Friday, July 31, 2015

New blog: Come join me on the road!

Dear friends,

I've opened a new blog marking the beginning of this new chapter for us as we travel back to California. Everything on Fiat Lux will remain – but come join me on the new blog. I'm calling it The Open Table at Emmaus. You can read my first post HERE.

– Jim

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jesus will be there before we get there: Go with open hands, an open mind, and an open heart

Dear friends,

Today was my last Sunday at St. Paul's. It has been an emotional day on many levels. I preached and celebrated at all three services. My sermon is below.

I launched this blog, Fiat Lux, seven years ago when we came to St. Paul's. And while I have not posted much recently, this blog has been a major part of my ministry at St. Paul's, particularly in our first years when I posted nearly every day. We even started a few traditions here, like sharing Al Martinez's Christmas story every year.

This is the 1,529th posting on Fiat Lux – and the last.

And so Fiat Lux also comes to an end. I may start a new blog when we get to our new place: The Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. I will let you know here in this space and on Facebook. By the way, this blog won't disappear. You can still go back and read some of my reflections from our time together.

In the meantime, thank you for you for reading, thank you for your many blessings. May God's light shine upon you! Fiat Lux!

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Today's gospel lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

         Seven years ago, the week before Palm Sunday, Lori and I made our first trip to Charlottesville. We brought with us a small palm frond from California to help adorn this wonderful church.
We were hosted by the St. Paul’s search committee – a group of people who had been working tirelessly to find a new rector.
         After a long travel day flying here from Northern California, where I have lived most of my life, the search committee members picked us up at the airport.
         They had given each candidate for rector a code name to maintain the confidentiality our identities. My code name was “A-5,” and so Lori and I made lapel buttons so they would recognize us at the airport – mine said “Rev A-5” and Lori’s said “Ms A-5.”
         Actually, they knew what we looked like, so it was a bit of an inside joke. And we didn’t really need our identity protected. I was the interim rector at All Souls Parish in Berkeley, and my time there was drawing to a close. The entire parish in Berkeley was in on this, and the entire parish was holding St. Paul’s in their prayers while we were visiting here.
         Our St. Paul’s hosts took us to dinner and then to our hotel. The next morning would bring interviews and tours in earnest, so they gave us a little time to recover from our travels.
         When we walked into the hotel room, I heard music that was familiar to me, but probably not to many of you.
It was the music of the Miwok Indian tribe, and I have a CD of their music. The Miwok are the indigenous people of Yosemite, which for me is the most spiritually important place on the planet.
And on the television screen was a video showing scenes of Yosemite with Miwok music playing in the background.
This may sound odd to you, but I knew in that moment we were being summoned to go to Charlottesville, to join you in leading this parish. I knew in that moment I would say yes to this call.
I felt great reassurance in that moment that Jesus was with us, and would go ahead of us, lighting our path.
 I also knew in that moment that the day would come when we would be summoned to go back to Northern California.
Today, this moment has come.
Seven years ago, I knew that Jesus would bring us here, and then to the next place after Charlottesville, and the next place after that. I had no idea where that would be.
But this I know: Jesus always goes ahead of us.
This is a lesson I have learned over and over, sometimes the hard way. The lesson is right here in the gospel we hear today:
“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

Many years ago, when I was a seminarian, I spent a long summer undergoing training as chaplain in a big urban hospital. I was assigned to the intensive care units.
         My supervisor was a Methodist pastor, Lisa Nordlander. On the first day of my assignment, I asked her if I was supposed to bring anything to the hospital rooms. A prayer book? A Bible? What tools should I bring?
         “Just yourself,” Lisa said.
         “Just myself?”
         “Just yourself.”
         Lisa told me this, and it has never left me: Jesus would be in the room before I got there and Jesus would be there after I leave. Go into the room with open hands, an open mind, and an open heart.
         This is a lesson I hope all of us will hold in the days and months and years ahead.
         My friends, this is my last Sunday sermon with you. I am not going to talk about the past. What has been done, has been done. What has not been done, has not been done. Let it be.
         You will have time enough to look in the rearview mirror and evaluate what we’ve done well, and not done so well, over these past seven years.
         But that is not for today.
         Today I want to urge you to walk into the future with open hands, an open mind and an open heart.
         Jesus goes ahead of all of us. He is there before we get there and will be there after we leave.
Jesus welcomes us with wide open arms when we arrive, bids us to linger awhile, and goes ahead of us to the next place.
He will embrace us with love, weep with us when we hurt, and leap for joy when we laugh. He is, as the New Testament proclaims, the chief cornerstone who binds us together for all time.
Jesus will be there tomorrow, next week, next year, and a thousand years from now.
         I know it is nearly impossible to think in thousand-year terms. But try for a moment.
         Think of the earliest Christians: Could they possibly have imagined that 2,000 years later, people would still follow Jesus? Could those early disciples have possibly imagined this city, this corner, this university across the street, or this parish?
         Can we imagine of who will come after us 2,000 years from now?
         Jesus bids us to go with him into this future with open hands, open minds and open hearts. He bids us to go, and to create this next world now. He goes ahead of us, he is already there to show us the way.
Will we go to where he has led the way?
         Author Lauren Winner calls this the “Easter question.” Will we go to where Jesus is already?
         The Easter question is the most important question facing St. Paul’s.
The most important question for St. Paul’s is not who will be the next rector, or how to balance the budget, or what social justice issues to confront in the community, or how to repair the building.
All of these are important questions, but they are but a flash in time.
         The most important question facing St. Paul’s and all of us is the Easter question:
         How will St. Paul’s go with Jesus into the future, opening the doors, bringing in new people, and sending people to go to the places of wonder, the places of healing?
         How will we go? Timidly or boldly?
         Will we keep the doors open and the lights on? Or will we close the doors, pull up the gates and think of ourselves as a tiny sanctified social club? Will our response be that we are too busy doing church things?
         Or will our response be: “Here I am, send me”?
Jesus beckons us to think as big as God’s abiding grace.
You will soon be going to a place of discernment as a parish – really, you are always in a place of discernment.
The word “discernment” is perhaps overused these days. It simply means to be open to the nudging of the Spirit.
Take this time seriously, look for the Spirit moving in yourself as individuals, and in this congregation. Trust in the Spirit and trust in each other. Be kind, be gentle, be patient with each other
Let down your guard so that you can hear the Spirit in each other. And have fun with this. This can be a joyful time if you let it. This can be the most fun you’ve ever had as a parish.
This congregation is vibrant. You are creative and caring, and you have many gifts.
Don’t get into the rut of thinking one ministry is in competition with another.
God brings all the resources we need and the people with all talents we need. Everything you need in this parish is here already. God’s abundance is bursting from the walls of this church because God fills each of you with abundance.
Find your path and go where Jesus leads you as individuals and as a congregation.
I assure you, the Spirit will lead you if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
And know that Jesus goes there before you get there:
“And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

By the way, I never found out who put the hotel television onto the Yosemite channel.
Thank you for your prayers, your support, your friendship, your patience, your hard work and the many blessings you have bestowed upon us these seven years. God bless you, now and always.
Go! And Be Bold!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Storms in Charleston and our world: Peace, be still, be calm

Emmaneul AME Church,
Charleston, S.C.
I preached today about the horrific events in Charleston, South Carolina, and the many storms in our world.The gospel for today is Mark 4:35-41.

I also talked about General Convention this morning -- we are headed to Salt Lake City today. Here is my sermon from this morning:

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See now is the acceptable time;
See now is the day of our salvation.

         Jesus and his followers camped along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They had been there for days and it was hot and intense.
He told many parables about seeds and small things that grew to big things, and how they should let their lights shine that others may see, and how to listen and see the presence of God all around them and within them.
He told them over and over, you are loved by God, you are the beloved; and you must love others as God loves you.
Crowds had gathered to listen.
         The crowds had never heard or experienced anything quite like this. They wanted more.
But evening was at hand, and Jesus was wrung out. Even the Son of God needs sleep. So he and his followers got in a boat and began to sail across the lake to look for a quiet place away from the crowds.
As they rowed, the wind rose and sea became rough. Before long they were in a terrible gale.
         And somehow Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat.
         His followers woke him up – do you not care our boat is about to be swamped and we might drown? Geez, Jesus, do something!
         Peace. Be still. Be calm.
         And so the wind ceased and the sea became like glass.
         Then Jesus spoke: Why are you so afraid? All will be well, even in the storms. Have a little a faith that God will bring you through.
         So it is that this story itself can be heard as a parable about the storms of life.
Peace. Be still, be calm, have a little faith.
You will get to the other side.
This past week, we’ve been reminded once again that our world and our nation are in the midst of many storms.
Terrible conflicts rage in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
The number of refugees in the world is as high as it was after World War II: 60 million people fleeing wars and famines, half of them children. The number of refugees swells by 45,000 a week – about the same number of people who live in the city of Charlottesville.
Closer to home this past week, we’ve seen yet another massacre at the hands of a deranged gunman.
This is time it was in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church – the oldest African American church in the South.
As you know by now, nine precious people in a Bible study group, including the pastor, were murdered.
Words are not enough this week. Words are just not enough.
The mental health of the perpetrator and the easy availability of guns are certainly at issue.
But to talk only about mental illness and guns is to avoid the elephant in the room of our collective national soul: The legacy we still carry from slavery, segregation and racism.
The gunman was motivated by white supremacy, and news reports say he wanted to unleash a race war. His targeting of a black church was not a random act of violence. This young man did not grow up in a vacuum. He learned his racial hatred somewhere – and from someone.
Like it or not, we are in this storm together as a nation and there is no escape.
 Jesus, aren’t you afraid we are perishing?
Peace. Be still, be calm, have a little faith.
You will get to the other side.
There are other forces at work, not just forces of hatred. Even now, there are people who are surrounding hate with love and forcing it to surrender.
         This parish has its own legacy of hope and courage in the storms. Decades ago, this parish took a stand against segregation when it was hardest to do.
In the many years since, the people in this parish have worked in the community to bring racial reconciliation and hope and healing.
This parish surrounds hate with love and forces it to surrender.
Many of you attended a prayer vigil the other night at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church across town, an African American church which this parish has had a long relationship with.
 This parish knows how to stand up when it counts. This is one of those times.
 And, sometimes, we need be reminded that we are a part of something larger than this single parish. This is one of those times.
We part of the Episcopal Church, which is a part of the Anglican Communion. But we are part of something even larger than that.
We are a part of the Body of Christ – the church universal for all time and in all places, and that means the church in Charleston is our church.
The tears of Charleston are the tears of Jesus. We cannot be disciples of Christ without sharing his tears – and knowing in the same boat with our brothers and sisters in Charleston.
Yes, we are on stormy seas.
Peace. Be still, be calm. Have a little faith.
Amidst the storms we’ve also seen something else this week. We’ve seen signs of hope. In a Charleston courtroom, we heard an outpouring of forgiveness from the families of those who were murdered. Can we do less as faithful people?
A half-world away, we heard a pope this week give voice to the collective outcry of the planet that is endangered by climate change.
And within our own Episcopal Church, we’ve heard our bishops pledge to engage more fully with the issues of racism, poverty and justice.
To give one example, Bishop Jim Mathes of San Diego, who is a friend of mine, said this: “The next time we recite our baptismal covenant and say the words, ‘to respect the dignity of every human being,’ race relations and reconciliation are what we should be thinking about.”
Our diocese in Virginia recently began a dialogue on race.
This dialogue has been hard starting. It has felt as though there is an underlying fear about the demons that might be unleashed like genies from a bottle.
But it is time to face our fears.
If this conversation does not begin with us, then with who? Reconciliation must begin with us.
It happens that the leaders of the Episcopal Church will be gathering in the next week for our national General Convention, held every three years.
I will be boarding an airplane later today bound for Salt Lake City where General Convention will be held.
I will be representing the Diocese of Virginia as one of four clergy alternates. This will be my third General Convention.
General Convention is not something we ordinarily talk about from the pulpit, but I want to do that a bit today. General Convention is our highest governing authority in our denomination.
It has a language all its own – rather than “delegates,” we have “deputies.” All of the proposals are to be found in what is called “the blue book,” though it is no longer blue or a book. You can find all of it online.
General Convention is a bicameral legislature, with a House of Deputies that functions like a House of Representatives, and an upper house, the House of Bishops, which functions like a Senate. 
Proposals must pass both houses in identical form to win passage.
The deputies were chosen by each diocese at local conventions two years ago. Each of the 110 dioceses elects four clergy deputies and four lay deputies, and eight alternates. I am an alternate clergy deputy.
Others from St. Paul’s are also going: Emily Shelton, one of our UVA students will help represent the Episcopal Peace Fellowship; and Grace Aheron, one of our youth leaders, will be participating in several events.
It is easy, too easy, to criticize General Convention as outmoded or inefficient or too expensive.
But it is worth celebrating that a democratic legislative body governs our church. We do not have a magisterium handing down edicts from on high. We elect our leaders.
This will be a momentous General Convention. This is the end of Presiding Bishop Katharine’s nine-year term, and the bishops will be electing a new presiding bishop.
They will go behind closed doors and will not emerge until they reappear with the presiding bishop-elect, who must then be confirmed by the House of Deputies.
The candidates include Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina, who by the way, ordained Pastor Heather a few years ago.
If elected, Bishop Curry would become the first African American presiding bishop in our history. There are three other candidates, imminently qualified and faithful bishops. Please keep all of them in your prayers. It is a tough job.
Also on deck is a proposal to change the marriage ceremony to allow for the marriage of two people of the same sex.
A great deal of debate has gone into this, and a task force has spent many years examining the theology, the biblical passages and the cultural, legal and social issues. This is not a new topic for our church. Where this will go, I cannot predict.
General Convention is more than legislation, much, much more. There will be three times as many people in Salt Lake attending General Convention as there will be voting deputies and bishops.
 General Convention is a festival, with worship services, workshops, reunions, and networking to-the-max. I always learn something new and meet new people.
Going on side-by-side with General Convention is a national youth gathering, and the triennial meeting of the national Episcopal Church Women.
I’ve always found General Convention fascinating, uplifting and full of energy.
Please keep in your prayers all of us who are going to Salt Lake.
Let me close where I began – with the story of Jesus in the boat quelling the storm.
There is one overriding point to the story that I hope all of us will keep in mind in the days and months ahead: the Risen Christ is in charge, not us.
The responsibility falls to us to be the stewards of this church.
We must be the ones surrounding hatred with love and forcing hatred to surrender.
And know this to the depths of your soul: the Risen Christ is here in this boat with us, guiding us, calming the storms, drying our tears – and will be with us forever. AMEN.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Taking Leave

Dear St. Paul's Family,

These past seven years have been an amazing grace-filled experience for Lori and myself. We have made Charlottesville our home and we love this parish and each of you. We have experienced many joys – and many trials – together. It is therefore with mixed emotions that I tell you of my intent to resign as your Rector and return to the Diocese of Northern California this summer.

I have been offered the position of “priest-in-charge” of the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa, a small city in Sonoma County north of San Francisco. My mother, who just turned 90, lives about an hour away, and most of my family is in the area. It has become abundantly clear in the last few months that my family needs us to return, and I could not ignore this invitation by the people of Santa Rosa to do so.

I realize that this decision may come as a surprise to some. I had intended to finish my ministry here at St. Paul’s and retire from this wonderful parish. But I am reminded once again that my timing might not be the Holy Spirit’s timing. I was not looking for a new position. However, a few weeks ago I was approached by the Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, the bishop of the Diocese of Northern California, who asked me to consider this position. Barry has been one of my mentors for more than 20 years, long before he became a bishop. I was ordained in his diocese and served there as a lay leader and later as a priest for 18 years. After much prayer and conversation, I’ve accepted this offer.

My last Sunday at St. Paul’s will be July 19. Between now and then, I hope we can celebrate what we have done together. I will make myself available in the next few weeks to meet with anyone who feels the need to meet with me for whatever reason.

St. Paul’s is a very strong and vibrant parish, with a talented staff, gifted lay leadership, and outstanding clergy. Charles Lancaster, our senior warden, and Darren Ball, our junior warden, and all the members of the Vestry, will be working with the staff of the Diocese of Virginia in this transition. They will develop a plan to appoint an interim rector and form a search committee. This is a parish of people who know how to “be bold” and meet the future with grace and courage.

There is no way that I can thank you adequately enough for the opportunities you have given me these past seven years. We will cherish your love forever. Finally, please keep us, and all of the St. Paul’s family, in your prayers.