The Way of a New Era

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by timtrue

The following sermon is the third of twelve that I will preach to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee and St. Stephen’s in Douglas as part of a three-month stint doing pulpit-supply work. I will deliver it tomorrow.

John 1:29-42

1.

In our last two weeks together, we have encountered two profound ideas about God: Incarnation and Epiphany.

Incarnation: God becomes a human; empathy in its ultimate form.

Epiphany: God, through the Incarnation, is made known to the world.

Each of these ideas is staggering on its own. Together—well, not just one but both ideas are realized in and through the man named Jesus!

Perhaps even more staggering still is that, when we take a step back and look at him historically, Jesus was no one special.

Jesus was a common person, not born into aristocracy or royalty.

Jesus was an artisan, a carpenter’s son, not a statesman.

And Jesus was poor, a lot like everyone else in his circles.

And yet, common as Jesus was, with no kind of privilege working in his favor, he somehow managed to grab the attention of the world—so much so that he was eventually crucified by the world’s leaders, for rebellion.

And yet, too, Jesus has managed to keep the attention of the world down to this day.

Who was this man Jesus? Who is this Incarnation? This Epiphany?

Today I want to take a step back and look at the bigger picture—these profound ideas—with you.

Why did God become human—why the Incarnation?

And, why was Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” made known to the world—why the Epiphany?

And the answer—what I hope to demonstrate to you today—is that, through Jesus the Incarnation and Epiphany, God is calling all humanity to a radical change of mind; so radical, in fact, that the Incarnation and Epiphany comprise the beginning of an entirely new era.

2.

So then, the major worldview before Jesus’ birth is what I (and Walter Wink and Richard Rohr et al) like to call the Way of Domination.

Have you heard this phrase?

The Way of Domination tells us that in our relationships with one another, one person or group is always superior to another, inferior person or group. Even in our friendships! It’s just the way things are, the Way of Domination tells us, like a law of physics.

What is the result of viewing the world through this lens? Complex hierarchies; and social structures kept in place by violence and fear.

In the ancient world—in Jesus’ world—it looked like patriarchy and classism, among other things.

As for patriarchy, a husband ruled over his wife. A husband had legal liberty to beat his wife if, in his mind, she stepped out of line in some way. His children too.

With respect to classism, slaves answered to masters; freemen answered to equites; equites answered to senators; and, sitting at the top of the hierarchy, senators answered to the Emperor, Caesar.

Put these together, and it meant that a woman was answerable to her husband; yet that same woman was above any member of a lesser class. The wife of the Emperor had authority over all senators; the wife of a senator over equites; the wife of an eques over freemen; and so on down the line.

This hierarchy is the natural order of things, the Way of Domination tells us. For people who agree with the Way of Domination, their minds are made up. It’s just the way things are. To change their minds would be a radical thing indeed.

In our world today, the Way of Domination remains at work. It cries out that a man is superior to a woman; a boss is superior to an employee; an adult is superior to a child; rich are superior to poor; straight is superior to gay; white is superior to black; our nation is better than your nation; etc. It’s the natural order of things; just the way things are.

The Way of Domination tells us that for the Pax Romana to be truly effective, an ordered social hierarchy is absolutely necessary. Some person has got to sit on top, far away from the details of our day-to-day lives, aloof, like God, who sits far off on his throne in heaven.

And how, exactly, is the superior class to keep the inferior group in line? Through violence, whether real or imagined.

History shows us this all over the place. Whether through active aggression or through an underlying fear, like the threat felt during the Cold War, violence is always the means by which the Way of Domination controls.

Fellow followers of Jesus, that is the worldview away from which we and all humanity are called to turn. 180 degrees! The Way of Domination is the worldview from which Jesus calls us radically to repent.

3.

So, that’s what we are to turn from. Fine and well! But, then, what are we to turn towards? When we do make that 180-degree rotation, what are we left staring at?

I touched on this question a couple of weeks ago when I talked about ways in which we see, or image, God. Do you remember?

Prior to Jesus’ birth, the main image of God around the world was an aloof and mighty king.

Yet with Jesus’ birth and life—both the Incarnation and the Epiphany—we see a clear and very human image: God as a person who lives and breathes and eats and sleeps and laughs and makes judgment calls and sings off-key and loves among us—just like you and me!

God is not an aloof king to be feared. Rather, God is intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of our lives, loving us unconditionally.

So, recall with me how this very human image of God played out in Jesus’ life.

Two pictures come to mind.

a.

The first is equality.

More than once, what is Jesus’ financial counsel to those who wish to follow him? Isn’t it to sell everything? To remove economic inequality from the scene?

Over in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (6:24).

In Mark, Jesus states, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the realm of God” (10:25).

And Luke doesn’t avoid the issue either. Over there, Jesus exhorts, “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?” (6:34). We’re supposed to give freely, without expectation of repayment. Pretty radical!

Whatever else we make of this, the picture Jesus paints here is one of economic equality.

Why do you think he does this? Maybe—do you think—it’s because economic inequality is rooted in the Way of Domination?

The few rich exploit the many poor through economic superiority. It’s a story as old as history.

But with Jesus it’s not just economics—though that is the topic he addresses most frequently in his teachings. Jesus has a lot to say, also, about equality in relationships between women and men, slaves and masters, Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean, the sick and the healthy, outcasts and righteous, and so on.

Everywhere he goes, everything he does, the first picture Jesus paints is one of equality. No hierarchies! No Way of Domination!

b.

And what is the second picture? Nonviolence.

Do you remember that time the disciples wanted to retaliate against some Samaritans who had been inhospitable to them (Luke 9:51-56)? Jesus rebuked them.

And what about the time Jesus’ disciple cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave? “No more of this!” Jesus declared (Luke 22:51); and, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Or, do you remember when Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to do some mission work? They were not to take staffs (for self-defense); they were to bless those who reviled them; they were to pray for those who cursed them; and when they moved on from an inhospitable place, they were to wipe off the dust from their sandals—and nothing more. No violence!

According to Jesus, humanity’s way forward is the opposite of social systems established and maintained through violence. Humanity’s way forward is through equality and nonviolence.

God with us—Emmanuel—intimately and intricately tangled up in our messy lives—is not just a nice-sounding idea, just another divine angle, just one more way to approach God. It’s so much bigger than that!

The Incarnation and Epiphany challenge all of humanity to make a 180-degree change of mind, to turn its back on the Way of Domination and face squarely Jesus’ way, the Way of Love.

4.

What does this, the Way of Love, look like for us today? Is it even possible to establish and maintain equality through nonviolence? I mean, Jesus’ day was one thing. But that was two thousand years ago! What about our world today?

Take heart! We have a modern example: MLKJ, whom we remember and celebrate today. He lived according to Jesus’ Way of Love. He believed in equality; and he practiced nonviolence. And through living according to Jesus’ Way of Love, he has shown us and the whole world not only that it is possible, but also that it is the best way forward.

We’ve got a long way to go—no argument there—but it is possible. The Way of Love. And it starts with us, the people who have committed themselves to follow Jesus today.

Commit with me wholeheartedly and resolutely to live by Jesus’ Way of Love.

Chaos Baptized

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by timtrue

The following sermon was delivered to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee, Arizona and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Douglas, Arizona on Sunday, January 12, 2020. I am engaged in pulpit-supply work with these two congregations through March. My approach, through these sermons, is to offer a 12-week survey of who the historical Jesus really was; and our reasonable response to him today as his followers–a response (spoiler alert) that looks hardly anything like modern evangelicalism. (Sorry to all my friends who think so, but Jesus would never have advocated for a border wall or a president who is hell-bent on building one. And that’s just one of many examples!) So, the sermon below is number 2 of 12. If you missed number 1, see “A Baby’s Dependence.” As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts. All best!

Matthew 3:13-17

1.

Why was Jesus baptized?

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; and yet Jesus was God made man—perfect, sinless! John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; yet Jesus had no need of repentance.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it?

Hence my question: why was Jesus baptized?

Jesus, the creeds tell us, is fully God and fully human. So, does his full humanness mean that he does in fact have some sort of pre-baptismal sin attached to him, some part of his humanity that needs to be washed away?

Is that it? Does Jesus need to repent from original sin?

But John’s reaction to Jesus is suggestive. Incredulous, John asks, “You want me to baptize you?”

I wonder, does Jesus’ baptism end up compromising his full godliness?

Ugh! I’m so confused! Why was Jesus baptized?

One commentator suggests that Jesus is demonstrating a new, purer kind of righteousness. He gets this from Jesus’ words to John, “For it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

According to this commentator, there is an old righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, a kind of forensic, legal righteousness; plus—now, with Jesus—a new kind of righteousness, a pure righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

So, wait, are you saying Jesus needed to repent of the old righteousness in order to usher in the new righteousness? I’m still so confused!

2.

Truth is, the scriptures aren’t clear. Truth is, too, theologians have been debating this question for two millennia; and still there’s no consensus.

Well, then, where does this leave us? I mean, that’s no fun: a paradox with no answer; and then, “See you next week!”

No, I’m not going to leave us hanging. Instead, in good Episcopal fashion, I want to bring some tradition and reason into the mix.

Looking to tradition, then, our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer calls Holy Baptism a sacrament.

Well, what’s a sacrament? Our Catechism answers that too: “Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.”

Baptism, a sacrament, is an outward sign of God’s grace at work in us.

Now, connecting this to what we heard in today’s Gospel, repentance is part of the equation too. The Catechism asks, “What is required of us at Baptism?” And the answer: “It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.”

Repentance! Did you hear it?

But—did you hear this too?—repentance is only part of what takes place during this mysterious work of God.

Here is a clue to the answer we seek. Repentance is only part of the picture.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is baptized by John, whose baptism is called a baptism of repentance.

But, also:

Jesus comes up out of the water and a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”;

Jesus is demonstrating to the world around him that God is at work—that God’s transforming grace is at hand; and that he will be the agent of this transforming grace.

I’ll say it again, there’s a lot more going on here than simply repentance.

3.

Now let’s bring reason into the mix.

Reflect with me for a moment on what water symbolizes. Two things:

First, water cleanses.

We shower to cleanse our bodies from the grime of the day.

And we all know the story of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Peter said, “Well, then, why just my feet? Why not my whole body?” To which Jesus answered, “Only your feet are dirty.”

Water cleanses. Which fits with the idea of repentance, washing sins away.

But, second, water is symbolic of something else, seen throughout the scriptures: chaos.

In the beginning, when everything was formless and void, when all was chaos, God was there; and the breath, or wind, or spirit of God (any translation is acceptable) hovered over the chaos—the waters.

In Genesis 6, a chaotic flood transformed the world. Chaos–and yet, God is there.

In Exodus we read of a people passing through the Red Sea and its closing up. Through this transformation the Israelites were delivered from slavery, oppression, and chaos into something new.

And over in Job we hear of a marvelous creature named Leviathan, the epitome of chaos itself, dwelling in the oceans; and yet God treats this monster as a tame pet.

Do you see? Chaos is baptized.

Put these symbols together—cleansing and chaos; cleansing in chaos; cleansing through chaos—and the most important aspect of baptism rises buoyantly to the surface: transformation.

Our baptism is the outward sign of God transforming us from the chaos of this fallen world into the perfect image of Jesus Christ.

4.

Rodger, a Presbyterian pastor, tells the story of a young man named Kyle:

Kyle was nowhere to be found, and I missed him. In the weeks following his baptism and confirmation on Pentecost Sunday, he was noticeably missing. Several other members of the confirmation class asked about him too, as did his confirmation mentor. Kyle and his family had come to the congregation when he was in the fifth grade. They attended sporadically, so I was more than a little surprised when I asked him and his parents if he was interested in joining the confirmation class and they responded positively. In this congregation, the confirmation class happened during the ninth-grade school year. . . . Kyle and his parents came for the orientation meeting and agreed to the covenant to participate in two retreats, a mission activity, work with a mentor, and weekly classes for study and exploration. Kyle was serious in attending and missed a class or event rarely. He quickly became a significant part of the group and developed some wonderful friendships with the other ninth-graders who had barely known him. Since Kyle had not yet been baptized, he was not only confirmed but also baptized on Pentecost Sunday. It was a marvelous celebration for all the confirmands, their families, and their mentors.

That is pretty much where it ended. That is when I knew I had done something wrong. When I checked in with Kyle and his folks, they all seemed a little surprised that I was calling and checking up on them. I distinctly remember his mother saying, “Oh, well, I guess I thought Kyle was all done. I mean, he was baptized and confirmed and everything. Isn’t he done?”[i]

Isn’t he done?

Rodger’s story strikes a dissonant chord; and it’s a chord that’s all too common in our day. We like to accomplish things, sure; we like to be productive. And so when it comes to church, a lot of people seem to think that baptism is a sort of culmination. Whether it’s an infant, a child, a youth, or an adult, all too often baptism has the effect of a box to check off our spiritual list.

But it wasn’t this way with Jesus.

Jesus’ baptism is not the end of his ministry but rather just the beginning.

Why should it be any different for us?

Our baptism marks just the beginning of an entire transformation process—an ongoing, life-long process.

Now, look around. Is this transformation process done? Do we see the promises of scripture being realized all around us?

Is there worldwide peace in our day? Has disease and death been conquered once and for all? Is St. John’s/St. Stephen’s doing its part to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate the captives, and otherwise spread the Good News of Christ?

By no means are we done! Don’t you dare check off that box!

Your baptism was no such thing as a culmination; rather it was a beginning, a commissioning: the outward expression of the start of an incredible, life-long transformation into the perfect image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wherever you are in this transformation process, it’s not too late. If you’ve set your shoes aside, put them on again, lace them up, and run the race with perseverance once more!

So, now, I ask again: Why was Jesus baptized?

Because, maybe:

In Jesus’ baptism, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit demonstrate to the world incontrovertibly that the Trinity has begun a new thing, a mysterious thing, a thing that somehow combines and mixes up grace and repentance and water and chaos in order to yield transformation.

In Jesus’ baptism—and in ours—God is transforming the world into what God created it to be.

[i] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox: 2010). 236, 238.

Goings On

Posted in Background, Doing Church, Reflection with tags , , , , on January 18, 2020 by timtrue

In an effort to help the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona out, I’ve agreed to do some pulpit-supply work on Sundays through March.

On the one hand, it’s great to be able to do this without interrupting my responsibilities as a school chaplain. But on the other, I’m finding that I don’t have as much energy as I used to in order to put in an extra 15 or so works hours a week.

Did I say fifteen hours? Yes, often more even.

It’s two different congregations with a round-trip of 240 miles. I leave on Sundays at 6:45am and return around 4:45pm. That’s ten hours right there.

But, also, I’ve found I really miss preaching to adults; so, admittedly, I’m putting in more hours that I need to on my sermons.

Check out the last two, to be posted shortly.

Peace!

A Baby’s Dependence

Posted in Doing Church, Homilies with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2020 by timtrue

The following homily, below the photo, was delivered on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. At this service I also had the privilege of baptizing my first granddaughter, seen in this photo.

OMS baptism

Matthew 2:1-12

1.

Today marks the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany, 12 drummers drumming.

Back on Christmas Eve, the 1st day of Christmas (technically), we heard about a sign: this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby in a manger.

A sign: a baby.

And today, as we complete this journey, the wise men from the East, the magi, who followed a star, find this sign, the baby in a manger; and they present this baby with incredible gifts, kingly gifts, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Epiphany is the feast when we celebrate this part of this remarkable story: when the wise men from the East find the sign, the baby in the manger. Jesus is an epiphany to the world. God is not just for the Jewish people, but for all people.

We remember this baby in the church calendar by celebrating year after year the twelve days of Christmas. We feast sumptuously. We pull out all the stops—both literally, with the organ and choir and a special orchestra; and figuratively, decking the halls with candles and wreaths and so on. Our main liturgical color is white, which symbolizes resurrection, hope, new life.

But what happens on January 7th, the day after the Epiphany?

The decorations get put away, the wise men make their long journey home, the main liturgical color returns to green.

Green time is called referred to as ordinary time. On the day after the Epiphany we return to ordinary time. Ho hum.

And so, I’ve heard it said that, on the day after the Epiphany—after the wise men from the East showed up and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and after they began their long journey home—the next day, January 7th, three rather ordinary women show up, some of Mary’s friends, and they give ordinary gifts: bottles, diapers, and a stroller.

But, of course, these are just ordinary women bringing ordinary gifts, so we don’t celebrate a feast for them. We’ve returned to green. Ho hum.

2.

But, really, a baby? What do you think Mary would have been more excited about? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh; or bottles, diapers, and a stroller?

As many of you know, a baby recently entered my life: my first grandbaby. In fact, I will be baptizing her in a few minutes. Can I tell you a little bit about her?

So, as is always the case, we knew she’d be arriving soon. For us this meant somewhere around the end of October or the beginning of November. So, you know how it is, we prepared for the baby’s arrival. Kind of like Advent.

The parents live in Yuma, about 3.5 hours by car from our house. So, around Oct. 20, we told our daughter, “We’re packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just text us when you go into labor.”

And we were! Overnight bags sat by the door. Arrangements had been made at work.

Then, on Nov. 1, at 7:15 am, just as I was about to head out the door to work, I got the text.

Now, Holly, my wife, was already on her way to work, heading west on I-10 with our son. So, I called her and said, “Turn around. She’s in labor!” Which Holly did.

And somehow we tied up all the necessary loose ends and managed to get on the road by 8 am, placing us in the Yuma Regional parking lot at 11:20.

Good thing too, for we poked our heads in the hospital room and said our hellos to our daughter and son in-law; and after only a few minutes my daughter said, “Dad; can you get the nurse? I think it’s happening!”

Well, it was. And just like that, at 12:51 pm on All Saints’ Day, weighing in at 7 lbs., 5 oz., and measuring 19 inches, we welcomed this brand new baby girl into the world.

And you can be certain: diapers, bottles, onesies, and even a stroller were waiting for her.

But there wasn’t any gold, frankincense, or myrrh.

Now, here’s the thing: here’s where I’m going with this.

Babies are wonderful—and cute; and they fill us with joy and gladness. But they’re also deeply dependent upon us.

Babies need other people—to the point that those other people—us—we have to take a break from “normal” life for a season.

We revolve our lives around the babies we welcome into the world. We and the babies we love become intimately and intricately wrapped up in each other’s details.

This is natural. This is normal. It is an image we all know and understand.

And it is the image by which God was made known to the world.

For to you will be a sign, an epiphany: a baby in a manger.

3.

Isn’t this incredible? Think this through with me.

Before this sign, this Epiphany, throughout the ancient world the predominant image of God was a king. And it wasn’t just the Jews. The Greeks and Romans had their pantheon with Zeus sitting on his throne, ruling the worlds of the gods and humans from on high, above Mount Olympus, the king of the gods.

So, what if our predominant image of God is that of a king? What does this image do for us?

A good king makes wise decisions. A good king protects and provides for his people.

So far, so good.

But what happens when we push back a little? What happens when we ask a question like, “How does our king protect us?”

Well, historically, it’s been through military strength and might.

And when we envision God predominantly as our king, don’t we end up wanting our God to be the strongest and mightiest king ever, the king of kings and lord of lords? It’s a natural inclination. I mean, after all, God is the best, right?

So, here’s where we take it—or, at least, here’s where history took it. We think, “We have our freedoms, freedoms given to us by God our king. And we want to keep these freedoms. And, really, wouldn’t it be best if everyone else could experience these same freedoms?”

So, taking its cue from the Roman Empire, the church sought to establish and maintain a Holy Roman Empire—mainly through force!

Through military might, known as the Crusades!

And through strength, known as the Explorations into the New World!

And today—2020—hindsight shows us how many lives were lost senselessly—because God our king, we told ourselves, wanted to expand his empire.

Really, do we want our predominant image of God to be a king?

By the way, since I’ve brought it up, here’s something else a king does: A king rules and reigns from on high. A king makes his decisions from some far-off place. A king is aloof. A king has very little concern for us in our details; in our day-to-day lives.

So, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my predominant image of God to be that of an aloof king, detached, not really concerned with my day-to-day life; exercising strength, might, force, and violence to get his way.

Instead, I rather like the image of a baby: that of God being intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of my life, unconditionally loving me as a newborn loves her mother.

What about you?

Maybe this is why, when the fulness of the time had come—when the dawn of a new era was made known to all humanity—when the Epiphany at last took place—when the new way of love was forever established—maybe this is why the image of God was not a king in all his regal splendor with his royal retinue, but a baby in a manger.

4.

To bring this all home, then, I ask us all a question: What if we, the church, as people desiring to follow God through Christ—what if we were to take this shift in divine imagery seriously?

What impacts might this shift make on our life together? What might this shift do to our liturgy? Our music? Our art? Our vestments? Our processions? Our architecture? Our outreach?

It works something like this. Take the idea that a baby is utterly dependent on the people who love her. Now, apply this to God. If we are to take the image of God as a baby seriously, then we must entertain the idea that, at least in some way, God is utterly dependent on us.

Well, that’s preposterous! God doesn’t need us!

Or is it?

Jesus came to bring good news to all people: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to set captives free. These are real acts, tangible acts, messy acts. You know, this mission fails without us. And thus, in this way at least, God is utterly dependent on us, the church: to accomplish Christ’s mission.

The image of God as a baby reminds us that God is intimately and intricately tangled up in the messy details of our lives; and that God is not there to judge us but, rather, like a dependent baby, to love us unconditionally.

Do you see how this works? Doesn’t pondering this shift in divine imagery seem worthwhile?

The image of God as a baby isn’t just some sweet story to bring a little cheer to our winter blues year after year. Rather, taken seriously, it is nothing short of revolutionary—like everything else about Jesus.

7th Grade Prayers

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on December 6, 2019 by timtrue

A couple of weeks back I posted some prayers largely composed by Imago Dei’s 6th grade class for use in the midweek Eucharist. Here’s another set of prayers, this one from the 7th grade. As you peruse them, please keep in mind the context: all students of Imago Dei live in poverty; and, though not technically on the Mexican border geographically, for all intents and purposes Tucson is a border town. This context naturally enters student prayers on a daily basis, but perhaps especially when I ask them to pray for “The nation and all in authority,” “The welfare of the world,” “The concerns of the local community,” and “Those who suffer and those in any trouble,” as related in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 383). So then, next week’s Prayers of the People:

God, we thank you that different religions make the world a better place. We pray that people would respect other religions and not make fun of them; and that churches and other houses of worship may be safe places.

Hear our prayer.

We thank you that we live in Tucson, a beautiful city, and for the freedoms we have in this country. Help the homeless people in Tucson. Make Tucson safe. We pray for the president to make wise decisions.

Hear our prayer.

We thank you for Jesus’ message of love. We pray that people would clean up the pollution in the world; that the people on the Mexican side of the border will love us anyway; and for justice throughout the world.

Hear our prayer.

We thank you for Imago Dei Middle School and the education we are receiving. We pray for the staff, teachers, founders, students, and parents, that each day will be blessed and full of wonders. Help our school last forever.

Hear our prayer.

Thank you for our friends, families, and pets. We pray for the people we know who struggle with addiction, live in fear, are sick or in pain, are in jail, or are no longer with us. Be with them and help them.

Hear our prayer.

Accept, O God, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, for the mystery of love, and for your presence and involvement in our lives. Amen.

Thankful at IDMS

Posted in Homilies with tags , , on November 27, 2019 by timtrue

A message for my school today, given at our all-school Eucharist. Also, a new, current photo for the annals:

tim cropped

John 6:25-35

1.

What is Jesus talking about?

Today we hear a story about a crowd who search for Jesus and find him. But he then asks them, “Why are you looking for me? Do you want me to do more miracles for you? Are you hungry again? Is that it? Do you want me to feed you more bread?”

And a little later, he tells the people, “I am the bread from heaven, the bread that gives life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I remember being really hungry last Thanksgiving; and I plan to be really, really hungry this Thanksgiving.

Also, in the year in between, I can remember feeling really, really, really hungry at least a couple of times—like when I fasted on Good Friday.

But today Jesus says he’s the bread from heaven; and that if I come to him—which I do—then I will never be hungry again.

But I do become hungry again. Again and again, in fact—everyday!

Is this another one of Jesus’ irritating riddles? Just what is he talking about?

2.

So, let’s back up a bit; let’s see if the context, the bigger picture, helps us.

Just before today’s story—which is from the Gospel of John—we find another story, a well-known story, about Jesus feeding five thousand people. Do you remember?

Jesus saw a large crowd and realized they had no food with them. They were hungry, all five thousand of them. So, Jesus formulated a rather grand vision: to feed them all.

Good idea!

But then his disciple Philip came onto the scene. Philip heard Jesus’ vision and was immediately overwhelmed by the vastness of it. “How we gonna do that, Jesus?” Philip asked. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough food to feed everyone even a little!”

Jesus’ vision was big. The funding seemed impossible. Philip was paralyzed.

Fortunately, another disciple named Andrew was there too. And with Andrew a little hope, it seemed, shone through a cloud of doubt. “Here’s a boy,” Andrew told Jesus hopefully, “with five barley loaves and two small fish. But, oh,” (and the silver lining fades) “what are these among so many?”

Well, here, at least, was something Jesus could work with. In Andrew, in the boy, in both, there shone a little glimmer of faith.

So—we know the story—Jesus took that little glimmer and, through love, turned it into so much food that all five thousand people were fed; and twelve basketfuls were left over!

It was a bona fide miracle, one from which we could learn a lot about dreaming big!

3.

But that—dreaming big—is not the point of today’s story. Instead, that miracle merely sets the stage for today’s story.

Today, our theme is Thanksgiving; and today we see people from this same miracle-witnessing crowd seeking Jesus. But they’re not seeking him to thank him. Instead, today, they’re seeking him for all the wrong reasons.

For starters, they’re hungry. Jesus fed them quite satisfactorily yesterday; and so, they reason, maybe he will feed us again today.

Um, I want to say, you’re missing the point!

Next, some of these miracle-seeking people see Jesus and insert their own agenda. He just organized a big event; he showed no small amount of competence; and he said some really good things too. So, these agenda-inserters look at each other, perhaps facepalming themselves, and exclaim, “Imagine what a great political leader he would make!”

Again, I want to say, you’re missing the point!

And then there are some people who just want to witness more magic. These magic-seekers are the people who ask Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us, then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you going to perform?”

Really! “What sign are you going to give us?” Didn’t he just feed 5,000 people yesterday; and today you want another sign? Good grief!

And, once again, you’re missing the point!

Anyway, do you see where this is going? This miracle-witnessing crowd was seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons! Their question was always, “What will Jesus do for me? How will Jesus meet my needs?”

And our take-home lesson from today? By seeking Jesus in a self-absorbed way, they were not thankful.

People who seek Jesus for the wonderful, the spectacular, or the miraculous end up missing out on opportunities to be thankful in the small, daily details of life.

That’s the point!

Five thousand people were fed yesterday, sure. But today, right in their midst, Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the bread that feeds our souls so that our spiritual hunger is satisfied—and our eyes are open to gratitude, thankfulness.

4.

Now, we’re in this chapel celebrating Thanksgiving. That’s what the word Eucharist means—did you know that? Thanksgiving!

So, let’s ask ourselves, what are we thankful for today, right now? How is God showing us God’s very self, right in our midst, right in the day-to-day lives we live?

I’m not asking us to recall something amazing, spectacular, or miraculous.

Rather, where do we find God in the midst of our households? Are we able to find something we’re thankful for, for instance, in a little sister, in a big brother, in a second cousin?

What about here at school? For what are you thankful about Imago Dei Middle School?

For some of you, maybe even most of you, this isn’t too difficult: you’re thankful for food, friends, teachers, education, Playformance, electives, camp, and so on.

Well and good!

But for others of you, it’s not so easy. School feels like a burdensome obligation to you, a chore. It’s just something you have to do. You go to school because your mom or dad or guardian makes you.

And when school’s a burden, I know, it’s not so easy to be thankful.

Well, either way—whether thankfulness comes easy for you or not—I want to conclude my chapel talk today with a challenge that comes from the story we heard about Jesus and that miracle-seeking crowd.

My challenge is this: Please, scholars, don’t expect Imago Dei to serve you.

Now, here’s why I issue this challenge. The people in today’s story expected Jesus to serve them, to meet their needs. They asked, “What can Jesus do for me?” And, in doing so, they missed out on an abundance of opportunities to be thankful.

It’s the same with school. If you and I and the other teachers and students only ask, “What can Imago Dei do for me?” we miss out on tremendous and numerous opportunities to be thankful in our day-to-day life together.

Instead, let’s ask, “What can I offer to Imago Dei? How can I make Imago Dei an even better place, an even stronger community? What gifts and talents do I have to offer?”

And then! That shift in perspective—guaranteed!—will leave us all even more thankful than we already are.

Come to the Eucharist—to Thanksgiving—bringing what you have to offer!

6th Grade Prayers

Posted in Doing Church, Education, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2019 by timtrue

The prayers that follow are the result of a unit on prayer I just completed with my 6th grade World Religions course. They will be incorporated into next week’s school Thanksgiving Eucharist liturgy (the Prayers of the People), just before school staff distributes about 70 turkey dinners to the students and their families. I hope you find these prayers as life-giving as I do.

God, we thank you for the religions of the world, the hope they bring, and the wisdom of religious leaders around the world; may all their members follow their missions, so that the world will become a better place. We pray that religious wars everywhere would come to an end.

We thank you for Tucson’s nice weather, that we don’t have to deal with hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes. We also thank you that we live in a democracy where people can make a difference through voting. We pray for our political leaders, that they make good decisions not for just a few people but for everybody.

We thank you for all the people who care about cleaning up our world; and for all the people working to bring peace to the world. We pray for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin or because of how they look; and we pray that love, justice, and peace would increase throughout the world.

We pray for the suffering, betrayed, homeless, and enslaved; and for those who have died.

We thank you for our school’s staff members and teachers and the other people who care about our education. We thank you, also, for camp, Playformance, and electives; for the Family Pantry; and for all the food and fun we have at school. We pray that we learn to love and care for one another, that we will be ready for high school and college, that Imago Dei Middle School grows, and that our donors keep donating.

Accept, O God, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. Amen.

In case you don’t know, Imago Dei Middle School is devoted to breaking cycles of poverty through Episcopal education. It is a tuition-free private school. All students are living in poverty. Most are considered at-risk. Please let me know if you would like to learn more.