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Posted on Feb 4, 2018

Seek. Tell. Celebrate. — sermon for 4 February 2018

Seek. Tell. Celebrate.


Photo Credit: Looking Glass Flickr via Compfight cc

February 4, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 147:1-12,21c;
Isaiah 40:21-311 Corinthians 9:16-23Mark 1:29-39

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

The season of Epiphany is winding down. A few weeks ago we were at the river, watching as Jesus is baptized and next week we’ll be on top of the mountain watching his transfiguration. And then we’ll be back in the wilderness of Lent…

And I’ve been reflecting on community and belonging. And baptism is a foundational part of that. It’s traditionally the beginning of our Christian journey. It’s at the font where we make the vows “to continue in the apostles teachings, in the fellowship, and in the prayers…” that’s a vow to be in community, to remain in community, as hard as that is. But being in communion with others is not only essential for our spiritual health, it’s absolutely vital for true belonging in authentic communities. We have to come together regularly to sing with, and shake hands with, and share bread and wine with people we might not get along with the rest of the week. Otherwise we continue to sort ourselves into factions, and wall ourselves into silos of loneliness.

Our baptismal vow, to be with, and stay in relationship with people who—really the only thing that truly binds them together is Christ—is foundational. It’s foundational to true belonging, which again, according to Brené Brown “doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.” “True belonging,” she says, “is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself (I’d add, ‘and God’) so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” [Braving the Wilderness, p. 40].
And I said last week, that sounds an awful lot like Evangelism, but not in the way we have historically thought about Evangelism. It’s a Greek loan word, you know, and it simply means “good news” or “glad tidings.” A fuller and more practical definition comes from the Presiding Bishop’s Evangelism Initiatives Team. It’s this: Evangelism means that, “We seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”

Seek. Name. Celebrate. And then Invite. Notice the order of that.

Another promise we make at baptism is “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Hear that? We seek…we seek and serve Christ, we seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ presence.” Like true belonging, evangelisms is a spiritual practice of getting curious about our neighbors. Having the courage to be vulnerable enough to move beyond questions like: “where are you from? and what brought you here?” to questions like: “What are the principles that guide how you live your life?” “When have you felt really connected to something greater?” “When have you felt most alone?” “What kind of community do you dream of being a part of?” Having the courage to ask those deeper questions, and then listening…really listening for the answers.

We do an exercise like this periodically in the vestry where I ask: “Where have you seen God at work in the past month?” And then we practice simply listening to the responses. Try asking yourself that periodically, “Where have you seen God at work in the world?” and journal your answer. Or try asking it at dinner with your family. And then just listen to the answers. I guarantee it will be enlightening.

The practice of evangelism—of actively looking for God at work in the world—in people’s lives—is essential to building authentic communities. Because, if you go out looking for all the things that are wrong in the world…I guarantee you’ll find them…it’s not that hard. If you go out looking for all the signs and signals that say, “this is messed up;” or “you’re not good enough,” “you’re not smart enough,” or “here’s where everything went off the rails,” you’ll find them. Those messages are everywhere. But the reverse is also true. If you go out looking for signs that we are are all broken and beloved, that people are struggling, yes, but also living with whole-hearted courage, that even in a world filled with sickness and demons there is healing and hope… you’ll find those too. Negative messages are broadcast and streamed to us 24/7…it’s far too easy to find them. To see God, and grace, and goodness takes discipline…and work, and practice…but it is there. If we have the courage to look for it, and the eyes and ears to see and hear it.

“We seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people.” All people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has hopes and struggles. And we believe that everyone—without exception—is made in God’s image. We all live in a world, created by God, and permeated with the Divine, “in God we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28). But we need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives…and it’s rarely going to be in big showy miracles…of course those happen, but we need to learn to be attentive to the slower, smaller—but much more frequent—moments of grace that happen daily.

We need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives and in the lives of others…and we need to develop our ability to TELL those stories… because, remember, true belonging requires that we show up.…and our baptismal vows require that we ”proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” In other words, show up and share your authentic self. Tell your story. Tell THE story.

The section of 1 Corinthians we heard today, has this famous passage, “To the Jews I became as a Jew…to the weak I became weak…I have become all things to all people.” Please don’t mishear this. Paul is not claiming to be a chameleon so that he can trick people into converting. He’s saying, “meet people where they are.” Listen to their stories…hear their stories, and tell your story—tell THE story—in terms they can understand.

“Seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”

We are all part of God’s Story—the story that begins with creation, and moves through, loss, heartache, suffering, sacrifice, and ends with redemption, salvation and ultimately reconciliation.
That’s our story…from the waters of creation and baptism, through the wildernesses of temptation and the subjugation, to the mountain tops of revelation and sacrifice, and back into the communities where God dwells with us.

One of the resources on Episcopal evangelism that I will share when I post this sermon ends with this.
“Practice telling the stories of God’s goodness in your life – journal them and practice with others. Then, ask people for their stories.”

We “are not selling Jesus or the church, nor are we in charge of whether anyone follows Jesus. That movement belongs to the Holy Spirit. Still, the more we’re in tune with the loving presence of Jesus, the more we’re experiencing the fullness of a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, the more it wants to overflow. That overflow is evangelism.”

That overflow is how we build beloved communities of true belonging.

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Posted on Jan 28, 2018

Many members, one body—sermon for 28 January, 2018

Many members, one body


Photo Credit: ShanePix Flickr via Compfight cc

January 28, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 111;
Deuteronomy 18:15-201 Corinthians 8:1-13Mark 1:21-28

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

For the past two weeks I’ve talked about community and true belonging, and how I hope All Saints can be a container for authentic community, and a place where people experience true belonging.

I quoted Peter Block, who reminds us that the word belonging has three interlaced meanings: membership, ownership, and in a deeper sense it reflects a longing to be. Authentic community is the container where this longing is fulfilled.

Then last week, I focused on true belonging. I’ll quote Brené Brown again to summarize. She reminds us that “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. [True belonging] is a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.” [Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness, p. 37]

I ended last week by reminding us that our deepest and truest identity is in Christ, and therefore we are free—no, we are called—to live into that freedom by becoming living examples of true belonging in a community of faith.

But it’s not easy. The church at Corinth was trying to live into this freedom, and today Paul cautions them: “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to others.”
The desire for true belonging and authentic community can cause us to slip into factions. It happened in Corinth, and we see it happening in our world every day. Our freedom can become a stumbling block.
For the church in Corinth the stumbling blocks had to do with sexual morality, and when to take someone to court, dietary laws—what people could and couldn’t eat—the proper forms of spiritual expression, and beliefs about the resurrection.

For 21st century Christians our stumbling blocks have to do with…well…pretty much the same list.
But those are obvious, other things don’t always appear to be stumbling blocks, but nevertheless can get in our way.

Remember those Big Meaningful Words I mentioned two weeks ago. Mission. Stewardship. Formation. Evangelism. They can get in our way. Especially since their meanings have changed significantly in the past several decades.

Not that long ago, no one talked about Formation, instead we talked about Christian Education but what we really meant was Sunday School. Stewardship also wasn’t a thing because a Tithe was the expectation. Mission meant sending people to foreign lands, or the inner city, or to the rural poor, primarily for the purpose of Evangelism; and Evangelism—when it was linked with Mission generally meant translating and distributing bibles…otherwise it just meant advertising.

For a long time, the church treated these as separate activities…separate domains…which worked OK back in the post-war boom when there was plenty of resources to go around. But the world has changed and keeps changing, and it has felt—for a long time—like we’re being asked to do more and more with less and less, and when that happens those separate domains risk becoming competing factions in a zero sum game. And when that happens, we need to hear Paul bewailing “has Christ been divided?”

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses a brilliant—and one of his favorite metaphors—the body.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). So it is with us, our faith communities, and any authentic community of true belonging. “The foot can’t say, because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong.” Those involved primarily in Formation can’t say, because I’m not doing Mission I don’t belong. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” If the whole church were focused on Mission, where would Stewardship be? “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’.” The Mission Committee cannot say to the Property Committee, ‘I have no need of you.”

The body metaphor is brilliant because it reveals what true belonging really means…each of us bringing our full and discrete selves…our gifts and our doubts…our strengths and our brokenness…into a community…a body where difference is not merely tolerated or brushed aside, but recognized as vital and necessary.

It also helps us think how the parts are related to the whole and vise versa. Those Big Meaningful Words are even more full of meaning now. Stewardship means more than just what you give to the church; Stewardship requires us to be intentional about spending all our money and about using and managing every resource at our disposal…It’s responding faithfully to every gift God has given.

Formation is more than just Sunday School. Everything we do, not just in church, but out in the world, forms us…whether we’re aware of it or not…Christian formation is ongoing and lifelong because we need to be continually growing up as part of the body of Christ.

Mission is also everything we do. The Five Marks of Mission, is a very helpful set of statements about what mission really is. It’s how we frame the Annual Report. The heading of each section is one of the Marks of Mission which encompasses both Stewardship and Formation.

These more all encompassing definitions reflects our true belonging in Christ…because Christ claims all of our lives, not just the time we spend here.

So when you read the Annual Report (and I do hope you will take the time to read it), I hope that you see more than a listing of all the separate ministries we have and what they did last year…You should also see reflected all the symbiotic relationships between all the parts of our body…how worship and formation and stewardship and mission and property and personnel and programs are all distinct and all interconnected. And we need all the parts in order to continue having a healthy whole. And I know you will see in the report and hear at the meeting that this body is, by and large, quite healthy.

You may have also noticed that I haven’t mentioned Evangelism…That’s the one we’re most reluctant to talk about. Sadly, Evangelism still pretty much means advertising or marketing—which is something we don’t do well. Like all those other Big Meaningful Words, Evangelism could mean a whole lot more…it could mean Holy Listening…getting curious about one another and finding out what our hopes and dreams, our lived experiences, our disappointments really were. Evangelism could mean a practice or a set of practices that draws us closer to one another…closer to all those who share our building…closer to the other churches in the area…closer to those on the margins…It could be how true belonging comes about, because being intentional about those practices would would require us to be vulnerable…to get uncomfortable…to learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. And if that sounds familiar, it should. It’s Brené Brown’s definition for true belonging. But I also think it’s a dynamite definition of evangelism. We can’t have true belonging or authentic community without it.

We’re called…to be continually forming ourselves in the likeness of Christ, to be engaged in carrying out Christ’s mission of healing and reconciliation, to be good and faithful stewards of all God’s gifts…and to be actively engaged in creating spaces of authentic community and true belonging, where we can share our joyful and painful—but always grace-filled—transformations…for the sake of the wider community…for the sake of the world.


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Posted on Jan 21, 2018

Belonging vs. fitting in—sermon for 21 January 2018

Belonging vs. fitting in


Photo Credit: cdsessums Flickr via Compfight cc

January 21, Third Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 62:6-14
Jonah 3:1-5,101 Corinthians 7:29-31Mark 1:14-20

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Last week, we started talking about belonging.

What does it mean to belong?

Belonging is something we all want. Something we all desire.

But it’s more than just a desire. Belonging is a deep, and profound need that humans have.

It is “an irreducible need,” [1] says author and scholar Brené Brown.

If you don’t know who Brené Brown is, I’d encourage you to google her, and watch her Ted talks, read her books. She’s a popular author, and a researcher in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston. She’s spent years studying courage, shame, vulnerability, and belonging.

She says that what those years of research have revealed to her is that humans are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.

But belonging is not as easy as it sounds…it’s actually incredibly hard work. Belonging is not the same as simply showing up…or signing up…its not just a matter of transferring membership, or renewing a subscription, or crossing the aisle.

“Belonging,” says Brene Brown, “is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”

But…she goes on, “Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval.” Which are not the same thing.

We desperately want to belong…to something bigger than ourselves…and we want this so badly that we will do whatever it takes to achieve this…by trying to fit in.

But fitting in, says Brown, is just a hollow substitute for belonging, and actually erodes true belonging.

Here’s the very pithy way she puts it, ““If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

“Belonging,” she says, “is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other. Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.” [2]

We do this all the time. We want to belong, and we settle for fitting in. Which causes problems. And the church is not immune to this…in fact, it might be especially susceptible to it.

Sometime around the year 50 CE a convert to the new Jesus Movement…a former Pharisee known as Paul…established a community of believers in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul felt strongly that his call was to ministry among the Gentiles. Most likely, these were non-Jews who were very interested in Jewish ethics and may have even tried to patten their lives in similar ways—who were trying to fit in to a Jewish way of life. Paul also felt strongly that in raising Jesus from the dead, God was signaling that the end of time, when all would be gathered under God’s reign had begun. We hear that in today’s reading…”the appointed time has grown short…and the present form of this world is passing away.”

Corinth was, at the time, the most important city in Greece, it was a bustling, multi-ethnic seaport, the capital of its Roman province. Over a year and a half Paul lived there and founded a community, and then left for Ephesus (which is probably where he was when he wrote 1 Corinthians). He stayed in touch with the churches he founded through letters, seven of which we have, and scholars mostly concur that these 7 were actually, and authentically written by Paul—1 Corinthians is one of those. It’s important to note that while we have Paul’s responses to churches in Corinth, Galatia, Thessolonica, Phillipi and Rome we don’t have any of their letters to Paul. We’re always getting only one side of the conversation.

The content of Paul’s letters focus on conflicts that these communities are experiencing. So we can infer that their letters were something like: “Since you left, here’s what’s been happening…what do you think?…Any helpful advice?” And Paul is never short on what he thinks they should do.

And what is the central issue for the church in Corinth? It’s a conflict over belonging.

At the opening of the letter Paul says, “It has been reported to me…that there are quarrels among you…each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’ [Peter], or ‘I belong to Christ.’ (1 Cor 1:11-12). Paul wasn’t the only itinerant preacher going around spreading the gospel, there was Apollos and Peter, and probably others as well. And the good folks at Corinth had started taking sides…desperate for belonging and connection they gravitated to leaders whom they liked, or who said the things they agreed with, or who their neighbors sided with…they started fitting in and insisting others fit in as well and factions were born.

Technology has changed…we have texts and snapchat and tweets instead of letters, but that desire to belong is still strong.…it’s so strong in fact that like our ancestors in the faith we’re wiling to trample all over other people’s desire and right to belong so that we can feel like we belong…We confuse belonging with fitting in. We want to belong, but we settle for fitting in…and we force others to fit in too. Come join us! Be part of the team! We have the answers! We know what’s right! We’re team Apollo! (or insert a contemporary reference). No, we know what’s right, we’re team Paul! You’d better do it the way we do it!”

Paul is clearly flabbergasted by this, responding, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” What is going on? But once he moves past this, his response centers on true belonging rather than fitting in.

The world couldn’t figure out God through wisdom, he says (and I’m paraphrasing his response), so God decided to reach us through something that sounds totally crazy…the death and resurrection of Jesus. For some demand a sign and others desire wisdom, “but we proclaim Christ crucified.”  That’s it.  Our belonging to God, and to one another, is based on this and nothing else. It’s based on our recognition of what God has done for us. Period. Full Stop. Because we find our true identity in Christ, we are free to grow into our whole selves—our true selves—and to bring that whole self into all of our relationships.

But again, it’s not a easy as it sounds. The rest of Paul’s letter is trying to help the Corinthians work out what this really means in their context. Which is also what we have to do.

It’s not easy for us either. We need to be vigilant about making sure that when we invite people into this community, that we are intentionally welcoming and inviting their whole selves—and not simply asking them to fit in…”you’re welcome to come be just like us” is not the message we want to send. We want people to belong.

We live in a time when true belonging is becoming rarer and more desperately needed. It has always taken a special courage to experience true belonging, and it’s hard work.

In her most recent book, Brené Brown writes, the special courage to truly belong today is about, “breaking down the walls, [it’s about] abandoning our ideological bunkers and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt. We’re going to need,” she says, “to intentionally be with people who are different from us….We’re going to have to learn how to listen, [how to] have hard conversations, [how to] look for joy, share pain and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.” [3]

If the church has a call and a mission, it seems to me that this is a big part of it…because we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others…but because our truest identity is found reflected in God’s loving care for us, we are free—and called—to live as examples of true belonging. May God give us the strength and the courage to live into that freedom.


[1] Brown, Brené (2010-09-20). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Suppose to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 26). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

[2] Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, p. 160

[3] IBID p. 36.

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Posted on Jan 14, 2018

The puzzle of belonging—sermon for 14 January 2018

The puzzle of belonging


Photo Credit: joeldinda Flickr via Compfight cc

January 14, Second Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 139:1-5,12-17
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)1 Corinthians 6:12-20John 1:43-51

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.


These are the first two sentences in the parish profile that was used to call me as your rector four years ago.

“When parishioners at All Saints are asked what they most value, the word “community” comes up time and again. It is what brings us to All Saints as well as what keep us at All Saints.” 

Back in 2013, I had to trust the truth of that statement, and four years later, I can say that I have experienced it’s truth. Community is a value we hold here. I value this community that my family and I have grown to be a part of.

I also know that “community” is one of those Big Meaningful Words that gets used a lot in church, like “Mission,” and “Stewardship,” and “Formation.” “Community” sounds less churchy than those, but it’s still one of Those Words that means very different things to different people…but it sounds good so we use it…a lot!

But what do we really mean when we claim to be a community?

Community is really about an experience of belonging…when we say “I’m part of this community”…or when we say, “what we love about All Saints is that it’s a community”… that’s a confession of belonging…

We’re saying, “I feel like I belong here.”

And that’s wonderful.

But it also means that there have to be others who don’t feel that way…who don’t belong…

Peter Block, who has written extensively on community formation and engagement says: this communal sense of belonging is “the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else.” [1] The opposite of belonging is feeling isolated. We feel like that way too often in our world. There are plenty of places you can go and feel like you don’t belong… to feel isolated…Where are those places where we feel like we do belong? And how do people come to feel like they belong here? What’s that process?

I mean be honest, you didn’t always feel like you belonged here. There was a time when you didn’t belong, and there was probably a period when you weren’t sure whether you belonged or not? But something happened…and you came to feel like, “I belong here.” What’s that process for others?

It’s totally normal to go through periods of feeling more or less connected to various communities. It’s very possible that some of you here today, aren’t sure whether you belong or not. Maybe this is just a place you come for an hour or so a week, and that’s fine, but you don’t really feel like you belong…and when you hear things like “Community is what brings us to All Saints,” you might think, “that’s true for you…but for me…meh.” What do we do with that?

We have an awful lot of people who come through this building every week who fall into that category. The 12 step groups…the kids and parents of the Corner Co-Op, the Evergreen Korean church, all the choral groups, and clubs that meet here…Are they part of our community? Do they belong to us? Do we belong to them?

Peter Block points out that belonging carries a couple of different meanings: Belonging as membership…and belonging as ownership. This iPad belongs to me. Those hymnals belong to the church. To be part of a community…to really belong to a community…means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators. It means committing my time, my gifts, my resources to something that I think is important…something bigger than me…something that is necessary for all of us to build and nurture…not just for my sake…but for the sake of others…for the sake of the community…

To be part of a Christian community means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators with God, and one another, of the kind of communities that God dreams of. But how do we do that? What does that look like?

Our scriptures over the next several weeks are filled with call narratives…Samuel, Jonah, Phillip, Andrew, Peter, James and John. It’s important to hear those…important to let them resonate with your own call narratives…with your own sense of how God is calling you into this larger project that we’re engaged in…but the lectionary also pairs these multiple call narratives with snippets from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians…which is really interesting.

Because First Corinthians is all about the difficulties faith communities face as they try to figure out what God is really calling them to do and to be. It’s what happens after the call narrative…after we say, “yes”…after we show up…now what? How do we really come to belong to one another? How are we supposed to relate to others in our community? How do we engage a world that doesn’t necessarily share our values? How do we tolerate, or appreciate, or even celebrate differences in our own community? What does it mean to be a community? To belong?

First Corinthians is a great example of a community trying to figure all this out…largely without a map. Remember Paul’s letters are the earliest writings we have of the new Jesus movement. The only scriptures they had were the Hebrew scriptures…none of what came to be the four canonical gospels had been written. Mark, the earliest gospel account was still twenty years or so in the future when Paul was writing to the Corinthians. This letter shows Paul wrestling with these real world questions.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be using 1st Corinthians to help us reflect on these same questions: what does it mean to belong to a community? How do people come to feel like they belong…what gets in the way? How do we hold our differences without letting them tear us apart? What is necessary after responding to the call, after we say, “I believe?” What kind of community does God need us to become?

It’s not necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt if you sat down and read all of First Corinthians. Along with the audio and text of this sermon, I’ll post some really good, short video and study guides on 1st Corinthians.

[Here’s a great, short, series put out by Yale Divinity School]

Peter Block says that there is a third meaning to belonging. It can also be thought of, he says, “as a longing to be. [And] being is our capacity to find our deeper purpose in all that we do. It is the capacity to be present, and to discover our authenticity and whole selves…Community is the container within which our longing to be is fulfilled.” [2] It seems to me, that whatever else we mean by it, that’s a pretty good core definition for what we mean when we talk about “community” here, we want All Saints to be the container for people to discover their whole selves, find their deeper purpose, and share in the co-creation of God’s dream.

[1]  Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Posted on Jan 10, 2018

Evensong—Celebrating the Ordination of Li Tim-Oi, the First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion

Sunday, 21 January 5:00 p.m.

The Choir of All Saints, conducted by Christian Lane, leads us in a choral Evensong celebrating the life and legacy of The Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion in Hong Kong, 1944.

Music of Judith Bingham, Nico Muhly, Gabriel Jackson, and Morten Lauridsen are included. The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden will preach. An organ recital immediately precedes the service at 4:30 p.m.

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Posted on Jan 7, 2018

In the beginning…(again). Sermon for 7 January 2018

In the beginning…(again)


Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Creation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

January 7, First Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 29 
Genesis 1:1-5Acts 19:1-7Mark 1:4-11

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Epiphany is bounded by two experiences. Baptism and Transfiguration. One in the river. One on the mountain.

After these astronomers from the East have left their gifts and departed as mysteriously as they came, we suddenly find ourselves back in the desert, staring once again at the haunting figure of John the baptist, with his curious dress and bizarre eating habits…And before you know it, we are plunged into the river Jordan along with a suddenly fully grown Jesus, and then week after week in this season of Epiphany we hear this same Jesus continually calling us…inviting us…luring us…into joining his ministry of fulfilling God’s mission…proclaiming the nearness—the very present reality—of God’s reign…binding up whatever is broken…setting free what has been imprisoned…reconciling all of creation to our creator.

And if we answer that call, and follow…then before we know it, we’re on top of a mountain…with Jesus transfigured before us—clothes dazzling white—is that Moses and Elijah with him?— and we hear a voice…an echo of something we’ve heard somewhere before…”this is my son, the beloved…” Of course, then we are thrown back out into the desert again…the desert of Lent.

Two experiences…two epiphanies…if you will…or really two theophanies…two direct encounters with God…with the divine…one in the river…one on the mountain.

Epiphany is bounded by these two experiences…our entire faith journey is bounded by these two experiences…and what Epiphany asks of us…what our whole faith journey asks…is that we somehow hold them together. These two paradoxically identical, and very different experiences…

The mountain top…the blaze of glory…the sudden clarity of a vista that extends for miles…the lucidity of a vision that propels you forward…it’s that shining star we follow in the dark…

And the river bed in the desert…the dark, chaotic, swirling current in the midst of the dryness…that place where life and death are only a breath apart…that place we go when our hopes have been dashed…when we have lost sight of that star…when our vision is clouded…when the light appears to have gone out…

The river is where we go when our options have run out…when we don’t have many other choices…when we need refreshment…when our only option is recuperation…renewal…repentance…when we need to start over (and we are always starting over, aren’t we?)

The mountain is where we long to be…it’s where we can see the farthest…where our heroes tend to live…it’s where we want to stay…up there with them…up in the clouds of our imagination…but it’s not where most of us live most of the time…and it’s not where we’re called to be…

We always return to the river…to the water…to start again…

The prayer we use to consecrate water for baptism emphasizes that the river water takes us all the way back to the very beginning…when God began creating…and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…the deep in Hebrew is tehom it’s the chaotic watery abyss over which the Holy Spirit moves and breathes life into creation…

It is through water that God rescues the Israelites…liberating them from the bondage of captivity…and ushering them into a land of promise…

It’s through water that Jesus is baptized…and it is in baptism that we are “buried with Christ in his death, [by water] we share in his resurrection, and through [water] we are reborn by the Holy Spirit” (BCP 306).

However much we might long for the crystalline clarity of that mountain top experience, our journey always takes us back down into those dark, watery depths…the place of mystery…the place of uncertainty…the place of surrender and beginning again…

Or maybe that’s just me and how I experience my life…maybe you’re able to just stay up on that mountain…no need to start over…and over…and over…but I doubt it.

One thing that Epiphany teaches…one key lesson that the bookending of these events in Epiphany imparts is how important it is to listen for that echo…

to remember that both the mountain and the river are encounters with the divine…both epiphanies…and God’s voice…God’s presence…is real in both of them.

What the Epiphany journey—from river to mountain—reveals is that even in the depths of the dark swirling chaos of our lives…God is with us. Always and everywhere.

If we remember that voice… and remember what it says…”you are beloved.” If we remember that…whenever we begin again…then we start to see that everywhere we look, we can catch a glimpse of God at work…and anywhere we go, we hear echos of that voice…reminding us that God is here, and we are beloved.

And as we begin again and gain and again, as we learn how to hold these two experiences together we will start see that the whole of creation filled with that divine light…and that we really do have nothing to fear.


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