December 4, 2016

Plowing the Field

Advent 2A, December 4, 2016

In 1942, Clarence Jordan and his wife Florence, along with another couple (Morton and Mable England) began what they affectionately called a “Demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” It was a farm in Americus, Georgia, about 130 miles due south of Atlanta on US Hwy 19. Koinonia Farm as it came to be called was, essentially, a commune. But the people who came there spent time developing community life on the teachings and principles of Jesus. People of all types, men, women, black, white, foreign & native born, all worked side by side, ate side by side, and shared in the profits of the farm. They prayed together, worshiped together, and studied Scripture together too. There was not a distinction among them. 

At least, not on the farm itself. As I said, it was the 1940s in rural Georgia. After the War, various groups tried various measures to get Koinonia Farms to stop doing what they were doing. There were protests and boycotts, firebombs and bullets, even night time visits from the Ku Klux Klan. But in all of those hardships, Clarence Jordan and his farm family responded with non-violent resistance and prayer. They found new avenues to sell the fruits of the labors. They used other networks, long before mass media, to tell their story. And in all of that, Koinonia Farms grew. As the threats of violence passed, they focused on the poor quality of local housing and began a project to build decent, affordable homes for our neighbors. Linda & Millard Fuller were part of Koinonia Farms at the time, and from that local effort to build homes came Habitat for Humanity. And Clarence Jordan told the story of Koinonia Farms in multiple ways before his unexpected death in 1969. One of his lasting legacies is a series of books called The Cotton Patch Gospel in which he translates the New Testament from the ancient Greek into the South Georgia vernacular of his people. Gainesville, GA, is Bethlehem; Atlanta is Jerusalem, just to give you a hint of his geography. 

Who, really, would have thought that in little old Americus, Georgia, there would be such a place that will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2017. An ongoing community that seeks to show what the Kingdom of God can and should look like, in much the same way the prophet Isaiah talked about a few thousand years ago. Clearly humanity is still working on it, but every now and then we get a glimpse of that peaceable kingdom as it prepares the way for God’s reign to be seen. What makes Koinonia Farms so different is how counter-cultural it was. Clarence Jordan grew up in a mainline, Protestant denomination and graduated from seminary in that Christian tradition deeply rooted in the culture of the era. The first groups that took issue with Koinonia were not the Klan or the White Citizens Councils; it was other Christian places of worship. In a time when most churches in the Deep South supported segregation, either explicitly or through their silence, they saw this “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” as a direct threat to them and their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Jordans had a friend from India, a recent convert to Christianity, visiting with them, learning with them on the Farm. They took him to church with them on Sunday. The Jordans saw nothing wrong with this, of course. Here was a friend, a follower of Jesus, and they wanted to show off their church. The other members of the church saw a person of color and, while they let him worship with them since he was a friend of the Jordans, they were pretty clear they didn’t like it. 

A few years ago, the Jordans son, Jim said in an interview with Christianity Today magazine: When it became clear in the South that the old ways were not going to last forever, and the strong resistance started, Koinonia became a symbol for the change and the lightning rod for the opposition. 

When the systems begin to shift and change, it makes people incredibly uncomfortable. We can see this play out in smaller ways like our own household or our workplace or local churches. I mean, have you ever encountered a loyal grocery store customer after they find that the tomato sauce is now in a different place? We see this level of discomfort and angst when systems we have known for a lifetime start to shift, when it appears that “the way things have always been” might not “always be” in the next generation. It goes way beyond tomato sauce or who is going where for the holidays. It means we have to take a long, hard, and often uncomfortable look at what God is doing. Our words from Isaiah and John the Baptist today address some of this shift. One of the things I adore about both of these prophets is their inability to mince words. Isaiah proclaims the coming of a new Davidic King. Christians have plugged Jesus into this story somewhat retroactively. We can see what Isaiah was talking about, but the likely hood is that Isaiah couldn’t envision someone like Jesus; he was talking about a new King to be like or better than David, a man after God’s own heart. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would certainly disrupt the system that had evolved since David was king. The images of predator and prey lying peaceably together brings up images of the Garden of Eden, but it is also meant to serve as an image of kingdoms no longer at war, no longer seeking each other’s land. Not an easy habit to break! While Isaiah was prophesying somewhat abstractly about the future, John the Baptist was, well, being John the Baptist. Normal everyday people are flocking to him to see what his message is all about. And those in religious power, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, come to him as well. Only, they seem to be on the fringe of the crowd to see what he might say next. He sees them and says, “You brood of vipers!!” I doubt they smiled and said, “Oh, he’s talking about us…” 

This Wildman of the Wilderness, John the Baptizer, got himself into more than a couple of troublesome spots with people for speaking truth to power. He starts off that way today with his “brood of vipers” comment, but he keeps going. Did you see that? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

He’s saying that God doesn’t care what has happened in the past. God doesn’t care who your ancestors are or were. What have you done today that is going to help bring peace to the world and God’s Kingdom on earth? Because that’s our job. John the Baptist was not the Messiah, and he was not, by his own admission, the one Isaiah was talking about either. But he pointed the way, and laid the groundwork for Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near. Clarence Jordan carried on the work of John the Baptist and Isaiah by literally preparing the Earth for this peaceable Kingdom that Isaiah foretold. There’s only one John the Baptist. There is only one Clarence Jordan. And there is only one of you, too. Our call, our job, is to prepare the way for Christ, and that happens in many, many ways. The Church of course is people who sometimes occupy a building, not a building sometimes occupied by people. This Church, you, do a pretty amazing job of reaching out to relieve, to the extent we can, the suffering of those in our community and beyond. The bins in our Reception Area for Religious Community Services, Interfaith Refugee Ministries, and Merci Clinic are always overflowing. When there is an individual need, this church responds. The Christ Church Trust recently gave away over $70,000 for local agencies who are serving the most vulnerable of God’s children here in New Bern. The Gospel writers told the story of John the Baptist. The stories of Koinonia Farms and Habitat for Humanity have been well told in many ways, and RCS, Merci Clinic, and Interfaith Refugee Ministries all have powerful stories to tell, too, about what happens when people of faith look to answer Jesus’ call to a better way of life and a better way to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. As Christ Church, we have a story to tell, too. We have a story to tell about the ministry that happens here in these historic walls, but we have a story to tell about the ministry that happens OUTSIDE these walls, too, and the people of Christ Church who help make New Bern it’s own little “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” We live into and live out our Baptismal promises all the time, and in doing so, we are pointing the way to Christ. The problem is that we are either too humble to talk about them, or we don’t know the whole picture enough to tell that story. 

Former Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori talked many times, including from this pulpit in 2011, about how the true impact of a church should not be measured by how many seats are filled each week, but by how many lives are transformed in the community. It is my hope that one year from now, the first Sunday in December 2017, we will be well on our way to telling the story of how Christ Church, New Bern, impacts this community and makes a difference in the lives of those we encounter. It’s an effort that will take all of us, not just gathering the stories and images to be told, but to share those stories with our friends and neighbors. When we do that, when we tell the story, not of how great we are, but of how we serve Christ by serving others and tending to those on the margins of our community, we point the way to Jesus and show others what Christian community means. 

And that, my brothers and sisters, is called Evangelism. 


 Extra Sources: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/marchweb-only/32.0a.html 

October 2, 2016

Faith is an Action Verb

Proper 22C, Year B

Yes, it's a noun, too. But for faith to really work, it has to be a verb. An action verb.

September 11, 2016

The story we tell

Proper 19CSeptember 11, 2016


I should begin with a disclaimer of brutal honesty: I don't really like using the letters of the Apostle Paul in my sermons. One, it can get kind of confusing to talk about someone with the same name as you, and two, I find the non-Pauline epistles (Hebrews, James, 1st, 2nd, 3rd John) to have a more timeless and practical message since so much of Paul's writings were to a specific congregation facing specific issues. That being said, Paul's letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (which we heard last week), all called the "Pastoral Epistles," sort of redeem the rest of his writing for me. And today, they give us a really good jumping in point for a deeper understanding of who we are as people go God, as spiritual beings on an earthly journey.

I should say, too, that I will refer to the author of this letter as Paul, though most leading scholars for the past 200 years do not think that the same person who wrote Romans and 1st Corinthians wrote this letter, but someone writing under Paul's name. It was a very common practice in that period to write in the style of and publish under the name of a more well-known person.

Paul presents himself in this letter as a wise and learned teacher who has important things to teach his young protege Timothy, who has traveled a number of places with Paul. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to tend the flock there.  Paul's letters to him are messages about how best to help others no only know Jesus, but to grow into the full-stature of Christ. Timothy is often referred to as "my child," which is not to be taken literally, but a reference to Paul being of "more riper years" than Timothy. 

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, knowing he will not walk this earth forever and knowing he can't be everywhere at once, is conveying some wisdom without saying, "My way is the only way to do it." And the way Paul leads into this teaching here in 1st Timothy is to praise God for calling him to this ministry, despite his ignoble shortcomings. Paul doesn't shower Timothy with platitudes or un-earned praise. He gives some raw details about who he is and how he got where he is. None of it would have happened without the grace of God, that inexplicable mystery that goes with us wherever we go.

Paul accomplishes this task by telling his own story, which he often does in his writings. This wasn't new information to people. Telling a story should resonate with each of us. Americans love a good story! We calim that we love hearing from those who went down the path before us. And despite what our grandparents may have said, no one really went to school UP HILL both ways, but every generation longs to tell its story to the next. IT's not for entertainment or even pity. As children of God, we pass along who we are through the stories we tell.

Most of us over the age of 19 or 20 can tell with vivid detail where we were 15 years ago today, on a Tuesday morning that would alter our history and the lives of everyone born after that tragic day. We all have stories of where we were when we first heard, or when we turned on the TV or the radio. I hope you can tell stories of how we as Americans of all faiths reached out to each other in love, were a little nicer to people or spoke to those whom we haven't spoken in far too long. I hope you can talk about a renewed sense of overcoming adversity and a new definition of heroism and selflessness. Yes, there were moments when American, and Christians to be sure, behaved poorly, harassing Muslims (or those they assumed were Muslim), blaming the whole religion for what happened that day. It was a behavior quickly denounced by Jewish and Christian leaders and by President Bush.

God's presence if found in the love and compassion we show each other, both friend and stranger, in the wake of such horrendous moments. As our Presiding Bishop says, "If it's not about love, then it's not about God." 

On Friday, the Washington Post highlighted one of those communities that exuded God's love in the midst of tragedy 15 years ago. Gander is a small town of about 10,000 people in Newfoundland in Canada. They found that their international airport suddenly had 38 wide bodied jets, bound for US airports but were turned away or told not to proceed when the US closed our airspace. The town didn't have the infrastructure to suddenly accommodate nearly 7,000 stranded travelers, "Plane People" as they came to be known. So the people of Gander opened their homes, and took in these stranded passengers. They didn't see a potential terror attack. They saw themselves, their own parents and children; they saw the face of God and they responded by welcoming, by receiving them with a love that flowed from their hearts. Bus drivers in the town ended their strike so they could provide transportation. Cots appeared in churches, schools, and community centers. Residents even let passengers use their cars to run errands if they needed. 

One plane load of people got bused to an even smaller nearby town called Lewisporte. Even the mayor had people in her home and was cooking huge meals for people. None of the people of Gander and Lewisporte would take a single dollar for what they had done. Something that would have made Jesus and the Apostle Paul smile, I'm sure.
One of the passengers in Lewisporte had an idea on her way home a few days later. She had been a professional fund raiser at the Ohio State University. She took pledges from her fellow passengers, and when they landed, she had $15,000 towards a scholarship fund for the high school in Lewisporte. But she wan't done (she was a professional, remember!). In a short amount of time, she had a fund of nearly $2 million, and to date, this fund has helped 228 graduates, including one who went on to be come the town's doctor. 

This anniversary provides us with a chance for reflection on the stories we will tell our children and grandchildren. Yes, it was scary. No, we didn't now what was going to happen next. But where did we see God at work in the uncertainty? Where did we see the Holy Spirit moving people to be servants to each other the way Jesus called us to be? 

The Apostle Paul's lesson for Timothy is similar for us today. We show who Jesus is, not through violent rhetoric and actions, but through acts of selflessness and caring. Love and compassion are what will win the day. What we hear from Paul next week will go a little more into that. 

Until then, how is the story you are telling through your life going to be heard by the next generation? What will they learn about their faith from yours?


July 24, 2016

On Jesus & Prayer

Proper 12, Year C

During my last year of seminary, I had the honor of serving at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. It’s a parish with a long history of making a difference in the lives of those in the community around them. They are also known for being very orthodox in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, and yet, having some very unorthodox ways of practicing that faith. There is incense at every Sunday service, and a grand procession for the Gospel reading and the offertory. But the only person in a vestment is the priest, and the 100-or-so worshipers gather around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer. One of the somewhat unorthodox traditions at St. Stephen & the Incarnation is the Prayers of the People. After the regular part you may be expecting (though, it’s rarely the same week-to-week), is what I called “open mic time.” The people are seated, and if someone has a specific need or concern that they would like to share with the congregation, they raise their hand and the intercessor would take the wireless microphone to them. There are only a couple of prayers that I remember specifically, but one was by a lady I will always remember. Her name was Joyce[1]. She was approaching 80 and lived by herself. She raised her hand and Isaiah, who was the worship leader that Sunday, took the microphone to her. She said in a rather quiet but unapologetic voice, “I need to have some work done on my house, and it’s going to cost a lot of money. I ask your prayers that I make the right decision when I pick the contractor and that I don’t get taken advantage of.” I always think about Joyce when I read one of Jesus’ teachings on prayer for many reasons, not the least is the pure honesty and vulnerability that she displayed in that moment.

Jesus spends a great deal of time teaching us about prayer, both through his words and actions. Jesus prays before selecting his disciples. He prays before all of the feeding miracles we read about in the Gospels[2]. He goes to quiet places to pray[3] and he talks about the importance of praying quietly to God, not being so loud that others can hear you.[4] Jesus prays when he raises Lazarus from the dead. He prays in the garden before his arrest[5], and even on the cross he cries out to God to forgive those who are doing this him.

When Jesus prays, and what Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, he’s talking about wholeness; he’s talking about healing and reconciliation and one-by-one, prayer-by-prayer, bringing ourselves, our neighbors, and the world into a closer relationship with the God who created us and loves us. When Jesus talks about prayer and when we see Jesus doing prayer in action, we see the world being restored to wholeness. What Jesus is not doing when he prays is calling for bad things to happen to those who disagree with him. Jesus rebukes the Disciples for suggesting that when they encounter a group of Samaritans who don’t welcome them[6]. What prayer is for Jesus, and therefore what it should be for us, is about wholeness and healing. It’s so important to say that out loud that I’m going to say it again: What prayer is for Jesus, and therefore what it should be for us, is about wholeness and healing.

I have seen too much in the news lately about groups of Christians, whole churches even, who publically pray for bad things to happen to those who they see as their “enemy,” those they see as a threat or those who don’t have a similar world-view. For the last eight years or so, it’s been getting worse, and it’s past time for Christians to more deeply know what Jesus taught about prayer and for that small but vocal set to not speak for all of Christianity. That’s not what Jesus was about. It does damage to all of the body of Christ for there to be people who are publically and loudly making those claims and praying for those things to happen. Those are not prayers that are humble and vulnerable; those are prayers that are demanding. They are clanging symbols and noisy gongs because they are not grounded in love.[7] Christians are called to be bold in what we ask, but never to tell God what it is God should do. Jesus shows us a better way.

Shortly after Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, we find his disciples asking him about prayer. So he teaches them some key concepts, found in other Jewish teachings on prayer, probably not all that different than what John taught his disciples (though we don’t really know since it’s not recorded…). The first thing we do in prayer is honor God, conveying to God that we know the sacredness, or the hallowed ness, of who God is. Jesus tells us to acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways, God’s kingdom is better than any kingdom we can create on earth.

When the Israelites were nomads for 40 years after they God led them out of Egypt, God provided them with food, called Manna. God’s instruction was to only take what you could eat for that day, otherwise it would go bad. So Jesus reaches way back into the history of his people when he teaches that we should pray “Give us each day our daily bread.” Our Anglican brothers and sisters in New Zealand translate that line as “With the bread we need for today, feed us.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us to ask for what we need today. Tomorrow has worries of its own, Jesus also teaches. So don’t fix your mind on that.

When a teacher of the law asks Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus responds with the one of the most ancient teachings in Judaism[8]: 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.”[9] So the next thing Jesus teaches is that when we miss the mark with God and our neighbor, when our humanness overtakes our Child of God-ness and we don’t love God and we don’t love our neighbor – we have to ask for forgiveness. And we have to be willing to forgive our neighbor when they don’t do right by us, too.

Jesus knew, also, that his audience would have known all about Abraham, and Noah, and Job, and Jacob and how they had been tested at one point or another. Maybe by God, but often by those around them who would lead them astray. So Jesus says, “Save us from the time of trial.” Jesus himself knew what it was like to be tempted, too, and that without the diligence of asking for God’s guidance to navigate those temptations, we are likely to fail.

Jesus could have stopped there. He could have said, “Yup. That’s about how you should pray.” But he didn’t, of course, because he’s Jesus, and he always gives us more than we ask for.

He paints this picture of someone who has locked the doors and put the kids to bed, and here comes that neighbor who needs something. And this neighbor always needs something. And not because he’s a friend, but because of his persistence, the one with the locked doors will give the neighbor what he needs. Jesus tells a similar story in Luke 18 about a judge who grants a widow’s persistent request, not because he’s a fair judge but simply because of the persistence of the widow in her asking. What Jesus is saying here is that God hears our prayer. God hears those thoughts and cries in the middle of the night. Where I think we struggle is in waiting for the response, and part of that is because we have attempted to make God into a wish-granting genie. We have become such a culture of instant gratification in the last 40-50 years that too often we expect God to grant our prayers A.) now and B.) exactly as we asked. So one of the toughest disciplines in our prayer life is that of waiting and watching and listening for how God will respond. God knows our needs before we ask, but I think God likes to see the faithfulness in the persistence of our asking, and the patience in our listening and watching. Sometimes in prayer, too, we find that God can lead us in a different direction or show us a better way than the outcome we have been praying for. God’s response to us is always based so much more on what we need and less on what we want.

I firmly believe that Jesus is calling us to be bold in our prayers, to not be afraid of being persistent in naming to God the deepest desires of our hearts, those things on our minds that we just can’t shake, the ills of the world and the burdens carried by those whom we love. Jesus tells us to ask and it will be given; to search and we will find; to knock and the door will be opened. But what we receive, what we find, and what’s behind that door may not be the outcomes we were expecting.

May we approach our prayers with the boldness to ask, the willingness to seek, and the courage to knock, and the humility to say to God, “I’m putting this in your hands to do what is best for all your children.”

[1] Not her real name.
[2] Luke 6:12
[3] Mark 1
[4] Matthew 6
[5] John 17
[6] Luke 9:51ff
[7] 1 Corinthians 13
[8] Deuteronomy 6:4-5 & Leviticus 19:18
[9] Matthew 22:34-40

July 17, 2016

Martha & Mary—Both/And, not Either/Or

The 9thSunday after Pentecost

On the third Monday of each month, Christ Church provides a worship service at HomePlace and McCarthy Court, over on McCarthy Boulevard. Jane and Melinda assist me over there, and we make a great team. There was a woman who lived at Home Place, a dear, sweet woman, who would warmly greet us when we arrived, and thank us profusely for coming when we left. She would tell us how much it meant to her that we would provide communion. She grew up in St. Louis as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. She was one of four daughters and had a twin sister, who by her telling could not have been more opposite from her. The woman at HomePlace was named Martha; her sister was named Mary. Martha told me on more than one occasion that she loathed the Gospel story we heard today because so many times, Martha is made out to be the wrong choice of the one to follow. There have been countless articles and books written about “being” Martha and Mary. Which one are you? You should be Mary, but you’re acting like Martha. Tsk Tsk… “How do you pay attention to Jesus and not look lazy,” Martha once said to me with a smile. “And when you and your sister, your twin sister, are named Mary and Martha, and your dad preaches on that Scripture… well, every eye in the church is you during that sermon.” My favorite was the two or three times she’d put her hand to her forehead and say, “What were my parents thinking!?!”

Martha moved to Virginia Beach a couple of years ago, but our conversations came flooding back as I was reading the Gospel passage for this week. Martha’s stories about her own life experiences shed some light on all the modern ways we look at this story. We miss many of the implications that made it such a powerful example to Jesus’ followers and those early readers and hearers of Luke’s Gospel.

The revolutionary part of this story is that Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen to him. That was a place reserved for disciples, those who would go out and teach what the teacher had taught. And it was usually a role reserved for men. For as much as the Gospels like to tell us all the questions and grumbling that the main 12 disciples did, there is nothing recorded in Luke’s Gospel about their reaction to this situation. Maybe they know Marth and Mary and this is part of what happens with them. Or maybe they are tired of getting rebuked by Jesus and so they don’t want to say anything else.

Either way, there’s this moment that has a woman in equal standing (or sitting, as the case may be…) with the men are disciples of Jesus. And the one person who can’t stand it is her sister, who is sweating it out in the kitchen, making snacks or dinner for everyone. You can hear it, can’t you…

“Jesus! Will you tell my sister to get in here to help me!?” Martha says.

I picture a very chill and relaxed Jesus saying my favorite one-word sentence: “No.” To be honest, I kind of wish that Jesus had been more explicit in his invitation to Martha to sit and join them. But he says something along the lines of “there’s always time to cook and clean. Right now, be like your sister. Sit. Listen.”

I’m reminded of the cover of Sports Illustrated last summer after American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown. They had a beautiful shot of that beautiful horse crossing the finish line. And nearly every single human hand in the picture is holding up their cell phone to capture the moment. (Before you say, “oh… young people today…” remember that they aren’t usually the ones who can afford track-level, finish-line seats. At the Belmont. When there’s a Triple Crown on the line.) Huffington Post called it the saddest picture of American culture in the Twenty-First Century. Instead of living in that historic moment, they watched it through a 5-inch screen.

And instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing what he has to teach her, Martha gets all worked up about being a good hostess. How many times have we (and I’m so, so guilty of this, too!) thought we knew good and well what we were supposed to be doing, but we hadn’t taken the time to be prayerful about it. Is this what I’m suppsosed to be doing? Where do you need me, Lord? And be willing to wait and listen for the answer!

The tragedy of the Mary & Martha story is how our 21st Century interpretation has painted it as an “either/or” kind of choice. We either sit at the feet of Jesus or we are busy with the worries and work of the world. We are either working on those important matters in the world, or we are focusing on Jesus. Now, I want to come to Martha’s defense a little to say that the work of hospitality and welcome, the work of being a parent or a child or a friend or a sibling is important work. The work of giving a voice to the voiceless is important work. And holy work. Sitting in our living room or a quiet chapel or under a tree and pondering Jesus is a nice thing to do, but it doesn’t solve the problems of racial injustice or children who will go to bed hungry in our community tonight. But not taking the time to be in the presence of the Holy, to hear what our God has to say about these things, thinking that we know best and not asking God for guidance and direction… that won’t solve those issues either.

Martin L. Smith is a noted author and teacher of spirituality. He spoke at Sewanee this summer when I was there, and he talked about the importance of the re-marriage of Spirituality and Mission. For too long, he said, we’ve thought about ourselves as being connected to God as Spiritual beings on a human journey, or we have sought to be mission-minded, to advance the Gospel. But we have been miserable at seeing how important it is for those two things to merge together. They have to be seen as interconnected and deeply dependent upon each other!

We cannot do the important work of the Gospel, even the work that the Prophet Amos calls us to in today’s Old Testament reading, we can’t do that work if we don’t’ take the time to sit with Jesus, to listen to Jesus about how he wants us to respond to the needs of the world. Otherwise, we will be so caught up in the busyness of the work that we forget that there is a better way.

May 8, 2016

YOU are a Child of God

Easter 7, Year C

On a warm, clear, picture-perfect Monday afternoon just two weeks ago, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, took to this pulpit to walk with us, teach us, about the Jesus Movement. He’s been on this theme of Jesus Movement for a while, so he’s had plenty of time to hone the message and adapt it to whatever audience might be listening. His sermon was probably the most energetic and lively and dynamic that this pulpit as seen in a long, long, time (if ever). George Wakefield, the well-known preacher from the Great Awakening, preached here at Christ Church in 1765 and might have brought as much thunder as Bishop Curry. Maybe. Wakefield had the reputation, but of course we don’t have a recording. (Click here for a recording of Bishop Curry's sermon.)

The Most Rev. Michael Curry
A fair number of you came up to me (and later I found out to Bishop Skirving, our bishop) and said to one or both of us: “Wow! Wasn’t that amazing! Wasn’t that just the best sermon you’ve ever heard!” (Preachers love to hear their parishioners rave about other preachers, by the way… J). It turns out that Bishop Skirving & I had a similar response: “Yes! It was a great sermon. Now what are we going to about it? Where are you going to go with it?” And not unlike the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal live, that answer did not sit well with all who asked. There is an energy and a spirit that God has blessed Michael Curry with, an energy that is infection and invigorating. It is not for our entertainment or a flash in the pan. Woe be unto us if we were to hear Bishop Curry’s message of the Jesus Movement, of evangelism through reconciliation, of living a life that reminds the world of God’s love for all of humanity (black, white, straight, gay, natural-born, immigrant, Democrat or Republican). Woe be unto us if we hear that message and do nothing about it!

Our culture and our society have dissolved to a point where too many people are hesitant to lend aid or even an ear to someone else if they have differing view or perspectives on that thing that could be so incredibly minuscule. Too often, we are more concerned with every other label someone might have and if we like those labels then we might give more credence to what we hare or see. If we don’t like those labels, then, well, might we even give them the time of day?  All of this division and partitioning and fracturing has caused us to put these different labels over the single most important identifier we have. We are all a CHILD OF GOD.

If there is a message the world needs to hear from Christians of all branches of the Jesus Movement, that’s it à That no matter what other label we put on ourselves or others or what label others try to put on us, the one that says CHILD OF GOD is the one that must show first.

During this Easter season, we heard highlights from the Book of Acts about how the Jesus Movement was spreading throughout all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. In that process, in that movement, the disciples of Jesus who have been left to carry on his message without him have found that God, as they came to know God in the person of Jesus, could have an impact on people they never thought possible. God does this sort of thing throughout all Scriptures, using imperfect and unexpected people to accomplish the divine plan. We hear stories in the Epiphany season where Jesus reveals who he is to some unexpected people who may or may not have even been looking for the Messiah.

Beginning with the 3rd Sunday of Easter this year, where we heard the story of Saul’s Damascus Road conversion in Acts 9, we begin to see how the disciples are carrying the Jesus Movement beyond the Jewish Community to some who were known as God-fearers, like the story of Lydia we heard last week, and others who were outside that tradition, most likely like the jailer and his family in today’s reading from Acts 16. These conversions were not without controversy. Devout Jesus followers were more than a little nervous about Saul (now Paul) because he had been persecuting Christians mercilessly. Faithful Jews were more than a little concerned about Gentiles becoming followers of The Way because they understood this as a Jewish thing and questioned whether or not God could speak to or work through those born outside of the Covenant. That gets (mostly) resolved in Acts 15, if you want o tread a little more about it.

Living into the Jesus Movement, both then and now, is not without it’s costs. Followers of Jesus were beaten and jailed and disowned by their families. It cost them prestige and prominence in their communities because they took a rise to share and to be the love of Christ in a broken world. They took a risk to share Jesus’ message, not to bring more into the fold as a Child of God, but because they already were a child of God and they needed to hear it!

That’s the essence of the Jesus Movement à Not that there’s a whole world waiting to become Children of God, but there’s a whole world full of God’s Children who need to hear it, experience it, believe it. And it’s not Michael Curry’s job to tell them. At least, it’s not his alone. It’s yours. And it’s mine. And it’s ours together. And it starts with the simplest of steps. It starts with you yourself knowing that you. Are. A. Child. Of. God..

It is my inmost prayer each week that you leave this place empowered to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world. Today, as you go back to your seat from receiving Communion (or a blessing if you choose not to receive), you will be handed two stickers that say “I am a Child of God.” One is for you. 

Wear it as a reminder of who you are and whose you are. Put it someplace where you will see and remember that YOU are a child of God. The other one? Guess what. You get to give it away. I challenge you to give it to someone who needs to hear it, maybe for the first time. Maybe for the 300th time. Maybe your mind is already churning with who to give it to. Maybe you’re going to wait until a time that God might put someone in your path who needs that reminder.

The Jesus Movement started with small steps, too, many, many years ago, and look where we are today. Only God knows where the small steps of today’s Christians will lead.


April 20, 2016

How to be Here

How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth LivingHow to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good stuff to ponder on paying attention to where you are, who you are with, and what it is that feeds your soul. He lets his faith show through his work without letting the words overpower what God has given him to share. He puts in just enough quotes and Scripture references to remind you that what happened then matters now, but enough other stories, too, to remind us that God still speaks through everyday people.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go clean up my office! Thanks, Rob!

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April 17, 2016

What are you look for?

Easter 4, Year C

 I was leading a mission trip several years ago, and we got to about Thursday of the week, which if you’ve ever traveled with a large group of people, you know that’s about the time when you’ve all had just about enough “togetherness.” So, I gave everyone the 5-minute warning before we left for the day, which was also when I realized that I could not find the keys to the van. I had EVERYONE searching for those keys and could. Not. Find. Them! All of a sudden, one of the participants looked at me and said, “Hey Paul… Those keys you’re missing… Are they the ones hanging from your pinky?” I tell you that story because there’s a parallel to today’s Gospel reading. As he does throughout the Gospels, Jesus is encountering very pointed questions from those who can’t or don’t want to see him for who he is. Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is standing right in front of these people, just the same way we heard him standing in front of Pontius Pilate a few weeks ago, and yet they still ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you’re the Messiah, tell us plainly?” Another way to translate the Greek is “Why do you keep annoying us with this stuff!?” Before we go any deeper, we should set the scene—John is pretty good at giving us the context of Jesus’ teaching. The Festival of the Dedication is known today as Hanukah, celebrating the rededication of Temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes. You can read about that in First Maccabees. The portico of Solomon was where, after his Resurrection and Ascension, Jews who followed Jesus and saw him as the Messiah would gather to share his teachings. So it’s no small thing that this is the spot in the Temple where John tells this story. The other important feature of this story is that it one more time in the Gospels where Jesus is seen keeping the important festivals of his faith. Which leads me to another important scene setting question… I wondered all week: What in the world is this story doing as an Easter reading? We should be hearing about the stories of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection, not something about sheep and wondering whether Jesus is the Messiah. However, in the early days of Christianity, images of Jesus were not of him on the cross or as an infant in the manager or even an empty tomb with a triumphant Christ. They pictured Jesus as a gentle shepherd. What is believed to be the earliest painting features a young Jesus in a white tunic with a lamb over his shoulders. What the religious leaders were expecting was a military/political leader who would talk about ousting Romans. Not someone who talked about being a shepherd. In John’s Gospel, Jesus hasn’t really revealed himself as the Messiah since early on with the Woman at the Well (Chapter 4). So this call to “tell us plainly” strikes a chord because almost everything Jesus has been doing up to this point has led plenty of other people to acknowledge him as the Son of God or the Holy One of God as Peter says at the end of Chapter 6. This little snippet from the 10th chapter today is part of Jesus’ longer teaching on being the Good Shepherd and about sheep and the religious leaders are divided over what is saying. In fact, just one verse after what we heard today, it says, “The Jews took up stones again to stone him.” (They did this in chapter 8, and he slipped past them!) It was prompted by his statement “The Father and I are one.” Swaths of people are following Jesus, many of whom we can assume are watching this exchange happen. And many of those same people either see him as the Messiah or they could really care less if he’s the Messiah because they see the power of his work. Jesus has said in previous passages (and even alludes to it here) that titles don’t really matter. Doing what is best for the Kingdom of God, right then and maybe for the future, is what’s most important. And yet… there is a whole group of people who can’t see Jesus for who he is. The reality for those folks is that whatever the Messiah was supposed to look like, Jesus didn’t fit the bill. He didn’t have the military clout to overthrow Rome. He bucked up against religious leaders, even as he observed the customs and requirements. He didn’t aspire to any sort of political power. And yet… He seemed to be drawing people closer to God, closer to an understanding, some would say a new or a renewed understanding of what it was to be a child of God, what it meant to be in presence of God, for God to come near (Emmanuel = God with us) and for God to live and breathe and speak to them in ways that weren’t legalistic or over-bearing. But in ways that conveyed the very heart of God as it was conveyed all those years ago to Moses, the first Shepherd of God’s flock. When I was in a Bible study group a number of years ago looking at a text similar to this, a friend of mine said, “There’s a cast of hundreds if not thousands hanging on Jesus’ every word, and yet the Gospel writer was more concerned with Jesus’ detractors. What’s up with that!? Why not focus on where Jesus is getting his message across instead of those who don’t get it?” And the answer is two-fold. One – The Gospel writers, especially Matthew & John, are trying to show Jesus as the perfection of the Jewish faith, so it’s those who don’t get it who are wrong and we need to see Jesus teaching them a few things to set the record straight. The Scribes and Pharisees are foils to the plot, if you will. And Two -- we often learn the most from the people whose question our motives and make us say more about what we’re thinking. Before we get too high on ourselves, that we’d most certainly be in the crowd that was amazed at all Jesus said and did, how many times have you missed seeing God and-or Jesus because what you were seeing didn’t match up with what you thought you were looking for? How many times have we as a people of God insisted that Jesus looks, acts, calls, believes (whatever it is!) one way, only to discover it’s 90 or 180-degrees different than what we thought? I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to over the years, both as a lay professional and an ordained one, who have said, “I keep looking for God, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.” Or “I don’t think God is anywhere near me. I think it’s supposed to feel/look/sound this way and it just doesn’t.” People of all ages and walks of life. And I totally get it. It can be painful and lonely and deeply unsettling. I’ve been there, and there’s no guarantee that I won’t walk that path again myself. (Clergy aren’t immune!) My typical response is to ask, “What are you looking for? What are you expecting to hear/see/feel?” Just as Jesus was doing amazing things for throngs of people to experience, there were people who set their expectations on one thing, only to miss what was right in front of them. We get so preoccupied on where we think we left our car keys to miss the fact that they are in our hand. When we begin to let go of those preoccupations and see that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit don’t always look/feel/sound like we expect, we can begin to see/hear/know that our Triune God is not only right in front of us and all around us, but in some of the most unexpected places. Remember, people were looking for a military or political leader. But a shepherd? That’s not what anyone expected a Messiah to look like. But this is Jesus we’re talking about.

March 27, 2016

The McKinnons, the Montoyas, and the Power of the Resurrection

Easter 2016
Luke 24:1-12

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 There is this crazy phenomenon with people who have too much time on their hands and easy access to high speed internet. There are these montages, usually of sports events where someone piece together all the short videos people have taken on their cell phones of that awesome play or that last second shot. The plays get synced so you’re seeing those last 6 or 10 seconds from as one continuous shot from multiple angles or vantage points. This year’s NCAA Tournament has provided a coupel of those moments. I saw one video from last weekend’s game between Northern Iowa and Texas. In an 8 second span, you can see about six or seven different angles of Texas going the length of the court to tie the game, and then Northern Iowa hitting an improbable half-court as time expired. They even overlaid the play-by-play from Northern Iowa’s radio broadcast! Now basketball, even the NCAA Tournament, even in North Carolina, is not nearly as big or important as the Resurrection of Jesus. And each of the four Gospels gives us a vantage point of the story of Jesus’ greatest miracle, and angle to see the power of his resurrection in a similar way that people all over the stadium are seeing the same thrilling play, and yet, how they tell that story may differ based on where they are seated. The Gospels tell the story as if it just happened, even though they weren’t written down until 40-60 years later. Luke’s retelling of this event is unique because it is the only one where Jesus is not present or identified at the Tomb. Instead it is two men in dazzling clothes who asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The women tell the 11 apostles who find it “an idle tale.” They don’t believe the women, not because they are women, but because they didn’t believe that Jesus would rise from the grave after such a violent death. Even Peter who had denied Jesus just a few days earlier, goes running to the tomb, but even he isn’t sure what he has seen. I would venture to say that the women who saw the angels, too, didn’t know what to make of it in the moment it was happening. The power of Jesus’ resurrection took a little while to sink in. The remainder of Luke’s Gospel (and John’s Gospel) are about amazed and confused and excited disciples encountering the Risen Christ. I’d argue that they really didn’t know what to do until his Ascension 40 days later. But the power f the resurrection became evident soon when the Holy Spirit descended on people gathered for Pentecost, and we even hear how the power of Jesus’ resurrection is affecting the Gentiles Our reading from Acts (Acts 10) this morning tells the story of Cornelius the Centurion, widely considered the first Gentile convert to Christianity. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is inseparable from the power of Jesus’ birth and his death on the cross. As unbelievable as it may be that God would become a human, let alone a baby, and as unbelievable as it is that God’s son, the Messiah, would die in such a brutal and ugly way, it would be just as unbelievable for Jesus to exit the tomb in the early hours of Sunday morning. We can identify with the first witnesses of the empty tomb and why it took so long for the disciples to begin proclaiming the Good News. But if we can grasp the notion that God led each of these miraculous moments and countless moment in between (both the ones that were recorded and the ones that weren’t), and if we can grasp, even for a second, God’s immense love not only for the whole world, but for each and every person (you!) then the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus begins to be understood as the greatest of God’s amazing acts, acts that require each of us to tell others about it, both with our voices and our lives. Jesus’ resurrection may have happened nonce, many years ago, but the power of that mighty act continues to be evident to us 2,000 years later. Stories of people who stopped looking for the living among the dead and found new life where no one thought it could be. Stories of miracles, big and small, where God was experienced in unbelievable and very real ways. Like all of those people taking videos in various parts of the arena, each of us has a unique angle on the world. No one else sees the world the way you do. Which means that each of us has an opportunity to tell how we see the power of Jesus’ resurrection. I saw the power of Jesus’ resurrection this week. An old friend of mine, who’s an even older friend of my wife’s (they grew up going to youth events together in the Diocese of North Carolina). Lindsay and her husband Tom lost their house to a fire eight days ago. And if that wasn’t bad enough, their five- and 10-year old sons didn’t make it out. They had other friends who were staying with them, Christy and Zach and their two girls. Christy was pretty badly burned. In a matter of days before Tom and Lindsay were even released from the hospital, a YouCaring account (which is an online way of giving to those in need) had a $40,000 goal, and was at $135,000. That’s the power of the resurrection. But that’s not the real power of the resurrection that I saw. The real power of the resurrection know where their sons are, and as much pain as they are in, they’ve asked people to stop giving to their account, and give to Christy, who will face a much longer recovery. Their faith in the resurrection, as painful as it is right now, they are so filled with hope and filled with joy for the life their boys lived is unbelievable to me. Yet at the same time, having served with Lindsay on multiple Christian events, I believe it all the more. We are understandably like the disciples on plenty of occasions, when we don’t want to believe and we can’t understand the power of the resurrection in our lives. But at the same time, our call is to be like the women who found the empty tomb, who went and told what had happened and who told that Jesus had risen from the grave. And the power of that resurrection continues today. We will always have those times where we are like the disciples. But I hope and I pray that we will find more times when we are like the women.

March 6, 2016

Sinners and tax collectors

Lent 4, Year C, RCL

Each Monday before I preach, I dig in to the Scriptures of the day. I prefer to do that from a Bible because I think it's important to know what happens on either side of the Scripture reading we hear read in worship. As I'm reading it, I have a bit of an internal dialogue as I ponder the Scripture and this important question: What does the Holy Spirit want the people of God to hear from these texts on this occasion? So here's a little of what my internal dialogue was like earlier this week:
Joshua -- Good stuff about God keeping promises. I like this scene... Maybe it will be good for the Children's Homily...
The Psalm -- I don't usually preach on the Psalm, but I wonder... No, this piece about "Do not be a horse or a mule..." that won't fly.
Second Corinthians -- Great spring-time reading, "If anyone is Christ, there is a new creation."
Ok... I wonder what the Gospel reading is... 

At this point, my internal dialogue became an external, um, groan, when I bellowed "THE PRODIGAL SON!?!? AGAIN!?! REALLY?!?!
Cortney comes in my office ask if everything is Ok, and I say, "I feel like I draw this passage every year!"

My amazing assistant reminded me that this passage only comes up once every three years in our lectionary, always on this, the 4th Sunday of Lent. I did a quick "trust but verify" research to find out she's right. (But I still feel like I get this passage every year!)

I'd be lying if I said I didn't ponder every possible angle with all of the other Scripture lessons, but nothing struck home the way the lesson from Luke did.The Prodigal Son is one of those passages that we only hear once every 156 Sundays or so, and yet the story is such a part of our culture, eve extending beyond the sacred and into the secular. So when the lectionary serves up a well-known story such as this, like a low-hanging curve ball over home plate, you have to take a swing at it. 

This story has been hashed out and cut up and dissected in more ways than one could possibly imagine. I would venture to guess that the story of the Prodigal Son has been looked at in more ways than any of Jesus' feeding miracles. I know hat I have heard it preached (and maybe you have too!) from the perspective of the father, the un-mentioned mother, either or both of the brothers' perspectives, from the perspective of the servants, Jesus' hearers at the time, and even one desperate attempt to preach from the perspective of the fatted calf. And if yo u want to hear more about those angles (except may the calf one...) I'm glad to sit down and talk with you about any or all of them. 

But as I wrestled and tussled with this passage this week, I kept coming back to those first two verses, where Luke tells us why Jesus told this parable to begin with:
"All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
The Prodigal Son story is the longest of three stories that follow the introduction. Before he gets there, he tells the story of the lost sheep and the shepherd who leaves the 99 other sheep to go after the one. And the story of the woman who turns over her whole house to find the one lost silver coin of the 10 she had. "Truly I tell you," Jesus says, "There will be more rejoicing in heaven on that day when one sinner repents than for those who do not need to repent."

Then Jesus moves into this famous story, this scandalous story of a younger son demanding his inheritance and then squandering it to such a degree that he realizes his father's servants have it better than he does. So he goes back home, and Jesus adds to the scandal by having the father not only accept his son, but to restore him to his place in the family and in the community and throw him a party. And of course, the older sibling throws a fit because... well, we all know the younger sibling gets away with everything. 

In telling these three parables, Jesus does some pretty amazing things. In the first two, the ones about the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus uses lost and found as key words. In this story, at the end, TWICE the father uses the words dead and alive. The first two were about items that while they have value, are not nearly as valuable as the person, the sinner, the tax collector, the dealer, the con artist, who turns their life back to God. 

Jesus tells this story, not because everyone around him was righteous and upright, but because the sinners and tax collectors heard in Jesus' message something that fed their souls, that made them might actually believe they were worthy of whatever this Kingdom of God that had come near may be. For the sinners and tax collectors of our day, whether their deceit happens on the streets or a board room or in their own home, the message of this story of the Prodigal  Son is one each of us sinners and tax collectors need to hear: That the grace of God in Jesus makes a way for us all to be new creations, to be reconciled to God, as the Apostle Paul wrote. The sinners and tax collectors in Jesus' audience most likely heard a reflection of the grace and reconciliation they had already found in Jesus' preaching. 

I wonder if we can do the same. Or have we lifted ourselves up to the point that we feel like the eldest son, who has worked and worked yet had those us a party?  It would be perfectly natural to find yourself feeling both at various points in your life. But whether we have put ourselves up on a pedestal or are walling in pig slop, we are never, as Jesus teaches us today, beyond the reconciling grace of God.

My favorite part of the Prodigal Son story is probably the most scandalous. When the younger son comes to his senses, he practices this speech, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." On the road home, he probably practiced it a thousand or more times. Yet as he gets the first part of the statement out of his mouth, the father says, "Bring out the robe -- the best one! -- and put the ring on his finger so everyone will know he is a member of this family! And prepare a party like we haven't had in years!" 

When we turn our hearts back towards God, God does the same thing for us. 


January 10, 2016

Every start has a beginning

Everything has a starting point. The road trip. The swim meet. The concert. The ministry to which God has called us. Everything has that defining moment where we can say, “It started here.”
The key goes in the ignition, and the car pulls out of the driveway. The sound is heard, and the swimmers dive into the water. The first note gets played to the thrill and anticipation of adoring fans. The first encounter of serving Christ by serving others. And the journey, the race, the concert, the ministry starts.
Or does it?
Before it can start, it has to have a beginning.
Long before the key can go in the ignition, the trip has to be planned. Locations researched, reservations made, or at least a quick text to see if someone has a sofa you can crash on. The weather checked, clothes packed. Arrangements made so the mail and the newspapers don’t pile up and our pets are cared for while we are away.
For the swimmers, the race doesn’t begin when the horn sounds. It beings when they first learn to get in the water and swim on their own. It begins when they find out they might be a little faster or have a little better stroke than their peers and that it’s actually fun to propel yourself through the water, and you find yourself working harder and harder to get better and better.
The concert began long before the lights went down on the stage. Whether it’s Mozart and Chopin being performed in a concert hall or Taylor Swift at PNC Arena, the concert began when the musicians were first so moved by the music that they had to help make it themselves, and they began to work (sometimes joyfully, and sometimes not) to hone their craft to the point that they can share that sound with thousands of people at once.
What we often think of as “the starting point” is rarely the true beginning.
By now, you have probably figured out that the ministry to which each of us is called did not start when we got involved in that ministry. It began even before the waters of Baptism washed over our heads, and we were marked as Christ’s Own for Ever.
The First Sunday after the Epiphany is when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, an event marked in unique ways in each of the Gospels. Christian tradition holds that this marks the starting point of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In fact, if our Gospel lesson today had gone one verse further, we would have heard Luke tell us, “Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his work.”
But did Jesus’ ministry begin at his Baptism? Or did it begin well before that? “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John’s Gospel tells us. Long before the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus, the work of the Word of God was being done in the world. So that by the time Jesus was born and was of age to begin his earthly ministry, a foundation had been laid. Whether the people were ready or not, the precedent had been set for someone to speak on behalf of God and share the Good News of God’s love for the world.
It’s worth noting that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, before Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God has come near!” he spends sometime in the wilderness, away from other people and the business of life. He’s tempted to run away from his calling and his ministry, but instead he keeps his focus on God and the work to which God is preparing him for. We will hear more about that episode from Luke 4 on the First Sunday of Lent, February 14.
We mark two very different, yet related, events in the life of our parish today, two events that mark the start of something, but not necessarily the beginning. At the 8:45 service, we Baptize Avery Ruth Witten, the daughter of Hank and Liz, the sister of Zach, the granddaughter of Alice and Myra. As their family friend, the Rev. Steve Miller, pours the water over Avery’s head and she becomes a full member of the church, she will, in many real ways, begin her ministry as a follower of Christ. I would contend that the impact of her ministry began when Hank & Liz first started thinking about bringing a child into the world, and maybe even before that. Avery will be supported in her Christian faith and life by all of us, so in many ways, her ministry began when you and I were Baptized, too.
At the 11:00 service, we formally install the 2016 Vestry, who spent Friday and Saturday in retreat at Trinity Center to consider the work ahead of us in the year to come. The ministry of each Vestry member did not begin when they were elected, or even when they arrived at Trinity Center on Friday afternoon. It began even before they agreed to have their name submitted to this parish family for a vote. Their ministry first began when they heard the call or felt the nudge from the Almighty to be a part of the Church, that sacred and wonderful institution that reminds us we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. I am very thankful for the many gifts and passions of this Vestry, and that they have chosen to answer this call to Baptismal ministry at Christ Church. It is an understatement to say that no two people on this Vestry are alike, and in that variety, they bring so many of the things we need for leadership in this parish.
I hope it goes without saying that they are not the only 12 people at Christ Church who are exercising their Baptismal ministry in this place and in the community. Each of us has a ministry rooted in our Baptism. Our readings from the Gospels over the next few weeks will be about Who Jesus Is and how he is revealed to the world around him. I hope that as you listen to those readings, you will consider not only what your Baptismal ministry is, but how God led you to that ministry, and what ministries God may be preparing you for as well. Epiphany is an outstanding time to rededicate ourselves to both the main task as followers of Jesus which is spreading the light of Christ in the world around us and to the ministries to which we are called.
We may even find that we start something new, but something that began long ago.