December 13, 2015

Be better where you are

Advent 3, Year C         

          So, John the Baptist… I imagine he’d be the real “life of the party” if he showed up. People would start hearing things about “vipers” and “axes at the roots of the trees,” and they’d look around say, “Who invited that guy!?” He message stands in contrast to our other Scripture readings today, too. This is the Sunday of Joy; we call it “Guadete” Sunday from the Latin word for “rejoice.” That’s part of why we light the rose candle, to remind us in this season of preparation, there is much to be joyful for. And then we have this encounter with John the Baptist. If he were at your dinner party, and people stuck around a few minutes, they might realize that John doesn’t just call out the bad behavior, but gives his hearers a way forward as well.
            The masses to which John was teaching and preaching were an occupied people, thirsty, starving for some Good News. They were like a flock without a shepherd, and here comes John to offer some hope to them. He calls on them not only to bear fruit, but fruit worthy of repentance. They might not have known what “fruit worthy of repentance” looked like or tasted like or what tree it grew on, but I bet that he said it in a way that made them want to know more.
            John calls people to repentance a lot in the short time he’s in the Gospels. Repentance means literally to “turn around;” to change our ways, to alter our ways of thinking and acting and working.Repentance isn’t about looking back at the wrong of the past and saying, “We’ll try not to do that again.” And it’s not about looking back on those wrongs and injustices and beating ourselves up about them, either. Bearing fruit worthy of repentance means looking back on the wrongs of the past, whether as a community or as individuals, and then looking forward to the future, about how we will learn from those sins and live a different life, as a people transformed and forgiven in God’s grace!
            The Good News of John, and later Jesus, is that we are not left to figure out that fruit worthy of repentance all by ourselves. God has never left humanity to figure it out on our own, and doesn’t here either. It’s important to note that John doesn’t wave a magic wand and say, “Everything is better now!” I mean, it would be nice if he did, wouldn’t it? But God doesn’t do that, because God wants us to grow, and in order to grow, we have to do that work.
            How many times have you said, or have you heard someone else say, “Oh! If God would just TELL ME what I’m supposed to do! Write it in the sky! Booming voice from above! Text me! Something!” (In my line of work, I probably hear that a lot more than most, but I will also admit that I’ve said it once or twice, too!)
            It begs the question, though, Whatever God said to us, would we do it? Because so often, we KNOW, deep down in our hearts, what it is we are supposed to do. But it scares us. Shakes us to our core. Leaves us paralyzed and unable to actually do it. Think about the story of the rich, young ruler in Luke 18. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? I’m a good guy, I’ve kept all the commandments, and did I mention, I’m a good guy!” Jesus says, “Yes, I heard that you’re a good guy, and thanks for keeping all the commandments. But you need to sell what you have and give the money to the poor.” Luke tells us that the man went away sad because he was very wealthy. We don’t know what happened to him after this encounter, but in that moment, he is unable to turn himself around and do what God in the person of Jesus just told him to do.
            John’s hearers, after the parts about vipers and axes, ask, “What should we do.” Three times, they ask, “What should we do?” This is a powerful moment in Luke’s Gospel and in John’s exchange with the people. Not only do the oppressed but even the oppressors ask, “What should we do?”          
            The first group that asks “what should we do” are the very people that John was blasting for thinking they were good enough because they have Abraham as their ancestor. John doesn’t tell them to abandon their faith. He tells them to live their faith, the faith that was passed down from Abraham and Moses; that the one in need is a higher priority than our own self-preservation. The tax collectors are the next group to ask. You know about the tax collectors, right? They didn’t earn a living by collecting taxes, so they had to pad their collections practices to make money. Sometimes they went back for more, claiming to have “forgotten” that they’d already made that round. Beyond that, most tax collectors were citizens of Israel and employees of Rome. So not only were they in-between both worlds, they weren’t really liked by their fellow Jews and tolerated by the Romans. Yet they were seeking repentance: How could they do better going forward? And John tells them: “Collect no more than prescribed for you.” No stealing, cheating, blackmailing, or doing what ‘everyone else is doing.’ And then there’s the soldiers, who have nothing to wield but power, and yet seem aware that there is a larger message to which they need to respond. “And what should we do?” they also ask. No deception, John tells them. No threats or extortion or coercion.
            Luke does not tell us how the people who asked actually responded, either in the moment or in the weeks and months following. But in that moment, all three groups of people faced the same question and opportunity we all face every day: To turn our lives away for our own self-interest, to live for others (whether or not we know them, whether or not they can return the favor). John the Baptist give his hearers then and now a chance to do ordinary acts of grace. There is no call ot heroic measures or abandoning everything you’ve known. John calls them to stay where they are, but to be a different person where they are. This Gospel lesson reminds us to be where God has called us to be, but to look forward to be the best we can where we are. John seems to be telling us that by being where we are, our seemingly ordinary lives can be steeped with the extra-ordinary spirit of God to transform the world. And who cares how many people notice. We aren’t doing this to make headlines or be on the six o’clock news. We are out to serve God by serving the people whom God loves so dearly.
            What then should we do?
            Wen we are sorely hindered by our sins (and fears) as our Collect today says, we should look outward, not inward. We should look in our closet and see if we have a coat or belt or shoes that someone else may need. When we are at the grocery store, we can pick up one of the items on the RCS Food and Stuff list (cereal & soap for December!). We can be honest in our dealings with others, and not tolerate dishonesty when we see it. It’s not the big things that will show people we are followers of Jesus. It’s not by the big things that we will make the world ready for the 2nd Coming of Christ. If we are willing to turn our hearts and our minds and our eyes towards God, we will see how God is acting in our midst, and we’ll see where we can do something seemingly small that can change the world.

November 22, 2015

What's in a Title

Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”[1]
On a day in which we celebrate Christ the King, it seems most appropriate to ask: What’s in a name, or rather, what’s in a title? We call Jesus by many titles: Christ. Messiah. Savior. Lord. Friend. Teacher. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nathaniel calls him “King of Israel,” even though Jesus seems rather unimpressed by this declaration. Titles, like boarders, are a very human creation. Yet we continue to put these attributes on Jesus.
The observance of “Christ the King Sunday” is a very modern development, especially for a nearly 2,000 year old faith. Pope Pious XI, in 1925, made the last Sunday of October a feast “in celebration of the all-embracing authority of Christ, which shall lead all humankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” The feast was moved to the Sunday before Advent 1 in 1970 and is now observed by numerous Protestant traditions such as ours.[2]
“Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anoint” or “Anointed.” When used with Jesus or prophesies about him, it was understood as “one anointed by God.”

King George II of England, whose gift of a silver communion set is still in use at Christ Church.

And King…. Well… we know of countries that have kings (or queens). Maybe some of us have even lived in those countries where the monarch’s likeness is on the currency. But here in the U.S. of A, well, many of our forbears fought hard to free us from a king, a king whose father made a very generous gift to this very parish. Shortly after George Washington was elected in April 1789, the Congress of the United States was tossing around titles like “Chief Magistrate” and “His Highness” and (my personal favorite) “Protector of the Liberties of the People of the United States of America.” They even tossed around the idea of King, even though he was elected for a finite period. But the House of Representatives didn’t want George Washington or any of his successors to let the power of the position go to their head.
So the House proposed a title of their own. “President.” You see, in 1789, it was about the most humble, meager, limited title they could think of. It meant someone who presided over a meeting, an overseer. Think about a jury fore-person. The Senate thought this was ridiculous. They wanted the person in that office to have the respect of other world leaders. Our infant nation would be mocked for having a head of state with the title of “President.” But in order to make peace and move forward, the Senate let the House have their way, though they registered their discontent with House. Over the next 230+ years, nearly 150 other countries followed in our footsteps and titled their head of state “President.” In the end, the Senate won because the titled has garnered the respect they wanted it to garner.[3]
I tell you that story because it illustrates an important point: Reality changes words. Words rarely change reality. The world in 1925, especially Eurpoe, was hardly at peace, even though the Great War had been over for 7 years. In January 1925, the Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini, put an end to free elections and became dictator. In 1925, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf. Pious XI knew that faithful Christians needed something larger to look at than the leaders of their day. Pious knew that Jesus had the chance to claim leadership and power on Earth and turned it down. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to Pilate. Like so many, Pilate didn’t know who or what was in front of him. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus continued. “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Jesus before Pilate
The reality of Jesus’ mission, ministry, and teachings changed what it means to have a king, and be a part of a kingdom.
The truth is that we are still struggling to understand what the Kingdom of God looks like. We struggle to see Jesus, the King of that Kingdom, in our midst.
The truth is that we don’t really know what to do with a King. It doesn’t fit very well with the American narrative of Liberty and Freedom. Most of us are fine to declare Jesus as Lord and Savior, but when it comes to unfettered, unwaivering following of him to a point where we might be uncomfortable, well, that’s another story. Sometimes we are called out of that comfort zone and are resustant to go. Other times, we find we have been out of that zone for a while and we want to go back where it is safe and easy.
Yet, if we are to be subjects of Christ the King and follow and trust him, sometimes (many times!) we will be called out of our comfort zone because Jesus calls us to be IN the world but not OF the world. And part of being IN but not OF the world means tuning out the fear mongering that comes from those who get air time.
If we are willing to call Christ our King, then we are declaring ourselves part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that knows no boundries, no nationalities, no language, and no skin color. A kingdom whose currency is love and whose motto is “God Loves you. No exceptions.”
We have choices to make:
n  To live as if the Kingdom of God is now and not in the future.
n  To live with compassion, not merely for self-preservation.
n  To live by faith and not by fear.

If we live a life with Christ as our king, the reality of the Kingdom of God will change the world.

[1] Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2
[2] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005
[3] http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_forsyth_what_s_a_snollygoster_a_short_lesson_in_political_speak

November 8, 2015

God's Unexpected Route

“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.” – Psalm 172:1
            For 300 years, the Lord has been building a house, here at the corner of Pollock & Middle Streets in downtown New Bern. I am certain that there were times when the labor of the people working with God was in vain because they put their own needs or desires ahead of what God actually wanted this place to be and who God wanted this church to be for this community and for the world. But if their labor had been too much in vain, we would not be here, having an Annual Meeting in the midst of our 300th Year. For a nation that is only 239 years old, a community of faithful worshipers gathering for 300 years is not too shabby, it it!?
            As I prayed about what to say today, both looking at our Scripture and knowing it was our Annual Meeting, I had running through my head parts of the sermon Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached last Sunday at his installation. He has been talking for a while, since before his election this summer, about a Jesus Movement to help bring reconciliation and justice to our world, calling on Christians and non-Christians alike to look at the teachings of Jesus for how we can turn the world upside down, which is to really turn it right side up. He cited Jesus’ interaction with the young lawyer who asked him which was the greatest law, to which Jesus replied, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 27:37-40) Bishop Curry continued:
This is really a stunning declaration. On these two—love of God and love of your neighbor—hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.
Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
True religion.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.[1]

The other piece that has stuck with me, and you’ll have to watch the video because it wasn’t in the transcript that was made available, he said part of the Jesus Movement is to look at the world ask what is possible, not merely to be content with the way things are. In order for us to help see this Jesus Movement bear fruit here in New Bern and beyond, we have to explore what can be, and not bask or bemoan what is. As your rector, I don’t want this church (or any church for that matter) to “get by” or to “survive.” I want Christ Church, New Bern, to THRIVE, to BE BOLD in proclaiming this Jesus Movement. In order to do that, we can’t simply look to the way it’s always been done. Gone are the days when the church can open the doors and expect people to flow in. We have to identify ways to take Jesus to people who need to hear that message of an unwavering, unfiltered, holy love. Strategy sessions and hand wringing won’t always do the trick either. We may end up stumbling upon the best ways, and we may fail a few times as well. But if we trust in God to lead us, we know our labors will not be in vain. We will find success even in what we think may be a failure. God has ways of working things out in ways we cannot begin to imagine. That’s why God is God, and we are not.
The story of Ruth & Naomi & Boaz that we heard in our Old Testament lesson this morning is a great example of how God can and often does go outside the “norm” or “expected” to accomplish the Holy things that God wants to happen. Naomi is a Jewish woman married to a Jewish man with two Jewish sons. They move to an area lacking Jewish brides, so the two sons take Moabite wives and before they can have children, the sons die, as does Naomi’s husband. Now, tradition would hold that Naomi would go back to her people the greater Bethlehem area and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, would go back to their people. But Ruth says, “No, I’m going to go with you, wherever that may be.” There’s this statute in the laws of Moses called the Law of the Kinsman Redeemer. It basically says that if a man dies and he and his wife are childless, it’s up to one of that man’s kin, be it a brother or cousin, to have children with the other man’s wife so that his name will live on. Ruth meets Boaz while they are gleaning from the fields, and Naomi figures out that Boaz is related to her husband and sons and therefore could be great “match” if you will for Ruth. (Scripture doesn’t say if Boaz had other wives, but Ruth was likely not his one-and-only.) Boaz takes Ruth for a wife and they have a son, Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, the Psalmist and the King.
God deviated from the expected route to fulfill the Divine Plan. Obed’s mother, Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother, was a Moabite, someone who was not supposed to be in the lineage of an Israelite King. God broke from the “norm” when setting up a path to Jesus. Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable or warry when God does what is unexpected, but I am convinced that that is how God keeps us on our toes and paying attention. Who would have expected God to choose a wondering, sometimes ornery people to make a great Nation? Yet, God chose the Jews. Who would have expected God to choose a non-Jewish woman to carry on the linage that would bring forth another unexpected choice for a King of Israel? Who would have expected God to choose a small, out of the way place like Nazareth to be the hometown of the Messiah? And even though in our Anglican history, we have had plenty of amazing and prophetic preachers, who would have expected God to choose one from our current time to be the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church?
The question is: What are we (you, me, Christ Church) doing to make a path to Jesus for those who need to hear the message? Whether the path is expected or unexpected, whether the path is as a flat and straight as a coastal highway or as hilly and curvy as a mountain pass, what are we doing to follow that path and walk with others along way that leads to Jesus?  
I believe that we are continuing to find ways to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the word.   I believe that in the years to come, the ways in which God is moving and leading us will become clearer and clearer. Our prayer should be that our eyes and hearts will be open to see God’s hand at work in the world about us.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.”


October 25, 2015

Bartimaeus & Our Call as Christians

Proper 25B, RCL

A group of us have been exploring the Gospel of Mark, both on Sunday mornings at 10am and on Wednesdays at 11am. We have often marveled at all of the amazing ways Jesus heals people. Sometimes he lays hands on them; sometimes he wipes spit in their eyes or he touches their ears. Many times, the person who is sick isn’t even present, but it’s the faith of the one who asks for healing that moves Jesus to act. Sometimes he utters a word or two about their healing, sometimes he simply tells them they are well. He sometimes takes the person by the hand, and as in today’s Gospel lesson, he simply says the word, and they are restored to health.
I love the story of Bartimaeus because it’s the same people who are hushing him suddenly tell him to get up and go because Jesus is calling him. He makes a simple request to Jesus, to see again, and Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.” Then Bartimaeus does something that only happens in a couple of other places in Scripture: He follows Jesus. There are a several places where the healed person wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus says no. In my reading of this story, Bartimaeus doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to tell him to stay in Jericho. Bartimaeus is already on his way!
Have you ever had that level of gratitude? To God? To someone else? The level of gratitude that causes you to change your whole perspective and even leave the place you are, physically or emotionally and spiritually? For a blind person such as Bartimaeus, there wasn’t much in the way of employment or trade, so he was left to beg for his daily bread. Even though he can now see, that doesn’t mean the place he is isn’t familiar to him, that he wouldn’t have a chance at redemption and a new start in Jericho. But instead, he opts to leave what is familiar and follow Jesus.
I see in the story of Bartimaeus two of the most important aspects of our call as Christians: To do our part in acting with the same compassion Jesus acted, and to live a life of gratitude for what God has given to us.
We have been talking about Stewardship the past several weeks, both in our sermons as well other publications. Today is the day that we hope you have brought your pledge card so we can begin making plans for 2016. It certainly takes money to turn the lights on, maintain an old building, pay for staff, music, Sunday School curriculum, and a myriad of other “costs of doing business.” So from a practical standpoint, by giving the Vestry an idea of what you intend to contribute to Christ Church in the year to come, it helps them to make a budget.
From a spiritual standpoint, you are helping us, the Vestry and staff, be good stewards of those resources which you give. We are constantly looking at how we are practicing good stewardship of finances, and also of the time and talent that is in our midst as well. Part of my plan in calling the fourth Sunday of each month “Stewardship Sunday” is to be transparent in promoting all the ways we make a good faith effort, and I would say very often experience success, at being good stewards of our finances, our building, our people, and our creation. During our annual meeting on November 8th, I will say a little more about each of those areas.
Stewardship is, as I’ve said on several occasions, everything we do after we say “We believe.”  Stewardship is how we respond with gratitude, even the gratitude of Bartimaeus, to what God has given us in our lives. We give back to God out of thanks, not because God gives us a bill. I think it’s fair to say that God loves it when we recognize in both word and action what the Almighty has done for us, through us, and with us. I find my own walk with Christ more difficult when I do not acknowledge the presence and the action of God in my life.
Our Gospel story comes at the end of a whole section, about three chapters, where Jesus is dealing with people who are blind, both physically and spiritually. In showing compassion, Jesus opened Bartimaeus’ eyes to see a world he had not known. What would happen if we allowed Jesus to open our eyes to see his hand at work in the world around us? What if Jesus could open our eyes to see those around us who were in need, spiritually as well as physically? It happens, you know. In big ways and small ways. It happened here a number of years ago when several people say the need for ministry to children who have a parent in prison. Camp Hope was born out of seeing that need, and parishioners at Christ Church (and some beyond Christ Church) have responded to that need to the tune of over $20,000 per year over and above what their contribution to Christ Church may be to pay for these young people to experience the love of God in Christian Community. As Camp Hope has grown, so has the recognition that many of the young people served by Camp Hope need our attention and care during the other 51 weeks of the year than when they are at camp.
This past Monday, the Vestry endorsed proceeding with a plan, written and presented by Terry Brubaker, to launch an after-school program next Fall. This is not just a dream of Terry’s, but something that God has put in her heart and given her the wherewithal to work towards it’s reality. This program is a natural expansion of Camp Hope. The budgeting for Terry’s plan calls again for funding beyond our budget, meaning contributions in the same manner as people support Camp Hope. I would challenge us to fund this initiative from our budget. As Camp Hope’s presence and impact have expanded, our embrace of this ministry should expand as well so that we fund, as a form of outreach, a portion of the after-school program. It would be a faithful response to our call to act with the same compassion as Jesus by responding with gratitude for what God has given us. And don’t worry. There will be plenty of opportunity to give of time and talent to this program as well. J
            So many of you have given back to this place for so many years, and for so many reasons, not the least of which is the recognition that God is at work in your life and in the life of Christ Church. You’ve enabled Christ Church to act with compassion to those in need, and to help live out the Good News of Jesus Christ. And for that, I thank you.
            We are not finished with 21015 yet, but I am already looking forward to all the ways we will continue to live out that faithfulness in 2016 and beyond.

September 27, 2015

Jesus, James, and Christian Community

Proper 21, Year B

            There are several different versions of this story, and you may have heard one of them before. Our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders even experienced this story last week in Sunday School. It goes a little like this:
            An old, wise prophet was asked by a young child, “What is the difference between spending an eternity in God’s presence and an eternity away from God’s presence?” The old, wise prophet said, “In both places, there is a long table filled with food. All of it is amazing, perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, incredibly fresh, and no matter who is at the table, it is their favorite food.  There is more than enough for everyone at the table to have their fill. Now, all of the people who are in God’s presence for all of eternity are fully satisfied, and it looks like are enjoying the meal. The people spending eternity away from God’s presence look like they haven’t eaten in days, maybe weeks. There is all this wonderful food in front of them, and yet, they are starving.”
The young child has a puzzled look and says, “How can one group be starving and the other full if there is plenty of food?”
The wise old prophet had a heart-breaking smile and says, “Here’s the catch: Each of the utensils are Five-Feet long. The people who are starving are all trying to feed themselves; the people who are full are feeding each other.”
      In many ways, this is a story not only of eternity in or out of God’s presence, but a story of Christian community, too. We have been hearing for the past several weeks about what it means to be in Christian community through the writing of James, the brother of Jesus. One of the things I love about this New Testament letter is the sheer timelessness of it. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain all things necessary to our Salvation and are vital to our understanding of God, and how God has moved through human history. Much of it is also better understood if we know more of the context and timing of the letter or book being written. Paul’s letters to the fledgling church in Corinth, for example, are great pieces of Christian teaching on their own. But when we understand the commercial and political realities the people of Corinth were facing, the letter becomes all the more clear. (And in case you’re wondering, Corinth made Las Vegas look like Mayberry…)
But James’ epistle to the followers of Jesus scattered about the Middle East has this quality that some say leave the epistle as one of the lesser studied books of the New Testament, even though it was one of the earliest written by someone who was an eye witness to the life and teachings of Jesus. While James’ Letter is often called a book of wisdom, putting it in the same genre as Proverbs and the Song of Solomon, this letter focuses on those facing temptation and trial because of their faith.
Over the past several weeks, we have heard James speak of the human tongue as the rudder of a ship or a bit in the mouth of a horse. James talks at great length in chapter 2 about “faith” and “works.” That faith is fine, but it doesn’t mean much without some elbow grease behind it. He has warned against partiality among believers, and about being “do-ers” of the Word, and not merely “hear-ers.” That last one is one of my favorites, and one that challenges me every time I hear it. James’ letter does what Jesus himself did: It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. In today’s passage, he talks about the need to be a people of prayer, not only for ourselves, but for those in our community, too. We don’t pray, of course, because God needs the reminder that someone is in need of divine intervention. God knows that much. We pray so that we can be open to God’s response of how we might share the Good News with those who need to be comforted, especially those in our immediate community. Maybe it’s by our physical presence or the laying on of hands and anointing of oil. Maybe it’s through the comfort of a meal. Or maybe just some flowers and a note that says “I’m praying for you.” Much of what is written in the closing passage of the book that we heard today is about that work of faithful people.
So, what does Christian Community look like to us, right here, in a whole other part of the world, nearly 2,000 years after James’ writing? I’d venture to say, “much the same.” Oh, sure, we have toys and tools that James and his flock didn’t have, but we continue to strive to be a people of God who care for each other through in times of celebration and mourning, with prayer, meals, hospital visits, transportation, doing a little grocery shopping, maybe? We are a people who strive to know more about God and Jesus and the Bible, and we know that we don’t plod along those paths alone, but we walk with each other, hold each other’s hands while we hold each other accountable. And we know that putting in “sweat equity” in Christian Community is just as important in the kitchen as it is out in the field or in an office.
If we are to respond to those in our community with prayer and healing and works of compassion, James’ epistle then begs the question who exactly is in our community? Yes, I know that Jesus answers the question of who our neighbor is in the story of the Good Samaritan. But Jesus’ Disciples face the question of who is part of their community in today’s Gospel lesson. They get all worried and maybe a little uppity because they saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but this someone was not a part of their group. You almost have to wonder how John said it to Jesus, right? Maybe with a little trepidation: “Um, so, yeah, Jesus, um… There was this guyyyy…” or maybe he was more like the tattle-tell on the playground: “Jesuuuus! There was this guy, and I know he shouldn’t have been doing things in your name because, well, you know… he’s not one of us!”
But Jesus doesn’t have time for any of that. “Do not stop him,” Jesus says, “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able to speak evil of me.” Jesus, I think, is beginning convey that this movement he’s started is getting to be bigger than he is. (And we can discuss at some other point whether or not Jesus could have anticipated how big this movement would get…) Here’s someone, and Mark doesn’t name him, who may not have even been able to pick Jesus out of the crowd, but knows and acts on the teachings of Jesus to help heal people of their ailments. The very human side of Jesus could get very concerned about “controlling the message,” or keeping tabs on who’s doing what in his name. But the very divine Jesus knows that God is at work, and that the message and the healing that was happening among God’s people was proof that Jesus’ ministry was working.
The reality is that it’s a bit of a strange moment for that exchange because it’s right in between two scenes with children. Another example, maybe, of the disciples just not “getting it.” At the end of last week’s Gospel, Jesus put a child on his lap and said if anyone welcomes this child, this person who is near the bottom of the rung in society, then they’ve welcomed me. And after he tells the disciples not to worry about someone casting out demons in his name, he turns again to a child and says, “Y’all better not lead this one astray or you’ll wish you hadn’t.” The answer to who is in their community is right in front of them: It’s not only the people they know and trust, but it’s the people who are on the margins of society, who are seen and treated as less-than, as second- or third-class.
Jesus is turning things, as he constantly does, on their head. This notion of Christian Community that he’s laying out, that will continue to grow in the years after his death, resurrection, and ascension, it’s not going to look like what community may have looked like in the past. James is taking things a step further, too, when he talks about confessing your sins to one another. Unheard of! People only confessed their sins to God, not another person. But here again, if we are to be supportive of each other, if we are to not only hold each other’s hands, but hold each other accountable in our walk with Christ, then we can’t always keep to ourselves those things that keep us distant from the Almighty. And like John and the other disciples learned, community is a process in which we learn and grow. It doesn’t happen overnight. And as James and his friends found out, it doesn’t always happen easily.  
If you were to ask me the biggest struggle we have in our journey with Jesus towards Christian Community, it is telling the story of how we are just that. It’s telling the story of how we as people of faith have reached out to each other in prayer and in helpful works; it’s telling the story of how we have been able to walk with others who are struggling to know where and how God is in their life; it’s being vulnerable enough to tell how and where we ourselves have found the joy that comes from being with other people who are faithfully walking with Christ as well. It’s not that we don’t have the stories to tell; it’s sometimes that we are unsure of how to put them in words.
James calls on the faithful to be bold in asking for prayers and believing that those prayers will be answered. Jesus is showing his disciples that their community is bigger than they realize and includes those whom we might not always think to include or want to include. The challenge that Jesus and his brother James leave us with today is to be bold in our faith: To tell the story of how our faith in Jesus and being part of a Christian Community has changed our life and the lives of those around us, and to recognize that sometimes, the way our faith in Jesus has changed our lives is by loving and welcoming into that community those whom Jesus would have welcomed and loved.


August 30, 2015

Interfaith Refugee Ministries

Proper 17, Year B, RCL

Each year, the Diocese of East Carolina designates various Sundays to highlight ministries that are deeply woven into our common life. Today, we celebrate Interfaith Refugee Ministry. (Click here to read more; note that Christ Church celebrated a week early to avoid the Labor Day weekend.)

As Americans, we live in a fairly comfortable atmosphere. We might not always think we have enough, or we might want to move up in life. And for the most part, we are able to work on that. We may have some complaints about the political system or even an elected official or two. But the reality is that we have not idea what it is like to experience retribution, harsh, brutal retribution, for who we are or what we believe.

Imagine for a moment that you and your family don't have the freedoms most of the world enjoys. As painful and scary as it may be, go in your mind for a moment to where everything you have is taken from you: Your home, your possessions, even other members of your family, because they government, or the ruling group that calls itself the government, doesn't like who your village supported in the last election, or your tribe is on land that they don't think you should have, or your religion is at odds with those in power. It may not even matter what religion you practice.

Imagine having your very nationality stripped because of those, or any of a long list of, factors so that because of nothing more than where you were born, you are suddenly without a country that you can call home, or a homeland that recognizes you as a citizen.

According to the United Nations High Council on Refugees, 51.2 million people were considered refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced, as of June 2014. That's the highest number since the end of World War II.  There were 17 million people living in camps in places like Rwanda, Kenya, and Jordan. Syrian refugees account for over 3 million people. If you break those numbers down, a human being, a child of God, is forced to flee their home or their homeland every four seconds. (Reference)

It would be nice to think that other countries would open their borders and say, "Come! Make a home here!" But with few exceptions, nations throughout history have been hard pressed to open their gates to those expelled or driven out of their homeland. Even the United States turned away a vessel with over 900 ethnic Jews from Germany in 1939, sending them back to a certain and terrible fate.

Those countries that do take in refugees are more likely to lave them in rustic (to put it kindly) camps. Hardly a way to start a new life. Time magazine had a story in their June 4th issue about a ship with over 400 Burmese refugees who were abandoned by the crew and were sent back and forth across the Bay of Bengal between Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. No one wanted them to disembark on their shore. They eventually landed in a remote part of Indonesia, despite the Navy's attempt to keep them away. And the Army is doing all they can to make sure the refugees stay in that small, remote area.

Thanks be to God, what secular institutions fail to do, people of faith often will. Among the many ministries of the Episcopal Church is Episcopal Migration Ministries. For 75 years, the Episcopal Church has been helping to resettle refugees, first through the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief (now known as Episcopal Relief and Development). In 1988, Episcopal Migration Ministries was separated from that as a more concentrated effort to resettle refugees from around the world on behalf of the Episcopal Church. It is an organization which strives to be the living example of the Church's commitment to the stranger in our midst. Their vision is to uphold the dignity of every human being by advancing our nation's legacy of welcome. Just last week, at the 10:00 service, over 275 of us recommitted ourselves as well to respecting that same dignity during the Baptismal liturgy.

In 2014, nearly 70,000 refugees were resettled in the United States. Episcopal Migration Ministries helped with around 5,000 of those. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the 51.2 million I mentioned earlier. But it's something. And it means a chance for a new life and a new start for 70,000 people.
Episcopal Migration Ministries works with 26 dioceses across the Episcopal Church, including the Diocese of East Carolina, through Interfaith Refugee Ministries, headquartered here in New Bern with a sub-office in Wilmington. Each year, Interfaith Refugee Ministries resettles families from around the globe to begin a new life in Eastern North Carolina. They have come from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa. Many from the Karen community worship with us and in other churches in the area.

Part of that resettlement includes learning English, school enrollment, and job placement. And it takes hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life to help make that happen. Those seeking a new life quickly become a part of the fabric of the community. During the recent school re-zoning in Craven County, several schools with large Burmese populations saw those students move to another school. One school secretary I know told me that she had called her counterparts at all the schools "her kids" wold be going to tell them how great each one was, and if they had any trouble acclimating, she'd be glad to help in any way. She knew enough of what these kids and their families had been through to get here; she wasn't going to let something silly like a school transfer be a stumbling block to them.

The work of IRM, and organizations like and the volunteers who help make the run, are a reflection of our Gospel lesson and the part of the Letter of James we heard earlier. Jesus in a bit of a spot with the religious leaders over what was right and wrong about various practices of religion. This passage is sandwiched right between Mark's two accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes. If we look at all these chapters, we see that Jesus feeds people because they are hungry. Not because they ask or because they are worthy, but because they are beloved Children of God. It echos other parts of the Gospel where Jesus heals people simply because they believe he can do it.

James, Jesus' brother, is the leader of the faithful in Jerusalem, and he implores his flock to be "DO-ERS" of the Word, and not merely "HEAR-ERS," to be people who don't just look on the exercise of their faith as a "nice thing to do" or get too hung up on ritual and forget the purpose of why we gather. The directive to care for widows and orphans harkens back to multiple prophets of old who reminded Israel what God expected of them. As a people liberated by God from Egypt, they were to treat the marginalized in their midst with compassion, something I'd say all of us need a reminder of from time to time, and something that those at Interfaith Refugee Ministries remind us of on a daily basis.

The work of Interfaith Refugee Ministries is not unlike the call each of us from God: to care for those whom God has made and loved and to show compassion for them. No one person, no one church, no one agency can do it all. with God as our guide, the Holy Spirit as our companion, and Jesus as the light to lead the way, we can all do our part in easing the pain of others and welcoming those who have no where else to turn.

August 9, 2015

What feeds you?

Proper 14, Year B


In case you’ve been on vacation or just not following the Gospel readings the past several weeks, Jesus has been talking a lot about bread. We’ve been immersed in the sixth chapter of John; in fact, we are in the middle of it right now. It all started two weeks ago with the feeding of the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and it will continue two more weeks after today before we go back to Mark’s Gospel for the rest of this season of the church year. As I pondered this particular passage from John’s Gospel, as well as some of my travels the past two weeks, the same questions kept coming back to me: How are we fed? What are our sources for nourishment and sustenance? Yes, you may think immediately about Harris-Teeter or Food Lion or even your favorite restaurant. Or you may think about something unrelated to food, like being on the beach or the river or a long run or a warm cup of tea and a good book. Or maybe it’s the way you give back to others that provides sustenance for you. If we take a long look at this epic chapter of John, we find that Jesus is dealing with people who don’t really know what it means to be fed. He did the Loaves and Fish miracle, and their stomachs were fed. But when they were empty again, there was frustration on both sides (Jesus and the people) because Jesus quickly, and deftly, offered them something more lasting and filling, even if it wasn’t physical. And as people often do, they rejected what Jesus had to offer. Jesus so wants to be the bread that fills their souls, and they just don’t get it. In today’s episode, Jesus begins to have a bit of a confrontation with some of the religious leaders of the area. “How can he say ‘I came down from heaven?’ We know this boy! We know his parents! Who does he think he is?” They don’t seem to take offense at Jesus being the bread of life, but coming down from heaven? That might be a stretch for them to grasp. Jesus then talks about those who come to him are “drawn by the Father,” and that no one comes to him without being drawn. This begs questions to which I don’t necessarily have answers except to say that there is plenty of evidence in Scripture, especially in the Gospels, that God wants to be in relationship with all of humanity and that God will make that happen in ways and time that aren’t really ours to worry about. And that’s the Good News I take from this passage: That God desires to be close to us, and that closeness is lived out in how we know Jesus in our lives. It’s not our religious experience or where we are born or our economic status that determine where and how we know Jesus. It doesn’t come from any amount of study, pondering, or reasoning or insight. Our relationship with God through Jesus comes because God wants to be in relationship with us. But that relationship, and our experience with God, needs nurturing and growth. And that growth isn’t fostered in a vacuum. It requires community to grow and bear fruit. Jesus never said, “You can do this ‘Follow me’ thing on your own.” When we make Jesus the center of that community, and remember that he said, “I am the bread of life,” we will continue to find our spiritual nourishment in surprising and unexpected places. Two weeks ago, I was at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in downtown Boston. It’s not on the tourist maps or on the Freedom Trail, but it’s right there in the middle of it all, right down the hill, behind the Massachusetts State House, just off of the Boston Common. St. Paul’s Cathedral is on the other side of Common, and in a shared ministry between the two parishes, they host a meal each Monday where about 100 or so people gather for a hot, healthy meal. For many, it may be the only real meal they eat all day. But MANNA, as the ministry is called, feeds way more than their stomachs. Prior to the noon meal, there is a community meeting, to which anyone in the homeless community, even those who have gained stable housing, gather to share their stories as well as trials and tips for living without permanent housing. Following the meal, many of the participants gather for Eucharist in the same space. I have seen many homeless shelters and ministries in my life. But I have never seen one that promoted the type of community that Jesus calls each of us to be active in, a community that actively seeks to feed people’s bodies as well as their souls, to nourish their spiritual and emotional needs as well. It didn’t happen in a fancy building or in a secluded restaurant. It didn’t even happen on a lush lawn. It happened in a basement, a holy space where people who saw a need responded to God’s call, and people who had a need, both for food and community, responded to God’s invitation to be a part of that community. When our group of 10 high schoolers and 4 adults were asked to reflect on our experience at MANNA and what we saw and where we were fed by this experience, we didn’t talk about the joy of setting up and breaking down tables. We didn’t talk about the triumph of scrubbing pots and pans and emptying the garbage. We talked about the conversations we had with people over lunch (and before and after lunch, too), people who were created in the image of God just like you and I are, people who may not have had the best hand in life dealt to them, but who are seeking to walk with Christ, and people whom God is seeking to be in relationship with. It’s amazing what happens when you have conversations with people, even if you are a very temporary part of that community. You find things you have in common, from a shared love of a non-Boston sports team to a realization that if a few things had fallen differently, your life and this person’s life could have been in opposite places. What we found was what mattered most – that all too often, we let our own “stuff,” emotional, physical, material “stuff,” try to give us nourishment and sustenance. And it can’t. No matter how hard we try or how much more get, it cannot take the place of the One who is the Bread of Life. Maybe it’s because we like our deity’s high and lifted up, distant and maybe even exclusively in heaven, and God comes to be among us in the person of Jesus, offering us the bread of life. God dares to be made vulnerable in the holiest of efforts to unite people and bring them into closer community and relationship with God and one another. We so often want religion to make us feel better about ourselves, not something that is so uncomfortably incarnational. Bishop Will Willimon writes, “Our culture is a vast supermarket of desire. Can it be that our bread, our wine, our fulfillment stands before us in the presence of this crucified, resurrected Jew? Can it be that many of our desires are, in the eternal scheme of things, pointless? Might it be true that Jesus is the bread we need, even though he is rarely the bread we seek?” So what it is that feeds you? From where or whom do you get your nourishment and sustenance? Is it from the stuff of that vast supermarket of desire, things that will eventually leave you empty and wanting more? Or do you seek nourishment from being in community with imperfect people, centered around the one who is the Bread of Life, people who are walking a similar path, who have something to teach you, and who are seeking to learn from you as well?

July 20, 2015

The Problem with Prayer

Proper 11, Year B, RCL (Track 1)

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 Outside of my wife & children, a long bike ride, and a perfectly grilled steak, one of my favorite things is when the Collect of the Day and our Scripture meld together the way they do today. That’s really the general idea, of course, that the second prayer of our liturgy, a unique prayer for each Sunday of the year, should gather or collect the general feeling of our Scripture and the seaons of the church year. Some weeks, it’s hard to see that connection. Other weeks, it’s a bit more clear. Today, it’s about prayer, both in word and deed. Prayer is a tricky thing. Too often, we pray for what we want, what we think God should do. Fix this. Feed them. Heal it. Stop that. But King David discovers in our reading from 2 Samuel that what we think and what we can do for the building up of God’s kingdom is tiny compared to what God can do, that our hopes and dreams pale when we actually pay attention to God’s hopes and dreams for the world. David wants to build a permanent structure for the Ark of the Covenant, the place where Ancient Israel believed God resided. David thought it unjust that he had a house of cedar, an extravagant luxury by the standards of the day, but God’s dwelling place was in a box in a tent. The prophet Nathan, David’s connection things religious in Israel, most likely had heard that David was a man after God’s own heart. So when he presents his grand plan to Nathan, Nathan seems more than willing to support it. “Go and do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you,” he says to David. I’m willing to bet that more than once, if we’re really honest about it, we’ve been like David. We’ve had some grand plan, maybe even something we are certain God would be a fan of, and we’ve not taken the time to be in prayer about that grand plan. I will confess that I have been there more than one time in my life, and no, being a priest does not make one immune from that mistake. One of the biggest obsitles we palce in our own prayer life is that we rely too much on our own hopes and dreams. We sped too much time telling God what we want or what we want God to be for us instead of listening, really listening, to what God may have in mind, or telling God how to build us up instead of listening how God wants to build us up to be the person God made us to be. That’s what David finds out in 2 Samuel 7. David’s plans for the Ark are nothing compared to God’s promise to do for David. “The Lord will make you a house,” God says to David (via Nathan). God makes a promise that David’s lineage and legacy will continue forever. This is the passage Christians have been pointing to for nearly 2,000 years as definitive evidence that Jesus would come from the House and Line of David, we as often hear from Luke’s Gospel on Christmas Eve. It is certainly a powerful image. But it’s not a wish or desire that David could have come up with on his own. Maybe his desire to build a house for God was an act of Thanksgiving or Gratitude. Maybe it was pure or ego or a way to sow off to those armies and nations that he had vanquished. Samuel does not tell us David’s motivations and even two Psalms about this very subject (89 & 132), focus more on God’s promise to David than David’s initial plan. Yet, as we prayed at the beginning of our liturgy today, God knows our necessities before we ask, and even our ignorance in asking. As Paul writes in Romans 8: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” There are many definitions of prayer, but the one that I like best is actually in our Prayer Book. Our tradition defines prayer as responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. King David was more than willing to respond to God with a tremendous deed; and God responded with tremendous words. One of the most common conversations I have with people is about their uncertainty or discomfort or lack of understanding about prayer, conversations often riddled with guilt or fear. I have, in many conversations, pointed people to our Collect for today, encouraging them to say this prayer once or twice a day, to pay attention to the words, to the thoughts of this prayer, and what it says about our relationship with God, and what it says that prayer can and should be. Like David, we cannot possibly think of the best possible thing for which to pray because God is going to think of something better for us. That’s not to say we shouldn’t ask God to offer healing to an ailing loved one or for guidance and relief in a job search. But God is so much bigger than we can pray for. I think our Collect for today can change how we as a parish and as individuals see where God is working in our lives and the direction God is leading us. I am committing myself to pray this prayer every day for the next six months. I hope you will join me. I firmly belive that if we open ourselves up to how the Holy Spirit is moving we will be genuinely amazed. Let us pray together: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

July 5, 2015

Our Job as Christians...

Proper 9, Year B, 2015


As Christians, we have one job. And it’s in five parts. The five parts of our job are defined in the Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, p. 304), said at every Baptism and Confirmation (and any other time I can find a reason to use it).  Our job description is to continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the prayers and in the breaking of the bread; to persevere in resisting evil, and when we do fall in to sin, repent and return to the Lord; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self; and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. I can say with boldness that our job description does not have an extra line that says, “Other duties as assigned.” Everything in who we are as followers of Jesus Christ, worshiping and serving him in the Episcopal Church, is within those five statements.
Our Collect, the prayer I said near the opening of our time together, calls on us today to remember that job description. I know it’s been a few minutes, so let me remind you of what was prayed:
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (Proper 9, Book of Common Prayer p. 230)

In an increasingly polarized world, I think we need this prayer more than one Sunday a year. We need to be reminded that the Holy Spirit unites us and strengthens our devotion to our Creator. It’s easy to see someone at the store or on the sidewalk and think, “That’s nice that you’re breathing the same air I am,” or “How quaint that we share a ZIP code,” and not realize how deeply connected we are to one another.
I have no doubt that you’ve been following the news the past couple of weeks. Both our federal court system and our denomination confirmed what societal patterns have been showing us for several decades now: That what we understand of marriage has been undergoing a change. On June 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that marriage is a fundamental right to all Americans. On July 1st, the House of Deputies at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, concurring with action by the House of Bishops the day before, voted overwhelmingly for the blessings of all marriages beginning the first Sunday of Advent, 2015.
The Deputies and Bishops of the 78th General Convention took many other actions during their nine-day business meeting in Salt Lake City. They elected, in a landslide, an amazing preacher, teacher, and leader to be the next Presiding Bishop. They directed money towards new ways of nurturing and developing faith communities across the country, recognizing that bricks-and-mortar buildings are the not the wave of the future. They advocated for the presence of the faithful in places that are afflicted by gun violence as a means to end that epidemic. They held open and frank conversations around topics like race and alcohol. And they did all of that in the spirit of faithful Christian love to which we are all called.            But none of that made the national news. None of that was what was trending on Facebook and Twitter and other social media outlets. What sparked attention was the decision, after 39 years of conversation, study, and debate, to make the sacramental rite of marriage available to any couple that can get a marriage license at the courthouse. It should be of no surprise to anyone. CBS News, and Good Morning America, and Yahoo! News don’t really care about religion or what’s happening in a church convention. Media outlets love to go bonkers over which celebs are dating whom, and who’s not together anymore. There is something about relationships, and who’s in them and who’s not in them, that we seem to always get hung up on.
I have yet to speak with anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about the Supreme Court ruling, or how General Convention voted. There are people who were elated, saddened, overjoyed, deeply troubled, dancing in the streets, and grinding their teeth. There are also people scratching their heads, looking around for what to make of it all.  I’d venture to say that all of those emotions, and maybe more, are represented in this nave today.
Just because the vote was overwhelming does not mean it was unanimous in either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies. But it was cordial. It was respectful. It valued the person of a differing opinion and a different life circumstance. People on all sides of the issues point to Scripture to back them up, as Christians have been doing for thousands of years. Take a look at several of the conflicts in the book of Acts, especially around how and when to admit Gentiles as followers of Jesus, to see some examples. Even those at General Convention who voted in the minority, especially the 20 bishops who did so, publically pledged themselves to continue the conversation with the majority while committing themselves also to making their diocese a spiritually and emotionally safe place for everyone, regardless of their conviction. That’s not an attitude that has happened in the past.
            I’m not going to stand in this pulpit and tell you how to feel about the latest developments. I’m not going to chastise you for being angry. I’m not going to tell you it’s insulting for you to be so excited. I am not going to give you a funny look if you are conflicted or confused. How you feel is how you feel.
I am going to tell you that there will be further conversations, both at Christ Church and in the Diocese of East Carolina, about marriage in the 21st Century, why and how marriage has changed over the past several decades, and prayerfully consider how we as followers of Christ can faithfully respond.
I am also going to tell you that we are going to be as cordial and as civil and as respectful as the Bishops and Deputies were at General Convention. This community, and many other communities large and small, will be watching how we as people of faith work through these issues. As we have conversations, we will listen to each other, not to respond with whether we agree or disagree, but in order to understand each other. So that each of our stories becomes part of our faith journey together.
And we will do this over meals, not microphones. Conversations like this are better over coffee and not a soap box.
            While this may be the swirling topic, it will not be the only topic. We will continue to talk about how we cover the five points of our job description as we find it in the Baptismal Covenant. We will continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and we will continue to respect the dignity of every human being. Not only is our job description laid out in the Baptismal Covenant, Jesus offers some clarity in today’s Gospel lesson. Just as Jesus sent out the disciples to offer healing and to proclaim the Good News, Jesus sends us out to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, to share our story of where and how Jesus is working in our lives and in the lives of those around us. If we keep our focus on the task of proclaiming the Good News, and loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, our differences will work themselves out in ways that give God the glory.
            Our conversations will also be guided by prayer.  Let us keep in mind the words of St. Francis of Assisi and the prayer that is attributed to him.
Let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen. (Prayer attributed to St. Francis)