Real Worship


One of the most entertaining aspects of having a 4 year old daughter of a certain make and model is her regular use of binary statements – such as, ‘This is the best day ever!’ or ‘You are the most wonderfullest daddy in the world!’ While I have, more than once, found solace and joy in these compliments, I am often reminded that there is another side that comes out when she is angry or being punished: ‘You are the worst daddy in the world!’ or ‘I’m never going to talk to you ever again!’

While talk may be cheap, it is certainly on sale quiet regularly with preschool girls.

The fact is, cheap talk surrounds us – especially in churches. I am routinely reminded of the cut-rate value of my words when singing hymns I don’t like or praying prayers that are too long. Sure, I try to pay attention and mean them, but I don’t always do so.

This is why I think the best praise we give God doesn’t come from what we sing or say, but what we do.

I think God is most deeply praised by the things we do for others. I think the hymn of hard work so many in our congregation do for the South Oakland Shelter, Haiti Outreach Mission, and God’s Garden, just to name a few, is a fragrant offering of love to a God who is love.

As far as we know, Jesus lived a life of perfect praise to God. This Sunday we will hear the story of him feeding 5,000 people. In fact, stories of healing and aid abound in the Gospels compared to the number of times we hear of Jesus singing songs of praise. Jesus is offering his praise by doing the reconciling work of God.


If Jesus shows us that helping others is praise to God, how do you and I ‘Go and do likewise?’

The Tourist and the Traveler



It was GK Chesterton who famously said that a tourist sees what he has come to see but a traveler sees… what he sees.

This distinction is one of the key takeaways of my three months away from parish life and my beloved faith family at St. David’s. I am a quintessential tourist, having lists of things to accomplish, places to go, and people to meet. However when the first days of my sabbatical kicked in I found myself overcome by the repressed depression of some recent personal tragedies – and my to-do tourist list quickly went unattended – and lay on the counter for a very long time.

Most of us have experienced depression – dark nights of the soul – periods in which we were not ourselves. In its grips we are not only sad, but disheartened and lonely. If you’re like me you wonder where God is. And you wish, more than anything, for the clouds to pass.

However, I have come to discover that this is tourist behavior. Tourists are not interested in unpleasantness, they long for its end. They crave the destination. They speed to get to places. They long for arrival. They do not understand that God has much for us to see and learn not only in the pleasant, but in the unpleasant.

This is why it is better to be a traveler. Travelers are not in a hurry. Travelers live in the journey. Travelers know that they have already arrived. As a wise monk once said, ‘the goal is not to wash the dishes, but to be present in the washing of the dishes.’


In what ways are you a tourist? Or a traveler? How do you long to ‘get there’ - to speed your way out of the mundane, to finally ‘arrive?’ I think God calls us to live more authentically – more in line with the Creation we’ve been given and with the path that’s before us. In what ways might traveler behavior resonate with you? How might you savor the journey and not just the destination?

5 Things I Learned While Worshipping with the Mormons


Salt Lake City, UT - After an inspiring early Sunday morning march with Episcopal bishops and 1,000+ of their closest friends (Bishops against Gun Violence) it was time for church. Rather than be treated to yet another rich Episcopal Eucharistic celebration with our wonderful General Convention Family, I chose to take seriously this gathering’s call to mission. So I Googled and found, quite easily, the 9a Mormon Meeting at a ‘church’ nearby, (the Wilford Ward on Highland Avenue) and entered the sanctuary carrying a stone in each pocket, one called Humility the other, Curiosity. Here’s what I found inspiring and perhaps helpful to us Episcopalians who have come together to be sent out.

1. Liberate the Laity – Mormon ‘clergy’ are not only ‘regular’ folk, who are not formally trained at accredited seminaries, but appear to hold down secular jobs, are unpaid, and rotate regularly from leadership. During the 70-minute worship service the opening and closing prayers were led by lay people who walked up from the congregation and appeared to pray extemporaneously for the congregation. Ushers, preachers, and other participants engaged in a truly shared, ‘liturgy’ – aka work of the people. How might we re-think elements of our worship, usually reserved for paid clergy, to be shared with our wardens and other lay leaders?



2. Let the Children Lead – Not only were children ‘tolerated’ – they were noisy, squirmy, and abundant - but they distributed, in a very ritualistic manner, Communion (whole wheat Wonder Bread and water (!)), helped the ushers, and one was featured as the main speaker of the service (more on that later). How might Episcopalians re-think the presence and participation of children in our worship services as it relates to the roles we reserve for their elders?

3. It’s about Love and Connection – The message most repeated during the service was that God loves you. God is love. God loves you. Heavenly Father (their term) is gladdened by our own happiness. Families were routinely commended for their presence and participation. How might we include and communicate more clearly and often this central message of the Gospel – to remind people they are precious and loved?

4. It’s About Mission – The highlight of the service, and the activity which took the most time, was a 19-year-old’s tearful ‘testimony’ about his upcoming mission. He spoke about his apprehension about leaving family and friends as well as his fear of learning a new language (Japanese!) and communicating only by weekly letter to his beloved mother for the next two years. He was mature beyond his years and clearly connecting his theology with the daunting task ahead. His congregation had challenged him, and he was accepting the mantle with fear and trembling. How much and how well do we challenge our youth, and support them in their work?

5. Mission is about Converting You – Following the new missionary’s testimony, was an older gentleman’s sermon (maybe he was 28) in which he unpacked what the Mormon missionary endeavor was all about. ‘It’s clear that sending 19 year olds into the foreign mission field is probably not the most effective way Heavenly Father can go about mission. That’s why our mission trips are not about converting others, you probably won’t convert anyone; it’s about converting you, the missionary.’ Wow. How might mission be re-imagined through this lens - that conversion is mainly God’s business, God’s work through our hands?  How might we be more attentive to what God is up to in our lives – and how we are being converted in the process?



Episcopalians Taking Evangelism Seriously


In the hallowed and dusty library of flagrant transgressions of which churches can hang their heads in sadness and shame, the Episcopal Church stands particularly guilty of Jesus' admonition to let our light shine before others - inasmuch as we do an awfully good job of hiding our light under a bushel basket.

As a rector I have, not infrequently, heard our new members remark, 'Where have you been? I never knew the Episcopal Church was out there, and I'm so glad I found it.' Yes, there are people looking for us.

This summer, we have a terrific opportunity to change this - with a dynamic new plan to reach those who are looking for us via a well-organized, somewhat expensive, but brilliant idea that uses clever and honest marketing and advertising to help locate those who are searching for us and connecting them to a local parish.

Details are laid out on a website in hopes that those voting during the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City in June and July might find the funding to move this initiative forward. To read more about this, click here, and lobby those whom you know to seriously consider this. It's new, innovative (for us) and a really keen way to take the bushel basket off of the light of Christ our tradition has been blessed with bearing.

Why We Don't Trust Jesus


“God Really Doesn’t Like Me”

On the surface it’s an absurd statement that won’t get many ‘Amen’s.  But deep inside it lies at the heart of what keeps you and me from going deeper with God.

This Sunday you and I will hear the familiar story of Doubting Thomas, who appears three times in the Gospel of John - each time expressing skepticism and misgiving about Jesus and his plans.

Thomas shares his mistrust with you and me who, deep down, fear that if we trust God, God will lead us to places we don’t want to go.

We fear that God might have plans for us that wouldn’t be anything we would ever actually want or enjoy – things that will feel more like ‘duty’ than living life. So we can feel like we’re just tools in some, far off cosmic plan – not beloved humans whom God treasures and adores.

A key, then, to going deeper with God, is getting a more realistic picture of how much God actually loves us. When we see that God loves us, we are more apt to trust him with our future – knowing that he really does have our best interest at heart.


The more convinced we are that God loves us, the less we will doubt, the more we will trust, and the better off we will be – and the world that God adores.

This Changes Everything




A few years ago a guy in Texas won the Powerball lottery.

A trucker. An instant millionaire.

He’d bought the morning paper, took it home, and matched his ticket to the winning numbers while sitting at the kitchen table.

Where he stayed. All morning. Speechless. Thinking: ‘This changes everything.’

No aspect of his life would be unaffected. Work. Family. Friends. Home. Possessions: ‘This changes everything.’

Worries melted. No more mortgage, car leases, college loans. Possibilities emerged, Mom’s retirement center, a vacation home, kids’ braces, dream car, invitations to the Governor’s Ball: ‘This changes everything.’


On Sunday, you and I are invited into the very same euphoria. We will witness this among the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb – as we too will stare into the wonder and mystery of the resurrection. After all Easter is simply God’s assurance that we will never be alone, forgotten, or uncared for. Easter is the Almighty’s writ large statement that all things are possible through Christ. God can do it. Things will work out. We will be strengthened for our victories and comforted in our losses. Easter is better than any lottery win (after all, a somewhat substantial percentage of these folk eventually lose their money, marriages, and their souls as a result). For Easter is the day that God wins. Love wins. Humanity wins. Come to church, go to your quiet place, or simply sit at the kitchen table on Easter morning and let’s open our minds and delve into the supercharged notion that ‘this changes everything.’

Coping


Jesus didn’t run.
Jesus didn’t hide.
Jesus didn’t take a bong hit.

During the most traumatic, disruptive, and painful time of his life, Jesus prayed.

When you and I lose jobs, spouses, parents, and, God help us, children – we are always tempted to do a variation of one of these three things: run, hide, medicate.

What Jesus showed us in the Garden of Gethsemane, a story we will hear this Sunday, is that the best way to cope with our trauma and pain is to pray.

Jesus upbraided his disciples for sleeping not because he was against napping, but because he knows that the only way to cope with any time of trial is to pray.

How are you and I coping today? In what ways are we running, hiding, or medicating? How might we incorporate prayer, more fully, into our hour of need?

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Reading
Hopecasting – Oestreicher
From Here to Maturity - Bergler

Slow Church – Smith and Pattison

Voices


There’s a little voice inside your head that’s working hard to convince you not to change.

It uses vocabulary like ‘safety’ ‘comfort’ ‘protection’ and ‘calm.’  It will raise all kinds of objections at the prospect of an alternative route. Red flags will pop up whenever variation or amendment appear.

Certainly blanket acceptance of everything new is as unwise as close mindedness – the latter being much more common. This leaves the more appealing posture of reasoned consideration – how else do we filter change from necessary change? Unfortunately, this is rarely the first voice we hear nor the one we always heed.

A teacher named Ed Friedman warns us to listen very selectively to this voice. He argues that the biggest obstacle to societal progress is our unwillingness to define then to make necessary change. He has diagnosed a condition called ‘failure of nerve.’ It’s our repeated reluctance to make necessary changes. Instead we take the easy route, maintain the status quo, and avoid doing the difficult work of championing what’s right through uncomfortable consequences.

So - what’s the little voice inside your head saying?

What is the necessary change we are facing? In what ways might we be trying to resist, oppose, defy, or stand against it today? Have we thought through why this is happening? How might God be in it?
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Reading
Slow Church – Smith and Pattison
From Here to Maturity – Bergler
Called - Labberton


Going Astray


Like most Americans I like to eat – but I don’t like to get big.

That means I have to either eat less, or get bigger. I’ve decided to eat less. But in a world of abundant food, it’s hard to do. And it’s not just restaurants and friends’ homes – but almost everywhere. How many of us know that we can easily eat our daily, recommended number of calories just by wandering around Costco?

So I take some well-known advice and I try to drink a lot – even when I’m not thirsty, knowing that a large percentage of hunger pangs are attributed to thirst. This means I make sure that I’m around water a lot (also, the bathroom), because when I’m not I can find myself incredibly hungry, and subsequently eat more than my fill.

It’s the same with my spiritual life.

Like most Americans I want to be connected to God.

And I realize I live in a world of incredible distraction. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t feel overwhelmed by the number of great books, movies, and TV shows that I’m not watching, the number of projects at work I’m not doing, the number of hours with my children I’m not spending, much less the attention to the poor that I’m not paying.

So I take some well-known advice and try to keep a daily habit of time with God. During this time I center myself, reminding myself of who I am, what I’m supposed to be doing, how much God loves me, and how I can thank God with my life.

This Sunday Jesus will advise us ‘not to be led astray.’ He knows that there are things all around us trying to distract and overwhelm us. He has also equipped us with abilities to focus and center ourselves. What are we doing ‘not to be led astray?’ What habits are we cultivating? How are we controlling our attention? What might we do today to avoid the detours and stay on track?

Reaing
From Here to Maturity – Thomas Bergler
Called – Mark Labberton

Recess – Laurie Haller

Why Jesus Endures


Because you and I were created to love, we have a deep yearning for examples, for icons, for models and paradigms that can help us live more fully into our true selves – into love.

In the midst of our self-centeredness, hurriedness, anger (and frustration over our anger), we long for a way out. Deep down we want to be the people we know we can be – the people we were created to be – people of love.

This is why Jesus endures. This is why Christianity endures. This is why the Church endures. We are constantly seeking an out from the violence, poverty, and degradation, of which we are victims and perpetrators. This is why we look to the image nonpareil of a man who was able to live fully grounded, infused, and enveloped, in love.  This was our motive for getting baptized, confirmed, and belonging to a faith community. We yearn deeply for love to dominate our lives.

This is why we look to Jesus with the notion, ‘How might I be likewise? What might I do? How might I behave?’ And we see in Mark 10 we discover a secret: living a life of service.

Let’s face it, the pharaohs, emperors, kings, presidents, and industrialists of the ages have only spray painted their initials on the statues of Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the pantheon of those who did not set out to rule, reign, or enrich themselves – but to serve.

Deep down we know that making service the telos of our existence is our only shelter from the storm. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and any other ‘successful’ person of power who has discovered that real life is found not in acquiring but in dispensing, ultimately grounds their deepest worth not in what they brought in, but how they gave back.


A life of service does not start tomorrow. It starts today. Look around. Where’s the need? Who’s hurting? Who needs you? If the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, how can we do likewise? Our lives are our message to the world. Let’s make them inspiring.