Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The wonders of tomatoes and the end of August

Our friend Karen from Tennessee tells us that she keeps a quote in her kitchen from songwriter Guy Clark: “There’s only two things that money can’t buy— that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes.”

I would like to think that Jesus would have used homegrown tomatoes at the Last Supper, the first Eucharist, if he had any.

Here is a poem Karen sent the other day that is perhaps a fitting tribute to the end to August:
Cherry Tomatoes
By Anne Higgins

Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel ,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

University President Teresa Sullivan calls St. Paul's: "Beacon of Hope."

We had a huge Sunday at St. Paul's, celebrating our "Welcome Back" Convocation for the University of Virginia Community. More than 500 people filled our pews, many in academic regalia.

We were honored to have as our guest preacher Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University. She eloquently implored us to create a caring community, and she talked candidly about the challenges facing the University of Virginia community in the aftermath of the killing of undergraduate Yeardley Love last spring.

We will post her sermon later this week when we get a copy.

President Sullivan also took questions at forum following the 10 am service. She was asked a variety of questions ranging from how to dampen student drinking to the morale of staff members at the University. She also mentioned that St. Paul's is a "beacon of hope" to the community and world at large.

Here are a few photos from today, taken by Bonny Bronson. For a link to coverage by Channel 29, click HERE. For a link to the story by the Charlottesville Daily Progress, click HERE.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Welcoming back University students from a place of humility and prayer

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan is preaching today at our 10 am service. I will post her sermon when we get a copy.

I preached at the earlier 8 am service. The sermon is based on Sirach 10:12-18, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14.

Here is my sermon:

Welcoming back our students

No doubt you’ve noticed the buzz in the air around Charlottesville, and it’s not just the rental trucks lumbering down the street, driven by dads hauling their kids’ stuff back to school.
The students are definitely back, and the energy level here on the corner is up ten-fold. As I walk around town, I see a lot of young people and their families and they have a certain deer-in-the-headlights look.
I think I know a little of how they feel. I am beginning my third year here, and I am beginning to feel like a veteran.
Today is our official Welcome Back Sunday for the University of Virginia, and so I want to take a few moments this morning to reaffirm our historical mission to the University community.
I want to mention this morning a few simple things we can do as members of this parish to be a part of that mission regardless of our age or connection with UVA.
First, the students who come through these doors bring many gifts, and many questions.
Many, if not most, are away from home for the first time in their life. We need to welcome these students, as we welcome all new people. To be truly welcoming is to be open not just to their presence, but to their ideas, to their talents and their questions. They will change us, just as we will change them.
Students are not appendages to this parish, but central to the mission of this parish. They are why we are here.
The biblical lessons we hear today, I believe, compel us to begin with compassion for the sojourner – the stranger – because we are reminded that we, too, are sojourners in this life.
The students who come here are strangers, and yet, like us, they too are sojourners on a life-long pilgrimage. They may be at a different place on the road than most of us here this morning, but they are on the same road with us.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
This academic year, I hope we will go out of our way to show hospitality to our students in big ways and small.
We host a free dinner on Sunday evenings for students, and we need some of you to take a turn preparing and serving a meal.
These are more than just dinners, but truly opportunities for students, who are far from home, to spend an hour or two once a week having a meal with a “regular” family.
If you are interested in taking a turn, see me after this service.
I would also like us to take a few more steps to live into our historical mission. I am convinced this parish is located on this unique corner for a unique purpose.
We have the opportunity to not just comfort and nurture young students, but to instill in them values of generosity and selflessness that cut against the values of selfish materialism and careerism in the wider culture at large.
We hear loud-and-clear from Jesus today, who implores us to set aside our fears and embrace the lowest among us: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.”

There are many ways of instilling those values, and we begin by setting an example in our own life. The Letter writer to the Hebrews implores: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
St. Paul’s already has shown great courage and strength by sharing our wealth and talent in the community, for example by working on projects like PACEM that give winter shelter to the homeless, and IMPACT that has worked to provide dental care for the poor and translation services for immigrants caught in the legal system.
Let me suggest that our actions in the wider community are integrally connected to our mission to the University of Virginia, for it is by working in the community that we can be role models for the students and new people who come through our doors. When we share our lives generously, others will share theirs too.
Finally, let us not forget that doing is only half a faithful life. The other half – maybe more than half – comes in the humility of our prayer. Indeed, the lessons this morning have a common theme – humility.
This kind of humility comes only by emptying ourselves before God, by bringing the longings of our hearts and the holes of our souls to God in prayer. And then listening for the answers, for prayer is a life-long conversation.
There are many ways to pray, and we will explore some of those ways this fall in our adult education here at St. Paul’s.
It is my hope and prayer that we will be open to exploring not just the stillness of prayer, but also the restlessness that can also come through prayer.
Prayer can – and probably will – tug us in new directions, because we are sojourners – strangers – in this life.
At times, our prayer – like our life – may not look neat and tidy. We are, after all, not the ones in control. This is not our church – it belongs to God – and it is not our earth – it belongs to God – and we are the temporary stewards. Any control we think we have is but an illusion.
Our stewardship rests on the foundation our prayer, and our prayer rests on the foundation of our humility.
When our foundation is firm, our prayers will take wing, we will find that, indeed, we are entertaining angels. AMEN.

Friday, August 27, 2010

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan preaching this Sunday at St. Paul's

Welcome back Sunday for the University of Virginia

This Sunday, August 29 at 10:00 am

with guest preacher Dr. Teresa Sullivan,
new president of the University

followed by a Q & A forum in the church

This Sunday we will be holding our annual Convocation Sunday to welcome back and celebrate our deep connections to the University of Virginia. We are inviting faculty and staff, both current and emeritus to wear academic gowns. And we are very honored to have a very special guest preacher: Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new president of the University. After the service Dr. Sullivan will conduct a Q & A forum in the church.

Please come for this very special Sunday.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our Christian response to the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in New York

I've been asked by a few parishioners about the proposed Islamic Center near "Ground Zero" in New York. One parishioner asked me "What should the Christian response be?" I would like to share with you today the gist of my reply:

Our Christian response should always be guided by compassion, love and striving to understand "the other."

In Leviticus 19:33-34, we are admonished: “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land.”

On Sunday, we shall hear the Letter to the Hebrews 13:1-8: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels.”

We should never be guided by prejudice or election-year fear-mongering. Partisanship of any stripe should have no place in our response.

A few facts you should know: First, there is no mosque planned for Ground Zero. The proposal is for an Islamic Center several blocks away; it contains a prayer room. But there are already two mosques in the immediate vicinity, including a mosque a half-block away from the proposed center.

There are also churches in the vicinity, including our own St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel which is right there at Ground Zero and was used as a rest during the aftermath of the collapse of the towers. I think it would be a great gesture toward tolerance and peace to have all of the world's religions represented near the site of this great calamity.

Second, I think it is crucial that we as Christians understand there is no monolithic Islam, just as there is no monolithic Christianity. The Islamic Center is being proposed by Sufi Muslims who are mystical, peaceful and oppose the Islamic extremists at great risk to themselves. Why is it the media rarely mentions them? If we say we want to promote a moderate peaceful Islam, then we should be going out of our way to support this sect, not lumping them with Osma bin Laden. It would be the same as saying there is no difference between me and Jerry Fallwell.

Let me recommend this op-ed piece in The New York Times which goes into further detail about the sect that has proposed the center. To read it click HERE.

Also, The Right Rev. Mark S. Sisk, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New York yesterday called for a "civil, respectful discussion." To read his remarks, click HERE.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our Lady of Guadalupe and healing through art

As some of you may know, I am much taken by Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is huge in the spirituality of Mexico and Central America. I am especially smitten with the art of Guadalupe and have a small collection at home.

My own sense of this is that Guadalupe is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. But that is not what I am writing about today.

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul in San Diego has an extraordinary art program for troubled young women who paint self-portraits using the Guadalupe motif.

The paintings help bring healing to those who paint them. I want to applaud and highlight their amazing work. Episcopal News Service wrote about the San Diego program yesterday:

[Episcopal News Service] A huge step toward healing for Magdalena, a teen-aged victim of human trafficking, came through the Guadalupe Art Program, a ministry of the Cathedral of St. Paul in theDiocese of San Diego and the Rev. Mary Moreno Richardson.

When Magdalena (whose identity was withheld for her protection) was able to connect with Our Lady of Guadalupe, a central spiritual image in Latino culture, she was able to view herself as lovable and could begin to reclaim her life, said Richardson, the cathedral canon for Hispanic ministries.

"Through art, the girls use the image of Guadalupe as their model and paint themselves into her corona, placing themselves within her loving aura. In doing this, they regain the ability to see their own beauty again," said Richardson, whose bright yellow San Diego office overflows with self-portraits of young-women-as-Guadalupe, art supplies and musical instruments.

To read the full article, click HERE.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Churches come out against liquor proposal

I am bringing this item to your attention today not because I am in complete agreement, as indeed I am not. I bring this to you because I think it important for you to be informed as I am trying to inform myself.

Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, is proposing privatizing liquor stores which are now run by the state. I must say that I understand the governor's point. I don't think the government should be in the liquor business, and liquor stores ought to be highly regulated, zoned tightly, and heavily taxed. That said, the proposal is troubling for it appears to open up the possibility of a flood of liquor stores in the poorest neighborhoods of our state.

I also think a far bigger issue for us in Charlottesville is the easy availability of cheap beer for University students. I would like to see the governor and General Assembly tackle that problem, and do so with urgency. We've already heard reports of students in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning, and they just got here this week.

Meanwhile, the churches of Virginia have come out against the liquor store proposal. The churches have a lobbying arm in Richmond, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and this came from C. Douglas Smith, the director (in photo below), a few days ago:

doug smith
While travelling out of state recently, I found myself in an urban center where alcohol sales have been privatized. It was an ugly scene: corner stores selling liquor next to seedy bars; steel grates covering smokey windows lit only by the neon signs that beckoned people inside for cheap whiskey. The traffic was regular. Not far away a Salvation Army drop-in facility did its best to provide refuge for God's children afflicted with life's challenges -- abuse, mental illness, addiction -- and beset by struggle.

You have seen the newspapers and now know that there are those in state government who want to increase the number of liquor stores from around 300 to over 1000. While I am sure they are not interested in having our cities and towns turn into the kind of place I described, too often the unintended consequences of well meaning politicians become damaging and detrimental to families. If we truly believe that encouraging family values begins with valuing families we need to ensure communities are given every chance to thrive.

A few weeks back we reached out to you and asked what you thought about the Governor's plan to privatize ABC retail sales and increase the number of outlets. Your response was overwhelming: 80% of you said "No." Since then we have heard directly from a number of leaders in the faith community: from bishops, rabbis and imams. We seem to be all in agreement that the state should not be in the business of selling liquor at all. But we also seem to be in agreement that having the state control the sale of distilled spirits in a highly regulated way is far better than multiplying the number of retail locations by 100, 200, 300 percent or likely more.

Today we are making our position on the issue clear in our report, Off the Wagon: Why ABC Privatization is a Bad Idea. Virginia does not need to privatize liquor stores. We are releasing a policy paper clearly outlining how other states have failed to benefit from store expansions; connecting the dots on previous research that shows the social downside to privatizing liquor sales; and showing how ABC is a well-run, efficient, and reliable revenue generator for the state and provides funding for important programs that address substance abuse and mental health.

We don't need to turn every Sheets and Wawa gas station, every corner store, every roadside bodega into a cocktail motor-through. Our communities don't need it. Our state doesn't need it. And the risks are too great.
C. Douglas Smith
P.S.: To tell a friend about this issue and what we're doing about it, click here!
dividing line

We're organizing right now to make sure the voice of faithful Virginians is heard
on ABC Privatization.

Visit our action page to read our report and see how you can get involved right now!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Folks, once again it is time to lighten your burden with a smile or two at the beginning of the work week. Here are a few groaners from buddy Pat Hill, and a cartoon to remind you that it won't be hot and muggy for much longer. Enjoy your Monday...

* * *
A pastor was preaching an impassioned sermon on the evils of television. "It steals away precious time that could be better spent on other things," he said.

He advised the congregation to do what he and his family had done: "We put our TV away in the closet."

"That's right," his wife mumbled, "and it gets awfully crowded in there."
* * *
It was a blistering hot day and Adam and his two sons, Cain and Abel, were trudging across an expanse of burning, arid desert with their meagre supply of water slung in goatskins over their backs.

All at once, they came upon a lush, verdant oasis: a veritable Paradise filled with fruit trees and gorgeous flowers of every description. Wearily, they sat down to rest and to admire the lovely setting.

"Boys," sighed Adam to his two sons, "this is where your mother ate us out of house and home!"

* * *

A Sunday school teacher asked, "Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?"

"No," replied Johnny. "How could he, with just two worms?"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Up above my head, I hear music in the air

I am not preaching today. Please come hear The Rev. Nicholas Forti, our associate rector for young adult ministry, who will be preaching at all three services today -- 8 am, 10 am and 5:30 pm. We also will be serving dinner tonight to returning University students.

Here is a treat for your Sunday, offered up by Lori. This is a televised performance of Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), who was a pioneering singer in the 1930s-40s and whose music influenced gospel and rock. She was truly a cross-over artist, bringing popular music styles into the church, and gospel out of the church and into the world. Enjoy...

Friday, August 20, 2010

The sacredness of friendship, the blessings of compassion

On Saturday I will be preaching a homily at a memorial service for a young man, Jeremy Pinkerton, who was killed in an car accident last weekend. The service will be held at a Baptist Church which has graciously opened its doors to accommodate the large number of people expected to come.

Jeremy did not go to my church, and I never knew him. I just met his parents on Wednesday when they came to ask me to conduct this service for their son. They did not know me, but they came to my office because they were brought by close friends who are members of St. Paul's. I am honored to be a part of this for them, and I am honored their friends brought them to me.

This tragic event has me reflecting once again on the importance of friendship. Not just importance, but the sacredness of friendship. True friends are there with us in the joyful moments and the times of great pain. They know how we feel without asking. They are there for us, not with unsolicited advice but with their presence, their laughter, their tears. Friends are truly the reflection of God's boundless love, no-strings-attached. True friendship has no strings attached.

We don't do anywhere near enough in the Church to bless and honor friendships.

In this morning's Daily Office reading, from the Book of Job, three friends hear of Job's terrible suffering. His children have been killed in an inexplicable accident, and he is has a physically painful disease. The three friends -- Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite -- do the greatest thing they can do for Job. They show up:
"When the saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him in the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great."
-- Job 2:12-13
No one spoke a word. No one needed to. The friends lived with Job in his pain, and that was the greatest gift of friendship imaginable. Yet it is so hard to do. Later in the Book of Job, the friends start offering all sorts of trite advice and become a burden to Job. But for now they sit with him and suffer with him. That kind of friendship, I believe, comes only as a gift from God.

I came across this quote yesterday from Henri J.M. Nouwen that I think captures this well, and I share it with you:
"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it."
Maybe the best prayer we can say for our friends who are suffering is ask for the strength to set aside our need to control so that we can be there with our friends no matter how painful or awkward it becomes for us. And may each of us accept the blessings of our friends in our own times of joy and pain, for when we do we will be looking into the eyes of God.
A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Harper's Ferry: May the angels of the Lord camp around you

Earlier this week, Lori and I visited Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, a peaceful and beautiful place where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers join.

Harper's Ferry looks like it is out of one of those sublime 19th century landscape paintings, with rocky gorges, forests and rivers with smooth rocks and shimmery pools.

Yet it is also a place where great violence took place long ago.

You may recall from your American history books that it was here that John Brown, an ardent abolitionist, attempted to start a slave uprising in 1859.

Brown came to Harper's Ferry because it was where the federal government mass-produced rifles and other arms and kept them stored. Harper's Ferry was the first "military industrial complex," as a National Park Service sign explains.

What makes Harper's Ferry beautiful is also why it became a 19th century armament center -- the rivers powered wheels that turned the lathes that produced the guns. And so it was that John Brown wanted to seize the guns and distribute them among the slaves.

He and his band took control of Harper's Ferry for a few hours, but their control did not last long. Robert E. Lee, then still a federal officer, led a squad of Marines who captured Brown, killed several of his followers and re-took control of Harper's Ferry.

Brown was hung two weeks later, becoming a martyr to African American slaves of the South and abolitionists of the North. His aborted raid, however, sparked enormous fear among Southern politicians and plantation owners and helped fuel the already hot political drive toward succession, ultimately igniting the Civil War 18 months later.

The war was not kind to Harper's Ferry or to the people sheltered there. Escaped slaves by
thousand found refuge with the Union Army in Harper's Ferry. But in 1862, the Confederates took the town, and captured thousands of blacks, taking them into slavery.

The town was damaged badly, and the damage is still there to see. The original St. John's Episcopal Church was destroyed, and all that remains today are the stone outer walls (see photo above).

Harper's Ferry is a place of contrasts. It's violent history is inescapable. But the peacefulness of the rivers and mountains is also inescapable.

Today Harper's Ferry sits astride the Appalachian Trail, and we walked several of the footpaths in the area including along the old C&O Canal. Harper's Ferry now thrives on tourism, not gun manufacturing. We stayed in a nearby American Youth Hostel, and I highly recommend you read Lori's description of where we stayed by clicking HERE.

The rivers and surrounding mountains remain unspoiled, though there are many reminders of the unspeakable violence long ago and the industrial revolution that brought the town its prominence. Yet Harper's Ferry also exudes a certain serenity as if it has come to terms with its past and is waiting for the rest of us to catch up. New life is built atop the rubble.

St. John's Episcopal Church was
rebuilt in a wooden clapboard church about a mile from the old ruined church. St. John's has found a very special ministry as a station for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

A big water jug sits outside the church, and hikers are invited to refill their canteens and come inside to cool off.

The church wrote a prayer for hikers, putting it on cards to take with them. Here is the prayer, I rather like it:

Prayer for Appalacian Trail Hikers
May the angels of the Lord camp around you,
And may you commit your way to the Lord.

May you walk in integrity,
Sure as the feet of deer in high places

May you know in your heart
That all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.

May you be led beside still waters,
As well as along rocky paths.

May the Lord make your mountain stand strong,
And be your rock and your fortress.
May he strengthen your heart,
And teach you his paths.

May God be your salvation and glory,
And may you find water when you are thirsty.

May you finish your journey in peace,
And live in the habitation where his honor dwells.

The Rev. Georgia C. DuBose and the congregation of
St. John's Episcopal Church
898 Washington Street
Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
House of the AT Water Ministry
(Prayer phrases taken from the Psalms of David)

Photos by Lori Korleski Richardson

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hummingbirds and sharing

This came across the transom the other day from Barbara Crafton and her Geranium Farm website.

We have two hummingbird feeders at our place, and I know of what she speaks. Of course, she is writing about more than just hummingbirds...

By Barbara Crafton

There are three feeders out here, ladies.

I don't think they heard me. Or, more likely, they did hear me and are just tuning me out. Hummingbirds are territorial -- they'd rather fight about the feeders than drink from them. No, it's NOT enough that she stays away from my feeder. I want her out of my YARD! And so they dive-bomb each other without mercy every time one of them tries to feed, and in the end, nobody eats. Hummingbirds preparing for migration need to eat about 11,000 calories a day. These two had better come to terms soon, or they'll be spending the winter in New Jersey.

In appearance they are so unlike us -- so tiny that they'll sometimes come right up to us unafraid, if we're not moving, because they think we're trees, or maybe smallish continents. They can fly backwards -- we can't even fly forwards. They can put themselves in a state of suspended animation if it gets too cold for them. Many of them are irridescent, and hardly any of us are. They may be able to inherit memory from their parents -- some hummers are believed to have found fruitful feeding grounds which their mothers visited repeatedly but to which they themselves had never been.

But in one regard we are just alike: sharing is hard for the members of both species. Often we are willing to go without something we truly want and need, just for the pleasure of depriving someone else of it.

Something primitive in us fears that someone else's good fortune will come at our expense. It is a ancient thing, I guess, born of an ancient jungle reality that bears little resemblance to the reality we actually inhabit: Grab what you can, no matter whose it is. You don't know for sure that you'll have another chance at it. Such grasping is understandable if you're a Pakistani flood survivor and haven't eaten in a week, but it's less so if you're in Metuchen and could stand to lose twenty pounds. Surrounded by more than enough of everything, we nonetheless remain fearful about our hold on anything, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice everybody's longterm good, including our own, for the sake of short-term profit we can pocket right now.

Nowhere is our moral and practical blindness more visible than in the political realm, where short-term self-interest trumps anything remotely resembling truth so frequently that we have all trained ourselves to laugh at it when we see it. Every day we hear them repackaging themselves, repudiating their own past positions, striving to help us see that they never really said what we heard them say last month -- well, that is, they may have said it, but they didn't mean what we thought they meant. What they really meant was what we want to hear. Then they wonder why people hold them in such low esteem. Such transparent self-serving is in the paper every day, of course, but it is far from new -- among our possessions is an 18th/century engraving called "The Politician," in which the subject sits reading, so intent on his newspaper coverage that he fails to notice that the candle he holds is setting his own hat on fire.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Saints of Summer: A postscript of grace

You may have read my post on Saturday about the feast day of Jonathan Daniels. There is an amazing postscript of grace to the story, sent by my friend Carol Anne. Here it is:
Ruby Sales (born July 8, 1948 in Jemison, Alabama) is an African-American social activist. Growing up in Alabama during the tumultuous days of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, Sales participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. She was arrested for her actions, and released after six days.
While purchasing refreshments at a store in Hayneville, Alabama, her life was threatened by a shotgun-wielding construction worker, Tom Coleman. Sales' fellow marcher, white Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels, pushed her out of the way and took the bullet meant for her, dying instantly.
Sales was so traumatized by Daniels' shooting that she was unable to properly speak for the next seven months. Despite death threats made to her and her family, she resolved to testify at Tom Coleman's trial. He was acquitted by a jury of 12 white men, but the outcome of the trial led to reform of the segregated procedures that were used to pick juries in Alabama.
Sales went on to attend Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts where Daniels attended (now Episcopal Divinity School), and has worked as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. as well as founding an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels.
She joined others last Saturday in Selma to celebrate the life of Jonathan Daniels. She now heads the Spirit House Project, which you can read about by clicking HERE. To read more about Ruby Sales, click HERE.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Friends, it is Monday again, and it is still definitely the dog days of summer. But no matter how long your week may seem now, or whether it is headed for the dogs, it can only be helped by a few jokes. Here are a few howlers from our friend Pat Hill to get you started. Enjoy your Monday. . .
* * *
Our church organist was a grand old lady, but every Sunday she allowed her two dogs to accompany her to church. The congregation did not mind the dogs, but they were upset when the two dogs would howl through every high note from the organ.

Finally the congregation asked the minister to insist the organist leave her dogs at home. “Give me one week,” said the minister, “and then I'll tell you what I have decided to do.”

On the following Sunday the minister announced his decision. Fearing that the organist would leave if her dogs couldn't come to church, and that would have a devastating effect on the worship services, he said, “Friends, I have decided that it is better the dogs come to church than the church go to the dogs!”

* * *

A very anxious mother goes to see her priest for advice: “My little Johnny has taken off for Los Angeles. He got a job for $400 a month. But, tell me Father, do you think he can lead a Christian life in that city of
evil and perdition?”

“My dear lady,” says the priest, “on such a salary, I don't see how he can do otherwise.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A needle in the haystack of delight

Today I am taking a break from the pulpit. Ann Willms is back from her vacation and is preaching. For those interested in the lessons she is using today: Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Luke 12:49-56

Here is a poem by Mary Oliver, a gift from our friend Karen in Tennessee. Enjoy your Sunday, the day the Lord has made!
by Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Saints of Summer: Jonathan Daniels

Not all martyrs lived long ago. We celebrate the feast day of one them today, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who was killed in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 while working for equal rights in the Civil Rights Movement.

Daniels was a young Episcopal seminarian at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Mass., when like many other young people of his time, he answered the call from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to go to the South to join a march in Selma.

Daniels stayed on after the march, working to integrate the local Episcopal Church, and developing resources for those needing assistance in the African American community.

In August 1965, was arrested in a picket line in front of local businesses. After his release from jail, he and the others were confronted by a man with a shot gun, who told them they would be shot if they didn't leave. The man pointed the shot gun at an African American child who was with Daniels. When Daniels pushed the girl out of the way he was shot and killed.

We do well to remember Jonathan Daniels and those who sacrificed so much to bring equal rights closer to reality. And we do well to remember the struggle is never ended.

Before going to Selma, Daniels wrote this:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. "He hath showed strength with his arm." As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled "moment" that would, in retrospect, remind me of others--particularly one at Easter three years ago. Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead."

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Saints of Summer: Jeremy Taylor, Anglican Divine

Today is the feast day of one of my personal favorites on the Anglican calendar of saints: Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), one of the Caroline Divines. Taylor is chiefly known for his masterful work, The Rules and Exercise of Holy Living (1650) which has never gone out of print.

I've mentioned him in this space on other occasions, and I continue to return to his works and wisdom on everything from church politics to prayer. Above all he strived to be practical; theological theory was meaningless to Taylor if he could not touch it, test it, live with it in the real world. Here is a gem from Holy Living:
“Let everything you see represent to your spirit the presence, the excellency, and the power of God; and let your conversation with the creatures lead you unto the Creator; for so shall your actions be done more frequently, with an actual eye to God’s presence, by your often seeing him in the glass of the creation.

In the face of the sun you may see God’s beauty; in the fire you may feel his heat warming; in the water, his gentleness to refresh you: he it is that comforts your spirit when you have taken cordials; it is the dew of heaven that makes your field give you bread; and the breasts of God are the bottles that minister drink to your necessities.”
Taylor should be known for much more, including his Liberty of Prophesying (1647) a book calling for an end to government-backed coercion in support of religion, an idea that would not take root for another century in the Enlightenment.

In his day, Taylor was known as a great preacher and a masterful crafter of prose, including this from a sermon given in 1653:
Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts, it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness.
Taylor profoundly influenced his own generation and those who came after him, including Thomas Jefferson who said every educated person should have Taylor on the bookshelf. Many of Taylor's quotes can be found in 19th century "books of days," the forerunner to the contemporary "Forward Day by Day." Taylor's story is worth telling.

Taylor was born and educated in Cambridge, the fourth of six children; eventually coming to the attention of Archbishop William Laud who heard him preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Taylor became the protégé of Laud, who secured for him a teaching post at All Souls College, Oxford, in 1635. Taylor was also appointed chaplain to King Charles I. Taylor was on the ecclesiastical fast-track, and seemed destined to become a bishop, perhaps even Archbishop of Canterbury.

Life intervened.

In 1640, Charles I overplayed his hand with the Puritans in Parliament, and civil war erupted between the armies of Parliament and the Royalists. England was ravaged. In 1642, the king was captured along with his chaplain, Taylor. Charles I was beheaded and as he went to the gallows, he gave his ring to Taylor, who was allowed to go into exile in Wales in 1645.

In Wales, Taylor wrote prolifically, taking an attitude that both sides were profoundly wrong and sinful. He took Anglican theological theory and applied it to real life as he experienced it. In his most popular book, Holy Living, Taylor explained a way of practicing a “holy life” in ordinary walks of life. He lived at a time when prayer books were banned, churches burned, and people felt adrift and worse. How could they worship God – be present with God – if not in a church? Taylor explained how, and it made him one of the most popular and oft-printed religious authors well into the early 20th century.

For Taylor, God was everywhere. Contemporary authors have re-discovered that theme, but few have crafted language as soaring as Taylor's:
“So that we imagine God to be as the air and the sea; and we all enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature, or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our being.”
When Taylor's wife died, he wrote a companion volume to Holy Living, called Holy Dying. It was truly an ode to his wife, and his own way of struggling through his grief. Edmund Gosse, who wrote a biography of Taylor in 1903 that is still quite readable, considers Holy Dying Taylor's most overlooked masterpiece (the engraving at right is an inset on the cover page to Holy Dying; note the skeleton in the mirror). It is a sad book, and a hard read, but within in the book is hope for new life to come.

Eventually, the monarchy was restored. Taylor was made a bishop, but in Northern Ireland (perhaps because the Royalists did not fully trust him). Truthfully, he had a miserable time as a bishop, fought endlessly with the Irish priests, and longed for a return to England that never came.

In Ireland, he began writing yet another long set of works, including a treatise on how bishops have a role in the church only as long as they are promoting ministry. He also developed his own doctrine of "just war" that was stricter than the prevalent doctrine handed down from the Catholic era in Britain. Perhaps we would do well in our day to take a few pages from Taylor.

He outlived most of his children, and died in 1667. From Holy Dying: "When we descend to our graves, we may rest in the bosom of our Lord, till the mansions be prepared where we are shall sing and feast eternally."

May you have a blessed feast day of Jeremy Taylor.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan to preach at St. Paul's

The new academic year draws near, and we at St. Paul's Memorial Church will proudly welcome back the University of Virginia community with a very special "Convocation Sunday" on August 29 at our 10 am service.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that our guest preacher will be Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new president of the University and the first woman to serve in this position.

As exciting as a new year is, there is still a lingering sadness here in Charlottesville over the murder of 4th year student Yeardley Love last spring allegedly at the hands of another student. We will be hosting a special interfaith prayer service on Sept. 22 at 5:30 pm, and I hope you will join us. We've entitled the service "Rekindling Our Light."

Also, I commend to a note from President Sullivan addressed to the entire University community that I received Wednesday evening:
To members of the University community:

After the news of Yeardley Love's death reached me in Ann Arbor last May, I began to think ahead to joining the University of Virginia community and about what we as a community could learn from this horrific event and how we might begin to identify the characteristics of a caring community, one whose members recognize their mutual responsibility for each other.

With the start of the new academic year, it is important to continue the conversation that began in the wake of Yeardley's death. It is my hope that a full day of open and vigorous discussion about violence, violence prevention, and best practices for campus safety will bring us together in new ways so that each of us can feel safe to participate fully in the life of the University.

To that end, a Day of Dialogue has been scheduled for Friday, Sept. 24. There will be several plenary sessions with keynote speakers as well as a number of thought-provoking concurrent sessions.

Our goal is to develop interdisciplinary relationships that will serve as the foundation for the caring community we seek to create.

I encourage all members of our community -- students, staff and faculty -- to mark your calendars and plan to join me for what should be ground-breaking discussions.

Teresa A. Sullivan

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Saints of Summer: Clare of Assisi

This week is heavy with saint days. Yesterday was St. Laurence, archdeacon of the Church martyred in 257.

Today is the Feast day of St. Clare of Assisi, founder of the "Poor Clares" and known for her spiritual companionship with St. Francis of Assisi. She is one of my favorites.

Here is a short bio from the web for your consideration today:

Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi, 12 miles outside of Perugia, as the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Ortolana was a very devout woman who had undertaken pilgrimages to Rome, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land. Later on in her life, Ortolana entered Clare's monastery.

On March 20, 1212, Clare's parents had decided she would marry a wealthy young man. In desperation Clare escaped her home and sought refuge with St. Francis, who received her into religious life.

Clare lived for a brief period in a nearby Benedictine monastery of nuns, San Paolo delle Abadesse, and then again for a short period at a house of female penitents, Sant'Angelo in Panza on Monte Subasio.

Clare and Agnes soon moved to the church of San Damiano, which Francis himself had rebuilt. Other women joined them there, and San Damiano became known for its radically austere lifestyle. The women were at first known as the "Poor Ladies."

San Damiano became the focal point for Clare's new religious order, which was known in her lifetime as the "Order of San Damiano." San Damiano was long thought to be the first house of this order, however, recent scholarship strongly suggests that San Damiano actually joined an existing network of women's religious houses organized by Hugolino (who later became Pope Gregory IX). Hugolino wanted San Damiano as part of the order he founded because of the prestige of Clare's monastery.

San Damiano emerged as the most important house in the order, and Clare became its undisputed leader. By 1263, just ten years after Clare's death, the order became known as the Order of Saint Clare.

Unlike the Franciscan friars, whose members moved around the country to preach, Saint Clare's sisters lived in enclosure, since an itinerant life was hardly conceivable at the time for women. Their life consisted of manual labour and prayer.

For a short period of time the order was directed by Francis himself. Then in 1216, Clare accepted the role of abbess of San Damiano. As abbess, Clare had more authority to lead the order than when she was the prioress, who had to follow the orders of a priest heading the community. Clare defended her order from the attempts of prelates to impose a rule on them that more closely resembled the Rule of St Benedict than Francis' stricter vows. Clare sought to imitate Francis' virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes titled alter Franciscus, another Francis. She also played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure, and she took care of him during his illnesses at the end of his life, until his death in 1226.

After Francis's death, Clare continued to promote the growth of her order, writing letters to abbesses in other parts of Europe and thwarting every attempt by each successive pope to impose a Rule on her order which watered down the radical commitment to corporate poverty she had originally embraced. She did this despite the fact that she had endured a long period of poor health until her death. Clare's Franciscan theology of joyous poverty in imitation of Christ is evident in the Rule she wrote for her community and in her four letters to Agnes of Prague.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

God's infinite creation

The planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home...

Last weekend, Lori and I went for a little urban adventure in Washington DC. We visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum but skipped all the airplanes. We went to see Beyond: Visions of Our Solar System, an exhibit of spectacular photographs of the planets and moons of our solar system taken in space by NASA astronauts and spacecraft. The photographs have been blown up and put in art frames.

The exhibit took my breath away.

Someone asked me if I had seen the "face of God." No, not really. But these stunning photographs were a enormous reminder to me of how endlessly beautiful God's creation is, and how only an infinitesimally tiny segment of God's creation can be seen and experienced on earth.

The canyons and mountains of Mars are deeper and grander than any on earth. The moons and rings of Saturn are as gorgeous as any rainbow on a summer day. Jupiter is so huge and spins so fast my mind can barely comprehend it. The texture of the moon Europa is better than a Jackson Pollock painting.

This exhibit was also a reminder to me of how small our earth is. The problems of our planet are, in the scheme of the universe, not so big. We ought to be able to solve our ills because our ills really aren't that large.

And we get this gorgeous, beautiful planet, with rich hues of blue and green.

Here are a few photos from NASA. To see a slide show of the photos from the exhibit, click HERE.

And here are a few prayerful words from Eucharistic Prayer C:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Our buddy Pat Hill sent along some new jokes, and I haven't heard these before. Pat must have a new joke supplier.

And here is another cartoon to kick-start your day. Enjoy your Monday. . .

* * *
The pastor was talking to a Vacation Bible School class of children about being good and going to heaven. At the end of his talk, he asked, "Where do you want to go?"

"Heaven!" they all piped up.

"And what do you have to be to get there?"

* * *
A nervous young minister, new to the church, told the flock, "For my text today, I will take the words, 'And they fed five men with five thousand loaves of bread and two thousand fishes.' "

A member of the flock raised his hand and said, "That's not much of a trick. I could do that."

The minister didn't respond. However, the next Sunday he decided to repeat the text. This time he did it properly, "And they fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fishes." Smiling, the minister said to the noisy man, "Could you do that, Mr. Perkins?"

The member of the flock said, "I sure could."

"How would you do it?"

"With all the food I had left over from last Sunday!"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where do you want your heart to be?

Today's sermon is based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40.

Where do you want your heart to be?
Take your time answering.
Where do you want your heart to be? Do you notice something in how Jesus puts this in the Gospel lesson today? Jesus does NOT say put your treasure where your heart is.
That would be too easy.
Instead, Jesus puts it the other way around: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
First put your treasure where you want your heart to go, and then your heart will follow.
Implicit in his statement is a call for a change of heart. Jesus nudges us to widen our heart. If you want your heart to be somewhere bigger, put your most cherished treasure there. Your heart will follow.
Where do you want your heart to be?
That, I would suggest, is the most important question facing all of us as fellow pilgrims sailing across the oceans and eddies of life.

Most of us, I would venture, have our heart in many places – with family and friends, with children or parents, and with people who are far away or gone from this life.
Maybe your heart is in your home, or in a job, or in something you really enjoy like a fine meal. Most of us have our hearts in good places.
But if you are like me, you might feel your heart sometimes divided between many places and many people. That can bring tension and even conflict.
Where do you want your heart to be? What is getting in the way? Where do you really want your heart to be? Put your treasure there.
And that begs another question: What is my treasure?
It is many things – it is your time and your talent and the fruit of your labor: your money and your possessions. Your treasure is the sum total of your life. Show me where you are putting your life, and I will know where your heart lives.
And that means how you spend your time is not just an issue of your calendar; it is a spiritual issue. What you do with your talent isn’t just a career issue; it is a spiritual issue. How you spend your money isn’t just a financial issue; it is a spiritual issue.
Let put this another way:
Think of your life as a prayer. What is it that you pray by the way you lead your life? Think of prayer as everything you say, everything you do, every dime you spend, every moment of your life. What is it that you pray by how you lead your life?

We often think of prayer as a special time set aside for reflection, meditation and worship on Sunday. And yes, our gathering on Sunday is the bedrock of our spiritual community.
But if we detach what we do on Sunday from the rest of our week, then our prayer on Sunday is really very meager.
All of us come here as individuals, uniquely loved by God for the person you are right now, and who you are in the act of becoming.
Yet we are also more than the sum our Sunday attendance. We gather as the people of God – that is the meaning of the word “church” – and by so doing, we join in an age-old covenant that proclaims that salvation will come to us as a people journeying together, supporting each other as we go.
That is what Paul is driving at when he proclaims: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We find that strength with each other starting and ending with prayer. Put your treasure in your prayer, and your heart will follow.
This fall, I would like us to become more intentionally focused on prayer as a congregation. I would like us to explore our rich toolbox of prayer. We have much in our toolbox to work with. This fall we will launch a series of Sunday forums on prayer. We will look at traditional prayers from the prayer book, and we will go beyond to explore other ways of prayer. I will say more on that as autumn approaches.

All of us – every single one of us – can transform our hearts because every single one of us has treasure from God in abundance. God intends to leave no one behind.
So put the treasure of your prayer where you want your heart to be; put your treasure with the living Christ who walks among us and shows us a path to life and health and wholeness right here in this place. Amen.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Diocese of Virginia open meetings on same-gender unions

I mentioned here a couple of days ago that Bishop Shannon Johnston will host a series of meetings to listen to people from the Diocese of Virginia about the topic of same-gender blessings. It is crucially important that you go to a meeting and speak up respectfully. And listen. Here is the schedule:
Sept. 29, Calvary, Front Royal, 7-9 p.m.

Oct. 13, St. Paul's, Ivy, 7-9 p.m.

Oct. 27, St. Alban's, Annandale, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Nov. 3, St. John's, Tappahannock, 4-6 p.m.

Nov. 17, Richmond (Location TBA), 7-9 p.m.
I hope to see you at one of these meetings.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Same-gender unions and where we are this morning

By now you have probably heard about the ruling by a federal judge striking down Proposition 8 in California, the voter-approved ban on same-gender marriage. Depending on who is talking, the ruling was hailed as a victory for equal rights or vilified as an attack on the institution of marriage.

The judge in the case, Vaughn R. Walker, immediately stayed his decision pending appeals so it will have no immediate effect. Doubtless this issue will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision is certain to add further fuel the culture wars over marriage and the already acidic debate within our church over the meaning of marriage. I have traveled my own theological and scriptural path on this topic over many years and my own view has changed to embrace a more inclusive view. I believe the Gospel brings us there. I did not get there easily or quickly.

I have been blessed by being in a traditional marriage, blessed by the Church, for more than 20 years. Yet I have come to the conclusion that there is a side to the "traditional" view of marriage that is based primarily on a cultural bias pandering to an age-old prejudice against homosexuals. That cultural bias is supported by superficial interpretations of the Bible that collapse under closer scrutiny. Culture comes from people, not God. We create culture and we can change culture.

I cannot imagine how a marriage between two people of the same gender could possibly threaten my marriage. In fact, they might even inspire me to strengthen and renew my own marriage. By honoring their marriage, I honor my own.

Our Book of Common Prayer says that the marriage between husband and wife is "intended by God for their mutual joy." Why would we think God would limit that union for mutual joy only to straight couples? Why wouldn't God intend to honor the loving commitment of two people of the same gender? And note: the purpose of marriage is not procreation. Were it so, then I suppose you would have to argue that couples who have no children, like Lori and myself, don't have a valid marriage or a valid reason to be married.

Not everyone will agree with my reasoning, and that is their right. But I ask that disagreement come respectfully.

As readers of this space know, I am serving on a task force in the Diocese of Virginia that is writing a proposed set of guidelines for same-gender unions. We have met three times, and will meet again next week. The work has been fascinating as we have gathered a great deal of information from around the country on the topic and a variety of guidelines that differ on a number of points.

We have done our work in an atmosphere of mutual trust and candor. I will not prematurely publish anything here -- we are still working through a number of issues, and our work is only a recommendation. Meanwhile, Bishop Shannon Johnston will commence a series of open meetings around the diocese this fall, and we want to be able to hear the fruit of that discussion. We expect our recommended guidelines to be complete by November.

We have examined a great deal of theological and liturgical resources from many places. I would especially recommend for your reading a report from the Diocese of San Diego that covers the theological and scriptural issues. You can download the Report of the San Diego Task Force on Holiness in Relationships and the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships by clicking HERE.

The story of salvation, as told by the Bible, is the long march of God's people moving beyond human-created oppression by recognizing heaven right here on earth. When we stand for the equality of people, we join that march. The story of Jesus Christ is of the divine come to earth as human to show us the way out of oppression; Jesus goes into the very depths of Hell to bring us out, and Jesus includes all people in his saving grace. Jesus invites all into his loving embrace and with no limits to salvation. Neither should we.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To stand still, to be here

We are getting rain, at last, here on the edge of the Ragged Mountains of Virginia. It is hot, muggy, and it feels like places we've been over the years: Louisiana, Florida, Central America, the South Pacific. The summer air is dense with memories of long ago travels.

Our friend Karen from Tennessee, who we met years ago while hiking in France, has sent quite a number of poems lately. Allow me to share this one. She also sent the photo to go with it. May your summer day bring you good memories:
Now I become myself
May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"hurry, you will be dead before -----"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem, is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!.....
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pete Seeger: "God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You"

I've never met Pete Seeger, but I've been listening to his songs since before I could drive a car. You may recall Pete written a lot of protest songs over the years, teaming up with the likes of Woodie Guthrie and many others.

Pete was the guiding force in bringing the 1947 folksong "We Shall Overcome" to the forefront as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Since then, Pete has played his banjo all over the world, and he played at an inaugural concert for President-elect Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial. He is now 91 years old.

But don't think for a moment the punch has gone out of Pete Seeger.

He recently co-wrote this song with Lorre Wyatt about the BP oil spill and our government's response to the lagging economy. And God's Kingdom is popping off his banjo strings:

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Monday Funnies

How about a joke and a cartoon from Pat Hill? Enjoy your Monday, wherever you are...

* * *
A church had a man in the choir who couldn't sing. Several people hinted to him that he could serve in other places, but he continued to come to the choir. The choir director became desperate and went to the pastor.

"You've got to get that man out of the choir," he said. "If you don't, I'm going to resign. The choir members are going to quit too. Please do something."

So the pastor went to the man and suggested, "Perhaps you should leave the choir."

"Why should I get out of the choir?" he asked.

"Well, five or six people have told me you can't sing."

That's nothing," the man snorted. "At least 150 people have told me you can't preach!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The dog days of summer and too much stuff in the garage

Today's sermon is based on Colossians 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21.

Welcome to the “dog days of summer,” when the air is stagnant, the trees wilt, and as legend has it, humans become lethargic and dogs go mad.
The dog days of summer: that is my only explanation for why we get these cheery lessons today.
They are telling us to straighten up – no slouching through summer allowed with these lessons.
Paul gives us his list of complaints about his followers, and he pulls no punches: anger, gossip, abusive language, cheap sex, greediness.
And Jesus tells a parable that comes out like this: You can pile up all the toys you want in this life but you can’t take them with you. Not only that, you are piling up the wrong toys.
Selfishness and greed are really at the heart of these lessons. But before we go away feeling guilty-as-sin, let’s step back and look it this a little more deeply.
Some possessions are necessary to live – a roof over our heads, food on the table, and yes, enough money in our savings and retirement accounts for when we are no longer working. That’s not what Jesus and Paul are complaining about.
They are pointing out that some possessions drag us down -- like the un-opened boxes in our garage left over from our move two years ago.
Sometimes our stuff can possess us.
And not all of the stuff we hoard are things. We can hoard our grudges, nurse our prejudices, and stay addicted to all manner of unhealthy substances and behaviors.
Instead of hoarding stuff, Jesus is saying taste and share the abundance with others – the real abundance that comes only from God. Enjoy all the blessings God has given you, and be free enough with yourself to give the blessings away.
And everyone has something to give, everyone whatever the outward appearances.
Let me tell you about someone who gave me a gift recently:
There is a man, Michael, who comes by our church every few days. Outwardly he looks very poor; he might be homeless. He comes here to play the piano.
The other day, as I was sitting in my office working on a sermon for a funeral service, I could hear him upstairs playing Christmas carols. The notes of “Joy to the World” filled the building on a muggy July day.
He gave me a perfect gift in the moment I needed it most.
The more I walk this earth, the more I am convinced that the purpose of life is to give. None of this – none of it – is ours to keep. We get a share so that we can share.
Giving is a spiritual practice every bit as much as praying.

St. Paul’s is a wonderful vibrant parish precisely because we give by welcoming everyone here: people of all ages, students, singles, gay and straight, people of every race and background. We don’t check for a membership card at the door.
We are called to share this church, to give it away. We are the temporary stewards.
Others before us lovingly passed this church onto us. Now it’s our turn.
Our giving includes sharing our personal faith journey once in awhile with people who are not here.
I know that doesn’t sound very Episcopalian. But I am not talking about converting people to dogma.
I would venture that someone you know is in pain, or searching for something bigger than themselves, or a place to bring their children, or a place to ask the deepest most important questions of life.
Maybe someone you know is looking for a place to experience the Risen Christ like they never have before.
Invite them here. Give them the gift of this parish. They might surprise you and come.
Then slide over in the pew for someone new. Wear your nametag – it is a sign of welcome.
Allowing someone to know your name is an important gift. Or give by introducing yourself to someone you don’t know at our social hour after this service. And, yes, give of your money to this church so that others who come will find it as vibrant and vital as you find it.
The point of the parable told by Jesus is we can’t live into the fullness of God’s kingdom by hoarding our possessions.
Our intentions don’t mean much without our actions, and our actions are hollow without our generosity.
Giving can open us up to so much more of life than we can imagine. Giving makes us partners with Jesus Christ in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth – but it takes courage to live by giving, and courage is just another word for faith.
So my friends, have courage, have faith, and may Christ’s generosity bring you boundless blessings forever. AMEN