Archive for Episcopal Diocese of San Diego

Forward into Exile

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2017 by timtrue

This sermon was delivered on November 12, 2017.

MANO-5

Matthew 25:1-13

1.

Once upon a time there was a great city on a hill.

A city which could not be hidden.

A golden city.

God’s city.

Its name was Jerusalem.

Long was it thought to be impenetrable—four hundred years long, in fact—standing there proud, even haughty, glowering at the inferior world below.

During these four centuries—oh, yes!—kings and their eager armies had tried to conquer it. For, especially when the sun was about to set, in that last hour of daylight, its sandstone buildings beckoned, dazzling, appearing as pure gold; especially that highest of all buildings, Solomon’s Temple.

The wealth!

But, alas, here was a prize that refused to be taken, by force or any other way.

For, in addition to having been built on the top of a vast hill, a high wall of hard stone surrounded it.

And, in addition to the high, hard stone wall, a water source bubbled up from the ground in the city’s middle.

Long, then, could this city’s inhabitants enclose themselves inside if need be, carrying on life more or less as they always did, should an enemy army ever encamp outside.

And it had worked.

For four centuries.

“Ah, Jerusalem,” King Jehoiachin boasted as he walked to and fro on his palace balconies, “my impenetrable city.”

Still, supplies such as food, spears, arrows, even stones are not infinite. Perhaps if an enemy army were merely patient enough. . . .

And then it happened.

A harsh and stubborn commander with a foreign name, Nebuchadnezzar, brought his army from far away Babylon. And he set up encampments, determined to starve Jerusalem if necessary. This golden city would be his.

And so—despite King Jehoiachin’s boasts, his certainty, his knowledge—it happened: Jerusalem was caught by surprise.

God can do this, you know: God can catch his people by surprise.

Over these past four hundred years, not just the king but also God’s people, all Israel, had grown confident, certain, and sure. They were God’s chosen people, after all. And God, stalwart and benevolent king that he was, would surely always provide for them and protect them from their enemies, surely, even if the enemy army were, say, tenfold the size of their own.

Armed then with this confident certainty, King Jehoiachin decided to parley.

But Nebuchadnezzar was a cruel enemy.

Jehoiachin was arrested, along with his princes, his mightiest warriors, and the city’s best craftsmen and artisans; and led away into captivity. Only the poor were left behind.

Nebuchadnezzar then established Jehoiachin’s own uncle Zedekiah as vassal king in Jehoiachin’s place: Zedekiah and the remaining people of Jerusalem were to pay an annual tribute to Babylon.

The people of God had been caught by surprise.

Even so, their confidence remained. As glowing embers at first, over the next decade they fed it enough heat, air, and fuel to grow into roaring flames. They were God’s chosen people, after all.

And Zedekiah decided it was high time to stop paying the annual tribute.

Surely, Zedekiah predicted, the Babylonian army would return. But Jerusalem had learned its lesson last time. This time he would not parley; no one would surrender. This time, weapons would be stockpiled ahead of time; the people of God would hole up in the fortified city and simply wait their enemy out.

And return Nebuchadnezzar and his army did.

And, again, God caught his people off guard.

For Nebuchadnezzar was ready to wait out his enemy too.

He established not mere encampments but whole villages at strategic points around the outside of the impenetrable city, complete with gardens and bath houses, as if to say, “Jerusalem may be able to sustain itself with food and water; well, we’ve got food and water too, and the land’s infinite resources for miles and miles around.”

It proved his distinct advantage.

The siege lasted almost two years. Then, as it turns out, Jerusalem’s small army was running out of defensive weapons and ideas. So one night in 586 BCE, under cover of darkness, the entire army sneaked out of the city in search of supplies—and were found out, caught, and captured in short order!

It was easy, then, for the enemy army to enter the city and take it without resistance. Those who tried to resist were killed. The other inhabitants, to a person, were led away in captivity to Babylon.

None who survived would ever see their beloved city again. Babylon had effectively snuffed out the Jewish nation.

But these were God’s chosen people.

But God had led them into this land, the land of promise, more than four hundred years ago.

But God had built their beloved Temple, the very place on earth where God chose to dwell.

How could this happen?

Where had God gone?

Why would God bring such evil upon his people?

2.

Today Jesus calls us to be prepared for surprises.

This is the message that stands out today.

Ten bridesmaids are part of a wedding party. They’re all there, together. They all know the bride personally.

But five are said to be foolish and the other five wise. Why?

This isn’t a parable about following Christ, as if the five foolish are not disciples and the five wise are. If Christ is represented by the bridegroom, then all ten bridesmaids are there, a part of his church as it were, waiting for him.

This isn’t a parable about the virtues of an active life, as if the five bridesmaids are wise because they keep active; whereas the foolish ones are more contemplative. Yes, Jesus does say, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour”; but, no, despite what some extroverts would like us to think, this is not a statement about continuous activity for the Lord in this life. All ten of the bridesmaids—the five foolish and the five wise—are sleeping, after all, their lamps snuffed out, when the bridegroom arrives.

And this isn’t a parable about loving our neighbor. If it were, then maybe the five wise bridesmaids would have shared some of their extra oil with the not-so-wise. Surely there was enough to go around!

Instead, this parable is about being ready. And it’s not just being ready for what we think will happen; but for the unexpected, for surprises, for God catching us off guard at an unknown day and hour.

The real issue at hand is thinking we’ve got it all sorted out: thinking that the bridegroom will arrive exactly when we expect him to; thinking that we will be able to outlast the army encamped outside our walls because God cares for us more than other people; thinking that we’ve discovered a sure-fire method of growing the church.

This parable is a call for flexibility, adaptability, and resourcefulness rather than control, predictability, and order.

3.

Once upon a time there was a great city on a hill.

A city which could not be hidden.

A golden city.

God’s city.

Its name was the church.

The church offered a safe haven for long years from the opposing evil forces outside. God looked with favor upon the church. For the church was his chosen people.

But the church was predictable, ordered, even controlled. And thus, over time, many of the chosen people began to feel walled in.

Our world today is much different than the world of two thousand years ago; of two hundred years ago; or even of twenty. The authority structures of the Middle Ages are flatly unacceptable to the democratic world today. Popular church growth methods from the 1990s aren’t working today.

Across the world, there is discussion revolving around the decline of the Christian church. Numbers are down. Resources are scarce. Properties are being sold off at a staggering rate.

And we look around at all this and say:

“It’s not supposed to happen like this!

“Where has God gone?

“Why has God brought such evil upon us?”

Could it be that God has in fact been doing something unexpected both within and without the church? Could it be that God is catching the church off guard? Could it be that our church is in a kind of exile?

4.

Once the people of Jerusalem had been led away by Nebuchadnezzar and his army, there, in Babylon, their captors told them to sing their songs of Zion.

But they couldn’t do it.

There, in exile, they realized their preconceptions and definitions of God had been wrong. Their city was razed; their Temple destroyed. How could they sing their same old songs?

So, what did they do? God hadn’t acted like they thought God would. God had caught them off guard; taken them by surprise. Did they just give up and die?

No! They wrote new songs. They revised their understanding of God the unpredictable. And they forged a new path ahead.

The time has come, too, for us to write new songs, to revise our understanding of our God who surprises us, and to forge a new path ahead.

5.

And, I am happy to report, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is doing just that.

You may know that I, along with four members of our congregation, attended our diocese’s annual convention for the last couple of days. The convention is the corporation’s annual meeting; its main purpose is to elect diocesan leaders and to consider resolutions, etc., in order to adapt and continue the work it does.

Now, I had to leave yesterday before it was over, in order to get back in time for the Saturday evening service. In most years, the convention should have ended by 3:45. But not yesterday.

This was primarily because of two resolutions that were on the table. These two alone produced about ninety minutes of discussion and debate—often heated discussion and debate.

One has to do with calling ourselves a sanctuary diocese: from this terminology alone you can probably guess why it was heated. The gist is that we want to provide a safe and holy place for immigrants, a resource to which they can turn for help. I should mention, it does not mean that we will hide people in any way from the authorities; rather that we will not “rat them out,” as it were.

The other resolution has to do with providing a safe place for victims of sexual misconduct. This resolution wasn’t so much debated as it was discussed; and it wasn’t so heated as emotional. Several people shared difficult stories from their past. Others simply approached the mic and said, “Me too.”

One priest, a female, shared the heartbreaking story that in her first year of ordination she was a victim. The perpetrator was a male priest. When she brought this matter to the attention of her bishop, she was encouraged to leave her diocese and the matter was dropped: it never went to the disciplinary levels it should have.

Now, both of these resolutions involved difficult conversations. But, to take a step back, could either of these conversations have taken place in the church of twenty years ago?

Not only do we feel safe enough to have these conversations today, but also these resolutions passed, meaning work is being done for God’s glory and the common good.

Jesus calls us to be ready for the unexpected. I’m glad to say I see that happening in our exiled church. I’m glad that we are writing and singing new songs. May this good work continue!

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On to Temecula

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2017 by timtrue

Been intending to post this for a while now. The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my journey as a priest. And, well, the journey continues. I will be transitioning shortly from rector of St. Paul’s in Yuma, Arizona to Vicar of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Temecula, California. What follows is a compilation of three newsletter articles I recently wrote to introduce myself to the new congregation.

 

Deep in the Heart

With some work yet to do in Yuma and other scheduled obligations, it will be some time yet before I am at the helm in Temecula. In the meantime (the June and July newsletters), as a way to begin our relationship with each other, I’ll tell you my story. How’d I come to be Vicar of St. Thomas of Canterbury?

Growing up with an avocado orchard on the outskirts of Camarillo, California, my childhood was ideal in many ways. This was the day of no seatbelts or bike helmets, and even though video games were just coming into their own with companies such as Atari and microwaves and VCRs were all the rage, the pull of year-round spring-like weather and a couple acres was a strong enough lure to keep me outside most hours—when I wasn’t preoccupied, that is, with the obligatory homework and piano practicing. Scouts, soccer, the neighborhood gang (20-ish kids within a 3-year age span), and my dad’s unquenchable thirst for adventure rounded out these formative years. Family meant everything to me then.

Church, however, was not a part of these idyllic times. Not sure you could call us Trues atheists back then; God or no God, we just tried to figure out life on our own.

My parents’ divorce changed all that. I was in middle school. My older brother and I would remain with Dad, it was decided, while Mom pursued her new life.

Suddenly, family no longer meant everything to me. How could it? It was no longer together. My rock, my foundation, had been pulverized.

And thus began my search for new meaning, new hope, new salvation.

Occasional visits to campus Bible studies turned into regular visits turned into a ski-trip conversion experience turned into baptism and church membership. By now I was in college, trying to figure out what I should be when I grew up, involved in college Bible studies and ministry leadership and, during the summers, program work at a large Christian camp.

College is where I met Holly, my future bride. We studied music and sang in the university choir together. We both attended the same church. This running in the same circles continued for a year or so until I finally got the nerve to ask her out on a date, which turned into another date, and another, and so on, until we married, me fresh out of college, her with a year to go, on Sept. 11, 1993.

September 11th was our anniversary first, by the way.

Anyway, back in college, back when I was thinking about what I should be when I grew up, the idea of vocational, ordained ministry was a constant. I considered other options, sure. But this idea I couldn’t shake. So I prayed about it. A lot. And I talked with Holly about it. A lot.

No wonder, then, that my first real job was as Director of Youth Ministries at a Baptist church.

Now, remember, I hadn’t attend much church before college. The idea of vocational ministry in my mind mostly looked like parachurch Bible studies (think Young Life, if you know what that looks like) and summer camp. Youth ministry in a Baptist church confronted me with messy things I’d never thought about before, like a board of Christian education: a committee that was effectively my boss.

Long story short, three years there was long enough to convince me I wasn’t a Baptist. The strong, internal sense of call to ordained ministry remained, sure. But as for which denomination, tradition, or perspective, I was befuddled, perplexed, and nonplussed.

I retreated into working other jobs—teaching mostly, but also some engineering and music directing and accompanying. I had bills to pay, not to mention an increasing number of family members to support.

Some twelve years passed—and in that time we passed through some churches and denominations, from Baptist to Presbyterian to Episcopal—until we found ourselves with our four daughters settling into St. John’s, New Braunfels, in the Diocese of West Texas, drawn to the Episcopal Church by its sacramental theology and its appreciation of and respect for liturgy and music.

Only to hear the rector declare, shortly after Holly and I had been confirmed, “The vestry and I have decided to leave the Episcopal Church! Next Sunday will be my last.”

And I be like, “What? No way! You can’t do this! This is my spiritual home! I can’t even!” Etc.

So I wrote a deeply thought out and probably passionate letter to my bishop expressing my frustration and my long-time desire to be ordained, and wouldn’t it be especially helpful now!

And my bishop replied, asking me to meet with him for a one-to-one conversation.

To be continued . . .

 

Back to Cali

“Come in, Tim,” my bishop greeted me in the waiting area outside his office; “have a seat. I’m going to get my suffragan. Back in a minute.”

I’d only ever met him once before, when he confirmed me. So I didn’t yet know him or what he was like—his personality, his ministry point of focus, and so on. Turns out he was very intent on future generations. Youth and camping ministries were key for him. So was providing priests for the next generation.

A minute or two later he and David, his suffragan, joined me at the small meeting table in his office; and he began, “Tim, I took the liberty to share your letter with David here. Why don’t you tell both of us your story, especially how you came to sense a call to the ministry?”

And so I did, much as I did for you in last month’s newsletter. Until, “I mean,” I admitted, “the idea of going off to seminary and completing the education part of my priestly formation is a wonderful one, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve always been the main bread winner in our home. I can’t see how relocating a family of six for three years is even possible.”

“Thank you for this, Tim,” the bishop wrapped it up. “It is a very real concern. Let’s stay in touch.”

And that was that—for the time being anyway.

But a year later we revisited the conversation, this time with Holly joining. Baby #5 was about to join our family, so we decided to table the idea for one more year. And then, in early 2010, it was decided: we Trues would relocate to Sewanee, Tennessee for three years. Somehow, we were determined, it would work.

And somehow it did.

The three years in Sewanee were tremendous. It is the home of the University of the South, the only university still entirely owned by the Episcopal Church, which houses a liberal arts college and a seminary. We Trues jumped in with both feet, immersing ourselves in all we could.

The seminary community is just one facet of this diamond, a fairy-tale town perched atop the Cumberland Plateau. Our kids went to school and played sports locally. Holly worked odd jobs around campus, including Wedding Hostess of the beautiful All Saints’ Chapel. We dined regularly at university and town eateries. I taught two semesters of Latin to undergraduates; took elective courses through the college; learned the carillon and became Assistant University Carillonneur; and worked as an organist at local churches. Sewanee became a real home. (Indeed, our oldest daughter, who graduated from the University in 2016, had spent a full third of her life there by that time!) Perhaps more than anything else, my time at Sewanee taught me to see the Episcopal Church truly as a nation-wide organization.

Ordination to the diaconate came for me on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, in 2012—back in Texas, over Christmas break. The Episcopal Church requires every priest to serve as a deacon for at least six months prior to priestly ordination. My bishop thought it would be a good idea to spend my last semester in seminary already ordained, to gain some working knowledge as I finished my time of focusing on the theoretical. A good idea, I agree, having experienced it! Priestly ordination followed on July 7, 2013.

Graduation took place in May and I began serving as a curate in mid-June at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, one of the largest parishes of the Diocese of West Texas.

The position of curate is designed to get one’s feet wet, so to speak. Curacies generally last a couple of years, equipping new priests with tools to carry into future positions. With my previous life experience in religious education leadership, not to mention some twenty years of following the call into ordained ministry, I was eager for these two years to pass and get on with serving Christ as a rector already.

So, eighteen months into it, happy for my time in San Antonio and forever grateful to the Diocese of West Texas for confirming outwardly my longtime sense of internal call, I began looking westward, where I could still be a part of the nation-wide Episcopal Church and also be nearer to where my aging parents live and to the home of my own childhood. That new call soon materialized: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, in the Diocese of San Diego.

Now, some two years hence, I can say that challenges and rewards at St. Paul’s have been many—some anticipated, others unlooked for. Working knowledge and the experience that comes with it are invaluable.

And so here I am, facing another move, ready to live into the new challenges and rewards that will come in Temecula, more prepared than ever before but knowing that we can never be fully prepared, looking forward to doing great things together for Christ in the Temecula Valley.

 

Formal Introduction

Dear People of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church,

It is with much joy that I write to you, eager to enter your fellowship and navigate the waters of ministry with you into our future together.

Some months ago I received a phone call from Bishop Mathes, in which he asked if I’d be willing to put my name in the vicar search for St. Thomas’. “As I’ve gotten to know you,” he said, “I’ve come to believe you have the gifts and talents that most align with what St. Thomas’ wants and needs for a leader. Tim, I think you’re the man for the job; I think you’d be a great fit.” Of course, I said to put my name in the pool—this was the bishop calling, after all. I then began to do my homework. And as I did so, the question to frame my analysis was, what is it about me in particular the bishop sees? Here’s what I’ve assessed thus far.

Especially exciting to me is your music ministry. Music, especially in the Anglican choral tradition, has played no small role in my own spiritual journey. To work with accomplished musicians in order to craft effective liturgy is a thing I’ve longed for in recent years.

I’m also eager to establish and develop a strong working relationship with the day school, its board, director, staff, and families. Prior to ordination I was a career teacher in private parochial and independent schools, experience that should go a long way in a school/church relationship.

Along these lines is Christian formation. A lifelong learner myself, I look forward to strengthening the already strong Christian education program for all ages.

And as for the location! It’s no secret that Temecula is beautiful, nestled between the California coast and desert, a perfect opportunity to exercise hospitality.

Focal points of ministry for me are music and liturgy, preaching, teaching, and formation. I consider my leadership style to be flexible yet organized, collaborative, and innovative, willing to go in new directions when old ones tire out or fail. Maybe I’m more an artist than a scientist (more a Greek than a Roman), though I believe the two are not mutually exclusive. For fun I like to hang out with my family, cooking, eating, playing bridge, and walking our 12 year-old Labrador, Arwen; and, as I’m able, I like to hike, compose, write, and ride my motorcycle.

Put these together and it’s plain to see that, as the bishop stated, here is a great fit!

Please pray for me and my family in the months ahead. Moving from Yuma to Temecula will not be our only transition.

May God richly bless us in our life together,

Father Tim