Thursday, February 22, 2018

A 2009 Phone Book, Uncovered

A priest friend of mine once joked around that I could write a poem about anything,
including a phone book.
So, I took him up on the challenge.
It was written last summer and recently shared with the challenger,
and deemed an acceptable completion.

A 2009 Phone Book, Uncovered

rows of digits only making sense with the code
the names and people categorized by alphabet
a distinction made up by label

we have waited years for a general anethestic
to kill the pain of trying to understand
the differences in name, in label
strung out in columns upon the page
who are we and why and how
the steady numbered rows lack clarity
what is the code? what is the relation?
to each abbreviated formation

Jones, Edward
Jones, Edward D&Co
Jones, Elizabeth
      Emmett J
Jones, Florenz H
      Fred A
      Fred A Jr.
      Gayle & Jeffrey
      Geo R
      Gerald M
Jones Harwood Inc

names with meaning only understood
with the maturity to know
the separate interdependence of life
my life contingency depends on grass
and on Emmett J, never met, at 827-6589

I cannot wipe out the knowledge of the other
a book, its pages densely printed
brings to life the immediacy of color
and the fruition of feeling pain
which defines and satisfies
yet cannot negate the power of humanity

Jesus, A Diamond in the Rough

Its a cliche to talk about diamonds having many facets. However, what we find in the gospel stories is Jesus like a diamond. Many faceted, shining brightly, with God's flame in the center. One of the ways this is evident is to read all the different gospel stories. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all present different views on who Jesus was as a man and as the Son of God.

In Matthew, Jesus is very much the Jewish Messiah. Jesus came to save the people of Israel, and was very focused on the reform of the Jewish synagogues and fulfillment of Jewish scriptures. In Mark, Jesus is the suffering servant Son of Man from Isaiah, fulfilling the scriptures, not just for the Jewish people, but also for the Gentiles. In John, Jesus is depicted much more as a divine presence in the world, very theological, very spiritual, and very in tune with the overarching story of the whole scriptures. In Luke, Jesus is deeply compassionate, focused on caring for the poor, the marginalized, the broken, and the oppressed. Liberation theology comes from the gospel of Luke. Right at the beginning you can see the differences in the emphases, Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy tracing Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham, father of the Jewish people. Mark starts, and ends, his story in the middle, letting the reader understand that Jesus' story starts with the Hebrew scriptures, but continues on far after his tale is finished. John begins his story with a parallel to the beginning of Genesis, where Jesus is spoken as the Word of God, whereas, Luke traces Jesus' ancestry back to Adam, father of all people.

All of these perspectives are true. All of them teach us about who Jesus is and what his mission is in the world. As you read through the gospel of Luke, what facets of Jesus are you seeing anew? What are you seeing that you've never seen before? Every story shows us something new.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Jesus in the Wilderness

I cannot imagine the state of being 
Jesus is in 
during his time in the wilderness.
I myself know what it has been like during wilderness times in my own life
times of struggle, confusion, and tension.
The wilderness always involves emotional and spiritual tension.

Jesus goes from being a carpenter in a small town in Galilee,
working with his earthly father, Joseph
maybe with brothers
learning the trade of repair and creating out of wood
A good business
keeping him busy
And then he takes a small journey down to the Jordan River.
He meets his cousin John again and asks him to baptize him.
As he is coming up, he hears this voice
A voice different than any other voice
which speaks to him and names him and claims him
"You are my son."

I always sort of picture this happening as it does in The Lion King...
the rolling thunder, the voice coming out of the cloud
Simba, you are my son.
His naming and claiming also comes with a price,
he has to go back to Pride Rock and be king,
despite not wanting to.

God names Jesus as, "the Beloved,"
his beloved
and then tells him what every child wants to hear at some point in their lives,
"with you I am well pleased."

In my more perverse human moments,
my jaded sense of worthlessness wonders
what did Jesus do that God is so pleased with him
up to this point, he hadn't started his ministry yet
he hasn't done anything yet.
However, I don't think God really works like that.
God loves Jesus
and will always love him.
Simple as that.

Of course, after telling Jesus how happy God is with him
and telling him how much love God has for him,
God immediately sends him out into the wilderness.
Now we tend to think of the wilderness
as a bad place.
A tough place to be.
A hard place to be.
Metaphorically, the wilderness is where you are
when you're unemployed
in the midst of divorce
grieving a family member
moving across the country
struggling with money or your spouse or your children or your career.
The wilderness is the hard, tense, stressful place to be.
You don't want to be there.
You don't want to go there.
Simple as that.

Yet, the first thing God does is send Jesus into the wilderness
after telling him that he is loved.
After him being baptized and taking on his ministry in the world.
The hot, dry, rocky, hilly, sandy, windy
Where rarely does anything grow.
Where life dies,
from lack of food and water.
Probably the bleakest part of the whole country of Israel.
And he is stuck there for FORTY days.
Not just a couple of hours.
Not just a whole day to get a full experience.
No, forty days.
Long enough to dry out all his skin.
Long enough to starve him to death.
Long enough for him to be railing mad and truly sick.
As if that wasn't enough
(which truly, that would be enough for me)
Jesus is found by Satan and tempted.
Would you like some food?
Would you like some power?
Would you like command?

Unlike Matthew and Luke, 
Mark doesn't go into the details of the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness with Satan.
The adversary has tricks though
and we all know some of them.
If I had been in that situation
temptation would have been very easy
would you like some shade?
A nice glass of cool water?
How about some delicious hummus and pita?
I would have been a goner.

Luckily in the gospel of Mark, Jesus has some angels who wait on him.
That probably helped.
You may be thinking,
how could our God,
our good, loving, peaceful, God
torture his only son
by sending him out into the wilderness for so long.

We have a tendency to believe that God is good
in our human understanding of good,
that God would never challenge or test us
because God is good to us all the time.
Yet, most of us would consider being sent out into the wilderness 
to fast for forty days and nights
something horrible.
However, like parents have to be with their children,
God does challenge and test us, 
God does lead us out into the wilderness
to help us grow and become better beings,
all the while, still being good.

In the narrative, this works in a literary form as well.
In ancient cultures, the story of Jesus,
is akin to a story about a hero-God,
like many other stories about hero-Gods from other ancient cultures,
and in such narratives,
the first test is only a sign of the greatness of the coming acts of the hero-God.
This remarkable feat of Jesus'
sets the stage for the even more remarkable things that Jesus is going to do
throughout the rest of the gospel story.

Can you imagine what Jesus must have looked like 
when he came back from forty days in the wilderness?
Dusty, dirty, hair all over the place,
thin, wrinkled, 
he probably started to look a lot like John the Baptist looked
wild hair, beard, ragged clothes, dusty, walking out of the wilderness
His family and former friends probably didn't recognize him at first
who is that?
But now he isn't Jesus the carpenter
he is Jesus, Son of God
Messiah, Christ
proclaiming repentance and good news!

What good news could he have found in the wilderness?

Ah, the greatest lessons we learn in life
come from the hardest times in our lives.

What did Jesus learn in the wilderness?
He learned to live into trust and love for God
He learned about the saving grace of God
and he learned his mission in the world.
Good news indeed.

Jesus walks out of the wilderness proclaiming his good news:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!"
How often do we want to hear that?
That what we have been working and waiting for,
the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah to come
for so long.
for centuries.
Generations of people.
It was finally here!
God came through on the promise
the Messiah is here!
"The Kingdom of God has come near"
All we have to do is repent and believe.
Very exciting news!

God does sometimes lead us into difficult situations.
The wilderness is not just a place for Satan.
The angels were there.
God is present there.
The Father created the wilderness.
Jesus was there.
The Holy Spirit moves there. 

Perhaps the best part about this journey into the wilderness
for Jesus 
and for us
is that it ends,
and it ends with Good News.

If you are stuck in the wilderness,
Like Jesus 
Like the ancient Israelites who wandered around for forty years,
there is a promised land for you.
Don't give up hope.
Walk through the wilderness.
Feel every dry dusty dirty part of it.
Learn from it.
Know that God is with you
and that the promised land is coming.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Good Book Club


As many of you know by now, we are participating in a national program going on this season of Lent, which will continue into the season of Easter. The Good Book Club  is a program of reading the books of Luke and Acts all the way through during these two seasons. The easiest way to follow along with the readings everyday is to follow the Forward Day by Day, a daily reflection booklet which you can pick up at the church. Forward Day by Day also have a podcast, an app, a daily email, and daily updates on Facebook and Twitter. So no matter how you interact with the world best, you can follow the readings and reflections.

At St. John's, we will be adding to the daily readings an Adult formation series which will highlight certain passages throughout the seasons and provide a place for discussion and questions about the books and the events in the books. I hope you will join us at 9 am on Sundays to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Good News.

If you really want to delve deeper into the books of Luke and Acts, the website for the Good Book Club (, has lots of other resources to supplement and help you integrate yourself with the Bible. Podcasts, blog posts, videos, stories, and artwork will all be available from other episcopal groups to help share the story and make the Good News relevant to you!

Ash Wednesday Homily

What strikes me from the Gospel passage today
is about this notion of privacy.
Perhaps this is simply because I am a millennial.
For long as I have been alive,
computers have been connecting together in networks.
I grew up with social media.
The online world where everything and anything is shared
and all too often, unfortunately,
people have a tendency to joke that if it isn't on social media
then it really hasn't happened.
The notion of privacy is a shadow of what it once was.
Everything has to be known, or at least accessible,
in case someone wants to know it.
So the idea that I could go to church
or spend money or not eat
without anyone knowing
is almost a novelty.

However, privacy is an important aspect of true relationship.
All relationships have those aspects which are shown to the public
and then those aspects which are kept between each other.
Couples always have private aspects to their relationship
and what set of best friends do you know that don't have an inside joke or two?
In the comedy TV show, "How I met your Mother,"
Ted and Robyn have an inside joke between them
that whenever anyone says the words major or general in conversation,
like a friend says, I have a major problem,
they salute and say, "Major Problem."
Sadly though, many people these days are getting confused
about what should be private and what should be public.
Every relationship needs some privacy,
needs some confidentiality, some trust,
even our relationships with God.

Yes, even our relationships with God require some privacy.
Not everything we do, like prayer, giving, doing community service
needs to be known to the whole community.
Regrettably, like the Pharisees in the example Jesus gives,
some people like the praise they get fr doing all these things in the public eye.
Once someone starts doing good deeds only for the praise from others,
they they stop doing them out of love.
The good deeds lack heart and soul and dry up.
Thankfully, it doesn't take too much,
a little alone time with God,
doing good, praying, studying,
and the heart and soul of love starts flaming again.

When Jesus starts talking at the end of the passage about treasures in heaven,
about treasures that cannot be stolen, rusted, or broken,
I don't think he is just talking about the big ideals of charity or integrity or love.
I think he is also talking about those moments of initmacy
between friends, family members, and God,
those private moments which make us feel loved, supported,
which draw us closer together and bind us to one another.
What treasures are between you and God?
What is private between you and God?
This Lenten season, build up treasures,
build up relationships,
between you and your loved ones,
between you and God.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Last Sunday after Epiphany

As a story, the story of the Transfiguration from Mark is a good one.
There is symmetry.
There is a mystery.
There is tradition!
There is confusion
and terror
and loss
and excitement
and love.
And some extra special supernatural miracles.
Everything you need for a good story.

On one side of the scene, 
we have Peter, James, and John.

We all know Peter, James, and John.
Peter, the classic tragic mess up clown,
who always puts his foot into his mouth
at just the wrong moment.
But who, in the end,
becomes the foundation of the church.
James and John, the sons of Zeebedee,
whose mother comes to Jesus
because they, and she,
wants them to be the highest ranking officials 
after Jesus,
one on his right and one on his left.
Three men whose humanity 
was very well known.

On the other side of the scene,
we have Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Which is interesting.
The story sets them up as the prophets they are.
Jesus robed in dazzling white, 
the Son of God,
present in the midst of humanity.
With two of the greatest figure heads of Jewish tradition.
The man who lead the people of Israel to freedom
and spoke to God so much his face shone
and who wrote down the Ten Commandments,
and the man who stood up to King Ahab and his wife Jezebel
and called the people of Israel back to God
and got whisked away in a fiery chariot.

Who were also men with backgrounds.
You remember that time Moses killed a guy?
You remember when Elijah ran away from Israel?

Humanity at its finest was represented at the top of that mountain that day.

What a blessing and a comfort!
God shows God's-self to lowly human beings
Who mess up 
God still maintains relationships with all these men
And no matter how much we mess up
God will still want to be in relationship with us. 

Three lost human beings.
Three fully alive-in-God beings.
Three and three.
Six: a perfect number.
But then there are another three present as well.

We have the boys, Peter, James, and John,
we have the prophets, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus,
and then we have God, always present as the Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Anytime God shows up
there is mystery.
In this story, 
Jesus is transfigured 
in ways we don't understand.
Moses and Elijah show up
for reasons we don't understand.
And God is present in a cloud
in ways we don't understand.

Every time I read this story I have to wonder,
was Jesus consulting with Moses and Elijah,
like some kind of side line coach
or encouragement committee?
Was the point of going up the mountain
that Jesus needed the reminder 
about who he was 
or that Peter, James, and John 
needed the experience?

I imagine its some of both. 
Who doesn't need reminding sometimes of God's love?
In his jaunt as a human being,
I am sure Jesus felt moments of needing to be reminded of who he was and whose he was.
Just as much as Peter, James, and John
needed to be told
that Jesus is God's son,
and to listen to him.

God obviously knew Peter, James, and John.
He told them to listen to him,
which they aren't very good at all the time.

Perhaps because of the number of funerals we have been through lately,
the number of community members who have passed away,
I sense loss in this story.
There is some sense of loss in this passage,
Never again will Peter, James, and John
think of Jesus in the same way.
Never again will Peter, James, and John
know Jesus as anything other than God's son.
Never again will they be able to say that they have not
seen Moses or Elijah.

Part of the reason Peter suggested,
(I can totally see James or John, flinching when Peter speaks,
saying softly afterwards, yes, you said that out loud,) 
that they build three dwelling places up on top of the mountain
is so that they can stay there,
suspended in that moment.
A great mountain top experience.
A high point in their lives.

If you've ever had a mountain top experience
you know how wonderful it can be
you know how awesome it can be to be up there
where the air is clear
and things make sense.
Except of course, in this story,
where the air is full of a cloud of God
totally changing the story.

But never again will they get to experience this transfiguring moment.
I think part of their terror is a sense of loss.
Have you ever been in a magically awesome moment in your life and suddenly felt it turn bittersweet
because you know that it will never happen again?

There are so many moments in our lives we will never get back.
So many people we won't meet again on this earth.
It can be so saddening to remember that.
But it does lend some perspective.
What is the most important aspect of life then?
What can I enjoy in this moment, that though I will never return,
I can remember?

I'm sure the boys, Peter, James, and John,
remembered this moment for years to come
I'm sure they talked about it among themselves
perhaps not directly afterwards,
but later, after...
you remember when we went up that mountain
did you see Moses and Elijah too?
Remember how the cloud felt?
And that voice... God's voice...
the presence of love
surrounding us.

While the boys listened to Jesus as best they could,
obviously the boys failed to listen to Jesus in at least one way.

Any story which ends 
with being told to keep the story a secret
is a good story.
Its the best possible way to make sure
everyone is going to know the story.
Say, sh! Its a secret!
Jesus tells them on the way back down that they are to tell
no one.
Which, since we have the written story,
thousands of years later,
they obviously failed to do.

But, I mean, could you keep that story to yourself?

Ah, perhaps you have.
Have you ever told this story to someone else?
I suggest,
Give it a whirl.
Not right here of course,
but this week. 
Find someone who maybe hasn't heard it in a long time
or someone who maybe has never heard this story.
Don't read them the story
Tell them it in your own words.

Tell them about going up a mountain,
seeing Jesus for who he really is
tell them about the classic foot in the mouth response
and hearing God's voice
and knowing God's love.

The reason we share this story every year, 
in slightly different tellings from the different gospel stories, 
every year we share the story of the Transfiguration
because it changed the course of how the disciples understood Jesus
which changed how they talked about Jesus
which changed who heard the story about Jesus
which changed the gospels stories as they were written
which has affected people throughout centuries!

The Transfiguration.
Dazzling white clothes.
Loud overwhelming voices.
Clouds of mystery.
What a story!
Another planted seed.
One story.
One little seed.
And now we have a yearly tradition.
For longer than I've been alive.
All from sharing a story
about Jesus.


Thursday, February 8, 2018


9/8/16 Light

growing up in a church
I watched the light change
through the windows
stained glass colors dappling
the floors, the pews, the people
subjectively messing up sense
and clear-eyed objectivity
and as the light moved
I learned new lessons
found layers I had not known existed
and as I learned to love
I found those colored layers
walking through the world
what could not always be seen from the front
would make their grand appearance
when the light moved ere so slightly
suddenly the angel's white wings
were aglow with purple


2/8/18 Joy

Joy: (talking to herself) Yes, Joy?
Joy: You'll be in charge of the console, keeping Riley happy all day long. And may I add I love your dress, it's adorable.
[Joy begins to happily twirl around]
Joy: Oh, This ol' thing? Thank you so much, I love the way it twirls...
- Disney Pixar's Inside Out

Joy is deeper than happiness. Joy is a deep seated calm emotion which underlies other emotions and moods throughout the day. Its a way of living in gratitude and relationship with God. Happiness comes and goes throughout our lives, but joy endures, despite hardships. Joy is the foundation which allows people to be content, to thrive, to be pleasant even when bad things are happening in their lives.

You can find the word joy over three hundred times in the English NRSV of the Bible. From the beginning to the end, joy is present throughout the scriptures. People sing with joy, people dance in joy, people enjoy the fruits of their labor, God blesses the people with joy. Interestingly, there is also fear of joy in the Bible, people who are afraid to be joyful in case something bad does happen. Yet, we cannot be afraid of joy, just as we cannot be afraid of fear or anger.

All of our emotions come together and work together to give us a full range of life. Many times we wish we could get rid of one emotion or another. Some people think that if they could just cut out anger or fear from their lives, their lives would be much better. Unfortunately, that is not at all how it works. Whenever we stifle one emotion, we hurt our emotional health. When we ignore an emotion or seek to lock it away, we aren't able to fully feel our other emotions. Working together, joy, fear, anger, sadness, and disgust allow us a wide range of feelings and responses to the moments of our lives.

Paul calls on us in his letter to the Philippians that no matter what we are feeling, we can still feel joy at having a God who loves us and cares for us. He says,"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Isaiah's Good News

Imagine with me for a moment
You spend your childhood in slavery
always doing what someone else tells you to do
always being put down
always hungry
hungry for food
hungry for more in life
and then in a swirl of events
you and your family run away from everything you've grown up knowing
you walk through a sea
seeing sights you'd never imagine
surrounded by fearful, confused, excited people
hoping desperately for freedom.

Imagine growing up wandering with those people
living in tents in the desert
searching for water, for food, for shelter.
Being told you're now free
but still only barely managing to live.

Imagine everyday getting closer to good land
where there is plenty of water and food
wood to build shelters.

Imagine fighting with everything you have to be able to live in that good land
moving around to find the space to settle down.

Imagine finally being able to live freely
to be able to have your own house
to have a family
to spend your days in fulfilling work.

Imagine teaching your children what it means to be free
what it means to live in relationship with a God who gives you all this good land

Imagine growing old, seeing your children teaching their children about what it means to be free
to be in relationship with the land and with God.
For generations
protecting the good land
trusting in the God who gave it to you.
And then imagine being invaded.
All the good land being set ablaze.
Being pushed out of your home
where generations of your family has lived.

Imagine having to walk hundreds of miles to a different country
being told to live in a different way
missing your home
unsure about your relationship with the land or with God.

These are the people Isaiah is talking to.

The Israelites in the time of the Babylonian exile.
People who couldn't believe what had happened to them.
People whose lives had become so wrapped up in the land
that their very spirituality was tied to living in one place.
So much so that they were struggling in their relationship with God
because now they weren't living in that same land.

Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel
who were struggling with their relationship with God.
It hits the spot sometimes in our own lives,
we all struggle with God at times.
We struggle with what other people say about God
we struggle with our own feelings with things going on in the world
we struggle to believe that our God truly cares about us.
God is so big
so unknowable
so mysterious
it is mind-boggling that God would care for us.

Isaiah tries to remind the people 
about God.
The people hadn't always lived in that land.
God hadn't always been associated with Israel
they were God's people way before that
when they still lived in Egypt
or before that when Abraham lived in Ur.

Isaiah asks the people these great rhetorical questions.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
Isaiah knows the people know.
He knows the people have heard.
He knows they have been told over and over again.
Isaiah knew these things because he had told them.
Isaiah had participated in sharing the story in the temple
in the streets, in the market places
in the synagogues.
He knew that they knew.
The people had heard,
perhaps they had not listened.

Isaiah is attempting to answer the crisis of faith
brought on by the political disasters of the day
considering that most of the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon
certainly was considered a disaster.

Can you imagine if the United States was invaded and millions of people were forced into exile
had to become refugees and live in other countries?
Isaiah is definitely in the midst of political disaster.
Political disaster always seems to trigger people
into having crises of faith.
Its not really that surprising.
If we have a good God who loves us and takes care of us,
then why in the world did this bad thing happen to us???

Isaiah speaks this message
trying to remind the people
that God is not overly concerned with national politics.
God is not simply a God of Israel,
God is not tied to one nation or political agenda,
not even the United States.

No, God is much
bigger than that.
God is the God of creation.
God is beyond all time.
God is so awesome and incomprehensible
our language
completely fails at trying to describe God.

This is why the ancient Israelites
never spoke the name of God,
though it is written in the Scriptures.
God's name is but a breath
beyond which we can utter.

Isaiah points out to the people,
points out to us
when we look around us and despair of our political situations
look deeper,
look closer.
Where are we?
We are surrounded by God's creation.
Working for God's purposes in the world.
Here in Franklin, we are quite literally surrounded by God's creation,
surrounded by hills on all sides,
woods, trees, animals,
the creeks and rivers.
God created all of what is around us
and cares about all of it.
Isaiah has seen the actions and deeds of the people of Israel in exile
he knows they have fallen apart
he knows they have stopped following the Jewish traditions and customs
being in exile is not easy.

He reminds the people
God still cares.
God still hears your cry
God still knows your name.

Do you think you can hide from God?
Do you think God would approve of what you are doing?
I know there are some of us who have the hardest time getting out of bed on certain days, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I know there are some of us who don't know how they are going to continue on each day. 
Trying to make making through each day a good thing.
We have a God who knows everything
in unsearchable ways.
God cares.

As Isaiah says,
God cares
about the youth
about the young
about the powerless
about all those who are struggling
and then of course,
when God came to earth as a human being
in the person of Jesus
he continued God's mission of caring in the world.
Jesus healed people.
All the people.
As we hear in the gospel passage for this morning
Jesus healed people all over.
Skin hanging off
bandaged all over
laying down
screaming out loud
All the people.
Jesus cared.

How could we forget this?
Have we not known? Have we not heard?
Some days I wish I could gather all the people in the world in a big
with all the appropriate translators
and say
God loves you.
Over and over and over again.
Until maybe it sunk in.
Do we not know the overwhelming power of his love?
Isaiah asks so that the people answer the question for themselves.

Imagine Isaiah, speaking next to the water fountain in the marketplace
in Babylon
speaking to the exiled people of Israel
Don't you know how much God cares?
And the quiet murmurs...
here and there throughout the crowd
people shopping
people getting water
people shaking their heads
Yes, we know
Yes, God cares.