Do You Need to Increase or Decrease?

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”  (John 3:27-30)

Do You Need to Increase or Decrease?

John the Baptist, who understood his role as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, was asked a question, once Jesus began his ministry and many people started following him.  His response is quoted above.  It is another example of John understanding who he was and who he was not... what his calling was and what it was not.  Now that Jesus was stepping out onto the world’s stage, John says that “... my joy has been fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29b-30)

This leads me to ask this question:  Where in your life do you need to increase, and where do you need to decrease?

Here are some thoughts to give that question some context:

When you are a part of a group, are you mostly talking or mostly listening?  Which of these practices - in you - needs to increase, and which practice needs to decrease... for the good of the group, and for the good of your own development as a human being?

If our Christian life includes equal parts contemplation and action, which of these - in you - needs to increase and which needs to decrease?  Or, are you satisfied with the balance?

If our Christian life includes both giving and receiving, both loving and being loved... take stock for a moment.   Are you content with this balance, or does something need to be adjusted?

In the realm of giving and receiving feedback - speaking the truth in love and receiving the truth in love - take a moment to reflect upon your life.  Is one of these more developed than the other?  In which area is God urging you to increase or decrease?

If our health and wholeness includes attention to our body, mind, spirit, and relationships, which of these is crying out for more attention?  Is one of them getting almost all the attention - even too much attention?

In the love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength... love your neighbor... love yourself trifecta - which one needs more attention right now?

Where do you need to increase in 2018?  Where do you need to decrease?

Let us take some time this week to ask these questions, and - with the help of Spirit’s guidance -  let us make the changes that we are being asked to make.  And... if all is going well, let us rejoice and give thanks to the Lord!


What Are You Looking For?

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.” (John 1:35-39a)


“What are you looking for?”  This was Jesus’ question to the two disciples of John the Baptist, who took off after Jesus after John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The disciples of John didn’t seem to be quite sure how to respond to Jesus in the moment, asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  But they were looking for something, and Jesus knew it.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have followed after Jesus.

What are you looking for?  Jesus asked a great question here!  (And apparently didn’t even care that he ended a sentence with a preposition...)

It makes a big difference - what you and I are looking for.  Why?  Because, in my experience, we very often find what we are looking for!

If you are looking for someone to mess up or say the wrong thing, you will usually find evidence, so that you can say, “See!  This person can’t be trusted!”

If you looking for the good in someone, you will undoubtedly find it.

If you are looking for rejection, you will find that.

If you are looking for a mentor, you will find one.

If you are looking for things to complain about, you will find them, and if you are looking for things to be grateful for, you will find those.

If you are hiking and looking for the trail after you have lost it - think of late spring conditions in Colorado when the trail is covered with snow - in my experience, if you keep looking, you will eventually find it.

If you are looking for God to give you a new task and a new purpose, and you keep listening, God will give you your next assignment.

If you are looking for a God who is vindictive or absent or petty, you will find that God.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a God who is actively bringing about blessing and healing and positive transformation in the world, guess what?  You will find that God.

Someone has said, “What you focus on expands.”  Start focusing on the weather or on sports, and see how much you can focus on these things! Your perspective makes a HUGE difference in how you live your life.

 Pay attention to what you are looking for.  And if life seems sour or depressing, start looking for different things... or different people... or a different God!



How to Be a Better Human Being

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)

How to Be a Better Human Being

The challenge of “love your neighbor as yourself” always comes down to the how question:  HOW do I love my neighbor?  What does that love look like?  Jesus made it quite clear that his example was the standard. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34b)  Paul also weighs in on what that love should look like, in various parts of his letters.  From this section of Ephesians, we are advised:

- to speak the truth to our neighbors (see also Ephesians 4:16, about “speaking the truth in love”)
- to be angry but to not sin.  This implies that there are times when it is very appropriate to be angry, but it is what we do with our anger - how we express it - that counts.  Anger has an energy associated with it, and that energy can be mobilized to do productive things, like running for office, working to right injustices, etc.  On the other hand, we can just go around being angry... and that is of no use to anyone, especially the person holding on to anger.  So we also hear, “... do not let the sun go down on your anger...”
- that our honest work should lead to us sharing with the needy
- that our talk should build up - i.e., not tear down - so that our “words give grace to those who hear.”  In other words... our words matter!
- to not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”.  We will not grieve the Holy Spirit if we are regularly listening for God’s guidance, and responding to that guidance in a spirit of love and faithfulness.
- to put away certain attitudes and perspectives that destroy us and others:  bitterness... wrath (extreme anger/rage)... anger (presumably the destructive form of anger, contrasted with what is said about anger earlier)... wrangling (long, drawn-out disputes that are not productive)... slander (spoken lies about others that damage their reputation) ... and malice (the intention to do evil)
- to develop certain positive character traits, by practicing them: being kind, tenderhearted, forgiving (which all mirror traits of God/Jesus/Spirit)

Do you want to be transformed by God and be a better person in 2018?  Strive to grow in your ability to love - unconditionally.  And practice the good habits that Paul mentions above, while letting go of the destructive ones.

The world doesn’t need more people who are ridiculously “successful” financially, but who are of low character.  The world needs more people who practice love, who know how to use their anger in productive ways, who take time each day to listen for God’s guidance, who know how to build up others with their words, who have compassion and tender hearts for any and all people, plants, animals, minerals, and all of creation.  

The world needs more people who are really good at being followers of Christ.



“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”” (Revelation 2:1-7)

Comfort and Affliction

We are nearing the time in the Episcopal Church when we sing Christmas hymns.  Though you have been undoubtedly hearing them in many other venues, our church tries to observe Advent before we observe Christmas.  I know it can be challenging to start singing Christmas hymns when everyone else is about to stop singing them!  One of those Christmas hymns, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, has a familiar refrain:  “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!"

In the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received through an angel (Revelation 1:1), the second and third chapters deal with messages for the seven churches that are in Asia.  The first message - to the church in Ephesus - is quoted above.  Notice that while a message of “comfort and joy” is quite appropriate to celebrate our Savior’s birth, the churches in Asia - who were awaiting our Lord’s Second Coming (Second Advent) - received what we might call messages of comfort and challenge.  

The first part of the message to the church in Ephesus, for example, was an appreciation - referencing the work, toil, patient endurance, lack of toleration for evildoers, and the community’s “bearing up” for the sake of Christ.  The second part of the message begins “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) This was a reference to the community’s initial love for Christ.  They are challenged to repent - to turn around, to come back to their deep love of Christ - or face removal of their lampstand.  One thinks of Jesus’ reference in the Sermon on the Mount to the disciples being the light of the world, and letting their light shine before others in such a way that those others would give glory to the Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

I heard it said one time that the job of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  I confess that I am more comfortable preaching a message of comfort!  But there are times when we need to hear the challenging and even afflicting word of God - when we are indifferent to injustice, for example.  This raises two other questions:

First, how open are we to hearing feedback, whether it is positive or admonishing?  Second, how good are we at giving feedback in a loving manner - both in sharing our appreciations and in sharing our feedback that is more challenging to our brother or sister?  Both of these spiritual practices - giving and receiving feedback - are visible in the life and teachings of Jesus.

In the prophetic tradition, it was the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners - the weak and the marginalized - who tended to hear “good news” preached to them.  And it was the powerful, the favored, the wealthy, and the  most outwardly religious people who were most often called to repent.

And, as we see in the Revelation to John, sometimes people of faith heard both appreciation and admonition - at the same time.

As we work our way through Advent and move toward Christmas, what sort of word do you hear God speaking to you today?  A comforting word?  A challenging word?  Both?

Today, perhaps we can rejoice together in the fact that God loves us enough to both comfort and challenge us... depending on what is most needed for our ongoing transformation as disciples of Jesus.



“Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways.
 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”   (Psalm 128:1-2)

God and Happiness

I don’t believe a person can find happiness - any kind of real happiness - apart from God.

We tend to think that a lot of different scenarios will make us happy.  If I land the perfect job... if I have a certain income or a certain amount of money in the bank... if I obtain a certain amount of power and influence... if I find the perfect person to spend my life with... if I have great friends... I will be happy.  Interesting enough, with respect to the last two things that I just named, research shows that there is a very high correlation between satisfying personal relationships and happiness.  (Read The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking.)  These other things - our desire for wealth, fame, power - tend to leave us wanting when it comes to happiness.

God has designed us for relationship, for collaboration, for co-creativity... for union.  And the relationship and union that trumps all other relationships and unions is our relationship and union with God.  When that is in place... when that is “right” and good and flowing... then everything else tends to fall into place.  When we fear God - and understand this to mean a healthy honoring of God and a sense of awe when we are in the presence of God - then we also tend to learn of and walk in God’s ways.  In this relationship with God, we find out rather early on that God’s ways are about love, transformative connection, kindness, compassion, deep listening, forgiveness, non-violence, letting go of the False Self (ego), detaching from our perceived need to be right, and giving up our allegiance to the false kind of power that wants to dominate and/or harm others. This is what Jesus - God-in-the-flesh - models for us.  And, when we walk in the ways of God/Christ/Spirit, we “eat the fruit” of the labor of our hands (verse 1, above), and - voila! - things go well with us!  Oh, we will have trials, challenges, setbacks, illnesses, conflicts, and even - in the end - death.  But none of these have the last word.  None of these can take away from the joy and happiness that we experience from the reality of Emmanuel - God-with-us.

Not only are we never abandoned by God, but we are also beloved by God and deeply valued by God.  Our lives are given purpose as God gives us things to do - all under the banner of loving and serving others and all creation, in Jesus’ name.

The sure and certain thing you and I can do to cut ourselves off from happiness is to cut ourselves off from God - the One who made us and who calls us into love.  God will not cut God’s Triune self off from us, because God is always faithful and always loving.  But you and I can cut ourselves off from God, and go down many rabbit holes - none of which will lead us to any real or lasting happiness.

So... do you want to be happy?  Then start and end your quest with God - the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Seek God, walk in God’s ways, and you will be happy.  It shall go well with you.

That is the wisdom of the Psalmist today.  And that has also been my own experience.


A Thanksgiving Sermon

Touchstones of Thanksgiving and Gratitude

INTRODUCTION - God’s Blessings; Jo Jacobson

When I listen to the opening words of our first reading tonight - “The Lord your God is brining you into a good land, a land with flowing streams... of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing...” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9) - I come to a reality and a question.  The reality:  God is blessing us all the time! The question:  What it the good land that you’ve been brought into by the Lord, where you lack nothing?

As I think back on blessings in 2017 in my own life, I could point to many things.  But I want to give you one example.   About two years ago, a long-term member of St. Ambrose suffered a debilitating stroke.  This woman was a teacher and principal in Boulder Valley schools for many years, then retired and led various choirs around Boulder.  She played the piano in the lobby of Boulder Community Hospital and was one of our main pianists at St. Ambrose for many years.  I believe she knows thousands of hymns and songs from memory, and she plays beautifully.  Over the months that Jo was going through recovery at the Balfour Memory facility, I would visit Jo and ask her if she was playing the piano at all.  Once in a while, she would say, “I played for 20 minutes or so yesterday.”  Eventually she got well enough to return home, and the weekly meetings with Jo and her husband, Charlie, occurred at St. Ambrose.  One day during the summer I invited her to play the piano in the sanctuary, and she seemed eager to do so.  I kept opening our hymnbook to various familiar hymns and saying, “Can you play this?”  Jo was having trouble reading some of the notes.  Then I thought to myself, “What am I doing?  She can probably play most of the hymns in this hymnal from memory!”  So Charlie and I just started suggesting old hymns and classic American tunes, and Jo started playing them - just like that.  The song “The Rose” has gained a special place among those who worship at our early service.  This happened long before I came to St. Ambrose.  I suddenly thought of “The Rose”, the words of which are glued inside the back cover of our hymnals.  “What about ‘The Rose’,” I asked?  Jo started playing it, and Charlie and I began singing along.  “Jo,” I asked, “would you be willing to come up at the end of worship this Sunday, and play this?”  Her reply, “Yes, I would!”  And that is what happened.  I told the congregation during the announcements that we had a special treat in store.  Would they remain after the closing hymn?  We never got to the scheduled closing hymn that day.  Jo was so excited to play that she came up to the piano bench a bit early.  She played another song from memory while we finished up Communion.  I went over and talked to Jo and the scheduled pianist that day.  Would Jo allow Rosi to play the closing hymn?  Rosi said, “Peter, why doesn’t Jo just play ‘The Rose” right now?”  I knew Rosi was right.  So Jo played “The Rose”, we sang all the verses, and there were not very many dry eyes among us.  In my slow-mindedness, I said, “We will now have the closing hymn.”  And Rosi said, “I think we just had the closing hymn,” and I said, “Your’e right!  We did!”  The service ended with all sorts of people greeting Jo around the piano.  

God brought every one of us into a good land that day - a land where we lacked nothing.

Tonight we share in our annual Thanksgiving celebration, and I want to say a few things to you about thanksgiving and gratitude.

GRATITUDE - We must pause...

When I think of the practice of gratitude, there is clearly an element of pausing long enough to acknowledge the blessing that has happened.  We don’t always see it right in the moment, but if we are paying attention, God will bring it to mind - in the very same way that Samaritan leper did when he was on his way to show himself to the priests, an examination that the Levitical law required to determine if he was clean.  Jesus said to those ten lepers, in effect, “Go comply with the law.  God and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they were heading there, they were made clean.  One of them, when he saw what had happened - when he saw that he was healed - paused, and then turned back, praised God with a loud voice, laid down at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.

To be a person of gratitude, you must pause long enough to look back on your life and see what God has done, whether it was three hours ago or a week ago or over the past year, and acknowledge what has happened.  Yes, a huge part of prayer is to try to be present in the moment.  But the practice of gratitude involves giving thanks for things that have already happened.  This kind of prayer impacts our very health.  (More on that in a moment.)  And it is an expression of our faith in God.  Jesus says to the man, after he returns to give thanks, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  (Luke 7:19)


If giving thanks for the good things that happen to you is the middle school or high school work of faith, then giving thanks for everything that happens to you is perhaps the undergraduate or graduate level work.  I believe Paul means what he says when he writes to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (! Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Give thanks for the family member or co-worker who regularly pushes your buttons?  Yes.  Give thanks for the opportunity that God is giving you to learn new things about yourself.  

Give thanks for how our culture is so enamored with violence and greed and destructive forms of power?  Yes, for it gives us opportunities to share the counter-cultural gospel of Jesus Christ, as we learn to get up and speak out for the values that we believe in.  Give thanks for some scary health news or the loss of a loved one?  Well, we might have to dig a little deeper here.  Am I being given a wake-up call from God to think about how to live each day with intention and purpose?  Am I getting another opportunity to be thankful for the role this person had in my life, and for the precious gift of being loved and having had the opportunity to love?


Next, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that there is a connection between opportunities for giving and opportunities for giving thanks.  Paul says that as the Corinthians give generously to support the faithful who are in need in Jerusalem, their giving “will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)  In other words, the giver gives and the recipient gives thanks, and a whole cycle of giving and gratitude is put in motion.  Sometimes we are the giver.  Sometimes we are the recipient.  And through it all, God is being given the glory and praise and thanksgiving, as we remember that it is God through whom all blessings flow.


Here’s another thought for you on gratitude.  I have recently finished reading The Little Book of Hygge - spelled hygge and pronounced hooga.  It is a Danish word meaning something like the feeling that is created when there is coziness, connection between family members or friends, good food and drink, warmth, and good conversation.  Think about the feeling you get when you are sitting around the fireplace with the people who are most important to you, playing a board game or talking easily, drinking good coffee or tea or hot chocolate, and no one is rushed... and all is right with the world.  The author of this book, Meik Wiking, is the CEO of something called the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, and he writes this:

“... evidence-based studies show that practicing gratitude has an impact on happiness.  According to Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, people who feel grateful are not only happier than those who do not but [are] also more helpful and forgiving and less materialistic... People who wrote the gratitude journals reported feeling more positive emotions like alertness and enthusiasm, reported better sleep and fewer symptoms of disease, and were more mindful of situations where they could be helpful.” (The Little Book of Hygge, pp. 215-216)

So... whenever you pause to give thanks... you being here tonight, in fact, and giving thanks... these things are good for your health!  But probably you already knew that.


So, are you ready to continue the life-giving, health-improving, living-from-faith practice of gratitude?  If so, I have a suggested homework assignment for you for 2018.  Here it is:  Once a week, write a personal card or letter of appreciation/thanks/gratitude to someone.  Not an email, not a text - a card or a letter.  In this card, take time to pause and thank someone for a specific thing that they did or words of encouragement that they offered you, and tell them what it meant to you.

Do this once a week - every week next year.  Or you can start now and continue for a year, as part of your faith practice.  See what happens.  My hunch is this:  A year from now you will have grown in faith.  A year from now you will feel closer to God.  You will be a happier person.  You will have found a way to be resilient and a positive force of light and love and healing, even when all kinds of terrible and awful things keep happening in the world.


Thank you so much for being here tonight.  Let us now continue our worship of God, as we offer thanks and praise for all the ways that God has blessed us.  Yes, indeed - the Lord our God has brought us into a good land... a land where we lack nothing.



From Whom Do You Take Counsel?

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.
 O that my people would listen to me,
    that Israel would walk in my ways!
 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
    and turn my hand against their foes.”
         (Psalm 81:11-14)

From Whom Do You Take Counsel?

One of the consistent themes in the Old Testament is God’s frustration with the people of Israel for going after other gods - golden calves, even! - and not following the commandments that Yahweh gave them.  This is found in many places but summed up quite well in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way...”  We have ignored the Good Shepherd, and the implication is clear:  “Our own way” is not God’s way.  “Our own way”, when we mean a way that excludes God,  leads to us getting quite lost - physically, morally, spiritually, and in our relationships.  The fruit of this “own way” is usually exclusion of others, injustice toward others, violence, and destruction.  And the result for Israel when they forget about Yahweh and strike out on their own is predictable: some sort of exile.  Exile does not only mean a foreign power coming in, conquering Israel, and the people of God being separated from the Promised Land.  It does mean that, but it means more than that.  It also means the internal exile that occurs when individuals are separated from God and from one another.  This is what we might call the isolation of hell on earth.

Another message from Scripture is just as common:  God longs for the people of Israel to return to Yahweh.  Repent!  Come back!  Return home!  Listen to my Word - my counsel, my commandments - once again!

We hear this in the portion of Psalm 81, quoted above.  The verses reference Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, but they apply just as much to us today.  We don’t listen to God’s voice; we are unwilling to submit to God.  God gives us over to our “stubborn hearts” and lets us follow our own counsel, even when this counsel is woefully deficient and life-destroying.  And, all the while, God keeps calling, “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel [St. Ambrose or Peter or _________] would walk in my ways!” (Psalm 81:13)  God, like a loving parent, yet even more so - multiply by 1,000? - keeps calling us to listen... and to walk in God’s ways of love, gratitude, generosity, and justice.

From whom do you take counsel?  Are the people that you seek out for advice well-versed in the ways of God?  Are they seeking God’s guidance and direction for their own life?  Are they some of the most loving people that you have ever met? Are they striving to bring light, love, and healing to the world?  Are they seeking to do God’s will?  Are they merciful and pure in heart?  Are they folks who make peace and who hunger and thirst for righteousness? (see Matthew 5:6-9)  Are they folks who pray regularly, listen well, give thanks to God daily, and read Holy Scripture on a regular basis, so that they can know and practice the ways of Jesus?

God says through the Psalmist that if we listen to God’s voice and walk in God’s ways, then our enemies will be quickly subdued - by God!  So... what is your biggest enemy today?  Fear?  Contempt for others?  Contempt for yourself?  Anger?  Lack of confidence?  Lack of faith?  Seek God’s voice!  Walk in God’s ways, through the power of the Spirit.  And be on the lookout for God to subdue every enemy - quickly!

God is calling out to all of us - as beloved, sanctified children.  “Seek after me.  Listen to my voice.  Submit to me.  Step out in faith and do the things that I ask you to do.  Love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  Forgive your enemies.  Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with me, the Lord.  Be thankful in all circumstances.”

Let us forsake the path called “our own way”, and instead pursue God and God’s ways.  And then let us see what God has in store for us.  I know - because God is loving and faithful - that what God has in store for us will be good!


What Deeds of Power Are We Missing?

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:53-58)


It turns out that some of the people who were most skeptical of and offended by Jesus were the people with whom he had grown up - the people who knew him, his parents, his brothers, and his sisters.

“Hey, I was with Jesus in Hebrew School from first grade and all the way through high school, and now he is preaching in all the synagogues?  I don’t remember being that impressed with him or his family.  What gives?”  Or, as they put it, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?”  (see above)

It makes me wonder what healing, amazing teaching, or other “deeds of power” we miss because our hearts and minds and ears are not open, because we have assessed another person and found him or her to be not worthy of our time.  They are from the wrong part of the country or from the wrong country.  They are too soft-spoken, too loud, too pushy, not pushy enough, of the wrong race, of the wrong religion, dressed too poorly, dressed too richly, their hair is too long, their hair is too short, they went to the wrong school, they didn’t have enough schooling, they have a funny accent, their first language is not English, they are too young, they are too old, etc., etc., etc.

What opportunities for transformation and healing... what opportunities to be on the receiving end of deeds of power are we missing because the teacher/healer/sage does not meet our pre-established list of what traits they should have?  More than that, from what people do we tend to take offense, even when they are not giving offense?

After reading the story of Jesus and the people of Nazareth, I wonder about these kinds of things.

I leave you with three quotes which I believe are related to this reading:

“Suspicion will always find evidence for what it suspects.” (Richard Rohr)

“We cause as much pain by taking offense, as by giving it.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa - 4th century)


Seeing, Hearing, and Feeling the Presence of God

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)


Our senses and our intuition are key when it comes to perceiving the presence of God.  It doesn’t work to think your way into an encounter with God; it happens.  One experiences God, and the knowing that happens when God is present is a deep, intuitive knowing.  One might describe it as being overcome by God.

Jesus said to his disciples, after they asked why he taught in parables, “... blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (see above) It is also true that there were plenty of people around Jesus who did not recognize him as the long-awaited Messiah... as the Son of God.  He pointed to Isaiah 6 as a prophecy of those who would not perceive the presence of God.  “With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn - and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 10:14-15)

There is such things as eyes of faith and ears of faith.  Those who are on the lookout for God are the ones who encounter God.  Those who have an open heart, who are praying, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well” (Matthew 9:21).... those who turn aside to see why a bush is burning but not consumed (Exodus 3)... those who are willing to entertain a visit from an angel and say ‘yes” to the most preposterous plans for God to take on human form (Luke 1:26-38)... those who are willing to remove someone else’s roof on behalf of a paralyzed friend (Matthew 2:1-12)... those who are willing to respond, when told to put out into deeper water and let down their nets for a catch, even though they have fished all night and caught nothing. (Luke 5:1-11)  These are the ones who encounter the living God.

If you want to know if God is real, then you have to be willing to experience God.  And this may involve seeing in ways that you haven’t seen before, listening in ways that you have never listened before, and allowing your heart and your gut to feel things that you have not allowed them to feel before.

 And... if you open your heart in this way, God will reveal to you that you are God’s child - God’s beloved child.  And if you allow the truth of being a beloved child of God to sink in, then you will orient your life in an entirely new way.  And you will never be the same again.

You will be healed... transformed... saved... become more aware... no longer be the center of your own life. You will be one with God, one with others, one with the universe. (These are all different ways of saying the same thing.)

So, yes - the way you see, the way you hear, the way you feel, and whether or not you allow yourself to trust your intuition... these make a huge difference in whether or not you have an encounter with the living God... the risen Christ... the life-giving Spirit.

Open our eyes and our ears and our hearts, O Lord, that we might encounter your transforming love.


The Resurrection of the Dead Changes Eveything

“For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:53-58)

The Resurrection of the Dead Changes Everything

The resurrection of the dead changes everything.  For Paul’s reasoning on this, read all of 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul also addresses those who did not believe in the resurrection:  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) In other words, the resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.  Not just the life and teachings of Jesus.  Not just the crucifixion of Jesus.  These AND the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ... Messiah... Lord of all.

If you ever wonder if your proclamation of Christ and work on behalf of the kingdom of God is worth anything, don’t!  (That’s part of what Paul is saying here.)  “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Be steadfast.  Be resolute and unwavering in your faith in God, and in the Spirit - the power of God - which gives life and also gives new life to those who have died.

Be immovable.  Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  God has eternal life in mind for you.  So be immovable in your trust in God.

Excel in the “work of the Lord.”  That includes loving, forgiving, and serving.  It includes seeing and inviting in those who are on the margins of society.  That work includes healing.  It includes praying for all, including your enemies.  That includes proclaiming Christ and pointing to Christ, and giving glory and worship to God.  That includes listening for God’s words to you, and acting on what you hear.  The work includes resisting evil, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.  It includes being a faithful steward of all that you have been given.

Whenever you do this work, Paul says, your labor cannot be in vain.  For you are doing it “in the Lord”... by the power of the Spirit... “in Christ”.  And no matter what happens to you, at the end of your life... God is going to give you back your life again.  Your mortal body must put on immortality.  You will exchange your physical body for a resurrected body - thanks be to God, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

So do not grow weary in your labors done on behalf of the Lord.  The victory has been won already, so keep on going!  And remember, too, that Jesus is always just a breath away, ready to offer you rest - whenever you need it.  (See Matthew 11:28-30)  If you are weary not just in body and mind, but down to your very soul, too, then come to Jesus. For in him you will find rest for your soul.  (His words, not mine!)


Mature Thinking, Infused with Love

“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Mature Thinking, Infused with Love

This quote from Paul comes in the context of him talking about how some in theCorinthian community were using the gift of speaking in tongues in ways that did not benefit the community.  As Paul says in verse 17, “For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.”

And Paul is not talking about thinking or the intellect as the be-all or end-all.  No one could write the “love chapter” - 1 Corinthians 13 - which comes right before this, and conclude “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” and think that our thinking is the most important thing.  Paul is simply saying that we must be mature in our thinking.  We must think through our actions and discern if what we are doing and saying is contributing to the common good.

He also says that we should be “infants in evil.” (verse 20, above)  In other words, do as little harm as possible! What I extract from this for myself is this: “Peter, pay attention to your words... pay attention to your actions.  Are they loving?  Are they building up others?  Or are they violent in some way?  I.e., Are your actions and words damaging others or tearing others down?”

After his conversion to Christ, Paul spilled a good bit of ink writing about living “in Christ” and “in the Spirit”, and he reinforced this by talking about how we should honor and love each other, and how we are called to work for the common good.  Consider this line:  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)  These three chapters in 1 Corinthians - chapters 12-14 - are about spiritual gifts.  And the chapter about love is right in the middle of these chapters!  The Corinthians had been misusing the gifts that God had given them to exclude themselves from others, to separate themselves from others... and Paul was calling them on it!  They were not acting in love.

Our thinking, our speaking, our actions - if we are following Jesus - are to be infused with love.  I often see the effects of my speech and my actions.  Sometimes I miss the mark.  Sometime I do damage and hurt someone.  I am then called to apologize to the person I have hurt, and do whatever I need to do to be reconciled. (This includes asking God’s forgiveness, too.)  This is the way of Spirit.  This is the way of Christ.  This is part of our calling - to be mature in our thinking and in our actions.  

That maturity comes when we abide in Christ.  Sometimes I do not demonstrate Christian maturity. To quote Paul, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal... and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2b)

On the other hand, we always reclaim our something-ness... our beloved-ness in Christ... when we love.  No one who loves is a nothing or a nobody!

How's That Bible Reading Coming?

“Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.” - 2 Kings 23:1-3

How Is That Bible Reading Coming?

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (from “The Baptismal Covenant,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304)

“We call [the Holy Scriptures] the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.” (“The Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 853)

“Will you be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ?” (“The Examination,” The Ordination of a Priest, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 532)

We are encouraged and reminded as laity and as clergy - over and over - to read and study the Holy Scriptures.  This is one of the key spiritual practices expected of followers of Jesus.  Jesus studied and knew the Hebrew scriptures - our “Old Testament”.  We are reminded at every baptism to continue in the apostles’ teaching.  The apostles’ teaching has come to us through the Bible.  We believe that one of the best ways to encounter the LIving God - the Christ - is through the Word of God... Holy Scripture.

A young King Josiah was told that the “book of the law” had been found in the house of the Lord - the Temple - presumably after it had been missing for awhile.  When a man named Shaphan read it aloud to the king, Josiah tore his clothes - a sign of mourning and repentance. (2 Kings 22:8-11)  A little while later, King Josiah called all the inhabitants of Judah to the house of the Lord, and then read the book of the law to them, and then “made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.  All the people joined in the covenant.” (see verses 2-3 above)

The finding of this “book” - which was probably a scroll - let to the religious reforms that King Josiah became known for during his reign.  (Continue reading 2 Kings 23)

Without access to, knowledge of, and putting into spiritual practice the Word of the Lord, we have only many, many other words, voices, and opinions - many of which may not be grounded in God.  When President Lincoln said “A house divided against itself cannot stand” - in a speech at the Illinois State Capitol on June 16, 1858, when he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate - he was quoting Jesus (either Matthew 12:25 or Mark 3:25 - take your pick).  His listeners would have known that he was quoting from scripture - from Jesus’ own words.  (I wonder - today - if some Americans might hear those words and say, “Oh! That’s Lincoln!”, but not realize that the words originated with Jesus.)

The point is that the word of God leads us to Christ and leads us to life - to what Jesus called “eternal life”, to what Paul called “life in the Spirit”.  The Bible isn’t primarily an “answer book.”  It is designed to lead us into a whole new way of living and loving - grounded in God - with “Exhibit A” being the life and teaching of Jesus, who is revealed as God-in-the-flesh.

But none of these words make any sense, and this whole new way of life isn’t often known as an option available to us... unless we turn to the Bible, and read and study what is there.  Paul wrote to the Romans:  “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have not heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14)

There are all kinds of people proclaiming the faithfulness of God, the love of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit in the Bible.  Yes, one of the main ways that we hear this proclamation is to spend time reading the Bible, on a regular basis... as a spiritual practice.

So... how is your Bible reading coming?  If it has been awhile since you opened that Bible on your headboard, on your nightstand, or on a bookshelf, pick it up!  Where to begin, you might ask?  Well, the Episcopal Church has a Daily Office Lectionary - a guide for reading the Bible on a daily basis.  Pick up a copy of “Forward Day by Day” in the narthex (or find it online), find the daily readings and a short meditation for each day of the week, and spend a little time with those readings for the day.  Even if you just read one of the lessons for the day, my hunch is that you will begin finding new life.  You may also encounter the living Christ in a way that you haven’t in a while.  Not only that, you will probably hear something very different than you are hearing all the time online, on the radio, on TV, etc.

You and I have an opportunity - every single day - to read and hear the timeless Word of God.  Let’s take advantage of that opportunity!  Perhaps our doing so will lead to a major new reformation in our own land.


Forsaking the Easy Way

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Forsaking the Easy Way and Finding LIfe

I don’t know if it is possible that I could be more optimistic than Jesus - probably not!  In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t seem to think that many of us are going to enter through the narrow gate or walk the hard road that leads to life.  I think this “narrow gate” that Jesus is referring to is entered when we walk the path of love.  Perhaps he calls it a “hard road” because it is not easy to love... it is not easy to love God, love others, love our enemies, love the planet, or love the marginalized in the same way that we love ourselves.  On the other hand, I meet a lot of people who are very loving... who look beyond themselves and are committed to bringing light, love, and healing to the planet.

What I feel confident about is that - when things happen - you and I always have a choice about how we respond.

If someone gives me feedback, I can choose the wide gate of defensiveness and reactivity, or I can choose the narrow gate of openness to learning.

If I am feeling fearful, I can choose the wide gate of withdrawing into myself... and maybe even amassing more weapons, or I can choose the narrow gate of wondering what is really going on for me, and shifting my state - with God’s help - through a move like accepting, appreciating, or loving someone... perhaps even myself.

If I am feeling helpless about horrific events that happen - whether close by or far away - I can choose the wide gate of throwing up my hands and saying “Nothing can be done!” or I can choose the narrow gate of phoning or emailing my Congressperson, attending a prayer vigil, and discussing other actions I can take with my brothers and sisters of faith.

If I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I can choose the wide gate of complaining and finding someone to blame, or I can choose the narrow gate of being grateful to God for the beauty of creation, the roof over my head, the food I have to eat for breakfast, or a thousand other things.

In any given moment, you and I can make decisions that either enhance life for others (and ourselves), or do things that lead to destruction.

According to Jesus, one road is much easier than the other.  But the easy road is not the road that leads to life.

We are not perfect.  We mess up.  We do things that hurt others; we do things that are self-destructive.  And, whether we are walking toward the narrow gate or the wide gate,  Jesus is constantly whispering or shouting to us, “Choose life!  Choose life!  Choose life!”

How will you enter by the narrow gate today?

For all the ways that your bring love, light, healing, hope, and peace to the world, I say “Thank you!”  Much more importantly, whenever you do these things, God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  Enter into the joy - and life - of your Master.”


Prophetic Vision

"When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, “Alas, master! What shall we do?” He replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."
(2 Kings 6:15-17)


When we think of prophets, we often think about their hearing and their speaking.  Prophets are tuned in to the voice of God.  Then they speak what they hear - to the leader, to the people... to whomever God commands them to speak.  The little portion of scripture quoted above has to do with a time when the Aramean army came to a city called Dothan to seize Elisha.  In this little interaction, we are reminded that prophets also have excellent vision.  When Elisha’s servant woke up early in the morning, he saw the Aramean army all around the city.  But he didn’t see what Elisha saw.  Elisha saw the “horses and chariots of fire” that belonged to the Lord.  Elisha prayed that the Lord would open his servant’s eyes, and then the servant was able to see what Elisha saw.

Yes, true prophets tend to SEE the presence of God - much more clearly that the rest of us do.  The prophets see the presence of God because they are looking for it.  You and I, with practice, can improve our vision.

When someone walks away from a car crash or a plane crash, and there is no rational explanation - God has been present.

When a friend or relative goes back to the doctor, and the tumor is no longer there, and no one knows why... God has been present.

When someone forgives someone who has caused him/her great harm, God has been present.

When you step out in faith in following a dream, or in taking a new job, or in moving to a new place, or in paying for a class or a training when it doesn’t seem like you have the money to do so - and almost everyone around you thinks you are crazy - and things start unfolding for the good in a way that you cannot explain... God has been present.

When the oppressed, the weak, or the marginalized somehow triumph over incredible odds, and perhaps even help transform their oppressors (continue reading 2 Kings 6:18-23), God has been present.

Prophets see these kinds of things.  When you and I are not paying attention, or have our blinders on, we miss them.

Lord, open our eyes!  Help us to see your loving, saving presence in the world. And may we be transformed by what we see.  Amen.


Disasters: Opportunities for Love and Generosity

"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-22)


The disasters and conflicts that have made the headlines in recent weeks are shocking, saddening, and - if we are not careful - mind-numbing.  Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Irma.  Hurricane Maria.  Two earthquakes in Mexico - the most recent one occurring yesterday.  Fires in the Pacific Northwest and in Canada.  Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.  Another London subway bombing. Riots in St. Louis.  Ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan.  Undoubtedly I have forgotten to mention some of them in this quick recounting.  Different people have asked me, “Is this the end times?”  I don’t know the answer to that.  It does sound similar to what Jesus referenced when the disciples asked what would be the signs of his coming again and “the end of the age.”  (Matthew 24:3-8)

What I know for sure is that we are called to follow him into loving everyone, being agents of light and healing, and proclaiming the good news of the reign of God - now, more than ever. Peter and Andrew and James and John left their nets to learn how to “fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)  Fishing for people, as Jesus modeled it, had to do with seeing them, respecting them, listening to them, and offering love, healing and hope.

It seems to me that whenever disasters or crises or tragedies present themselves, we are being given new opportunities by God to love and to be generous.  Those who are more blessed in the moment - those whose houses are still standing, those who have not lost loved ones, those who have ample resources - are invited by God to share what they have.  This includes everything from praying to sending money to using our strong bodies to help others clean up and rebuild to standing in solidarity with those who have experienced injustice, oppression, and/or discrimination.

Two of these disasters have hit very close to home for me.  Hurricane Harvey flooded my father-in-law’s home in Spring, Texas.  He will not live in it again.  Fortunately, because of Orin’s resources and the resources of all those who love him and are helping him, he will be moving into a beautiful 2-bedroom apartment on October 1.  The island nation of Dominica, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1980’s, suffered incredible devastation from Hurricane Maria on Monday.  We are still waiting to hear news about the fate of the people there, and I feel very, very sad.

For every person I know who has been affected by these disasters, there are obviously thousands - even hundreds of thousands - that I have never met... who are going through similar losses, similar shock, similar emotions.  What I know is that - in Christ - I am connected to all of these people, known and unknown to me.  They are our brothers and sisters on planet Earth.  They are the ones Jesus is referencing when he sends us out to fish for people, when he sends us out to love and heal.

Is your life sufficiently blessed right now?  Do you have money, time, expertise, energy and other skills and resources that can be shared?  If so, God is calling you to go out into the world and fish for people, by making a connection with them... loving them... and offering whatever you can - out of your sufficiency, out of your abundance.

Yes, these disasters provide opportunities for us to be loving and generous.  In the midst of all the tragedy and heartache and loss and trauma, that is the silver lining.  This is what the reign of God looks like - people showing up in the worst of times and offering hugs, help, money, hope, and healing, and a message that “We are with you.  We are all in this together, and we are not going to be alright until that time that you are alright.”

“And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”  (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 366)


Listening to God, Priming the Pump

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  (1 Kings 17:8-16)


You know that advice you get on an airplane, “First put on your own oxygen mask, then assist your children with putting on their masks”?  Sometimes that is the right thing to do.  Take care of your own needs; then you will be ready to help others.  But that is not always the way to go.  That is not what Elijah said to the widow of Zarephath.  He didn’t say, “Feed yourself and your son.  Then feed me.”  No.  He said, in effect, “Make some cakes.  But first feed me.  Then make some cakes for you and your son.  Then watch and see what the Lord does to provide for all of us.”

The widow listened to Elijah, and it unfolded as Elijah predicted.  Elijah received his guidance by listening to God.  The widow also received guidance from God.  Hers just came to her through Elijah.

I think there are two little lessons for us in this story.

The first is that God is offering guidance to us all the time.  The issue is not whether God wants to guide us.  The issues are:  1) Are we listening for God’s word to us?  2) When we hear God’s guidance, our we willing to act on what we hear?  Sometimes we are not willing.  “Oh.  That can’t be what God wants me to do!”  Or, “I didn’t really hear God say that, did I?”

The second lesson might be called “priming the pump of generosity.”  Are we willing to acknowledge that God is calling us to be people who share from what we have - from our sufficiency, or even from our abundance?  Sometimes it seems to take a hurricane or a flood or a fire or an earthquake or an act of terrorism to make us acknowledge the needs of our fellow humans.  Why?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps that level of disaster makes us realize, “That could have been me.”  Perhaps we don’t see the needs that are all around us in “everyday” life.  Perhaps we need some big thing - it was a drought during the time of Elijah - to wake us up, so that we realize, “Hey!  These are not competing interests.  We’re all in this together.”

Many times God is calling us to get outside of ourselves and prime the pump with our giving.  Perhaps your giving prompts me to give, or vice versa.  And before you know it, a huge crowd of people are fed on what appeared to be only five loaves of bread and two fish.  (Mark 6:30-44) But someone or a couple of someones - perhaps even a boy (John 6:9) - got the whole giving phenomenon started.

Are we willing to be like the widow of Zarephath? Are we willing to be like the boy?  Are we willing to act on the God-nudges that we hear, and give to others first - even if it seems sort of crazy to do so?

Following the messages that we get from God is not always logical.  But our faithfulness just might save someone else’s life... and our own.


A Commitment to Bless

Our Hearts, Thoughts, and Tongues... and a Commitment to Bless

“With it [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?”      (James 3:9-11)

On a recent Sunday, we heard the lesson from Matthew where Jesus talked about the connection between our hearts and out mouths.  “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart...” (Matthew 15:18a)  There is a connection between our hearts, our thoughts, and our words.  James is concerned about our tongues, and especially about what we might call our lack of integrity.  With our tongues we bless the Lord and Father, and “with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9) - i.e., our fellow human beings.  James says that blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth.  (verse 10)

What if - for this week or for this month - we made a commitment to only bless?

When someone cuts you off in traffic or rides on your bumper, strive to say, “Whatever is going on for this person, Lord... bless him/her!”

If a new trial or challenge comes your way, say, “Thank you for this learning opportunity, Lord.  Now, I beg you... bless me with your strength!”

When you notice that you are being hard on yourself... that you are, in effect, cursing yourself, say, “Lord, forgive me.  Remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in your image and likeness.  Bless me with that knowledge.”

And when ordinary people or powerful leaders seem bent on violence and evil, pray in this way:  “Lord, I pray that you would convert the hearts of those who are bent on evil and destruction, and turn their hearts of stone into hearts of compassion.  And - while you are at it, Lord - convert my heart, too!”

If nothing else seems possible in the moment, perhaps we can blurt out, “O Lord, give me patience!”

Jesus and James are both teaching us that being an agent of blessing is the preferred path.

What if - for the next 7 or 30 or 365 days - we made a commitment to only bless?




“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (Psalm 90:12)

Yesterday I turned 60.  Today I began my 7th decade on this lovely and precious planet of ours.  It is giving me pause, this turning 60 - much more than turning 50 did. Last night at dinner a friend said she remembered Katie Hendricks saying that “our 60’s are very creative years.”  I like the sound of that!  I don’t feel 60 - whatever that means.  More than that, it doesn’t seem possible that I am 60.  It does feel like time is moving faster to me, the older that I become.  I’ve also been reminded again recently that life can end just like that... ! .... and so I want to make the most of my days.  I want to keep learning how to love, I want to pursue the things that I hear God calling me to pursue.  I want to be grateful for each day.

What I”d like to do in this moment is think back on each of the first six decades of my life, and offer some reflections and and some thanksgivings.  So here goes...

Ages 0-10:  Thankful that my parents decided to have one last child!  For being born in England and eventually having the perspective of being a citizen of the world.  For my parents and sisters, for my first school teachers, for Coach William in Little League (the best baseball coach I ever had), for my earliest experiences hiking, camping, swimming, fishing, going to the beach and body surfing, and going to Church - things I still enjoy to this day.

Ages 10-20:  More education, more good teachers - from Stiles Point Elementary (South Carolina) to First Colonial High School (Virginia) to the University of Colorado.  For the Congregational Church and then the Episcopal Church.  For driving across the country with my family (many times!) as we towed that Nimrod pop-up trailer, and all the birthdays I had in Colorado.  For climbing my first 14er, Longs Peak, at age 17. For the beginning of driving and dating and leaving home.

Ages 20-30:  For all the turns I took in trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be - from journalism (one semester) to environmental conversation (B.A) to law school to Peace Corps (teaching high school) to discernment for Holy Orders.  For being paid (very poorly!) to lead hikes for the YMCA of the Rockies.  For meeting Julia (greatest gift from God - ever!) and getting married just before I turned 30.  For growing in faith and realizing that I could indeed have a transformative and personal relationship with God, through Christ.  For the first time I ran in the Bolder Boulder. For climbing 14ers...

Ages 30-40:  Going to seminary and becoming parents to Zach and Hannah and starting my vocation as a priest.  Learning so much from being married... from being a dad... from being in therapy... from daily quiet time with God... from Bible study with others. Learning from parishioners at St. John Chysostom and St. Martha’s. Being with my father one last time, just before he died... when I was 38.  For being part of a clergy wellness group (still happening to this day). Colorado getting a Major League baseball team. Climbing more 14ers...

Ages 40-50:  More parenting, almost all of it delightful!  Coming to St. Ambrose.  Being in the room with my sisters when our mom took her last breath, when I was 44.  For a great 50th birthday, including a trip to Boston and Fenway Park with Zach to see the Red Sox play the Yankees (I wish Dad could have been there!).  Beginning to learn from Gay and Katie Hendricks.  Began writing weekly email meditations.  Climbing more 14ers...

Ages 50-60:  Seeing Zach and Hannah go off to college and graduate from college, and begin to find their path in the world.  Learning more - with others - about conscious loving and healthy relationships, and bringing these teachings, with Julia, to St. Ambrose. Four international mission trips with members of St. Ambrose. Learning so much from the parishioners and staff of St. Ambrose.  An amazing sabbatical in 2015, including pilgrimages to Peru, Hawaii, Scotland, and Italy. Zach getting engaged to Jordan Anderson. Slowing down in climbing 14ers, but backpacking the entire Colorado Trail over the summers of 2011-2013.  Somewhere during this decade, I preached my 1,000th sermon. I am grateful for attentive, encouraging listeners! Being part of an amazing learning group with Julia and eight other people over the past four years. Re-proposing to Julia after 25 years of marriage, then celebrating 30 years of marriage with her and our children and Jordan and Regina (Hannah’s friend) just a few weeks ago.

I don’t know what will transpire in the next 10 years.  I know that Zach and Jordan are getting married next June, and that they plan to launch their careers in Minnesota.  I know that Hannah is about to start her second year as an elementary school teacher, and that Julia and I still have plenty of dreams - individually and as a couple - to keep us excited about life for many years.

Thank you for the part you have played in teaching me, encouraging me, giving me feedback, telling me about the part of a sermon or a meditation that spoke to you.  Thank you for allowing me to come into your lives in different ways, whether that be through officiating at your wedding, baptizing your children, presiding at a loved one’s funeral, hearing your stories of how you have experienced God in your life, going with you on retreats or on mission trips, singing and praying with you on Sunday mornings, praying with you on other occasions, or as we shared a trail.

I am extremely grateful to God for having lived for 60 years, and I appreciate the part that you have played in my learning, my growth, my joy.  THANK YOU!

Who are some of the people you are grateful for.... what are some of the experiences for which you give thanks.... as you count your days?




Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.      (Psalm 100:1-3)

“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” This verse from Psalm 100 is one of a number of places in Holy Scripture where we are reminded that we all belong to God.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, members of any other faith, atheists, agnostics - we all belong to God.

Americans, Koreans, Mexicans, Iranians, Syrians, Israelis, Egyptians, the Sudanese, South Africans, the British, Indians, Pakistanis, Norwegians, Germans, the Japanese and Chinese, Russians, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Barbadians, Jamaicans, and every other nationality - we all belong to God.

Straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, questioning - we all belong to God.

Black, white, and people of any other skin color - we all belong to God.

None of us is better or “superior” because of our skin color, because of our religion, because of the country where we were born.  We are all the beloved of God.... at one point or another, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) ... there are plenty of times when we need to repent of our thoughts, words, and actions... we ALL stand in need of God’s grace.

There is no place for racism in the Church, for we are all one in God, one in Christ, one in the Spirit, and we - of all people - are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and love our enemies.

No one should be thought of as an enemy just because he or she is of a different race, has a different skin color, is of a different ethnic group, belongs to a different faith, or is a different gender or has a different sexual orientation from my own.  To think or act upon such beliefs would not be “Christian” behavior.  Before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus was very clear that we are to love one another as he loves us.  There are no exceptions when it comes to those who God is calling us to love. Love is the reason that we all have been put on this earth.

People of faith must speak out against racism and also be willing to take long and hard looks at ourselves.  To the extent that we participate in spreading any racial stereotypes, to the extent that we prejudge, attack or abuse others based on race, ethnicity, or skin color, we must repent.  And that means we must change our ways and ask God to transform our hearts, our minds, our souls... our very ways of thinking and being. All that is required for our transformation to occur is for us to be willing to cooperate with the purposes of God, for God is in the transformation business.

In THE BOOK OF JOY, both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk about recognizing the truth that we are all one humanity.  And both of these men have had many more reasons to be hateful of their fellow man than most of us.  But they don’t hate; they love. They have forgiven and continue to forgive... they wish good for their enemies.  They have developed what the Dalai Lama calls “warm-heartedness.”

Yes, the only race that God wants to love and save is the human race.

Let us follow in Jesus’ steps and participate in the only revolution that counts for anything - the revolution of love.  Let us pray for God’s daily infusion of grace, so that we all develop warm hearts.


Bucking the System, Finding LIfe


He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Richard Rohr says that when the phrase “the world” is used in the New Testament, it usually refers not to the planet or the universe, but to the dominant political and economic system.  We see this usage in the words from Jesus quoted above.  “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)  In other words, what will it profit you to gain all sorts of wealth and power, if you have no friends, never sit by an ocean or a mountain stream, are not generous with your time or money, never seek God, and have lost contact with your soul?

In contrast to “the world”, Jesus talks about the kingdom or the reign of God.

In the reign of God:

  • getting up early in the morning to pray, perhaps even while it is still dark outside, is highly valued.  If you can manage to do be quiet and seek God on a daily basis, well... Moses and Elijah and the angels are probably starting to talk about you!
  • being an instrument of God’s compassion and healing, especially when it comes to those who are down and out, is pretty much expected, as a fulfillment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • considering the lilies and the ravens and taking care of Mother Earth is of more value than trying to extract every last resource out of the ground.
  • face-to-face time with family and friends... eating around the table and reflecting together on what is really important in life... is more important than working 80 hours a week and never getting curious about the key principles that lie behind God’s gift of Sabbath.
  • being a peace-maker leads to you being called a child of God, and might just help us avoid nuclear war.
  • you forgiving someone is another way that God becomes incarnate.
  • speaking the truth - IN LOVE - is the call that we aspire to fulfill.
  • dying to ego... to the False Self... to the idea that you are the center of the universe... to the notion that you must be right, at all costs... is the identified path that we are being invited to take, as a way of rediscovering our essence, our true identity in Christ, and the new life that is founded in us being beloved children of God.

You will notice that joining in the reign of God leads us - almost inevitably - to bucking “the system.”  What?  I don’t necessarily need to work more hours or have a nicer car or a second home?  What? Making a decision that looks risky, or even silly or stupid, or following a dream that seems crazy to many people... responding to what you hear as Gods’ voice urging you on, may be more celebrated in heaven as an act of faithfulness than you building a safe nest egg and not ruffling anyone’s feathers?  What? Pulling your children out of school on Opening Day, or sharing a wheelbarrow with your neighbor rather than buying one for yourself - these might be good things?  What?  After reading the Old and New Testaments carefully, we might actually hear God saying, “Welcome more immigrants into your country, not less!”

Yes, the reign of God often looks very different from the ways of “the world.”

As you go through the rest of your week, ask yourself these questions:

What kind of life are you trying to “save”?

For what or for whom are you willing to die?

How does “the world” have a hold of you in a way that is keeping your from embracing the reign of God?

In what area of your life is God asking you to let go, die, or surrender, so that you may more fully live?

If you weren’t scared, and you fully believed that God was with you and for you, what would you do today?

Lord, help us to embrace You, and all that you are offering us.  Help us to be instruments of your love, joy, peace, light, and healing.  Help us to die to the ways of the world, and draw us ever closer to You, to our fellow human beings, and to all creation. Amen.