Monday, July 25, 2016

"Lord, teach us to pray"

A sermon preached July 24, 2016
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13)


I think prayer is evangelism.

Here’s what I mean by that: people are drawn to people who pray well. People are drawn to churches that pray well.

People – thousands of people at a time – were drawn to Jesus. When the first disciples noticed Jesus praying, and when he was done, they said, “Lord teach us to pray.” As if to say, “We want what you have: We notice your contagious joy, your courage, your calm power and authority, your tender compassion. “Lord, teach us to pray.

“Lord, teach us to pray.” Each word is important.

Lord: it means someone who has power, authority, influence. A “lord” is someone you follow, give your allegiance to. “Lord” should remind us of the first commandment: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.”

The bible doesn’t say there are no other gods. The ancient Israelites knew there were dozens, if not hundreds of gods competing for their affections and loyalties. What the Bible says is the Lord God is the only God who will love you back: it’s the nature of false gods to promise more and more to you and deliver less and less, but it’s the nature of the Lord God to give back to you more than you even ask or imagine.

Lord, teach us: I said prayer can be thought of as evangelism. That is, if we have this attitude of people who are wiling to be taught.

We have much to learn. A “Jesus as teacher” attitude puts us in the position of humble apprentices, people admitting we don’t have all the answers, or even most of them, but we are eager to learn.

So Jesus’s disciples say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

And Jesus says, in response, “when you pray, say, “father, hallowed be your name.

Right off the bat, this wonderful tension, this beautiful paradox of our relationship with God: on the one hand, God’s name is hallowed, holy, divine, sacred, other. God is God and we are not.

On the other hand, we are to relate to this hallowed, holy, divine, sacred other God as Father. Or more literally, “abba,” daddy, loving tender parent. 

(a word about language: if you had or have a good, healthy, loving relationship with your earthly father and the metaphor of father-child is useful and encouraging, makes you want to have conversational intimacy with God, run to God and God’s open loving accepting arms – then use it – but if  you’re one of those many people who for whatever reason did not have a good healthy, loving relationship with your earthly father – if, when you think of your father you think of scolding or shaming or cold indifference or distance or worse, abuse – then please remember that all language about God is metaphorical and choose some other metaphor as your operative one.)

What all of us should remember is, as the author John Eldredge points out, that Jesus could have used any number of other biblical metaphors to describe our relationship to God, and three of the most popular ones at the time were

potter and clay,
shepherd and sheep, and
master and servant.

You see, Jesus could have referred to us as clay in the hands of a master potter, no relationship there at all, just an inanimate object to be molded.

He could have referred to us as sheep cared for by a shepherd, a little better but very different creatures, and if you know anything about sheep, not a very flattering image to have of yourself.

He could have referred to us as servants to a master – that’s a stage many Christians are stuck in – and while at least here both the servant and the master are human beings, the relationship is all about commitment to duty, following orders, being obedient, receiving instructions and carrying them out.

No, the metaphor Jesus uses – the way Jesus wants us to pray to God – is as child and parent.

As Eldredge points out, children live in the same house, eat the same food, share the same name, and the fortunate ones receive support and unconditional parental love.

And they grow up understanding the world to be a safe and secure place.

And something people in Jesus day and time would have understood right away, as Paul would later write about in Romans (8:17) is “if we are children of God, then we are heirs – we get God’s inheritance. A father’s intention, a mother’s intention, is to pass on what they have to their children…everything that God has, we have access to.  That means everything that Jesus had, you have: his humility, his love, his forgiveness, his ability to heal and work miracles – it’s all available to you!

That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray “your kingdom come” – and as the Gospel of Matthew adds – God’s will be done on earth, right here, right now, as God’s will is being done in heaven. As a child of God, everything that Jesus had, you have available to you: his wisdom, his strength., his joy, his union with the father – all these things we receive in our own life.

But wait, there’s more: later in this passage Jesus uses the metaphor of friend, going to God as a friend, and as Eldredge points out, this opens up an even deeper level of intimacy: 


we’re companions; God knows what’s on our heart, and we know what is on God’s heart. With friends there is conversational intimacy. There is giving and receiving.

There is forgiving and being forgiven.

Want some good news this morning? Jesus is here giving us a daily prayer, a prayer to say each and every single day of our lives: Give us, each day, our daily bread. And in that same breath he says “and forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”

In a prayer meant to be prayed daily, we are to ask for forgiveness and for the grace to forgive others. That means God, the one who created us, knows we are in need of not just daily food shelter water and clothing, but that daily forgiveness. God knows you and I are going to sin, and be sinned against – that we are going to screw up, and be screwed over by other people, every day of our life. Maybe you’ve seen the daily prayer making its rounds, meant as a joke, that goes like this,

“Dear Lord,

So far I've done all right.
I haven't gossiped,
haven't lost my temper,
I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I'm really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I'm going to need a lot more help.”

Well, exactly.

I think Jesus would approve of that prayer.

Jesus knew, in teaching us to pray, that God knows none of us gets this thing called life, or the Christian faith, or church, perfectly, and so each of us, all of us, can pray, each day, “forgive me, and help me forgive – and if it’s not too much to ask, don’t bring me to those times of trials – lead me not into those temptations -- in the first place.”

So: prayer as evangelism.

Pray like that, as an individual, and people will be drawn to you.

Pray like that, as a church, and people will be drawn here, as they witness more and more people

·      filled with contagious joy,
·      courage,
·      calm power and authority, and
·      tender compassion.

Lord, teach us to pray like that!


--##--

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Martha and Mary and Deep Canoe Paddle Strokes

The Gospel appointed to be read this upcoming Sunday is the story of Jesus being a guest in the home of Martha and Mary.

While Martha and Mary are sisters, the two of them have very different reactions to Jesus' presence in their home.

On the one hand, Mary sits and listens to Jesus. On the other hand, Martha "is distracted by her many tasks."

Martha approaches Jesus and says "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."  

But Jesus answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." 

What a great reminder to not allow our busy-ness to get in the way of sitting still and listening to God. 

I've long wrestled with the "Martha-Mary dynamic." I'm frequently torn between indulging my inner Martha -- being driven...accomplishing...working hard...getting things done - and indulging my inner Mary -- taking time on a daily and weekly basis, and during vacation time to listen to Jesus in prayer...rest...sit still...read...journal.

Once on retreat, I told my spiritual director (a Jesuit priest) that with as much work as there is to be done, I had trouble giving myself permission to pray, and rest. 

Here's what he said in response: 

"John: sitting still - just doing nothing, just contemplating, praying - will accomplish a lot more than activity, because it is in times of silence, retreat, and contemplation that we align ourselves with God's purposes. Then your actions - the ones that flow out of that quiet - will be like the deep canoe paddle stroke, changing direction with minimal effort, versus the day (and the life) of a hundred quick energetic strokes at the surface. You must believe this. So whenever you find yourself unable to rest...unable to just be...feet tapping, agitated, ready to 'just get out there' it's a major warning sign that you are not in tune with God." 

Maybe you need to hear that as much as I do...? 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Irresponsible to be Silent

A sermon preached June 19, 2016
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia

(“Dear Lord: Carry your word into the most protected parts of our hearts.”)

Today I don’t have a traditional sermon. I certainly don’t have a sermon about Father’s Day, but now that I’ve mentioned it, happy Father’s Day. Today, instead of a traditional sermon, I feel led to share some things that have been on my heart this past week.

I’ve been your Rector here since August of 2012. Those of you who have been here a long time know that my preaching style is almost always “expository,” a fancy word that simply means you take a passage of scripture, and having studied it during the week, you show – or expose – its meaning and relevance as best you can, and then you sit down, trusting Holy Spirit will be hard at work simultaneously translating for each of you what you need to hear on any given Sunday.

One of the implications of this style of preaching is I tend not to preach “topical” sermons, and I don’t preach “politics from the pulpit.” 

Part of the reason, by the way, I don’t preach politics from the pulpit comes from the fact that my first real job out of college was working on Capitol Hill for 2 ½ years, and I was briefly assigned to a presidential campaign, and I worked as a lobbyist/issues person for a year, then as a press secretary and speech writer back in Indiana, involved in a statewide campaign.

Even as an entry-level legislative aide, I developed, and have kept, an appreciation for the fact that most issues are complex and nuanced. And that more than one person can be correct on an issue. And that even if someone is wrong, at least it’s possible to be honestly wrong.

I also realize there are lots of experts in this very congregation: editors, writers, legislative directors, policy wonks.

It strikes me as presumptuous and naïve for preachers to try to tell you what, specifically, to think or how, specifically, to take action on a particular issue.

So I promise not to stand up here and offer a particular specific solution to any particular political problem, saying that "we must all go out and support HR1234” as the way to address this particular problem. In fact, I’ll go further: when it comes to political problems we face, I promise not to offer any solutions whatsoever.

But is that – being too political, weighing in too often on social justice issues – really the side of the cliff I’m in danger of falling off of?

Here’s what I wrestled with this past week: is my silence from the pulpit and in my weekly e-news messages sending an inadvertent message of indifference?

Last week I said there are so many times we find ourselves in a situation where we witness a wrong, and we know it has to be made right, but out of fear that we come across as judgmental, out of a fear that we’ll offend,

we get cold feet…

we go into our conflict avoidance mode,

we decide to wait it out,

not because we’re being patient, but because, if we’re honest, because we don’t want to rock the boat: we lack the courage to speak up, speak out, say something.

But then along comes something like what happened exactly a week ago Sunday in Orlando – except there hasn’t been “something like” what happened there, it set a new horrible modern American record.



Picture a Venn Diagram, with three circles:

Gays
Guns
Latinos

And the overlap part is a perfect storm that seems irresponsible to be silent about.

Sure, we offered prayers during Prayers of the People last week. For some of you, that’s enough. I get that: you don’t come to church to hear what you hear all week long.

Especially when we add to that Venn Diagram the fact that we’re in a particularly toxic presidential campaign,

and add to that our culture -- especially inside the Beltway -- of shaming and blaming, of polarization, divisiveness, and name-calling -- that we’re all tired of and want a respite from...

...well, it is any wonder that out of a fear that I’ll offend, that I get cold feet...

That I go into conflict avoidance mode,

I decide to wait it out,

not because I’m being patient, but because,

if I’m honest, because I don’t want to rock the boat: I lack the courage to speak up, speak out, say something.


Well, I’m not asking you to agree with me, and again I promise not to offer any solutions, but surely it is possible to tell the truth, but tell it in love.

Besides, as the Gospel reminds us today, Jesus – and the Body of Christ the Church, you and I – have power over that which would "corrupt and destroy the creatures of God." And the power to bind and to loose the evil powers of this world begins by naming them: Legion, for they are many -- not by pretending they aren’t there, or by looking the other way.

And here is the truth in regard to gays, guns, and Latinos. (Guns first, then Latinos, then gays).

Guns: I was going to say that our culture has a gun problem, but even to say “our culture has a gun problem” is politically charged, because it sounds like I’m advocating specific stances about which people of good will can honestly disagree.

So I won’t say we have a gun problem: I’ll say something we can all agree on, and that is we have a violence problem in our culture.

We glorify violence.

We have violence as entertainment in the movies and on television.

But here’s the thing: our violence problem is exacerbated by the fact that it has become too easy for someone intent on killing innocent people to kill lots of them very quickly.

I don’t know, and won’t pretend to tell you, what must be done about that.

But something must be done about that.



Latinos: our culture also has a racism problem. It’s a racism problem that goes all the way back in this nation’s history: As we will acknowledge later this fall in a series of events, and with the placing of a new marker, historical evidence points to the conclusion that our historic church was built by slave labor -- race-based slave labor. And the legacy of racism is with us today. It’s just aimed at different minorities in different decades.

I don’t know what the solution to racism is.

But I do know this: that demagoguery and fear-mongering feeds racism, and it is not Christian behavior to support anyone running for political office who spouts demagoguery and fans the flames of fear-mongering.


Gays: it’s easy to point fingers at other people, without realizing we have three fingers pointing right back at us.

I regret to say that in this very church, and from this very pulpit, year after year in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, words were spoken and a theology (sociology) was preached that caused harm and hurt to gays and lesbians. That may or may not have been the intent, but intent does not equal impact, and harm and hurt to gays was the impact. Although I was not here, and although this church is now unapologetically an ally of gays and lesbians, I repent of the harm that has been done here, and I resolve to be more outspoken whenever the dignity of a gay or lesbian person is not being respected. 

As a Facebook post by Alex Drake[1] puts it, in part,

Here's the thing you need to understand about every LGBT person in your family, your work, and your circle of friends: We've spent most of our lives being aware that we are at risk. … 

When you hear interviewers talking to LGBT folks and they say "[what happened in Orlando] could have been here. It could have been me," they aren't exaggerating. I don't care how long you've been out, how far down your road to self acceptance and love you've traveled, we are always aware that we are at some level of risk.

... When I reach to hold Matt's hand in the car? I still do the mental calculation of "ok, that car is just slightly behind us so they can't see, but that truck to my left can see right inside the car". If I kiss Matt in public, like he leaned in for on the bike trail the other day, I'm never fully in the moment. I'm always parsing who is around us and paying attention to us. …

Over the last few years, it started to fade a little. It started to feel like maybe things were getting better. A string of Supreme Court decisions. Public opinion shifting to the side of LGBT rights. Life was getting better. You could breathe a little bit. … This weekend was a sudden slap in the face, a reminder that I should never have let my guard down, should never have gotten complacent... because it could have been US. … Those little PDAs you take for granted with your spouse. They come with huge baggage for us. Every single one is an act of defiance, with all that entails.

So do me a favor. Reach out to that LGBT person in your life. Friend, co-worker, or family. Just let them know you are thinking of them and you love them. That will mean the world to them right now. I promise you.

To admit we have a violence problem exacerbated by guns,
to admit we have a racism problem,
and to admit we have a long way to go toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians,
is not political.

It is speaking the truth -- I hope, in love --
that Orlando can be a wake up call to all of us
to do a better job of keeping our baptismal promise
to respect the dignity of every human being. 

--##--








[1] The full post is https://www.facebook.com/alexdarke/posts/10157060081000422

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Power of Words (and a top reason why people will go to church)

Greetings from Princeton Theological Seminary, where I'm attending the Frederick Buechner Writer's Workshop.

This is is part of my annual Continuing Education-Professional Development time, or what I would call time to "restock the overfished pond" -- time set aside to step back for a few days and renew, restore, and restock my thought-well.

One of the recurring themes at this year's conference is the power of words.

For example, the written word can time-travel: words written over 1,000 years ago still have the power to move us today. And through the written word, a writer can bi-locate, being present in someone's living room in Cincinnati at the same time that writer is present to a reader on a subway car in Tokyo.

Words also have power to bring about change. They can bring about tremendous psychological and social healing ("with malice toward none, with charity toward all...") and they can cause great psychological and social harm (and here I don't want to provide examples, because even to repeat hateful words is to give them power).

In her keynote address this morning, author Kathleen Norris spoke about the power of words on Sunday mornings.
First she read a series of humorous examples of bad prayers. Then she gave us counter-examples of beautiful prayers.

(Proud Episcopalian moment: this prayer, from the Book of Common Prayer's "Order of Compline" was her prime example of a beautiful prayer:

"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake.")

That prayer was Kathleen Norris' segue into the end of her talk, which contained a great reminder for those of us who preach and lead prayers on Sundays.

She ended by saying people go to church "for relief from hearing things they hear all week long."

Yes. What a great reminder. In our culture, words are used so often to sell products, mask truth, and divide people. Words are so often cheapened.

By contrast, Church can and should be a place where words are used to share God's unconditional love, illuminate truth, and remind us of what unifies us. Where words are used for the purpose of praising and worshipping God.

That's a high calling. A calling we'll never be perfect about living into, but -- I hope you can see - is one toward which we strive.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Grace That Scorches Us -- Jan Richardson

I ran across this prayer/poem a little bit after Pentecost Sunday, but hey, it's still the season of Pentecost, a season to take Holy Spirit seriously, so here goes. 

It's one of those poems that each time I re-read it, I get something new from it. 

THIS GRACE THAT SCORCHES US
A Blessing for Pentecost Day

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes
of your own.

Bring your sorrow.
Bring your grief.
Bring your fear.
Bring your weariness,
your pain,
your disgust at how broken
the world is,
how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting,
its wars,
its hungers,
its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place
where you have gathered,
wait.
Watch.
Listen.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.

See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones,
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made:
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle,
this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.

—Jan Richardson
from “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”

Friday, June 3, 2016

Counter-training Manual for Yard Work, Part the First

In Which our Hero describes Various Perils of Seemingly Simple Tasks



Today is a day for catching up on yard work. 

Yard work is not my specialty. Except for the fact that it gives me an excuse to be out in the sunshine with a cigar and not feel guilty that I am just out in the sunshine with a cigar, yard work isn't my favorite activity, either. I find it frustrating.

Most of the reason I find it frustrating is that each time I do it, there's a real-life version of "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza" going on in my life:

e:

You know: There's a hole in the bucket which needs mending, which needs straw to plug it, but the straw is too long, which means it needs cutting, which means you need an axe, but the axe is too dull which means it needs sharpening; but the stone to sharpen the axe is too dry, which means the stone needs wetting. 

Which means you need a bucket to wet the stone. 

But there's a hole in the bucket.

In today's real-life case, Mary told me that if there was just one thing I could get done today, it would be -- and this is a direct quote -- "to mow over the big ugly stupid things" that are taking over the back yard. 

Except our lawn mower has been stalling out after only ten feet of cutting, so I had to take it in to get fixed. Except we needed to Yelp-review and then ask Brown's Hardware where to take it, and finding out, and the repair place being several miles away, we needed a van to get it over there, but two weeks ago we sold-loaned our van to our son Graham, who drove it to California. So that meant I needed to swap cars with Elizabeth, who drives a CRV, but who was going to drive to Leesburg the one day I could get it over there and that meant swapping cars with Will, which meant driving Mary to work after putting the lawn mower in the trunk of the Accord which meant I needed a bungee cord, but the bungee cords are, last I saw them, in the van with Graham, which meant shoving the lawn mower in the trunk and duct-taping the trunk to the bumper which meant having to find an orange flag to warn tailgaters that there was a lawn mower sticking out the rear of our car.

Turns out the lawn mower fix-it place is four weeks behind on repairs. Which meant borrowing our neighbors' lawn mower. 

But mowing over "the big ugly stupid things" probably meant stressing or even ruining our neighbor's lawn mower, which we didn't want to do.  

Which meant I needed to weed-whack them. 

But the weed-wacker needed string. 

It is not easy to re-string a Stihl trimmer. But thankfully there are YouTube videos to watch with step-by-step instructions. 
All you have to do is go down into your basement with your weed-trimmer and iPhone, watch this video fourteen times, and then -- after figuring out which of the three models your model is, and after deep-breathing exercises -- do it yourself, just like the guy in the video, who apparently does this for a living because he makes it look really easy.

It is not really easy. 

Now listen: I have a master's degree. I have counseled couples back into marriages who were ready to poison each other's coffee. I have, with Mary, raised three teenagers, with only minor disasters and jail times. I'm competent at difficult things, damnit. 

But after re-stringing a trimmer, I am now confident that I can single-handedly negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East while fixing all U.S. infrastructure woes, because really, how hard can that be compared to re-stringing that thing?

I was also aware that at this point in the day I had not yet gone outside. 
But, finally, re-strung trimmer in hand, I ventured outside to attack the Big Ugly Stupid Things. 

Except, out there, it suddenly occurred to me that that terms like "big," "ugly" and "stupid" are all relative terms. And it being several weeks after Mary had asked me to get rid of the big ugly stupid things, now the entire back yard was filled with big ugly stupid things. 

I will also admit I was only half paying attention when she gave me those instructions. At the time they seemed pretty simple. 

But I recall she also said to "be careful NOT to mow over the 'packs of Sandra.' Or the "Liriope." 

"Liriope" I could, and did, google-image, and manage to avoid. But I never did see packs of Sandra, or even any individual Sandra's. 

So I week-wacked everything in sight.

Our back yard now looks like a scene from post-apocalyptic The Book of Eli. 

Mary's not home yet to see my yard work. But, I now wonder if I should be careful sipping my coffee tomorrow morning...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

How I combat political despair (and other forms of worry)

It is, to say the least, an odd and rancorous election season. (And to think it's only June, with nearly half a year to go until November elections.)

I'm not the only one noticing that there's a palpable sense of worry in the body politic. And given all the turmoil, polarization, and rancor in the political system, it's not surprising that some people are falling into a form of dread, and even despair.

I want to address that sense of political dread. But -- don't worry -- I'm not weighing in politically, here. In fact I want to remind everyone that at The Falls Church Episcopal, when we say "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" there is no asterisk after the "you" -- meaning ALL are welcome there: liberal and conservative, straight and gay, millionaires and homeless, life-long Christians and first-time-visitors-doubting-this-whole-religion-thing, newborn babies and octogenarians, and everyone in between each of those spectrums.

So while I'm not here weighing in on any political stance, I do want to admit that sometimes I get worried about politics. And sometimes I have to remind myself of good antidotes to political and other kinds of worry.

And on the chance that you, too, sometimes slide into political despair (or any kind of worry) -- I want to offer some of those antidotes, for your use.

The first antidote is a line from my mentor from college years, William C. (Bill) Placher. I love this quote so much I've recently made it part of my email signature.

Placher said,

"The way we best show our love to the whole world is to love with a particular passion some little part of it."

The reason I like that quote is it that it's hope-full. A lot of our feelings of despair and worry are based on a sense (valid or not) that "so much is beyond our control"  -- that there's very little we, as one person, can do.

But there's hope in taking action. We counteract discouraging feelings when do something. When we do something. And the best way show our love to the whole world -- the best way to make an impact on the community, the nation, and the world -- is to love with a particular passion some little part of it.

That sentiment is very consistent with another favorite antidote to despair and worry, and that's the line "it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Sure, there's lots of darkness, lots of rancor, lots of polarization. But we can light a candle, and light -- the Light of Christ-like behaviors -- overcomes darkness. Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

The third and final antidote to despair and worry is the line "we are a 65-mile-an-hour people, and often God is a 3-mile-an-hour God." 

That, for me, is a reminder to be both persistent and patient. It brings to mind what The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." That the United States is, on the world stage, still in its adolescence (yet driving a very powerful car). That God ain't finished with any of us yet, and that we all have much to learn -- from the Christian faith, from God, and from one another. Which leads us all the way back to persistence and patience, showing our love to the whole world by loving with a particular passion one little part of it.

And that, we can all do.

I hope this helps.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Sharing some Joy...

One of the lessons assigned this Sunday -- the lesson from Revelation -- has a recurring theme of invitation:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.


During a recent "Invite-Welcome-Connect" workshop at The Falls Church Episcopal, we heard about the value of invitation.

It's a fascinating fact that even though we live in an era of internet, advertising, Twitter and Facebook, the number one reason people come to church is - or get connected to a ministry once there - is because someone invited them.

"Come!"

Here's what I find even more fascinating, though:

No one ever has to tell you to invite your friends to something about which you are genuinely enthusiastic.

You see a new movie or discover a new music act or read a new book, and you say, spontaneously, "have you heard about ________?"

There's joy in sharing joy.

So...ponder this a minute:

What are some reasons you come to church?

Why do you, among all the choices you have on Sunday mornings, decide to go to church?

And - if you're connected in any way to any ministry of the church - why? What's the reason you're involved, and not just attending?

I think - I hope - that if you dig deep enough into your reasons for coming, or getting involved, you'll eventually get to the word "joy."

Remember that Christ - and therefore Christianity - is announced in the Bible as "Good tidings of great joy."

That is first thing that is said in the angelic announcement about God coming to earth as Jesus.

As the author Steve Backlund writes,
The angel did not say, 'I bring you news of a teaching that I hope you can follow,' or
'I bring you news that Jesus is coming; and boy, is He mad!' but no, the message was, 'It's time to celebrate!' 
God is doing what you couldn't. God is making a way where there was no way. You are being saved from the curse, from rejection, shame, punishment, poverty, sickness; and from performance-based living. The door is being opened to eternal life; intimacy with the Father, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and so much more. It is incredible, joyous news!
That is the message; that is the reason - I hope - at the root of your coming to, and being involved in, church.

(If you don't feel joy about your church, then that's a problem; talk to your leadership (me or Rev. Kelly or Nina or one of the wardens, if your church is The Falls Church Episcopal.)

So yes, plug your favorite new movie or restaurant or vacation spot.

But if you feel joy about your church, give yourself permission to plug your church too.

Invite someone.

Don't worry about his or her response; God is in charge of their response, not you.

Only concentrate on what you have control over: sharing your joy, and inviting....

...saying to someone, soon,

"Come!"

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