Monday, December 15, 2014

"Have you found Jesus yet?"

"Have you found Jesus yet?"

Advent 3 - John 1:6-8, 19-28

              Here we go again.  John the Baptist, in the wilderness, proclaiming, prepare the way!  In the spirit of John’s call, I should tell you that I have a confession to make.  Our daughter Mary Katherine has learned how to say the word Santa before learning how to say Jesus.  I could stand here and make excuses about how ss are easier to pronounce than js—which is true—but the reality is that we have more Santas in our house than Jesuss. 
Perhaps as a bit of an over-correction, our poor preachers kid is going to get a Fisher Price Little People Nativity set for Christmas.  Dont worry.  She is also going to get a Cinderella Little People set.  So in the coming months I am sure I will have stories about how Cinderella managed to find her way into the manger and about how Jesus managed to make his way into Cinderellas carriage. 
                All jokes aside, the sad truth is that it is easier for us to say the word Santa in our culture today than it is to say Jesus.  In all honesty, there have been a lot of Christians who have done damage to the word Jesus in recent years so we are just as much to blame as anyone else.  Even still, it saddens me that many especially in our businesses and schools are restricted to simply saying, “Seasons Greetings.”  One of you told me this week that you would rather just say nothing at all.
                Some of you may be wondering, “Whats wrong with saying ‘Seasons Greetings?’”  Well, if you arent a Christian, then I suppose there is nothing wrong with saying it.  However, if we, who proclaim ourselves as followers of Christ, use this greeting then I believe we are only doing ourselves, the church, and the other person a disservice. 
I learned this truth during my time on the Interfaith Council at the University of Alabama.  I found that our dialogue was much richer if we proclaimed the faith we believe as opposed to reducing our faith to almost nothing at all as a means to find some common ground. 
As a member of the council, I learned that it wasnt my job to convert people to Christ; it wasnt my job to convince people that Jesus is the only way to the Father—that is the Holy Spirits work.  Instead, I was charged to proclaim my faith and point to Jesus.  Like John the Baptist, I learned that I was supposed to testify to the light. 
I also learned that it was my responsibility to listen especially to those of other faiths.  It was my responsibility to listen and point to how Jesus was present in the faith of all people and all religions.  It was my job to remember that Jesus is not bound to a certain religion.  Jesus is bigger than religion.  Jesus is the incarnation of God.  Jesus is all in all.
I admit that we have a delicate line to walk.  I know that Jesus is a loaded word especially to those who have been harmed or disillusioned by the church.  I believe much of this harm has been done those who try to be too much like Jesus, by those who act better than everyone else because they are “Christians.” 
For example, do you remember those “What would Jesus do bracelets?”?  I believe these bracelets are a product of a Christian culture that preaches the law without grace, a product that teaches us that you need to live up to “this” standard in order to be beloved of God, a product of a teaching that says only if you do what Jesus did then you will be saved.  That is not the gospel.
The message of the gospel says, “have faith, you have been saved through the blood of Christ, now stop worrying about you salvation and live life without fear or shame.”  Jesus has our salvation covered by what he did alone, not by what we do.  If we can accept our salvation by grace alone, then we are free to live a sanctified life, free us to live a life where we can testify to the light without shame or fear.  We can stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and like John the Baptist turn our attention to the only one who can make everything right in this world—Jesus Christ.   
When you look at todays gospel lesson, I want you to notice John the Baptists proclamation of the light.  The first thing John says is, “I am not the Messiah.”  This might seem like an obvious statement and even uncalled for.  However, John is making a pretty bold statement.  First and foremost, as followers of Christ, we are called to confess that we are not Christ, we are not the Savior, we are not God. 
In other words, John is saying that he is not responsible for making Christ present in our world through his own actions.  Instead, John says he is responsible for pointing to the Christ that is already present in our world.  John is responsible for pointing to how Jesus is acting in our world right now.
You may have seen bumper stickers around town that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  While I believe this is a noble thing to do, I believe the message is falling on deaf ears.  Unfortunately, the only people who are listening to this kind of message already believe Christ is present in Christmas.  Instead, I want to challenge you to approach this issue in another way, in the same way I was challenged by an article I read this week called, “The heresy of keeping Christ in Christmas.”  
The article is based on dialogue between a group called Freedom from Religion Foundation and the city of Piedmont, Wisconsin.  The Freedom from Religious Foundation called for the city to stop saying prayers over the intercom at football games.  In response, the city hosted a “Keep the Christ in Christmas” Parade.  
This kind of reaction from Christians only causes the chasm between the churched and unchurched to grow larger.  We are not doing ourselves any favors when we react to an attack on the gospel.  Instead, we are called, like John the Baptist, to remain faithful and point to Jesus in the wilderness, even when all signs say that our Messiah shouldnt be there.  We are called to remain faithful and point to how Jesus is still present in our midst despite the best attempts to silence him.
Yes, you heard me correctly.  Our first job as Christians is to be a witness to Jesus Christ, a witness to the light.  We are called to be evangelists.  And I have good news.  Evangelism has nothing to do with telling others what to believe.  Evangelism is not about guilt tripping people into going to church.  It isnt even about reading the correct translation of the Bible. 
Let me be clear.  It is not our job to convince people that St. Pauls is the best church in Selma.  It is not our job to save our church that we love so dearly.  First and foremost, we are called to show people Jesus.  So the question for you this morning asks, “Where is Jesus in your life?”  Where do you go to see the light?  Where in this world is do you find hope?
                If you can answer any of these questions, then I have news for you, God wants you to be an evangelist.  I know that sounds scary but think about it like this.  Evangelism is kind of like show-and-tell at school.  Do you remember show-and-tell as a child?  Do you remember how excited you were about “your day”?  If you can remember, then you already know what evangelism is all about.  Fundamentally, evangelism is about delighting in the good news of Jesus Christ.    
  If you see Jesus at the food pantry, tell others about your experience at the food pantry.  If they seem interested, then invite them down to the food pantry the next time you go.  If you find Jesus in your Bible study group and someone sounds interested, then invite them to join you.  If you see the light of the gospel through art or music, then invite a friend who is hungry for that light to look at art or play music with you.  Maybe they will ask you where you see Jesus.  If you find Jesus here in the pews at St. Paul’s, then you know what to do. 
I hope this is starting to make sense…If you can think of a place in this world, where you see light and hope, then Jesus is already there making the whole creation new.
I want to end by remembering one of my favorite exchanges in my favorite movie.  In Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan and Forrest are reflecting on life when Lt. Dan asks Forrest, “Have you found Jesus yet?”  Looking a bit confused, Forrest responds, “I didnt know I was supposed to be looking for him.
Yes, Forrest we are supposed to be looking for Jesus.  During this Advent season, we are called to look for Jesus.  As the sign that is posted on the Stellar Cellar door says, “If you seek the Christ together, we will find him.”  And when we find him, we can proclaim, “Jesus Christ is here!
During these last few weeks in Advent, I pray that God give you the wisdom to look for Jesus in a world that too often tries to silence him.  Instead of complaining about how Santa has taken Christ out of Christmas, have the patience to find Jesus in the hoopla of the season and look for an opportunity to show others. 
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is waiting on us.  He is waiting to be found at the food pantry.  He is waiting to be found in the beauty and wonder of creation.  He is waiting to be found right here in our pews.  Jesus is waiting and he wants us to find him together so that all may know the healing power of Gods love.  Amen.                  


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"I have good news. You are a sinner."

"I have good news.  You are a sinner."

Advent 2 - Mark 1:1-8

During my first year as a student at Virginia Seminary, I was elected to the high office of “class t-shirt” chair.  At the time it seemed like a great way to get involved in a leadership role without getting too caught up in class politics.  This was supposed to be a fun and exciting way to connect to my fellow classmates.  Boy was I wrong.  Some of the most contentious arguments during my time in seminary were because of that class t-shirt.  It got so bad a rogue group started their own committee because they were so unhappy with the final product.
I did not design the shirt itself.  However, I was the one who got all the nasty emails because I was “in charge.”  Most of the ideas were rather innocent promoting nice churchy themes such as God’s peace and love.  But none of these won.  Instead, the t-shirt that received the most votes was also the most controversial.
The winning design re-framed the popular slogan, “Virginia is for lovers” to “Virginia is for sinners.”  In place of the heart that accompanies the lover’s slogan, we added a cross.  The faculty and staff rejected the design at first but ultimately approved it after we added these words from the psalmist, “as far as the east is from the west so far has God removed your sins.”
The interesting thing about this whole process was that when we finally received the box of t-shirts, most of my classmates, including myself, never actually wore the shirt.  One or two people wore it around campus but let’s just say the shirt didn’t start a revolution.  I don’t know about you, but I am quick to avoid the label—sinner.  I find it to be a daily struggle to confess that I am a sinner. 
According to the gospel of Mark, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ has John the Baptist, in wilderness, proclaiming, “repent!”  I wonder how people 2,000 years ago responded to John the Baptist’s message of repentance, to a message that called them “sinners.”  How receptive were they to this “good news”?  Did his message cause controversy?  Did they actually take this guy who wore silly clothes and who ate granola food seriously? 
My gut reaction wants to say that I need to remember that people 2,000 years ago weren’t as civilized as we are here in 21st century America.  A part of me wants to say, I am sure this message of repentance was more important back then before technology and medicine and democratic governments.  However, I know I am only deceiving myself if I believe these are the answers to the world’s problems.  While technology, and medicine, and government can make a positive impact on society, they do not rid the world from the problem evil or sin. 
Instead, evil and sin are manifested in more sophisticated and nuanced ways through advancements in technology and government.  For example, the United States boasts one of the most advanced countries in terms of medicine, but we are one of the “sickest” countries in the world.  I think C.S. Lewis was on to something when he said the greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing man that he does not exist. 
Perhaps, now more than ever, the message of repentance needs to be proclaimed in our midst.  But I am not sure standing on the side of the road with a megaphone in one hand and a sign that says “repent” in the other hand will get the message across and neither will a shirt that says, “Virginia is for sinners” for that matter.
I believe the biggest obstacle to receiving the message of repentance as good news is a culture that tries to avoid sin, a culture that tries to deny sin, a culture that tries to cast sin off onto someone else, a culture looking for a quick fix.  Ultimately, the consequence of rejecting the good news of repentance is the burden of trying to be perfect or the burden of trying to always be a winner.  We all know that at some point we will fall in pursuit of perfection.  What then?  How can we ever get the strength to stand up and try again?  How can we ever gain the courage to face our fans again or even worse, our opponents?       
In a book called The Reason for God, Tim Keller, reflects on an encounter he has with a young man whose wife left him.  The man came into Tim’s office and went on and on about how he was a failure.  The man was angry at his wife for leaving him, and he was angry at himself for failing to live up to his wedding vows.  This man came to his pastor looking for a word of hope.  You know what Keller said?  He told the young man, in a loving and gentle way, I have some good news.  You are a sinner.
But this doesn’t sound so good does it?  But in reality, Keller is trying to tell this man that his divorce doesn’t have to define him as a person.  If this man can admit that he was imperfect long before his divorce, then he can start to let go of this perfect version of himself, let go of this idol that he has created in his own image, and be reminded that he is defined by God alone.  When he makes this confession, he can start to discover that he is made in God’s image and is made perfect by the blood of Christ.
For this reason, the writer of Mark says the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ is a call to repentance.  The beginning of the good news starts when we put our salvation in the hands of God instead of our own hands.  Unfortunately, as Verna Dozer once implied, somewhere along the way the church settled for moralism when the gospel clearly states that Jesus preached repentance. 
The message of the gospel is not go out in the world and “be perfect and be good”.  The message of the gospel calls us to tell others that “the Lord is good and so we thank the Lord.”  The gospel inspires us not out of a place of obligation.  Instead, the good news inspires us out of a place of thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done for us.  The good news says that all good comes from God.  Even more, through Christ God is telling us that good can come from even our failure.
So the fundamental question for all of us this morning is, “will you let God redeem your failure?”  Can you trust that God can take your broken past and turn it into something beautiful?  Do you have the strength to open yourself up to your imperfection and let God take that burden away from you?
Admitting to our imperfection is hard because we want to be good.  We want to be productive members of society.  We want to be seen as a good person who does good for the world.  We want people to see us as strong and confident.  I have good news.  Admitting to your imperfection and brokenness is not a sign of weakness.  It takes a lot of courage and strength to admit when you are wrong, to admit when you have messed up.  So when you find this God given courage and strength, then you have found the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.
How do we, the church, proclaim this message of repentance?  We know that megaphones, signs, and t-shirts won’t do the trick.  As Christians, I believe it is our job to lead by example.  I believe it is our job to be the first to admit when we are wrong.  We should be the first to confess that we are complicit in the problems of this world.  Because when we admit that we are wrong, we are also proclaiming a faith that says that God is making all things new even our brokenness. 
It is our job to reach out to those who are falling through the cracks.  It is not our job to judge them.  Instead, it is our job to reach out a hand in love and say, “I am imperfect too but the good news is that Jesus came into the world to save us sinners.”  Reach out your hand and say, “I have good news.  I go to a church that is full of sinners.  It’s called St. Paul’s and it is full of love and compassion.”
We are only kidding ourselves when we try to avoid the label sinner.  Instead of seeing this label as something to avoid, I pray that God helps you see this label as the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.  You don’t have to let the burden of imperfection or failure weigh you down anymore.  Instead, you can give thanks for what God is doing with all of us “sinners.”  If you need some material for your prayers of thanksgiving, take a minute to look around at the congregation and reflect on all the love and compassion that pours out of this church into Selma and the world because of the goodness and mercy of God.  Amen.                       

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas?

Sermon for Advent 1-November 30, 2014-Mark 13:24-37

Click HERE to listen to audio version of sermon.  

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas?        

                  This past week the Selma Times Journal posted a few pictures on Facebook of downtown Selma lit up with wreathes and ribbons and white lights and the caption said, “Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”  The truth is that this caption would have probably been accurate if it was posted the week before Halloween!  It seems the countdown to Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year.  If we continue on at this pace, we will be buying our Christmas presents with our back-to-school gear!  But thankfully, in the church, we can always depend on the countdown to Christmas to start on Advent 1, about four weeks before Christmas, every year. 
                Another picture has been burning in my mind all week.  The photograph was taken late into Monday evening in Ferguson, Missouri.  In the foreground of the picture are protesters who are throwing bottles and rocks at a line of police officers who are dressed in full riot gear.  You can see one of the protesters kneeling on the ground as smoke bombs flood the air.  To the right of the protesters is a police cruiser that is engulfed with fire.  And in postcard like fashion centered in the skyline, is a lighted sign that says, “Seasons Greetings.” 

                It was striking to me how out of place this sign seemed.  In the middle of all that chaos, how can a sign like that, a sign that promises hope and joy be taken seriously?  The sign almost seems laughable considering the circumstances.
                I stayed up way too late watching the news coverage following the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson on criminal charges for killing Michael Brown.  As you probably know, this decision came after months of tension between the community and the police department.  Most notably, this incident became a flash-point for a conversation surrounding racial tensions that still exist in our country.
                The more I thought about the situation in Ferguson the more my heart began to break for everyone involved on all sides of the issue.  I woke up Tuesday morning feeling very disturbed.  I didnt sleep well.  My heart was mixed with feelings of anger and sadness and frustration.  I had that feeling you get in your stomach after you've just had a nightmare.  Even at a distance, somehow I felt like I was caught up in the tragic story. 
                I spent a lot of this week asking the Holy Spirit to help me sort out these feelings of sadness and anger and frustration.  I believe a part of Gods answer to my prayers is our gospel lesson for this morning.  God has put before me and before you Marks “little apocalypse” as we try to make sense of the events of this week. 
In response to the disciples question about the return of the Son of Man, Jesus gives them a terrifying answer.  Jesus says, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  So on this first Sunday in Advent, during the season when we prepare for Christmas and for the baby Jesus, Jesus gives us an image of the world falling apart.  Like the picture of Ferguson, Jesusprediction of the end times is hardly a scene that looks a lot like Christmas.
  Jesus is telling his disciples that chaos will ensue before the reign of Christ can be established on earth.  Jesus is saying that our way of life will be turned upside down in order to make way for Gods kingdom come on earth.  Jesus is making it clear that things will get much worse before they can start to get any better. 
The question for all of us know, 2,000 years later is, when will things get better?  Havent we seen enough?  Enough tears?  Enough violence?  Enough hatred?  Enough excuses?  Enough self-righteousness?  Enough finger pointing?  Enough senselessness?  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.  Come quickly.  We are tired of waiting for things to get better.  But here we are during the season of Advent, a season when we are called to “keep awake” and wait for the Lord. 
You may notice that we are using blue instead of purple this year as the color for Advent.  Traditionally, purple is a color for repentance, and Advent is certainly a season for repentance.  However, it seems more accurate to also say that Advent is a season for waiting and preparing for our Lord.  And as you may know, the one who waited and prepared for our Savior in her own flesh and flood is known by the color blue. 
                We, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, eagerly await the coming of our Lord during this season of Advent.  We, like the Mother of our Lord, know too well the pain and suffering of this world.  We, like the Blessed Mary, hope for peace on earth, if not for us, at least for our children.  And like Mary, God has given us reason to hope for peace with the promise of Jesus. 
God has given us reason to see past the chaos into a world that looks different, a world that promises peace among all people and nations.  As our scripture says this morning, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Even after the world has fallen apart, even when the sky has fallen in on top of us, we can hold fast to the promise of Gods Word that something better is waiting for us.
But we are still on this side of Eden; we are still on the fallen side of Gods world.  The sure and present hope of Gods new world is breaking into our world with the advent of Christ, but we cant quite see the fullness of Gods redemption and reconciliation.  Not yet.  We still have to wait.
As hard as it may be to do at times, I have found waiting to be energizing under the right circumstances.  Sometime this summer I started getting up around 5:00 a.m.  For a while, Jamie thought something was wrong with me.  In the end, we decided I was more tolerable to be around if I had that hour to myself every morning.  There is something energizing about waiting in great anticipation for the new day, for new possibilities, for new challenges, and for new opportunities.  And of course, this period of waiting is only energizing if you have something good to look forward to.  And in this season in my life, thankfully I do.
Thankfully for all of us, no matter what season you are in, God is promising us that we have something good to look forward to in the kingdom that Jesus is creating.  God promises a place where peace reigns.  God promises a place where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sorrow, but life everlasting.  God promises a place where he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, a place where death will be no more. 
As Christians, this is the world we get to wait eagerly for.  This is the world what we get to look forward to with great anticipation.  This is the world that we can be energized by right now, in the here and now, even when all the signs seem to say otherwise.  We dont have to wake up in despair to what the future holds.  Yes, the events in Ferguson and events like it might look like the end of the world.  But we can live in hope of a resurrected world, in a world where all things are made new even hatred and violence. 
I believe the reason I woke up Tuesday feeling so awful is because I spent much of my time Monday night trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong.  I found myself liking what that reporter said and then getting angry at what that reporter said.  I got swept away by all the finger pointing and excuses and expert opinions.  In reality, I was trying to justify myself.  I was trying to figure out why I wasnt a part of the problem.  Turns out, this is exhausting work.  Turns out, there are no winners. 
Ultimately, I realized that this self-justification had me living in the same old world of anger and frustration and sadness and judgment.  My efforts to justify myself, to set myself apart from "those sinners", only led me to a darker place.  Trying to align myself with the "winning team" only led me to a world that will never achieve peace and redemption. 
When I admit that I am a part of the problem, that I am a part of the same system that creates fear and injustice, I am reminded that sooner or later the systems and institutions of this world will fail me.  When I make this confession, I remind myself that the only way forward is to live in a world based on Gods justice and mercy.  The only way forward is to step into a world that is being created through the one who we nailed to the cross in the name of justice, through the one who is making all creation new. 
Above anything else, the events in Ferguson this week should drive all of us to our knees.  These events should be a call to repentance for all of us no matter who you are or what you have done or haven’t done.  As the long-haired, locust eating, sandal-wearing, John the Baptist will say next Sunday, repent for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.  For it is in the general confession of our sins where we find common ground, where we are reminded of our common humanity and brokenness, where we are reminded of our common cry, “how long?”.  It is also through our confession where we find that God is touching and changing all our hearts through the world that Jesus Christ is creating for us, a world based on mercy and compassion
When we kneel before our perfect judge, when we make our confession to the only one who can grant true justice, when we bow down before our crucified Lord, we are given the grace to see that God is preparing for us a place that is complete, a place where all may know wholeness and healing, a place where only the justice and mercy of God can give us a world worth living in.  Amen.   

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dear All Saints',

Dear All Saints',       

              Last July I experienced one of those growth opportunities that we all know and love.  Anna Russell was on maternity leave and Glenda was on vacation.  I wondered how I could steer this ship without them.  The month was full of challenges and opportunities for ministry that I otherwise would not have had.  I preached more than I was used to preaching.  I visited the hospital almost every day.  I had the privilege of walking with a family through a death and a funeral.  I became a pro at saying, “I don’t know.  Why don’t you ask the rector when she gets back from vacation?”  After awhile, I started to feel energized by this experience.    
                For the first time in my ministry, I truly felt God calling me to be a rector.  I wasn’t sure where, but I knew that seeking a position as rector was in the cards.  Jamie and I spent a few months talking about what this might look like.  How far is too far to move?  What about Jamie’s career plans?  What about Mary Katherine?  What kind of church is worth moving for?  We spent some time in prayer and discussion. 
                At about the same time, numerous rectors around the diocese announced their retirement or plans to move.  Soon, a record number of churches were searching for a rector.  Jamie and I reminded ourselves that we have a fantastic parish at All Saints’.  We knew that we did not have to take the first position that came along.  We told ourselves that we would only move if we were absolutely sure that God was calling us elsewhere. 
                Shortly thereafter, Glenda and I started talking about possibilities.  From time to time, we would have conversations about what was available and what was worth looking into.  She taught me how to ask the right questions and taught me how to ask the hard questions.  Through these discussions, I started to get a picture of what would be a good fit.
                Sparing you all the details, St. Paul’s Selma seemed like a perfect fit from the very beginning.  After a search process that began in March, Jamie and I accepted the call to St. Paul’s Selma on July 1st.  This call came exactly five years after I started my work here at All Saints’ on July 1, 2009.  For me, this was further confirmation that God wants us in Selma. 
                Leaving All Saints’ will be very difficult for us.  I have grown more in the last five years than I have in my entire life.  I have been a newlywed, first time homeowner, baby priest, beginner professional, driver of a Buick, and become a father.  During this time, you invited me into your homes.  You invited me and my family into your lives.  You have made this part of my life fuller and richer in too many ways to count.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! 
                When I accepted the call to be the curate at All Saints’, I felt lucky because I got to live in Birmingham.  Five years later, I realize I am lucky because I got to serve with all of you.  I will continue to brag on you even after I leave here.  You have made my job easy in so many ways.  When I say easy, I mean fun!  I got to worship with you every Sunday.  I got to baptize and marry you.  I got to play softball and golf with you.  I got to tell our community that God’s loves them with you.  I got to teach you about things that I love teaching about.  I also got to be with you during the worst of times.  I got to do all of these things with you and call it work!
                Another reason leaving will be difficult is because I leave behind ministry that I really enjoyed being a part of.  In the beginning, ministry was about new programs and new ideas.  I came on board when All Saints’ was trying to establish a third priest on staff.  This meant that I got to start new programs and new ministries.
                Over the course of my tenure here I started focusing on relationships.  Yes, new programs and ideas were important. However, I started to realize that ministry in God’s church was built on relationships.  When I started to focus on relationships, I didn’t get so down on myself when a ministry or an idea failed.  Something more important happened—relationships were built and the kingdom of God on earth was made more visible. 
                When I leave All Saints’ next month, I fully expect that the ministries that were formed and continued during my time will continue like always.  I suspect that some will fade away.  I also suspect that some will be stronger once I get out of the way!  Ground will also be paved for new ministry.  This is how the church works.  There is death and resurrection.  I have faith that God will continue what God wants to continue when my work here is finished.
                I will join you in prayer as All Saints’ looks for a new Associate rector.  Whether you think I did a good job or a bad job, nobody will be able to fill my shoes.  The only shoes the next guy can fill are his own.  With that being said, thank you for allowing me to wear my own shoes!!
I ask you also for your prayers as we begin our new ministry at St. Paul’s.  If you are around Selma, I hope you will come and visit.  Jamie, Mary Katherine, and I would love to see you.  While Mary Katherine may not remember her time at All Saints’, I will be sure to remind her of all the people here who loved her and received her as one of their own.  Jamie and I will never forget your generosity during that time.  May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Faithfully always,


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Project Pay It Forward

Project Pay It Forward 

            When I was in seminary, a member of Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa sent me a kind note and fifty dollars every month.  For the first few months, I replied with a thank you card and would give her an update on life.  She finally wrote me back and told me that I didn’t need to continue writing her thank you notes.  My initial reaction wondered, “Then how can I thank her?”  At my ordination to the diaconate, I again thanked her and told her that I didn’t know how I could ever repay her.  She told me that I didn’t need to repay her.  Her monthly gift to me was her way of thanking Jesus for the gift of the church.  It was now my turn to pay the love of Jesus forward.  
During the month of July, the Outreach Committee is sponsoring Project Pay It Forward.  The idea was born out of discussion that asked, “How can the parish stay in touch with Outreach during the summer months?”  Instead of having an organized project, the committee wants to empower you to share the love of Jesus in organic and spontaneous ways right where you are.  So whether you are at the beach or in the mountains or at camp or at grandma’s house, you can be a part of All Saints’ mission to make the transforming love of Christ known in all the world.

To Pay It Forward means instead of paying somebody back for a gift, you pay the gift forward to somebody else.  Hopefully that person is inspired to go and do likewise.  While the term Pay It Forward has largely secular roots, the theology behind it speaks to the core of the gospel.  After Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to the lawyer, he said, “Go and do likewise.”  The main point of the parable is not simply a moral teaching that says, “Do what the Samaritan did.”  The point of the parable demands us first to find our place in the ditch.  So when we find our place in the ditch, we know what it is like to be pulled out of the ditch.  Jesus is telling all of us who have been pulled out of the ditch to “go and do likewise.”  Pay the love of Jesus Forward. 
Ultimately, paying the love of Jesus forward is the result of our Christian faith.  After his resurrection, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Peter replies, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.”  Jesus says, “Feed My Sheep.”  Jesus tells Peter that the best gift of gratitude is to go out into the world and feed his sheep.  As Christians, we are called into the world to share the love that Jesus has shown us to others.  We are called to share a love that surpasses human understanding, a love that really doesn’t make a whole lot of a sense, a love that has the power to transform the world. 
On Sundays during July, there will be an opportunity to share and reflect on how the love of Jesus has been shared through All Saints’.  In the cloister, there will be blank note cards where you can tell the rest of the parish how you shared the love of Jesus in an anonymous way.  Maybe you will inspire others to do likewise!  

Here are some ideas to get started:
  • Randomly pay for the person’s meal behind you in the drive-thru line (you don’t have to tell them who you are).
  • Mow the grass of someone who might be having a hard time (don’t do this if you neighbor is funny about their grass…).
  • Hold the door open for someone behind you.
  • Look up from your smartphone and break the ice with a stranger.
  • Greet the person in the elevator.
  • Find a point of connection with the family you keep on running into at the beach.
  • Invite the odd kid out at camp to play a game with your friends.
  • Don’t be afraid to risk making a fool of yourself.
  • Donate blood.
  • Volunteer time at a soup kitchen or homeless ministry (Community Kitchens, Firehouse Shelter, Family Promise).
  •  Introduce yourself to a new neighbor and offer to pick them something up from the store (if they decline, get them something anyway).
  • Send a care package to someone serving in the Armed Forces.
  • Say something nice to everyone you see today.
  • I hope you will share other ideas on the All Saints’ Facebook Page.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Resource for Daily Devotion and Study

The news sites, blogs, facebook pages, twitter handles, and smart phone apps listed below are an attempt to help you sync your digital world with the spiritual reality.  These resources are used and trusted by your clergy and other clergy around the Episcopal Church.  I hope that these links help nurture your spiritual life and help you stay connected with the church at home and abroad.  Feel free to comment below if there is a resource that you would like to share.     

Daily Devotion Websites:

Forward Day by Day is a booklet of daily inspirational meditations reflecting on a specific Bible passage, chosen from the daily lectionary readings as listed in the Revised Common Lectionary or the Daily Office from the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer.

A very good and very quick daily devotional site with five tabs: Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go.  Each tab includes short reflections, prayers, and passages from Scripture, and it even plays pretty music in the background.  

The CCblogs network is a community of independent bloggers exploring the Christian faith.  This is an excellent resource for those looking to keep in touch with the pulse of the church today.

This is a great resource for those looking to investigate the lectionary readings (Sunday readings) for a given week.  This site includes sermons, bible studies, children/ adult formation resources, art work, commentary, and much more.  
An independent ecumenical platform that produces and publishes multimedia (mostly videos) to stir imagination, spark discussion and move people toward discovery and transformation.  

Mockingbird is a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways. We do this primarily, but not exclusively, via publications, conferences, and online resources.

Daily, lectionary-based reflections that are submitted by contributing clergy and lay scholars from throughout the Episcopal Church.

The ATR is a quarterly journal of theological reflection.  In the spirit of sound learning that has been the hallmark of Anglican divinity, our aim is to foster scholarly excellence and thoughtful conversation in and for the church.

The Living Church is comprised of communion-minded and -committed Anglicans from several nations, devoted to seeking and serving the full visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The Bible in a Year Blog by the clergy and staff at the Cathedral Church of the Advent.

Frederick Buechner is an American writer and theologian. He is the author of more than thirty published books and has been an important source of inspiration and learning for many readers. His work encompasses many genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays, sermons, and other nonfiction.

This is a great resource center that includes links to 10 different daily devotional sites from a wide range of theological perspectives (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Evangelical Protestant, etc.). 

A wonderful daily devotion from the Brothers at Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal Monastic Community in Cambridge.  This can be accessed via the web link or can be sent as a daily e-mail with a subscription. 

This requires an opt-in subscription, but once subscribed, you will receive daily reflections from Father Richard Rohr, a very popular, contemporary catholic priest and theological.  I often find these reflections to be very helpful. 

Resources for Daily Prayer:

Check out the Book of Common Prayer online.

A resource for Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for Sundays as well as Feast Days including major Holy Days

A resource for daily office readings, daily Eucharistic readings, and lectionary readings.

Follow the link to read Morning or Evening Prayer.

Follow the link and listen to Morning or Evening Prayer.

Episcopal/Anglican News: 

Stay up to date with news and events from around the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

Stay up to date with news and events from around the Episcopal Church U.S.A.

Stay up to date with news and events from around the Anglican Communion.


All Saints’ Episcopal Church:  Birmingham Alabama
All Saints’ Episcopal Church:  Community of Young Adults/@YoungAdults_AS
Forward Day by Day/@ForwardDaybyDay
Frederick Buechner/@Fred_Buechner
Diocese of Alabama/@dioalanews
Episcopal News (ENS)/@episcopal_news
The Anglican Communion/@ACOffice
The Episcopal CafĂ©/@episcopalcafe    

Smart Phone Apps:
Mission St Clare
Lectionary Page