September 16, 2018
So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.
Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25a
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and set them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
One of the more interesting, challenging, and humbling truths about us as human beings--marvelously contradictory creatures that we are--is that we live more than one reality at a time. Sometimes those realities could not be more different.
We’re capable, for example, of holding both grief and joy in our heart at the same time; both disappointment and hope. It’s possible when everything in life is going really well to fall into a funk or even deep depression. And when facing a terminal diagnosis, we can feel the most alive.
We can be right and wrong at the same time.
We can be kind and caring and then in a heartbeat, hurt someone deeply, and not only hurt distant ones who bear the brunt of sins we’re not aware of, but those close in, those we love, or ought to love, most.
To say all this in religious language, we are both sinners and saints. And while we could all point to examples of those who in our humble opinion, have clearly tipped the scale in one direction or another, the truth is we are all a mixed bag.
Jesus knew this about us, which is why he loved teaching in paradox, helping us to hold more than one truth at once. You remember his story about the sinner rising from prayer redeemed instead of the righteous man praying next to him, and of religious people turning away from a wounded one on the road while a person of a despised race stopped to help. Remember how he told the men who wanted to kill a woman caught in the act of adultery (no small irony there) that whoever was without sin was free to cast the first stone. And how he prayed on the cross that those who put him there be forgiven, “for they don’t know what they are doing.”
How much reality can one heart hold?
This inherent mixed-up complexity of our kind is but one reason why it’s important for us to be gentle with one another, and understanding--not in a Pollyanna or dismissive sort of way, as if what we say or do doesn’t matter, but with mercy nonetheless. We’ll all need mercy when we stand before judgment in the end, and we need it every day between now and then. In the words of criminal justice reformer Bryan Stevenson, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Thank God for that. We’re all better than our worst, and conversely, not as innocent as we sometimes feel or would like to believe ourselves to be.
I heard the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, say much the same thing in a talk he gave at Wheaton College last April. He was speaking about the novel Lila by Marilynne Robinson, the third in her wonderful trilogy set in the fictional Iowa town of Gilead. Williams described the novel as being about “the insufficiency of goodness”-- a haunting phrase if there ever was one. “The good,” he said, “are those who don’t always see what they are implicated in.” “We like to define ourselves as good,” he said, “because then we know where the boundaries are. But we’re all blinded by what we are shaped by. We don’t know what we don’t know and don’t see.” “Lila is a story,” he said, “about how the good are saved, never mind the evil.”
By now, you’ve surely surmised that I’m setting a context in which to reflect on the rich, complex, blessed and broken collective that is every church, that is St. Alban’s Church. There is much goodness, courage and blessing in your history and your life now. And there have been more than a few wounding episodes. You’re just emerging from one of those wounding times now, during which people said and did hurtful things, when those in leadership, including me, made costly mistakes, when there were plenty of sins of commission and omission to go around, and more than a few missteps that were not intentional, but hurtful nonetheless. It wasn’t the first painful chapter in your history and, if you remain human, it won’t be the last.
Yet even when things were really hard, the hardship wasn’t the only truth about St. Alban’s. Even when people said hurtful things, those same people were part of much of the goodness that abounded. Even when leaders made mistakes, those same leaders acted courageously and faithfully. You were living more than one reality. In the darkest hours, it’s always tempting to see pathology under ever rock, just as it’s tempting to see only the good during the better times.
I don’t mean to speak all this in the third person, as if I weren’t there and a part of it all--I was. I’ve spent many a hour in prayer wondering what I could have done differently, but what I know is this: it wasn’t all one reality over or against another. There was a lot going on, some of it very good, some really hard.
What I love about you, St. Alban’s, and what will hold you in good stead going forward, is that you have the collective capacity and spiritual maturity to hold it all. I love that we began in a posture of collective repentance, so that we might collectively feel the release of that, receive the mercy of God, and the mercy we extend to one another. It doesn’t erase the past, but it allows God to continue to redeem it. When you tell the story of this time, and your place in it, it will be a story of redemption and growth and humble recognition that even in a really strong community, hurtful things can happen. Even when we are good, there can be an insufficiency to our goodness. You’ll tell your story with grace and the kind of quiet confidence that comes to those who have lived through a storm and come out on the other side. The poet David Whyte has said that long-lasting friendship is a path of mutual forgiveness. Surely the same is true for Christians in community.
In the midst of all of this, who should arrive into the Diocese of Washington without a job?
It astonishes me still how Geoffrey Hoare came to us, and came to St. Alban’s through circumstances that were not without complication. The story of Geoffrey, Sage, Allyson and Ruthie’s arrival in Washington could have had any number of beginnings and the Holy Spirit could have led them in any number of directions. But here they are. Here Geoffrey is--a man with his own story to tell, with particular gifts that seemed uncannily well-suited for St Alban’s at this moment.
One of things we know about you, Geoffrey, is that you are eminently capable of holding more than one reality in your life and leadership. You do not suffer fools gladly, yet you are one of the most gracious people I know. You are completely at ease with academics, politicians, and the most erudite of theologians, and you hold in equally high esteem and enjoy the company of manual workers, particularly those whose shift begins in earnest when the rest of us leave the room. You don’t panic when we show our worst, and you delight in us when we shine. You have a passionate vision and commitment to what the Kingdom of God realized on earth could look like, yet you accept realities as they are presented to you, and you encourage us all to start where we are and work with what we’re given.
So here you all are, officially poised now at the threshold of possibilities. There are multiple reasons why you, Geoffrey, are a good match for St. Alban’s. There are also reasons why St. Alban’s is a good fit for you. There is no insufficiency of goodness here. You have more than enough upon which to build a solid foundation--grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy. I’m grateful beyond words for a new spirit of collegiality and friendship between St. Alban’s and the Cathedral, for it is impossible to imagine a spiritually vibrant life on the Close without it. I’m also grateful for the growing spirit of friendship and common purpose with Episcopal congregations up and down Wisconsin Avenue and in this part of of the city, all of whom are just big enough to imagine they could, or must, do everything themselves, as if they were completely separate entities. It’s a bane of our existence as the Episcopal Church, that collaboration is believed to be a sign of weakness rather than an investment in strategic strength. You are helping to change that narrative. Thank you.
I have to say, Geoffrey, that your choice of Scripture passages for this afternoon wasn’t exactly subtle. Each one brings home the point that we are all in this together. There is only one savior in the Body of Christ, and it isn’t any of us. There are no superstars; everyone has an offering to make, none more important than another. Spiritual leadership isn’t a matter of pulling magic out of a hat, but one of gathering up the fragments, as Jesus said, so that nothing is lost, then offering those fragments, all our loose ends, the total catastrophe that we are, and offering it all to Jesus as the raw materials with which he can work miracles.
So let’s celebrate this moment of joy, shall we, and give thanks for it, as we approach Jesus’ table of grace and mercy together. Then we all need to go home and a get a good night’s sleep. For tomorrow beckons, and with it another day to live as the wonderfully complex, broken and blessed, redeemed, forgiven sinners that we are, called to follow Jesus in his way of Love.
September 13, 2018
Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Every morning at 8:00 a.m., program officers from Episcopal Relief and Development’s disaster preparedness team convene a video conference call with diocesan leaders whose jurisdictions lie in the path of Hurricane Florence. On today’s call, we were reminded that while the storm has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, with the slowing of wind speed comes greater potential for storm surge and inland rain damage. “Houston wasn’t touched by the winds of Hurricane Harvey last year,” Lura Steele of ERD said, “but by storm surge and sustained rainfall.”
According to CNN, Florence is expected is to hover over the Carolinas for days, with hurricane force winds and relentless rain at least through Saturday. As the storm moves inland, meteorologists warn that Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland will also be in peril.
Many in the Diocese of Washington have close family and friendship ties to communities poised to bear the brunt of Florence’s imminent arrival. I am heartened by the calm determination of our Episcopal Church counterparts as they’ve gone about their preparations, helping people evacuate, caring for their congregations and positioning themselves to be of service to their communities. An EDOW priest with family and former congregants in South Carolina said at a meeting last night, “Countless people’s lives will be forever changed by this storm. Some may die. Others will lose houses, businesses, mobile homes, jobs. By Sunday, it’s going to happen.”
The Episcopal Church will be there, and is there now. “We’re as ready as we can be,” several on the phone said this morning. “Right now it feels a bit like being assaulted by a turtle.”
While we wait, pray, and do all we can for those in immediate danger, please take time today and tomorrow to finalize your own preparedness (here’s a helpful checklist). While most of our diocese is not in the direct path of the storm, for many the possibility of flood damage and power outages is high. Should the rains place lives and property in danger, please heed all warnings and directions of emergency responders and civil authorities.
Thanks to our partners at ERD, we have registered all parochial clergy and senior wardens in a Diocesan Alert System. We will check-in twice a day as the hurricane system passes through our area and provide updates through the messaging system should there be any specific alerts.
I can’t speak highly enough of the spiritual and material support provided through Episcopal Relief and Development. As grace would have it, we had arranged for a member of ERD’s team to meet with EDOW staff earlier this week to learn more about disaster preparedness and the Episcopal Asset Map. Thus we were blessed with on the ground training and resource sharing in real time as Hurricane Florence approached. As you are able, I encourage you to donate to Episcopal Relief and Development’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Your donation provides our partners on the ground with critical supplies, such as food and water, for communities devastated by hurricanes and other storms.
As today’s call was ending, Canon Mark Stevenson of the Presiding Bishop’s staff assured us of the prayers and support, not only of the Presiding Bishop, but of our entire church and beyond. “Remember that you are not alone,” he said. “We are here and will see you through this time.”
Those are Jesus’ words to us as well, and to all those in harm’s way: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I pray that each one of you feels his presence with you and your loved ones as the storm approaches, and I know that whenever the call comes, you will be Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart for others.
Will you pray this prayer with me now?
Lord God, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all that we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
September 09, 2018
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Jesus said ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.
Good morning! What a gift to be at Holy Trinity for worship and afterwards to dedicate the new building space you’ve worked so hard to complete. Congratulations--what an accomplishment. Special thanks to the Rev. Leslie St. Louis and your lay leaders for welcoming me so kindly.
The title of my sermon is The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Focused Life. It’s the first in an eight week sermon series that I will preach across the Diocese of Washington. If this one peaks your interest, you can follow along with via social media or on the diocesan website.
Along with your bulletin, you received a sheet of paper. On the back is a space for you to jot down notes from the sermon if you like. Inside, it offers a simple format of daily prayer about which I’ll speak more in a moment.
So how many of you have heard Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preach? Perhaps at a simple wedding earlier in the summer? Are you as inspired by him as I am? I’ve known Bishop Curry for many years, and we are so blessed to have him as our spiritual leader. No matter the setting--be it a small congregation, a huge public gathering, or the Royal Wedding--he consistently and compellingly speaks God’s unconditional, life-transforming love for every human being, a love revealed to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Presiding Bishop will tell us anytime he gets the chance that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live. Jesus came, he says, that we might know God’s love so deeply and personally for ourselves that we can’t help but be changed into more loving people. Jesus came to embody God’s love, to help transform this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God has for us all. And while Scripture teaches that God shows no partiality, we who call ourselves Christians have a particular mandate to walk in Jesus’ ways and be instruments of his love for others.
Last December, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invited a dozen lay and clergy leaders of the Episcopal Church to spend two days with him. He asked us to help him work through an issue that was troubling him. For all that we love about the Episcopal Church, and all that is good, it is, nonetheless, stuck in trends of decline and all the pressures of a declining institution. That’s not true of every Episcopal Church, but the overall trends are humbling. We’re a disproportionately aging denomination and getting smaller every year. Around the country--even after a really big service at Washington National Cathedral--the majority of people under the age of 50 have no idea who we are.
The Presiding Bishop wants to change the direction of those trends, as do I. What are we missing? we wondered together. What could we do, not only to ensure the survival of our churches, but so that they might thrive as vibrant spiritual communities in our land?
Part of the problem many people have about us is that we are so hesitant to talk about our faith, others don’t know we’re here. Moreover, we seem inordinately attached to our preferences in worship. We think of ourselves as warm and welcoming, and inclusive, but is that how others experience us?
To turn things around, maybe what we all need to do is try harder to make our presence known, try harder to be more welcoming.
But we as we prayed and talked together, another possibility surfaced. “I wonder,” the Presiding Bishop said at one point, “how many of our people have experienced God’s unconditional love for them. Have you considered that reason most Episcopalians are hesitant to speak of Jesus is because they don’t really know him as real for them?” He paused. “How can we share what we don’t have?”
The room went silent. I found myself thinking back to something I had just read in a book by Pastor Adam Hamilton. It was a passage on the power of the Holy Spirit:
When we speak about the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, we are speaking of God’s active work in our lives; of God’s way of leading us, guiding us, forming and shaping us; of God’s power and presence to comfort and encourage us and to make us the people God wants us to be. The Spirit is the voice of God whispering, wooing and beckoning us. And in listening to this voice and being shaped by this power, we find that we become most fully and authentically human. . . .
But he goes on:
I think that many Christians live Spirit-deficient lives, a bit like someone who is sleep deprived, nutrient deprived, of oxygen deprived. Many Christians haven’t been taught about the Spirit, nor encouraged to seek the Spirit’s work in their lives. As a result, our spiritual lives are a bit anemic as we try living the Christian life by our own power and wisdom. (Adam Hamilton, Creed: What Christians Believe and Why (Abingdon Press, 2016).)
As I heard the Presiding Bishop speak and simultaneously recalled Adam Hamilton’s words, it was as if God were holding a mirror to my face. Right there, I had to acknowledge to myself and before God that on most days I try to live and lead from my own power. Even as one ordained for nearly 30 years, my daily default position is to assume that everything depends on me. But never does Jesus say that. Instead he says, as you just heard “I am the vine. I am the source of your strength and capacity to love. You are a branch, sharing what you receive from me.”
That was when the Presiding Bishop decided that he wanted to spend his remaining years as our spiritual leader helping us experience the love of God made known to us in Jesus, and to follow Jesus in that way of love. And I decided that I wanted to do the same as your bishop. From that desire, on the part of many, The Way of Love; Practices for a Jesus-Focus life was born.
Adhering to daily practices of any kind is known as following a rule of life. A spiritual rule of life is simply a conscious effort on our part to be open, each day, to the love of God in Jesus, to receive that love for ourselves, and then offer love to others as we hear God’s call. If we adhere to them over time, they shape our character and determine the course of our lives.
The writer Brian McLaren puts it this way:
Spiritual practices are those actions within our power that help us narrow the gap between the person we are and the person we hope to become. They help us become good and deep company for ourselves and others. They’re about surviving our twenties or forties or eighties and not becoming a jerk in the process. About not letting what happens to us deform or destroy us. About realizing that what we earn or accumulate means nothing compared to what we become and who we are. Spiritual practices are about life, about training ourselves to become the kinds of people who have eyes and actually see, and who have ears and actually hear, and so experience not just survival but life that is real, worth living, and good. (Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).)
He goes on to say that our character--the kind of people we are--determines how much of God we can experience, and maybe even which version of God we experience. Which is say that there’s a lot at stake here, for us.
There are seven practices outlined in the Way of Love. In upcoming weeks, I’ll preach on each one in depth. Today, I invite you to hear and consider them all together, and to contemplate what it might be like for you to take on one or more of these practices every day.
As you listen, let me underscore the obvious: these practices, in general, do not require dramatic gestures on your part or mine. On occasion, they might, but mostly they are small steps we take every day whose impact will be felt over time. Nor is this a program designed to fix the challenges we face as a church. Truth be told, there’s no guarantee that even if every Episcopalian under the sun decided to follow the Ways of Love that our church’s decline would turn around.
On the other hand, if we never engage in these practices, or others like them, we may not have a church worth saving. For the church isn’t a building, an institution, a small community desperate to survive. It is, as the Presiding Bishop says, a movement, a gathering of people who have heard the call to follow Jesus in his ways of love for the world--person by person, community by community.
So here they are:
The first practice is to turn. That’s it: to turn our gaze, to turn our mind, our thoughts, our attention to Jesus. Simple as it sounds, it is the foundational practice, referring back to the first conscious decision we made, or perhaps have yet to make, to be a follower of Jesus. Do you remember the moment when made that decision? Perhaps you did so unconsciously or slowly, perhaps in a dramatic moment of conversion. Was there a time when you decided to turn back to him, and to the faith, after a time apart?
To turn also describes the daily decision to focus our attention on Jesus, asking for his guidance and grace. Now, when I wake up the morning I try to remember to acknowledge Jesus. I thank him for the gift of another day and ask for his strength and guidance. There are days, I confess, when I’m up for hours before I remember, but when I do, I simply take a deep breath and turn my inner gaze toward Jesus.
The second practice is to learn, to commit each day to some form of learning, reading the Bible, or listening to devotional material focused on Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes the learning process involves a deep dive, through a class or study; other times, it’s a small, daily encounter with sources of wisdom and inspiration. I can’t stress enough how important it is to continue learning in faith. Otherwise we get stuck with an understanding of God that’s too small. There’s a lot of bad teaching in the name of Christianity--causing intelligent people rightfully to turn away from so-called Christian teachings that aren’t Christian at all. So choose your resources wisely. There are many fine tools to help us go deeper in our knowledge of God. What matters most here isn’t the quantity of our learning, but the steady commitment to take in a bit of insight each day.
The third practice is tied in the first and second and yet also stands alone, to pray, again, to spend time each day--it needn’t be long--in intentional prayer. Of course we can pray at all times and places. Yet I have learned that making the effort to sit down in the same place every day for a few minutes has a quiet, powerful impact on my life. It’s a time to sort through and settle my thoughts, as murky water settles in stillness, to allow clarity to emerge. It’s a time to speak my heart, sometimes with sighs instead of words, before God. And it’s a time to listen, saying to God, as the prophet Samuel learned to do as a small boy, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We may not hear anything in the silence. But we might. And we’ll never will hear anything from God if we don’t take time to listen.
In terms of time, we can commit ourselves to turn, learn and pray each day in as little as 10-15 minutes a day. That’s where I start whenever I have strayed from daily practice and need to begin again. We can always spend longer, but the benefit comes with the habit of setting aside time over time. Best to start small.
The fourth practice moves us from the personal to the collective, to worship in Christian community. You see, following Jesus is not a solo effort. We need one another. Rarely do we grow in the ways of love on our own. As one writer put it, the church at its best is “like a school that trains people in the way of love, an unusual school that lasts a lifetime and from we which we never really graduate. . . Christian faith is really one long apprenticeship in the way of love.” (Norman Wirzba, Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2016))
The fifth practice takes us out into our lives and the world. It is to bless. This is perhaps the most lovely and understated of practices: to speak words of kindness and affirmation. The Irish poet John O’Donohue writes of blessing, “The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it and once we sense it, we are able to trust and open ourselves.” (John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York: Doubleday, 2008)) Think of the countless opportunities you have each day to speak kindness into another person’s life, to speak a word of hope in times of uncertainty, to provide wind for another’s sails.
The sixth practice is the most challenging: to go, in the sense of crossing borders of familiarity to better understand the experience of another; to see the world through others’ eyes, to show up in places where love is most needed. The great criminal justice reformer of our time, Bryan Stevenson, speaks of “being proximate,” getting close to those who bear the brunt of our society’s ills and coming to know them as friends and neighbor.
The final practice may well be the most countercultural of all and the one we struggle with most: to rest. God rested, as the Creation story of Genesis tells us, after God created the world and humankind. We are mortal. Our bodies and souls are restored in rest. The world does not rest on our shoulders alone. We can, for a time each day, each week, lay our burdens down. This is a time for renewal, for the things that make for joy. Sabbath isn’t something we earn; it is our birthright as children of God.
In the offering plates, I’ve place small cards with each practice listed. Please take one when the plate comes to you and spend some time this week reflecting on each of the seven practices. Which ones come easily to you? With which do you struggle? Is there one that speaks, as something your live needs right now?
Consider taking on, as an experiment, a small daily ritual that includes the first three practices. Turn, Learn and Pray. If it’s helpful, you can use the “Way of Love” sheet, where there are brief Bible passages. If you don’t already, set aside 10, maybe 15 minutes each day to sit quietly, turn your internal gaze toward Jesus, reflect on the Scripture passage for the day and pray.
I’d love to hear from you if you do, to learn what your experience is like.
So often we think of the Christian faith as an obligation, or as a set of beliefs that we must hold. There are obligations and beliefs, but if we get stuck there, we can lose sight of, or never experience at all, what is most important. At its heart, Christianity offers an invitation to experience a loving, personal relationship with God. It’s a relationship we can trust, where we can find refuge and solid ground upon which to stand.
The Way of Love is the journey of a lifetime. It’s a way of knowing God, receiving and sharing Jesus’ love, and being a blessing to the world. I can’t think of a better way to live or people with whom I’d rather walk this way than with you and all our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Washington.
God bless and keep you always. May you always know that you are walking in the light and love of God.
September 08, 2018
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . .
I am someone Kim Sanders chose to love, sight unseen. Well before we met, she had decided to think kindly of me and care for my well being. And whenever she could, she offered me words of kindness, affirmation, and blessing.
Even when she was struggling with something, which was most of time that I knew her, Kim offered love and kindness to those around her. She always seemed more interested in us than in talking about herself. No matter what she was going through, she always managed to turn the conversation around. “But how are you?” she’d ask, and I knew that she truly wanted to know.
One night I couldn’t sleep and finally I got up, turned on my computer and starting scrolling through Facebook. I came across Kim’s posting from about an hour earlier: “I couldn’t sleep,” she wrote, “and was feeling a bit blue. So I decided to watch one of my favorite movies, Notting Hill. It lifts my spirits every time!” I’m not ashamed to say that Notting Hill is one of my favorite movies, too. Partly because of Hugh Grant, but mostly because of its wonderful depiction of lasting friendship among a most unlikely group of people and improbable love prevailing against all odds. And it was so British. How Kim must have loved that.
Kim loved a good story—Shakespeare, a romantic comedy, or anything in between. Over the years Kim must have given me a dozen novels that she just knew I would love. And cookbooks. I mentioned to her once that my vegetarian son had just gone vegan and I wasn’t sure what to make for Thanksgiving. The next day three vegan cookbooks were on my desk. That was Kim’s way.
As I was prepared for today, I realized that I hadn’t reconciled Kim’s kind and joyful spirit with all the hardships she had to endure in life. I’ve been reading the Book of Job lately, because of the daily lectionary, and maybe that emboldened me to actually feel some anger toward God on her behalf. Her illness and death are a mystery that makes me sad and leaves me in greater awe of her at the same time.
When I think of Kim now, in the place of great unknowing, the image that comes to mind is one of complete liberation. I see her soul free, no longer tied to a body that so often failed her. I also imagine her hovering as close to us as heaven will allow, out of love, yes, but also curiosity. She’d want to know, what are Geoffrey and Doris up to now? And how are all the priests and deacons that she help shepherd through the ordination process doing? And is Paula’s new husband treating her right? How does Joey like her new job? And can you believe it? Paul Cooney is a grandfather!
We only have our points of reference from which to make whatever sense we can of the great mysteries of life. Some, like death, lie beyond our grasp until we cross the threshold ourselves. Ancient human intuition and the best of our spiritual traditions tell us that after this life there is a homecoming, a banquet, even, a place where all that is wrong is made right, and where God’s will of love is realized. Jesus promises us a room in God’s house and that he will come, when the time comes, to carry us over Jordan.
The poet John O’ Donohue, who also died too young, wrote that there is “a beautiful surprise waiting inside death, which in one simple touch absolves us of all loneliness and loss, as we quicken within the embrace for which our souls were eternally made.” (John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York: Doubleday, 2008), p. 180.)
I see all that goodness for Kim now, and give thanks to God for all that is hers on the other side of what we can see. She deserves all of it, one lavish gift of heaven after another.
September 06, 2018
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”
In my sabbatical study of thriving congregations, among the commonalities I discovered was a commitment to what in academic settings is known as a core curriculum. As part of their mission to help people grow in their relationship to Christ and follow his teachings, these churches offer a small number of foundational learning/growth opportunities every year. For some, one of the offerings is the Alpha Course, or something like it--an introduction to the Christian faith in a relaxed setting where all questions are welcome. For others, their curriculum includes a course on how to read the Bible, or Christian principles for healthy relationships, or a yearly course or workshop on financial planning--not for fundraising purposes in the church, but how to develop sound financial habits informed by faith.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited all Episcopalians to take up the Way of Love, a rule of life focused on Jesus. Beginning this Sunday, I will explore the Way of Love in a sermon series which will be available to all in both audio and text format by the following Monday. I’ll be using the Sunday morning lectionary that we developed for this series which is available on our Way of Love website page. Prior to each sermon we’ll post on the website and include in the e-newsletter a suggested daily prayer format and bible passages that corresponds with each practice. You can find next week’s devotional here. For those who wish to gather in small groups to reflect on the Way of Love practices, we have a suggested template and guide for your discussions.
I’m aware of a few EDOW congregations that will be following along in the Way of Love series this fall, with clergy using the proposed Sunday lectionary and preaching sermons of their own on each of the seven practices. We’d love to know if your church is among them, so that we can share insights and learnings. Others are planning to use The Way of Love series in the season of Epiphany, or as the topic for parish retreats and mid-week or Sunday morning teaching series. If you have Way of Love offerings planned, please let us know so that we might share insights and learnings with one another.
The Presiding Bishop envisions the Way of Love as part of The Episcopal Church’s core curriculum, as do I for us in the Diocese of Washington. That means we will return to it regularly, and keep resource materials current for ongoing use. Over time, we want to include other offerings, so as to create a rich body of teachings for deepening Christian faith and practice. If you have thoughts about what to include in our core curriculum, please write to me.
As we begin this walk together, let me underscore the obvious: the Way of Love is not something new. It is simply a reaffirmation of ancient spiritual practices that open us to the love of Jesus and the ways we are called to join him in love for others. Nor does the Way of Love promise to fix the many challenges we face as a church. On the other hand, if we don’t engage in them, or others like them, we lose sight of what the church is. The church isn’t a building, an institution, a community desperate to survive. It is, as the Presiding Bishop loves to say, a movement, a gathering of people who daily choose to follow Jesus in his ways of love for the world, person by person, community by community.
I’m grateful to be among you as a fellow traveler on the Way of Love.