Saturday, August 29, 2020


AUGUST 30, 2020

TEXT:                        Exodus 3:1-15

Collect for the Day – Proper 17

Moses had fled Egypt.  He had murdered an Egyptian overseer after seeing him mistreat a Hebrew slave.  He had married and taken refuge in the Sinai wilderness, and was a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro.

One day, as he was tending the sheep, he saw a mysterious sight which attracted him.  It was a bush that was afire, but it was not being consumed.  Even stranger, a voice spoke to him out of the burning bush. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… You must lead my people out of bondage in Egypt.”

A reluctant Moses, knowing the opposition he would face, asked: “Whom shall I say sent me?” The interpretation of that mysterious response has been debated ever since the moment it was spoken: “I AM WHO I AM… Tell them I AM sent you.”

In the Hebrew language, that name is rendered as four letters.  Hebrew does not have vowels, so the Hebrew letters have been translated as Jehovah by some, and YAHWEH by others.  It is called the divine tetragrammaton – God’s naming of himself. Besides I AM WHO I AM, it can be translated I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.  But that is a discussion for another time.

The trajectory of sacred history from that point is known.  Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt.  They conquer and settle in the Promised Land (a point of much discussion even today). They have judges, then kings and face conquests.  Their Holy City is laid waste. They are dispersed among the nations. Jesus comes to fulfill God’s promise.  And the church is founded on his message and resurrection.

It all goes back to that moment at the foot of Mt. Sinai and God’s self-disclosure.  The words “I AM WHO I AM” ring down through sacred history today.

Because of I AM, WE ARE.  That is our sacred lineage.  Without God being who God will be, we are lost.  His messages of self-giving love, righteousness, justice, grace, and hope are the core of what we proclaim and how we are to live.

Because of I AM, WE ARE.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

An Insight into Impartiality

AUGUST 26, 2020

TEXT:               Acts 10:1-16

The Caesarea referred to in today’s lesson from Acts is different from the Caesarea-Philippi that was so prominent in the gospel lesson this past Sunday.  The city mentioned today is actually Caesarea-Marittima on the Mediterranean Coast of Israel.  It is a picturesque place, and would later become the place where Paul made his appeal to Rome, and where the Jewish Revolt would begin in AD 68.

But in today’s lesson it serves a different purpose.  It is a place where God’s revealed will takes an entirely unanticipated direction.  The passage starts the chapter, all of which is dedicated to God doing something newthrough Peter and Cornelius’ household.

The basic points are these:

·      Cornelius is a Roman Centurion – a Gentile soldier overseeing 100 men.  He is respected by the local Jews because he is compassionate, a God-fearer, who gives alms.  But he is still a pagan.

·      Peter, in nearby Joppa, receives a vision – quite graphic – that “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

·      Cornelius sends for Peter – because he, too, has had a vision.  Peter goes, even though his understanding before the vision was that the Law prohibited any contact with a Gentile.

·      Peter is welcomed into Cornelius’ house and into his household.  It is then that Peter speaks the words which echo through the millennia: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality… anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

·      Peter, touched by Cornelius’ earnestness, baptizes the entire household – and Cornelius becomes one of the first non-Jewish Christians.

Peter’s point about God showing no partiality is a foundation for Paul’s theological statement in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

All of us.  Rich and poor.  Educated or uneducated.  Republican or Democrat. Northerner or southerner. Black or white. Conservative or liberal.

All of us are one in Christ Jesus.  May we learn to see with God’s eyes.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A Few Reflections

Reflections for Blog

This past week the posts from the Center for Action and Contemplation (Richard Rohr’s emails) have focused on the pattern of order, disorder and reorder that is endemic in the Christian journey.

Fr. Rohr’s basic point is that the fully engaged Christian journey involves, first, having an ordered existence (which relies on the cultural, familial, and personal defaults, whether helpful or unhelpful), disorder, when such standards are disrupted and found wanting (frequently including some sort of personal crisis), and reordering, when a person of faith rises like a Phoenix out of the ashes into a new way of being. It is in the reordering that we are able to move into a mature faith. (I would note that this observation bears some similarity to James Fowler's Stages of Faith.)

He cites Jesus’ message as indicative of that rhythm.  Jesus challenges the status quo and, in one specific case, literally creates chaos (disorder), when he turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple.  But his efforts to challenge order, prompt disorder, and encourage reordering were implicit in his teaching.  His statement that we must be born again is a wonderful summation of those three steps.  Our faith journey is like a snake shedding its skin, or a caterpillar, through the miracle of chrysalis, becoming a butterfly.  

This rhythm reflects a normal life pattern, if uninterrupted. The movement from order to disorder to reorder is part of the natural flow of an engaged faith journey.  However, it is possible to become prematurely-locked in one of the two earlier stages – either becoming rigid in grasping hold of the order which is familiar (and perhaps inadequate) or dwelling in the disorder (or chaos) which life will eventually put in our way.  In such cases, our faith journey is interrupted and we never get to the fullness of faith, life, and redemption this movement holds for us.

As one faces the trauma of disorder, there is a temptation to see that chaos (whether it is loss, addiction, betrayal, or some other form of human brokenness) as a permanent state of life.  It is at that stage that courage impels us to see over the horizon to the promise of a new being to come.   Despair cannot take hold.

As I pondered all this, I was reminded of the lesson from Genesis this past Sunday.  It recounted the story of Joseph, the prince of Egypt, revealing his true identity to his brothers, who years before had callously sold him into slavery.  There was a dramatic reconciliation between them.

Five chapters later, their father Jacob, died.  The brothers feared that the previously-betrayed brother would exact his revenge.  Joseph relieved that pressure with these words (RSV): “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

It is hard to discern the vast expanse of what history has been, and impossible to see what events will be.  But that is the canvas on which salvific history is written.  We may see chaos at our door, or disorder overwhelming our well-ordered lives.  However, we only see a fragment of the full canvas. God continues to work throughout time and well-beyond the experience of individual lives.

To be brutally honest, it is hubris to think that all of creation and the author of life would alter the course of history to satisfy our desire for certainty and an easy life.

I am reminded of the Book of Job.  After being goaded by his “comforters” and with his own sense of unfairness in the events of his life, Job rages at God. As Chapter 38 says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you and you shall to declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid the cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”

In other words, it’s a mystery.  We cannot know it.  We will not see the totality of God’s work in the world.  It may be representative of evil, but God can mean it for good. The power of redemption is always available to the Almighty.

The issue may be a misunderstanding of time.  We want things to happen in our time – the Greek word is chronos. We want things to happen in a hurry – right now.  We are not very keen on waiting; we do not like delaying gratification.  If something doesn’t happen in our preferred time-frame, then it is of no use.

But God has a different sense of time – kairos, the fullness of time.  His divine action, the divine movement, may or may not take place in the timing we prefer.  It is more likely to take place in kairos, God’s sense of time.  That divine movement may take place days, weeks, months, years, decade or even eons from now.  And that divine action, which may or may not be pleasing to us, may not be a solution, but most assuredly will meet the divine purposes when all things are considered.

Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, chapter 16: “There is so much I have to tell you, but you cannot bear to hear it.” A full understanding of life and the trajectory of history are beyond our ability to comprehend.

The best option is to enter into the mystery, and allow our journey to be deepened and reordered.

Finding Holy Ground

AUGUST 23, 2020

TEXT:               Matthew 16:13-20

Collect for the Day – Proper 16

The ancient community of Caesarea-Philippi is a small nature preserve now.  But it is quite beautiful.  It is in northern Israel, right at the borders with Lebanon and Syria. (In fact, you can throw a stone into any of those three countries from that site.)

It is at the foot of Mt. Hermon, a 10,000-foot,snow-capped peak on which the only Israeli ski resort is located.  Most importantly, though, the headwaters of the Jordan River come from a spring deep within the mountain.  The cool, clear water begins it is flow there – miles down into the Sea of Galilee, then into the Jordan River basin, and finally, into the Dead Sea.

There was a preexisting pagan tradition in the area when Jesus visited there with his disciples.  The cave there – quite sizeable – contained a shrine to the Greek god, Pan, god of the wild and companion of the nymphs.  Of course, this was not a holy place to the Jews or Jesus and his disciples.

As Jesus was wont to do, he had retreated.  He was seeking solitude, away from the crowds that were everywhere he went.  He took with him his yeshiva – the small group of close followers who hung on his words.  They journeyed more than 30-miles on foot from the Sea of Galilee to a place dedicated to a mythical god.

So, it is remarkable that this site – a previous sacred pagan place – becomes ground zero of a very profound confession – Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This was in response to Jesus’ simple question, “Who do you say that I am?”  The path forward was forever changed.

Think about your situation for a minute.  Where are you?  What are your surroundings?  What is on your mind?  What is distracting you?  What draws you away from God and your fellow human beings?

There are many answers, of course, but one is the answer that wherever you may be, you may make the confession – even if just to yourself – that Jesus is for you the Lord of Life.  And you can set your course in a new direction – perhaps internally at first, and externally later.

You do not have to be on holy ground to do so.  You can make any place holy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Child's Offering

AUGUST 19, 2020

TEXT:               John 6:1-15

I would encourage you to read the gospel lesson assigned for today – John 6:1-15.  It is John’s version of a gospel passage we had just a few Sundays ago from Matthew – the feeding of the multitude.

This passage has a place close to my heart.  It was the text for what I call “my first sermon with live ammunition,” and was delivered in my hometown parish when I was a first-year seminarian.  The lesson made a real impression on me – and still does.

This lesson includes the essential elements of all accounts of the feeding:  Jesus trying to find solitude, the crowds pursuing him, the masses of people, the need to feed them, the helplessness of the disciples, the meager supplies – but ultimately, the people are miraculously fed.  It is a scene that occurs in each of gospels.  It obviously made a deep impression on the disciples.

But there is something unique in this account. The disciples are facing the daunting challenge of the large crowd.  Looking for resources, they apparently search the crowd for available food.  They find only one boy – likely a young fisherman – with a knapsack of five loaves and two smoked fish.  The young boy offers them to Jesus.

In the next few minutes, the offering is blessed, the food is distributed, and the people are fed. All of them.  Because the one boy offered what he had.

After the feeding, the disciples gathered the remnants. They recovered 12 baskets of fish and bread.

All because one boy stepped out in faith.

What have you got to offer God?

Saturday, August 15, 2020

God Meant It for Good

AUGUST 16, 2020

TEXT:               Genesis 45:1-15

Collect for the Day – Proper 15

Today’s Old Testament lesson is the end of our weeks’ long journey with the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is reaching its conclusion today, with a dramatic scene.

Jacobs sons – the fathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel – have sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery.  Now, karma is paying its visit.

Joseph has prospered after many years in Egypt.  He has been given great authority by Pharaoh.  He has been long-forgotten by his brothers – out of sight, out of mind.

But the brothers and their country have been devastated by drought and famine.  They come to Egypt – and Pharaoh’s house – seeking food to sustain them and their elderly father, Jacob.

The brothers do not recognize Joseph in his imperial regalia.  They beg for food, and place themselves at the mercy of the Prince of Egypt.

Joseph cannot contain himself and discloses his identity to his brothers – “I am your brother Joseph.” There is a tearful reunion.  They embrace one another.

The essence – the main point – comes five chapters later, as Genesis is being concluded.  Jacob has died and the brothers fear that Joseph will exact his revenge after his father’s death.  They plead with him – citing some untrue statement his father had purportedly made.

Joseph releases them from their fear. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”  It is one of the most powerful verses in the entire Old Testament. 

Joseph was able to see the gracious hand of God move through all the trauma of the past decades.  It took a wise, generous, and discerning heart to see divine movement in all that he had been through.

Can you do that?  Can you look back and discern the hand of God guiding and redeeming your life, even in the most bitter and painful of circumstances?

That is what God does.  And that is how he calls us to see things. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Example of Stephen

AUGUST 12, 2020

TEXT:               Acts 6:1-15


I use the collect for the Feast of Stephen because we seldom observe that feast, due to its observance on December 26.  We have other things going on at that time. I encourage you to read the daily lection today – Acts 6:1-15.

I also use it because Stephen is the focus of the New Testament lesson in today’s lectionary.

If we are of the mind that church conflict was invented by any recent controversy, we should be disabused of that notion. The Book of Acts, an account of the early days of the church, tells of grumblings by the Greek followers of Jesus that the relief to the widows and orphans of the community is being mostly provided to the Hebrew Christians.

The disciples apparently threw up their hands.  “We have much more important things to do.  Pick seven men that we can dispatch to do the church’s work in the community.”

In a nutshell, that is how the separate order of deacons came into being, though their ministry was not clearly defined

Stephen was one of the seven who were called.  The disciples laid hands on them – an early sign of ordination – and sent them out to work in the community.

We live 2,000 years later.  But Stephen’s active ministry lasted only a few days.  His bold preaching – sharing the Good News of God in Christ – angered some of the Jewish sects he encountered.  They brought him before the Council of religious leaders, making accusations against him.

Today’s lesson does not include what happened – that will be covered by the daily lection in the coming days.  But we know – Stephen’s statements so riled the critics that he was stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr.  And, at the end, it is noted that a young man stood by the stoning, looking on with approval. It was Saul – who would ultimately become Paul, the greatest of all Christian missionaries.

Stephen suffered for his faith.  Paul would, too – in many forms. Many other early followers, too.

It is important to remember that genuine Christian faith – lived with authenticity – involves trials, difficulties, conflict and pain.  Jesus never promised us a rose garden.  But he foreshadowed what Stephen and Paul would know intimately: Take up your cross and follow me.

Staying in the Boat

AUGUST 9, 2020

TEXT:               Matthew 14:22-33

Collect for the Day – Proper 14

I have been in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

The sky was clear; there was no inclement weather.  What is known as the Ein Gev winds come swirling from the west, where mountains are 2,000 feet higher than the sea valley, which is part of the Syro-African Rift.  The Sea of Galilee is, essentially, a big bowl – and it is subject to the winds which emanate from the cool air in the mountains meeting the warmer air of the lake.

Jesus and his disciples encountered that dynamic in the gospel passage today.

I was leading a group of fellow pilgrims on a trip to Israel and Jordan on this occasion.  On each trip, I’ve made arrangements for us to celebrate the Eucharist on the Sea.

On this day, the sea, wind and sky did not cooperate.  As we stood at our makeshift altar, the vessel tossed to and fro’.  We could hardly stand on our feet.  We had to brace ourselves in order to remain in-place.

But we were not in fear of our lives.  We knew that our captain would bring us safely to shore.

The disciples had several disadvantages.  They were in a small, fragile boat.  The storm was strong and the sea was heaving heavily.  It was night on the water.  And, at the point, they were by themselves.  They had no captain.

The story reminded me of something. In 2003, I was preparing to attend a General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  I knew that there would be controversy, and some difficult votes awaited me.

I was the supply priest at Trinity Church, Yazoo City, on the day before our departure.  The gospel lesson for that day was the storm on the sea.

My point in that sermon – the one I tried to drive home – was that it is important to “stay with the boat.”  We may be afraid.  We may have anxiety.  But, we are to be patient.  Stay with the boat.

As Episcopalians, we are wise to “stay with the boat”, and not be distracted by tempests which come and go.

Instead – in whatever life throws at us – we are to be like the disciples.  Though we are fearful, we stay with the boat.  And we look with discerning eyes for the Master of Creation.

He has a tendency to come out of the storm… out of the clouds… out of the wind… out of the darkness and say, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

To Be Transformed

AUGUST 5, 2020

TEXT:               Luke 9:28-36
OBSERVANCE: The Transfiguration (Transferred from August 6)


Years ago, when I was in my first year of seminary, I was experiencing a crisis of faith, of sorts. It seems that one of the unintended consequences of academic formation of a priest is the dismantlement of preconceived notions built on sand, opening the way for the rebuilding of one’s faith on rock.

I was at the nadir of that process. My closest friend in seminary, Genie Hibberts, and I were seated on the steps of All Saints’ Chapel at Sewanee.  We loved to have deep theological conversations.  She was much brighter than I.

I voiced my frustration with my collapsing set of beliefs: “What is the point, Genie?”  She looked at me and said words that have rung in my ears ever since: “David, it is because lives are changed.”

In other words, people’s lives are changed by an encounter with the Risen Christ.  I needed to hear those words, and I did not yet know how true they were.

Today, I am exercising a little priestly discretion and observing, a day early, one of the great feasts of the church year – The Feast of the Transfiguration.

On August 6 each year, we remember Jesus ascending the mountain – likely Mt. Tabor in Galilee – with his “executive committee”, Peter and James and John.  They witnessed each dramatic moment of his ministry.

There, before them, Jesus was transfigured – his clothes glowing whiter “than any fuller could bleach them” scripture says.  His appearance recalls Moses’ descent from Mt. Sinai 1,200 years earlier.

But there’s more!  He is joined in that moment by the prophet Elijah and by Moses.  It is a brief moment – but it anticipated what was called “his departure from Jerusalem.”

It was a dramatic sight for Peter, James, and John.  We recollect it to this day because it testifies to God’s hand being very-much with Jesus in his ministry.  Jesus was transfigured.

That is an image, a metaphor that I hold on to.  No, we are not likely to be transfigured in the way Jesus was.  But we can be transformed by God’s presence at our side.

I have experienced that transformation by God’s love.  The world is made new.  Life and faith are no longer pointless.  As the hymn writer and former slave trader John Newton wrote in his hymn Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

That same transformative power is available to you.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Miracle of the Offering

AUGUST 2, 2020

TEXT:               Matthew 14:13-21

Collect for the Day – Proper 13

The link for today’s gospel – Matthew 14:13-21 – is found further down on the newsletter page.  I encourage you to read it.

I encourage you to read it because it is one of the best-known moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry – the feeding of the 5,000 men, plus, as verse 21 notes, women and children. So, it was a large gathering.

Jesus was likely somber and grieving after he learned of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist.  He got in a boat to go away to a quiet and lonely place, where he could grieve and pray.

But the crowds would not have it.  They followed along the shore to where he was. He was touched deeply by their yearning and their faith.  It was late in the afternoon, and he knew they needed to be fed. The disciples encouraged Jesus to send them away to the nearby villages.  There, they could buy food to eat.

It is the next verse that I want to highlight: “Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away. You give them something to eat.”

You give them something it eat. Jesus put the ball back in the disciples’ court.  The onus was on them.

But they complained.  “We have only five barley loaves and two fish.” Jesus asked that this modest foodstuff be brought to him, and he instructed the masses to be seated on the grass.  Then, he looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and began to break the bread.

We genuinely don’t know what happened next – whether the food miraculously multiplied, or whether the masses, seeing his generosity and care, reached into their own knapsacks and brought out additional food. But make no mistake – a miracle transpired.  People were fed.

Jesus tells us, too, You give them something to eat.”  That can be a metaphor for many things – whatever we offer, with generous hearts, even from our meager resources, God will bless and do miraculous things with them.

You are already doing that – God bless you.  Jesus invites us to continue to do so.