being still in God's big world

Category: 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

A look into the future…

Leading up to the turn of the millennium (and for a few years after since the bit was so funny,) Conan O’Brien had a sketch he did on his show called “in the year 2000.” I love this sketch. The basic idea was that Conan would announce it was time to look into the future and then a special guest came on and they predicted funny things that would happen “in the year 2000.” (Here is a link to a clip of the skit with Conan and Meghan Mullally. Fair warning: there is one, somewhat crude joke toward the end… but it gives you a good idea of what I am talking about.) I had a dream the other night along the lines of this skit but for me the song was “in the year 2012…”

The realization that the new year is about to dawn finally hit me the other day. It is going to be the year 2012 on Sunday and what is so significant about that is all of the changes that I’ve been working toward for… well… for my entire lifetime that now stand on the horizon. The snow ball is on the way down the mountain and it feels like the choice is to ski in front of the snow rush or get trampled by the ball.

GOEs are next week. I’ve heard from some folks that they are worried that I am studying too much and too stressed over it. In reality I have only really reviewed for the Church History section. For all the rest I am preparing my resources and calming my spirit. Today’s GOE prep included a walk in the woods with my niece and pedicures with my aunt. Generally, it’s when I get quiet about something that worry is warranted; when I am “chatty cathie” it’s because I am coping outwardly. Am I stressed? Yes. Will it be over soon. YES! 🙂 My favorite blog about GOE prep is Janine’s. She describes the test and the stress we are all under. I think what is so crazy about the whole thing is that we all learn about the GOE and the stress it causes during our first year of seminary. We see the seniors around us running around all stressed out and we think it will be different in two years when it is our turn… we were wrong.

The week after GOEs I scheduled a week at home for respite, renewal, and packing in preparation for moving into an apartment at the end of the year. Fortunately (and unfortunately) I will not make it to Maine that week as I intended. Instead, I have been invited for interviews with three outstanding parishes. What an extraordinary opportunity. My skill sets have spiked interest in the market for assistants and I am so blessed to have the chance to start interviewing for jobs so early. But it also makes “the year 2012” so much more real. This is the year of graduation. (God willing and people consenting) This is the also year of deaconal ordination. Holy Spirit guiding, this is the year of my first call. This is the year of moving into my own apartment sans roommates for the first time since Arkansas. And, if I have my way, this is the year I get a dog.

Something that helped frame my break and my approach to the end of this final semester of seminary was the ordination of three of my close friends the week before Christmas. Seeing people who started your seminary journey with you getting ordained makes the joyous reality of our lives vivid. I felt so blessed to share that day with my friends and with the church. For now, ordination is one of the last things on my mind. My focus is on GOEs, job interviews, my thesis, and spending quality time with my peers. Soon enough seminary will be over the real world begins.

So for now I am taking life one day at a time. I walked on Kennebunk beach and at the Franciscan Monastery while listening to church history the other day.  Today was pedicures and chilly walking. Tomorrow is lunch and shopping date with my Grandma. Beyond that? I’m not really sure. I know I am flying back to VTS on Sunday morning, but otherwise I’m not really certain. I will be taking my days slowly and deliberately because life seems to be setting out at a run and I want to savor each moment as much as possible.  I am meditating on Psalm 46:10 so that when the snowball seems to be taking control, I can slow down and remind myself why I am doing this to begin with…


Be still

Be still and

Be still and know

Be still and know that

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know that

Be still and know

Be still and

Be still



Seeking the backwards “N”

Today is Advent 1. Happy New Year! I had the priviledge of preaching at our 11:15 service at St. Anne’s. Below if the rough copy of what I preached. I went off notes quite a bit, but this will give you a general idea of the message conveyed. I hope you enjoy. Scripture: Mark 13:24-37

When I was growing up there was a little church near my house that we would pass on the way to the store. For about 15 years they had a sign that read, “Jesus is coming soon, are you ready?” it was on one of those deli sign boards with the removable letters. // The reason it stood out was not because of the message, but because the “N” in “soon” was backwards. // For 15 years this sight amused and fascinated me. “If Jesus really is coming soon, you had better flip that ‘N’ around.” // But, if the “N” wasn’t backwards I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice then, and I surely wouldn’t remember it now. // So, I now wonder, did some clever little old lady do it on purpose to give us pause? …to force us to “keep awake”? Whatever the reason, I was a little bit sad when I went home for a visit a few years back and discovered that there is a new message up. I don’t even remember what the sign says now, but I miss that backwards “N.”
During the hustle and bustle of the commercial Christmas season, I think we all need a backwards “N” in our lives to make us stop long enough to ask, are we ready?
It has always struck me as somewhat odd that the prepares of our lectionary –the people who decide which Bible readings we will have each week- start the first week of Advent, the beginning of the new church year, with readings about the “end times.” The reading from Mark points toward the end times, it speaks of the coming messiah, “the son of man,” whose coming will mark the beginning of the end. The reading feels especially bleak: “heaven and earth will pass away.” But these predications also point toward hope: Hope that the messiah is coming. Advent is a season of waiting; but unlike our Advent calendars claim, we are not simply waiting for December 25th, we are perpetually waiting for the Messiah who, as our Eucharistic prayer reminds us, “Will come again.”
For many people, Advent, or in their minds –the Christmas season— began this past Friday. We have been socialized to wait for our Lord by purchasing gifts and getting deep discounts on items we may, or may not, need. Holiday shopping has become a sporting event that starts on “black Friday” and ends sometime in mid-January when the post-Christmas sales events end. Retailers take advantage of the fact that many folks have the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday from work to encourage people to take out their checkbooks. The social tone set by Western media and commercial industries is one of frenzy. The tone suggests that there isn’t a moment to spare because “our loved ones are expecting presents, and these deals won’t last.”  // Somewhere along the line the preparation for Christmas became about preparation for parties and gift giving rather than preparation for God to enter our hearts and our world.
As Christians, we are instructed to keep our eyes focused further in the future. For us, Christmas is not the end; it is just the beginning. //
Can you imagine being a Jew in the years before Jesus’ birth? The prophesies of the Hebrew Scriptures foretold the coming of a Messiah from the line of David, but they gave no timeline. // The people were just faithfully living out their lives waiting for the promise to come. It must have been difficult to believe that a Messiah was actually going to come. I am sure that many of them did not believe it would ever happen. // Our lives now mirror the lives of the people who lived in the years before Jesus came. It has been 2000 years: maybe God forgot that we were promised a second coming? Maybe the translators got it wrong or the authors embellished Jesus’ words? // Maybe. // Or maybe, we are supposed to wait. //
The readings assigned for Advent 1 may seem out of place at first glace, but when we consider our statement of belief with which we respond each week in the Eucharistic prayer, we are constantly reminding ourselves that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” // The attitude of frenzy that is encouraged by our social world is the exact opposite of the one we proclaim in our faith, and often in our daily lives.
How often have you heard the phrase, “Live life one day at a time”? How many times have you advised a friend or relative to focus on this moment? // You see, while our path is perpetually headed over the horizon, if we never take a moment to look around at where we are right now we will trip on the rocks under our feet. // The instruction to “keep awake” that is issued in the gospel reading is not intended to feed the holiday frenzy. God already knows that we are awake and running: we are just trying to keep up with a society that insists toddlers need datebooks if they want to see their friends. We are trying meet the expectations set by marketing firms for appropriate holiday gifts for the people we love. We are trying to keep ahead of the trends, // to help our children become successful, // to be all that we can possibly be. And we are trying to do all of this, all of the time. // In fact, we spend so much time “trying,” that I wonder how much time we actually spend “doing.”
It is exhausting to “try” all the time. Trying implies an external influence that has set a standard we must achieve. Trying implies that we might fail. // Doing, on the other hand, is a positive action. It implies confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Doing shows the world that we know what we want and we are acting to achieve an end. // But how do we go from “trying” to “doing”?
We are creatures of habit and it would be nearly impossible to rewire ourselves to a point where we are able to block out all external influences in order to “just do it” without still spinning our minds thinking about the “right way.” // So what if instead of trying to forget about the opinions and pressures of external forces, instead we do something to change it? // What is we choose to let God’s standard be the standard that we try to meet: not the media’s, not the politicians’, not our parents’, not our children’s… not even our own. // What if God’s standard were the only one we focused on?
Advent is a season of expectant waiting. Unlike waiting for a bus or waiting in a check out line, Advent is a season of waiting that offers us opportunities to do things to prepare our lives for the arrival of our Lord. We can pray. We can choose to keep our hearts open for the coming of the messiah. We can help those who may be in pain this season. We can wait, actively. //Waiting in our modern day Western world is often seen as a negative thing. When we have to stand in the check out line too long we tap our foot impatiently and glare at the man who is writing a check instead of swiping his card. We look scathingly at the cashier as if to say, “hurry up and stop wasting our time.” // There is the old phrase “Good things come to those who wait” but I find that it is used to pacify people who are already frustrated with the delayed gratification they seek.

If we rearranged our standards to which we measured ourselves and our efforts to God’s standards we would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” much more often. // When we think about the words God would use to describe us “beloved child,” “one with charisms granted by the Holy Spirit,” or “created in my image” then we see that as long as we are doing our very best with right intention, then we have already succeeded. // Wouldn’t that feel amazing? To know that our best is good enough.// //
Photo Courtesy of
the Rev. Lauren Kilbourn

Rather than being frustrated with the wait for our Lord, or feeling rushed along by the commercial Christmas pushed on us by society let’s prepare in this season of waiting by seeking that backwards “N” in our lives. // If we are rushing along we won’t see the backwards “N;” the thing that will cause us to pause and consider this very moment. The journey of waiting that we are on, brothers and sisters, does not end on December 25th. The journey may not even end in our lifetime. // So what’s the hurry? // Slow down, keep awake, pay attention: Something amazing is going to happen and we will miss it if we keep running around. // So go home and ask yourself, am I ready to have my heart broken open by God? // And if the answer is no, then I encourage you to take stock of what you can do to prepare yourself, because Jesus is coming soon, and His birth will change you if you let it.

Choosing an Advent Discipline

Lent is the time you give something up, or take on a spiritual discipline, as a way of recognizing the penitential season of waiting before Easter. I really don’t understand why we don’t have the same tradition in Advent. Advent is also a penitential season of waiting. It is not a time to celebrate the joy of Christmas; it is the time to walk reverently and with hope, following the star toward the promise of a birth.
This Advent I am leading a group at my field education parish for those folks who have a difficult time during Advent and Christmas. Last year I attended a “Blue Christmas” service at St. Philip’s in Laurel, MD — it was a lovely service that met me where I was and helped me to see a new possibility for Advent. As someone who has experienced a great loss during the Christmas season, Advent and Christmas have been extremely emotionally taxing for the last several years. I decided to take the idea of “Blue Christmas” and extend it further. The group I am leading invites people from various backgrounds to come together and wait together, feeling the feelings we have rather than the feelings we are told we should have. We will share in our grief and our hope as we walk slowly through a world that is running. The group will culminate with a Blue Advent healing Eucharist with a liturgy that I am writing.
So this Advent I have decided to treat the season a little like Lent. I am removing distractions from my life and replacing them with gentleness and mercy for my soul. I am reading prayers by Desmond Tutu, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and Henri Nouwen. I am waiting for the miracle that is coming. The thing about waiting is that waiting in the bible is always an active thing. It isn’t like missing the bus and then needing to just sit on the bench waiting for the next one to come by: waiting for Christ requires preparation of our hearts and our lives so that there will be room for the Joy that is on the horizon.
I write this as I prepare my heart this week for the coming of Advent. We have the luxury of knowing that a season of waiting is drawing close, and that foreknowledge is a gift that we are given. What we do with the gift is up to us. So yes, I am writing about Advent waiting before Advent even begins. It is my hope that I may use this week to prepare my heart to wait patiently and counter-culturally. Advent Conspiracy is one resource if you are considering how you would like to reclaim the season of Advent in your life. There are many others out there. I encourage you to spend this week deciding: What do you intend to do with your time of waiting?

Bishops and Delegates and Fenway, oh my!

Bishop Bud on the score board

This weekend was the annual Diocese of Massachusetts convention. As a senior in seminary, this year’s convention was especially important for me to attend. I came armed, with business cards at the ready, with a goal of being an extrovert for the whole weekend. It was actually quite fun. Friday’s events were more subdued with little business and more reports, worship, and imagining for the future of the diocese. It was a short afternoon because Bishop Bud’s retirement extravaganza was to be held that evening at FENWAY PARK!

You heard me right, I got to spend Friday night at Fenway… but you’ll have to wait to hear about that…

Bishop Bud and me… his collar is autographed by Wally the Green Monster!
Dorothella, Steph, and I couldn’t find seats inside, but that
meant we got to eat outside looking over the field.

The most important part of convention this year was the opportunity to connect, and reconnect, with the people who are going to be my colleagues in ministry next year. I was able to sit down with one of my mentors who helped me focus my vision for ministry and think critically about the job search ahead. I got to give hugs to my church family whom I have missed tremendously. I was able to meet some amazing people who are doing great things to further Christ’s kingdom in Massachusetts and beyond. I even got to learn about some great assistant rector opportunities that are coming open this year. After passing out nearly all the business cards I came to Boston with, I am feeling hopeful and excited about coming home next year!

Our view during dinner.

Oh, and yes, I might have eaten dinner in the Pavillion at Fenway… 3 stories above home plate. It was very neat! Bishops Tom and Gayle sang Bud a song and folks told wonderful stories about his ministry with us. Bud is an incredible man and I am sad that he is retiring, but after meeting his family I am excited that they will get to spend more time with him.

Please, tell me about yourself.

Greetings from unseasonably cool Alexandria Virginia! Yesterday I traveled to Gettysburg, PA for the Lutherbowl Flag Football Tournament that was sadly canceled after a single game due to snow, mud, and freezing players. It was still a good break from my work. Today was “back to the grind” as it were, preaching 3 services at field education. 
This is the sermon I preached this morning at St. Anne’s in Reston. It was a tough passage to wrestle with, but a good challenge overall. My sermon text is rough because I rarely read exactly what is on the page. I hope you enjoy.
Scripture reference: Matthew 23:1-12
We are a people who live by labels. Take me for instance: I am a seminarian, a daughter, a singer, an aunt, a candidate for Holy Orders, a terrible knitter… I could go on and on. When I meet a new person and they ask me about myself I tell them that I am a graduate student. I label myself. // We identify ourselves with labels because we are a people who have been socialized to identify ourselves, our neighbors, and the world around us with labels. // So what happens when those labels are taken away? What happens when Jesus comes and strips us of the labels we are accustomed to employing? What do we do then?
In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for a failure to “practice what they preach;” this is nothing new, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees quite frequently. After reminding us that we are supposed to give glory to God and structure our lives in such a way that they make this a reality, he goes further to tell us that we cannot call our earthly fathers, “father;” // furthermore, we must not call anyone on earth “teacher” or “instructor” because the Messiah was our one teacher and instructor. // I’ve heard many people try to interpret this message so that Jesus isn’t really saying we can’t call our Dads “father.” Jesus wouldn’t want us to disrespect our parents, that goes against the 10 commandments… “Honor your mother and father…” // So Jesus must mean something else, right? //
No, Jesus is quite clear: “And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven.” // He has said something like this before… Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus is on the road some disciples tell Jesus they want to follow him. One says, “Let me bury my father and then I will follow you.” But Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury the dead.” // Jesus instructs the man to stop making excuses and to follow Him. // It isn’t an instruction that we should disrespect our parents; rather, Jesus is instructing us to stop letting labels get in the way of following Him.
If we follow the commandment to honor our Mother and Father by respecting and caring for our parents, but then we look past the anguish of a homeless person in the park – have we truly followed the commandment? // You see, what is hidden in the midst of Jesus’ cry against the Pharisees and His call against the labels of teacher, father, and instructor is actually a cry against all of us who say one thing and then do another. // Likewise, it is a cry against those of us who do “the right thing” in order to obtain praise from others.//
This passage does not simply admonish the Pharisees for their inability to live up to the standard they set for others; this passage admonishes all of us who live in the hypocrisy that exists when we call one person father, neighbor, or brother and then pass by a fellow human being who is in need. // It is calling out all of us who work for justice when part of the motivation that drives us is how we will be applauded by our neighbors when they hear about our efforts. // We all fail to fully live into God’s commandment to love as we have been loved because we allow the labels we create to get in our way.
Often when we read the Gospels it is so easy to read what Jesus has to say against the Pharisees, Sadducees, Tax Collectors, and sinners because we forget that he is actually talking to us. // We are not the righteous ones who are being told that we will fit through the eye of the needle with ease because we have left behind the trappings of this world. We are the wealthy and the privileged, we are the sinners who are stumbling along the pathway, we are the Pharisees who make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. // We are the ones who are praying out on the street corner while being instructed to pray in quiet. // Today, we are the Pharisees. //
Does that mean that we have no hope? // Of course not! But the hope that is offered might be difficult for us to receive. // The hope, and the healing, that is being offered to us today is to strip away our labels. // The hope we have is to accept the Grace offered; // but to make room for that Grace we need to unload a lot of the things that are cluttering up our lives making it difficult for us to feel at home with Grace. // It sounds simple on the surface: opening ourselves to God’s Grace, but let’s really consider what that would mean in the context of today’s Gospel:
When I labeled myself at the beginning of this sermon I said I was a seminarian, a daughter, a singer, an aunt… and so on… for me to stand up and accept the Grace that Jesus is offering it would require that I identify solely as “a child of God” and your “sister in Christ.” // The rest of the labels hold no meaning from a heavenly perspective. When I die I will no longer be a singer or a seminarian, I will be what I have always been: “a child of God.” // And what is more than that… I am a BELOVED child of God. //
And while that feels tremendously freeing when I close my eyes and breathe it in, the thought of loosing track of my labels in the real world of 2011 Northern Virginia is terrifying. // I am currently searching for a job, can you imagine what folks would say if under the special skills section of my resume I put “Being a Beloved Child of God.” What would that even mean? // And I am going into church ministry… what about you? What if the next time you were applying for a position in retail or IT you put “Child of God” or “Brother in Christ” as your descriptor? // // // Is that what Jesus is asking us to do.
Again, no. // It helps if we look back to the Gospel lesson from 2 weeks ago when Jesus was confronted in the synagogue about paying taxes to the state. In that passage Jesus told the people that they should give back to the government the money, and to give to God what is God’s. // What we learned from that is that our bodies, our souls, and our minds belong to God while our earthly possessions belong to this world. // This is the same idea: We are being called to a place where we don’t let our earthly labels distract us from the divine purpose God has for us. // It is the line between pride and glory that we must walk. //
God has blessed us with the skills we have and when we lose track of the fact that it is God who has provided the skills and abilities, that is when we fall into the trapping of Pride. // Jesus is teaching us to be disciples, and to be a disciple we must learn to leave everything behind when we follow Him.
Stanley Hauerwas, professor of Theological Ethics at Duke and author of numerous books, has just released a new book entitled, “Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian.” In it he has included a commencement address he gave at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, in it he describes the job of a minister as a teacher of the language of Christianity. Hauerwas says that seminary is an exercise in learning to read Christian texts working toward an end of learning to “speak Christian” so that graduates may enter the ministry and become teachers of the “Christian language.” He focuses his work on the risks and challenges associated with using words to talk about God. // Those same challenges are inherent as we venture out into the world trying to live a Christian life when we are not fluent in the Christian language and when Christian culture is not the prevalent culture in which we live. // One of the most important things for us to learn as we become teachers of the Christian Language, Hauerwas claims, is when to be quiet. He tells us that there is a blessing inherent in learning from the Spirit when we are supposed to speak, and when we are supposed to let the silence speak. //
It is in that silence, I believe, that we are living into our status as always, already, Beloved Children of God. // It is in the silence that we let go of the labels. // It is when we make room for the Holy Spirit to speak through us sometimes with, but often without words, that we live up to that label and allow others to find their “Child of God label” as well.
Jesus isn’t telling us to put “child of God” on our resume in place of the other labels that represent our experience; He isn’t telling us to stop being the creative and fabulous individuals that we are in this world; // // He is telling us that in the great scheme of things, our resume doesn’t matter. // Jesus isn’t telling us to disrespect our parents because our earthly parents are’t as important as our Heavenly parent; He is telling us to respect all of our fellow human beings because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. // Jesus isn’t telling us that we should condemn the modern day Pharisees who wear their prayers like a cloak while acting in ways contrary to their preaching; He is reminding us that we are the Pharisees who must learn to match our activities to our faith without expectation of accolades or rewards. //
We are a people who live by our labels, if we truly want to follow Christ we don’t need to change our nature … because our nature is having been created in the image of God!… -we can still be people who live by our labels- but we must adjust which labels we use.
My name is Audrey; I am a Christian, a child of God, and your sister in sister in Christ. My current vocation is as a graduate student working towards Holy Orders. I enjoy singing and knitting, though my creations are made with love and very little skill. I have a large family whom I love very much. // It’s a pleasure to meet you. Now please, tell me about yourself… 

I’m an atheist. Enjoy your wine.

I was at the wine and cheese store the other night picking out a bottle for a friend. I asked the girl behind the counter for help since, let’s face it, I chose for the pretty labels and know nothing about what is inside. We were having a joyful conversation and after she helped me and we went to check out she asked what it was for. I told her that it was “Wine/Whine on Wednesday” -a tradition in the dorms at VTS. She asked more about it and after learning that I was a seminarian she promptly said, “I knew a girl who went to seminary. She was going to be a minister and everything. We were good friends. I’m an atheist, but I know people who have gone to seminary. Enjoy your wine.”

It was an awkward and somewhat comical interaction. It felt a little bit like a confession. She needed me to know that she is an atheist. It was not said as an invitation to discuss faith, as evidenced by the fact that she walked away from the counter as soon as she was done speaking to me. It was presented with a tone that implied: “This is my atheism shield: do not try to penetrate my defenses, you will not get through.”

If I could count all of the awkward ways conversations end when I meet new people and they learn I am a seminarian I would be up to at least a hundred by now. But I also have those conversations that grow so much deeper and more personal when folks learn of my current station. There is one coworker who confessed her journey of faith and asked how I knew there was a God after I told her I was leaving work to go to seminary. There was a man at the airport who wanted to know what it meant to be an “Episcopalian”after seeing my “SEMINARY” shirt at the airport. There are those “episco-insiders” who ask about the Holy Hill after hearing I am at Virginia.

But for every interesting, deep conversation that results from status as “seminarian” there are at least two awkward, comedic, or sometimes sad ends to conversations that never happened because folks just didn’t know what to think. What this all tells me is that I need to start more conversations. I need to meet more people. I need to do this because there is a funny power that the word “seminary” has over people and the only way to figure out what this power is will be to have more conversations and to remain open to what they bring. Good thing Wine on Wednesday happens every week; I will see my wine store girl again soon.

Episcopal Girl

I keep forgetting to post this link on here. The photo at the top of my blog is from a skit I conceived and helped put on in the VTS variety show my junior year at seminary. Here it is: Episcopal Girl from the 2010 VTS Spring Variety Show:

Senior Sermon

Seniors at VTS are given the opportunity to preach one sermon during our chapel team week. This was my stab at it preached at the noon Eucharist today. I am happy to say that I didn’t pass out! 

Luke 8:16-18 —  “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” 

I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but I can’t hide it any longer: I love glitter. It’s true, I can’t deny it: gawdy or glorious, sequins or spangles: if it sparkles, I’m a happy girl. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Audrey, glitter gets everywhere and is impossible to clean up.” // // // Exactly. 

Glitter leaves a trace, sometimes for years to come. // My unnatural love of this craft supply stretches even further than the confines of my craft closet. My love of all-things-sparkle has become a metaphor in my life: I use the adjective to describe a certain type of person and I’ll bet there is someone in your life, either presently or in the past, who just seemed to sparkle. // 

There are those people whose joy, depth, or energy seems to glow through them. // The light they possess is dazzling and infectious. // Their sparkle gives us something to strive toward. // Their light offers joy, comfort, hope, or encouragement seemingly without any special effort on their part. // That, my friends, is the light of Christ and I’d like to introduce one of those sparkly individuals now: 

It was a bright morning in mid-September and Jessica was excited to drive herself to school after years of riding the bus. The sun was especially bright that morning and as she came to the crest of a hill she was momentarily blinded. It was just a moment, but in that moment Jess couldn’t see that there was a school bus stopped directly in front of her; She couldn’t see that she needed to stop. In that moment her life changed, but the the most important part of her remained exactly the same: her faith was unshaken.

Paralyzed from the neck down, Jessica arrived at the hospital for months of therapy and rehab. It would have been perfectly normal for her to experience depression or hopelessness. But while she had her difficult days, the remarkable thing about Jessica was the positive outlook she brought to each day. In her mind, her accident only proved further that God was merciful and loving and that there was a purpose for her life. // Jessica sparkled with the best of them.

Working with Jess was an exercise in listening: but not just with my ears, listening with my heart to even the smallest gestures. As the author of Luke’s Gospel wrote: ‘Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’ // // // While this may appear at first glance to be at odds with the “last shall be first” theology we usually hear in the Gospels, we learn upon reflection that the Gospel writer is talking about faith. The writer isn’t talking about taking away from the poor or destitute. The writer is explaining that those who believe in the truth of the Triune God will learn more and more about God each day simply by experiencing God’s creation with an open heart. But those people who put their faith in transient things or false prophets, as they listen to each day, they will see their faith whittle away because new information experienced in creation will contradict their false assumptions.

This short passage is an imperative towards listening: not listening in the way we normally do, with our brains working full speed trying to think of what we will say next, but listening with our whole selves. Listening with our eyes and our ears and our hearts. It is only when we listen with our full selves that we can see the sparkle.

Many of us have spent so long telling our story that we forget how to listen without looking for the trick question or trying to find a way to make sure we are heard. 

Well, friends, the time for trick questions has passed. Right now, in this moment, you have nowhere else to be. // If we all pause for just a minute, like the map at the kiosk in the mall, I would like to proudly declare: you are here. // Take a deep breath and rest in that for a moment. You Are Here. Regardless of where you need to be next, or where you just came from; right now, in this moment, we are here, together. And in a few minutes we will be right there *points at altar* at the communion table with Christ. //// 

We are here at VTS to be formed in community. Whether we are staff or students we are all being formed by one another, because the process of Christian formation is lifelong. No matter if we are being formed to be teachers or priests, youth ministers or deacons, missionaries or evangelists: we are all being formed, and every person here: staff, faculty, students, spouses, and families, are part of that formation. There are members of this community who are going to leave traces of sparkle on your heart. Formation requires that we listen for that still, small, sparkly voice of God and if we do that, we will find the Christ light in some of the most unexpected places. 

It is in listening that we are able to learn about one another, and in seeing each others sparkle we see the face of God. There is a little light of Christ in the heart of each – and every – person here. // We all have brokenness and pain in our lives, and what a shame it is when that brokenness becomes a jar that blocks the light of Christ, burning within our souls, from shining to the outside. – Our brokenness doesn’t need to be a jar placed over the flame… it can become a lens through which those shards of pain become kaleidoscope pieces that add interest to our sparkle. That is why we have come to this Monday healing service: to offer up that brokenness to God to be transformed.

As the gospel writer reminds us, “there is no truth that will not eventually get out,” so who are we to stand in the way of this truth? // Who would hide a light under a jar? No one, of course, except each one of us who tries to hide a piece of ourself from the world for fear they won’t understand. // // // 

I would bet that each of us has the potential to be that “sparkly” person in the life of another, just like Jessica was to me. Maybe you already are. I would also bet that each of us needs to make a conscious decision of what we are willing to let go of in order to truly shine with all Christ’s light. We all have the light of Christ within us, but only you know what it is that is holding you back from shining to your full potential. // // // Won’t you share your sparkle with us?

What happens when Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day collide?

Here is my Trinity Sunday sermon from St. Paul’s in Natick. I had the interesting challenge of meditating on the Trinity while also remaining mindful of the fact that it was Father’s Day. Here is what resulted:
It took 16 hours to drive home from seminary three weeks ago. I arrived at my dad’s house at 11PM and went straight up to my childhood bedroom and fell into my bed… which had been made with fresh sheets and had extra blankets on the end, just how I like it. // When I awoke the next morning I came downstairs to find all of the boxes from my car stacked neatly at the bottom of the stairs. -there were a lot of boxes- I went to the kitchen to make some breakfast and found my favorite yogurt and a new box of my regular cereal. // My dad doesn’t eat yogurt, and he sure doesn’t like paying for name brand cereal. // My dad can tell some of the most long winded, detailed stories about random events of New England history you’ve ever heard. But when it comes to talking about his feelings he is a man of few words. // // //
In the words of Brother Tobias Stanislas: Trinity Sunday is the one day of the church year when we specifically “focus on God’s being rather than God’s doing.” // It is important to consider, however, that it is through God’s doing that we learn about God’s being. After all, isn’t the old saying: “actions speak louder than words?”//
The wonder of Trinity Sunday is encompassed in the breadth of the readings we experienced this morning. It is through those readings that we learn the Triune nature of the God we worship and of the majesty, power, love, and potential that is gifted to us through God’s multidimensional essence. // The task of Trinitarian theology according to Augustine is “to manifest what is expressly revealed in the Scripture concerning God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; so as that we may duly believe in him, yield obedience unto him, enjoy communion with him, walk in his love and fear, and so come as length to be blessed with him for evermore.” // In other words, the task of trinitarian theology is to learn about God through God’s actions and words in the bible so that we can fully love God and walk on the path to which God calls us. //
When we hear the creation story from Genesis, as we did today, it is like coming home. We all know this story. It is written on our hearts… and if you’ve ever attended the Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s, then you probably want to say “good, good, very very good” every time God creates something. // When a story becomes comfortable we anticipate what is coming next, and that anticipation causes us to stop listening with our full selves because we think we already know all that is happening. // It is like reading a story book to a child each night before bed. If the child has a favorite book, and has heard it enough times, she will say to you, “Daddy, let me read it.” And even though she is too young to read, she will take the book and tell you the story from memory; guided by the images, her retelling of this favorite tale will catch most of the major points but you notice the text and you can see when she is leaving out bits of the tale. // It is for this reason, I want us to take some time together to really listen to this creation story. To hear all of the profundity that is encompassed in this timeless tale, and to consider what special message it has for us on Trinity Sunday, of all days.
As I said before, it is through God’s doing that we learn about God’s being… and God sure is doing a LOT in that first reading from Genesis. // As we look at this story with fresh eyes let’s consider those things which have become the pieces we leave out when we are retelling the story. // It is often in the little actions that the greatest character traits of a person are revealed. //
In the second verse of this lesson from Genesis a “wind from God” sweeps over the deep. Wind is important in the bible. Just last Sunday we heard about the “violent wind” of Pentecost sweeping through the house and gifting the disciples with the ability to speak and hear in multiple languages. And one reason that wind is chosen as a metaphor is because it is an image we can relate to. // We have all experienced wind. A soft breeze on a summer day, a bitter whipping wind in the throws of winter, and just two weeks ago our neighbors out by Springfield felt the terror and destruction of tornadoes winds. // Wind is a powerful image because it is invisible yet has the ability to disrupt everything in its path. // It can be gentle or forceful. Welcomed or feared. // Wind is a perfect image for the Holy Spirit essence of God because the Holy Spirit is described as God’s essence at work in the world around us.
That’s right, in the first two verses of the bible, those that we heard in Genesis today, we were unwittingly introduced to two members of the Trinity. God: who we commonly refer to as father or mother, and who is generally credited with creation. As well as God the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word used to describe the wind in the second verse is the first occurrence of the word Ruach, which means wind or Spirit. This wind not only served as God’s action towards the void and precipitated the change that began the formation of the world, the wind was God.
What do we see after this initial wind is sent? // 6 times God speaks aloud and calls elements into being. God calls them by name. // Naming is a powerful act. // As humans we name specific things: when we are young we might begin by naming our imaginary friends, we then move on to name family pets, we give nick names to our friends, when we get older we name our children. // Naming implies a relationship: either a present relationship or an anticipated relationship. By naming creation with care, God is showing creation that God intends to continue in relationship with that creation after the initial act is complete. //
What is more than that, after each act of creation God calls the creation good. // God praises the elements and creatures of creation. God is pleased with them. And what’s more than that God blesses them. // God loves them. //
It is specifically important to look at this beginning of the human relationship with God. When God creates humans on the sixth day the command from God is different. Rather than saying “Let there be…” God says “Let US create humankind in OUR image…” Let US… OUR image… who is US? // To whom was God speaking? // // // As Christians, we believe that this is an example in the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures of God speaking within God’s self to the members of the Trinity. // We have already looked at the occurrence of the Holy Spirit as the wind from God in this passage… as God’s action in the world… but where would we claim is Jesus? // The Gospel according to John begins by saying “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God and all things came into being through him.” If we use this text as a lens through which to read the creation account we would say that the Word that God speaks… each time that God commands there to be light, or water, or animals that work is the word of the Son in creation. According to John, Jesus was this Word made flesh… the Word was with God and was God from the very beginning of time. And as we heard in the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus will be will us “until the end of the age. // From the beginning of time until the end of the age. //
Is it important whether or not this is exactly the way in which the world came to be? Does it mean that you can’t be a person of faith if you don’t believe that this description is adequate as an explanation for the creation of the cosmos? Of course not. // But this account can be viewed as means of explaining the nature of God and the existence of the world by the early people of the world. Since the very beginning, humans have been trying to make sense of God. But God is so awesome and so inconceivable that we needed stories and personifications in order to start to grasp God’s reality. // God recognized this inability to fully comprehend and so God interacts with Creation and even sent Christ into the world to save humanity from the sins we have fallen into. // God sent part of God’s self in a tangible form as a continuation of creation. // God’s actions from the act of Creation to the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, to the birth of Jesus to Christ’s death on the Cross and rising to new life… all of God’s actions tell us who God is. They teach us about the Trinity. //
If the story of your life was written, what would your actions betray about your being? // // //
They say that reading the New Testament is reading a life. But I believe that the truth of the matter is, reading the entire bible, Old and New Testaments is the experience of reading a life. // True, it is a life completely other than that which we live… because it is the life of the Triune God throughout the ages.// From the very beginning of time itself to the prophesies for the end of the age… the bible is our opportunity to read God’s being. //
As we move forward into this summer it is our chance to move out into creation and continue writing the story of our being through our actions. // Every moment of every day we betray a part of our innermost self to the people with whom we interact. Whether it is a brief interaction with a stranger, a reunion with a friend we haven’t seen in years, or those everyday moments with our families each action speaks to our core characteristics. // Reading the creation story on Trinity Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to encounter God’s undivided, Trinitarian essence in God’s first recorded act in the Holy Scriptures. Every story, every verse, every action teaches us more and more about God who is Mother and Father to us all. // God who is our brother, teacher, savior and friend. // God who is continuing to work in the world and in our lives each and every day. //
Next school year, my final year at the Virginia Seminary, I will be undertaking the challenge of writing a thesis on this very topic: the persons of God. I will specifically be exploring the issues we have as a church explaining the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to those new to the faith -both children and seekers. // We generally do a good job giving concrete illustrations and personifications of God as parent and God as Jesus, but we often send people out with an ability to only articulate a dualistic faith. // We are Trinitarians and I want to explore how we, as a church, can do a better job at teaching those within our denomination how to articulate this core doctrine and understanding of the Christian faith. // I will start my work by exploring the scriptures, just as we have this morning. I will go back into the stories and read them with fresh eyes to see where God’s actions betray bits of God’s essence. // All the while, this act of reading and researching and eventually writing my thesis will betray to those who witness it elements of my core being. // Every moment of every day has the potential to tell a story about who we are. // // //
What do you plan on doing today? 

She would like you to pray for her family

I seem to have won the preaching lottery this summer! This morning I got to preach for Pentecost Sunday at my childhood parish: St. David’s in Kennebunk; and next week I am preaching Trinity Sunday at my sponsoring parish, St. Paul’s in Natick! Here is my sermon from this morning:

It seems futile to sweep a bamboo slat floor in a dust-covered jungle, but that is exactly what she was doing when we arrived. It was a hot, humid day in January on a mission trip to Myanmar -formerly known as Burma- in East Asia. // Church let out that morning and my classmates and I were separated and sent to visits parishioners’ homes in the small village of Mwa Bvi, Myanmar. I was partnered with two Burmese bible college students in their early twenties and two Burmese high school students. They would serve as my translators. We walked for about fifteen minutes before coming to the first home. As we walked we tried to carry on a conversation, but their English comprehension -while extraordinary- was still slow and the exchange of ideas was hampered. I was nervous. //  No one told us what we would be doing. I assumed we were going to learn from people in the village about their lives as Christian minorities in an oppressive military-controlled country where the majority religion was Buddhism.
The home we arrived at was made entirely from bamboo apart from a thatch roof fashioned from palm leaves. It was on stilts two feet above the group to protect from flooding during the annual rainy season. A tiny, old woman was sweeping the floor in preparation for our arrival.
The woman was no more than four and a half feet tall; her body bent and broken from osteoporosis. She smiled broadly to welcome us into her home. We left our shoes on the ground and stepped up inside. I had to crouch to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling. It was a single room with mats on the floor. I sat down and the room quickly filled up with 5 children, 3 more adult women and an adult man. A forth woman brought in some tea and a cup was handed to me. Was I even allowed to drink this; was the water safe? The room was silent so I drank. The old woman smiled at me expectantly. I looked to my translators and they said, “She would like you to pray for her family.”  //
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Have you ever wondered what that “violent rush of wind” must have felt like? The selection from Acts says nothing about the feeling that the disciples encountered that day. It sounded like wind, like hurricane winds tearing through the house straight from heaven… but what did it feel like? Tongues of fire that rested upon them. Was it still? Could you see it? Or was it simply a feeling that suddenly invaded their bodies and graced them with the ability to speak and to hear? The text implies that the sound of wind tore down from heaven and invaded the home, appearing as fire that rested on the disciples. That sounds terrifying.
Pentecost wasn’t a lovely summer day or a walk in the park. Folks didn’t leave there saying, “Well, that was neat. I wish I could speak all those languages, too.” People were surprised, scared, in awe, confused, and inspired. The Holy Spirit, in all Her fury, rained down upon the people and the church was born.
Kind of makes you wonder, if the church started with such drama how did we get here? // The disciples were commissioned to spread the Gospel to all the corners of the earth, fire rained down upon them and they went forward in shock and awe proclaiming, and prophesying, and interpreting. And not just the twelve. As the book of Acts moves forward from this place we learn that men and women, young and old, jews and gentiles were blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to carry Christ’s message into the world. //   Did the Holy Spirit just stop moving in the same way after this grand act from biblical times?

No. The Holy Spirit has been and continues to be the presence of God in creation.  The second verse of the Bible introduces the Holy Spirit when it says, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The wind was the Spirit already moving through the formless void. When God breathed life into the creation that breath was the Holy Spirit.  That breath was the Holy Spirit. Time and time again we hear in scripture about the breath of God moving on the earth and affecting change. In our creed we proclaim that “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of life…” But in our lives, how many of us really feel like we experience the Holy Spirit on a daily basis?

It takes intentional effort. In a world that is tied up with modern communication devises and scientific explanations for everything it takes intentional, prayerful contemplation to see the Spirit moving in the little things. But remember, Pentecost was an event unlike any other, the disciples had slow moving days when they had to look for the Spirit too.
I once heard a priest say that word of mouth is the greatest evangelical tool for growing the church. He went on to explain that Episcopalians were the least likely of any denomination to invite their friends to church which is a major reason that our churches are shrinking. Now, I am not sure where he got his facts, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The Episcopal Church is seen from the outside as an exclusive club. When newcomers enter our doors they discover the need to juggle multiple books, learn special hand signals, and sing out in a culture that tells them keep their songs to themselves. //  //  //  Pentecost is the day when God sent God’s Spirit down to tell them to take their hope as Easter people out into the world. Each year we celebrate Pentecost as our common call to be witnesses of Christ’s redeeming love in the world. What about being witnesses even with our neighbors and friends?
So, where is the Spirit raining down in your life? We don’t receive gifts of the spirit so we can be better at the things we are doing; we receive them so that we can go forward to do the work God is calling us to do. Oftentimes, that work is scary. It is something we could not have imagined on our own. And it is something that we feel in the very core of our being that something other than ourselves is willing us forward.

When I went to Myanmar in January I went expecting my heart to be broken open for the people there and for the plight they were facing. I went already planning my next mission trip to Tanzania for this summer. I went telling the Spirit what I expected to get out of it. //  Those are the times when God laughs the hardest; when we tell God our plans. // If you had told the disciples that the Holy Spirit was going to rain down fire upon them and they would instantly become multi-lingual evangelists for the Gospel of Christ, they would have laughed. It seems that despite all of the amazing things they witnessed during their time with Christ they still thought they had it all figured out. //  Myanmar broke my heart open, but in ways I wasn’t anticipating or ready for. //  This summer I will be living in Maine. I am not going to Tanzania; the Spirit told me that I wasn’t supposed to go on that trip.

The Spirit is a funny thing. She comes into our lives when we least expect her, and like hurricane winds whipping through the house, She tends to disrupt everything in Her path. Because everyday can’t be like Pentecost, the major difference for us from what the disciples faced that day so long ago is that we must intentionally focus our hearts on hearing the rustling wind of the Spirit in each moment of our lives.
The old woman smiled at me expectantly. I looked to my translators and they said, “She would like you to pray for her family.” I didn’t know this woman or her life. I had only been in the country for 24 hours and was already experiencing major culture shock. I was tired and overwhelmed.
I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and asked the Spirit to enter my heart. Then I prayed. //  // //  I have no idea what I said that day. I felt inadequate and unqualified, but then I remembered Jesus telling his disciples not to worry about what they would say for in that moment the words would come to them. // It seems that in that moment, prayer became the Pentecostal, universal language. // I pray that we can going forward using this universal language to share the good news that has been gifted to us. To share it with our neighbors and friends. To invite them to our church. And to open our lives to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.//
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