God, or perhaps nothing nice to say to God. And you know; if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. At least, that was what I was taught growing up. But being in a loving relationship with God doesn’t mean we always have to say nice things. God can handle our pain, our suffering, our confusion, and our anger. Praying always means sometimes we have to tell God that we are angry. And there is precedent, there are plenty of psalms in the Bible which highlight the anger and confusion of people with God.

And when we do pray always, no matter how we are feeling, we build a strong foundation for us to be able to do so many other things. Jesus doesn't just say pray always, he also tells us not to lose heart. That means perseverance.

Perseverance. The way I see it, patience and prayer ground perseverance. And although persistence is part of perseverance, there is more to perseverance than just persistence. After all, you don’t want to fall into Albert Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Persevering means sometimes you try different things to achieve the goal when one approach has failed.

Jesus’ parable this morning is about perseverance. The widow perseveres in wanting to see justice done. Jesus uses the unjust judge to highlight the difference between God and humans. God will come to our aid much faster than the unjust judge will, but we still have to persevere, because justice will not come right away. Perseverance requires hard work, patience, and prayer. Anticipation and dreaming can only do so much, being committed to the three P’s, patience, prayer, and perseverance allows achievement.
As Jeremiah, Timothy, and Jesus all boldly proclaim, The day of the lord is coming! The kingdom of God is drawing near! But there isn't any instant gratification here, we have to have patience, we have be prayerful, and we have to persevere.

1 Hal Borland. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Last week or so ago, the parents of a bride whose wedding was called off gave the reception to 200 homeless people in Atlanta. 200 homeless women, men, and children were fed a banquet like none other through the teamwork of the mother and father of the bride and Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, an international organization with deep roots in Georgia.
What an amazing gift to be able to share,
for both the bride-not-to-be and the homeless to be fed on that day.
Her parents are wonderful examples of people changing the world through their vision and their action.

Jeremiah and Baruch from our first lesson today also make wonderful role models of people who are faithful to their vision and in their actions, despite their situations.
Jeremiah is imprisoned
in a city under siege
by a powerful foreign army.
Things are not looking good for the fate of Jerusalem or Jeremiah.
Yet, God gives him a vision of the future which does not end in destruction. Jeremiah is entrusted with a vision of the future
and he believes in it.
But God's calling for Jeremiah does not end with belief in the vision, Jeremiah is called to exercise his belief. Jeremiah must show his belief through his actions, despite the discouraging situations of siege and imprisonment. So when his cousin Hanamel offers him the chance to buy some land outside he city, Jeremiah takes it. Jeremiah knows that all is not lost, Jeremiah has a vision of the land in the future, and he charges Baruch, his scribe, to help him hold the deeds for this land, to help him hold onto the vision in which the land will be fruitful and useful once again in a very physical way.

In a similar way, we have been entrusted with the vision of God's kingdom that Jesus preached and taught in the gospels. In a similar way, we have been invited to exercise our belief in that vision with physical acts in this world. Figuring out how we can participate in that vision is part of the role of being a good steward of the vision. For each of us, this participation will be different and it takes real discernment through prayer, discussion, challenge, and trial and error to learn the best and most fulfilling way which each of us can participate in that vision.

The gospel lesson today challenges how we have been striving for the vision of God's kingdom on earth.
It purposefully leaves the ending open,
waiting for our response to the story.
What will we do? Will we be like the rich man?
Will we be one of the rich man's brothers, ignoring the voices of the prophets?

This is how Jesus invites us into the story and invites us to envision a different future. However, once we have a new vision, we need to move towards that vision. Like the rich man's brothers, we are still in this world, trying to figure out the best way to live in the world with faith.
But we do not always find it easy to follow the directions we are given. The world calls us to gather things, phones, computers, cars, hair products, clothing, to ourselves and wants us to make sure we have the latest update, so that we have the best phone, computer, car that we could possibly have. But the prophets call us to strive for the betterment of the poor, the hungry, and the needy. Despite having Jesus come to us and knowing that he has died and has risen from the dead, we still are hesitant about integrating the vision of the kingdom of God into our lives.
It takes guts.
It takes courage to be,
courage to be hurt or turned away.
It takes courage to step out in faith, to yearn for a vision which we cannot always see clearly.
It takes faith and trust,
faith that the vision is true and trust that what we are doing to follow that vision is actually helping that vision.

The gifts that we share in giving money to the church is not the only action we do in order to stay faithful to the vision of God's kingdom with which we have been charged. Every week members serve the community by reading to the children in the Reading Room. Every week we confess our sins and are reminded of the forgiveness that God has already given us. Every week we celebrate the Eucharist, recalling Christ's presence among us in the here and now, remembering the love that God has shown us.

And all of this sharing costs us.
It does.
We could all be having breakfast in bed on Sunday mornings instead. We could all be kayaking at Nickajack lake in the fresh morning air. Striving for the God's kingdom will cost you time, it will cost you money, it will cost you your ease. But recognizing the cost of all your decisions for God shouldn't be negative. This gives us a reason to realize and examine our priorities.
Jesus started nothing less than a revolution
and we are part of it.
We are called to frame our priorities with the vision of God's kingdom in mind.

This revolution is not only about Thankful Memorial,
it is not only about the East Tennessee Diocese,
its not only about the Episcopal Church of the USA,
its about the whole world.

We are called to share this vision, with and without words, throughout the world. How you do that yourself is up to you.
The possibilities are endless.
Perhaps you will pay for someone else's coffee tomorrow morning. Perhaps you will buy some extra cans of vegetables at the grocery store and give them to the food bank. Perhaps you will start a conversation with a friend about your vision of the world. This church community does offer ways for you to get involved, but so does this city, and I hope that Thankful is not the only place in which you strive for God's kingdom on earth each week.

I cannot imagine all the wondrous things this community can do in movement toward the vision. I hope that you will use your imagination and your stick-to-it-iveness in service of Jesus' revolution.
I cannot wait to hear from yall all the ways you are already and will in the future strive for God's kingdom.
I am excited for the future.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Call from God

I have my phone up here with me today. I’m expecting a call from God shortly…
Brinnnggg, Bringgggg, Brinnngggg
Oh! Yes, here it is.
Yes… uh huh… Yes, Lord, I can do that.
Thank you! Have a nice day.

Wouldn’t that be so nice, if God just called us up, told us what we should do, and then we could go on our way? Yea, but God doesn’t work that way. Jeremiah shares how God called him to a life of God’s service. Not exactly an easy phone call, a bit more awe inspiring and intimidating. Jeremiah is a small boy, with a large awesome God. Thankfully Jeremiah shares with us his discernment of his call to life in God, even his protest. Jeremiah protests by saying “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” even before he knows what God is calling him to do exactly. We do that sometimes, afraid of what might be coming, we protest before we even know what we are being called to do. Like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof whose calling was to be a faithful Jew in Russia in 1905 despite the cultural situation, we know that when God calls, the mission will not always be easy. Tevye cries out to God, “I know. I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” Jeremiah is afraid of what God is asking him to do. But just because Jeremiah protests that he is too young, God does not let him off the hook. It is no wonder that God has to reassure Jeremiah that God will be with him once Jeremiah finds out that his call is “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” That does not sound like an easy task. It’s no wonder that Jeremiah is going to need God to be with him and to deliver him. Jeremiah knows very well that the young are not always listened to, especially when a young person is calling for change. Most humans know the pain that can come along with change and sometimes we become afraid of change even before it happens. We here at Thankful have been living through changes in the community in the last few years and it hasn’t been easy. Some of us are still grieving the losses and recovering.
But despite all these issues, Jeremiah accepted God’s call and spoke to the people of Israel in the midst of their troubles. God speaks to us in the midst of our troubles. Sometimes the best time to be able to hear what God has to say is in our times of troubles and confusion. These are the times when we look for help, for direction, for guidance. God will give us the help and direction we need, but we need to listen and pray to understand. God doesn’t make direct phone calls.
God does not only call Jeremiah this morning, Jesus makes a few calls too. He is in the synagogue, teaching and calling the congregation to repentance and life in God. That’s when this poor, bent over woman comes in. She too is called, called to new life in God. After 18 years, 18 years each of 365 days, of 24 hours and 60 minutes and 60 seconds, after 567,648,000 seconds of being under a spirit of Satan’s control, Jesus calls her to a new life in God by healing her. (And you thought the 720 seconds of my sermon was long.) What better day to celebrate a new life and calling than on the Sabbath? It’s no surprise that after 567,648,000 seconds with Satan, her first act without was to praise God.
But the best calling Jesus gives in the Gospel story this morning is to the leader and people after they protest: a call to real life in God by remembering the reason for the Sabbath. They are concerned about a Sabbath rule which says only work necessary for survival can be done on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Certainly we can understand if they got caught up in figuring out what work was only necessary for survival and not following the true purpose of the day, spending time with God, praying and listening to God. We can’t know for certain if that is what happened, but we all need time to think about the big picture of how God is calling us to live. My call story started with a feeling, deep down inside of my ten year old self, a feeling which told me that I am called to live a simple life of love and action within God’s world. This feeling pushes me to find a way to live in God’s kingdom even while on earth, which involves loving, caring, sharing, and encouraging my neighbors to live in God’s kingdom, and even though I have this feeling, I still need time to listen to God to see how I can live out my calling. I don’t know where that call will take me, but I know that I am in God’s hands. Jeremiah did not know where his calling would take him, but he knew that God would be with him. The bent over woman did not know what would happen when she walked into that synagogue that day, but she felt the calling to live with God and followed where it lead her. It is our turn, to listen to God, to hear the words of our calling, to see how each of us can follow our calling to live with God.

For we have no higher calling than life in Christ, life with God, life through the Spirit. We have “no higher calling than this: to be channels of God’s love and healing and salvation to every human being and to the whole of God’s creation.” (Br. David Vryhof, SSJE) This is the same calling of God that Hebrews reminds us of, if we follow the voice from heaven, God who consumes us with love and sets our hearts on fire will be with us as we follow our callings in the life of God. While discerning our calls is not as easy as a phone call, having to listen and pray means a deeper relationship with God and a better understanding of how God is with us throughout our callings.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Faith In the Midst of Chaos

Thursday September 19, 2013
Theodore of Tarsus

Malachi 2:5-7
Psalm 71:18-23
2 Timothy 2:1-5, 10
Matthew 8:23-27

"True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of The Lord of hosts."

Don't we all wish that such things could be said of all our priests, including someday all of us on the path to become priests? Don't we wish that all our priests were teachers of true wisdom, role models of integrity and uprightness, true messengers from God?

I wish it was so. It is an ambitious goal. Instead, my life right now looks more like the lives of the disciples in the boat on that stormy day in Matthew's gospel. Afraid, covered in the mess of life, calling out for help from anyone, especially God.

Thankfully, Jesus does not leave the disciples hanging. Jesus addresses the situation in two radical ways. Jesus addresses the disciples first and then he addresses the storm. Both are acts worth pondering.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

For years this question has seemed to me to be an accusation. Jesus accuses the disciples of not having enough faith.
It seems to say,
you should not be afraid.
If you had more faith, you would believe that you will make it through your present trials.
Because you are afraid, you have fallen short.

And it's easy to see the story this way because this is not the only time the disciples are convicted of not having enough faith. Many times when they stand convicted, the disciples become defensive, but this time we are not told what the disciples had to say for themselves. One can imagine that they probably thought the reason for their fear was rather obvious, but in the gospels Jesus does not seem to ask rhetorical questions. He asks questions to open our eyes to something new.

And in thinking about Jesus' question this year, I heard it a bit differently.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

This time, I heard it as a reminder. A reminder that having faith means you do not need to be afraid. A reminder that faith starts little, like a mustard seed, and with love and hope, grows. A reminder that God is on our side, even against forces so far beyond our control. While there are no stories in the New Testament of the disciples calming storms, there are stories of the disciples healing people and casting out demons with their 'little' faith.

It seems that a little faith can go a long way.

Theodore of Tarsus is one person who must have had a little bit of faith. He went in faith, from growing up in a small city in Asia Minor, to his studies in Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. And although he had never been to the British Isles, he went in faith to assume the bishops throne at Canterbury when he was 66 years old (in the 7th century no less). For twenty two years then, he was an active Archbishop, building a school, teaching and writing, calling multiple synods, one of which settled the debate about the date of the celebration of Easter, pulling the divided people of the land together in unity, even intervening and stopping a war. Theodore was bold in his faith and we can still feel the effects of his faith today. He was bold because he was willing to go where God called him, into the unknown storms of a new homeland, and in his old age, relying on God to sustain him.

With a little faith we too can be bold in this world. With a little faith, we can work towards the goals Malachi gives us of walking with integrity and wisdom. With a little faith, we can preach and teach truth. With a little faith, we can live into the fullness of the kingdom of God here on earth. With a little faith we can boldly believe that we can love one in times of conflict, we can talk to people in Franklin County jail, we can pack groceries for the Community Action Committee, we can give money for Santa on the Mountain for children. All with just a little faith.

I have one warning for you about calling out to God in faith though. When you call out to God to come to your aid, you should expect great things, but not always the in the same way as you imagine. The disciples called out to Jesus to save them, but they obviously did not expect the response of raw power that they saw. Matthew tells us that they were amazed and questioned what they experienced. While I can only wonder what kind of aid they were expecting, I know that they experienced just a little part of the awesomeness of God through Jesus' calming of the storm. 

So, have faith, even if just a little bit, and be bold. Call out to God and expect great things. God can handle the chaos.

Daily Death

This sermon was given in August during a seminary orientation Eucharist on the feast day of Jeremy Taylor.

Make us,” O God, “like your servant Jeremy Taylor, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.” I actually take enjoyment of sharing good news of death with you all during this first week here. Death was a fond friend of Jeremy Taylor’s, at least, his legacy of books, writings, and collections of prayers point to his ever searching want and wisdom to work towards a holy death in Christ. The collect of the day reminds us to be deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of our lives, I am sure many of you feel this uncertainty right now. Paul in Romans points to the reality that if we are living in Christ, then our death will be in Christ, Christ is ruler over both the dead and the living, we cannot stray away from God. The Gospel of John points beyond all human death to eternal life in Christ. He reminds us that God loves each of us, so much so that God wants us all to live eternally with her. But as humans, the only way for us to have eternal life is to die.

I came to seminary straight out of college, at the ripe old age of 22. I have learned of death slowly, in the passing of plants, pets, eventually, some of my great grandparents and grandparents, tragic passings of my fellow high school and college students. But one of the many things I have learned here at seminary is that death does not only come with the ending of life. Death is fond of all of us and is with us every day. Everyday, a part of our selves die, especially as we learn new things and grow in new ways.

My hope is that you are excited and eager to learn and grow. But I hope that you also realize that parts of you are dying each day and it is necessary to be in mourning. You will mourn the loss of your community, your church, your job in your own way. The deaths you experience may seem to come all at once, or piecemeal, but they are unavoidable and different for each of us. I ask that you be kind to yourself and to everyone else here because we are all in various stages of dying, mourning, and being reborn. It is a hard and painful path to follow, but success is not your goal. Christ is your goal, every day you need to die and be born again in Christ, and while we do not know the path that will take us to Christ right now, we know with the Psalmist that God will show us the path of life.

In this midst of all the pain of dying and rising I want you to remember two things. The first, that like a seed that has fallen on good soil, parts of you need to die so that the rich nutrients of the soil around you can nourish you and help you to grow into the wondrous creature God has created you to be. And second, that I have and will continue to pray for you as you are reborn in Christ. As Episcopalians I hope you will return in your times of pain to the Prayer Book and find the prayer for those who mourn and wrap its promise of love and strength around you.

May you go with God in strength, in courage, in knowledge of the shortness and uncertainty of your life. Go with God prepared to die, for only in death can you rise to eternal life in Christ.