November 7, 2010

You got questions?

Proper 27, Year C (RCL)

Jesus makes two decisive points in his exchange with the Sadducees: 1.) Death is one end, but it is not the end, and 2.) if you have a question for Jesus, he will completely and total respond with delicacy and grace.

Click here for the audio. And then keep asking questions...

In case you need a visual:

October 10, 2010

Faithful Gratitude

Proper 23, Year C (RCL)

It is right, and a good and joyful thing,
always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

What happens if we make this our daily motto? What happens if we seek out ways to give thanks to God? What happens if we live a life of faithful gratitude?

Click here for the audio.

September 26, 2010

A Near and Active God

Proper 21, Year C (RCL)

Our future is about what is going to happen in the next 10 minutes or next week or wins the next election or football game.

God's future isn't tied to any of that. God's future is about being near and active in the midst of the chaos.

Click here for the audio.

August 4, 2010

A great blog about ministry

One of my new favorite blogs about ministry is called "Dirty Sexy Ministry." It's written by two female clergy in Louisiana, and hits some hard truths about being engaged in full-time ministry. Some of it is specific to being a woman, but most of it is universal, no matter gender or denomination.

Here is their latest post.

I'd encourage you to check it out.

Trying something new...

Starting with my sermon on Trinity Sunday, I have been handwriting them all. I have every intention of typing them, comparing my written text to what I actually preach. But alas, that has not happened yet.

So I'm posting the audio of my sermons, which hopefully will suffice, especially if you are a long way from me and miss the soothing sound of my voice (HA!). I hope to have the text up sooner rather than later. Right now, they are hosted at box.net, which is helpful, except that it opens in a new window, and I'm not sure people want it that way (preferring it to play in the screen they are already in). But we'll make that happen soon enough. I'm hoping to help Christ Church get all of our sermons available as Podcasts on iTunes.

You can also always check out Christ Church's website for the latest audio of sermons, no matter who is preaching.


July 25, 2010

A Prayer About Humanity

Proper 12, Year C

Go here for the audio.

A picture of me, my dad, my grandfather, and my son in August 2009.

July 18, 2010

Being the one who speaks for Justice

Proper 11, Year C

Audio is available here.

The building on the right of the picture, Dolles, is where we were getting ice cream.

July 4, 2010

A Prayer for Independence Day

Gracious and loving Creator,
We give you thanks and praise that the founders of our nation saw fit to give future generations the freedom to worship you in freedom and peace. We know that this is a gift not everyone in your creation has.
Save us from simply resting on that freedom and not working to advance the Good News of Christ.
Empower and equip us to be witnesses of your love to those who do not yet know you, and help us to go use the gifts you have given us to make our nation better for all her citizens and visitors.
All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ.

May 2, 2010

Change? Um, we don't do "change."

RCL, Year C, 5th Sunday of Easter
May 2nd, 2010

I am not one who deals with change very easily, especially if I have to watch and wait for that change to happen, and even more so if it is going to take me into new and unmarked territory. My mother says that I was pretty terrible right before I started kindergarten, and nearing the end of my senior year of high school, my anxiety was so thick you could have cut with a chainsaw. Same thing happened when I graduated from college and was about to start my first job. My dad drove the moving truck from Knoxville to Memphis, and I followed in my car. My emotions went back and forth between sheer excitement and pure dread. I think if my best friend Alex hadn't been in the car with me, I might have not made it to Memphis in one piece. As it turned out, St. George's was a great place for me to be, a place that helped me develop and explore what it meant to be in ministry by being on the front lines of it every day.

As individuals and as a society, we get pretty comfortable in our ways, our routines, our traditions. We get used to the way things are and we are very unhappy when those things change. When the University of Tennessee's football team switched from being on the west side of the field to being on the east side of the field, there was great consternation and gnashing of teeth in Vol Land. And "New Coke" was a flop not because of bad marketing, but because Coca-Cola thought people would tolerate a sudden change in a beverage they what they had known for a hundred years. And then there's the church. Shifts in theology, structure, practice, those usually goes over peacefully and smoothly, right? How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Um, what kind of "change" are we talking about here, because we don't do change.

If you think we don't do change very easily, trying being a part of the Jewish community in Jesus' time. The majority of Jesus' earliest followers were, of course, Jewish, including the 12 Apostles who carried on the leadership of his ministry after his ascension. Most, if not all, of those who continued to follow the teachings of Jesus were devout Jews, very faithful to the Laws of Moses both because of the depth of their faith and because the culture demanded adherence to those laws. Our lesson this morning from Acts shows a major rift and a major shift in that culture.

The accounts of Simon Peter's vision as well as the visit with Cornelius the Centurion and his family are so important to the spread of the Gospel that they are told twice in the Book of Acts, and not only that, the story is told in back-to-back chapters.
Cornelius is a high ranking centurion in a well-known regiment, the Italian Cohort. Although not Jewish, he is devoted to God and well-respected by the Jewish community in Caesarea, where he is based. After a vision from God, he sends some of his men to find Simon Peter, who is in near-by Joppa.

Simon Peter is deep in prayer when he sees the vision of all sorts of non-kosher foods. The voice of God tells Peter to "kill and eat." Peter protests, calling upon his life-long dedication to Judaic food laws. God obviously knows this about Simon Peter, but says to him, "If I have made it clean, who are you to call it profane." Simon Peter always seemed to the disciple slowest on the uptake, so God gives the same vision to him three times. After this vision, Cornelius' men arrive where Peter is staying, tell him of the vision of Cornelius and invite him back to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius. Simon Peter takes several other believers with him. Cornelius' whole household is baptised and converted, giving him the designation of being the first known Gentile convert to the Christian faith. But Simon Peter runs into some trouble with the Jewish followers back in Jerusalem when they find out he has been staying and eating in a non-Kosher home.

In order to understand the depth of problems Simon Peter faces in our lesson from Acts this morning, we need to understand a little about the importance of keeping strict Kosher law in Jesus' time. It was everything. There's not much of a modern, American practice to compare it to. But to not keep Kosher, to not obey the strict food laws of the Torah was akin to being an outsider of the community. There were few things worse than being a Jew and being shunned or cast out of the Temple or synagogue. And not only was it important to keep the food laws in your own home, it was also important to not break Kosher by eating in or in some cases even being in a non-Kosher home.

So the faithful Jews back in Jerusalem are wringing their hands in concern. Was Cornelius' baptism valid? Can he be a follower of The Way (as it was becoming known) without being a Jew, either religiously or culturally?

Notice how Peter, the rock on which the church is built, makes the case for the inclusion of Gentiles. He doesn't say to the church in Jerusalem, "I've made this decision. Deal with it." Nor does he rely solely on his own judgement. He goes back to his encounters with God and how the Holy Spirit led him and opened his eyes to the bigger plan that God has. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

What we are seeing in this lesson is the world slowly but surely being turned on its head. Everything people knew about following God and being true to God was about to change. The good news of repentance and a closer more meaningful relationship to God was more important than following the strict food laws of Moses. The Gospel message was expanding in ways that only God knew was possible.

Both volumes of Luke's writing, his Gospel as well as the book of Acts, have a strong focus on Jesus' message of reconciliation with God being for Gentiles as well as Jews. The story of the Prodigal Son is a story that is not inherently Jewish. Luke's Gospel tells us about the Good Samartian, an oxymoron to most Jews. But it's also about others seeing the true mission of the Messiah to be a savior for the whole world and not just for the Jews. Luke's genology of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam, which emphasizes Jesus' connection with all humanity and not just his Jewish linage as is portrayed in Matthew's Gospel. And in Luke 2, when Jesus is presented in the Temple when he is 8 days old, in accordance with the Law, the wise and spirit-filled Simeon comes to Joesph and Mary, looks at Jesus and says, "My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation ot the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel." And in the next chapter, Luke invokes the image from Isaiah 40: "All flesh shall see the salvation of God."

We, of course, have two thousand years of history and all of the scriptures in front of us to help us out. The earliest followers of Jesus didn't have all that. So they had to trust each other and the Holy Spirit. It would be nice to think that this scene in the eleventh chapter of Acts was the end of the controversy. But this same issue arises a few chapters later, and the Apostles deal with it like they do in this episode: Head on.

This epic shift in the understanding of the Gospel message is not about Simon Peter's desire to move in another direction. It's about continuing to see God revealed not only in scripture but in our lives. It’s about being prepared for God to move our hearts and minds in ways that we never thought possible. It means seeing how God can move our neighbor as much as God moves us. And it’s about remembering that the change God brings about in our hearts and in our world is bigger and more sustained that anything we can ever imagine. Are we going to be open to the way God is moving and changing us? And are we going to be willing to share with those around us the way God is moving in our life and in our church and in our community?


April 21, 2010

A great night

I'm glad to say that I was ordained to the priesthood on Monday, April 19th, 2010. It was a great night with many great friends. The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, my sponsoring bishop, came down from DC, my friend the Rev. Rose Duncan preached, and the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, Bishop of East Carolina, celebrated the Eucharist.

It was humbling, to say the least, to know how much work many other people had put into this major event. And how many more who weren't here but were part of the journey.

Here are a few pictures from the event.

April 3, 2010

Great Vigil of Easter

Year C, Great Vigil of Easter, RCL

April 3, 2010

(With Gusto!) Alleluia! Christ is risen!! (The Lord is risen indeed!)

What a glorious evening! The Great Vigil of Easter is one of my favorite liturgies in the church year. Not only do we hear the stories of God’s saving acts throughout history, leading up to the ultimate act at the empty tomb of Christ, but we welcome the four newest Christians into our family. What I love most is that this liturgy, this worship we are a part of tonight, is one of the most ancient rituals of the church. We are connecting ourselves to nearly two thousand years of history, and two thousand years of followers of Jesus Christ who have gathered on the eve of Easter Sunday to hear the stories of God’s work in the world, to baptize the newest converts to the faith, and to share in that holy meal around Christ’s table. We join the faithful throughout two thousand years of history as we proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, where God broke the bonds of death, bringing us into as a close a relationship as we can get with God.

It is no irony that it was at dawn on the first day of the week that the women went to the tomb. What God accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus required a new start. It was so monumental that it couldn’t have happened in the middle of the day or the middle of the night on some random Tuesday. No. It had to happen at the first light of the first day of a new week.

It was like the ultimate “reset” button was pressed on human-kind’s relationship with God. Something new has taken place. Something unlike anything God has ever done before. In the resurrection of Jesus, the bondage of sin and separation from God is broken once and for all. In the resurrection of Jesus, eternal separation from God is no longer the only option. The One True Light that enlightens everyone had not only come into the world, as John wrote, but shines so brightly that we cannot help but see the way to God.

The light of Jesus’ resurrection continues to shine in the world every day. Despite the darkness of our world, despite abject poverty in our own city, wars in far away places, and broken relationships in our own families, we have all been equipped to be the Light of Christ in a world that so desperately needs it. Resurrection is not some distant, isolated idea. It is God acting in such a way that everything is turned on its head. Resurrection is the invitation to live as Jesus lived: sharing meals with those whom we might never be seen with otherwise, offering healing and hope to the hopeless, and helping to bring bring new life to those whom society has discarded. Through the power of the Resurrection, it’s not just Jesus who does these things, but it is Christ acting through each of us.

We each carried this little light into the service tonight. If we were strictly following the two thousand years of history, we would have carried candles, each lit from the new fire we started in the courtyard. But instead, we have glow sticks, and they will keep on being bright for many more hours. Even when the glow sticks aren’t glowing anymore, the light of Christ will continue to burn in each of us. We all have the chance to carry this light into the world each day. We carry that light of Christ by living as Jesus lived and striving to see people the way Jesus saw people. We have the chance to make every day an Easter celebration by allowing the power of God to act through us to carry on the Gospel message. God is doing a new thing on this night, something that has never been done before.

Happy Easter! And may each of us continue to be the Light of Christ in a world that so desperately needs it.


March 15, 2010

Running down the Road

Year C, Lent 4, RCL

March 14, 2010

Today's Gospel lesson is like a great piece of art, or music, or writing. It is often admired, talked about, picked apart, and examined. Many times, we think that enough has been said about it, so we let the piece of art stand on its own. We forget to take a closer look at what the artist drew on the canvass or wrote on the page. We don't think to look at what the artist may have been thinking or feeling or where she or he might have been when they created their masterpiece. Not knowing those details doesn't take away from our appreciation of the piece of art, but knowing them helps us to appreciate them even more.

That same piece of art, or music or writing will likely have different meanings to us at different times in our lives, and may be a piece that we come back to over and over again. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is one of my all-time favorite novels. I think I've read it three times in the past 15 years, and each time, it has a new meaning to me.

Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, like a great piece of art or music or literature, has been told, re-told, and re-imagined over the centuries. It might be one of the most dissected of Jesus' stories, and certainly the term "prodigal son" or "daughter" has become part of the common vernacular.

One of the things I love most about this particular parable is the way it can have different meanings at different points in your life. The parable has four main characters whose perspective we could look at: The father, the younger or Prodigal Son, the older son, and the servants. (Well, OK, five perspectives if you count the fatted calf. But we may keep that until next time… )

Here is the question I want to run with this morning: What does this story teach us about God?

We can glean a great deal about God's grace from this passage, as well as how deeply God longs for a closer connection with us.

There are a few details from first-century Palestinian culture that will help our 21st Century minds to understand it a little better. These were details that didn't need explaining in Jesus' time, but might help us get a better grip on the magnitude of the story.

First— Jesus' hearers knew and understood that to be the one who was feeding the pigs, especially for a Jew, was to have fallen about as far as you could fall.

Second—And possibly, most important—what the younger son did was an insult to his father, the demand for his inheritance, the returning, etc. It was culturally abhorrent. It just wasn't done. The son was basically saying to his father, "you are dead to me."

Knowing those two bits of information, let's think again: What do we learn about God in this story?
The son who left and squandered his dad's money, we'll call him, Jeff, comes to his senses and is willing to come back to his father and be treated as one of his father's servants, someone with no rights and no way of earning those rights. And if his father had rejected him, it would have been justified in doing so. But as "Jeff" is making his way home, no doubt practicing his groveling speech to his father, his daddy sees him off on the horizon and is so overcome with joy that he runs to Jeff, puts a ring on Jeff's finger, a robe around his body (and not just any robe—"the best one!"), and says, "I don't care how you smell or what you look like! I'm so glad that you are home, we are going to have a huge party!"

Now, raise your hand if you think that Jeff deserved all that.
Of course he didn't "deserve" it, but that's what he got from his father: Unconditional welcome and reception. And more importantly, his dad didn't just wait for him to walk in the door, and Jeff didn't even get to finish his speech. His dad saw him, was maybe even keeping an eye out for him, and his dad went running to meet him.

So what do we learn about God from this parable?

After Jeff had been given more than enough, he spent it on "dissolute living." One translation of the Bible calls it "wild living" and another calls it "loose living." And yet, his father welcomed him back with open arms.
How many times in our lives have we been loose or wild with what we have been given? Maybe we haven't spent it on parties or jewelry or other extravagances, but we all have been guilty of it at one point or another. Maybe it's what we haven't done with what we've been given.
God has given us all a share in the
kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is pretty clear in his other parables that for us to do nothing with that is what breaks God's heart.
But our God is a God of Grace and Mercy, who is willing to forgive, to love and to give us untold number of chances. Just as Jeff's father took him back in and threw a party for him, I am a firm believer that God takes us back and throws a party (with or without the fatted calf) each time we return and re-commit ourselves to doing God's will.
Let us not forget Jeff's brother, Walt. Walt is working the field, hears the sound of a party, sees nothing on his Blackberry about a party and goes to ask one of the servants what is going on. When Walt finds out, he's a little mad. I'm not real sure what he is madder about: that Jeff came home or that daddy is throwing Jeff party. Walt has every right to be angry that his brother gets a party for all his loose living and money squandering when Walt has been faithful and hard working and yet, daddy has not given him even a small goat for a small party. Makes you wonder which brother was really lost. Walt needs to see the big picture, doesn't he? What was lost, dad says to him, has now been found; what was dead is now alive. We don't know if this made much difference to Walt since that is where the story ends, but it leaves us with a good point: Christ came for the lost, not those who were already found.
We don't deserve the spiritual and material gifts that God has lavished upon us, but we get them anyway. We don't deserve God's grace when we mess up. But God showers us with that grace anyway. As Mother Teresa said, "People are illogical, self-centered, and unreasonable. Love them anyway." Some part of me believes she was pleading to God on our behalf when she said that.
So let's look at the question again: What does this parable tell us about God? It tells me that with God, there is always room at the feast for us, and that no matter our transgressions, we are loved so, so much by God. As author Rodney Clapp wrote about this passage, "Every time God's active, stretching, searching, healing love finds someone and calls that person back home, it does not mean there is less for the rest of us. It means there is more. More wine. More feasting. More music. More dancing. It means another, and now bigger, party."

But what this parable tells me the most about God is that God's love is so deep that God is more than willing to come running down the road to meet us, despite the fact that God is God and it is you and I who have gone and squandered the gifts we have been given. The fact that we don't have to grovel and plead for God's forgiveness is one of the most humbling realizations of all. That no matter how far we've fallen, whatever our spiritual or cultural "sleeping with the pigs" may be, when we come to ourselves, God will be running down the road to meet us and welcome us home.


February 7, 2010

Do you remember when ____?

Epiphany 5, Year C, RCL

February 7, 2010

When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Do you remember where you were when the world changed?
Do you remember what you were wearing? What you were eating? Who you were with?
Do you remember how you got the news? Was it from a friend? On the phone? Was it from the TV or radio? Did you see it on the internet?
Do you remember how you felt? Were you anxious? Were you heartbroken? Were you filled with excitement and anticipation?
Did you know right away that most everything in your life was going to be different? Or did it take a while to sink in?
Did you need a few hours or days or even weeks to realize that the way you’ve known everything to be up until this moment was going to be different?
And now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on how your world changed, was it as big as it could have been? Or was it bigger?

No matter what our age, we’ve all had at least one moment in our life where our world changed, where everything we knew to be true was tossed up in the air and we were often left with many more questions than answers. No doubt that one of those questions was, “OK. What now?”

We have two examples from our Scripture lessons today of people who have a momentary encounter with the holy and whose lives are forever altered. The prophet Isaiah receives his call to ministry in a most unforgettable way. His vision is set not at a specific moment, but rather in a particular year. Writing, “In the year that King Uzziah died,” would be similar to us saying, “It was the fall of the year the Red Sox came back from three games down to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship series.” (Or as a former rector of mine would say, "The time the Yankees blew it!") It wasn’t that Isaiah’s audience didn’t know King Uzziah. He was the king of Judah for nearly 52 years, having taken office when he was 16. So when Isaiah writes that he saw the Lord sitting on the throne of the Temple in the year that King Uzziah died, people would have an idea of what he was talking about. I have to believe that Isaiah knew at that moment that his life was changed. The vision of a heavenly creature flying to you and touching a hot coal to your mouth is not one Isaiah (or any of us) is likely to forget. The moment was so real for him that when the voice of the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?,” Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me.” Did you notice that his world was so changed by that moment that he didn’t bother to say, “So where are we going?”

Our Gospel lesson highlights another group of folks who had a world-changing experience. A few of the fellas who had been out fishing all night are coming back to the shore with empty nets. It’s one of those conversations with Jesus that was recorded in a slightly, um, more formal way than it really happened. There they are cleaning their nets after a rather unsuccessful night of fishing, and here comes Jesus. He climbs in, offers some teachings to the assembled crowd and then says to Simon, “Put out in the water a little bit further.” I wonder what kind of look Simon gave Jesus just before their world changed and they were first-hand witnesses of an amazing fishing miracle ever. They needed all the help they could to get the fish back to the shore. And after James and John and Simon get their fish to the shore, they walk away from… what does the Gospel say? They walk away from everything to follow Jesus.

For Isaiah and for Simon, James and John, the world changed, and they were changed, when they had their encounters with the one true God.

We all remember where we were, what we were doing, and maybe even who we were with when that world-changing moment happened. I remember very distinctly where I was and what I was doing when the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Centers were attacked, and when both of the Space Shuttle disasters happened. I also remember where I was when Navy beat Notre Dame at football for the first time in my lifetime. I was with my dad, and his dad had taught us well that Canady men don't pull for Notre Dame.

I have a firm memory of what was going on when my other grandfather died, and where I was sitting in when I found out my best friend’s mom has inoperable cancer. I remember exactly where I was and what I ordered for dinner when my parents told me that, at age 12, I wasn't going to be an only child for much longer, I even remember what was going through my head in the seconds before Emily told me the two of us were going to become the three of us. And most recently, I remember where I was when my future brother-in-law called to ask if he could officially join the family.

It’s not at all unusual for us to remember what we were doing and where we were when those world-changing moments, whether it is a mind-numbing tragedy or a something that gives us an immeasurable sense of pride.

The moments we least often remember or talk about are the ones, like Isaiah, Simon, James and John, where we are stopped in our tracks and given the opportunity to turn our feet and our hearts to follow God.

Make no mistake about it: It is a scary proposition.

The prophets of the Hebrew scripture were ridiculed, cast out of their towns and villages, and they were often killed. Genesis does not have any references to Noah’s neighbors coming to help him build the ark after he followed God’s call. Jeremiah ended up in a well, left for dead, after he called out the king for his idolatrous behavior.

The followers of Christ haven’t always fared much better. We don’t need to re-count the history of how the church was and continues to be persecuted over the past 2,000 years.

Saying to God, “Here am I; send me” is no small task. Walking away from our fishing nets and our families to walk with Jesus is a great leap of faith. Isaiah, Simon Peter, James and John were changed people. Their messages reached thousands in their lifetime, and billions in the generations since. I’m not under any allusion that any of us will affect that many people, but those guys probably didn’t think that either.

We, too, have the opportunity to be changed by saying, “Here I am. Send me.” We have the chance to share the message of Christ by taking the bold, bold step of prayerfully discerning what fishing nets we need to walk away from so that our world can be changed by God.

January 24, 2010

January 10, 2010

The Sacrament of You

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, RCL

The Baptism of our Lord

January 10, 2010

Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and the day we remember the Baptism of our Lord and Savior. We make a nearly 30 year leap from the day when the Magi appeared at the home of Mary & Joseph to pay homage to the little child Jesus to the day when Jesus begins his earthly ministry. Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John is recorded in all four Gospels in a similar manner, although each has its own signature marks. They all include Jesus in a crowd of people, that this was not an individual event, but one done in community. They all include John’s prophetic statement that he will baptize with water, but one more powerful is coming to bring the kingdom of God to fulfillment. And they all recount that there was a dove descending from the sky and a voice from Heaven naming Jesus as the beloved Son of God. When writing about why the Spirit came down on Jesus as a dove instead of fire, the well-noted Reformation theologian John Calvin said, it "that we may not fear to approach to Christ, who meets us, not in the formidable power of the Spirit, but clothed with gentle and lovely grace."[1]

While each Gospel recounts Christ’s Baptism, each presents a few different details. If we pay careful attention to the particularities of the way each Gospel writer tells the baptismal narrative, it adds some real freshness and depth to the story. John’s Gospel has John the Baptist telling of the descending dove and the voice from heaven. Matthew tells us that John protested, not feeling worthy to baptize Jesus. And Mark’s Gospel says that the dove and the voice came from heaven as Jesus was coming up out of the water.

It is only in Luke’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus after he is baptized, and, a more important detail, as he is praying. And he was with others who may have been praying, too. The rest of Luke’s Gospel and Luke’s second book, Acts, will show Jesus and his followers deeply engaged in prayer. And that prayer was often followed by some action, either by Jesus himself (in Luke) or by the Holy Spirit (in Acts) or by the Apostles. Let’s hold on to that image of prayer followed by action for a few minutes and talk about the sacrament of Baptism.

Everything I’m about to tell you is in the Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 857. There are two great sacraments of the Gospel: Baptism and Eucharist. Those are the only two things that Jesus commanded his followers to do in his physical absence. Baptize with water, and share bread and wine as a reminder of his bodily sacrifice for his followers. The Prayer Book-definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, “given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”

Grace is the unearned, unmerited, undeserved favor God shows us. By grace, our sins are forgiven, our minds are enlightened, our hearts are stirred, and our wills are strengthened.

The outward and visible sign of the Eucharist is the bread and the wine. The inward and spiritual grace is the holy connection we make with Christ, where our bond with Christ and our neighbor is strengthened and we are forgiven of our sins.

The outward and visible sign of Baptism is the water. The inward and spiritual grace is the union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family (the Church), the promise of forgiveness of our sins and a new life in the Holy Spirit.

The Episcopal Church takes Baptism very seriously. We see Baptism as the entry into life in Christ, whether that new life begins at two months of 72 years. And if we have a new life in Christ, then we are full members of the church as well. Much like we say at the start of the marriage liturgy, this is not something to be entered into lightly or unadvisedly. One of the biggest changes to our theology of Baptism with the dawn of the 1979 Prayer Book was to say that Baptism is most “appropriately administered within the Eucharist.” We take these two great sacraments of Christ and we put them together for a powerful, powerful visual that not only is God so close to us we can touch and feel the Holy, but that we are empowered by God to go into the world and share that sacred Love with those we meet.

Jesus’ baptism, as I noted earlier, is set in prayer and with other people, many of whom I imagine would become his followers.

Each of our sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, has an action, followed by a prayer. After the newly Baptized has had water wash over his or her head, we ask God to give this person or persons an inquiring and discerning heart, a spirit to know God, and the courage and will to persevere. Baptism is something that we believe is going to last a lifetime, and be the start of something new and amazing.

After we have all had the chance to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God for accepting us as living members of Christ’s body and heirs of God’s eternal kingdom. And just so we don’t think that the Eucharist is merely a nice little memorial action and not something to strengthen us for ministry, we ask, in one of our prayers, for God to “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”

It’s in that prayer that we remember that the grace that is given to us by God is not ours to keep. Instead, it is ours to share. To keep it to our selves would not be what God intended. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go baptize a few folks, but don’t tell anyone.” He said, “Go into all the world.” That grace may be inward, but it’s not meant to stay there. God intends for each Baptized Christian to carry that grace out into the world, for us, you and me, to be the outward and visible sign of God’s grace to a world that so desperately needs it. God calls and continues to equip each of us to be a sacrament, to be that outward sign of God’s grace.

It may be as simple as a smile to someone at the gas station or as generous as a check to an organization that assists those in need. It may be using the gifts God has given you to help teach a child to read or maybe it is visiting an elderly neighbor whose family doesn’t visit very often.

We are empowered by God to be living sacraments, instruments of God’s grace in the world. For each of us, that call may be different, but it is nonetheless real.

How are you a sacrament of God’s grace?

[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.xxx.html