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Showing posts from 2014

Do Not Be Afraid: Where Calm Confidence Comes From

(Re-posting a sermon today from 2010, because something/one prompted me to...) Today I have a very simple question to ask. The question is, “where does calm, joyful confidence in God’s care come from? – how can we get it, make it our own?” As far as that question is concerned, in some ways we’re picking up from where we left off a few weeks ago: You may recall on All Saints weekend, we were looking at the Beatitudes, and we looked at the notion of beautitudo, (beatitude), and I suggested the best definition for “blessed” is “ a condition of life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of your outward conditions .” [1] I said I think we’ve all tasted that at one point or another in our lives. Even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, we’ve had a sense that all is well…a powerful sense of bliss. (We have this giant tire swing in our back yard – literally a truck tire tied to a rope on a branch two stories high. My daughter Elizabeth, who i

The Surprise Presence we get at Christmas

A sermon preached Christmas Eve, 2015 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal The surprise presence we get at Christmas: not the presents with a t, the presents we get to open tomorrow morning -- tonight I want to talk about the surprise presence , company, showing up, appearance, incarnation, that we get at Christmas. I recently ran across a little book with the title An Unexpected Christmas by Simone Graham. The author wrote the story as a gift for her own children. It was made into a short film by St. Paul’s Anglican church in New Zealand and became a hit on YouTube a couple years ago. The book invites you to use your imagination, and imagine a conversation going on in heaven as God reveals God’s plans for the very first Christmas. I like the way it gives a whole different perspective on a very familiar story. It starts out by asking if you have ever wondered if we “could pull back the curtain of time that very first Christmas,” and ima

Softly, Christmas

Many years ago, I received one of the most memorable Christmas gifts I've ever received. It was the Fall of 1984, and I was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. A classmate and friend of mine by the name of Kay gave me a sheet of fine paper on which she had written, in beautiful handwriting, a poem by Margaret Bundy Moss titled "Softly, Christmas." It's been 30 years, but each year at this time I remember the gift of these words: Softly, Christmas Walk softly As you go through Christmas, That each step may bring you Down the starlit path To the manger bed. Talk quietly As you speak of Christmas, That you shall not drown out The glorious song of angels With idle talk and merriment. Kneel reverently As you pause for Christmas, That you may feel again The spirit of the Nativity Rekindled in your soul. Rise eagerly After you have trod The Christmas path, That you may serve more fully The One whose birth we hail.            

An irreverent reverent look at lights

This week, I want to offer an irreverent, reverent look at lights: you know, the Christmas lights that people put up on their houses this time of year.  I love looking at neighborhood lights. Doesn't make much difference if it is over-sized and gaudy reindeer scenes or a subtle and classy one-candle-per-window display. The irreverent thought about neighborhood lights is this: I like to think of them as little "up yours" to darkness.  It's no coincidence people put lights on their houses this time of year: December 21 is the shortest day (i.e., the longest night) of the year. Each day since what, June, there's been a little more darkness and a little less light. These lights seem to say "enough is enough, I miss the light, and if mother nature won't bring it earlier, we will!"   It's as though we're fighting back, saying, "give it your best shot, Daylight Saving Time! Bring it on, darkness, sadness, despair, hopelessness. I'm

A Third Way at Christmastime

 About ten years ago, I used to write a weekly column called "Faithfully Yours" that ran in two newspapers. People would write in with whatever spiritual or religious questions were on their minds, and I'd offer my thoughts and sometimes advice. For this week's message, I'm re-running, with modifications, one that ran around Christmastime. I hope you find it helpful. Q:  I really want to feel "the Christmas spirit" but have had an increasingly harder time seeing through the malls and the parties and the pressures of the season.  And Christmas morning seems like it is all focused on presents. I don't want to sound like Scrooge, but am I the only one who is glad when Christmas is finally over? A: No, you're not the only one who feels that way. For years, I've conducted a workshop called Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season, based on the book by that title, and I've heard hundreds

This Thanksgiving Day...

Thanksgiving Day is a favorite holiday for many people. I suspect a big reason is the simplicity of Thanksgiving. Yes, the consumer orgy called "Black Friday" is spreading into Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, and even into Thanksgiving Day itself. (Which really is obscene, if you think about it for a minute: the one day set aside to give thanks for what we already have, we go out and buy more of what we don't have?! Ugh.) But for most of us, Thanksgiving Day remains, for the most part, a day for the simple joy of getting together with family or friends for a meal. Even if your way of observing the day involves stress - travel, complicated recipes, or customs you've added or inherited - chances are the day itself is one of simple pleasures: cooking, eating, relaxing, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade and/or football, catching up. This Thanksgiving Day, I hope you'll stop at some point and do what the day calls us to do: give thanks. (It mig

"Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God."

A poster prominently displayed in a Sunday School classroom said, "Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God." In the Gospel we'll hear on Sunday, Jesus tells the story of a man who, before going on a journey, summons three servants and entrusts them with different amounts of money, measured in "talents" (from which we get our modern day word and understanding of talent). They're not given the same number of talents: God gives each of us different gifts. We are always so tempted to compare ourselves with other people: who's got what, who's better at this and who's better at that. But we are only asked to make full use of what we have been given. We all have talents. Some people are very gifted at music; others at sports; some have a very high IQ, others are good listeners. But there is no one, absolutely no one, who can say they have been gifted with nothing. The question is n

"Give me Gratitude or Give me Debt"

Each week, I usually share, with my congregation and on this blog, some of my own thoughts. This week, I'm doing something different, which is sharing a link to one of the most humorous, thought-provoking, and -- I think -- important blog essays I have read.  It's the season of pledge campaigns and giving...thanks-giving. I can't think of a better way to say what needs to be said. So do yourself a favor and read that blog post.  And enjoy wearing your new "perspecticles" ! 

Maybe You Hadn't Thought About Giving This Way Before...

In a letter going out in the mail next week to all those who contribute financially to The Falls Church Episcopal, we'll be asking folks to step up their financial support. But first, there's an important question for any church-goer to ask him or herself: Do you know what proportion, or percentage, of your income you give back to God in thanksgiving?   Many people do not know: they simply put cash in the offertory plate or write checks Sunday by Sunday without ever figuring out how much they actually end up giving to the church over the course of a year. Take a minute and do the math: how much do you give back over a year? And what percentage of your annual income is that number ? If that number - that percentage - is not already a tithe (giving ten percent of whatever comes into your pocket back to God in thanksgiving), do yourself, your family, your church, and the wider community a great service and commit to doing so for the remainder of

"Elf on the Shelf" is HORRIBLE Theology

(I'm re-posting something I wrote last year about "Elf on the Shelf," the theological obscenity that doesn't seem to be going away.) Here's what I want to repeat: Besides being psychologically creepy ("taking in all the daily activities around the house," we're told, "the elf makes his daily report to Santa,") (YOU. ARE. BEING. WATCHED.), "elf-on-the-shelf" is about as bad an idea, about as horrible a theology around Christmastime as you can get. If there is one thing Christmas is NOT about, it's NOT about who is on who's "nice" or "naughty" list. People talk about "a war on Christmas." Well, there is one. Except it's not the the perceived hostility to the celebration of Christmas that some hyper-ventilating news commentators and others get all worked up about - the way Christians are supposedly being persecuted because people say "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christ

Broken Record

In this Sunday's Gospel reading, we'll hear of the time a lawyer challenging, or testing, Jesus by asking him "which of the commandments is the greatest?" There are, after all, not just the Ten Commandments in the Torah, but as many as 613 commandments... 248 positive ones ("you shall...") and 365 negative commandments ("you shall not...")   So, among all these commandments, how to sort, to prioritize: which is the greatest? Jesus said in response, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Love God with all you've got, and love your neighbor as yourself. It's as simple as that.  As Michael Moynahan, S.J. has written in his poem/prayer "Broken Record,

Kingdom-of-Heaven Life -- RSVP

The gospel appointed for this Sunday starts out reminding us that the life which God intends for us is Kingdom-of-Heaven life, a "God-love life." Living a Kingdom-of-Heaven life does NOT mean having faith, while we live, in some future thing or place or experience called "heaven" that awaits us only after we die. It does NOT mean doing the best job we can while "down here," and only experiencing the qualities of heaven after our years here on earth are over. Rather, living a Kingdom-of-Heaven life means having faith that the thing or place or experience called the Kingdom of Heaven is coming , God's will is being done , on earth (in our lives, here and now) as it is in heaven . Modern-day puritans always seem to want to make God less over-the-top generous and joyful than God really is. But again, if we read the Bible ourselves and not just rely on what other people tell us about it, we'd find, as in Sunday'