Monday, December 29, 2014

God is with us, wherever we are (Sunday after Christmas)

God of the Word, you are the tent God, pulling up stake to be wherever we roam. It is time for us to see who dwells in our midst, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen (preachingtip.com)


One of my favorite movies growing up was the Lion King. I hope you've seen this children's classic. It's a movie that if you have kids, you cannot just watch once. At least ten years after the Lion King came out, Disney made the Lion King 1 1/2, a different kind of sequel. The movie starts with Timon and Pumbaa, the comic sidekicks, in a theater watching the Lion King. Timon starts to fast forward the movie and Pumbaa protests. 
Pumbaa: Uhh, Timon, what are you doing?
Timon: I'm fast forwarding to the part where we come in.
Pumbaa: But you can't go out of order.
Timon: Au contraire, my porcine pal. I've got the remote.
Pumbaa: But everyone's gonna get confused.
Pumbaa: We gotta go back to the beginning of the story.
Timon: [fast forwarding] We're not *in* the beginning of the story.
Pumbaa: [rewinding] Yes we were, the whole time.
Timon: [fast forwarding] Yeah, but they don't know that.
Pumbaa: [rewinding] Then, why don't we tell them our story?​
Timon: Hey! Pumbaa! I have a great idea, why don't we tell them our story?

Which they then proceed to do, they go back, before the beginning of the story and retell it though their perspective. I feel like this is what John is doing, he wants to tell God's story, but he can't just start with Jesus' baptism and the beginning of his ministry, he has to go back, all the way to the beginning. John knows that history is important for relationships. It's important for us to know where we have been, it gives insight to where we are going, gives us a grounding, but it should not stop us from going forward. 


So the beginning of John's gospel recalls the beginning, Genesis, where "In the beginning when God created." It was in the darkness of chaos, as the priestly writers of Genesis say, that God first spoke light into being. In the Hebrew tradition, this is when the Word, which was in God and was God, was spoken and came into action. In ancient times, agreements were not written down, everything was done by word of honor. In Hebrew, daber, which means word or to speak, also means a thing. The connection is deep between what is spoken and done. In Greek as well, logos, the word, has a dynamic quality to it, the spoken word gives character and coherence. Words shape reality. We know the power of words, we feel it when someone shares their love for us or yells out in anger at us. 

 God speaks, gives birth to, the marvelous Light of the universe, and "the Word became flesh and lived among us." God sent his Son to us to be the reality of his love and grace and relationship with us, to help us understand the presence in a human way. John doesn't stop with the beginning and creation, he continues connecting God's story into a integral whole. He talks about Moses and the law and how during that time, God's house was a tent. The Greek literally translated says, "the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us." The people were nomadic, moving through the desert. God dwelt among the people of Israel in a tent, so that whenever they moved, God moved with them.  Through Jesus being among us, God continues to dwell with us no matter where we are.

Even though we build houses and gardens and set up lawn ornaments, we still move around, wandering, in our hearts and minds as we journey through life. God was not just with the people in the desert for 40 years in the tabernacle, God was not just with the Galileans in Jerusalem two thousand years ago or with the reformers four hundred years ago, but God is with us now, moving as we move, knowing us better than we know ourselves. God goes with us, wherever we are. God has a nomadic lifestyle, always has, always will... Being with us, wherever we are.


God is with us and God is love. Those are the main points in John's Gospel and he sets them up nicely in this beginning passage. It is beautiful in style and writing, especially the way we have it. Its rich. Its laden with meaning. Its full of the gospel, of love and hope and joy. We have been saved. We have God. God came here to us. The Jesus who was and is and will be. There is poetry and theology there. We know God's spoken Word of grace, we know Jesus, born on earth and in our hearts. The Word is spoken, and grace is given. We try to celebrate all the instances that we see it, the daily epiphanies, the birth, the death, the teachings... We live a life of celebration (even calling our church service leaders celebrants) there is something special about every day of our lives with  God and we try to capture that knowledge daily, weekly, and yearly in the celebrations of the feasts.


Today, we are still in the midst of celebrating the birth of our savior, and (at the 11 o'clock service) we will celebrate the baptism of another one of God's beloved children. The writers of the prayer over the water in baptism have this grounding urge when telling the story of water in the Christian life, it's not just that Jesus was baptized in water, but water was present at the very beginning. The baptismal prayer gives the whole arc of biblical history in relation to water: "We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life." 

In the beginning, through our journeys, in our baptisms, in our deaths and resurrections, God's Word, God's Love, God's Grace was wrapped around us and will be until the end. God is with us, Emmanuel, wherever we are, wherever we roam.

Amen!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day


Christmas Day 2014

Eternal God, who sent your Word into this world to share your love and peace, Grant us grateful hearts and passionate souls that we may share your good news and word, through your holy and everlasting name. Amen. 

You know the sensation, the fumbling in the dark, using only your fingers to feel for the familiar forms... the scraping noise... the moment the match lights up with the beginnings of fire... the haste to light the candle well and fully before the match is consumed and as your fingers feel the heat of combustion creeping closer. Bringing forth light in this world. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

The fascination in the scriptures with the dichotomy of light and dark has a profound influence on our theology. Through metaphor, imagery, and explanation, we use light and dark to make sense of the inner spiritual realms as well as the world around us. We still light candles in church, even though they are not our main source of light anymore. There is something powerful about the way light is created, flickers, dances, from a candle that speaks to our history and traditions. Candles focus the light, like spotlights, onto the main focus, be it the altar, the gospel, or the cross. 

The beginning of John's gospel recalls the beginning, Genesis, where "In the beginning when God created." It was in the darkness of chaos, as the priestly writers of Genesis say, that God first brought light. In the Hebrew tradition, this is when the Word, which was in God and was God, was spoken and came into action. In ancient times, agreements were not written down, everything was done by word of honor. In Hebrew, daber, which means word, speak, also means thing. The connection is deep between what is spoken and done. Words shape reality. 

We all know words share our realities in many ways. Just think of the power of I love you, or thank you, or I never want to see you again. Many times we use our word power in ways that contribute to the darkness of the world. In words of anger, pain, hate, indifference. These words create darkness. In our minds, or in the minds of others. And we all have things that frighten us about the darkness. Perhaps the literal darkness, perhaps the metaphorical. Not knowing what is going on or what is happening, what might happen. The darkness of depression or anxiety, worry about family members, about the country, about the environment, about the children, or those who walk the streets, or our world leaders. The evil that happens around us in forms of abuse, neglect, hate, and fear. We face darkness in so many places in our lives. Yet, there are always cracks. Cracks in the dark where light shines through. Sometimes we cannot see the light, we are facing in the wrong direction as it were. We need John to stand and point in the correct direction so that we can see the light, and not just the shadows. Sometimes the light is as small as a tea candle in a window. Sometimes it is as big and bright as the Rockefeller Tree, sometime as simple as a smile, or elaborate as a surprise party. But nothing can stop the true light of the universe from breaking in.


The birth of one so holy in the presence of a world so sinful is hope - hope for true meaning - hope that love, despite our attempts to mold it to our own devices, is stronger than all else. This hope allows us to trust God, trust ourselves, and trust each other. Through the action of sending his son, through this great love, God has proclaimed us His children. As his children, we are cared for, loved, protected, and comforted.

As God's children, we still battle the forces of evil in this world. It is ourselves that we are mostly battling. The greed, selfishness, pride, shame, guilt, that we carry. For most people, a baby strips us of all that. 

At any party the person who has the greatest following is the baby that shows up in its parent's arms, because it couldn't be left behind. Most people want to say hi, to give a pat or hold the hand for a little bit, even hold the baby, willing to hang on to the preciousness that exists at the start of life, willing to walk that person to sleep. Babies demand our attention, a response. I do not know anyone that is indifferent to babies. Love them, hate them, I don't know anyone who is indifferent. They rely solely on us. To think of God, in a position of relying solely on the care of a few human beings. 

What a position of power and knowledge for humanity. That God trusts us enough, despite all the horrors of this world, to come here as a baby. To be born, helpless and needy. Such are we. We remember this birth for so many reasons. We look forward to his wise teachings, his grace, truth, love, compassion, and response to us in our positions of helplessness and neediness. We look forward to his death, which saves us from ourselves and our sin. 

But at this moment, all we have is a baby. Full of possibility, full of vulnerability, full of neediness. Babies are relational beings. God is relational, in being, the father, the son, and the holy spirit, in relationship with each of us.  Even light is relational,  fire cannot exist without a substance reacting with oxygen. Lightbulbs are elements reacting with electricity. Its a relationship of change. Being in love is transformational, being in relationship with God is transformational. Holding a baby for an hour is transformational. (It may only make your arms tired, but if thats all you walk away with, I would be impressed.)

 This is the light of one shining in the darkness. We are not alone in this darkness. We are not alone in our worlds of pain, shame, guilt, and greed. We have been given the light of the world. The greatest gift of Love. 

In Bethlehem in Judea, there is a cathedral marking the remembered birthplace of Jesus. Below and behind the main altar there is a small staircase leading down to a small cave lit only by silver lamps. There is a silver star embedded in the floor surrounded by tapestry and candles, rejoicing in the birth of the King. Only oil lamps and candles are in this space, for thousands of years. Marking the entrance of just one instance of the light of Christ in this world. 

When the darkness of the world and our own minds threaten to overcome us, remember that a little light goes a long way. Leonard Cohen sings, "there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." Or Professor Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light." Remember the baby, who demands all our love, and we are so happy to give, and rejoice. It doesn't matter how dark our world is this year, we know the light and the darkness cannot overcome it. ​And we do not rejoice alone, the "fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy." Rejoice! God is with us.


Amen!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Callings

Lord God, who created the wilderness, help us to listen to your calling, and follow in your paths, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen​

Advent. I've gotten a lot of questions from the students at the school about what Advent is. I've tried to explain to them that advent is a time of preparation, a time of reconciliation, of repentence. They don't always understand these words. They ask me, why do we have to prepare for Jesus? We need time to prepare, just like coming relatives. With one boy, I asked him if he has to do anything before his relatives come over, he told me, clean my room. I asked him if he had any cousins he didn't like, and what happened when they were coming over, he said, yea, I hide my toys. I asked him, what do you do when your best friend is coming over, he grinned widely and with enthusiasm said, I get out my cars. I couldn't help but grin along. So what do you think you would do if God was coming over? He stopped for a second and then said, I guess I would clean my room and get my cars out, do you think he like cars? Oh, Yes, definitely. Especially silver thunderbirds. 

Year after year, Advent reminds us to prepare for the coming of God in the nativity of Jesus. It's a  process year after year, of cleaning out our spiritual homes, admitting our failures of another year, repenting, walking in the wilderness, and rejoicing in the presence of our Savior. Every year, John the Baptist meets us in this place, calling us to go deeper.

When I hear the reading from Isaiah this morning, I try to imagine John's call story. We know the call stories of Moses, with the burning bush; and Samuel, hearing God's voice at night and thinking it was Eli's, and Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Mary, whose call stories were writing down, and remind us that it is not us that make us worthy for ministry, but God. We do not know how John learned what he was to proclaim in the desert. I am always caught by the verses, and maybe it's partly given my situation as a preacher, "a voice says, cry out! And I said, what shall I cry?" I can see John, feeling the pull, as so many of us do to speak out, and asking this question. And John knows, knows because he has met Jesus, that he is to proclaim that God is coming, prepare the way! That's where we meet him today, standing on the banks of the Jordan, proclaiming his message, repentance, baptism, God is near. 

Google maps estimates that it would take 9 hours of walking to get from Jerusalem to the Jordan river at its closest point. It's a serious commitment to go see John for the people of Jerusalem. I can tell you from experience that by car, it takes 45-60 mins depending on Jerusalem and "border" traffic. In that hour of driving, or nine hours of walking, the landscape changes from semi-arid to hilly desert to lush river valley to rocky outcroppings. And then there is The Jordan River.  Baptism, or ritual religious washing, was really not that new to the people of Israel at that time, Jewish men had to purify themselves before going into the temple or synagogue. I have pictures (and pictures) of ancient Jewish mikvot, the baths used for such washing
The new part about John was the proclamation that the Messiah was coming, was almost here. The Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah for ages, for centuries, nothing new about waiting for the Messiah to come. But John, in his look of strength and wildness, was saying, now, soon, watch! Repent, because the time has come. What? That is new. In a similar way, we have gotten in the habit, grown from centuries of waiting for Jesus to come again. What urgency is there in waiting for a Lord who hasn't come again for two centuries, (do you feel the sense of urgency in the church today?) and yet John stands before us and says, the time is now, soon, get ready! God is calling you!

In great biblical tradition, John has the perfect place in which to cry out, in which to call out to us. The wilderness. We know that Jesus will spend time in the wilderness figuring out his calling. We know the forty years of wandering by the Israelites after leaving Egypt in the desert, and the story of Ezekiel seeking God in the storms of the wilderness and finding God in the silence. (pause)

They are stories of pain, fear, anguish, angst...but they are stories where God is tangibly evident. Fully in focus and present. 
We do not always cope well with these spaces in our own live, with the liminal spaces. We do not always cope well with the wilderness, or even with God in our lives. The Israelites didn't cope well with their time in the desert. Golden calf? Not every church copes well with interim or new priests. Not every school copes well with new leadership. Not every town copes well with transitions between political leaders. Not every community copes well with changes in demographics, or environment or economics. Or the death of a beloved member. On a personal level it can be as simple as going to the doctor, being told something isn't normal. These are the spaces that get to us on the deeper levels. The times where the house doesn't feel right, even though you know your way around in the dark. Those places are wildernesses, even when they happen in our own kitchen. God comes to us in those spaces, John calls to us in those spaces. 

No matter what we do, there's no running away from it, we will find ourselves in the wilderness with John calling us. We cannot go anywhere without the inner wilderness – the vulnerability, the uncertainty, the doubts that we carry around on a daily basis. It may seem like a very silent, empty place within, but that is where the quiet voice can make all the difference. 
God calls to us in the silence of the wilderness because that is where we can hear. We are enough out of our normal routine to be able to see that something is happening. It happens many times, things call to us when we are in our stride, but we ignore them. We are on track, full steam ahead. But when we are searching, looking, not settled, that is when we can hear. When our cups are full, nothing can be added. Only when our cups are empty can they be filled with the overwhelming love of God.

The season of Advent is a wilderness itself. The already but not yet feeling, the world saying Christmas is here, but knowing we need some more time to prepare. 

When you find yourself in the wilderness, listen!
For God is calling you, deeper into relationship.

And answer. 
The ride is not less wild with God, but it has more meaning. It is the greatest ride you will ever be on.

Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bluebonnets

I have another story. Another moment of God smacking me in the face.
(Kind of like the rock story, which is here.)

I've lived in Houston a full four months now.
A whole season. A season in which the temperature has changed!
(Much to my neighbors' chagrin actually.)
Its been a huge change, one that I haven't been able to ignore at all.
As much as Texas is still part of the same country and many things are the same, living in Texas has been a huge transition for me.
And I cannot tell you how many times I have questioned this decision.
While I have never once said to myself, I want to leave, I have asked myself a lot of questions along a similar vein: Why Texas? How can I live here? How am I going to get my snow fix? Why did I move away from all the people I know and love?

In the midst of all my questioning and wondering, my church offered this Advent preparation morning retreat called Cup of Wonder. The gist is that you go for two hours, there is a speaker, you pick a mystery bag with a mug in it and a reflection book, you spend an hour or so in silence reflecting on the mug that you received and the stuff in the book, and then people share, the group prays, and you're done! Sadly, I joined the group halfway through, but they were still graciously willing to let me pick a mug and a book and share with them at the end.

There were mugs with snowmen on them, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas shouting from the sides, hearts, birds, songs, maps, patterns, weird 80's plaid, and so on. Everyone had a mug that spoke to them in some way, reminding them of something in their lives that needed standing out, needed to be shared.

My mystery mug has bluebonnets on it.
AKA: The Texas State Flower

The reflection is quite obvious:
When you ask God to put you in the right place
and you prayerfully make a decision and follow through,
despite all the questions...
you really just have to trust that it is right.

God saw bluebonnets, and God saw that it was good.


Options

16 November 2014
Proper 28

"God of our journey, you call us to an adventure, to venture with the treasures you have given us. When we fear, we refuse to risk, and our talents are buried and rotted. Free us from ourselves,
from our dread of life’s chances, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen." (Revised from Bob Elden, preachingtip.com)

I love the phrase from the collect this morning: "Grant us so to hear [the scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them." During my time in seminary, it was sort of a catch phrase. There was so much about the scriptures, church history, theology, ministry, that we needed to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest... Even though we thought we already knew the stories and the major points about being Episcopalian, there is always more to learn. One of the things emphasized by my teachers was that parables need some inward digesting before we can make any sense of them. We may think we know what they say on face value, but that isn't always the main point, sometimes it's even the opposite! The number one thing I learned about the scriptures though in seminary, was that context matters, context, context, context.

Now, I just read the parable of the Talents to you. Hands up, how many people already think they know what it means, what Jesus was telling his disciples, what Jesus is telling us in this passage?  Thank you.

 Again, hands up, how many people think they understand how important this parable is?

I would like to give you a little context. (In seminary, this statement was always followed by an audible groan.) This parable is between the parable of the bridesmaids, which we heard last week, and the parable of the goats and the sheep. It's part of a series of parables in Matthew which is how Jesus responds to the disciples asking about the second coming and the end of the age. The end times! Eschatology! For those of you who like big words. The series of parables that forms Jesus' answer includes stuff about false prophets, the visions of Daniel, the infamous parable that forms the basis of all the Rapture talk, and then the bridesmaids, the Talents, and the sheep and the goats. Boiled all down it comes to two main points: we will never be able to know when the end is coming and we should always be prepared.  

Both of these points are highlighted in the parable of the talents. And this parable breaks down what the options are in the situation. Let's go back to the part of the story just after the Master gives the servants money and goes away. The servants now have A LOT of money to keep, and we are talking on the order of $200,000 to $2 mil respectively, and they don't know when their master will be back. And they are given no instructions. Nothing. The master doesn't say, please double my money, please invest or build or anything. I venture to guess that if most of us were handed a large amount by our bosses and given no instructions, we would have a moment of shock. I know I would. 

In that position, they have a few options. We know they each must have had some capacity to make good decisions, they were given the money according to their Master's perceptions of their ability. They were each given a huge gift, an opportunity like none other. They can wait, holding onto the money, they can take the money for themselves - and with that kind of money, they could have all freed themselves from whatever was keeping them indentured to their Master, they can do good with it, or they can hide the money. Yet, the first two make the choice to invest, share, and grow the gift given to them. It's gratitude of being trusted that allows the first two servants to go do something with the money entrusted to them.

We have the same choices with our gifts. None of us can deny that we have been given some wondrous gifts in this life. And we are waiting, waiting for the son of man, waiting for the second coming of Jesus. "Waiting for the world to change," Waiting for Christmas, waiting, sometimes not even sure what we are waiting for. And we have options! Like the servants in the parable, We can show our gratitude, We can hide our gifts, or We can just wait.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is Oh, the Places You'll Go. It shares what the journey ahead will look like, in general terms. It's very honest that sometimes you will be doing wonderfully, you'll be at the top, with everything looking grand, and sometimes you won't. Sometimes you'll be alone. “And when you're alone there's a very good chance you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants!” So true. And then other times, you'll have lots of great friends, who support you and love you. But the part that always gets to me the most is the Waiting Place, where people are just waiting and not doing anything. Waiting for Friday, waiting for a better break, just waiting. And some Christians are like that, they are just waiting, waiting for forgiveness, waiting for the end, waiting for Jesus to come again. Not using their gifts at all. I mean, we are, we are waiting, waiting for Jesus to come again, but we are encouraged, through the parables of the bridesmaids and the talents to be prepared for that time and we will not be prepared if we do nothing while waiting, be it something as simple as helping the panhandler, holding open the door for the mom with three screaming toddlers, or just smiling or saying "thank you."

The third servant, on the other hand, hides the money. He hides the gift he has been given. Matthew gives us some insight as to why he does this, because he doesn't trust, doesn't believe his Master is a good man. There are two children's songs that I have had stuck in my head these last two weeks as I have been mulling over this parable. I'm sure you are all familiar with This Little Light of Mine (I'm gonna let it shine...), but the verse that keeps coming up for me is the (hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine, hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine). It seems self serving, to keep our gifts to ourselves, for any reason, fear, greed, anxiety, or simply the risk.


Now, the second children's song I've had bouncing around in my head is maybe one that not as many of you know. But the refrain goes like this: (Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away, love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.) The first two servants in the parable this morning experience this. They are given a huge gift, and at once, they go trade it, spend it, invest it, we don't actually know what they do with it, but they don't keep it to themselves and they end up with more, they end up doubling their gift. It's hard to argue with a children's song, but while we do all want more love in our lives, it's seems counter-intuitive, really risky, that giving it away gives you more. Yet, we know that we cannot share it unless we are willing to take the risk.

Unlike the servants in this story, whose Master could have been expecting a return on his gift, we have been given our gifts from God, who doesn't need any return. We have been freely gifted. That is grace. And after grace, knowing that we don't HAVE to do anything, we are opened up to all the possibilities of what we can do with our gifts. When "you don't have to do anything for God, you may find you want to do everything for Him." (Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love)


Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Community

O God of love, who sent your Son to reconcile us to you, break our hearts so completely that the whole world falls in and is shown your love through us. Amen.

A young disbelieving man goes to his local rabbi and asks him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The rabbi chases him away, so the young man finds Rabbi Hillel and asks him to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel stands on one foot, says, "Love your neighbor as yourself. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it."

The story we heard this morning from Matthew is similar. Neither give complete answers. The young man still has to study the commentary. While the commentary, the rest of scripture is important, we are going to delve into what Jesus says this morning. Jesus answers the testing lawyer by falling back on two very orthodox and yet radical statements of the Torah. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." And "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Both need more study to understand how important they are. The first line comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, part of the Jewish Shema, the statement of belief. Every Jew that had ever studied the scriptures would have known them: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Similar in a way to our Nicene Creed, the Shema is recited in the synagogue tradition at every service. It is the basis of relationship between each person and God. 

The second line is the basis for all our relationships with other people. It can also be found in the Torah, in Leviticus 19:18. Since we know the Jewish story about Hillel is orthodox, as it comes from the Talmud, we know that Jesus isn't stepping too far out of the line. However, it is still rather radical because of how Jesus means it. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very meticulous in their rendering of the laws of God. Certain things had to be followed, dotting every i and crossing every t at the correct angle. Yet by summarizing the Torah, Jesus answers the question about the most important commandment without stopping to dot any i's or cross any t's. We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. It was a samaritan, an outsider, who followed the greatest commandments better than the pure religious leaders in stopping to care for the beaten man. We have heard Jesus teach us to love our enemies, everyone who hates us and causes us problems. Jesus teaches us to pray for them, and not that they would end up in jail. Jesus teaches that our neighbors include everyone around us, not just who we like or agree with. Loving our neighbors is a significant way to love God, remember the line, whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me? When you feed the hungry or shelter the homeless, you do this to me, to God. Jesus has broadened the concept of who our neighbors are. Especially during this season, loving our neighbors can be difficult when some of them are spouting political statements we do not agree with. Or in all of this wonderful weather, having loud evening parties on their porches. Last year in the neighborhood I lived in, there were a group of people having a party outside one night and it was fairly noisy. I lived two houses down from the party, but what I found most disturbing was not the music, but that for a little while you could hear a man from another house bellowing at them using strong language and threats. The next day it was apparent that most of the neighborhood had taken sides and it took a few weeks before everyone was able to join the neighborhood cookout again.
 
Despite all of our struggles with our neighbors, both in the pew next to us and across oceans and countries, we have been called to enter into community with all of our neighbors. The Episcopal church's tag line has come under heavy fire by many, but we continue to stick to the idea that the Episcopal church welcomes all. No matter what political leanings, no matter what socioeconomic standing, no matter where you live or lived or who is in your family, or what you have done in your past. This is a community for all neighbors. And we are not just welcoming people in. We are called to create community. Loving our neighbors does not just mean we wait for them to come to us. We can go to them. Wherever we are, there are people around us that we are called to support and lift up in prayer.

There are many ways in which we love our neighbors. Prayer, offering hospitality of food, shelter, and care. An listening ear, being an advocate, sharing a story. We live among people who we can offer support to in various ways. It does not matter if they are Christian or not. It does not matter if they smell good or not. It does not matter if they have any money. One way is inviting them to dinner. Another is inviting them to church. 
We are going to fail. Our anger provokes us and them. Our frustration and our egos get in the way of seeing the true needs of our neighbors. Many times it isn't the money or the solution to the problem that we need. Its someone to show us love, someone to show us grace, someone to show us that we are listened to. We are someone else's neighbors. We don't usually think like that. But we are. Someone else is trying to figure out how to love us. And we all fail. Oh boy do we fail. We fail to see. We fail to love. We fail to show grace or forgiveness or we shame another. The religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan failed big time. They ignored a beaten man lying on the side of the road! My neighborhood failed to be kind to each other around an issue of celebration. 
The best part though is not that because we are in community that we can try again. That is nice to know, but thats not the best part. The best part is that the community does not depend on us. We have been baptized into the household of God and we are forever part of it. We have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Anastacia means resurrection. Our Annie is having her name fulfilled today in her entrance into the resurrection of Christ. Our place in the community is a gift from God and nothing can take our place away from us. We will perform the outward sign of this gift with Annie today by baptizing her into the community and promising to share with her the knowledge and love of God. When we fail, we are not destroying the community and we will not be kicked out. We are still part of the body of Christ. God has welcomed all into his community and we have been given the gift of participation just as much as the next person. We have been given the most abundant gift ever given: the overwhelming love of God in relationship. 
We celebrate Annie's entrance into the joy of this community and the gift of God's love for her. 
Amen. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Control, Priorities, and Grace

9.28.14 

God of the vineyard, naming us to help create fine wine, you honor us, along with prostitutes and tax collectors, in your kingdom. When we are confused about our role, our part, guide us to your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen

I have two brothers. I almost have the exact two brothers Jesus is talking about, one who tells you he will do something and does not and the other tells you he won't but then does. My brothers are not always consistent in this pattern, but it is their tendency. My youngest brother will accept when my Mom asks him to do the dishes and 45 min later, you'll find him sitting in the kitchen, dirty dishes still stacked all over and him listening to music "preparing" to do the dishes. He still swears he will do them... Just, when he is ready. The other has an adamant "NO." But he does occasionally do what he has said no to. Early this summer, I moved all my stuff from my seminary apartment back into my parent's house. My brother adamantly protested against doing any box lifting or helping at all. It's not his stuff, he doesn't want me living there, he isn't going to help me move back in. Yet five minutes after we started, he was out there in the warm May sun helping to unload the U-Haul. I've always thought it was about control. Control and priorities. 

Matthew is rather pointed in his parables. The Scribes and Elders are obviously called out today as the son who says he will do the father's will, but never actually does. He is more concerned about the appearance of doing his father's will and not actually complying with it. His priority is not in line with his father's, but he can claim that it is because he says he will do what the father asked. Yet, he controls his own fate through his actions. On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes who change their minds and hearts and follow through on believing, like the second son, are better examples of following the father's will. Their priority is the father, God. They have given up control. Instead, they put their lives in the hands of someone else. 

It's a difficult idea, giving up control, putting your life into the care of someone else. We struggle with it on a very basic level as we advance in years. It takes practice. And we always want to be sure we are putting our lives into the care of someone who is worthy of them, someone who knows what they are doing, has the necessary background and knowledge, skills and patience. Hiring a caregiver is tough work, regardless if it's for ourselves, our parents in their advancing age, or our little children when we must leave them. The Scribes and Elders' question is so understandable. What authority do you have, Jesus? Why should I trust in you? 

Even if Jesus does not answer the Scribes and Elders, we know the answer. God has given Jesus the authority. God backs Jesus' words with actions. God heals the sick, the lepers, the tormented. God loves both sons, both groups of people, the ones who do his will and the ones who say they will do his will. God works on all our hearts, hoping that we will change our minds and our actions. Wanting us all to be like the prostitutes who change their ways. All it takes is a change in priorities, letting go of control. 

Wait, all it takes is changing our priorities?? Letting go of control?? 

That's hard. Consider the Magdalene and Thistle Farms project in North Carolina. Women who were prostitutes, drug addicts, abused by traffickers, in jail, spend two years going through the program to change their lives, their priorities, and what has control in their lives. Two years to begin a journey, to learn what it means to commit, learn what it means to trust, learn a basic trade, soap, candle and tea making. A journey that will last their entire lives to heal and change their lives from the streets to God's garden. Yes, that is the power of God's love and grace. 

Our priorities point to our treasure. 
The Israelites in the desert prioritize water.
Makes sense. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs 
Shows that we do not worry about certain things
Unless our physical needs are taken care of first.
The Scribes and Elders prioritize authority, who, what, where, why, and how.
Does Jesus have authority? Yes, but how, from whom?
What legitimacy is there without authority?
And while it's a logical fallacy, arguing by authority
Everyday it is pounded into us
By parents, commercials, religious and government institutions
We say it is so, so it is so. You WANT this, you NEED this
How can I say otherwise, my knowledge is so limited
Yet, God says, "You do not need that."
God says, "I have given you EVERYTHING you need already,
Grace and love are free 
I love you while you are a work in progress
I love you while you change your heart
I love you while you make mistakes
Learning, growing, changing
The greatest masterpiece one could ever have
A child, born of love, who grows to love you too."

I am devastated. I can do nothing, nothing!
My works, my acts, my striving, is all for nought.
God loves me anyway. 
Darn, darn, darn. What am I striving for? 
What do I seek to earn? My own love, my own dignity?
God has already given me love and dignity 
What more could I need? I almost want to be mad.
I was doing something for myself! 
I could reject the gift, say no thanks, no way, I want to earn it for myself
But I have tried for years and years and I have not been perfect,
I am exhausted by my trying and failing
What control do I really even have? I try so hard and it comes to nothing anyway.
Not worthy of having earned, not worthy of the gift at all
Still it's here, shiny, bright, beautiful, overwhelming,
Like Mary Poppin's bag, it never ends!

My priorities are realigned. 
My treasure is love and grace.
My treasure is with God. 

Amen.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I can honestly say, I do not know.

I am a Millennial. There are no two ways about it. I was born in the late eighties. I grew up with home computers. There are many other things that point to my Millennial-hood, but those two things are enough to establish identity. But one thing I do not identify with as a Millennial is not going to church. I get asked often why people my age do not go to church and I am going to honestly answer for myself: I have no idea why Millennials do not go to church.

On an intellectual level, I can point to many reasons and problems why someone would not want to go to church at this age of life. Church is on a day off, church is confusing, church is hard and requires talking to new people. Religion can be oppressive and close minded and becomes an institution which does not allow new ideas or growth. Millennials are not in leadership positions, people do not offer activities and classes geared for the age group... the list goes on and on. However, on a gut level, I do not understand.

And I think that points to how I have experienced the Church in my life. I have been growing up being part of a church my entire life. I was baptized into the Episcopal church and I am now an ordained member of its leadership. Granted, my life transition from baptized baby to ordained leader was not the easiest or the most direct. I did once think about leaving the church. For anyone who knows my atheist brother, it would not come as a surprise that it was during a conversation with him that I thought about leaving the church. However, I realized during that conversation that while I wasn't always happy with the church governance or behavior, that there was no way for me to help change it if I left. That day I became an inside revolutionary. As all good revolutionaries are, I have to work from inside because otherwise I have no grounds for being trusted. Its a slow revolution, but its one that I believe very strongly in. I want to make the church more authentic, more open, better able to stand for love in this world. It comes from a vision of the kingdom of God where everything is accepted and loved for what God created us to be. It comes out of growing up in a community which cared about the world and all the people in it, is worried about the doubt and questions that plague us on our journeys, and looks forward to a time when peace and freedom rule. I may be an idealist, but I know none of this is easy. The church isn't perfect, institutional religion has lots of problems, but those are not the most important parts of the community of God. The most important parts are the relationships, between God and each of us, between each other, and the community with God. For any Millennial trying to find a place in the world wide web of moving people, the church offers a place to learn how to have healthy relationships. Sadly, not all churches embody or even care to embody healthy relationships, healthy relationships are a struggle. Yoda says, Do or do not, there is no try. I agree, as long as we are not afraid to fail. There is no way to learn from mistakes if we are afraid to make mistakes.

I am a Millenial. I go to church. Heck, I occasionally lead church services. I have no idea why people my age do not go to church and I do not think it is fair for me to comment on that. I have no experience of it. If you want to know, ask a Millennial that does not go to Church. And then bring it back to the leadership, just so we know.

Thank you!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

All the little boxes

In the name of God who is the great I AM. Amen.

This past week I was at a conference for Latino ministries in the episcopal church. One of the keynote speakers, who happens also to be a priest in Houston, talked about how Latino cultures are put into boxes by Americans because most Americans do not spend any time trying to learn about the cultural differences between different groups and nationalities. People see dark skin or hear a different language being spoken and make assumptions. But no one deserves to be put in a box. Mexican culture is different than Peruvian or Dominican. Not all Latinos like Mariachi bands, are Catholic, and eat tacos. Just like all Texans do not drink Shinerbock, drive trucks, and wear cowboy hats. Some do, but not all. I have learned.

Another speaker, this time a woman bishop, talked about how we need to get out of our boxes. A slightly terrifying idea for an introvert, but it goes both ways, it seems. We hide in our own boxes putting other people in boxes. Both ways, we lose the real connection with other human beings.

Boxes I can work with.

There is only one room in my apartment that does not have any boxes in it, my bedroom. I couldn't sleep peacefully with unpacked boxes in it, so stuck them all in closets or in the other rooms. Putting things in boxes usually connotes packing away, getting rid of, moving out of sight, storing and unnecessary. We put lots of things in boxes, nouns, objects, ideas. Literally putting a person in a box seems slightly inhumane. No air, no light, closed in, no space, claustrophobia sets in. We don't make a habit of doing it literally, but we all make a habit of doing it in our minds. Packing up people in nice labeled boxes so that we don't have to deal with them more than we have to. We assume everyone we meet on a daily basis has enough food to eat, we assume everyone else has someone else to take care of them, we assume all our classmates have money to buy clothes. Our assumptions make space for all the other things we do have to deal with. And we do all have a lot to deal with. I'm not against categorizing and organizing. But when we label too much, it becomes limiting, and people end up in boxes they do not belong in. Even more so, boxing up God is a huge problem.

While studying the passage from Exodus this morning, Rabbi Arthur Green once wrote, 
"God is a verb. The Hebrew name for God, which I still do not pronounce but which is transcribed in English as YHWH, is an impossible compilation of the verb "to be." Haya is past and hove is the present and Yihiye is the future. If you take past, present and future all together and put them in a firm form that does not exist, you get YHWH, the name of God. It really should be translated not G-o-d but "Is was will be." "Is was will be" all at once. You cannot say that, of course, so we substitute for it ... It is too holy to be spoken by mere mortals like us.

When Moses goes down into Egypt, God reveals the name to him and then Moses says, "If the people ask me, who calls you? What do I say?" and God says, "I am that I am" or "I shall be what I shall be," which means "I am really a verb. Here is my name. But if you think that my name is a noun, which is to say, if you think you can put me in a little box and say, 'I have God,' my answer is, "I will be what I will be. I will go conjugate myself and become a verb again. I will fly away and be a verb again. I will be a verb, which is to say, I am the one you cannot catch."" The one you cannot fit into a box. 

It's a serious risk. Taking God out of the box we have put God in. It's a risk to allow people to be free, let alone the inexpressible magnificence of the holy. 

But when we take that risk and allow others to be free, we are given freedom ourselves. When we do not put others in boxes, we are given and we give ourselves the gift to be ourselves. It can be hard to do in our society, we are asked to be labeled and to conform to what people want of us. We judge others, label them, and never really see the people who are standing before us. God heard the cries of all the people that he knew in Egypt waiting to get out of the boxes that the Egyptians had put them in.  But every time we learn some thing new about another, we are given a gift. God gave the people in Egypt many gifts. God loved them and said, I know the man to see them free. He's a convicted felon with a speech impediment, but he is the man for the job. Oh yes, Moses killed an Egyptian, that's why he is now a shepherd with the Midianites and Moses has to have his brother Aaron speak for him most of his life because of how he feels about how he speaks. But God doesn't stop at the labels. 

God works with and through a convicted felon with a speech impediment to change the world.  Moses trusts God and takes the risk because God who knows all is not daunted by his sin, by his inadequacies, by his fear. God knows who Moses is, and what he could be, and loves him fully without reserve. This grace allows the slaves of Egypt to be set free, to break out of the boxes the Egyptians had packed them into.

But what do we do with all the boxes?! Cats and those of us who are children at heart know exactly what to do with empty boxes. Empty boxes are fertile grounds for imagination. As a friend of mine says, "you don't have to sit in a refrigerator box and pretend to be a fridge." After we have played and built new things out of them, we break them down and recycle them, knowing we do not need them anymore. 

We will never understand another person or God, unless we are willing to not put a label on them right away or willing to remove labels once we have learned something new about them. Josh and I would love for this congregation to grow. I think many of you would like this congregation to grow. However, that requires risking our labels and our boxes. We are going to have to risk talking to new people who wander into our church. We might have to risk tangible things like our parking spots or our seats in church. We are going to have to risk inviting other people to church with us. We are going to need to risk changing our perceptions about other people in order to grow. Actually seeing the people around us. Seeing who they are, seeing how they respond, seeing what they are looking for. It usually is all a matter of paying attention and appreciating who they are. How can we appreciate anything held in a box? All we can see are the labels written on the plain sides. It's like Christmas presents, or birthday presents, or just presents in general. The outside of the box is not the special part. It's what inside of them is what is amazing. It's a gift, a joy, to open a plain box and find something surprising and beautiful and wonderfully made. Most people find the most exciting thing about being handed a box is discovering what is inside of it. Who will be a gift to you today?


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Walking by Faith

This was my first sermon at my new Parish. 


10 August 2014

Have you walked the labyrinth lately? Part of the reason I was drawn to Holy Spirit is the labyrinth which lays outside that wall. I have always found labyrinths to be a helpful practice for my faith and a good metaphor for the life which I have been leading. At face value, a labyrinth seems kind of pointless. It’s a giant circle that you walk around without really getting anywhere. You do get to the middle, but its by a circuitous journey that takes much longer than it would take just to go straight toward the middle. A lot of times life seems that way. I try to do one thing, but I end up having to do all these other things before I can get to what I want to do. But I have to trust the process. I have walked enough labyrinths all over the country to have realized that the point is not just to get to the center geographically, but to get to the center of life. It’s a small focused journey to God. It’s part of a larger walk, one that is trod every day, but one that is not always paid enough attention. It’s a walk of faith, that the journey is not pointless, that I will find the center, that I will meet God. It’s a walk of faith that I am drawn to over and over again. 
Walking by faith. Its not just a great theme for a labyrinth. Our readings give us more than one story of walking by faith: We are given two examples of walking by faith, we are asked and encouraged to walk by faith, and! we are shown that we will never walk by faith alone.
Joseph walked by faith, because he believed in God and never gave up being himself despite his circumstances. He could have easily given into the fact that he had been sold into slavery, that his brothers had sold him out of the family, that he was taken far from home. But he uses the gifts that God gives him, the gift of dreams, dream interpretation, and smarts throughout his life. He uses his smarts to work hard to rise to the top of his master’s house. And while things are never easy for Joseph, he keeps walking by faith, believing in the dreams that he had as a boy and believing in the God of his family. 
Joseph is one example of someone who walked by faith. Peter also walked out in faith. Faith that he would not sink and drown in the dark Galilee because Jesus was with him. The disciples achieved some marvelous things when they walked out in faith, they made other believers, they healed the sick, they cast out demons, and one time, Peter walked on water. All because of taking a chance on faith.

We have also been called to walk by faith.

Paul specifically asks each of us to walk by faith in the passage from Romans. We cannot share the good news of God without walking by faith. Its impossible. We can never know how sharing the good news will turn out. Christian history has taught us that it is risky business. We have to walk by faith.
And how are people going to believe in one of whom they have never heard? Uh, well, they aren’t…. And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? Very carefully? I guess someone should tell them…. And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? Well, technically every week we are sent out into the world to share the good news. The last part of the weekly service is the sending, Go! Go in peace, go serve the Lord, go proclaim the good news. Go, the world needs you! Go! And we don’t just say yes. We don’t meekly bow our heads and accept this task, we thank God for this task, we thank God for sending us out into the world. Thanks be to God! Doing this is an act of walking by faith.
We have been sent, we need to proclaim and we need to share. We need to walk by faith… spreading the Good News of the kingdom. Walking by faith, my diocese sent me here, in good faith that the foreign mission field of Texas would allow me to proclaim the good news of God and to grow in my ability to minister to God’s people. It is my hope and I walk in faith. And I do not walk alone.

None of us walks alone.

Peter walked out in faith, faith in Jesus, and we are witness to the miracle that happened, Jesus is not the only person to have ever walked on water. Peter walked on water. Having been to the Galilee this summer, I cannot imagine walking on that choppy sea, where the wind never stops and the water is always moving. But he does, Peter walks out in faith, and when he became afraid, he cried out and Jesus IMMEDIATELY caught him. Jesus is there, immediately. Never far off, Jesus grabs Peter by the hand and helps him back to the boat. We don’t know how far Peter had to walk to Jesus, but Jesus is there for him. There to save him. Jesus calls us to walk with faith. To believe in him and to proclaim his good news, both of which require us to walk out in faith. Away from the lack of proof about whether Jesus is right, away from knowing exactly what will happen, away from the solid grounding of facts. Yet faith journeys call on nothing less than our whole beings. This means that we have to deal with fear, anxiety, humdrum, storms, roller coasters, denial, anger, depression and a whole host of other things that curve our paths and put hills under our feet. Through all of this we put our trust in God and we walk on. God is with us. “Walk on, Walk on, What you got, They can't deny it, Can't sell it or buy it, Walk on. And I know it aches, How your heart it breaks, And you can only take so much, Walk on” as U2 says it. God the Creator is with you. God in Jesus is with you. God the Spirit is with you. Holy Spirit Church is with you, Father Josh is with you, and now so am I.
God invites you to walk by faith
God encourages you
God empowers you
God is there as a companion on the way,
Along with all the rest of us empowered people
Walking by faith
Across the green lawns
Across the cold tiles
Across the carpeted hallways
Through the winding labyrinths
Down and around and through
Every day of our lives
And when we cry out in fear
When doubt and pain make us shake
God reaches out, immediately.

Monday, July 14, 2014

July 13, 2014 Cathedral Church of the Nativity

You are sitting on the dark rocky shoreline of the Galilee, some of you

standing in the edge of the water, not really watching the little children

playing in the water, but definitely watching the small, rocking, wooden

fishing boat, pulling the hair from your faces as the wind carries Jesus'

voice to you as he teaches about the kingdom of heaven. Interestingly, no

one asked Jesus what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus has a burning

desire to talk about it though, because talk about it he does. At length. The

kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are phrases used more than

ninety times in the New Testament. We have a number of parables which

talk about the kingdom of heaven, but we do not have record of anyone

asking the question. But because Jesus tells us without anyone having

asked, I assume its important. Why do we need to know about the kingdom

of heaven? It seems that God cares about us, and in doing so, wants to

share with us what home is really like. God seems to share with us the

vision here, so we know where we are looking for. We are looking for the

kingdom of heaven. So, what is the kingdom of heaven like?

I can be very metaphorically literal minded and parables are one place

where this can be problematic. If I were to read a poem about being a bee

and the bee did something un-bee-like, it would ruin the poem for me. The

metaphor does not work. Once in the metaphor, I feel bound by the

parameters of whatever I have been turned into. If I am a seed, I can only

do what a seed does. If the seed tries to send an email, I am out. Sorry,

perhaps seeds do have email accounts, but I don't know about that. If we

understand ourselves in this passage as the different types of soil as

Matthew would have us, then we cannot tend to ourselves. Without being

able to change, we have no freedom. If I am rocky soil and the seed falls on

me, then there is no way for me to grow good crop, there is no way for me to

produce well. We can learn much from this interpretation, but it is mostly

focused on judgment. Lets go a little bit farther, I think there is more to

this parable. I do not think the parable is just about the different soil types.

The soil is only one part of the parable. It is, after all, called the parable of

the Sower. I think there are two other parts of this parable that need to be

looked at to get a whole picture. The community and the Sower.

Gardening is always a communal activity, even when you are the only

person involved, there is still the sun, the rain, the birds, the bugs, and the

plant itself. Without all these community players, there will be no flowers,

no beans, no roots, no fruits, no garden. The birds eat the seeds on the path,

yes. However, then those seeds return from the bird to nourish the soil. The

energy and life of the seed isn't wasted, it is used differently. Jesus was

preaching in a culture where life was in community. We have different

kinds of communities now, different understandings about how we are

dependent on the people around us. But we still are in community, we still

are dependent, and we need to face that fact with grace and love. Without

the community's involvement we would not be able to grow. We each bring

different gifts to the ministry of the church, of our families, and of our work

places. We have people who want to throw sun and rain on ministries that

are growing, through their resources of money, time, and effort. There are

people who are gifted at weeding: seeing, calling, and pulling out the issues

so that the idea can grow. Bugs, worms, and birds lead to a dynamic

interplay that gives air to the roots of plants, nourishes the soil, and tends

to weeds. Even rocks add stability to the soil so it does not wash away. Are

you sunshine, rain, a rock, a bird, or a bug? Perhaps you are gifted at

weeding and tending. Community is an integral part of the kingdom of

heaven. We affirm this every week when we say the Nicene creed and say

that we believe in the communion of saints. The kingdom of heaven gathers

the whole community, both dead and alive.

Many sermons about this parable ask us what kind of ground we are, they

ask us what kind of preparation have we done for the seeds that God is

throwing at us. But the sower does not prepare the ground in this parable -

at least we do not hear or see of it. We assume that some preparation has

been done. But this sower seems to be wandering all over creation quite

literally, throwing seeds without care. What kind of sower does that? How

could this sower waste good seed throwing them where they land among

rocks or weeds? The sower displays an amazing amount of faith that some

of the seed will fall on good soil and will grow. I was in Israel in May, as

many of you know, in the Galilean area, and I think it would be really hard

to throw seeds into pure soil. There are a lot of rocks. It is a really, really,

really, rocky landscape. But the region is really fertile and so even the rocky

soil produces plants and trees. And the sower throws the seeds everywhere

anyway. There is an abundance here. The sower must have a great

abundance of seeds. If God is the sower, sowing the seeds of the kingdom of

Heaven, then it shows that the kingdom of God is abundantly given. There

is enough to be spread into even those areas where we do not expect it to

grow. The kingdom of heaven is more wildly abundant than we can ever

imagine, growing up in places where we might not expect it. We have been

given this abundance from God and we can be sowers of dignity, joy, and

love in the world, even in places where we do not expect it to grow. If the

plant grows up and then withers quickly, that leaves more soil layer in

which the next seed can try to grow. The kingdom of heaven is abundant.

We have been given of it so freely.

But this is not all that the kingdom of heaven is. This is just a slice, a bit of

the pie for us to learn and digest. There is no contrast to this story, so we do

not know what the kingdom is not like in this parable, but a parable is not

just a comparison. Parables are relationships. There is always something

new and something more to be learned and understood and digested. We

are in relationship with the Word. We are in relationship with God. We

know that God cares about us, our hopes, our dreams, our worries. God has

given us something to look for, to look forward to, to hope against hope,

clear eyed, so that when we catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, we

know it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Allergy Friendly Communion Protocol

The Allergy Friendly Church Communion Protocol

A step by step guide to integrating allergy friendly communion wafers in your church.

1. Who needs them? Find out who needs allergy friendly wafers, what they need to be free from, and how many people already need them. Also, see if anyone needs sulfite free wine. (Be warned: once the allergy friendly community in your town finds out that you are welcoming people with allergies to participate in your service, you may find that new people who need allergy friendly wafers start coming.)

2. Aquire allergy friendly wafers that your members can have! (You may think this is a no-brainer, however, you would be surprised. Many people who have one allergy or intolerance, have multiple allergies. Many times it can be difficult to find wafers that are completely free of all issues.) Some companies that sell communion specific wafers are Ener-G and Almy. If an allergy friendly member would like to make their own, there are many easy recipes on the Internet and on this site. Another idea would to buy allergy friendly crackers such as those sold by Mary's Gone Crackers, Enjoy Life, Glutino, Schar, Van's, Gluten Free, Triumph Dining, and many more.

3. Share! Let people know that you have allergy friendly wafers and what brand they are. This is really important. Put information about availability of Allergy friendly communion in your bulletin along with the reasoning for no intinction. When it is time to renew your advertising, add the availability of allergy friendly communion to your yellow page or other advertisements. Add information about your allergy free communion to your web site. This would be a good place to post the ingredients of your wafer choice. The gratitude you will receive for your attention to detail will bless you again and again. This allows allergenic newcomers to make informed decisions about whether or not they can participate in communion. Also, make sure the rest of the congregation knows about the allergy friendly options, especially ushers and greeters(!), so that they know what is going on, know the procedures, and in case a newcomer asks them.

4. Prepare the wafers properly. Make sure that whoever sets up the allergy friendly wafers before the service does so directly after washing their hands and before touching anything else. Place the wafers on a clean plate or in a clean pyx/box, put them where they need to be, and then leave them alone. Do Not Touch Them! The wafers need to remain uncontaminated so as not to make people sick. For a priest: If you use real bread for communion, please do not break it directly over the cup of wine. Crumbs can then fall into the wine and contaminate it without anyone being able to tell. Also, please do not touch the allergy friendly wafers themselves during the prayers. Simply touching the edge of the plate or box is perfectly fine.

5. Develop a sign, signal, or way to share that a person is allergic at communion. This can be as simple as telling the clergy member that you need the allergy friendly option or as silent as putting your hands out palm down.

6. Extend the whole plate/pyx/box to the allergy free person and let them take a wafer for themselves. This will keep the wafer uncontaminated and keep the person happy and healthy.

7. Keep intinction from happening in your church! Intinction, having people dip the wafer or bread in the cup of wine or juice, allows the liquid to become contaminated with allergens and bacteria. If you need to see the studies about how drinking out of the same cup is cleaner and than having people put their hands in the same cup, you can find them online. Add a line to your bulletin communion instructions about your intinction practices; a simple suggestion: "For reasons of public health, please do not intinct, or dip, the bread in the wine."

Other Considerations

Be patient: everyone needs some time to adjust. The priest, the congregation, the old man in the back who hasn't realized yet that a change has happened, even the allergy free person. You may not think the allergy free person really needs to adjust, but if they are new to the diet, they are going through withdrawal. If they are old hat at the diet but new to being able to have communion safely, it will take some time to get comfortable.

Be kind. Dietary restrictions can be very personal, especially around communion. In any situation where people feel cut off from the larger community and its sacred rituals, people can be easily hurt. Take the time to find out about the struggles allergy free members face while being a part of your community.

Please let me know if you need any clarifications or have any suggestions.