Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Year's Resolutions, Reading...and a Church's Vision

Each new year, I'm good at making, and getting a start on New Year's Resolutions. (I'm less good at, you know, actually keeping them...but that's another story.)
Last year, one of my resolutions was to read more. Since most of what I read is non-fiction -- in fact, one time when Elizabeth was little, she looked at my bookshelves and said, "it seems all you have are God books" - I decided to read more fiction in 2016.
So about this time last year, I made a list of some modern-but-classic (prize-winning) books of fiction that somehow I'd missed reading over the years, and bought them: Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose (and later, on someone's recommendation, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall).
The bad news is, I haven't gotten more than 30 pages into any one of those.
The good news is, I didn't borrow those books -- I bought them. They're right there on my writing desk where I see them, and where they beckon to me. (Further good news is, with them sitting right there, I don't have to make any new reading resolutions for 2017!)  
The best news - and the reason I mention all this -- is that I didn't need to get too far into Angle of Repose before running across this, one of Stegner's classic lines, which I wrote in my journal:  
"I would like to hear your life as you heard it, coming at you, instead of hearing it as I do, a sober sound of expectations reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred or abandoned, chances lost, defeats accepted, griefs borne."
That, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is a large part of the reason we, as The Falls Church Episcopal, will, over the course of 2017, create a new 3-5 year vision for our parish: a  v ision is a powerful antidote to the condition Stegner describes. 

A 3-5 year vision lifts our eyes beyond the adrenaline-fueled urgencies of the day to the Holy Spirit-filled callings of the decade.
A 3-5 year vision keeps us thriving, growing, giving.
So - with apologies to Stegner, God willing and empowering, 
  • we will NOT listen to the "sober sound of expectations reduced," but instead will listen to the spirit-filled sound of raised expectations;
  • we will not accept "desires blunted" as a fact of life - not in our individual lives and certainly not in our church life - but will sharpen desires and lift them even higher;
  • any "hopes deferred or abandoned" - not just those of our faith community and our wider community, but of our nation will be addressed, and any within our power to affect, we'll revive and restore those hopes; and
  • any "chances lost, defeats accepted, and griefs borne" will be put to rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection - not "resurrection" as a general principle, but in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Christ, who restores all chances, conquers all defeats, and redeems all grief.
I do realize that the 3-5 year vision we put together will have some resolutions that - like my reading plan! - might not get fully realized. 

But vision plans aren't shelved. They are kept front and center where for the next four or so years they will beckon to us...remind us...and motivate us.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Full of Joy and Nearly Always in Trouble" -- are The Book of Common Prayer's baptismal covenant promises political?

I was in an interesting conversation the other day about whether or not our baptismal covenant promises are "political."

I don't think they are. But I do know that keeping any one of them will likely have political ramifications.

Take for example our promise to "continue in the apostle's teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers." That's not political activity in the United States or other nations where there is freedom of religion -- but try keeping that promise in parts of the world where practicing Christianity is illegal or persecuted, and you'll quickly find out how political those actions are.

Promising to "persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord" may not seem to be "political" as long as you're thinking of "resisting evil" and "sin" in terms of your own petty vices and therefore "repenting" as a personal matter between you and God.

But what if you broaden the concepts, ala Abraham Lincoln, to think of "falling into sin" as the ways you fall into cultural or societal sins (racial prejudice, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, to name three) and then promise to persevere in resisting the evil of White Nationalism? I suspect that might have some political ramifications.

Promising to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ" may not seem to be political, until you realize that we live in a political culture that proclaims, by word and example, the Bad News of Fear and Cynicism. So - fair warning/promise - if you talk the talk AND walk the walk of the Gospel, you'll end up in the good company of Christians around the world and throughout history who are "full of joy and nearly always in trouble."

Promising to "seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbor as yourself" may not seem like an inherently political action. Until you seek and serve Christ in those who voted differently than you, and love them as yourself.

Which brings us to the final promise: "to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being." Unless we insist on somehow spiritualizing those concepts, it's impossible to keep that promise without it having political implications.

For example: one way I'm keeping that promise - an action of worship and prayer that has explicit political implications, and one which I invite you to join me in - is that this Sunday evening (December 4 at 5:00 pm), I'm going to join our three bishops and other people from around the Diocese of Virginia who are making a point of standing in solidarity with our Latino/Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ by attending a "Service of Light and Hope" at the local, predominately Latino/Hispanic Episcopal church of Santa Maria (7000 Arlington Blvd., Arlington).

As our bishops remind us, "many members of our Latino congregations are experiencing fear and uncertainty in light of words our president-elect has spoken about immigrants in America, and as the Church, we are committed to uplifting our Latino/Hispanic brothers and sisters during these times."

There are few things in Scripture that are as explicit as the command to care for the alien among us - not because it's the "nice" or "Christian" thing to do, but because it is part of our own identity: the Bible reminds us that we were once strangers and aliens ourselves. If you read the Biblical story of Christmas, you'll find that shortly after the serene manger scene, Joseph and Mary scurry the infant Jesus out of Israel and become a refugee family themselves, fleeing persecution and seeking safety in a foreign country far away from home.

Part of the Advent/Christmas message is that in becoming a human baby, God became vulnerable. And part of what it means to follow that God is to keep our baptismal promises...and part of that that means is to stand with, by, and for the vulnerable among us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Parade!

Whether or not watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is part of your family's custom, there's another "Thanksgiving Parade" I invite you to make part of your life -- your daily life.  

And that's to think back over the past 24 hours of your life, imagining each hour going by you slowly -- and ask yourself, "what happened in that hour for which I can be grateful?" And then turn your "feeling of gratitude" into a "prayer of Thanksgiving." 

Your "thanksgiving parade" might go something like this -- this was mine, today: 
  • (upon awakening) -- I'm grateful for my warm bed and comfortable pillow; thank you God for giving me a warm home to sleep in. 
  • 5:45, first cup of coffee: I'm grateful for coffee; for milk -- for cows, for farmers, for truckers. Thank you, God, for coffee and milk getting to me. 
  • 7:00, walking Sadie, our dog: I'm grateful for Sadie; thank you, God, for exercise -- the fact that I can exercise. God please be with _____ who are grieving having to put their dog down yesterday; give me new appreciation for our dog's companionship. 
  • 8:00, prayer: I'm grateful for time to pray, to read the Bible, to journal. Thank you God, for giving me faith. 
  • 9:00, planning time: I'm grateful for good organization at the church; I thank God I've found a personal task management app I find useful. 
  • 10:00, staff meeting: I'm grateful for Terri, our "front office" Administrative Assistant. I turn my "feeling of gratitude" into an "action of Thanksgiving" by pointing out that at the Day School Board meeting which I attended last night, several of the board members commented about how wonderful Terri is at greeting Day School children. I share that with the rest of the staff, in Terri's presence. I go on to say that many churches (and businesses) have either "highly competent" or "very friendly" people in the front office, but it's rare to have both, at the same time, in equal measure, in one person, as we do in Terri. 
  • 11:30, Day School Children's Chapel: I use "thanksgiving parade" as a theme for my sermon; I'm grateful for the inspiration, and I give thanks for the parents and teachers. 
  • 1:30 -- a surprise visit from an old friend, who is in D.C. interviewing for a job! I'm grateful for her insights; I thank God for inspiring her to come by the church and visit. 
You get the idea. You go through each hour of your past day, looking only for those things for which you are grateful. You then turn your feeling of gratitude into a prayer (or better yet, an action) of Thanks-giving. 

And there you have it: a Thanksgiving Parade that you don't just watch, but create in your own heart and that will -- by increasing your sense of gratitude -- drastically reduce  the amount of complaining and worrying you do, as you relish how blessed you are in so many ways.     

Friday, November 18, 2016

Separated, but not Divorced: What is the Church's Role in Politics?

Back in 2004, I wrote a spiritual advice newspaper column titled "Faithfully Yours" that ran for a while in the Loudoun Times Mirror and The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

One of the first questions I received - again, this was more than 12 years ago - was about the church's role in politics.

Here was the question:

"In some churches, political views are strongly expressed by the church leadership, and church members are encouraged to vote for specific candidates or instructed on how to vote on certain social/political issues.  In other churches, this is not done, and the church leadership encourages people to prayerfully develop their own views.

What is the church's role when it comes to politics and the pulpit?"

Here, in italics, was my answer in 2004 - and, not changing a word of it - is also my answer today: 

There are two opposite and equal dangers churches can fall into regarding faith and politics.

The first danger is to say that there should be no connection between the two - to claim that "politics has no place in the pulpit."

In the early 1930's, when Germany began enacting official measures against Jews, the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a lone voice crying out in a wilderness of Christian cowardice and naivety. But in fighting against fascism and bigotry, Bonhoeffer understood what many Christians of his day (and our day) refuse to: that sometimes faith demands we take actions that are considered political, even if those actions are unpopular or go against the current culture.

So clearly, politics has a place in the pulpit. We do not check our faith outside the voting booth.

But the other danger is to check our brains outside the church door.

If you encounter a church that is happy to do all your thinking for you, sparing you the trouble of sorting through the implications of your faith yourself, watch out: chances are that church has put a political agenda - of either the liberal left or the conservative right - at the center of their life together, and not God.  But God says "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," and we should have the humility to admit many people of good faith can act courageously out of many viewpoints.

(2016 me again) So, insofar as my ministry as Rector of The Falls Church Episcopal, that's the tension I have tried and will continue to try to keep here:
  • On the other hand, to insist we practice that rare Christian virtue called humility - to resist equating "our agenda" with "God's agenda" and recognize that people of good faith can act courageously out of many viewpoints... 
  • On the other hand, to re-read our Bonhoeffer, and in the spirit of Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, insist that sometimes our faith demands that we take actions that are considered political, even if those actions are unpopular or go against the current culture. 
In this nation, church and state are separated -- and for good reasons.

But they're not divorced. And so we remain in cautious conversation with one another, appropriately distrustful of each other, but always looking for ways that we can, through public policies and ordinary acts of kindness, help repair the world.


That's Jefferson, of the phrase "separation of church and state," staring at "In God we trust"-- on government currency ...irony? Or holding a tension between two truths? 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What do we have in common?

Sermon preached November 13, 2016 (26th Sunday after Pentecost)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal

Earlier this week, Bishop Goff sent a series of reflections to the clergy of the diocese titled “How do we preach this Sunday, November 13, 2016, the first Sunday after the 2016 Presidential Election?"

It’s a good question, and she offered good guidance, some things for all of us to remember, things like
  • Some are rejoicing over the result of the election, others are in mourning, and still others are simply confused. Every congregation will include people who voted for Trump side by side with people who voted for Clinton side by side with people who voted for a third party candidate and those who did not vote at all. 
  • Remember that the readings appointed for Sunday come up every three years.  They were not selected as a response to the context in which we find ourselves.  It may help our congregations to know that the preacher did not choose the readings.
  • Hold up hope for healing. What does healing look like right now?  How do we as preachers invite people to be agents of healing in this divided nation, even when emotions might be raw?

Okay, as if the bar weren’t high enough, here goes:

As Parker Palmer points out in the class on “civil civil discourse” which we’ve been offering during Adult Forum, a lot of people make a lot of money and get a lot of power by focusing our attention on what divides us.

It is human nature to move in the direction of what we concentrate on – and it is difficult to move in a direction you are not concentrating on.

And a lot of money has been spent over a lot of years to get us to concentrate on what divides us.

The expression “We are a deeply polarized and divided nation” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m saying it’s becoming truer at least in part because we’ve been saying it so much.

We’ve been concentrating on what divides at the cost of focusing our attention on what unites us, what we have in common.

So, what do we have in common?

And when I say “we," I mean us, this faith community, The Falls Church Episcopal, we who are gathered here now, today. And because all politics is local, it’s still a question with political implications:

“What do we, as the Falls Church Episcopal, have in common?”

Fortunately the answer is on the front page of your service leaflet:

"We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community."

Let's unpack that:

We are a welcoming group. Let me repeat something I will never tire of repeating:
the sign out front says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and there is no asterisk after the “you.”

As we say in our brochures in the pews, and in our welcome letter and in our literature:
“no matter who you are or where you are in your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.”
We mean that – no matter who you are –
conservative, liberal... gay, straight...
democrat, republican...
black, white, latino, asian...
married, single, divorced, separated, widowed...
...94 years old or a newborn infant, energetic or exhausted,
deeply involved in ministry or anonymously slipping in and out of worship
...hearing or hearing impaired, fundamentalist, agnostic,
adulterer-liar-cheater or faithful-truthful-honest, saint or sinner,
confused or confident...


But we’re not just a welcoming group…we’re a welcoming group of believers.

The word “believe” has a range of meanings: To believe something can mean to accept something as true, to feel sure of the truth of it, as in “the jury believed the defendant’s story.”

It can also mean merely to hold something as an opinion, to think or suppose it, as in “I believe we’ve already met..."

So when you say, as part of the baptismal covenant, that

you believe in God the Father almighty,
in Jesus Christ the son of God and
in God the Holy Spirit,

I’ll bet there’s a wide range of belief out there.

The purpose of worship, prayer, music, and Christian Education – and for that matter, pastoral care, outreach, and care of property, all our ministries --  is to move us from belief as “thinking or supposing in God” to belief as “accepting God as true, to be sure of the truth of God.”

We are a welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ.

Our message is not one of trust in Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or for those of you in a much earlier, or in an anticipatory stage of grief, its’ not in Bernie Sanders or John Kasich, or the Obamas, or in any political leader, past, present, or future.

Our message is not one of trust in better educational systems,
or in the checks and balances system;
our message is not one of trust in social justice issues, or a stronger military;

and our message is not one of trust even in religious institutions/the church, or religious leaders.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers who are admiring Herod’s great temple that one day it’ll destroyed – the enormous, beautiful smooth and apparently indestructible stones, in effect, the symbol and center of your security -- all toppled.

When they ask Jesus what he’s talking about, Jesus goes on to describe the most horrible circumstances imaginable:
  • first, false teachers, imposters, will mimic Jesus, misuse his name, and try to trick the faithful
  • second, there will be wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues (it doesn’t get a lot worse than that); these conflicts and disasters will rage on and intensify;
  • and third, just when it seems it can’t possibly get any worse, it gets personal: YOU will be arrested, YOU will be persecuted, YOU will be jailed and hauled before the authorities. (Feasting on the Word, p. 311) 

And then he says the most amazing thing: “This will give you an opportunity to testify.” 

So – imagine, everything that gives you a sense of security, gone.

The worst kind of social turmoil and political chaos swirling around.

False prophets and dozens of people claiming to be the messiah, with war and insurrection devastating much of the land....earthquakes, plagues, and famines devastating the rest of it, with no place to turn

you’re in jail or under house arrest, having been betrayed by your own dad or daughter

Tough times! To say the least!

And what does Jesus say about these tough times?

“You’ll have them right where you want them.”

This will give you an opportunity to testify.

The passage reminds me of what they say about fighter pilots.

Apparently when a fighter pilot finds him- or herself in an impossible situation – outnumbered 10 to 1, surrounded by enemy aircraft, what does he or she do?

They radio back and says “I’m in a target-rich environment.”

A target-rich environment!

You are in the toughest circumstances imaginable, and what is your attitude to be?

"Wow, lookit my opportunities!"

Which one to pick first?

Our message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ.

And that trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ leads us to love for one another, and service to the community. That’s the reason I say what we have in common has political implications. Presidents can come and go, laws can be repealed and new ones passed, but one thing will remain constant: we will have an opportunity to testify: 

We will, with God’s help, keep our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

So: how do we preach this Sunday, November 13, 2016?

Not as “the first Sunday after the Presidential election” to a politically divided group of Americans, but rather

as the twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, year C, to a "welcoming group of believers whose message is one of trust in the hope-filled promises of Jesus Christ, love for one another, and service to the community.”


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Make Gentle Our Bruised World

"We are simply asked
to make gentle our bruised world
to tame its savageness
to be compassionate of all
(including ourselves)
in the time left over
to repeat the Ancient Tale
and go the way 
of God's foolish ones."
                                                                       -- Peter Byrne, S.J.

That prayer/poem was first shared with over 20 years ago. 

About five years ago -- shortly before accepting the call to become Rector of The Falls Church -- I asked Mary, as my birthday present, to splurge on commissioning calligrapher  Michael Podesta to write the prayer/poem as something I could frame: 

Like I said: I've loved this prayer-poem for over two decades.

But mindful of Tuesday's election results and their aftermath, and because the truths of this prayer-poem tie so nicely with the season of Advent, I'm going to be offering a four-session Adult Forum series on it.*

I'd love to consider together questions such as:  

  • What does it mean -- for an individual Christian and for a faith community -- to make gentle a bruised world, and to tame its savageness? 
  • What does it mean -- for an individual Christian and a faith community -- to be compassionate of all? 
  • What good does it do to repeat the Ancient Tale of God-with-us, Immanuel, God-taking-flesh that first Christmas? What's it mean to be one of God's "foolish ones"? 

*Adult Forum at the Falls Church meets Sunday mornings (10:20 to 11:00 am) on Sundays November 20 and 27 and Sundays December 11 and 18. (December 4th is our Alternative Gift Market). 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After, and Hereafter

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. 

Where there is hatred, let us sow love; 

where there is injury, pardon; 

where there is discord, union; 

where there is doubt, faith; 

where there is despair, hope; 

where there is darkness, light; 

where there is sadness, joy. 

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 

to be understood as to understand; 

to be loved as to love. 

For it is in giving that we receive; 

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 


Monday, November 7, 2016

I Believe Donald Trump

I realize a blog post -- especially at this late hour the night before -- isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about who to vote for in tomorrow’s presidential election.

And so let me make it clear that I’m not writing this in order to try to convince anyone to change their minds (although I’d welcome it if it does).

I’m writing this post for one reason:

I feel like I have to, to clear my own conscience. I’ve tried – right up to tonight – to resist taking a public stance or go “on the record,” and instead take the easier, more tempting route to speak only after the fact or in hindsight.

(Let me also make something else very clear: I’m writing this on Unapologetic Theology, my own blog, and – as I’ve always made clear – this is my own personal blog and the views I express here are my own. The viewpoints expressed her are not necessarily those (and are quite often not those!) of the particular parish I serve, nor do they represent the viewpoint of the diocese, denomination (or for that matter, the Deity) that I serve. In other words: I'm speaking for myself here, as an individual.)

Ever since the first time I was old enough to vote (in 1980, when I was 19, for Ronald Reagan), I’ve always followed closely and cared deeply about Presidential elections.  In each of the nine elections I’ve voted in – 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 -- I’ve always wanted “my” candidate to win. I’ve been happy when they have won and disappointed when they lost.

But like many others have said, never before – never until this Presidential election -- have I thought that the election was more about us as a nation – our character, our identity, our direction -- than about the individuals running. This one uniquely feels like we are deciding who we are as a nation and what we value.

Much earlier in this campaign – during the primaries -- I was honestly struggling with who I should vote for. I wasn’t sure, for two reasons:

1) ever since the 2008 primaries, when I watched how the Hillary Clinton campaign treated President Barak Obama, I’ve never been a fan of hers or her political machine.

2) I have many friends – truly close friends whom I like and whose opinions I respect – who are conservative Republicans and had one of several other Republican candidates emerged as the Republican party’s standard-bearer, I was going to keep an open mind. Even now I can say that if this election were between Marco Rubio or John Kasich or Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, I’d be back where I’ve been in previous elections: caring, perhaps even deeply, about who won. But not worried about the future of the country.

You see where I’m going with this. If you’re a Donald Trump supporter and you’ve given me the courtesy of reading this far, thank you. I’m likely to lose you now.

And that’s fine, because again: I’m not writing this to try to convince anyone to change his or her vote.

I’m writing to give the reasons I cannot, in good conscience, vote for Donald Trump.

First: I’m concerned about the way that things that would have been disqualifying for other candidates in previous elections have – because of how much people dislike Hillary Clinton -- become “normalized.”

To name five:

  • Donald Trump has never been elected to public office. That’d be okay if he was running for mayor of a city, or as a congressman or even as a United States Senator…but no matter who it is, Republican or Democrat, “on the job training” is not a good idea for President of the United States; 
  • the horrifying things he (indisputably) said about women: “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful... I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."  That’s not “locker-room” talk; that really is sexual predator talk and should be disqualifying even for someone running for president of a college fraternity;
  • His inability to admit when he is wrong/his oversized ego; and 
  • His odd -- and frightening -- fascination with authoritarianism.

But -- with the exception of the first and last points -- those are all character flaws. 

So let's say -- just for the sake of argument, because I do NOT believe it – just for the sake of argument, let's say that Hillary Clinton' character is equally flawed.

Still. I cannot vote for Donald Trump -- not solely because of his character flaws and not because I don’t believe him-- but because I do believe him; because of policies that would be implemented if he is elected.

To name two issues I care deeply about: 
So, for the reasons named above: concern over the unhealthy normalization of a number of what should be disqualifying events, and because I believe that a wall on our southern border – and all the anti-immigrant sentiments that that proposal represents – is in violation of the best instincts and interests of this nation, and because I believe taking away the right of same-sex couples to be legally married is unwise and even cruel, I cannot in good conscious vote for Donald Trump.

You All Saints People

Sermon for All Saints Sunday (November 6, 2016)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal

While every Sunday is special, this Sunday is extra special, because we have today the convergence of not two, not three, but four important things going on in our common life as a faith community:

In order of importance (even if not in order of how much time we spend thinking about them!), those four things are:

·      One, All Saints Sunday and a special combined service,

·      Two, a baptism Sunday,

·      Three, the conclusion of our Annual Giving Campaign with our Celebration of Giving potluck following the service, and

·      Four, because Tuesday concludes another campaign that you may have heard of or be just the tiniest bit concerned about, we are including a special post communion hymn[i] and a special post communion prayer[ii] for our nation.

Now what, do you think, those four things might have in common?

It’s a question we asked ourselves in planning this service. As you may know, your clergy and staff spend quite a bit of time planning for Sundays. A few weeks ago, when Kelly, Julie, Nina and I sat down to plan this particular Sunday, and we knew we had a special challenge recognizing the convergence of those four things, I went up to the whiteboard in my office and drew a large Venn Diagram with those four circles:

All Saints Sunday
Annual Giving Campaign
Presidential Campaign

And we spent a little time wondering to one another, “what’s the common shaded area -- Is there one overlapping concept which those four things have in common?

(It was, by the way, easy to see a common shaded area between at least two of those circles, the two circles of the Annual Giving Campaign and the Presidential Campaign, which is while in both of those campaigns, everyone can find some signs of hope and reasons to be confident based on what people seem to be doing so far, there are still a LOT of “undecideds” out there, and that’s making some of us just a teeny bit nervous…!

…so if you’re one of those undecided in the giving campaign, we have a ballot for you [Pledge Card]

But what’s the common shaded area between all four circles of All Saints, baptism, giving, and praying for our nation? What do all four have in common, we wondered?

After talking about that a bit, here’s what we came up with:


A sense of call…a sense that we – as a people and as individuals -- are being called to something.

That by remembering All Saints, and our baptismal covenant, and by moving from gratitude to generosity in the giving campaign, and even in the presidential campaign -- in the way it has forced us to think about not just the candidates, but what we value as a nation and how we treat one another -- in all those areas we are being called to something bigger and better.

We are being called, in the words of Paul in Ephesians, to
·      have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that
·      we may know the hope to which God has called us, and
·      what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

Eugene Peterson says, in his introduction to the book of Ephesians that “what we know about God and what we do for God has a way of getting broken apart in our lives,” but “we cannot separate belief from behavior.”

What we know about God [head]

and what we do for God [hands]

has a way of getting broken apart in our lives

But we cannot separate belief from behavior.

That’s what makes saints, saints.

Saints were not -- are not -- perfect people. You hear people say, “well, I’m no saint,” or “he or she is no saint.” And by that they mean they have lots of flaws.

Well, do some reading: if having no flaws was the criteria, the saints were no saints, either. God could have populated the earth -- and the Church, and the clergy, and this church -- with angels or perfect people perfectly doing God’s will.

That’s not what God did. Instead, God populated the earth, the Church, the clergy, and this church, with flawed, failed, and frightened people like me and you.

Saints are people who have the eyes of their hearts enlightened. Saints are people who know the hope to which God has called them. Saints are people who know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

And so that’s why we’re reminded today -- as we just sang – that saints “lived not only in ages past, but there are hundreds and thousands still” and biblically speaking, “there’s not any reason, no not the least, why you shouldn’t be one too” – all you need, all I need, all we need, is to reconnect what we know about God with what we do for God and connect belief with behavior.

That’s why baptism is so appropriate for today. Each time there’s a baptism, we recite the Apostle’s Creed – which like the Nicene Creed is all about what we know about God (HEAD) but has little to nothing to do with what we do for God – but each time there’s a baptism, the creed is immediately followed by those five questions which are all about what we do for God: just look at all those wonderful action verbs as we’re asked if we will, with God’s help,
·      continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayers,

·      will we persevere, repent, and return to God,  

·      will we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,

·      will we seek and serve, will we love our neighbors as ourselves –

·      will we strive for justice and peace among all people

·      and will we refuse to separate Christian belief from Christian behavior and -- with God’s help -- no matter what, will we insist on respecting the dignity of every human being?

Those are promises we can keep no matter the outcome of a presidential election.

Those are promises that we MUST keep no matter the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Those are promises that are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to keep after Tuesday’s election.

And finally, one last pitch for this giving campaign: That IS what a church is: as this church well knows, “The Falls Church Episcopal” is not a building; it is a gathering of people, and as Christians, not just any people, but a people called, called by God to something bigger and better than we can ask or imagine or accomplish on our own.

A people who are yes, flawed, failed, and frightened, but who are also redeemed, being transformed, and are empowered to put our belief into behavior who

·      have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that
·      we may know the hope to which God has called us, and
·      what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

We are a people called and empowered by God to put our belief into behavior:

·      to reconnect what we know about God with what we do for  God, so that,
·      living into our call, light shines,

“not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,

but here in this place” -- here through you All Saints people --  

because “now is the kingdom, now is the day!”[iii]

[i] O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

[ii] "Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.

"Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.

"Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

"Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.

"In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

[iii] from “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen, © 1982 GIA Publications, Inc. sung as our opening hymn.