Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Reflection

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 213)

Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!

I hope this Christmas season may be one of joy and grace for you as we celebrate the love of God which has saved us,
even when we are constantly in need of saving from only ourselves.

May light and hope enter your heart, that you may see Christ in all who are around you!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent 4B

Good Morning!
I don't know about y'all
but did you notice the timing of today?
This morning, Gabriel announces to Mary that she will have the baby Jesus...
and then
when y'all come back tonight,
only a few hours later
There's baby Jesus!
I have been told that time goes fast when you're getting ready for a baby,
but that seems a little too fast!

Mary and Gabriel
These two figures are quite polar opposites.

Here we have Mary,
a lowly, poor, dirty fourteen ish year old girl
whose bridal price was maybe a donkey or a few sheep
a nobody in a nobody town

and then we have Gabriel
one of God's archangels
in charge of legions of angels
keeper of the trumpet which will blow to signify the end of times
a mass of energy, power, and light

thrown together by God's plan to save the world.
It almost sounds like the start of a Hollywood movie.

Keeping in line with their outrageous disparity
Gabriel greets Mary,
an unexpected guest in her home,
with an unexpected greeting.
First century greeting etiquette was well determined.
There were very specific things one said to another
when you met someone or saw someone for the first time in a day,
especially when you didn't know them
or they were guests
or there were socio-economic differences between the two.
In no way, shape, or form,
should Gabriel have been greeting Mary so favorably or graciously
normally, in a situation like this,
the greeting would have been much simpler on Gabriel's part
and Mary would have to commence in some
gracious greeting and bowing and inviting in

Gabriel greets Mary as the favored one
in a way in which she would not have been accustomed
Which would have perplexed 
and definitely scared her a little bit. 
When you meet someone for the first time 
and they start saying things you don't know how to respond to...

It never really hit me the importance of that line in the passage
She would have automatically known this was not a normal encounter for her. 
I always assumed it was simply because
Gabriel looked odd 
which is why she was perplexed and afraid, 
but as I looked at this passage, 
I realized, 
she really just doesn't know what to say to this new person who greeted her. 
Gabriel didn't use any of the appropriate formulas 
Gabriel didn't say Shalom aleichem
which would have been proper,
and Mary doesn't respond... 
which in other circumstances would be considered a very rude thing. 
Luckily, Gabriel doesn't seem to think Mary's lack of response is rude, 
and Gabriel continues on with the announcement.

Gabriel says that Mary has found favor with God,
that Mary will conceive and bear a son
and that she will name him Jesus.
In Aramaic, the language Mary spoke, 
this would be “Yeshua,” 
in English, Joshua. 
This was a common name, 
as today like Bill or Jim.
Which is also funny,
here she is 
being told she is going to give birth to the Son of God
and she is told to name
The SON of GOD

Wouldn't you think the Son of God
would have had a little bit of a cooler
more impressive name?

And perhaps its just me,
But I have always found it odd that Mary
doesn't ask
She asks how can this be?
Which is
to be fair
a pretty good question too.
How can this be?
Well, Gabriel, answers,
the spirit of the Lord will overshadow you
and you will become pregnant.
The Holy Spirit at work in the world.
While this may have been the only time the Holy Spirit physically impregnated anyone
the Holy Spirit has been doing this work of planting seeds
in people for a long time.
I'm still wondering about that why question though.
It goes in many many different directions

Why is God going to have a son?
Granted Mary would have had a tradition about that,
the Messiah was going to be God's son.

But I guess the real question I would have been asking is
why me?
But she doesn't ask that.
Not once.

Certainly I have asked that question plenty of times in my life.
Why am I called to become a priest and others are not?
Why do I have to take care of this?
Why do I have to be the one to take responsibility for... whatever it is.

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

She doesn't seem overly concerned about what God has chosen her.
Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God.
And perhaps she had been hoping that she would find favor with God.
Perhaps not in the way of having to bear a child,
but wanting to be right in relationship with God.
But I can totally understand her confusion,
not just with Gabriel and his greeting,
not just with how the angel says it is going to happen,
but with the whole idea and what is going to happen
and how her life is going to change.

Lets be real,
this changes Mary's entire life
changes all of her relationships for the rest of her life
changes where and when and how and who
she will be dealing with for the rest of her life.
Just think about what is in store for her after this,
shepherds, angels, kings,
lame people,
crowds of poor people,
those twelve men who follow her son around and make a mess,
Roman soldiers,
rich patrons,
all with miles and miles of walking.

Yet, God had found favor with Mary.
We have no idea why.
The Bible doesn't give her qualifications for the position.
There is no interview with nicely printed resume.
Why would God chose Mary?

Why indeed would God choose any of us?
We are broken.
We are bruised.
We get grumpy so easily.
We are confused.
Seriously confused.
I swear,
the world these days
is enough to make anyone feel
grumpy, confused, and sad.

However, despite all that,
God chose Mary.
God chose me.
God chose you.

Because despite our brokenness,
despite our confusion,
despite our grumpiness,
God loved Mary.
God loves me.
God loves you.

God loves you.

Your life has value.
Even if you don't believe it at the moment.
God does.
God knows.
God has planted something in you.
Perhaps you know already what God has planted in you.
Perhaps you have no idea.
Perhaps you are starting to feel something
a thought, a feeling, a cause
inch by inch
inside of you.

Some of what the Holy Spirit plants in us
only takes a few minutes to grow and come to fruition.
Some take so long
you can't even remember the beginning
when it wasn't an idea or a thought or a belief
many of us get caught up in the questions
how can this be?
Why me?
and forget that it is simply God's grace
God's favor on us
We are God's favored ones

It doesn't matter how or why.
God will take care of that.

What can we do
except with Mary,
stand and say to God
Here I am.
Here I am of little value
Here I am confused
Here I am broken
Here I am grumpy
Here I am
I trust you God

and yet, what marvelous works we will see.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent 3 Reflection

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Fourth Sunday of Advent, BCP 212)

"Please keep all hands and feet inside until the ride has come to a complete stop. Thank you."

For many in the church, this Sunday is going to feel like a roller coaster of emotion and story. We start the day with the Fourth Sunday of Advent... which usually gives us another few days or week to prepare for Christmas. Yet, this year, its only a few hours after we hear the story of Mary learning she will have a baby does the baby appear on the scene, changing the world. The Annunciation, the story of Mary and Gabriel, does actually have its own feast day in the church, nine months before Christmas, on March 25th. However, most people only hear this story during Advent.

I hope you will join us this weekend and hear the stories in their fullness. I hope you are able to take the time to bask in the overabundant love which God pours forth into this world in coming to us as a baby, trusting us with his Son. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus two thousand years ago, I hope you take a moment to think about Jesus being born in your heart and being your constant companion on the journey, even on the roller coasters.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Unity at St. John's and Grace


"As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  - John 17:21b-23

In the 17th chapter of the gospel according to John, Jesus earnestly prays for his followers. In his long prayer to God, he covers many subjects, but one of the most prevalent ones is that he wishes that his followers will live together in unity. He asks God to bind together all his followers so that they will be one as he and the Father are one.

Unfortunately, Church history shows that Jesus' prayer has been desperately needed. Those of us who call ourselves Jesus' followers have seen fit to separate and divide ourselves in so many ways throughout the centuries. However, here at St. John's, we are working to reverse this trend of division by working closely together with our brothers and sisters of other denominations in our area.

This Sunday we are going to celebrate one such relationship. This coming Sunday we gather together, Episcopalians with Lutherans, to celebrate the special ministry and community we have become together. Through the hard work of clergy and lay people throughout the last couple of decades, St. John's Episcopal and Grace Lutheran have come together in fellowship, outreach, and study to be Jesus' followers in unity in Franklin. I hope you will be here to celebrate this historic occasion of unity and peace in the church!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 2B

In the gospel of Mark
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ
Starts before Jesus is even on the scene.

It starts with Isaiah...
It starts with the prophets!
Isaiah being the representative
And then we get John.
The crazy evangelist.
we don't all have to wear camels hair and leather
And eat honey and locusts.
Though I thought about bringing some in for coffee hour this week...

Any story really begins back before the main character
Many times I've heard people tell their life stories by beginning with their parents or grandparents,
because what comes before us makes a huge impact on who we are and what we do.

Personally I know the truth of this in my own story
My parents' stories have impacted my life in so many ways.
I am named after my mother's mother, Sharon,
who died in a car accident long before I was born.
Yet, her name, her legacy, and her death,
all impacted how I was raised and who I am today.

So when Mark begins his good news about Jesus
with stories that come before Jesus,
We know he is giving us history we need to know in order to make sense of the story.
That's one way we can count on Mark,
He only ever gives what he thinks are the most important pieces, and nothing extra.

Mark also gives away
Jesus' identity right at the beginning of the book.
There is no question in the gospel of Mark,
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Mark will develop how he understands those titles and roles of Jesus'
throughout the whole book,
but he isn't afraid of telling you up front.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Mark chooses the passage from Isaiah
because John the Baptist was known for being loud in the middle of nowhere,
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
The Jewish tradition was that Elijah would be the messenger
who would come before the Messiah
to let everyone know to get prepared.
You may have seen or heard of the tradition of leaving a seat for Elijah at Seder celebrations,
Always leaving room for God's plan to commence at any time.
Later on in the story,
John will get asked if he is Elijah
because many believe in his role as the messenger preparing the way.
John's message was the right one.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Baptism, washing with ritually clean water,
was a common ritual in the First century.
People had to baptize, clean themselves,
using the prayers given
before they were able to enter the Temple
or before other important religious ceremonies.

Especially in the Essenes, a religious group of the first century,
most notable for hiding the scrolls of text which we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls today,
different kinds of baptism,
different kinds of washing,
were very important.
John the Baptist very frequently gets associated with the Essenes,
which was a group on par with the Pharisees and the Sadducees,
because of where he was located,
near the Jordan River,
and what he was proclaiming,
a baptism of repentance.

Now one of the interesting things about John
was that his baptism was done in the Jordan River.
If you've ever been to the Holy Land
or seen pictures of the Jordan River,
you'd know...
its not the cleanest looking river in the world.
Actually, in most places,
its quite muddy looking.
And for example,
here's a vial of Jordan River water I brought back with me
from when I was in the Holy Land and renewed my baptismal vows in the Jordan River.
Not the clearest water.

Just another example of God doing extraordinary things
with very ordinary materials.

John, as a human being,
as a character in the story,
very much knows his place.
In this passage, we hear him say,
"The one who is more powerful than I
is coming after me;
I am not worthy to stoop down
and untie the thong of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John knows that he is not the main character,
that his role to help people get prepared for what is to come.

Its interesting that the way he thinks best for people to get prepared to meet the Messiah
the Savior of the world,
is through repentance.

Repentance is a long word
and has quite a bit of meaning associated with it.
Many think that repentance
is the act of saying sorry,
yet there is more involved in repentance
beyond simply saying sorry.
Repentance requires reviewing your actions,
feeling sincere remorse for actions done, or not done,
acceptance of responsibility for your own actions,
saying sorry,
and making a commitment to changing behaviors
so that such actions do not happen again. 

Repentance is a cleaning out of all the spiritual and emotional closets
you know those closets
the dusty, dirty ones
the ones with all the skeletons hanging out in them,
the old emotions which come back to haunt us
in certain situations or makes it hard to face certain people in our lives
or to trust them again.

The problem is that many in society today,
and we have seen this on the main stages of the entertainment and political worlds,
believe that saying sorry is all that needs to be done.
Actually feeling remorse, 
or committing to changing behavior
is not necessary 
for people to think other's should move on.

Yet, true repentance requires the whole process. 

John's call to repentance
is part of what makes Advent
in nature.
Penitential being the part of the process
where people make amendments to their lifestyles
or their relationships
in order to return to good, healthy, relationships.
The church has two penitential seasons,
Advent and Lent;
it is good to clean out the emotional and spiritual closets periodically.
And both seasons are seasons of preparation
for pretty major spiritual events.
The church has two major ways
it tries to help its people live into repentance.

First, in the General Confession which we say together
almost every week in our Sunday worship service.
Our General Confession comes,
before the Eucharist,
before we encounter Jesus 
in the Body and Blood 
of the bread and wine.
For a very good reason.

Our General Confession includes
what we have done wrong,
in thought, in word, or in deed.
Its not just the actions we do,
but also the thoughts and words we say or write or share
which can get us in trouble.
The General Confession includes
what we have left undone
for all the things we forget to do
or don't do spitefully
or we are not aware that we are apart of.
And not only is the General Confession about all the things we have done wrong to God
but it is also to our neighbors.
The General Confession comes before the Eucharist
so that when we take Jesus into our bodies,
we are ready to receive it,
we know where we stand 
and we aren't carrying too much spiritual baggage
which will get in the way 
of whatever work Jesus wants to do in our lives.

The second major way the church offers people help in living into repentance
is in the rite of Reconciliation,
available to all with a priest,
which goes more in depth
than the General Confession,
giving time and safe space
to acknowledging the wrongs done or left undone
out loud,
and accepting suggestions and council on how to change the behaviors
which lead to reoccurring issues.

In both the ways the church offers people a chance to repent,
the church also immediately offers forgiveness.
Jesus made it very clear 
that all those who repent 
and all those who forgive others
will receive forgiveness. 

(Forgiveness is such a huge part of our lives together,
especially for anyone who is married. 
Marriage brings about a huge opportunity to offer the grace of forgiveness
to each other
and is certainly one way in which marriages can continue to last 
throughout the hardships of life.

As we celebrate together today,
the anniversary of Matt and Pam's marriage,
we can also give thanks for the spirits of love, grace, and forgiveness
which has sustained them throughout their marriage.)

Many people who speak of difficulty
learning how to repent,
learning how to say sorry,
learning how to change their behaviors,
worry about whether or not they will be forgiven.
Through Jesus,
we have been promised
forgiveness of our sins,
forgiveness for all the things we have done wrong,
forgiveness for all the things we are complicit in
when we acknowledge our part in them
and seek to change our ways.

Listen to John's cry
listen to his call for repentance
Clean out that spiritual closet!
Prepare for Jesus' coming.
Take comfort in his forgiveness.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent 1B

Have you ever seen the comedy movie 
Chicken Little?

The sky is falling!

If you haven't seen the movie, what happens is that Chicken Little is sitting under a tree when a piece of sky falls and hits him on the head. 
He starts panicking.
He runs to the town bell tower and starts ringing the emergency bell.
And everyone else starts panicking.
Without knowing why.
So much so, people are running around, running into things, screaming and carrying on,
that the town water tower falls apart 
and the huge round part at the top, 
full of water,
falls down and rolls around town destroying things.
Chicken Little's panic does actually cause a real emergency.
All because he believes the sky is falling.

The sky is falling!

Jesus says it,
so it must be true.

Quite literally, Jesus says the stars are falling out of the sky.

Remember the three kinds of apocalypse?
The world ending because of natural disaster
the world ending because of human disaster
the revealing of truth
Well, this week's gospel passage is doubly apocalyptic.
Not only is the world coming to an end,
truth is being revealed as well.

On the ending of the world side of things,
What we heard was that the stars will be falling out of the sky.
However there's this grammar quirk about ancient Greek that allows both the future tense, will be, and the present tense, is
to be used at the same time.
So Jesus was both saying that the stars WILL BE falling out the sky
that the stars ARE falling out of the sky.

Kind of a scary prospect when you think about the fact that stars are giant balls of fiery gases which weigh over 2 octillion tons.
If the stars were literally falling out of the sky,
it would definitely be a natural disaster.

Why does that matter?
It matters because Jesus is very good at speaking in multiple ways at once,
both literally and figuratively.
This is part of the revealing of truth kind of apocalypse.
Its a metaphor... and is actually going to happen.
Also, because the author of the gospel of Mark,
let's call him Mark for good measure,
was very focused
on the urgency and immediacy and importance
of what was going on with Jesus' life
and what Jesus said.

Let's look deeper into this passage. 
Now to be fair, I will point out that this passage is
very very 
very very
We are only going to skim the surface of this passage. 
My friend Suse, a priest in Houston, wrote her entire PhD dissertation on this chapter of Mark.

Mark chapter 13 starts with Jesus coming out of the temple teaching his disciples about the temple being thrown down
and then quickly moves to Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives with 
just Peter, James, John, and Andrew.
He tells them a bunch of things,
of which our gospel passage is at the end,
and finishes the chapter. 
Chapter 14, the next chapter,
is a long chapter which jumps forward
and takes the story all the way from preparations of the Passover
through the Last Supper and Jesus being arrested and Peter denying Jesus three times.
So Chapter 13 is Jesus' last ditch attempt to teach the disciples about what is going to happen.

Jesus tells his disciples watch out
because there are going to be false prophets
false Messiahs who come in his name
but are frauds.
Jesus tells his disciples not to be too concerned 
that they are going to suffer
and be beaten
and arrested
and that they are going to have to stand up for themselves in court.
Jesus tells his disciples that when the Emperor
sets up his statue in the temple in Jerusalem
they must abandon the temple.

So obviously, this is a lovely hill side chat between Jesus and his favored four.

Symbolically also
Jesus is telling his disciples about the end times
about the coming suffering and feeling of desolation
on the hill on which he is going to die. 

Its an intense conversation.

And then,
Jesus says, after all the suffering,
the world is going to appear to end,
and the Son of Man will arrive,
and gather up his people.
And he gives the disciples a few more signs of how they are going to know this is happening.

Unfortunately, the signs are not all that specific. 

Well, except the one. 
Jesus says that the generation he is talking to will not pass away before the end of the world happens. 
I think perhaps,
this passage is a great example of Jesus being human.
He got the timing wrong.
Or perhaps he has been very very late.
He said that the generation around him would not pass away before the end of time had come.
I think he got a little confused about God's time and its translation to linear human time.

But either way, he says over and over again
that no one,
no one,
except the Father, God in heaven,
knows when it will all go down.
So, Jesus says,
Keep Awake.
He says it not only to the disciples, but he also says it to everyone.
Keep Awake.
As the last thing Jesus teaches before the narrative of being arrested, charged, beaten, and killed, 
its very poignant.
Keep Awake.
Now, how does all of this relate to us?
How does all of this relate to Advent?

Well, we all certainly understand that feeling of
the sky is falling!
The sky is falling!

When our worlds are falling apart.
Bad grades, relationship break ups,
losing jobs, defaulting on loans,
divorces, illness, deaths.
There are plenty of big and little ways
the world falls apart each day.
The interesting thing is that no matter which kind of world falling apart you're talking about,
the pattern is always the same.
The world falls apart.
Everything seems like it is going to end.
There is great darkness,
in the world or in our hearts,
and then Jesus arrives.
The advice to "Keep Awake"
is true on both levels:
In looking forward to the coming of the end of time
or when your own world falls apart.
In either situation,
as soon as the sky is falling,
Jesus is coming.
Jesus is going to be present.

Many certainly have commented on the extremeness of the world situation at the moment in conjunction with the possibility of the coming of the end of times.
And in the darkness,
Jesus is present.
On the street, in this church,
sitting between you in the pew...
Keep awake.
You'll see him. 

is both contemplative as well as action filled.
Seeing Jesus is something which takes the ability to see
requiring watchfulness and mindfulness,
sitting quiet and allowing Jesus to make his presence known,
and also a committed, dogged, going out and looking for Jesus.

I don't know how many people I have met
who have been the midst of great darkness
and totally missed Jesus' arrival
in their lives.
Yet, that is 
the time at which he shows up.

Its also interesting to hear that while Heaven and earth are going to pass away,
Jesus' words are not going to pass away.
We believe that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh,
certainly at this time of year, 
as we look forward to his birth in human form in the feast of the Nativity.
That's what this whole season of Advent is about,
getting ourselves prepared for Jesus' coming.

Which if we think about that pattern of when Jesus shows up,
means that Advent necessarily feels like a time of darkness.

But the eternal Word will not pass away.
No, it will stay with us.
The Word will exist and be with us forever
and ever 
and ever 
and ever 
and ever
in ways we cannot understand.

All in all, 
Keep Awake.
The sky might be falling.
But that means Jesus is coming!