Pulling back the weeds from the Saints of God

All Saints Day (Matthew 5:1-12)  11/01/2014

Last weekend was my first opportunity to participate in the gathering of delegates at Diocesan Convention. The experience was a great day for me filled with wonderful opportunities: sharing stories on the ride to convention and back, meeting new people throughout the diocese, listening to the Bishop’s annual address, and doing the important work of the church. One presentation that really made an impression on me was the report of the Youth Group, introduced by the diocesan missioner for Christian Formation, The Rev. Hilary Bogart-Winkler. Several youth of the Diocese attended the Episcopal Youth Event in Philadelphia this past summer. The event is a week long gathering of youth from across the country and is held every three years. After the week long gathering, there is an opportunity to remain in the area and participate in a three day urban mission experience. The group of young adults from our diocese took up this work and were assigned to work at St. John’s Church in Norristown, PA, (an urban town northwest of Philadelphia). Soon after arriving the group discovered they had been assigned to clean up the church cemetery, which was in need of some general cleanup and care. The group was surprised to be sent out to the cemetery, thinking they would be assigned to take care of other areas more central to the mission of the church. However, after spending several hours working in the cemetery, the importance of the cemetery became more obvious and the value of their work of cleanup and care became more obvious as well. I can appreciate their story of summer mission work because during the past few years I have taken up the hobby of researching my family history, a hobby that has many twists and turns. Often times, the research requires one to leave the library and spend several hours walking through cemeteries in search of elusive family members. As I have traveled to many different cemeteries, I have discovered beautifully maintained landscapes and I have discovered places that seem to have been long since forgotten. One small cemetery in central CT is one of those “long since forgotten” places; probably selected for its once beautiful landscape of rolling hills, it now sits at the edge of an industrial park with a railroad track just feet away. As I stepped over broken branches and pushed back the overgrown weeds, I read the names of my ancestors from more than 200 years ago. I have since returned a few times to clean up the fallen branches and pull up the weeds and moss from the stones that tell the names of those that lie beneath. And as I performed that work, I was reminded that the cemetery had its own story to tell. The overgrown and forgotten state of things seemed to speak of the separation we can experience with each other, while the work of cleanup and care seemed to speak of the restoration of relationship that God hopes for us. As I did the work of cleanup in the cemetery, I read the stones and remembered their stories, their joys, their sacrifices and I felt connected to them in new  and personal ways. Continue reading

Wolves, Rivers, and changing God’s World

Pentecost 19A (Matthew 22:15-22)  10/19/2014

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Matt 22:17), said the disciples of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, to Jesus as they stood in the temple. An interesting question posed by an interesting group of people; a strange group of “friends” you might say. The Pharisees were more concerned with religious “correctness” and righteousness, while the Herodians, supporters of the royal family of Herod, would have been more concerned with political power. But these strange friends found common ground in their challenge to Jesus…a question that by its very nature had a lose-lose response: if you suggest paying tax to the emperor, you are a friend of Caesar and the Roman empire which was set against the Jewish people; and if you suggest withholding your tax payment, well you are a religious zealot and a dangerous insurrectionist. These Jewish authorities had been listening to Jesus teach the crowd about the kingdom of God and they seem to have had enough of his rhetoric…they were determined to entrap him with a unanswerable question. The problem for the Jewish authorities, however, was that the question is only a trap if you think in black and white, right and wrong: the Roman empire or the kingdom of God, devotion to my worldly life and its success or devotion to God and all that God invites us to be. In this black and white world, the question posed to Jesus was fraught with challenges beyond belief! Jesus’ response to their tricky question might appear black and white in our hearing: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21b) But Jesus does not live in this black and white, earthly or divine world; Jesus lives in the fullness and abundance of God’s creation, and his response amazed the authorities and sent them away as they considered all that was given to them from God; and how their lives would change if they listened to Jesus. Continue reading

A Holy Patience

Pentecost 18A (Exodus 32:1-14)  10/12/2014

Several years ago I was on a business trip to Cardiff, Wales (this occurred many years ago, in a land without smartphones and GPS…imagine that?). I had been to Cardiff a few times before this trip, but always a short trip during the middle of the week. This time around I arrived on Saturday and had a good part of the weekend free before starting work on Monday. I thought this would be a great chance to see Llandaff Cathedral, the cathedral church of the area and a place that has been holy Christian ground since the early sixth century. Sunday was a beautiful fall day and I decided to set out right after lunch. I decided it might be nice to walk to the cathedral on this beautiful day, so I asked the man at the front desk if the cathedral was close by…”yes, the cathedral is just down the road,” was the cheerful reply. Wonderful, a nice walk to the cathedral! My only pair of shoes were leather dress shoes, but the nice man at the front desk said the cathedral was “just down the road,” so I was sure I would be just fine. I walked through the city center and began walking down a road that led to a large park. After about 20 minutes of walking, with no cathedral spire looming in the near distance, I decided to ask a passerby if I was headed in the right direction; “Oh yes, the cathedral is just down the road,” pointing in the general direction I was headed. As I continued on my pilgrimage, I must admit I began to think more about a taxi than the beautiful cathedral that was promised to be “just down the road.” I was also beginning to think my definition of “just down the road” was significantly different than the nice Welsh people I had met along the way. After nearly three miles of walking, I finally passed through a clearing and the grand walls of the cathedral stood just beyond a cluster of trees, quietly sitting in a little neighborhood of its own. A beautiful spot for a cathedral church nearly 1000 years old, but not a good place for finding a lift home! My cathedral pilgrimage had just started and I found that I was already a bit confused, tired, and short of patience from the long road traveled. Continue reading

Witnessing God’s love in Community

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 18:15-20)  9/07/2014

Listen to an audio recording <select here>

These last few days there has been a lot going on in the world, both near and far; the news media would say, “it surely hasn’t been a slow news day!” There has been continued unrest in the Middle East, with continuing reports of extremist activity; there has extreme weather, with tornadoes as close as Worcester; and of course, there is the busy time of packing up the summer vacation period and heading back to school. As you might imagine, even with all the activity going on, I cannot help but be preoccupied with the idea of community. Yes, that’s right, the change of communities and the community of St. Francis in particular. And as I have considered this topic, I have wondered…how is it that we are “community” in the Christian sense? Some characteristics of community are obvious, while some are not so obvious. The obvious ones might be easy to pick out: we gather in the same building for worship and meetings, we support the same ministries, and hopefully we are setting our future in the same direction. The “not so obvious” ones may be a bit harder to plainly see: we faithfully pray for each other, our lives are transformed by the presence of others, and our communal presence transforms our broader community and the world in grace filled ways. And some characteristics of community can be just plain hard to do, like forgiveness and open-hearted conversation. These last characteristics, these challenging characteristics are the ones on the mind of Jesus today in our Gospel lesson. Continue reading

Trinity Sunday: In relationship with a loving God

Trinity Sunday (Matthew 28:16-20)  6/15/2014

A little more than a week ago, many people throughout the world took a moment to pause and remember the 70th anniversary of a day we call D-Day. This day continues to hold great significance in our common history; significant because we may personally know people who were present on the beaches of Normandy that day, significant because of the sheer scale of the event and its importance in world history. In remembrance of this day, Brian Williams, NBC News Anchor, presented a special broadcast titled, “Journey to Normandy.” His news story highlighted the lives of four men, all near 90 years old, who were returning to the same beaches they encountered 70 years ago, at a time when they were just a few years removed from their high school days. As they traveled back to Normandy they remembered their first trip, an experience that was beyond words in many ways, and they shared their memories of that day and the many days that followed. As I listened to these brave men share their thoughts about their upcoming visit to that far away beach in France, I was quite moved by the men’s stories and the hopes they had set for their visit. One man hoped to finally discover the future of a wounded teenager he had seen those many years ago, another simply wanted to throw a flower into the water where a dear friend was lost forever, and another brought his family along so they would understand his story in a deep and personal way. Their hopes and dreams, after all these years, were rooted in relationships with others: some relationships were only momentary (like the wounded teenager), while others were life-long relationships of family and close friends. The hopes of these veterans reveal an important truth for all of us: the spiritual connections we share with God and with each other are nurtured by our relationships. These brave men’s stories, begun in the crucible of the frightening moments on a distant beach, continued and was transformed to something profound and valuable due to their intimate relationships with family, friends, and God. Each transformation was made manifest in their personal story, the story of the past 70 years since that first day on the Normandy beach. Continue reading

No worries, just be a Witness!

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Sunday after the Ascension) (Acts 1:6-14)  6/01/2014

“As they were watching, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?'” (Acts 1:9-11) These three short verses of Scripture from the Book of Acts are among my favorite verses in the Bible, for many reasons. Just prior to this description of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we are told of the many post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and the final lessons he hoped to give to his followers, teaching them how to spread the Good News of Christ. But now the time has come for Jesus to leave them, and leave them he does…and they are left standing by themselves, filled with awe and more than just a little worry in their hearts. Suddenly, two heavenly beings burst into this dramatic moment with a question: “Why are you standing there looking up to heaven?” I really love this question because it is so simple, yet so challenging at the same time. I feel some kinship with the disciples as they gaze to the heavens with their mouths hanging open, the universal sign of “my goodness, what’s next?” The Ascension of Christ marks the 40th day of Eastertide, and in those forty days Jesus continually prepared his disciples for the next chapter of their ministry in the world. And we have heard throughout these past weeks that the disciples often did not really understand Jesus’ lessons to them; again, I feel some kinship with these earliest followers of Christ! And now, Jesus has departed from their midst; their great rabbi, their teacher, has ascended and left them to carry on…a bit overwhelming! What should we think of this story; what can we say about our first class of Christians? Should we understand the Ascension as a graduation story or something else entirely? Continue reading

Hear my voice and follow me

Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)  5/11/2014

Listen to an audio recording <select here>

“Can you hear me now?” These words might be familiar to you if you remember the Verizon Wireless ads from a few years ago, or maybe you’ve heard those words if you have called me on my mobile phone while I was inside the stone walls of the church! Sometimes we struggle to clearly hear the words of those around. This reality is among the lessons Jesus aims to teach us this morning in our Gospel lesson. “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4) But, can you hear me now? The author of John’s Gospel account tells us, “No,” the disciples did not understand Jesus as he spoke this parable to them. I recently heard a wonderful story about a young girl who lives in northern New England; her parents raise Shetland Sheep for the beautiful wool of these animals. The young girl spends hours and hours among the sheep, she knows every sheep of the fold for their unique markings and color and their individual personality. And the sheep know her by voice, just as Jesus told in his story to his followers. The sheep know her because she is among them and cares for them in deep and personal ways. Continue reading