Messages from Angels


If an angel appeared with a message from God just for you - what might it be? Here are some possibilities:

Dream bigger.
Push limits.
Press on.
Let go.
Relax.
It’s going to be alright.
Forgive yourself.
Don’t demand perfection.
Dance with your fear.
Think about the poor.
Obsess over others.
Ask yourself how well you’re living.

Don’t wait for an angel to hear from God. Listen to your heart. God’s got a message there.

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Reading
Pistis Sophia - GRS Mead
Mark - Morna Hooker
Sermons - Peter Gomes

Out of the Wilderness


When the dictionary defines wilderness as an, ‘inhospitable, uncivilized, and uncultivated region’ I can’t help but think about life in the 21st century. Inhospitable in the way we routinely lock doors and view strangers with suspicion. Uncivilized regarding the ways capital punishment, genocide, aggression, and violence are condoned. And uncultivated in the way all ranks of immaturity in entertainment, economics, and morality are promulgated.

So when John the Baptist declares his identity as, ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’ I can relate – I’m crying out in this wilderness too. 

And my cry is like yours - we long for a world that’s more hospitable, civil, and that lovingly cultivates the gifts that surround us. We sorely desire a safer, more welcoming, more peaceful world that celebrates the diversity of our gifts and supports the creativity with which we’ve been blessed.


Call us out of that wilderness, O Lord. Take us to that place of hospitality, civility, and maturity. Help us figure out what’s gotten between your voice and our ear. Re-instill a holy longing. Stir up our Spirits. And don’t just call us out of the wilderness help us transform it, so that everyone else who’s stuck in here with us might see what you’re really up to.

How to Get Rich


The road to riches begins when we want something we don’t have. If we stay focused and work hard we find we get it. But sooner or later our happiness wanes because we quickly become accustomed to what we’ve just acquired. Eventually we become bored so we seek something new to get or to do. Once more, we stay focused and work hard, and find it’s ours. Soon after, the boredom returns and the quest is renewed.

We do this again and again.


Making matters worse, we can find it harder to slow down and enjoy what we have because we’ve become too busy running after the next thing even though we will admit that we have more possessions and experiences than a lifetime of savoring can do justice to. This is how wealth becomes poverty. And yes, everybody does it.

The way to get rich and stay rich, then, is not about endless acquisition but regular savoring. Taking delight in the things we have, counting our blessings, appreciating, and taking real pleasure in the good fortune we’ve enjoyed – that’s where true wealth is found.

Which brings us to Advent.

This is the season that invites us to do this - to regular contemplation of the beauty and wealth that surrounds us. So take a moment. Breathe deep. Think of one thing in your life that absolutely delights you – not something you want, but something you already have. Sooner or later we discover how rich we already are.
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Reading
The One Thing – Gary Keller
Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow
Mark – Morna Hooker

The Anosognosia of Racism


I have a friend who suffers from a rare nerve disease that causes him to act quite peculiar in public.

He incessantly fidgets. He constantly twitches. He can’t get comfortable in a chair. Yes, it is life-shortening and those who know and love him have studied up on the disease, taken classes, and continually come around his wife and family. What makes matters worse is that my friend won’t admit there’s anything wrong with him. He’s convinced that his is a borderline case, and he’s on the other side of the border.  Doctors have diagnosed him with anosognosia – or a lack of awareness of one’s own condition. While his nerve disease may be uncommon, anosognosia is not – at least the idea of it.

Ferguson, Missouri has lifted a veil to reveal the anosognosia of racism in America – a lack of awareness of our own condition.

We can no longer feign its existence much less its enormity. Too many for too long have found contentment in the misguided notion that racial inequalities faded with the Civil Rights era, that a new generation would harbor new attitudes, and that a system upheld by laws would change once the laws did.

But Ferguson has forced us to see that none of this is true. The fact is that too many people are not familiar, nor sympathetic to the plight of blacks and other racial minorities in this country. Too many people take the quick road of condemnation and judgment over the slow road of conversation, understanding, compassion, and bridge-building. Too many Christians buy into the worldly philosophy of Ben Franklin – God helps those who help themselves – instead of the Gospel mandate – God helps those who need help.

And Ferguson has revealed that we all need help. I have never met anyone who admits they are a racist. Yet Ferguson has shown us how deep racism runs – which makes us wonder if no one is racist, how can there be racism?

This first Sunday of Advent we will hear St. Mark’s timely reminder to ‘stay alert’ to the things that are happening around us.  This means the things being stirred up in Ferguson. For we must assume that God wants to stir up something in each one of us as well.  This is a hinge moment of reflection on a problem for which everyone will admit exists but few will take responsibility.

To help us do this, the Episcopal Church, years ago, published a short document I have found helpful in getting my mind around this issue – I urge you to read it and reflect upon it. We’ll have copies of it available Sunday and you can read and download it yourself here:


http://www.dioceselongisland.org/cmsAdmin/uploads/awakening_pastoralletter.pdf

So, let us ‘stay alert and’ do our part - to prepare the way for the coming King.

Balancing Act


If the Christian life is a balancing act, is Jesus trying to steady us or tip us over?

He’s trying to do both.

Steady us because the storms are bad and frequent. Topple us over because there’s no way to grow without disruption.

And he is trying to do both of these at the same time – bumping us into discomfort zones – then gently pulling us back in due time.

Both are done out of love. Both are part of a bigger plan.

The life of faith calls us to make peace with this – and to ask these questions: What is our discomfort today? How are we being pushed off balance? What are we learning in that space? And how is God pulling us back?

Answering these questions not only helps us make sense of the randomness of life,
but it helps us see that we’re never alone on the wire – we walk with another who catches and tips - because that’s what love does.

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Reading
Luke – Morna Hooker
Fail – JR Briggs
Church Marketing 101 – Richard Reising
Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

Permission Slip


Who said you couldn’t do it?
You weren’t smart enough, cool enough, talented enough?
Probably voices that we either shouldn’t be listening to or we’re giving way too much credence.

Following Jesus is a permission slip.
It’s authorization to grab hold of the one and only life we’ll ever know.
Not letting this day, hour, or moment slip by without some awareness that we are the one person no one else can be.

It’s permission to go out and be someone.
Be someone who is unabashedly authentic.
Be someone who dances with fear - without denial or retreat.
Be someone who understands that God not only walks with us, but magically works through us.

Sunday’s gospel is a trumpet in a phone booth.
It’s announcing divine authorization to take a charge at life, to seize it, celebrate it, conquer it – to understand that we’ve got the permission to be that person.
Out with the malaise. Pitch the lackluster enthusiasm. Get off the couch. Take a run for the stars.


What’s that mean? Identifying our talents is easier than listing the things that keep us from developing them. What are the roadblocks that are keeping you and me from taking the risks before us? What are the hard things we’re avoiding? BTW – don’t view this as condemnation. Dump the guilt - it’s another roadblock. Don’t worry about forgiveness when you’ve got permission.


Reading
Being Christian - Rowan Williams
Church Marketing 101 - Richard Reising
Fail - J.R. Briggs 

Staying Awake


It’s been noted that one of the great tragedies regarding the way people have understood the Bible is that what they’ve seen done in the Bible must have been right ‘because it’s in the Bible.’ (Rowan Williams)

We’ve used this to justify all sorts of dastardly behavior from slavery to war and prejudice against gays, women, and minorities.

But perhaps a more helpful way to understand the Bible is as a collection of the various ways people have responded to God. It tells us how people in different cultures and different ages have tried to love, serve, worship and honor God - some we may judge as rather successful, others as having totally missed the mark.

In other words, when we read about Old Testament battles in which God condones genocide, this may be best understood as one way these ancient Israelites saw to interact and even honor God and not as tacit approval of this abhorrence.

So a helpful way to approach Scripture is to ask ‘what does God want me to learn from the way others have interacted with him?’  Or, ‘what is God telling me through this?’

This becomes helpful as we approach this weekend’s Gospel – in St. Matthew - a familiar but rather odd tale about 10 bridesmaids. It’s because there are obvious cultural and societal issues in this first century Jewish tale – though it has an apparent punch line: ‘Keep awake!’

This had clear application in Matthew’s context as a persecuted minority on the lookout for those out to harm Christians. But perhaps even moreso today, as you and I live through what may be the most distracting and exhausting age ever – Matthew’s advice to keep awake to the things that are important, alive to the things that matter, and aware of what Christ is up to in the world – has never been more appropriate.

What do we suppose was Matthew to keep awake to – and what are we to keeping awake to?

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Reading
Being Christian – Rowan Williams
Fail – JR Briggs

Simplify – Bill Hybels

How to Act Like a Saint


A friend of mine is watching his wife die.

She’s in her 50’s, spouse, mother, highly respected, beloved and in the last stages of cancer. While raised in religious homes neither of them have the gift of faith, both are going through this time, to use their words, ‘without God.’  This is to say, they find no comfort in the idea of God nor inclination to investigate it.  So they have given little thought to the presence of the divine or any possible way in which ‘God’ might help.

Maybe you know people like this.

I know many. And that’s why it’s really important to understand faith as a gift. Scripture alludes to this (Eph. 2:8) and Christians are at their best when we understand that the gift we have – of the knowledge of God’s presence and action in the world – is given to us not to flaunt or boast about, but to use to better our lives and those around us.

Christians have a long and scary history of judging those who do not have this gift – as if to say, ‘I inherited my uncle’s estate and you didn’t – na, na, na, na, na!’ After all, that’s what we did. We didn’t earn this warmth in our hearts, peace in our souls, or understanding of a framework of love upon which to build our lives. This was all gift, gift, gift.

So when we encounter those who tell us they are ‘without God’ our first response must be to cast all judgment aside – after all, ‘without God’ is where we are too, save the gift we’ve been given. Our best response is to come alongside those who are hurting, remembering that this is why God gave us the gift in the first place.

All Saints’ Sunday asks us to remember this gift and the many ways it has been made manifest in those who have gone before us. It is to praise God for God’s generosity. However, it is also for the grace God has in dealing with those who have not received this gift – those whom God created and loves but who might call themselves ‘far from God.’  As we know, judgment is not in our job description, compassion, grace, and love are. So in this holy season, who around us could use love, compassion, and a helping hand through adversity and trial? How do we use God’s gift to us of sainthood for the well-being of others? How do we act like a saint and love others as Christ has loved us?

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Reading
Simplify - Bill Hybels
Fail - JR Briggs
Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage - Marvin Wilson

"I am not a Bible person!"



‘I am not a Bible person!’ exclaimed the elegant and sophisticated woman sitting across the table from me during Coffee Hour, ‘I am an Episcopalian.’

Those around her laughed, not because of her accuracy, but her intention.

After all, the moniker ‘Bible person’ conjures up images of ill-educated, over-bearing and angry street preachers looking to harass and condemn. We think just because the ‘Bible person’ is louder – and can quote chapter and verse – they know the Bible better than the rest of us. That’s rarely the case. After all, whenever someone says, ‘The Bible says…’ they’re really saying, ‘My reading of the Bible says…’

The truth is if you’re an Episcopalian you are a Bible person.  First, it was from this tradition that the Bible was translated and promoted in English in the first place – including the invention of chapter and verse. Second, it was this tradition that published the most popular and influential version of the Bible in the world - the King James Version. And third, every Sunday morning, the average Episcopalian hears more of the Bible, and from more varied places in the Bible, than a very large number of the ‘bible’ churches out there.

Go ahead and keep your image of ‘Bible person’ – but please, please don’t shortchange what that means. At the heart of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition is a soul that yearns to have God’s words define us – to be inside us, on our hearts and in our minds – so that we might become more fully who we are and who we’re meant to be. You may not know chapter and verse, but you know more of the Bible than you think.

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Reading
Fail – J.R. Briggs
Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage – Marvin Wilson
The Bible

Traps


Ever been caught in one of these traps?

A loveless marriage?
A body that just won't cooperate?
A dead-end job?
A dysfunctional family?
An addictive behavior?
An undesirable economic situation?
An unhealthy habit?
A boring and dreary life?

Sometimes that trap is so strong it’s all we can see. The walls close in. We feel bound, limited, constrained and depressed.

Jesus knows all about traps. He spent much of his earthly life avoiding them. And even when he was caught, it was only for 3 days. I suspect Jesus was unable to be trapped because 1) he knew that any earthly trap was temporary, 2) he was content with what he had, and 3) he looked to God at all times.

What is the trap you’re in?

Can we begin to understand that it’s only temporary, that we can find some sort of peace in it, and can we look to God to bring us through it? Every trap offers the opportunity to be transformed. God doesn’t set traps, but God uses them to transform us more fully into the image and likeness of Jesus.