December 5, 2013

Tobacco Sticks

Tobacco SticksTobacco Sticks by William Elliott Hazelgrove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic "coming of age" story against the backdrop of racial injustice in post-WWII Richmond, VA. Lee really struggles with how to handle all of the information that's coming at him, both in his family and beyond.

It is an excellent story that is done a huge disservice by poor editing (at least in the Kindle edition).

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November 24, 2013

It's the End of the World, and I feel fine!

November 24, 2013

How is it that this king ends up on a cross with a sign above him that says "This is the King of the Jews" while he is mocked and ridiculed? What a crazy thing that we celebrate a king without a visible kingdom, and yet a king who changes and makes better everything he touches!

Here is the audio. (It starts VERY LOUD. Don't say I didn't warn you.) The opening piece of music is "It's the End of the World As We Know It" by R.E.M. The audio doesn't sound so great on here, thus the full song is at the end of this post.

November 4, 2013

The Crooked Pearl

The Crooked PearlThe Crooked Pearl by Shaun Morey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Always a good tale of people whose paths would never have crossed otherwise and who help each other be heroes. A good mix of Indiana Jones and Jimmy Buffett!

View all my reviews

September 29, 2013

So how's your perspective?

Proper 21, Year C, RCL
September 29, 2013

Click here for the audio. 

I don’t know about you, but I had a week. It was seven days like every other week, but there was a lot that happened in those seven days. It was a week. Last Sunday afternoon, it was evident that I had not worn enough protection when pulling weeds, and I got an outbreak of poison ivy. Then I got a little cold. Tuesday I went to the dentist, and I don’t really know anyone who comes out of there with confetti and a ticker-tape parade. I ended the week with a physical. Most people get the news that the numbers that are supposed to be high are too low and the numbers that are supposed to be low are too high. It was a real ego trip of a week.
And on top of all that, I get THIS GOSPEL passage to preach from!
Like I said, it has been a week… and I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world.
My poison ivy came from the fact that I am blessed to live in a house with a yard, and that I am healthy enough to cut the grass and pull the weeds. I don’t like the weeds, but I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to do it.
I picked up my sniffles and scratchy throat either from one of the three amazing, loving people I live with, or my outstanding colleagues, or it’s just allergies, which is part of this amazing weather that we've been having. Either way, it was because I was among other people. I am blessed that someone came up with Advil Cold & Sinus.
My trip to the dentist wasn’t all bad. Wasn’t all great, but I do tend to enjoy the conversation, such as it is, with my hygienist.
And for all the poking and prodding and blood drawing (I don’t really like needles either) and telling me how to be better, some of those numbers that were too high last year when I had a physical are a little lower.

See, it’s all about your perspective. It’s about which side of the coin you want to look at.

Remember that this passage from Luke is not a random speech by Jesus that the writer of the Gospel just plopped in there. The Pharisees, who were loves of money (and I dare say lovers of the comforts of the world) were listening intently to what Jesus was saying about this rich man and this poor man, Lazarus. The story might seem like a hyperbole, an exaggeration, but not by much.

When the Rich Man and Lazarus are both in their respective eternal dwelling places, the Rich Man still doesn’t get it! He addresses Abraham to direct Lazarus to do his bidding. He still can’t see Lazarus as a human being, as another Child of God, or as a Child of Abraham. His perspective is that Lazarus is poor and sick and clearly beneath him.

Even in the depths of his torment, I would contend that his perspective has not really changed. He has not repented of his sin, which manifested itself in his contempt of Lazarus. He still thinks of Lazarus as “less-than,” so much so that he does not speak directly to Lazarus. “Abraham, tell Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue.” Or “Send him to my brothers to warn them!”
Really, Rich Man, is it so terrible to speak to a poor, homeless man?

I’m willing to bet that Jesus’ listeners got the point, even the Pharisees. Care for the poor and the “less-than” in society is a basic tenet of Jewish teaching, grounded in the Laws of Moses in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Those who heard this parable knew the right thing to do, even if they weren’t always practicing it.

Here’s what else they heard. They heard this great irony of Abraham being the one whom Lazarus was with. The irony is that in Genesis, Abraham is recorded as one of the wealthiest people in the world. He had more land than anyone else. It’s what he did with that land that counted. He welcomed in the poor and the wanderers and those who had no place else to go. THAT is the difference between Abraham and the Rich Man in our Gospel Lesson!

It sounds like the community to which St. Paul is writing is wrestling with similar questions and perspectives. It’s important to note that St. Paul (not Shakespeare!!) said, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” not simply “money is the root of all evil.” It’s not the dollar bills that are bad. It’s the unquenchable thirst to have more dollar bills than the next person, and to gain those dollar bills at the expense of others, that gets us into trouble.

Again, it’s all about perspective. Paul urges Timothy, and those in Timothy’s spiritual care to “shun all this.” (Great line!) Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. (vs. 11).

Verse 12 is my favorite from this passage: “Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” New Testament scholars believe this “confession in front of many witnesses.” was either Timothy’s ordination or his Baptism. I like the idea of it being his Baptism because not all of us are called to be ordained, but in our Baptism, and at every Baptism, we each make a promise that our perspective will be beyond ourselves, that our sights will be set on God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer, and that our actions will be towards building up God’s people and God’s Kingdom on Earth.

We pledge to seek and serve Christ in all persons, which means we don’t see anyone as less than us. And we promise at each Baptism to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

We commit ourselves to do these with God’s help, because we believe and we know, we cannot do these things on our own. We’ve all seen what happens when humanity is left to their devices.

If we put our trust in God, we can seek and serve Christ by helping those whom society sees as “less than.” With God’s help, we can be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, so that we take hold of the life that really is life. (I Tim 6:18)

Alan Paton, a South African author and life-long Anglican, penned this prayer in the early days of his country’s struggle to end Apartheid:

O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the need of others, open my ears that may hear their cries, open my heart so that they need not be without comfort. Let me be not afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace of you. Amen.


My favorite piece of trivia (that didn't make it into the sermon) is that Lazarus is the only person in any of Jesus' parables that is given a name. There isn't much said about why he has a name and other characters (Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, etc.) are nameless. Lazarus comes from the name Elezar, which means "God helps" and gives some extra grounding to the story. 

A wonderful image of the story, courtesy of  Codex Aureus Epternacensis (the Manuscript of the Golden Gospels)

Be sure to check out David R. Henson's take on this passage as well. It can be found here

August 30, 2013


Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Predictable in many places, but an intriguing story line. Can't wait to visit Florence and see all the sites Brown writes about!

View all my reviews

July 28, 2013

Remember. Remember. Remember...

Proper 12, Year C, RCL
Colossians 2:6-15


Remember where you started with Christ.
Remember your Baptism.
Remember that God is always leading you.
It was a great message for the Colossians. It's a great message for us.

Here's the full audio:

July 21, 2013

Just imagine...

Proper 11, Year C, RCL
Colossians 1:15-28

Imagine in the midst of the quietly turbulant time comes a message from someone you've never met face-to-face. The cool part is that this guy thinks you're a saint, just by being a follower of Jesus!

Have a listen...

July 7, 2013

No shoes. No wallet. No purse. Big Mission!

Proper 9, Year C, RCL
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Photo credit: http://haruhi-kyoko.deviantart.com/art/Shoes-in-the-Sand-2-188953039

What Luke makes clear is that Jesus shared his authority with his followers and the places where they went were changed. People were healed, made whole. And those whom Jesus sent were changed as well.
So don't worry about those earthly things like shoes or wallets or purses. Find the authority Christ has shared with you and go. Let people know that the Kingdom of God has come near.

Here's the full audio version:

June 12, 2013

Healing one he never met...

Proper 4, Year C, RCL
Luke 7:1-10

What's most amazing to me is that the Centurion, a man with SO MUCH power and authority, was advocating for someone who, in that culture, had absolutely zero power. Who knows. Maybe that is why Jesus was so willing to heal the slave.

Living a life that puts faith in Jesus also means making room for seeking a community to be a part of, and it means accepting people the way Jesus accepted the Centurion: without condition.

Click here to get the full audio.

An artist's rendition of the synagogue at Capernaum, which is referenced in this Gospel passage.

May 15, 2013

"As long as it takes to make it a reality!"

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

I believe that Jesus' prayer for unity extends to us today. It would be easy to find all the divisions in our world and even in our faith and maybe even our own community. Finding the points of unity are sometimes more difficult. Click here for the full audio.

A prayer for the Unity of the Church

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)

April 28, 2013

The Story of God's Work

Easter 5, Year C, RCL
Acts 11:1-18
April 28, 2013

When he was confronted by his fellow Israelites in the 11th chapter of Acts, the Apostle Peter faced a real choice: He could have cowered and said, "You're right! These Gentiles are less worthy of the message of Jesus than we are." He also could have gone the opposite direction, too. He could have said, "Um, I hear what you're saying, but y'all need to remember that Jesus gave me the Keys to the Kingdom. He said I am the Rock on which the Church is going to be built.
If he had come at them with theological doctrine or an array of Scripture passages, he probably would not have won many friends, and even fewer hearts and minds.

Instead, he chose a better way...
Click here for the audio.

Peter before his detractors

Me, Ollie, my dad, my grandfather.
August 2009

April 16, 2013

It's not the encounter; it's what you do with it.

Easter 3, Year C, 2013

This is not a story about having a "Damascus Road" experience. This is a story about God transforming people and doing it with the spectacular and the subtle.

Click here for the audio.

A Litany for Those Who Stand in Harms' Way

I put this together a while back, but it seems appropriate for today.

A Litany for Those Who Stand in Harm’s Way

Psalm 91 Qui habitat (Said by all)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,* abides under the shadow of the Almighty. 
He shall say to the LORD, "You are my refuge and my stronghold, * my God in whom I put my trust."
He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter* and from the deadly pestilence.
He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings;* his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,* nor of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,* nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand,* but it shall not come near you.
Your eyes have only to behold* to see the reward of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your refuge,* and the Most High your habitation,
There shall no evil happen to you,* neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over you,* to keep you in all your ways.
They shall bear you in their hands,* lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the adder;* you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him;* I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;* I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
With long life will I satisfy him,* and show him my salvation.

A Prayer for Military Veterans[1]
Lord our God, look favorably on those who have served this nation in our armed forces. We thank you for your presence with them in their service. Help them and us to remember their fallen comrades, that the sacrifices we honor may never be forgotten. Let the light of liberty and the love of justice and mercy burn brightly in the heart of this nation, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

A Prayer for Active Military[2]
Eternal God, the only source of peace, we pray for all who serve in the defense of this land. Give them courage and comfort in danger, patience in waiting, and discipline in the just use of force. Help us to seek for all people the freedom to serve you and each other in compassion and peace. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer of Blessing for Firefighters, Police Officers, Medical Workers, and All Who Serve Us in Times of Crisis[3]
Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy, who through your Son gave us a marvelous example of charity and the great commandment of love for one another. Send down your blessings on your servants, especially firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers, who so generously devote themselves to helping others. Grant them courage when they are afraid, wisdom when they must make quick decisions, strength when they are weary, and compassion in all their work. When the alarm sounds and they are called to aid both friend and stranger, let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Victims of Violence[4]
Loving God, Jesus gathered your little ones in his arms and blessed them. Have pity on those who mourn for (_________ and) all those killed by the violence of our fallen world. Be with us as we struggle with the mysteries of life and death; in our pain, bring your comfort, and in our sorry, bring your hope and your promise of new life, in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.

A Prayer for Our Enemies[5]
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Peace[6]
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer (Said by all)
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

Dismissal: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.    Thanks be to God.

[1] Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, 2007, p. 68
[2] A Prayer Book for Australia, 1995, p. 204
[3] Adapted from the Book of Blessings, #587, by Diana Macalintal
[4] Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, 2007, p. 68
[5] Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 816
[6] Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 815

March 31, 2013

"I have seen the Lord!"

Easter, Year C
John 20:1-18

Click here for the audio.

It’s really too bad that this year’s Gospel lesson for Easter isn’t the one where the disciples and the women who see the empty tomb go running back into town yelling: It worked!!! He did it!!!!! Holy... something! It’s just like he said it would be!
But let me tell you why that’s not the Gospel lesson for today or for any Easter:  Because it’s not there. Nowhere in Scripture do they walk away from the empty tomb fully understanding what happened.
In Mark’s Gospel, the women see the empty tomb and the angels and they are told to go and tell. And they don’t because they were afraid. For Matthew and Luke, the women run back into town to say that he’s not there and that some guy all in white told them something about him rising from the dead. Even that story isn’t fully believed, and the disciples have to go and see for themselves. And they still don’t understand. Nowhere does it say that they got it. No where does it say they finally understooand all that stuff about fulfilling Scripture and rising to life again that Jesus talked about. They are left on that first Easter morning with far more questions than answers.
In John’s telling of the Resurrection, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, which was probably John himself, see the empty tomb after Mary’s report. They even see the linens lying there, one of them neatly rolled up. And yet, John recalls that the disciples “returned to their homes.” The disciple-whom-Jesus-loved saw and believed, but all he seemed to believe was that the body wasn’t there. You would think that if they had moved with some level of urgency or speed, that John would have recorded that. Instead, they simply went back home.
Let me ask you: What do we make of this?  What about these disciples who merely walked back into town?  I guess that the other question to ask is: Would we have done anything differently? I mean, we have nearly 2,000 years of history and witness to know what happened and what a crazy miracle this is. But in the actual moment, would we have been with it enough to shout it from the streets?
Who knows. They hadn’t understood half of what Jesus said when he was teaching them, both in public and when he explained them in private, so why would they understand now? Plus, there is also the whole “fear of the authorities” issue-- that the same fate might meet them as met Jesus. There’s the fear of not being believed. There’s the reality that they themselves did not believe it. I mean, really? Someone rising from the dead all on their own after three days... who’s ever heard of that? Certainly not these guys!  So if you find this notion of Resurrection uncomfortable or unfathomable or simply hard to believe: You’re not alone. In fact, I would say that if you don’t find the notion of resurrection a little difficult to buy, then you might not be taking it seriously enough. In John’s Gospel, it’s not until the Disciples see him in a locked room later that same evening that they begin to believe what has happened. The Gospels of Luke & John have some amazing stories of the disciples’ encounters with Christ after his resurrection, and the common theme that runs through all of them is that Jesus is not instantly recognized, even by those who were knew him best. Even his own disciples. It’s not until Jesus does something or says something that is familiar to his friends and boom! They know that it’s him. Most of the time, the “boom!” is the sound of their jaws hitting the floor.
Which brings us to our friend Mary Magdalene, and her understandable confusion and fear and wondering and her unspeakable amazement. I love little, trivial moments in the Bible, especially with stories we think we know by heart. Do you notice that Mary doesn’t walk back with the other Peter and the other Disciple?  In fact, it almost seems like she’s left on her own. Or maybe she chose to linger.
She sees the two angels, she says who she’s looking for, and the angels don’t have a chance to respond before she turns around and sees her Lord standing there, and still doesn’t know it. She says the same thing to him that she says to the angels, and Jesus lets her keep going. “If you’ve taken him away, tell me where you’ve laid him. I’ll go bring him back.” Her level of devotion is epic and unwavering.
 Here’s another piece of trivia: John’s Gospel records few accounts of Jesus actually calling people by name. He calls Lazarus out of the cave (John 11). He calls Simon Peter by name after his resurrection (John 21.15). And here he calls Mary by name. It is in that moment that she recognizes him and she reaches out to hold him. Who wouldn’t, really? Her life was changed when Jesus healed her. She is credited with helping fund Jesus’ ministry and travels. She was faithful to Jesus all the way to the Cross and now to the empty tomb.  So it is Mary Magdalene, not one of the men, one of the women working in the background, becomes the first person to encounter the risen Christ who we proclaim as Lord and Savior. 
When Jesus says, “Do not hold on to me,” what he’s saying is that neither he nor Mary could stay in that place, that there was more work to be done, more people to hear the news. What was going to happen next could in no way, shape or form be anchored in the past; it is rooted in the future.  So Jesus appoints Mary the First Apostle of the Resurrection. She gets to become the first one to proclaim the most amazing Good News if ever there was Good News to proclaim.
“I have seen the Lord.”
Now, John doesn’t tell us anything about anyone’s tone of voice. Maybe she whispered it because if she said it too loudly, it might not be true. Maybe she was still three houses away when she started yelling it, so everyone could hear. John doesn’t say if the Disciples believed her or not. Or how quickly Mary went back to tell them. But what had been Jesus’ earthly ministry proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God has become a ministry for all people to proclaim the Good News of that Kingdom.  Jesus commissions her, and later commissions his Disciples, to tell the Good News that death is not the end. Mary fights the impulse that we all fight to stay where she is and cling to what she thinks is familiar. Instead, she goes and tells what she knows to be true.
“I have seen the Lord!”
Here’s why Easter matters. Easter matters because it is the chance for real resurrection. We are witnesses to the resurrection of Christ every single day in nearly everyone and everything we encounter. Resurrection is now and it is every day.  Resurrection means that something unbelievably amazing is happening. What we see now may look similar to what we knew previously, but it’s enough different to know that God has done something new and, in many cases, totally unexpected.
The story of the Resurrection is our story. It is a story of commissioning, a story of sending out, to proclaim that God is at work every day and in every moment in every corner of the world. Jesus sends Mary Magdalene to tell the Good News, and Jesus sends us from this place to tell his Good News as well: The tomb is empty and the Kingdom of God is here, and now, and right in front of us, and it is calling our name.
How fast can you go into the world to tell the Good News?  Don’t wait for someone else to share it. Be the one who shares the Good News.
Be the one who says, “I have seen the Lord.” 

My favorite image of the Resurrection. It is from the Resurrection Chapel in the Washington National Cathedral.

March 19, 2013

Judas, Mary, and You

Lent 5, Year C

I would contend that there's a part of Mary and a part of Judas, contending in our hearts and souls all the time. Part of our Lenten journey is to figure out how to get Mary to win more often that Judas, and to find out what a Scandalous Blessing it is to pour yourself out for God.

Click here for the audio...

March 12, 2013

Mumford & Sons, The Temptations, and the Scandalous Grace of God

The Fourth Sunday in Lent of Year C

I believe that at some point in our lives, we have or will identify with each of the players in Luke's story of the Prodigal Son, whether it's the dad, one of his sons, the servants, or maybe even the fatted calf. But no matter who it is, this is a story about the Scandalous Grace of God: Grace that values mercy and love are valued far more than the human values of justice and anger.

Click here for the audio.

February 26, 2013

Foxes vs. Hens

Lent 2, Year C

If we get nothing else from this Gospel lesson, it's that the arms of Jesus are big enough to welcome us in and give us a place to be revived and refreshed and renewed. How's that for a message for Lent.

Click here for the audio

And if you need to see the commercial I reference at the beginning...

February 10, 2013

Listening for the Voice of God

Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Epiphany begins and ends with the Voice of God speaking to anyone who will listen. As we transition to Lent (and in the life of Christ Church), how will we listen and respond to that voice?

Click here for the audio.

Two images to think about, too.

The Baptism of Jesus

An icon of the Transfiguration of Jesus

January 13, 2013

The Baptismal Font is a diving board

The Baptism of Our Lord

Jesus' baptism was the launch of his ministry; and it is the launch of our ministries as well. That's why we stand together when we make our Baptismal Covenant.

And we Baptize infants and children in the Episcopal church because we believe that they have a vital ministry with us and that they have as much to teach as we have to teach them. We also believe that it is our job to help them swim in those Baptismal waters their whole life and our lives as well!

Click here for the full audio.