Sunday, March 10, 2024

The World According to God: Sermon for Lent 4B

Today’s gospel brings to mind two distinct memories from my childhood. One is seeing somebody sitting in every end zone on Saturday and Sunday and Monday nights, holding up a sign that said simply “John 3:16.” 

I am sure it inspired many people to either nod their heads knowingly, or maybe to have enough curiosity to finds out what that sign referred to. Nowadays it would be as simple as pulling out your phone and using a search engine. But certainly some people looked up that verse, and were intrigued. Those that were destined to be Episcopalians would then look over the entire section of at least John 3:1-21, knowing that a few words—in this case 27 words—pulled out of an enormous book will lack a certain contextual depth and precision. Those are OUR PEOPLE!

Especially with this famous verse, context is vital. If you just stick with those 27 words, following Jesus is simply a matter of assent, a magical formula like abracadabra, a spiritual get-out-of-jail free card. But it’s not—assent is required, and commitment to not just saying some words, but living and loving like Jesus, who embodied God’s love in human likeness to be a model for our lives.

For many, this verse is a full and complete summary of the gospel. Martin Luther summarized this verse like this: “For the world has me; I am its God.”

But I think the next verse is just as important. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God so loved the world, the world God made through speaking God’s wisdom into the world, that God sent God’s beloved Word to be incarnate—to take on human flesh to show us all how to be fully human and fully God’s children. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom in the world. Wisdom that can be lived in our own human lives-- if only we choose to follow.

That brings me to the second of my childhood memories, in the sweet little Methodist Church in which I was born and baptized, and that we attended until I was five. At Southern Hills Methodist Church, I remember singing this lovely hymn that so engaged my heart’s certainties, because it described the world according to God:

This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world; the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise.
This is my Father's world, He shines in all that's fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

My own experience even as a very small child resonated so strongly with this hymn. Sharing the same sense of wonder and awe out in nature, delighting in the elephantine clouds slowly processing overhead down to the busy industry of ants moving among the moss on the north side of a tree, a tiny world humming with life beneath our feet, often too small to notice. I knew that God loves this world from clouds to ants to you and me, and made it a source of awe and wonder. I resolved never to lose that wonder—especially when things were hard. The signs of God’s love are shot through creation—and in our yearning hearts.

The message we hear in John’s gospel and in our Psalm is one of wonder and awe and gratitude, yes. But it is also a reminder that the Church goes astray when it puts limits on who God loves and who God does not. Our gospel also makes it clear that merely saying you believe in Jesus as a hedge against condemnation means nothing. Believing in Jesus means following Jesus in embodying that love into the world-- each of us.

Our first reading can lead us down a rabbit hole, with all its talk about God loosing poisonous snakes upon his maddeningly complaining people during the wanderings and discontent in the desert--unless we know the background behind it. The Priestly writers telling of this event is meant to support their belief that God smites and condemns those whose faith falters. Notice that Jesus does not repeat this belief in his referencing to that same event—he only talks about the cure. This aligns with his claim that God seeks always to save and redeem the world we have mangled through our own short-sightedness. Never to condemn it or all the living things who share this planet with us.

Last week we heard Jesus compare his body to the Temple, and we were reminded that God blessed and sanctified us in our bodies, too. In taking on our flesh, our human life, God continues to tear down the walls WE build to separate ourselves from God, and to remind us that God lives and loves within each of us right now, and through Jesus God keeps reaching over those walls and pulling us all over the top and never giving up on us.

In today’s readings, we hear about the blessings of light, of healing, and especially of love.

Light and darkness are important signs or symbols in John’s gospel, which makes sense, because they are important symbols to us. Our gospel today starts in the middle of Jesus’s conversation in the middle of the night, in the darkness, with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes in the night also because he lacks true understanding of who Jesus is, but at least he is straining toward the light.

When Nicodemus first approaches Jesus, in verses we don’t get to hear to help us understand the context, it is clear that Nicodemus is drawn to Jesus. Nicodemus is beginning to be drawn to the light of Christ, for at that start of chapter 3, he states: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who is coming from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” As a Pharisee and yet a seeker, Nicodemus is a man torn between two worlds, just as the church members in Ephesus were, and frankly much like many of us are.

Jest before our reading, Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, which Nicodemus rightfully does not understand. Yet thinking about being born to a new life in Christ is a fruitful metaphor. We are born with an abiding hunger for connection, and for meaning even from the time we are infants. Babies want to be embraced, and they want to be fed. God helps this along by making babies helpless and also adorable, which goes a long way toward making up for the smell. With our poor eyesight, as infants we experience the world mostly through out hearts, and our bellies. Babies get anxious when either of these are not full—and I am persuaded that frankly, those feelings of hunger, especially spiritual hunger, remains one of the driving forces in our lives—one that we ignore or misuse at our peril.

Our own hunger for God within us brings us to this point, and calls us to repentance, to change. That change is scary. It means letting go of the familiar. But what will we gain? Only the certainty that we, and this whole world, are beloved by God.

How are our lives changed when we embrace Jesus as Savior? In our epistle, Paul states here that it is the difference between death… and life. We are asked to embrace our brokenness, and allow the light of Christ to wash over it. The world according to God is filled with reconciliation, discernment, self-honesty, and abundant beauty and grace. Paul’s words attest to the abundance of God’s love—abundant beyond our imagining, especially.

And here we see the blessing of healing that runs through all our readings, as well. Living as one of us, and dying as one of us, Christ in particular can reach into the shattered places in our spirits, and restore us from the shadow world in which we have lived into newness of life. Sometimes those wounds we bear were inflicted on us. Yet, other times, our own choices have wounded us. But God is always there.

Eternal life starts right now. It starts with understanding ourselves as living—right now-- in the presence of God. Right where we are. God loved us in this way, that God gave us God’s only Son. And why? So that NO ONE feels hungry, or empty, or lost—so that everyone can have a whole and lasting life. That Son didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to save us, and remind us of who we are: Beloveds of a God who loves us and longs for us so much that God continually reaches out to us, asking us to align ourselves with God’s economy of abundance, grace, and peace.

The world according to God is one of grace, not condemnation. And as God’s Beloveds, we are called to bear God’s light into the world. The world that God so loves.

(1) Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), American clergyman, poet, and hymn writer, “This is My Father’s World.” From the United Methodist Hymnal, 144.

Image: The famous "Big Blue Marble" photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew on December 7, 1972 as the crew traveled toward the moon. This was the first photo of Earth that showed the southern polar ice cap. Image credit: NASA.


Preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, on March 9-10, 2024, the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bearing the Name, Bearing the Cross: Sermon for Lent 2B

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare first famously asked that question in his tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, a tale of two star-crossed lovers whose families were at war with one another in the streets of Verona. The Montagues and the Capulets were openly at each other’s throats—and Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague fall in love at first sight, despite their families enmity.

In Act II, scene II, the subject of names is the main topic. Juliet sits at her window and muses these famous lines, with Romeo lurking out of sight in the orchard beneath, listening in:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Of course, it is not Romeo’s given name that is the problem. The problem is his family name—and hers, for their families are at war under the banner of those names. Their names, and the communities each represents, threatens to forbid their love.

Names are important banners we wrap around ourselves, but they are NOT individual. They tie us to other people, to nationalities, to ideologies, to kin and kindred spirits scattered far and wide. Most importantly, most names are shared, and thus they establish boundaries and expectations for entire communities.

In our readings today, the idea of names and their symbols lies under all our readings. Abram, although a wealthy and faithful man, risks having his name die out, for he has no legitimate children. Yet even though he is 99 years old—about which St. Paul made an incredibly ageist crack in our epistle—we see a second covenant in two weeks, as God promises Abram descendants so numerous that his name will never die, and he will be the father of many nations. 

To emphasize this, God reveals a new name for everyone involved in this covenant. The name used here for God, meaning “God Almighty” or “God of the Mountain,” is “El Shaddai” in the original text. Abram, meaning “Father is Exalted,” become Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude.” Sarai, which means “Princess,” becomes Sarah, meaning “Mother of Nations.”

In our section from Romans, Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, although he has never met them. They are struggling with the requirements to form a community of Christ- followers, with those of Abrahamic heritage arguing about whether gentile converts should have to follow Jewish law before admittance to the community—including becoming circumcised, which was also mentioned in the verses omitted in our reading from Genesis. Paul makes a case that, as Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law, and underlying this is the idea that Abraham was the father of nations, plural, that anyone who shares the faith Abraham had in God is therefore a child of Abraham’s promise, through faith alone. In other words, one follows God by faith, not by bloodline --or painful surgical procedures on tender bits of one’s anatomy. Ouch.

In our gospel, Jesus is talking about what it means to be a true disciple and follower of Jesus as the son of God. And it is here that we must remember that each gospel was written for a specific community at a particular time and place. The Markan community was undergoing great persecution and suffering—so these verse that we might draw back from were written to comfort the listeners, to remind them that their suffering was in allegiance with someone who died out of love for them and for the entire world on the cross. The cross, which had been a symbol of shame, is now a symbol of the victory and power of love in action—self-giving love, that seeks to draw all creation into community, bound by self-giving love.

And here we are, two thousand years later. The name we choose to bear as followers of Jesus, is “Christians.” And it is a name that lays a lot of obligations on us—the first of which is to be guided by love, always. Love that is willing to seek another’s good even at our own expense, just as Jesus exemplified in every moment of his ministry.

Sure, we live in a time when, in our context, following Jesus generally is not going to expose us to a torturous death—although that IS certainly true in other parts of the world, even today, and we should never, ever minimize or forget that.

But following Jesus—not just using his name to hammer other people, but instead living open-heartedly according to his precious gospel—certainly will set us at odds with the culture in which we live. And the way Jesus’s name is used by too many people today is 100% in opposition to Jesus’s message. 

Tragically, some people use the name of "Christian" as a weapon against others and to make themselves feel superior, members in a rarified club. And they use the name of Jesus as a club against anyone they consider “less-than.” They use the name of Jesus as an excuse to contemptuously deny the humanity of those they believe don’t measure up—the very poor, outcast, and oppressed with whom Jesus spent most of his time standing in solidarity. And so, they risk tarnishing the holy name and true gospel of Jesus in the public sphere. They forget that taking on the name “Christian” is about serving others, especially those the world around us despises-- rather than serving yourself.

The core of discipleship, of bearing the name of Jesus with integrity, is self-giving compassion and generosity, Jesus reminds us continually, especially in this season of Lent. Tragically, that certainly is not something in line with our own culture, where self-indulgence is raised up as a virtue. It is at this point especially that Jesus makes it quite clear that the gospel is certainly counter-cultural throughout the ages. And it is still counter-cultural now, surrounded by the myth of “rugged individualism,” in which any need for someone else is portrayed in the public American ethos as a failure.

But that is exactly the kind of life we are challenged to lose and lay down if we want to bear the name of Jesus faithfully and call ourselves “Christians.”

It is that life of selfishness and disdain for others that Jesus encourages us to lay down and lose. Losing that life is the only way to open yourself to living in harmony with Jesus and following him as God’s beloved children. Peter is rebuked for thinking in a worldly way, wanting a warrior Messiah. But that is NOT God’s way.

So, we too are asked to look at the life the world encourages us to lead critically. We are currently in a crisis of loneliness and isolation that has NOTHING to do with COVID but everything to do with the myth that our families and communities can survive when greed and contempt for others are worshiped are embraced to rule over us as gods. Suicide rates, addiction, and violence plague our every step in every community, regardless of wealth or zip code. Antisocial behaviors have been normalized and even applauded and laughed about. Cruelty is sport.

It is THIS life Jesus urges us to lay down and lose in order to have life in him and bear his name as Christians faithfully. We gain so much more than we lose!

The cross in Jesus’s time was something shameful, yet for us now it is a sign of faith and hope. The cross has been so transformed by the power of the self-giving love it represents that we now wear it around our necks, hand it over or behind our altars, and regularly make the sign of the cross over ourselves as we are blessed or absolved.

When I became an Episcopalian, I embraced the habit of genuflection, because it reminded me every time I did it that Christ has asked us, as Christians, to take up our cross—a cross of love, service to others, and community—and follow him, as our gospel recounts today. It is a reminder to me that the Holy Trinity is ever near. And it is a sign, as much as the name of Christian, that binds us all together in one family, one community, one faith—all centered on self-giving love in action for others. The cross and what it stands for is NEVER to be used to divide us.

During every Eucharistic prayer, as part of our Catholic, meaning universal, identity, we are all encouraged to make the sign of the cross over ourselves as the Holy Spirit is called down to consecrate US as well as the bread and the wine—to remember that the cross is a sign of the victory of love and the generosity of God to us in feeding us around this altar a meal which makes us one body sharing one name and one ministry, one obligation to each other—the name of Jesus, the sweetest name in the world.

So today, I challenge you and myself, to take up your cross of love and bear it with joy, right now. Realize the gift of renouncing the suffering wrought by the world’s values. Lay down that life with joy, and take up the life of love, faith, and hope in the name of God. Let us commit ourselves, starting this Lent, to follow Jesus in truth, bearing his glorious name in word, but more importantly in deed, as we all seek to be a blessing to the world around us.

Preached at the 505 on February 24 and at the 10:30 Eucharist on February 25 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church- Ellisville, MO.



Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Prayer 4039

Crafter of the Earth and Sky,
we offer you our praise,
as we marvel at your handiwork all around us
and dedicate ourselves to your commandments.

On this day, may we
forgive freely,
act for healing where there is injury,
stand with the oppressed,
welcome the refugee,
and care for the desolate and forsaken.
For we know we have drunk deep
from the bowls of your mercy and grace,
not for our own sake,
but so that we may then embody your steadfast lovingkindness
to a waiting, hurting world.

Strengthen us to be your hands in the world,
Beloved Savior, Light of the World,
that we may work for the welfare of all people,
as we ask your blessing upon those we now name.


Monday, February 5, 2024

Prayer 4038

Holy One,
the curtains of night have parted,
and the birds are singing the sun into wakefulness.

May the dawn of understanding and charity
break over all creation,
and may all join hands in compassion and kinship.

May our hearts beat in tune with each other
in reverence before our God.

May we drink deep from the well of wisdom,
that we may align our lives with your divine will.
May our hands be skilled in building bridges, not walls;
may our souls embrace you holy commandments
that we may love truth and walk with integrity/
May we dedicate our lives
for the sake of the reconciliation of the world
with your holy purpose, O God.

Led by the Spirit,
may we pace our hand in your, Lord Christ,
trusting in your abundant grace,
and asking your blessing upon those for whom we pray.


Friday, February 2, 2024

Prayer 4035: Inspired by Psalm 42:1-2, 8

(Inspired by Psalm 42:1-2, 8)

As the deer longs for the water brooks,
and searches for her food within the woods,
so too we hunger and thirst for you, O God our Sustainer.

Your life-giving word
nourishes our souls:
sweeter than honey on the tongue
are your steadfast lovingkindness and mercy,
O Shepherd of Our Souls.

Trusting in your faithfulness and care,
may we release all the hurts and weights
that draw us from you and each other,
and lift up a prayer always to the God of Our Life.

Shine the light of your countenance
upon all whose spirits or strength is faltering, O Holy One,
and give your angels charge
over those for whom we pray.


(Image: A herd of New Zealand deer on a farm on the South Island, December, 2023)

Monday, January 29, 2024

Prayer 4031

Holy One, the morning sun
burnishes all it touches,
and we rise to give you praise.
Glorious Savior, you are the bread of life,
and you nourish us with wisdom and grace
so that we may support your work of redemption:
we hunger and thirst for you alone.
Heal us of all our iniquities, we pray,
that we may be worthy bearers of your love's banner
and dedicate ourselves to living lives of integrity and justice,
inviting all into your Beloved Community.
Spirit of the Living God,
direct our paths this day,
and give your angels charge
over all who stand in need of prayer,
especially these beloveds for whom we pray.


Sunday, January 28, 2024

A Case for Love: Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany (Annual Meeting)

This last Tuesday, some of us throughout the diocese and all around the country attended the theatrical premiere of a documentary entitled A Case for Love(1), which examined the teachings of our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on the Christian call to live lives centered on what he calls “The Way of Love.”

The documentary included a handful of vignettes of ordinary people who have been transformed by the power of love—both of receiving it from others, and offering it to those they have encountered in the course of their lives. Stories included people who have fostered and adopted traumatized children; women who have been supported in leaving lives of crime and violence on the streets through the work of Thistle Farms around the country; soldiers and Marines dealing with trauma and healing it in the lives of so many; a family who had their eyes opened to racism and its effects after adopting—and later losing to cancer—a child with a different ethnicity, and more.

One story in particular which filled the heart was from Bishop Curry’s own childhood, as he grew up himself the child of an Episcopal priest. He introduced us to a pivotal figure from his own life named Josie Robbins. Ms. Robbins wasn’t even a member of the Curry family’s parish; she dropped off one of her neighbor’s children there on her way to her own Baptist church. But she heard of the pastor struggling to take care of two small children with his wife fighting cancer in a hospital miles from their home, and asked what she could do. 

Overwhelmed, he asked if she could iron a room full of clothes—they covered two twin beds in a spare room-- that he had been able to launder but not finish while juggling all his duties as priest, father, and husband. The children we told to leave her alone and remain upstairs while she lovingly worked on this task.

Then one day, Bishop Curry’s father was running late and asked if she could make the children lunch, to which she graciously agreed. She later remarked that after that lunch, young Michael pulled up a chair in the doorway and started talking to her until the moment she left for the day, and for every day afterward.

Josie Robbins was there for the Curry family when Michael’s mother later succumbed to cancer. Josie Robbins soon was taking the children to the drug store to see the parakeets and hamsters, just as they Mommy had done. She attended every recital, every graduation, every celebration. Here was a stranger who saw two children under the age of 8 and a devoted young husband who were losing their mother and their wife to a terrible disease. 

“Josie Robins is what love looks like,” Bishop Curry later recounted in his book Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. Through Josie Robins, love embodied in action arrived to help iron the laundry of a family in crisis, and stepped into Bishop Curry’s life as a mother figure for the rest of his life, and she remains so even to this very day (2).

In the trailer for the movie, Presiding Bishop Curry’s prophetic voice comes to us, saying: “We were made for each other, and I believe we were also made for the God who made us. And that’s the ultimate community: all of us together and the God who made us.”

In our reading from 1st Corinthians this Sunday, we have the question of whether it is lawful for Christians to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. What’s interesting is the way that Paul frames this discussion. In vv. 1-3, which we do not get to hear in our reading, Paul starts with a discussion of which is greater: knowledge or love. 

It reminds me of a question I used to ask my middle schoolers: If you could only be one thing, would you rather be the smartest kid in school, or the kindest? It was always an interesting discussion, and often the first time they had had a discussion about values. And basically, Paul comes down with something that many of my students stated: being truly loving can have more of an impact than self-serving knowledge. The question comes down to being inwardly or outwardly focused.

The Corinthians lay out a logical argument about why, since the Greek gods do not really exist, it is permissible to eat meat from Greek temples. But Paul asks them to consider the greater good: what happens to those who SEE Christians openly eating meat sacrificed to idols? Might this lead people astray by appearing to still engage in the ways of the pagan world around them. Christian are, after all, called to live a life different, a life that even in commonplace things demonstrates their allegiance to God, not the world around them.

Paul points out that knowledge is rooted too often in the self, while love only exists in community, and love must be in a community to build it up. But love always comes first, both in time and as a priority in our relationships with God and with each other. Paul argues that even if what we do is legal, if it causes another to be led astray, the demand of love must take precedence. Could it be that the Corinthians—many of them former pagans by default cultural practice—might be unwilling to really change their lives that much even while claiming to follow Christ?

But that is a question for us as well: how much are we really willing to change in order to live out the values of Jesus in our everyday lives? And yet, by calling ourselves Christians, how we live and love—or not—is a profound testimony to the rest of the world.

We live in a world that does NOT prioritize real, self-giving love.
Yet that is exactly the main ethical demand God calls us to live by as Christians.

To live not in fear, or by vengeance, or by indifference to the suffering of others—but to live by love. Jesus calls us into community—parish, diocese, denomination, or as the universal Body of Christ, to remind us that love always comes first—from God to us, and from us to the hurting world in which we live.

A Case for Love aligns perfectly with Paul’s argument, which was Jesus’s as well, that sometimes love calls us to a higher standard than knowledge and logic alone. Knowledge may be good, but LOVE as an act of the will and freedom in the world is most important. 

As we open our parish annual meeting for this year, I invite you to consider all the ways that St. Martin’s exists not just as a community for its members—but as a sign of Christ’s love in the world. There is much to celebrate here—and everything that we do in love is ONLY possible through each and every person here. How do we all make a case for love—the love of God and love of each other—in our own lives each and every moment? And how can we continue to grow that in the days and months and years ahead?

At the end of watching A Case for Love, each viewer was challenged to engage in a thirty day challenge. We were directed to a companion website, where there are supplemental materials for deepening our engagement from being merely spectators watching a documentary to following in the footsteps of those ordinary people who were featured in the film. There is a journal for engaging for thirty days in doing one selfless act of love and recording it and reflecting upon it each day. 

I hope you will join me in starting this challenge as part of your Lenten devotion starting on Ash Wednesday--- even if you didn’t see the documentary. We will discuss this in a later adult forum. But for now, let us consider the way St. Martin’s parish, through YOUR actions and support, makes a case for love in the world every single day.


Preached at the 9:00 Holy Eucharist and Annual Meeting 2024 for St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.


1) A Case for Love, documentary film by Grace Based Films, 2024.
2) Michael Bruce Curry, Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, 13.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Prayer 4029: Inspired by Psalms 138-139 in the Daily Office

O God,
you are our safe harbor; our shelter and our keeper:
   we lay open our hearts before your throne.

Before I yet breathed
you knew me and had me
   within the bowl of your mercy:
in you, O God, do I trust,
for you are ever with me
in rejoicing or in travail--
   in trouble or tempest you remain steadfast.
In sundering sea or thundering wave,
   you steady me and strengthen me by your grace.

With the eyes of our hearts
may we see your imprint in the world around us,
O Redeemer and Lover of Our Souls,
that we may tell out your goodness in the world
   in all we do or say.

Cast the mantle of your presence, Lord Christ,
over all those who call upon you for help,
especially those for whom we pray.


Friday, January 26, 2024

Prayer 4028: Inspired by John 6:1-15

Blessed Savior,
who in the feeding of the five thousand
showed how even a little is more than enough,

place your hand over us and bless us
who have a little faith but a great hunger
to imitate your fidelity and generosity;

who have a little understanding but a great need
to walk in your integrity and wisdom;

who have a little strength but a great desire
to emulate your loving dedication to freeing all
from oppression, denigration, and injustice.

May we offer our little to you,
trusting that it will be transformed into enough,
made great by your love and redemption.

Holy One, may we walk the good road of your mercy,
and bring our hearts into alignment by your love and grace.
Grant your comfort and blessing
to those whom we now name.


Thursday, January 25, 2024

Prayer 4027: For Christian Unity

Creating God,
we rise beneath your spangled heavens,
the filigree of stars and constellations designed in your wisdom,
and we center ourselves in your love.

You weave together all that is
and charge and entrust us with serving and tending
this delicate, bountiful planet;
you knit together all peoples in one common tapestry;
the art of your creation fills us with wonder and awe.
You laid out a path of integrity and reconciliation
in the footprints of the Savior you send
to live among us and draw us closer to You.

All the works of your hand testify to your glory:
may the gravity and force of your Spirit
move over the deeps of our hearts
that we may stirred up to live by your precept of compassion.

May all who commit themselves to the Way of Jesus
live in amity and charity with each other,
and with all who seek to live lives worthy of You.

Gather into the vault of your mercy and compassion
all those who cry out to You, O Most High,
and give your angels charge
over those for whom we pray this day.


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Prayer 4026: Inspired by the Life of Florence Li Tim-Oi

Almighty God,
we worship and praise you this day,
and seek your will in our lives.
Inspire us by the example of your servant Florence,
who humbly accepted your call to minister
even in the midst of war and oppression,
bringing your sacraments to her people
that their faith and hope be nourished.
Give us the courage to feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
shelter the unhoused, landcare for the ill
as bravely and as selflessly,
even in defiance of tyrants,
and grant the warmth of your comforting embrace
to those for whom we pray.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Prayer 4025: Inspired by John 5:1-18 in the Daily Office

God of Compassion,
we praise you and bless you,
tuning our hearts to sing your praise and presence
in all that we do or say this day.

Lord Christ, you healed whenever there was a need,
seeing the suffering and acting without hesitation:
may we also fill our hearts to overflowing
with the desire to act in the name of love and restoration
giving of ourselves freely for the healing of the world.

Make us steadfast in our commitment to your gospel,
and faithful to your example of compassion and generosity,
inspired by your faith in us to live lives of grace,
walking in paths of mercy and joyful service.

Grant your benediction over all who call out to you,
O Worker of Wonders,
and place the kiss of your blessing
upon those we now name.


Monday, January 22, 2024

Prayer 4024: For Awakening and Compassion

O God Of Justice and Mercy,
we humbly sit before you,
opening our hearts to hear your Word
and walk in your commandments.

Awaken us, O Savior,
where we numb ourselves to the needs of others,
that we may reclaim your empowering Spirit.

Trouble us, O God,
that we may be awakened to speak out
against the silences that breed injustice and oppression,
against the contempts that lay waste to our hearts.

May we trust in you, O Merciful One,
enough to place our hand in yours,
and make our lives living testaments to your grace and truth.

May we employ each breath
in the service of reconciliation and healing,
hearing the voice of Christ in the cry of the forsaken.

May we make our hearts a tabernacle for your presence,
O Spirit of Compassion,
and our lives an oblation of courageous service to You, O God,
as we pray for the special needs of those around us.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

Off the Hook: Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany B

Many of you have probably heard the old Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.

It’s a beautiful sentiment. But I have also seen the truth of its corollary: Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will be gone the entire weekend.

There’s a lot of fishiness in this week’s readings, and hopefully, we are hooked into trying to learn more.

We start with just a snippet from the Book of Jonah. It’s unusual among the prophetic books. There are very few prophecies of his included. Instead it is a narrative of Jonah’s life. His life as a prophet is unique because in this book he is sent not to the people of Israel to correct their sins and shortcomings, but to the people of Israel’s oppressor—specifically, to the great city of Nineveh. A city Jonah hates, because it is the capital of Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians. So when Jonah is told by God to go offer his enemies salvation, he adamantly refuses and does everything he can to avoid it. I mean, a prophet who defies God. That’s some chutzpah. But in the end, to Nineveh he does go, and converts them with a single sentence. And in doing so, he learns that God’s mercy is wider than the widest sea.

In Mark’s gospel, which is notorious for using the word “immediately” dozens of times, Jesus converts two pairs of brothers with a single sentence, too. As I discussed this gospel with the vestry the other night, some of us contrarians reflected that the idea of fishing for people can seem rather negative. This image implies, after all, that maybe people should be baited, or hooked, or caught against their will. Fishing works by fooling the fish, or sneaking up on them unawares, after all. Not to mention the fact that fishing for a living, rather than when one does it as a hobby, is backbreaking work with no guarantee of success—and desperate, too, when fishing is a matter of survival.

When we survey the scope of scripture, being caught in a net is almost always a negative thing. A net is almost always portrayed as a trap. In the psalms, a net is what your enemies lay out to trip you up, to ensnare you. With that in mind, the idea of “fishing for people” can be seen as manipulative.

And sure, there are some faith communities that use gimmicks to ensnare people. There’s the obvious things, like offering childcare—I used to know a lot of parents who would send their kids to a local church in east Tulsa because it had a fleet of old school buses that would drive through the neighborhoods, and they could send the kids off to this church and get a couple of hours to themselves while the church kept the kids busy on a Sunday morning. I know other churches that advertise coffee bars, and climbing walls, and even Mixed Martial Arts bouts and fashion shows, or who play to the very attractive idea that those who DON’T belong to the church are losers, outsiders, cast off from God—like God’s love is an exclusive offer to only the right sort of people. Then there are churches where people go to make business connections, or to be “seen”—a story as old as time.

This week’s readings continue last week’s theme of being called by God and the mutual recognition that is involved in call, as we are given more depictions of being called by God and the various ways we can respond.

To review: we could respond with innocent eagerness, like the boy-prophet Samuel last week.

We can respond with skepticism, like Nathanael did last week in John’s gospel.

We can respond with a desperate and angry “NO!” until one gets FORCED to surrender, as in Jonah’s story--and surrender he does, but he resents the hell out of being forced to offer a chance for repentance to his most hated enemies.

Or we can respond with shocking abruptness, like our two sets of brothers in our reading from Mark. Here we see them drop everything that they are doing—leaving behind bewildered (and undoubtedly angry) fathers and unmended nets and following this stranger with a handful of words.

I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, choices two and three have definite relevance for my life. After all, saying yes to God sometimes means ceding control, letting God’s will triumph over our own will. And there are few things more unsettling and potentially scary than that. We live in a culture, after all, in which sacrifice, compromise, joyful obedience and being malleable are seen as signs of weakness, signs of being a patsy. We have been conditioned, after all, to always seek to win—to demand “What’s in this for me?”—and the way our churches are set up can be no different.

So maybe that’s why some of us feel sorry for those poor fish-people. Visions of that scene in Finding Nemo might be flashing through your mind’s eye right now—the one where poor little Nemo has been caught in the net of the trawler along with hundreds of other fish, and they panic at the prospect of their impending doom as the net inexorably cranks upward.

But Jesus’s Good News never starts by tricking or guilting people into conversion and repentance. Jesus’s Good News, one that we are called to proclaim and embody, emphasizes living a life of discipleship rather than an emphasis on how to suffer through life until you get a reward of heaven when you die. My life was hard enough growing up. “Get used to it, kid,” or, a million times worse, smugly being told “It’s all God’s will” in answer to the real deprivations and chaos in which I grew up did NOT entice me into feeling like I was on the winning end of a bargain.

Jesus met people where they were, and invited them into relationship by being spiritually and intellectually welcoming. Again and again, he invites us to bring our questions and our doubts and not be rejected or shamed for them. And the places in my youth that operated with baiting nets and condemning some people as “garbage” worthy only of destruction when they got caught in God’s net did not appeal to me one bit.

In calling us, Jesus doesn’t offer us a bargain. In calling us, Jesus offers us our lives.

Rather than vengeance and punishment, Jesus calls us to mercy and grace. Rather than a transactional mindset like the rest of the world around us, run by merciless parameters like “dog eat dog” and “take advantage of others before they take advantage of you,” Jesus’s Good News is instead an orientation toward compassion and helping others without stopping to refuse those who were deemed “unworthy.” An emphasis on helping the struggling rather than ignoring their struggles or seeing those struggles as “God’s will.” A proclamation of how Jesus’s incarnation is meant to remind us of how precious we are in God’s sight, rather than how fallen and corrupt the material world is—and letting Christians off the hook from trying to make the broken places in the world better.

It's a question of emphasis. As our gospel passage begins, Jesus is walking along the shores of Galilee proclaiming GOOD NEWS. Good news, of mercy and grace, rather than suffering and smiting. That’s what entices people to leave the nets that have ensnared them and follow Jesus.

We can hear Jesus’s call with a different emphasis.

Instead of “Follow me, and I will make you fish for PEOPLE.”
What if we heard, “Follow me, and I will make you fish FOR people.” 

To live for others, to live for God, and in doing so, living lives that really matter.

Jesus calls Simon and Andrew and James and John and you and me to actively join with him in proclaiming the Good News to those we encounter in OUR lives. To take stock of what God’s love does for us in each moment, and to be so overjoyed we share that love with others. And that’s how we get out of the net and off the hook, and instead live lives of richness and abundance.

Jesus’s call to us, as disciples, is to not to trap people in our nets, but to leave the nets and the manipulations and seek reconciliation and good news for ALL.

Jesus’s call to us, as disciples, is to have faith in God’s love for us—and for our own ability to share that love in a world that DESPERATELY needs it. Immediately.

Preached at the 505 on January 20 and the 8:30 and 10:30 Eucharists on January 21 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville. MO.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Prayer 4020: Being Centered in Grace

O God Our Maker, Our Home,
this day unfurls before us:
let us anchor it in praise to You,
ground it in faithfulness and grace,
our vision sparked by gratitude, not grievance,
that we may have a taste of your heavenly banquet.

O God Our Shepherd, Our Guide:
this hour offers itself to us,
redolent with possibility:
let us devote it to manifesting your goodness
by the purity of our actions and words,
holding fast with integrity to your Word,
nourishing the hungry, welcoming the stranger,
and tending the soul-weary around us.

O God Our Shield, Our Promontory:
this moment calls to us:
let use our breath to breathe our prayers to you,
rising with the song of birds,
singing their way home,
that in faithfulness and confidence
we may center ourselves and those we love in you
as we pray.