Be Not Afraid: Part 1

This past Sunday (11/19/17) at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, my parish here in DC, one of the members of our Preaching Guild provided the sermon. Before reading my post, I invite you first to read the lessons and then to watch and listen.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Proper 28, the Sunday closest to November 16 [and 2nd to last Sunday after Pentecost])

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Days of the Dead: Halloween/All Saints/All Souls

allsaints03Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
— Collect for the Feast of All Saints

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
— 
Collect for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed [a.ka. All Souls]

The above icon of All Saints is one of my favorites. It’s one that I actually have, a graduation gift from the Episcopal campus minister at Emory. It was also the icon I had brought with me to the hospital when I had some lung surgery in January 2001.

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Thoughts and Prayers? Prayers and Deeds

Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

David Becker/Getty Images

[For a more political take, see my post “Firearm Idolatry” at Political Wandering]

So much tragedy has happened over the last several weeks, especially the hurricanes and the pitiful response by the federal government to the growing disaster in Puerto Rico. (Let’s not forget about the U.S. Virgin Islands either.) Now we’ve got yet another mass shooting to deal with, this time in Las Vegas. If a bunch of kids being killed at Sandyhook didn’t get Congress moving on this issue, I don’t think even this will.

Aside from the horror of what’s happened, there are two things that I want to address. The first has to do with the opinion by some that talking about gun safety now only “politicizes” the tragedy and is inappropriate right now. I believe the British expression “load of bollocks” would be appropriate. After a natural disaster, we talk about how we could have done a better job minimizing the potential damage and how we can do a better job in recovery. After a terrorist attack, we talk about what wrong and how best to prevent another. Why should we then not talk about how to prevent (or at least minimize) future mass shootings? This is exactly the time for the discussion. If not now, when?

Second, after something like this, there’s the inevitable chorus of “thoughts and prayers.”  A lot is genuine. Some of it is an empty platitude given instead of anything substantive. There’s of course then the reaction of people saying that all of it’s empty and should be replaced by action. I’m all for prayer. I think there should be more of it. I’m also all for putting one’s faith into practice. While we might be saved through faith, faith without works is dead.

That being said, I do want to push back on those (including some Christians) saying that prayer is totally empty unless also accompanied by action. For a lot of people, prayer often consists of sending good thoughts and wishes for others or simply talking to God and asking Him for things. That’s part of prayer, yes; but prayer is much more than that. The way I see prayer is that it’s a way of strengthening connections both with God and with each other. It can be about praise, thanks, petition, confession, wonder, joy, lament, anger, despair. It’s about both talking and listening. We pray to God. We ask for the prayers of others. (I’d also include asking the saints in Heaven for their prayers.) For the Christian, prayer is not just something nice we do. It’s a fundamental part of who we are as the Body of Christ.

Image result for jesus healing icon

Ethiopian icon: Jesus heals the blind man

One of the first sermons I preached at St. Aidan’s, my field education parish in San Francisco, as on Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray with our voices, our ears, our hearts, and our minds; but I raised the question of how our actions can be prayer. In fact, what would it be like if everything we did, from our work or our service or anything else in our lives, became a form of prayer? What if we even approached our voting as a form a prayer? I’m not suggesting a melding of church and state. Instead, I’m asking how it might change our lives and others’ if our political actions reflected our calling to work toward justice and shalom in our world.

Continue to pray, but let your prayers be more than thoughts. Let them also be in the words you speak and in the acts you perform. Let them all be for God’s glory.

From Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

crossOn September 14, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, or Holy Cross Day, to commemorate the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the exposition of the True Cross, which had been found by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. Now I won’t go into whether or not she actually found the cross on which Jesus was crucified or whether all current pieces of it could build a large boat. Instead, the main importance of the feast today is the importance of the Cross as one of the central symbols of the Christian faith.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve sometimes overdone the Cross. At least in the sense of relishing a bit too much in the gore and in God’s wrath (such as in The Passion of the Christ, or as I sometimes call it, “Hamburger Jesus.”) Penal substitution might be a major theory of the Atonement, esp. in Reformed and evangelical Protestant circles, but historically, it’s not the only one (or even necessarily the best). I won’t go into all of it now, but I can in a future post.  Continue reading

Thankful for the many years

This past weekend I went down to Mississippi to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. YES, I know, 50 years! Who the heck stays married that long anymore? Unfortunately, all too few.  😦
They, however, did. 🙂

Anyway, it really was a pleasure to spend time with them and my brother and other family members I don’t get to see often. Saturday lunch was a nice bowl (err, two) of homemade gumbo, and that evening we had a wonderful dinner at Anjou. (Great restaurant. I highly recommend the shrimp linguine.) We ate. We talked. We laughed. We even sang. (See below for that one.) Continue reading

Evangelicals and Trump

President Donald Trump stands with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. in Lynchburg, Va. on May 13. (Steve Helber / AssociatedPress)

Early this morning, an op-ed was posted on the LA Times website titled “Under Trump, evangelicals show their true racist colors,” by Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Dartmouth College (and an Episcopal priest, btw).

Back in November, around 81% of white evangelicals who voted for President did so for Trump. While white evangelical support for Republican candidates has been sky-high for quite a while, there are a number of factors that make their support for Trump especially odd. Continue reading

“Unite the Right”? Absolutely Wrong

Image result for charlottesville rally I’m glad I didn’t have to preach yesterday. I’d have been working all week on a sermon only to redo it on Saturday. However, I can’t go without speaking to what happened in Charlottesville, and I will say it in no uncertain terms. White supremacy, anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, etc. have had a place in this country since the beginning. However, they have no place in where this country should be, no place in the ideals that make America great. Continue reading