Archive for the Homilies Category

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!

Divine Impetus

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2019 by timtrue

I will deliver this homily at St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson tomorrow, Oct. 20, Proper 24 of Year C. Prior to what you see written below, I will offer a brief introduction about me and my work at Imago Dei Middle School. (Advocating for my students and their families in local churches is something I plan to do a lot of over the next few years.)

Luke 18:1-8

1.

The Roman historian Livy tells a story that goes like this:

In 75 BCE, the man we know today as Julius Caesar was captured by pirates. These pirates had a notorious reputation, having controlled the Mediterranean Sea like the mafia for more than a millennium. They would release their captive, they announced, for a ransom of 20 talents of gold.

In case you’re wondering, I looked it up. In today’s dollars, one talent of gold is worth about $1.4 million; so, 20 talents is worth approximately $28 million.

Well, Julius caught wind of the ransom, called the pirate chieftain over, and said, “Pah! 2o talents isn’t nearly enough. Increase it to 50!” In other words, $70 million.

Which the chieftain did. And which the Roman people paid. (Not sure how the ancient taxpayers felt about that.)

Fast forward nine years, to 66 BCE: Julius Caesar has risen in rank from Army General to Emperor; and part of his agenda as Emperor is to rid the Mediterranean Sea of those notorious pirates. He commissions this task to his Army General, a man named Pompey.

So this becomes Pompey’s vision: rid the sea of pirates. But how?

Pompey decides to collaborate. He calls his best engineers together, lays out his vision, and together they formulate a plan.

More harbors will be needed, they determine, harbors all over the empire. To do that, land will have to be cleared, channels dug, large amounts of earth moved.

One of the engineers then suggests the use of a tiny, invasive seed that, when planted in abundance, will strip the soil of nutrients and suck out all moisture, making their earth moving projects much easier.

In fact, this seed—the mustard seed—proves to be highly effective. So crumbly became the affected soil, Livy writes, that even the hardiest of all trees, the mulberry, sometimes would fall of its own accord into the sea.

And thus were the necessary harbors created. And so, in the span of three months, according to Livy, Pompey rid the entire Mediterranean of pirates; and, he also relates, this accomplishment became widely known throughout the empire.

Hmmm. “Widely known”? Do you think, a century or so later, Jesus and his disciples might have known this story?

After all, Jesus taught them, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed. . . .”

2.

But that was the Gospel from two weeks ago. Today’s Gospel tells a different story, not about a mustard seed and a mulberry tree but about a widow and a judge.

And, you know, widows in the ancient world had it rough. There was no Social Security, no Medicare. Unless she had a son to take care of her, she was largely on her own. Where could she turn for help?

Well, this particular widow turns to a local judge. “I demand justice,” she cries; “justice that both God and humanity deserve!”

However, the judge she turns to is self-serving; he cares nothing about God and even less about the dignity of persons. He’s a key player in the system already stacked against her.

Nevertheless, incredibly, after presenting her case before this self-serving judge, day after day, over and over, she gets what she asks for. The judge gives in—because she persistently wheedles, hounds, and annoys him.

Just what is Jesus teaching us through this parable?

Is there some kind of lesson here about stewardship—maybe if the rector wheedles, hounds, and annoys us persistently enough, the parish will raise 100% of next year’s budget through pledges alone?

I’m a little confused.

St. Luke the Evangelist states at the outset that this parable is not about stewardship; but about praying always. And yet—I didn’t see it; did you?—this widow never once prays!

And, besides, is this unjust judge somehow supposed to be a picture of God?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t view God as some aloof arbiter who cares nothing about me and only gives in to my prayers because I persistently wheedle, hound, or annoy God enough.

Just what does this parable have to do with prayer? Is anyone else confused?

3.

If we go back to the Gospel again, but this time to the end of the passage, then we find a key connection.

There, after telling this curious tale about the poor widow and the unjust judge, Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

There, in other words, at the end of the passage, Jesus connects prayer to faith.

This is the key to unlock our understanding of the parable.

For what have we been hearing about over the last couple of weeks? Hasn’t it been faith?

Last Sunday—do you remember?—we heard a story about Jesus encountering 10 lepers. He healed them and they left rejoicing.

But then one of these lepers returned to give thanks. And so we heard some more about this one leper, a foreigner, healed precisely because of his faith, a faith that took on a visible, tangible form, namely face-to-face contact and a warm smile. The healed leper’s faith was concrete.

And the week before that? Jesus told us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey us.

This too is a tangible, concrete faith, a literal seed by which Julius Caesar and General Pompey were able to fulfill their vision—a means towards an end.

That’s what faith is for Jesus. Something literal. Something quantifiable. Dare I say, something, even, utilitarian.

But how often have we heard an entirely different message: that faith is some invisible, intangible thing? If God doesn’t answer our prayers, how often have we been told it’s because we lack faith; or because we haven’t prayed hard enough or just need to believe more?

Hear me now: that is not, nor was it ever, the good news of Jesus!

For Jesus, faith looks like the warm smile of thanksgiving from a healed leper. Or, another way, faith looks like a tiny mustard seed that alters a vast landscape. For Jesus, faith is tangible and concrete, a quantifiable means toward God’s ends.

4.

So, it’s time to ask ourselves: if faith is not the invisible, intangible something we’ve always heard, what does a quantifiable, tangible faith look like for us today?

Well, I can tell you what it looks like for the kids I work with, the kids of Imago Dei Middle School. For most of them—maybe for all—they’re vision includes earning a college degree.

So, you know what their faith looks like—a tangible, concrete faith? A means to that end?

It looks like a pencil!

“If you have faith the size of a pencil,” I tell them, “you can earn that college degree, land a stable job, and break free from poverty.”

What about you? Does your faith look like a pencil? How about a dollar? Or a pink ribbon? Or a rainbow? What is the best means for you to accomplish God’s ends?

5.

Anyway, now, finally, I think we are able to see what Jesus’ parable has to do with prayer. For this kind of faith isn’t easy, is it?

It wasn’t easy for Pompey to rid the Mediterranean of pirates.

It wasn’t easy for a foreign leper to give thanks to the Jewish man who healed him.

It wasn’t easy for a widow in Jesus’ day to plead for justice repeatedly and persistently, again and again, over and over to an unjust judge.

And it definitely isn’t easy for the Imago Dei scholars to break out of the cycles of poverty they find themselves born into.

In every case, their faith is the means to accomplish God’s ends; but more than faith in necessary.

As I read today’s parable, though prayer is never mentioned, I cannot help but imagine the widow going through her daily regimen—another tiring, wearisome day of facing a heartless brick wall of a judge—I cannot help but see her praying herself through: every night, after she returns home heartbroken yet again; and every morning, when she rises to find, somehow, another small ray of divine hope flickering in her soul, thanks be to God.

Faith is the means to accomplish God’s ends; but prayer is the divine impetus that enables us to persevere.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

The Riddle of the Shrewd Steward

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on September 17, 2019 by timtrue

IDMS Chapel, 9/18/2019

Proper 20C

1.

I’ve got a couple of classic riddles for you:

First, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?”

This riddle comes from Greek mythology, posed by the Sphinx. A man named Oedipus figured out the correct answer: man. . . .

Second:

This thing all things devours;

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats mountain down.

This riddle comes from a story called The Hobbit. Bilbo and Gollum are having an epic battle of wits in the heart of the mountain; and Gollum posits this “tricksy” one. But Bilbo figures out the answer: time.

2.

Jesus tells a similar riddle today about a man who is about to be fired from his job because his boss thinks he is dishonest, who then acts desperately and cleverly; and because of his actions his boss then commends him.

It’s a surprise ending! We’re left scratching our heads asking why. In fact, for two thousand years people have been asking why; and have come up with a lot of different answers, with very little agreement between them.

So, what we heard was that this guy was about to be fired, so he “sweet-talks” his way into favor with his boss’s customers; and this behavior impressed his boss.

Other versions of the Bible give us more detail. What this guy actually did was to go to one of the customers and ask, “Don’t you owe my boss a hundred jugs of olive oil?” And the customer answers, “Why, yes I do!” “Well then,” this guy says, “I have the authority to make it fifty. Would you like that? Now you only owe my boss fifty!”

This steward is shrewd!

Similarly, he goes to another customer who owes his boss a hundred containers of wheat and says, “Now you owe him only eighty.”

And the boss finds out! And he goes to his shrewd steward and says, surprisingly, “Well done because you have acted shrewdly!”

And for two thousand years, people who have heard this riddle have been saying, “But this guy just hurt you financially! How can you commend him?”

Just what is going on here, Jesus? Just what is the answer to your riddle?

3.

So, here’s where I land on this. I’m not saying it’s the right answer—that I’ve figured it all out, et in saecula saeculorum, amen! Rather, it’s my best guess right now, at this point in my life, knowing what I know at this moment:

Letting go is to have and possessing is to lose.

That’s what I think Jesus is getting at in this story about this shrewd steward. To let go is to have; to possess is to lose.

Whahuh? Isn’t this just another riddle?

So, here’s what I mean. This guy—I just called him a shrewd steward—so, this shrewd steward is about to get fired and he knows it. What does he do?

Now, while he’s still working for his boss, while he still has the authority to make important decisions, he takes huge risks and gives up everything. He’s not going to have his cushy job anymore, he realizes; and he’s really got nothing to fall back on except for whatever pension he may or may not have saved up. And no one else is hiring right now—and, besides, he’s got only a bad reference anyway!

So, he throws caution to the wind and risks everything.

When he cut that customer’s debt in half—a hundred jugs of oil? Make it fifty!—and when he cut that other’s customer’s debt down, you know what I think he was doing? He was giving up his own commission!

It was his money he gave up, not his boss’s!

But why in the world would he do that? He was just about to be fired! He needed some extra cash in his pocket, to stockpile away as much as possible!

Instead, dishonest or not, he knew an important truth. This shrewd steward had learned that true freedom is not found in possessions. Rather, he learned that letting go is to have and possessing is to lose.

In my thinking, here is the answer to Jesus’ riddle. Here is how Jesus encourages all people to live. Freedom is not found in what we possess but in a generosity that stretches us to the extent of, even beyond, our means.

It’s not just Jesus who says this, by the way. Gandhi says it too:

Golden fetters are no less galling to a self-respecting man that iron ones; the sting lies in the fetters, not in the metal.

There is goodness as well as greatness in simplicity, not in wealth.

4.

So, let’s think about what this means for us, here, at Imago Dei Middle School. What does it mean for us to be free of greed and wanting more? What does it mean for us to be generous?

Most of you met my daughter Emily. In seventh grade, she attended a private Episcopal school where many of the students came from homes with a lot of money. Quite a few of them lived in mansions. Some showed up to school in a Ferrari or a Maserati; others in Teslas.

So, one day Emily came home in tears. She had saved up her own money for about a year to buy herself an iPhone. I was so proud of her; she showed so much discipline. Anyway, she came home in tears on that day because she had dropped her iPhone on a concrete sidewalk and cracked the screen. “I’d ask for a new one,” she told me, tears streaming down her face, “but I know we don’t have the money. . . . But, Dad,” she continued, “the hardest part is that my friend Angela dropped her iPhone in the toilet and her mom just went out and bought her a new one the next day. It’s not fair!”

You ever feel like that: Other people have way more money than I do; it’s just not fair?

Yeah, me too.

But here’s what Emily did. Instead of thinking about things that weren’t possible, or that would take way too much time and focus for her to achieve, she looked around her immediate world and focused on the present. And she realized that already, here and now, she had much to be grateful for: friends, family, a warm bed at night, enough food; life’s simple yet profound pleasures.

What do you have that you are grateful for? You are part of a great school, a place where you are being challenged to grow into tomorrow’s leaders; surrounded by people who have your best interests at heart.

Also, think about the risks the shrewd steward took. Here at IDMS you are being encouraged to think and act in creative, innovative, risky ways.

You—all of you—have so much! Right here. Right now.

Throughout today and in the weeks ahead, remember this puzzling story from Jesus today, this riddle; and the challenge he leaves us all: letting go is to have and possessing is to lose.

A Final Charge

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on May 20, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and School in Temecula, California on May 19, 2019, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

John 13:31-35

1.

Today is Day 29 of the Great 50 Days of Easter. Alleluia, Christ is risen . . . but he has not yet ascended.

Jesus’ time remaining with the disciples is very limited—only eleven days to go. So, what does he have to say in these final days?

I mean, what would you say to your friends and loved ones if you knew you would be with them only eleven more days?

Here’s how the lectionary compilers imagine it. The Gospel today, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, narrates the final time Jesus spoke to his disciples collectively before his death.

Surely, this is one of Jesus’ most important teachings of all!

They’ve gathered together at the last supper; Judas has just gone out. And Jesus begins, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”

In other words, listen up! Jesus is not going to speak in parables, paradoxes, or riddles today. No complicated doctrine. No erudite theology. Just a simple message clear enough even for little children.

“I give you a new commandment,” he says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All along Jesus’ mission has been to go outward. He came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the captives.

And he left this mission to us, to plant seeds of good news and spread them to the ends of the earth.

All this—Jesus’ mission—is very important.

But for today, as we remember Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, wedged right in the middle of them, we focus on something else: a most important, foundational, simple message.

It’s as if to say, “All that great stuff about the mission, all that going outward business—it’s nothing if we don’t love one another!”

2.

Well, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by me that, like with Jesus, today is my final opportunity to address you all as a collective body.

At that Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus didn’t mince words; at my last Eucharist with you, today, same.

No parables, paradoxes, or riddles; no complicated doctrine; no erudite theology. Just the plain, important message: love one another. This is where our community life’s rubber meets the road.

So simple! Right? Yet so complicated to live out!

So, in the remainder of my sermon today, my final charge to you, I’m going to address this question: What does love for one another look like in our specific setting, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and School?

After almost two years with you, I have a few suggestions I’d like to offer. How do we love one another?

My first suggestion: focus on the common good.

Many of us within the St. Thomas community have great ideas. This is a talented group! And as long as I’ve been here I’ve encouraged people to take risks with their ideas.

Create. Innovate. Collaborate. Try something new. And whether the idea succeeds or fails—that’s not the issue so much as doing something with and for the community resulting in the common good.

For example, a small team of people created an outdoor labyrinth for Easter Eve. More than fifty people showed up to walk this labyrinth in prayer, many of them from outside our community.

What an example of loving one another—and our neighbors to boot!

But what happens when an individual or small group presents a ministry to the community not for the common good as much as for the benefit of that person or group? Doesn’t the focus shift? From Christ to the group? From the common good to individuals?

So, let’s say twenty years from now the labyrinth program is still going. Now nobody really remembers the history behind it, how it began or even why; and only a few people show up when Easter Eve rolls around. Still, a few individuals feel very strongly about keeping it going. After all, they say, it’s tradition!

To which I ask, why? Is it glorifying Christ? Is it benefiting the common good? Or, maybe, on the other hand, has it become your pet project?

If it’s not benefiting the common good, or if it’s benefiting a few persons at the expense of the common good, let it go.

Ministries, programs, traditions, special interests—these things have life cycles. Maybe it’s time to let some of our precious programs die so that new life can rise up from within the community, new life that benefits the common good.

My second suggestion piggybacks on the first: increase flexibility.

Church bodies, as you know, are living organisms. They are always moving, breathing, changing. People come and go; new members join, old members move away.

For St. Thomas to benefit from this alive-ness, isn’t flexibility essential? And I’m not talking just a general tolerance for one another, but deep, out-of-your-comfort-zone flexibility.

Let’s say a newcomer visits and (out of her comfort zone) takes that brave first step of sitting down at the coffee hour or in an Adult Forum; and she joins in the conversation. What should our response be?

A general tolerance would put up with her like we put up with distant relatives when they come to our homes for a visit. We’re polite enough, we make pleasant conversation and feed them a nice meal.

But, still, they’re in my house and will therefore abide by my household rules; or I will show them the door.

In other words, we expect home visitors to assimilate to the culture we’ve established there, our culture.

But, in a church that lives out Christ’s love for one another, it cannot work that way!

When a newcomer enters into our church’s ongoing, living conversation, we must not expect her to assimilate to our ways; rather, love demands that we learn and grow from her, truly to listen to what she has to say and thereby, with her, experience ongoing, living transformation.

Flexibility is key.

Finally, my third suggestion: establish and maintain authenticity.

To illustrate what I mean, most Episcopal congregations I’m aware of are bemoaning the almost absolute disappearance of Millennials from our midst. Many of these young people have grown up in the church but have left. Why?

I’ve thought long and hard about this question. In fact, four of my kids arguably are Millennials and we’ve had many a conversation along these lines. I also have a number of colleagues and friends who fit in the “Millennials” category. Even my new boss is a Millennial!

And, you know, it’s not that Millennials are spiritually uninterested or indifferent. Actually it’s quite the opposite, as cultural-trend watchers have testified!

The number one answer I hear is that most churches are not authentic. Or, to say it another way, to Millennials, most churches feel contrived.

And that includes most Episcopal churches!

My friend David, a Millennial who works with a Episcopal congregation, explains it like this.

In the years following WWII, churches found it very important to state what they believed; for, during this ethically despairing time, doctrinal beliefs formed a kind of moral anchor for society.

Think of denominational distinctives. Lutherans and Presbyterians and Baptists are all Christians; but what makes them distinct from one another became top priority. And broader culture was grateful for the clarity.

Out of these pools of distinctive beliefs, then, communities formed and grew. And from these communities, finally, the mission of Christ—good works done in the name of love—could go forth.

That paradigm was beliefs-community-works.

And that paradigm stuck. And it has continued to stick. And it remains largely stuck in churches today.

So, according to David and other Millennials with whom I’ve spoken, it’s time for this paradigm to change. It feels contrived, inauthentic. Communities should not form around beliefs—complicated doctrine and erudite theology. Rather, communities should form around the deeds of love Christ has called us to do.

That old paradigm, in other words, should be inverted. Works of love make up the foundation that calls God’s people together into communities of love—churches; and only then, once this foundation is set in place, should churches solidify their common beliefs.

So that’s what an authentic body of Christ looks like to Millennials.

Yet, for most of us, it’s probably a different way of seeing things. It might make some of us—many of us—uncomfortable.

But remember my previous suggestions? Be out-of-your-comfort-zone flexible for the sake of the common good.

New wine needs new wineskins.

*****

Dear community of St. Thomas, seek the common good; increase your flexibility; establish and maintain your authenticity.

By this all will know that you are Christ’s disciples, if you have love for one another.

May God continue richly to bless St. Thomas Episcopal Church and School.

From our Armchairs

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2019 by timtrue

an-armchair-in-leicestershire-the-source-of-real-i

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on May 12, 2019, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

John 10:22-30

1.

Today, John the Evangelist offers us deep irony.

The historical context is Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of lights.

A couple centuries before, a Hellenistic political leader named Antiochus IV took over the Jewish Temple and decimated it by sacrificing pigs on the altar. Then the Temple was returned to the Jews; so they rededicated it.

So, the story goes, the Sabbath was approaching and the Temple lamps had to be lit. But, because of Antiochus’ abomination, hardly any clean oil could be found, certainly less than enough to last one day; and the process to make new, kosher oil would take eight days!

In faith, the Temple priests went ahead and lit the lamps, praying and hoping for the best. And, lo and behold, the lamps burned through the Sabbath; and continued burning through the following Sabbath, through the eight days needed to make new oil.

God miraculously provided for the rededicated Temple, hence the term we hear today, “the Festival of the Dedication”; a. k. a. Hanukkah. The miracle of the lamps is the focal point of the celebration. The menorah—that Jewish candelabrum with eight holders—represents the eight days.

So, today Jesus is walking in the Temple during the time of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights; when his questioners fail to acknowledge that here before them stands the very Light of the world.

“Tell us plainly,” they demand; “are you the Messiah?”

Deep irony!

2.

Now, for the record, Jesus does answer their question plainly. But, interestingly, he does not use words to explain.

I mean, really, how can you explain the unexplainable? Words are limiting.

Ever seen a sunset? You quietly sit there atop a summit watching the sun sink towards the western horizon, the Pacific Ocean. It happens to be a partly cloudy day: billowy, cottony cumulus clouds float lazily across the sky.

The colors are spectacular. And the reflection on the water, the rays of sunlight!

You take out your camera, thinking, “I’ve just got to capture this moment to share with my friends on Facebook!” But one shutter snap later and a glance at your smart phone screen and you think, “Anemic! Pathetic!”

And you put your phone away deciding that the best use of your time is simply to sit back and take it all in. Be present.

Still, how will you describe this to your friends later? How can you? Mere words only go so far.

And that’s just a sunset! How do you explain God—so much more than a sunset!—to your friends? How can you explain the unexplainable?

3.

The Bible describes God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit, King, Creator, Redeemer, Savior, Messiah, Friend, Shepherd, Vinedresser, Vine, Wind, Fire, Mother Hen . . . and that’s just beginning to scratch the surface!

Each of these descriptors is a metaphor. God is not really, truly wind. But God is like wind; God is in the wind. So God is called wind.

But the Church was not content to leave it there. The Church wanted to make things clearer: plain and simple, black and white, easy to understand.

And so the Church got its armchairs out and sat around and studied the Bible, God’s word; and over time made its own set of rules and regulations, ex cathedra—rough translation, from the biggest armchair—to guard its interpretation of God.

God is three persons and one substance, the Church declared. And if you don’t believe/agree, you cannot be a part of the Church/Club.

So, present day, good churchgoers that we are, we sit around in our armchairs and study our Bibles too. We seek to understand God, the ineffable—or, at least, to understand the Church’s interpretation of God.

So we ask questions like, “What does God want for us?” “What does the Bible teach us about evangelism?” “What does God’s word say about managing our debts?” “How do I make a difference in my community?” and, “What should my faith look like in the workplace?”

Don’t get me wrong, these are great questions to consider. But the effect of our armchair studies is often stultifying: we lose our enthusiasm and initiative regarding what Christ has called us to do.

In other words, we’ll just stay put in our armchairs, thank you very much.

But, challenging all of us right here today, whatever your personal beliefs, Jesus does not use armchair words and plain-and-simple, black-and-white explanations.

And if Jesus is not making it plain and simple with his words, why do we try to make our beliefs about God plain and simple?

Like Jesus’ questioners in today’s Gospel, are we failing to see Jesus for who he truly is? Are we failing to bring his light to the world?

4.

The late Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello tells a modern-day parable called “The Explorer”:

The explorer returned to his people, who were eager to know about the Amazon. But how could he ever put into words the feelings that flooded his heart when he saw exotic flowers and heard the night-sounds of the forests; when he sensed the danger of wild beasts or paddled his canoe over treacherous rapids?

He said, “Go and find out for yourselves.” To guide them he drew a map of the river. They pounced upon the map. They framed it in their town hall. They made copies of it for themselves. And all who had a copy considered themselves experts on the river, for did they not know its every turn and bend, how broad it was and how deep, where the rapids were and where the falls?

De Mello then offers this moral:

It is said that Buddha obdurately refused to be drawn into talking about God.

He was probably familiar with the dangers of drawing maps for armchair explorers.

Do we think ourselves experts on God because we study our maps, our Bibles? Do we pride ourselves on reading this author or listening to that radio program or following some preacher or other?

I wonder if we are experiencing a similarly deep irony today. I wonder if we, the church, have become armchair explorers.

5.

Near the beginning of my sermon I said that Jesus does answer their question.

“Tell us plainly,” his adversaries demanded, “are you the Messiah?”

The answer, plainly, is a resounding yes. But the answer is not given in words, from an armchair. Rather, it is given in works.

The works I do are of the Father, Jesus says; I and the Father are one.

Jesus isn’t giving a Trinitarian formula here: he’s not saying, “God the Father and God the Son are two persons of one substance.” Rather, Jesus is saying, plainly, the works he does and the works of the Father are one and the same.

And that is answer enough!

Which leads me to ask of myself, am I doing God’s work? I’d like to think so; but am I doing it so obviously that it is plain to the world around me?

That’s just not gonna happen from my armchair.

And it leads me to ask this question not just of myself but also of the St. Thomas community: are we doing God’s work; so much so that it is plain to the world around us?

The word of God is doing what Christ calls us to do. This is the Good News: when our deeds are God’s deeds.

*****

Bible study has its place, sure. We seek to understand God because we strive to conform to Christ, the perfect image of God.

And, yes, probably the best place to study and discuss God is from our armchairs.

But when our goal is to be right, to better someone else through our knowledge of the Bible, well, that really benefits no one but ourselves; and what kind of benefit is ego-stroking anyway?

Moreover, it’s not our calling to sit around and figure out how we can better explain Christ to the world around us. And, anyway, the world around us really isn’t all that interested anymore in what we have to say.

Deep irony!

But when we go out into the neighborhood doing what Christ calls us to do—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captives, overturning the tables of domination, bringing about equality to all—sharing the Good News regardless of how well or poorly we can explain it—well, that’s when we actually speak the Good News plainly.

It’s time for us to get out of our armchairs.

Staying on the Rollercoaster

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcipal Church and School in Temecula, California on May 5, 2019, the Third Sunday of Easter.

John 21:1-19

1.

One of the cardinal sins of preaching is to tell a story about a family member. But I can get away with it today because I have four daughters, none of whom is here; and I won’t tell you which one this story is about.

So, it’s the story of her first real rollercoaster ride: not the kiddie ride at putt putt golf but the real deal, the Steel Eel.

She was eight years old. And she’d always shown a little, shall we say, hesitancy when it came to uncertainty and risk. So, as I anticipated, she did not want to ride this rollercoaster, even though she was now tall enough.

But—probably poor judgment on my part—I coaxed and encouraged and otherwise persuaded until finally, either resolved or resigned—I couldn’t tell which—she said, “I’ll do it, Dad, but only because I love you.”

So, a few minutes later there we were, seated in the front car, strapped in, when the clicking began. You know those clicks: clackety clackety clackety all the way up that first, long, tall slope to the very apex where suddenly the clicking stops and gravity takes over and it’s up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth until the ride is over.

We were climbing up and up, clackety clackety; the anticipation building. Smiling, reassuring, I looked at my daughter and gave her a hug.

Her eyes were saucers.

Finally we reached the top, the apex, maybe thirty stories above the theme park sprawled out below us. And we were in the first car, as I said.

Well, what I hadn’t thought about was that this meant we couldn’t really see anything in front of us, on top of that apex.

It also meant that gravity didn’t take over right away; for, first, the remainder of the cars, which were attached behind us, had to be released from the clicking mechanism, meaning we just hung there for a bit, suspended, thirty stories up, theme park sprawled below, with seemingly nothing in front of us.

Then and only then did the clicking mechanism release; then and only then did gravity take over!

And just then I had a horrible moment of clarity, seeing what could only be understood as utter chaos through the eyes of my hesitant eight year-old.

So I looked over at her again. And now it was her mouth open wide, taking in a voluminous breath; her eyes were slammed shut! She clutched my arm, dug in her fingernails, and began screaming and sobbing at the same time—scrobbing, I like to say.

And she buried her face into my arm and stayed there, miserable and scrobbing, until at long last, an eternity of 38 seconds later, the ride came to its most welcome end.

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day.

But, there is a happy ending: this same daughter, a dozen or so years later, last summer, went to 6FMM and rode every nauseating rollercoaster there! And loved it!

Anyway, I tell this story because life can be an emotional rollercoaster. Up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

It’s fun . . . until it’s not; and then we just want it to stop.

2.

I’m experiencing something of that rollercoaster sensation in my life right now. So is the St. Thomas community. Transition—change—has a way of doing that.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re beyond the sensation of fun. Instead, we’re all asking, “When’s this ride ever gonna stop?”

For what it’s worth, though, it’s not just us. This feeling of wanting the rollercoaster ride to stop already is increasingly characterizing our society—or at least economics professor Tyler Cowen thinks so.

In his recent book (2017) The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Cowen argues that Americans are becoming increasingly risk averse. We are less inclined to relocate than we were even a few years ago. The cultural desire to innovate is decreasing.

He writes,

Americans are in fact working much harder than before to postpone change, or to avoid it altogether, and that is true whether we are talking about corporate competition, changing residences or jobs, or building things. In an age when it is easier than ever before to dig in, the psychological resistance to change has become progressively stronger.

As a society, we want this rollercoaster ride to end. We want to have more control over the journey we are taking; and when we find some modicum of control, we don’t want to let go of it. We don’t want to change.

3.

Now, do you think Peter and the other disciples felt this way? Were they hoping for their emotional rollercoaster ride to stop already? Is that what’s happening in today’s Gospel?

Over the past few weeks they’d been up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

They’d witnessed Jesus enter Jerusalem to shouts of acclamation, “Hosanna in the highest!”

That must have been a high high for them, an apex, a moment of affirmation beyond all others. “Yes!” they must’ve said; “Jesus is the Messiah, the savior of Israel. Yes, his mission is being accomplished!”

But, later that week, they stood by and watched helplessly as he was betrayed, arrested, and tried. They covered their ears as the crowd shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And they gazed on as he gave up his spirit.

That must have been the lowest of lows for them. “No,” they must’ve pondered; “does this mean it was all for nothing? Was Jesus and all he stood for just a flash in the pan, a moment of heat that amounted to nothing?”

And then, the stone was rolled away from the tomb.

And there was the head cloth, neatly folded by itself!

And Jesus himself appeared, first to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples in the upper room!

And. . . .

Up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

Can’t it just stop already?

So, today, sitting around with six other disciples, Peter announces, “I’m going fishing!”

He returns to what he knows, to what he is sure of, to what he can control.

No change. No innovation. No carrying on Jesus’ mission. Just something that feels productive to pass the time.

Maybe it’s Peter’s way of escaping the emotional rollercoaster ride brought on by the changes Jesus called for.

And maybe that’s our story too.

4.

Jesus pointed out a need for change in his day: the political and religious establishments dominated the people they were supposed to be serving.

What Jesus called his followers to do was to resist the social injustices before him; and through resistance to upend the domination.

But without a doubt this resistance would keep Peter and the other disciples on an emotional rollercoaster ride; a ride, frankly, they just didn’t want to be on anymore.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to escape Jesus’ call?

As for us, what do we see? Hardly a day passes without hearing about violent acts of hatred, or about a friend who can’t afford rising medical costs, or about how Global Warming is already destroying our coastlines, or about increasing socioeconomic disparities.

It would be ignorant and irresponsible to say that our nation has no need for change.

Rather, isn’t the Holy Spirit telling us loud and clear, change is needed!

But—according to Cowen anyway—our societal response is to avoid change; to do what we know instead, what we are sure of, what we can control.

No change. No innovation. Just something that feels productive to pass the time, to escape the chaotic rollercoaster of life all around us.

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

Maybe that’s what we’re all doing too.

5.

Fortunately, though, today Jesus is having none of it.

Fortunately, the resurrected Jesus appears now for the third time.

And, fortunately, when Peter recognizes him, it’s a no brainer.

Without giving himself a chance to think, Peter—that gloriously impulsive disciple—quits fishing faster than you can say holy mackerel and gets right back on that difficult, emotional rollercoaster ride.

Because—even with all the up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth—Peter knows that doing what Jesus asks us to do is worth it!

Jesus has left us with a mission that is large in scope. Bringing salvation to the ends of the earth requires no less than upending large-scale systems of domination, whether political or religious. This call can feel overwhelming.

Now, we all know, sometimes church is fun: when we experience strong fellowship; in our prayers; when we break bread together; at baptisms and weddings.

But, we also know, sometimes it’s not so fun, like getting out there and sharing Christ’s love tangibly with our marginalized neighbors, or like tackling local practices of injustice, or like navigating our way through change.

Sometimes, let’s face it, we just want this rollercoaster ride to stop already!

What then?

Well, what happened with Peter at the end of the Gospel?

Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”

And three times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

And Jesus re-commissioned him: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Continue to do the work I have commissioned you to do, Peter: the work of love.

Okay then. I’ll ride this rollercoaster, Jesus, because I love you.

Love—Jesus’ love for us and ours for him—is key. Love is what will keep us on this rollercoaster.

Breathed Upon

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

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula, California on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2019.

John 20:19-31

1.

Thomas missed it.

Early that morning, before dawn, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, the stone rolled away.

But Thomas missed it.

A little later that same morning, Mary met the risen Lord and was commissioned by him to go and share the Good News with the disciples.

And so she went and announced, “I have seen the risen Lord, alleluia”; she told them the Good News.

But somehow Thomas missed it.

Nor was he there later that evening, when Jesus himself came and breathed on those who had gathered together.

Sometime later still, when Thomas finally does show up, the disciples tell him the same thing Mary said—except now it’s not just I but we: “We have seen the risen Lord, alleluia.”

The testimony of one thoughtful, faithful Christian has now been bolstered with the strength of community.

But, still, Thomas misses it.

“Unless I . . . put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,” he announces, “I will not believe.”

And so, our day in the Church calendar for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is—can you guess?

Well, what day of the year would you assign to a guy forever remembered by the name doubting?

Yep, December 21st, the day of the winter solstice: the darkest, most doubtful day of the year.

Because—poor guy!—he missed it.

2.

Now, if you happen to be here today and you weren’t last week, you’re probably hearing the exclamation, “You shoulda seen it!”

We had an illuminated labyrinth this year. You shoulda seen it!

There was an Easter Vigil. You shoulda seen it!

We started the service by candlelight. You shoulda seen it!

There was a baptism. You shoulda seen it!

The Bishop’s Committee hosted a champagne reception. You shoulda seen it!

And on Easter day: the musicians were exemplary; the Easter egg hunt was joyful; Father David celebrated with his easy-listening British accent. You shoulda seen it!

But, if you happen to be here today and were not here last week, do you actually believe this exclamation?

Or, like Thomas, are you doubtful?

I mean, just look around!

Today, attendance is low. The Easter lilies have begun to droop. In many churches around the world, the pastor’s taking today off. Quite a contrast to last week! Maybe all the excitement is over-rated.

We clergy have a term for this Sunday, by the way: low Sunday.

If you ask me, I think maybe a better term is Doubting Thomas Sunday; because for all intents and purposes it looks like the Church around the world has missed it too.

Resurrection! New life!

Really?

Today’s feast is the Second Sunday of Easter; we’re seven days into the Great Fifty Days! It should feel just as celebratory as last week.

But, let’s face it, it just doesn’t.

Aren’t we all a lot like Doubting Thomas—whether we missed last week or not? He missed the actual resurrection: he was not a witness. And haven’t we all missed it too? After all, it happened two thousand years ago. None of us was around.

3.

However, I argue, the resurrection is still taking place, all around us, everyday! If we’re missing it, it’s only because, like Thomas, we haven’t yet learned how to see it.

Thomas did learn how, in time. The early Church historian Eusebius tells us that Thomas carried the Good News to India, believing so firmly in Christ that there he died a martyr’s death.

Even though we still call him doubting to this day, Thomas did learn how to see the resurrection first-hand. We can do it too.

Here’s how.

Today’s Gospel tells us that one week later, one week after he missed it, Thomas did encounter the risen Jesus with the other disciples.

So, what do you think happened during that week in between?

A week ago, Thomas said that he would not believe unless he should touch Jesus physically. Now, today, Jesus appears and—did you notice?—merely says, “Touch me, Thomas,” and Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he touched Jesus; and yet today I don’t see him touching Jesus at all! He merely cries out at the sight of him!

What changed? What happened during that week in between?

Well, what happens when you experience something utterly fantastic?

The disciples must have been talking non-stop! All week long, Thomas must have been surrounded by, “You shoulda seen it! Jesus did this” and “he said that” and “he couldn’t have been a ghost because he actually ate with us.”

All week long, Thomas was engaging in conversations, eating meals, praying, fellowshipping, and doing things with these people who kept coming back to the amazing claim that they’d seen the risen Jesus.

You shoulda seen it!

So that when Jesus finally does show up, a week later, Thomas needs no further prodding. At Jesus’ word, Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

To which Jesus replies to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Thomas missed the actual, physical resurrection. Thomas was not among the first people to witness the resurrected Jesus.

But for that week in between he saw the effects of the resurrection. For that week in between, he witnessed first-hand what belief in the resurrection was doing to the disciples.

Now, we may have missed it too. Like Thomas, we weren’t there at Jesus’ resurrection; we weren’t with the first people to witness it.

However, in the week since—or in the two thousand years since (same thing, really)—we have been surrounded by the effects of the resurrection.

And when we learn to see these effects, then we witness the resurrection first-hand.

4.

Well then, what do these effects look like—just what are we looking for?

For the answer, we return to the Gospel narrative.

In the twentieth chapter of John, two times the words to Mary Magdalene are, “Do not be afraid”; and three times Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The Gospel of John contrasts fear with peace. Incidentally, John also says elsewhere that perfect love casts out fear: there’s a strong connection for John between peace and love.

But to return to my point, according to this Gospel, peace is winning:

Two times : do not fear :: three times : peace be with you.

It’s two steps back but three steps forward. That can feel discouraging, sure; especially on this Second Sunday of Easter, low Sunday. But the net outcome is peace overcoming fear.

So: Where do we see peace overcoming fear in our world?

Of course, we see it in Jesus’ crucifixion. He remains peaceful throughout his passion—arrest, trial, mocking, and execution. Throughout, peace overcomes fear.

But, you know, we see it even before Jesus walks the earth, with—for instance—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the OT book of Daniel. These three young men peacefully resist the tyrant-king Nebuchadnezzar, even though he threatens them with the fear of death!

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see it with the early Christian martyrs. “Give up your faith or die,” they are told. Yet time and again they face whatever fearsome threats come their way; and, though many of them die, peace gains the upper hand.

We see it again in Church history with Martin Luther when he peacefully protests the Holy Roman Empire, standing resolute even though threatened repeatedly with violence and death.

We see it in our own nation’s struggle for Civil Rights, from the nonviolent songs of lament composed by slaves to the peaceful protests of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We see it gaining remarkable steam around the world in 1989: peaceful students protest a violent military in Beijing, willing to die in Tiananmen Square so that others may live; and the border wall in Berlin tumbles to the ground, signifying the end of large-scale governmental systems of oppression.

Peace overcoming fear! Around the world!

And we see it still at work in our own day—arguably more now than ever before—as our society responds to violent acts of terrorism and hate in peaceful ways.

Light overcoming darkness; life overcoming death; peace overcoming fear.

In the end, like Thomas, we haven’t missed it; for every day we witness resurrection, the peace of Jesus, first-hand.