December 14, 2008

Advent 3, Year B Sermon

December 14, 2008
Advent 3, Year B, RCL
St. Stephen's & the Incarnation Episcopal Church

For many Christians, there are passages of scripture that hold a special place in their heart, bringing back good memories of family or friends or bringing comfort in troubling times. For my grandmother, it's Psalm 121. For my dad, it's the Pentecost reading from Acts 2 because he gets to read it in Russian. Today's reading from the Prophet Isaiah is one of my favorites. And let me tell you why.

In August of 2000, I was preparing for my first official event as the youth council coordinator in the Diocese of West Tennessee. We were hosting a dinner for diocesan youth leaders at St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis. Next door to the Cathedral is Diocesan House, which housed the Cathedral and Diocesan staffs, and was where attendees were gathering for wine and cheese before dinner. (This was, after all, an Episcopal event.) I was a bundle of nerves as I headed down Poplar Avenue from my office to the Cathedral. I was looking forward to seeing friends, but there were going to be some people at this dinner who had been, well, shall we say, less than supportive of diocesan youth ministries in the past. I was glad they were coming to the dinner, but I was working myself up to defend the youth council against any disgruntledness they may have had brewing and feeling the need to vocalize. So, I'm thinking about these things and jamming out to some music in my car, and two huge fire trucks barreled past me with speed I'd never seen on a city street during rust hour. I looked towards the skyline in front of me, and I saw thick, black smoke just beyond the trees up ahead. About 17 seconds later, I realized that the fire trucks were heading to the same place I was: Diocesan House and St. Mary's Cathedral. Flames and smoke were pouring out of the top floor of Diocesan House, a 100 year old Memphis. After screaming a few colorful words in the safe confines of my car, I found a place to park and went running up to the scene. Luckily everyone on the Diocesan and Cathedral staffs were able to get out before the flames got out of control. Needless to say, the dinner wasn't going to happen. My rector had heard a report on the radio and called my cell phone to ask how bad it was. Just as he was asking, a fireman turned on the hose and blasted out the Bishop's office window on the third floor. It was a pretty bad day for the Diocese of West Tennessee.

One of the events we were going to promote that night was a clean-up project in the neighborhood behind the Cathedral as part of the efforts around the Jubilee Year. We'd hoped to have a huge turn out of young people to help be repairers of the breech in the poorest Zip code in Tennessee. That event was slated for the end of September, and I was really unsure of how we were going to get as much support and turnout as we needed if we didn't have the face-to-face time with these youth leaders to promote the event. But through the grace of God, the devastation of the fire brought us together. The Dean of the Cathedral called me and insisted that the Cathedral not just be a staging ground for the event in September, but that we start the day with a Eucharist at the Cathedral and then process en masse from the Nave to the neighborhood. He pledged to make sure the entire diocese was invited and would come. He wanted the Cathedral to make a statement in both word and liturgy that the entire neighborhood was going to be rebuilding together.

The Old Testament Reading for that day was the same one we heard this morning from Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and
release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Hearing those words and acting on them was one of the most powerful things I've ever done. The Diocese of West Tennessee was setting out to restore a place that was near to the hearts of many in Memphis; and the people of the Diocese were going to work to restore lives and bring hope to a neighborhood that desperately needed it. This was a journey we were going to go on together.

It is hard to read this passage from Isaiah and not feel some level of pending triumph over oppression or devastation. Years of history of the Episcopal Church in Tennessee had been reduced to dust on that August day; but this was nothing compared to the hopelessness that hung like a cloud over the Cathedral’s neighborhood. Diocesan House and St. Mary’s Cathedral had stood as a beacon of hope during the Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1878 and in the days following Martin Luther King’s death in 1968, and they had every intention of being that beacon of God’s love and restorative power again.

This chapter of Isaiah is nestled between chapters about destruction and judgment. But this section, chapters 60-62, is about the righteousness of God, the goodness and uprightness of God, the faithfulness of God. Just look at all the things that God is going to bring about though the chosen people of God: gladness will replace mourning, people will have praise dripping from their tongues and not timidness, building up of ancient ruins and the repair of ruined cities. There are parts of our country and our planet that could certainly use some building up and repair.

The main theme of this part of Isaiah is, as one scholar says, "salvation and nothing but salvation." The way is being prepared for God's everlasting covenant with the people of Israel. The people of Israel will have to go through division and destruction and captivity to get to that covenant, and although they will turn their backs on God, God does not turn the Almighty back on the Israelites. Every step of the way through their history, God was preparing for the restoration of the Kingdom through the covenant that will not be written on stone tablets but on the hearts of all.

That everlasting covenant is continued in the work of Jesus. The fourth chapter of Luke tells us that Christ reads this passage in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he declares ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

How many of us would have the guts to stand up and say, “I’m the one bring this scripture to life and fulfillment.” Hopefully none, since there was only one person who could fulfill those scriptures. But the Son of God sees this passage as an affirmation of his own call and ministry. Christ takes this call to bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and he lives it out by not only feeding the poor and healing the sick, but by empowering his followers to do the same.

Advent, one of my favorite times of the Church year, is our time to prepare, or re-prepare, to encounter Christ in the world and to make a place for him in our hearts. Advent is a personal time and a corporate time. It is a journey we take together. We may find ourselves in different places on the journey, but we are on that journey as a people of God, making space in the world for the righteousness of God.

Our call as followers of Christ is to continue to proclaim release to those held captive, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are called to be the oaks of righteousness, displaying the goodness and glory of God to all we meet, and to share our hope in Christ. We have an opportunity each day to prepare a place for Christ in the world by preparing a place for him in our hearts.

That warm September day in 2000 saw nearly 400 people of all ages clearing land, picking up trash, and repairing homes, bringing hope and love to the neighborhood behind St. Mary's Cathedral. Some of those disgruntled youth leaders even showed up with their young people. The staffs of the Diocese of West Tennessee and St. Mary's Cathedral were in that mix. They moved back into Diocesan House about nine months later, and continue to reach out to their neighbors, bringing them the light of Christ.

May we continue to prepare for Christ, bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, and comforting all who mourn, and may each of us be the light of Christ that the world so desperately needs.


November 29, 2008

Blanche Emily Curry Loyd

The sermon I preached at my grandmother's memorial service on Saturday, November 29th, 2008.

We gather today to celebrate the life of Blanche Emily Curry Loyd. She will be remembered as a mother, grandmother great-grandmother, wife, friend and devoted companion. She was married to Howard for 36 years, and lived with him and their daughters Marilyn & Suzanne in a pile of places around the world. After my grandfather died in 1980, she met Carl, and Carl has been in her life and our lives ever since. Carl was by her side through thick and thin over the past 27 years and was a grandfather figure to all four of her grandchildren.

As Blanche lived all over the United States and abroad, she made sure that her daughters experienced the culture of where they were stationed at the time, living off-base so that Marilyn & Suzanne could be part of the larger community. She made especially sure while they were living in England in 1952 that Marilyn, at age 4, was well aware of the significance of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second, which happened not too far from where they were living. Suzanne was born just a few weeks after the coronation, and Marilyn still wonders why she couldn't go to the palace to play with Charles. They are the same age after all!

When they were living in North Dakota, Blanche & Suzanne got to spend a lot of quality time together while Marilyn was in school in Philadelphia and Howard was working in Biloxi, Mississippi. Every Saturday night, the two of them would polka to the music on the Lawrence Welk Show. And you know it had to be some authentic polka dancing since Blanche grew up in and around first generation European Americans whose native dance was the polka. That same, cold, North Dakota winter, Suzanne and Blanche got flu shots. The shots must have worked like a charm since they both got the flu and were laid up in bed for several days.

She was the Girl Scout cookie chair when her girls were active in the Scouts. Marilyn & Suzanne both remember the house being wall-to-wall cookies ever year. Blanche wasn't ashamed to call her self the "great scrounger" for things that the Girl Scouts needed. She knew someone would be willing to donate whatever they needed as opposed to having to spend the money on it. She was a supportive mother who always wanted to give her girls more, but was almost always home when they back from school.

Blanche was a smart woman, and she had high aspirations for her daughters. There was never any question that both of her girls would go to college. They not only graduated from college, but have earned advanced degrees. She took great pride in her children and her grandchildren, and she must have done a good job, seeing how well both daughters turned out, and in turn, how well all four grandchildren turned out. :) The success of her grandchildren, of course, would not have been possible had she not personally picked out her sons-in-law.

She took the Civil Service exam at age 20, and scored high enough that she was offered a job with the State Department in Washington, DC. The offer came in the mail only a couple of days before her brother Wilbur tragically died in a coal mining accident. Her father didn't tell her she couldn't go to Washington, but he asked her to stay in such a way that she couldn't say no.

She was also known for being able to throw a feast which could not be out-done. We had to have two kinds of Ba-tatoes, at least two kinds of meat (one of which was ham), at least three things from a casserole dish, the marinated mushrooms & onions, and a dish of black olives for Patrick & I. That was just for starters. Then there was dessert...

She and her favorite granddaughter, Emily, spoke the common language of earrings, always bringing each other earrings or compare their latest bounty.

One of the qualities of Mama B that I will always remember is that she was not afraid to tell you what she thought. She was rarely a warm & fuzzy character, and might have been one of the most blunt people I've ever known. Moment of truth: Raise your hand if you were ever on the receiving end of one of Blanche's opinions. To borrow a line from the late Jerry Garcia, she wasn't often right, but she was never wrong. I've told this story on more than one occasion, and my wife knows I'm going to tell this story even though she's back in Washington with our son. At our wedding, we were waiting around for pictures and while my wife was in pictures with her parents and grandparents, I went to say hello to my grandparents. My dad's dad shook my hand offered his congratulations, and my dad's mom gave me a big hug and said it was a really beautiful service. Mama B gave me a kiss on the cheek and a huge grin and said, are you ready for it, "I'm sure as hell glad you didn't marry that other girl you were engaged to." I wasn't quite sure what to say. Her timing was awful, but I couldn't disagree with her: I was glad I didn't marry that other girl, either.

The other memory I have of Mama B is of her determined spirit. Apparently, when she was a young girl, her mother wanted her to wear a particular dress for some occasion, and little Blanche did not want to wear that dress. So she put her hands on her hips and declared, “I’m six years old, and I can do whatever I want.” And the tone was set for the next 82 years. The “I can do it” attitude carried her through her Rosie the Riveter Days in World War Two and through the many moves while Howard was in the Air Force. I remember one Thanksgiving weekend about six or seven years ago in Knoxville, she watched from the front window as my dad and sister and I tossed a football around in the front yard. Next thing we know, she’s out there with us, telling us how she used to beat the boys in football games in her neighborhood. And wouldn’t you know it, she punted the football right there in the front yard. All because she said she could.

It would be easy to think of her death as the end; the end of these stories of her life and how she has impacted everyone in this room. However, we are a people of Resurrection. We know that death is not the end; it is merely the beginning of new ways to be a blessed and beloved child of God.

Blanche Emily Curry was washed in the indissoluble waters of Baptism, welcomed and marked as one of Christ's own nearly 88 years ago at Zion Lutheran Church in Frackville, PA. That promise of God's presence was with her in Pennsylvania, the Philippines, Guam, Kansas, Louisiana, England, North Dakota and right here in Macon. It is a promise that Jesus made to his disciples and that the Apostle Paul echoed in today's readings. And the promise of a close and abiding relationship with God is that our hope is not in this life, but in the life to come. Just as Blanche is no longer with us in person, we can be reminded of her presence and impact in our lives. We can see a little bit of her reflected in all of us who are gathered here. And we can give continual thanks to God for all that she taught us and all that we will continue to learn from her.

May we remember not only Blanche, Mother, Mama B, but also the gifts God has bestowed upon each of us, and may we continue to be the light of Christ that the world so desperately needs to see.


November 23, 2008

The Real War on Christmas

Somewhere in my early to mid-adolescence, I came to dislike Christmas. I don't begrudge other people's love of it (especially my wife who would start listening to Christmas music the first chilly day of September), and I'm certainly glad to attend a holiday party. It all has to do with the commercialization of one of the pinnacle points of the Christian tradition.

I promise I am not a Grinch or a Scrooge about Christmas. I think the Nativity of our Lord is tied for first as the most important day of the Christian year. The Resurrection is the other. You can't have one without the other.

What has really gotten me lately is the faux controversy around people, mostly in the retail world, saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." In all honesty, I don't care. Say thanks for keeping your company in the black, tell me to have a nice day, tell me go jump in a river. I really don't have a dog in the "fight" over why retailers don't want their employees to say, "Merry Christmas." And if the sales person is not a practicing Christian, then they have all the more right to not wish a Christan blessing upon someone they don't know.

There is some fear that by not wishing people "Merry Christmas" that we are degrading a Christian observance and therefore Christianity.


Some people think that because a city council won't allow a nativity scene or a Christmas tree, there is some attack on the Christian faith.


First of all, I'm of the belief that a civil government shouldn't allow a display of one belief without a display for all the relevant religions. Second of all, the use of the evergreen tree was stolen by Christians from pagans. So why are we getting bent out of shape over a pagan symbol. By I digress...

Here is my main thing. As a Christian, I find it appalling that Christmas is promoted so early. The CVS near my house had Christmas decorations out on November 1st. (Thanksgiving, anyone?) And it is even more egregious that our economy has come to rely on this season to balance their books. Those who think that America has turned its back on God need to look no further than the gross commercialization of Christmas.

Advent is a season of the church year that we prepare for and are reminded to make room in our hearts and lives for God's coming to the world in the flesh, and to re-prepare for the ministry of Christ Jesus. This is a momentous occasion. It's huge. The birth of Christ is the cornerstone of our faith, and we belittle it by putting out garland and candy canes and all sorts of CRAP that has nothing to do with Jesus or God.

Christmas is not about trees or gifts. It's about the Word made flesh, dwelling in our midst, calling us to a closer relationship with God. This is not something to trivialize with shopping or trees or songs about snowmen.

As we approach the holy season of Advent, I pray that we will be able to prepare our hearts and minds on the incarnation of God into the world. I hope that all who claim the name of Jesus as their Savior will focus first on the gift God has given to the world and much later on what gifts they will give other people.

November 5, 2008

Congressman John Lewis

I mentioned the John Lewis video in a previous post. Here he is talking on ABC News last night.

Change has come to America

I don't even know where to begin.

At 11:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News called the 2008 Presidential Election for Barack Obama of Illinois. I have never been more proud of our country. I heard John Lewis (D-Ga) speak. He got choked up as he talked about marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about how many barriers we've knocked down just to get to this point.

Emily & I toasted with a glass of champagne as Wolf Blitzer and Keith Olberman made it official. (I was checking both channels, of course.) And I had to check with ABC, CBS, and Huffington Post to make sure it was real. (HuffPo naturally called it when Obama crossed the 200 mark.) The celebrations around the country and the world reminded me of the last scene in Return of the Jedi.

Emily was still feeding Oliver when the networks called it and when Senator McCain made his gracious concession speech. But I was holding Ollie when Congressman Lewis was speaking on TV, and I told Ollie all about who John Lewis is and who Martin Luther King is, and why this moment was so important. And more importantly, how amazing it is that Ollie has been born now and will always be able to say that he was born three weeks before our wonderful nation, and indeed the world, changed forever. Tears streamed down my face as I held on to him and watched the world change before our very eyes.

I swelled with pride when I filled out my ballot on Tuesday morning. I took very careful measure to mark the line for Barack Obama & Joe Biden. What an amazing moment!

In case you have not seen Obama's address to the throngs of people in Grant Park last night, here it is:

I offer this prayer for President-Elect Obama from the Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend this nation to your merciful care,
that being guided by your Providence,
we may dwell secure in your peace.
Grant to the President of the United States [name],
the Governor of this State, and to all in authority,
wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness,
and make them ever mindful of their calling
to serve this people in your fear;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen. (BCP, p. 824)

God bless America!

September 26, 2008

The Truth is Out There

I'm not ashamed of my support of Barack Obama. I've been a fan since John Edwards dropped out. He ain't perfect, but I think he's the most genuine person to run for President of the United States that we've seen in a long time. He's taken some tough swings and landed some hard punches.

The unspoken mystery of this election (besides the idiocy of choosing Sarah Palin) is the truth about John McCain's health. The man has had cancer four times, and he's not exactly a spring chicken. It's a tricky thing for the Obama camp to tackle. They don't want to be seen as picking on an "old man." And all it takes is one negative ad back at Obama for attacking a "war hero" (and don't get me started on that!), and it's game over.

But a group called BraveNewPAC has come out with several ads questioning McCain's fitness to serve. The bravest is the this one:

We'll see where it goes. But it brings some health facts about the types of cancer McCain has faced, and raises some real questions about his fitness to lead.

I didn't need this ad to sway me to Obama, but hopefully it will sway some others.

September 19, 2008

Take Me Out With the Crowd

Few would argue that the Washington Nationals are a really bad baseball team. As of today, they are tied with the San Diego Padres for the worst record in the National League. (The Seattle Mariners are one game worse.) They are both 58-95. But none-the-less, I will be out at Nationals Park tonight enjoying fall weather, along with Emily and her parents and sister. And guess who the Nats are playing. That's right, the Holy Fathers from the City of St. James. At the end of the night, one of these two teams will be in sole possession of the National League cellar. Here's hoping it's not the hometown team.

There is something pretty amazing about baseball. It's just about the slowest paced team sport there is. (I mean really, is golf a sport or a hobby?) The action comes in spurts, and you can usually anticipate that it's about to happen. Yet, America loves baseball. Kids of all ages play all across the country. We have Major League teams in big cities, and Minor League teams in towns of all sizes. One of the best things I did this summer was take my father to a Tennessee Smokies game for Father's Day. We sat two rows behind home plate. We could hear the conversations between the catchers, the batters and the home plate umpire. It was awesome. And we have more movies about baseball than (I think) any other sport. James Earl Jones' soliloquy in Field of Dreams always gives me chills.

Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

So, win or lose, I'll be at Nationals Park tonight, having an adult beverage and a food item that is totally un-healthy, enjoying the one constant through the years, and yelling "swingbatterbatter, swingbatterbatter, sa-wing battah!" (just like Ferris & Cameron).

Go Nats!

July 25, 2008

The Olympics & Human Rights

I have always been a fan of the Olympics, especially since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. It is such an amazing time. Attending some of the events of the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and particularly the US Women's Soccer Team beating China for the gold medal, will be etched in my memory forever.

This year's Olympics, which begin August 8
th, have been clouded in environmental & political controversy. So, I was pleased to find this story from Ecumenical News International:

Hanover (ENI). A German church has far exceeded its initial
expectations in distributing more than 200 000 black bracelets intended as a
symbolic protest against human rights abuses in China during the Olympic Games
in Beijing. "It shows that people want to stand up for others and show what they
believe in," said Bishop Margot Kässmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of

Click here for the full story.

The Church doesn't take a stand enough on this like this. I applaud Bishop
Kassmann for this one.

May 18, 2008

Sermon: Thurgood Marshall (Trinity Sunday)

(Note: The Diocese of Washington is working towards adding Thurgood Marshall to the liturgical calendar and to the Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. You can read more about the effort by clicking here.)

St. Mary’s, Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC
May 18, 2008
Trial Feast of Thurgood Marshall
Amos 5:10-15, 21-24; Psalm 34:15-22; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Matthew 23:1-11

It is a great pleasure to be with you this morning in one of our most historic parishes. Rev. Wheeler & I go back to the months before I arrived in the Diocese of Washington, when we were both at the Episcopal Youth Event in Laramie, Wyoming in the summer of 2002. He is a good friend and I know I don’t have to tell you how lucky you are to have him as your rector. I have also had the pleasure of working with Rhoda Smith from time to time on Christian Formation practices since 2002, and if we had a Hall of Fame for dedicated Christian Formation leaders, she would surely be one of the inductees.

It’s not often that we get to observe three events on one Sunday, but we are doing that today. Rest assured, dear friends. You will only get one sermon. The Church Universal today celebrates the Trinity, arguable one of the greatest mysteries in all of the world’s religions. And throughout our Diocese and in other parts of the Episcopal Church, we pause today to celebrate the life of Thurgood Marshall. Closer to home, here at St. Mary’s, we celebrate the young people of this parish.

Without neglecting the Trinity, I will briefly relay a story told by the Rev. John Thomas during a Trinity Sunday sermon once. He was at an event with several prominent theologians. Among them was an older Greek Orthodox priest. When one of the conference participants asked the priest what Greek Orthodox Christians believe about the Trinity, the well-versed gentleman from the Old Country stepped up to the microphone and said, “Ah. The Trinity… Yes. Is Mystery.” And sat back down.

What is not a mystery is the life of Mr. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the United States Supreme Court and a well-beloved member of St. Augustine’s Parish in Southwest DC. His widow Cissy is still a member there.

At the 2006 Diocesan Convention, The Diocese of Washington began the process for having Justice Marshall included on our liturgical calendar, and among the saints remembered in the Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Lesser Feasts and Fasts is not short on men in its pages, but it is short of lay people and on people of color. We are hoping that by remembering him each year in our own Diocese, we will be able to make the case at General Convention 2009 that Justice Marshall should be remembered by all of the church. The Diocese recommended that May 17th be the day we commemorate Justice Marshall, as that is the anniversary of his landmark win before the Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Topeka Kansas Board of Education.

In order to understand the significance of Brown, we have to understand or at least know about Plessey vs. Ferguson. In 1896, The Supreme Court ruled, with only one dissenting member, that laws requiring the separation of races were not in violation of the 14th Amendment, and were indeed legal. The 14th Amendment ensures equal protection under the law. It became the foundation of the “separate but equal” standard that remained in our country until 1954.

Justice John Harlan, the lone dissenting voice, expressed his disagreement with the majority:
“Our Constitution is color-blind,” he said, “and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.”

As Brown vs. Board of Education was working its way through the courts, an attorney named Thurgood Marshall had been chosen as lead counsel for the NAACP. This was not a job he stumbled upon. He had already won important cases regarding civil rights. His first was in 1936 at the age of 28. Mr. Marshall represented Donald Gaines Murray, a young African-American man who had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of its separate but equal policies. Mr. Murray had graduated from Amherst College and had excellent credentials. This policy required black students to accept one of three options: attend Morgan College, the Princess Anne Academy, or an out-of-state black institution. In 1935, Mr. Marshall argued the case for Mr. Murray, showing that neither of the in-state institutions offered a law school and that such schools were entirely unequal to the University of Maryland. Marshall expected to lose and had already begun preparing his appeal to the federal courts. Much to his surprise, though, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the state of Maryland stating "Compliance with the Constitution cannot be deferred at the will of the state. Whatever system is adopted for legal education now must furnish equality of treatment now". While it was a moral victory, the ruling had no real authority outside the state of Maryland.

It was among the first chip in the “separate but equal” armor. While Brown did not eliminate the ills of racism or the problems of bigotry, it finally removed the biggest hurdle to doing something about segregation. It struck down the laws that supported segregation. Without the Brown decision, the bold move by Rosa Parks and the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr., would not have been possible. They would have been merely rabble-rousers.

It would be fascinating to know how his faith shaped his desire to see justice and equality happen for African-Americans in this country. While Justice Marshall did not often talk about his faith, when he was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice in 1967, his Bible was open to 1 Corinthians 13, one of our lessons this morning, a chapter describing our charge as Christians, to love above all else. If we do not have love, our life and our walk with Christ mean nothing.

Many of the opportunities young people have in our country and in our church are due to the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and those who came after him.

I found a quote from him this week that draws in his efforts with this celebration of young people here at St. Mary’s. It’s a statement for young and old alike.

Listen carefully:
“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Every young person needs at least one adult to be wild-crazy about them. Our journey through this life is one that we don’t walk alone. God has put people on our path to help show us the way, and God has invited us to be on the path of our brothers and sisters, whether they are followers of Christ or not.

It is important for those of you in the under-18 crowd to remember that the adults in your life have a great deal to teach you, just as you have a great deal to teach us. We just had more birthdays and made more mistakes for you to learn from.

This generation of young people has the power to change the world. And they will. I’ve seen it. I believe it. But they won’t do it by themselves. They need the adults around them to help make it happen, to be their cheering section, to show them the best ways to pull up their boot straps, and to love them unconditionally.


April 28, 2008

Sermon: I Peter 3:13-22

RCL Year A, Easter 6

1 Peter 3:13-22

“For it is better to suffer for doing good,” the Apostle Peter writes, “than to suffer for doing evil.”

When my cousin Jan was 22 years old, she became a missionary in Mali, in West Africa. Her up bringing in the Church put her in a position, spiritually, where she felt she could best serve God by serving the poor in Mali. And so she went. Full of life, vigor, and love for the Lord, she headed out to Mali in hopes of feeding bodies and souls. Jan was an incredibly compassionate person, and empathized with the pain and suffering of others. She kept a very detailed journal that accounted not only her activities for the 9 months she was there, but also how this experience was affecting her soul. Seeing the suffering of people who had done nothing to warrant it was a troubling thing for Jan, and at many points in her journey, she questioned how she could believe in the goodness of God when the people in Mali didn’t have clean water or fertile enough land to grow adequate crops. They weren’t concerned with abundant crops; just adequate. And they didn’t have those either.

Jan came home from Mali for a three month furlough in December. She was scheduled to go back in mid-March for another nine to 12 months. But Jan got sick. After much testing and debating amongst themselves, the doctor’s diagnosed her with malaria, something so uncommon in the United States that the hospital in Tampa didn’t have any method of treating it, and experts from the Centers for Disease Control came down from Atlanta with medicine and to do some testing of their own. Their biggest question was how does a healthy 22 year old female who was on anti-malaria pills contract this awful disease. The answer to that would come later.

My Uncle David and Aunt Pat, who had adopted Jan when she was 12 years old, spent many hours praying by Jan’s hospital bed, and many hours pouring through her journals. When Jan came to live with them, both of her parents had died. Her father of complications from emphasema and her mother from lung cancer. When both were alive, they smoked as much as five packs a day combined. And Jan lived with that for most of her formative years. As the malaria took its grip on her respiratory system, Jan’s lungs, weakened by years of second hand smoke, could not fight off the infection, and on February 12th, 1992, Jan died.

In reading through her journals, my aunt & uncle discovered that she had stopped taking her anti-malaria pills about 6 months into her mission. She did not feel, according to her own words, that she could genuinely do ministry with the people of Mali if she had advantages they didn’t have. Malaria today accounts for 33 percent of all doctor visits in Mali and is responsible for 15 percent of all deaths in there.

And despite the grief all of her family felt at her death, we took some comfort in the fact that she died for the cause of the Gospel. I don’t know that it is ever God’s will that we suffer, especially in sharing the Good News of God in Christ and ministering to God’s people, but almost all of us have come to some peace that Jan’s death was not in vain.

We have all suffered for the cause of something we believe in, and we have all dealt with the loss of friends or family because we stood up for what was right. The First Letter of Peter, which we have heard for three weeks now, is about perseverance in our suffering, and staying true to the Way that Jesus laid out for us. The passage from today’s lesson lays out for us calm and encouraging words for staying true to the path of Christ when that path gets rough and rocky.

“Even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

We are called as people of God to bear witness to Christ’s power in the world. Whether we are called to deal with earthly hardships for our faith or not, being the Light of Christ in this world is no easy feat. I don’t know about you, but even before following this call to ordained ministry, I was often in a position of defending why I believed in God and would call myself a Christian. Even today in many parts of our own country, followers of Christ are the minority and face the threat of intimidation because of their faith in Him.

Yet as we bear the light of Christ to places that are far off and places that are near, we have amazing opportunities to share the Christian witness. When the message is not received, we can’t take it personally, instead we must continue to share the Gospel with gentleness and reverence, and most importantly, we must remember that we are not only the bearers of the light of Christ, we are the light of Christ.


April 16, 2008

The Pope & the Death Penalty

I find it incredibly ironic that on the same day Pope Benedict is in the USA and talking about the preservation of human life at all stages, the Supreme Court of our nation issues a ruling that lethal injection is not an inhumane way to execute criminals.

I'm not a fan of the death penalty, nor am I a huge supporter of the Catholic Bishop of Rome (all the while respecting his office and the people he represents). But I do find some irony in the crossing of these two messages.

If we, as a nation, say we believe that life is valuable, why do we then have the death penalty? Just because someone else did not value a human life, do we then devalue theirs? I'm not saying I want those people walking the streets of DC or anywhere else, but I believe that Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" not "as they did to someone else."

Just something to think about...

April 5, 2008

Remembering Dr. King

Today was a monumental anniversary in the life of the United States. It was the 40 years ago today that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis. I have stood in the shadows of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, and I have stood in the pulpit of the Washington National Cathedral where Dr. King preached his last sermon. But the most moving memory I have of Dr. King's legacy was one summer at Camp Gailor-Maxon.

I had just completed 10th grade. The theme at camp that summer was about breaking free from oppression. We were in the Pavilion on a warm, breezy summer morning. The chaplain opened our morning program with a prayer, and invited us to sit and make ourselves comfortable. Then, without introduction, we began hearing Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. To this day, every time I hear him say, "I have a dream," I am taken back to that moment in the summer of 1992, and I remember the chills that went down my spine while I was listening. We talked about breaking the bonds of oppression, and how we, as high schoolers, could do that in our own lives and in our own neighborhoods.

It would be nice to think that Dr. King's dream had come true. The good news is that it's closer to reality today than it was in 1963. The sad news is that we still have a long way to go.

My hope and prayer is that we will continue to help make Dr. King's dream a reality as our days increase.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

March 22, 2008

The First Holy Saturday

I’ve wondered for years what that first that first Holy Saturday was like. I can only begin to imagine the dejection and pain and confusion the disciples must have felt. Jesus’ mother must have felt empty. Scripture tells us that the sky went dark on Friday. I wonder if it stayed that way on Saturday. What did the people of Jerusalem do on that first Holy Saturday? It was Passover, so it’s likely there was a lot of running around and preparing for the feasts that were to commemorate the mighty act of God in Egypt. Was there a buzz about all that had happened the day before? Maybe. Maybe not. Where were the disciples? Scarred? Crying? Celebrating Passover together? Were they alone or with friends? Was Peter with his wife and her family? Did Andrew & James go back to fishing with their dad?

We have the benefit of nearly 2000 years of hindsight to know what happens at first light on Sunday. But those who were following Jesus didn’t, and often times, they didn’t know what was happening right then, let alone what was going to happen in the future.

The events of that first Holy Saturday have always given me reason for pause, especially knowing what we are going to celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

March 2, 2008

Sermon: St. David's

Lent 4, Year A

One of the most important things to remember about Biblical narratives is that there is not one ounce of superfluous information. Every word of every narrative is considered necessary. So with that in mind, let’s take a dive into this heavy piece of scripture from John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel was written primarily for a Jewish audience. Those hearing it were comprised of many followers of Christ who had been expelled from the Synagogues. It is understandable that they were carrying a bit of a grudge against the Jewish leadership. It was important for this Gospel to show that people were putting everything on the line for Jesus and were ending up better than could be expected.

I find something new every time I read the scriptures. This time I discovered that it is the disciples who ask the question about who sinned first, the blind man or his parents that he was born this way. If the Pharisees or other religious leaders had asked it, we would call it a trap question and wonder about their motivations. But with the disciples asking, it seems more inquisitive than anything else. This question regarding sin would not have been out of the ordinary. Many midrash stories existed in Jesus’ time about in-the-womb or pre-birth sin. These stories usually revolved around Esau & Jacob, the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah way back in Genesis.

Several scholars have pointed out some of the uniqueness of this particular passage. First, this is one of few stories in the Gospel without time or place. John’s Gospel is not chronological like the other three, but still most of the stories move from one event to another or are set near a particular festival. This one does not. Another unique feature is that this is the longest passages about Jesus’ ministry that does not have Jesus in the story. Nineteen verses in the middle of the story are missing Jesus’ direct presence. It is also one of the few stories in the Gospels that take up the entire chapter, and the entire chapter is devoted to this one story.

This story also reads like a Greek drama, and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic or funny way. It is literally written like a Greek drama, where no two characters or character groups are in the scene at the same time. This style of writing and presentation would have been familiar to those in hearing this Gospel.

At issue in this story isn’t really the Disciples’ initial question regarding sin, but rather, the interpretation of Sabbath laws. If you recall your Sunday School days where I’m sure all of you memorized the 10 Commandments, Exodus 20:10 gives us the directive to observe a Sabbath day. Just as God had rested after creating the Earth in 6 days, humanity is called to take one day of the week and rest. It is the longest of the 10 Commandments, as it goes on to say “you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male and female slaves, your livestock, or the alien resident in your town.” Jewish religious leaders took that commandment seriously back then, and indeed, many sects of Judaism take that just as serious today. When my friend Anne was in high school, she had a weekly job pushing the wheelchair of a neighbor to Synagogue. The lady’s family was physically capable of doing this task, but pushing the wheel chair would have constituted work and thus violated Sabbath codes.

When Jesus made mud with his own hands and healed the man born blind, he was doing two pieces of work. And this offence of the Sabbath codes was more than the synagogue leaders could handle. They couldn’t just rejoice that this man had been healed. Instead, they only looked to question & condemn because Sabbath laws weren’t followed.

If we compare this story to last week’s with the woman at the well, we see a continuing theme. Jesus isn’t afraid to break the rules if it means a better life for someone or that it will bring glory to God. Because in the end, whose rules are they? Exodus said “do no work on the Sabbath.” It did not say “do no healing on the Sabbath” or “do no good on the Sabbath.” And the rift between Jews & Samaritans was not dictated by God, any more than the rift between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus talks about the importance of worship God, no matter where we are. This week, it’s about overcoming spiritual blindness, about being able to see with God’s eyes and God’s heart, about having our eyes opened to what we could not see before. Spiritual blindness is about being more concerned about what WE think, doing things the way WE want to do them, and not paying homage God’s will or vision. It’s also about giving the proper respect to who we are as God’s creation.

Go with me for a moment back to our Old Testament story about the calling of David to be the king of Israel. Samuel, following God’s lead, goes to the house of Jesse. He looks at all of Jesse’s sons, figures out which one he thinks it is, and God says, nope, none of these. And God says to Samuel, “The Lord does not see as mortals see, for they look on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God rejects the more strapping sons in Jesse’s household and instead takes the one who is rougher around the edges and out shepherding the family flock.
Last week’s Gospel, this week’s Gospel, the story from First Samuel: They all call us to consider what it is exactly that God sees in each of us, and what is it that God sees in those around us. The value that God places on each person in this world is beyond what we can imagine. No matter what flaws we think we may have, or we think that people around us may have, it is what is in our hearts that matters most.

The man Jesus healed went toe-to-toe with the Pharisees because he knew, Sabbath or no Sabbath, that this man of God had seen his worth for what it was.
Who are the people in our daily lives we need to give more value to? Who are we not seeing for their true worth? Who are we not seeing as God sees? Is it a friend? A family member? A coworker? Is it that nameless person who is in our way when we are in traffic or at the grocery store?

Our challenge during these waning days of Lent is to see God’s creation through the same lens as God does, to give God’s people everywhere the same value God gives them.

February 29, 2008

Americans in Prison

The NY Times reported that over 1.6 million Americans are in prison. This is not only the largest in our history, but it is also the largest per-capita incarceration in our history. About 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars.

1 out of 100...

What's wrong with our legal system that says we'd rather have you out of our sight than do anything to help you become a better person and a more productive member of American society?

It was interesting to find this article in my e-mail this morning, juxtaposed to this e-mail from a daily e-mail from Mikey's Funnies (which aren't always funny):

A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill?"

Hands started going up.

He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first let me do this."

He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air.

"Well," he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe.

He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty."Now who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.

"My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in God's eyes. To Him, dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to Him. Psalm 17:8 states that God will keep us 'as the apple of His eye.'"

THOUGHT: The worth of our lives come not in what we do or who we are, but by WHOSE WE ARE!


February 12, 2008

Christian Unity

The Rev. Dr. John Crossin, OSFS, president of Washington Theological Consortium and noted author, was the guest speaker in chapel at Wesley this morning. It was a special chapel service to mark prayers for Christian Unity. His message centered around the motto of the WTC, Pray without ceasing. "I've been working on that for a number of years," he said. It's comforting to know that a man whose whole job is to bring together the many denominational seminaries in the greater DC area struggles with prayer. "We need to ask the Spirit to help us pray," he continued. "We aren't consistent in that. We become so consumed with our own work that we loose sight that we are doing this for the Glory of God." He said that too often he will operate under the "90% for God, 10% for Crossin" principle. "I'm trying to hold on to that little bit for me." And aren't we all. Philippians 2 talks about Jesus as a humble servant. The virtue of humility is essential to conversations around Christian Unity and to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus emptied himself & worked for others, and we must also. We live in a world with far too many people out to serve their own interests. I don't know too many folks, myself included, who can put aside their own stuff to work for others. My grandmother, maybe... We don't just have a problem with Christian unity, we have a problem with unity & humility is all of American life. We can't look past our own stuff to see the bigger picture. I think about Jesus' high priestly prayer for his disciples the night before he was betrayed. He prayed that they may be one as he & God are one. It is difficult to be united with people with whom we might disagree, but what unites us as Christians is far greater than what divides us.

January 27, 2008

Sermon: Third Sunday of Epiphany

Third Sunday of Epiphany, Year A

St. David’s Episcopal Church

May God be in our hearts and in our minds, and may God’s words flow through each of our lips at all times. AMEN

This is the Bible I purchased just before I started seminary. It’s the Access Bible, and it’s all marked up with notes, insights, and thoughts. Important things about God’s people that I don’t want to forget. I show you my Bible because I really like our Scriptures. I guess that is a good thing for a seminarian to say, but I’ve always loved what’s in the Bible. Maybe it is the mystery of it all, wondering what it was really like at the time these things were written. Maybe it’s the majesty that this is not only the Word of God, but also the story of God’s people dating back to the very beginning. OK, so maybe it’s both. There is just something about the Bible that I really love.

The Bible wasn’t written to be a novel or an historical account. We aren’t privy to very much of the emotion or back ground of those who are writing or those who are written about. The Bible doesn’t tell us any information we don’t need to know. For example, we know Jesus got angry and turned over the tables and cause quite a scene in the Temple, but we don’t know what happened leading up to his entry into the Temple. My friend and mentor Jack Sharpe used to ask if Jesus just woken up on the wrong side of the palate that morning. And look at the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. We know that Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why Jonah didn’t like that city. All we know is that God said go this way, and Noah went that way. Did he have an ex-girlfriend in Nineveh? Not a fan of their football team? The Bible doesn’t give us any insight in that direction because it is not a novel or a history book. It is the story of the people of God.

Scriptures, especially the narrative parts, are intended to be read as an account of the God’ people. I was reminded of this on Friday night during the festival Eucharist at Diocesan Convention, when out-going Convention secretary Wesley Baldwin read the passage from the Book of Acts about the apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. (Friday was the day we commemorate that occasion, by the way.) But the fervor and gusto with which Wes read that account… I began to think that it was Wes’s own story of conversion. I had to snap back to reality to remember that he was reading from the Book of Acts.

But that got me thinking of this story in today’s Gospel about Jesus calling Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and the Zebedee boys (John & James) to be Jesus’ first disciples. Here are these guys just minding their own business, mending their nets after a night of fishing, some of them still trying to catch fish, and this Jesus guy says, “Come follow me.”

And they did.

Now, Jesus wasn’t a stranger to these guys. The first part of our Gospel passage today says that Jesus had made his home in Capernaum, right on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t that big of a town, and Jesus was making a name for himself as an itinerant preacher, so in all likelihood, they’d met before this day. But now Jesus has invited them to leave behind their fishing nets and he’s going to teach them to “fish” for something else. I’ve often wondered if the fishing that bad or the call of Jesus that persuasive?

I talked last week in Children’s Chapel about listening for the call of God. We talked about all the people in the Bible who’d been called by God to do various things. Noah—just sitting in his carpentry shop when he got called to build a floating zoo because God was going to flood out the earth. And look at David—before he was a king (and up in our stained glass), he was the lesser of the brothers in his family and was sent to tend the sheep, and look at all God led him to. The Bible, I told the young ‘ens, is full of people who did great things for God who weren’t necessarily making headlines before then. And God calls each of us to do the things big and small to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people may be called to do spiritual things equivalent to building a sky-scraper. Others may be called to do what seem like “odd jobs” around the house. Nonetheless, each call is important. And I have no doubt, I said to them, that God will call each and every one of you to something really important.

The beauty of Children’s Chapel is that they aren’t afraid to raise their hands and ask questions in the middle of your talk. I say that it’s a beauty, but it can also be kinda scary. So sure enough, a hand went up while I was talking, and I did something I don’t normally do. Instead of honoring the voice of that young person and letting them ask their question, I said, “Wait! Let me guess why your hand is up. You’re going to ask, ‘But how do I know when God is calling me?’ right?” This young person nodded and said, “Exactly, how did you know?” And I said, “Ain’t my first rodeo, kid, or my first talk like this.”

For each Child of God who has ears to hear and a heart to listen, God can use a different way to send a message. It may be the still, small voice that Elijah heard or a thunderous visit like Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. It might be the blinding light that Paul saw on the road to Damascus, or it might be the tugging of your heart to work for peace and prosperity. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Nouwen: Your vocation (or call) is where your heart’s deepest desire meets the world’s greatest needs.

But what I said to those little darlins’ last week is what I will say to you this week:

God. Will. Call. You.

God may not call you to wear a collar or celebrate the sacraments. God may not be calling you to work in the slums of Calcutta or to start a non-profit for inner-city kids in DC. But God is calling you to something. Maybe it is something God is calling you to do this week, or this month, or this year. Maybe it is for the rest of your life.

Being called by God is scary. God will often, mercifully, call us to uncomfortable places, to make tough choices. Many times, answering God’s call means dealing gently with other people’s spiritual, mental and physical well-being.

What did Jesus call Andrew, Simon, James & John to do? His first call was simple: “Follow me.” Hearing & following that first call can be difficult. I wish I could say that, like jogging or knitting, it gets easier with time and practice, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t. Following Christ’s call can be difficult no matter where we are in our lives or in our walk with Him. But Christ promises never to leave us when we choose to follow Him. God has made the first step in calling each of us to do something, something very special.

It is up to us to listen, to respond, and to be like Samuel who said, “Here am I, Lord.”