Archive for outreach

Doldrums Evangelism

Posted in Homilies with tags , , on February 10, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 15:1-11

1.

How do you feel about evangelism? And here I’m not talking about the technical definition of the word, the carrying out of good news. Rather, what is your gut reaction when you hear the word? Evangelism. What pictures come to your mind’s eye? What do you want to do? Roll your eyes? Turn and run away?

Now, evangelism goes two ways, right? As Christians, we are called to carry the good news outward. We are called to be evangelists. That’s the active side of evangelism.

But have you ever been on the passive side? Can you put yourself in the shoes of those to whom the “good news” is being carried?

A story from my Youth Director days comes to mind.

A local, dynamic youth pastor had just pulled off the ultimate epic evangelism event, he boasted. Then he explained: a car rally scavenger hunt.

The youth group broke into teams of four and drove around the town looking for items on a list—simple items, like a coffee cup, a slice of cheese, a cup of ice, a Polaroid selfie with a stranger.

Each item had to come from a different place; and each team had to introduce itself with the scripted, “Hi, we’re from Trinity Church’s Youth Group and we’d like you to know that Jesus loves you,” before they could request the item.

The kids had one hour. And, of course, the team with the most items won—or, if they found all the items on the list in less than an hour, the first team back with all the items won.

Sounds like fun, eh? . . . Until you heard how it unfolded!

Mostly it involved interruptions; for example, kids running into Starbucks, cutting to the front of the line, and shouting their script: “We’re from Trinity and Jesus loves you. Can we just have an empty coffee cup?”

And I remember distinctly thinking, “Man, I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it! Not sure that’s the kind of love I’m looking for. Certainly not the kind of church I’m looking for!”

Is it just me, or did you experience this kind of thing too?

Evangelism—back in the late eighties through Y2K anyway—became synonymous with obnoxious, confrontational methods of telling people your message whether they wanted to hear it or not.

A lot like consumer marketing and advertising!

But, really, is the good news a commodity for sale to the highest bidder?

Well, a while ago my family found a sign in a craft shop. I’ve often desired to hang it on the front door of our home, but still haven’t. So, this sign fairly well captures my feelings about the passive side of evangelism. It reads:

NO SOLICITING

We are too broke to buy anything

We already know who we are voting for

WE HAVE FOUND JESUS

Seriously, unless you are selling Thin Mints

PLEASE GO AWAY!!

Maybe you feel similarly. I mean, the technical word is great. But evangelism has been so misused and abused that now it feels worn out, tired.

2.

So, this brings up a question: What does a disciple of Jesus look like?

Today, we meet Simon Peter for the first time in the Gospel of Luke. He leaves everything and follows Jesus—which certainly qualifies him as a disciple. So, let’s enter his shoes for a bit.

He’s washing his nets: he’s just worked a long night shift and it’s quitting time. Unfortunately, the work’s been unproductive.

You know the kind of day. As an engineer, you’ve been agonizing over a design requiring your signature and seal. It should all work out, you keep assuring yourself; but something feels off, something you’ve maybe overlooked. You’ve been over and over the plans again and again, the deadline’s already two hours past, but you just can’t put your signature to paper in good conscience; so you give up. It’s going to have to wait till tomorrow. You pick up the phone and dial your client.

Or, as a teacher, you’ve had one of those extremely frustrating days, when the kids are grumpy and uncooperative, half of them have the sniffles and should have stayed home anyway, and finally the bells rings. You’ve still got a pile of papers to grade, but you can do it, you tell yourself, just thirty more minutes—alone, thank goodness!

Peter’s just had that kind of day: long and unproductive and he just wants to go home already.

But then this stranger named Jesus approaches and asks for his boat.

Jesus, Simon thinks. That name rings a bell. . . . Oh yeah! Isn’t he the one who people are talking about? Teaching astonishing truths and doing remarkable deeds in Capernaum?

So Simon agrees. After all, he’s washing his nets anyway; he’ll continue to clean up and otherwise wrap things up from the boat—multitask—while Jesus teaches.

But then, next, after he’s done teaching, Jesus invites Simon to do something that will require considerably more personal sacrifice.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” Jesus says.

And what do you think goes through Simon’s mind now?

Well, what goes through that engineer’s mind when her client says, “This is unacceptable; I must have those plans by midnight or I’ll take my business elsewhere”?

Or what goes through that teacher’s mind when an administrator unexpectedly enters his empty classroom and says, “You are needed for an urgent meeting right now; it should only last an hour . . . or so”?

Doesn’t he understand, Simon must have wondered? I’ve been at this all night and there’s been nothing! And I’ve already washed my nets! Why couldn’t he have said this fifteen minutes ago? Doesn’t he know anything? Probably never fished a day in his life!

Also—a point that should not be glossed over!—Simon could have said no to Jesus. Jesus did not command but invited him.

Whatever the case, Simon responds, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

He’s tired. He just wants to go home. He could say no to Jesus.

But he obeys—and is blessed miraculously for it!

And, seeing it is so, Simon immediately spreads the good news to his partners James and John, who leave everything to join the cause with him.

3.

This is what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

Invited to share the good news, and to be blessed for it, we are called to be evangelists.

But evangelism feels so worn out. We’ve been out evangelizing for fifty years and, anyway, people don’t want to hear it. We’re tired. They’re tired. We just want to go home already!

As Peter reminds us today, that’s not an excuse; that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit!

But it does mean we probably should think about evangelism in a new way; or, maybe more helpfully, in an old, old way.

Sharing the good news through proclamation (what many have called “testimony”)—Jesus did this for me; come and see!—is only a small part of what sharing the good news—evangelism—encompasses.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus and his disciples taught the uneducated, consoled the downhearted, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and included the marginalized.

And I’m just scratching the surface! They did many other acts of love, each one a way of sharing the good news, of evangelizing.

It’s time for us to rouse ourselves, shake off our end-of-the-workday doldrums, and drop our nets on the other side of the boat. There a miraculous catch awaits!

Advertisements

On Trial with Pilate

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by timtrue

John 18:33-37

1.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday, we call it. We focus on Christ in a particular way today: as king—as the one in charge—of his realm.

And in today’s Gospel we are confronted with two views of reality.

On the one hand, Christ tells us that his kingdom is the way of truth. On the other hand, Pilate’s kingdom is the way of violence.

We look at Christ the King today, then, through this lens: comparing two versions of reality. And what do we learn?

So, Jesus is on trial; and Pilate is the judge.

But doesn’t it almost seem—by the time we get to the end of the passage anyway—doesn’t it seem that the tables are turned? Doesn’t it feel like Jesus is in the role of judge and Pilate is really the one on trial?

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

But, before answering him, Jesus asks Pilate a question—and already the tables are turning over: “Do you ask this because you want to know, or because someone told you this?”

And so Pilate answers, “I am not a Jew.”

It’s enough to say, “Of course someone told me about you! I don’t have the time or energy to concern myself with what goes on in Jerusalem—in your people’s insignificant corner of the world.”

In other words, Pilate, a Roman, thinks himself somehow above the Palestinian peoples, who go about their day-t0-day business over there, in some forgotten corner of the empire.

But, Pilate knows, even the people over there are capable of rising up in rebellion—which is why he asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus now answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, I’d fight back with an army.”

Jesus knows Pilate’s kingdom—this world—follows the way of violence.

But, in Jesus’ kingdom, violence has no place; his kingdom is not from here.

Well, Pilate misses the point; and declares, “So then you are a king!”

And here I can almost hear Jesus sigh.

“You say I’m a king,” he says. “But that’s not what I’m about; I’m not raising up some kind of political insurrection against you. Rather, I am here to testify to the truth—a greater reality than you are able to see, apparently. But if you will only seek the truth, find it, and belong to it, you will know a kingdom far better than anything you can now imagine.”

To which Pilate famously scorns (just after today’s passage ends), “What is truth?”

And with this small question Pilate rejects Jesus and his kingdom, the way of truth, choosing instead to remain with the life he knows, a life of power, wealth, privilege, lies, and violence.

The tables are turned. Pilate’s the one on trial today, not Jesus.

2.

Maybe we’re on trial today too. Maybe we are like Pilate, more attached than we’re willing to admit to the way of violence.

Pilate is offered true freedom, a world of peace, security, equality, and authenticity; and instead chooses to remain living in his narrow conception of reality, ruled not by the Christ but by his own fears.

“Are you a king?” he asks Jesus again and again, belaboring the point, fixated—because he fears!

Pilate has no time for the truth, no time for the way of Christ, because he’s too busy fearing that he will lose his power, position, and privilege. He’s too concerned with the things that really matter to him, like protecting his name, status, and position; and like watching his back so some political hothead doesn’t assassinate him.

Pilate is trapped in his way of violence; trapped by his system; trapped in fear.

And thus he rejects the truth.

On this final Sunday of the church year, we stand on trial with Pilate. Do we also reject the truth? Like Pilate, do we love our status: our places of power, wealth, privilege, and maybe even lies and violence?

Jesus calls us to lay these things aside and stand in solidarity with our neighbor—our sisters and brothers who are in different places than we are.

3.

By the way, I’m being careful here not to say “who have less than we do.” Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we do. That’s not what mission and outreach are about.

So, in case you’re wondering if you heard me right, I’ll say it again: Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we have.

But, also, neither does he call us to stand in solidarity with those who have more!

For, in Jesus, we are called not to have a less-vs.-more mindset at all!

But isn’t this often the church’s approach to mission and outreach?

We, the church, decide to engage in a project to help our neighbors in need. Fine and well!

But then we say something like, “This outreach project will help those who are less fortunate than we are”; and then pat ourselves on the back and tell our superior selves we’re loving our inferior neighbors just like Jesus commanded.

We become the patron; they become the client; and they forever stand in our debt.

But superiority and inferiority? Patron and client? That’s not Jesus’ way. That’s Pilate’s!

Whenever we approach anything with an attitude of superiority—including mission and outreach—that’s not the way of love!

Jesus calls us to come alongside others as equals, to establish and maintain truly mutual relationships; not to compare ourselves with one another in order to figure out who’s better or worse, who’s right or wrong, who’s richer or poorer, who’s smarter or dumber, who’s superior or inferior; but to sharpen one another, mutually, as iron sharpens iron, for the common good.

Are we willing to listen to those who are different than us?

They may speak a different language; they may eat different foods; their skin may be a different color; they may identify as a different gender; their sexuality may be different than ours; or they may be different from us in . . . fill in the blank!

Are we willing to come alongside them? To stand in solidarity with them? To hear their stories? To listen to the truth?

Or are we like Pilate, too focused on our own treadmills to listen?

4.

I offer a concluding illustration:

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase: “Violence begets violence.” I don’t know who first coined it. But I do know that Martin Luther King, Jr. used it. Listen to these words:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love . . . Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[i]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man committed to live out the principle of non-violent resistance, a same principle by which Jesus lived. Both men resisted the authorities, the powers that be, without fighting back, without violence.

Their deaths, both vivid demonstrations of non-violent resistance, shout a message that will be forever etched in humanity’s history books; a message for all people, everywhere, to give up living for themselves—for power, position, status, wealth, prestige, and privilege—and to live instead for the other.

Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor. This is the way of truth, to which Jesus calls us.

 

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_begets_violence.

Increasing PSI

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2018 by timtrue

flat-tyre

John 6:56-69

1.

I begin with a framing image:

My first car was a 1968 Dodge A100 Sportsman van—3 on the tree, manual everything. With lots of windows all around, it kind of looked like an old VW. But this van was so much better, with a 318 V8, 210 horsepower—not a piddley 60 horses, like the VWs!

How I loved that van! I replaced the factory seating with a loveseat, chair, and ottoman—this was before seatbelt laws went into effect. Many were the days I loaded friends up and went to the beach or mountains or wherever, for yet another adventure!

As happens, I began to be associated with this van. People would see it coming and say, “Here comes Tim.”

So, one night a friend of mine and I decided to play a prank on another friend, Bobby. We TP’d his house, you know, snuck over, late at night, and threw a bunch of toilet paper rolls all over the place.

Well, Bobby woke up when we were up to our shenanigans; and, as I learned later, looked out his window but did not recognize the culprits. However, he did recognize a certain van parked across the street: my van.

And Bobby hatched his plan to avenge himself; which happened a few weeks later.

I’d gone to see a movie. And when I came out of the theater, there was my van all right, right where I’d parked it; but three of the tires were flat! Bobby had let the air out of them.

Well, I had only one spare. What was I to do? I couldn’t drive home. My van was effectively useless.

So I got in and started it up, dropped in into gear, and crept slowly as I could across three parking lots to a service station with an air hose. And then, finally, with air again in the tires, I was able to drive the van home, to use the van as it was intended.

Anyway, this is the framing image I want us to consider as I continue with my sermon: a van without air in tires is effectively useless.

2.

Now, fourteen weeks ago I mentioned that we were making a turn.

Up till that time, the church year had been focused on the person Jesus. Starting with Advent—the coming of the Christ—it then continued with Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter—all various manifestations of the Incarnation, God with us, in the person and work of Jesus—until finally, fifty days after Easter, Christ sent his Spirit to be with his disciples, the Church, until his promised return.

This was the turning point: Pentecost. Here, as a church, every year we turn our attention from thinking about who Jesus is to the work he has left for us to do. At Pentecost, we shift our focus to the question, “How are we to be the incarnate Christ to the world?”

This is the question that frames every Sunday from the Day of Pentecost to what we call Christ the King Sunday, about half of every year.

Now, this year, Lectionary Year B, we will spend most of these six months exploring this question through the lens of the Gospel of Mark. But for five weeks in the middle—concluding today, as a matter of fact—we have found ourselves instead in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Which leaves me wondering why. Why does the Gospel of John interrupt the Gospel of Mark? More particularly, why do we find ourselves in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John?

Or, to reframe the question: What is it that we are supposed to be learning from these five weeks that will shape us as a local body of Christ, to carry out his mission, to be the Incarnation to the world around us?

Today’s our last chance for quite a while: we won’t encounter John 6 again until three years from now, the next time it comes around. I’m not suggesting we’ll find the absolute, once-for-all answer. Still, we can get somewhere.

3.

So then, here’s what we know about the Gospel of John as a whole: John was writing, probably in the early second century, to a new community defined by their being ousted from the local synagogue.

But John was not written merely to guide an ancient community in its new life together. It was also written for all Christian communities, which includes us, today, with our unique set of challenges in our particular cultural context.

Narrowing our focus then, from chapter 6 Jesus teaches crucifixion and resurrection, incarnation and love—profound ideologies—through metaphor; and predominantly the metaphor of bread.

Two weeks ago I walked us through the bread-making process, from harvesting rye to separating the grains from the stalks to sifting and cleaning to grinding the grains into flour to finally baking.

Jesus said that his flesh was bread for the life of the world. Harvested, separated, sifted, ground; arrested, mocked, spat upon, crucified—for the life of the world.

Last week we explored what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood, to ingest him so completely that Christ becomes a part of us and we become more him.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

The Incarnation doesn’t mean that God is with us as a person sitting among our community. Rather, the Incarnation is within each one of us; and intends to permeate every corner of the world in just the same way.

And now, we come to today, this final portion of John 6, where we read that many disciples turn away from Jesus, for this is a difficult teaching.

What are we supposed to learn? What is our takeaway?

4.

Maybe something to do with spirit.

“It is the spirit that gives life,” Jesus says; “the flesh is useless.”

But didn’t Jesus just say that his very flesh was the true bread from heaven, the bread given for the life of the world?

Yes, he did.

So what can he mean now by saying the flesh is useless? Certainly, his flesh wasn’t useless!

Ah, but it is useless without the spirit.

Jesus’ flesh, smitten, broken, and lifted up on the cross for the life of the world—if it remains there, dead on the cross, why then it’s just a corpse.

Taken down, carried away, and laid to rest in the tomb—if Jesus’ flesh remains there, lifeless, without a spirit to animate it, why, again, it’s still just a corpse.

What about Jesus’ flesh set on the altar, consecrated, given, and received? It seems an appropriate parallel, drawn from our guiding bread metaphor: without the spirit, it, too, is lifeless; or, to use Jesus’ word, “useless.”

The people to whom John originally wrote this Gospel—the Johannine Community—experienced this lifelessness first hand.

They had been formerly a part of a synagogue—maybe even the synagogue at Capernaum, mentioned in today’s Gospel. But the synagogue’s leaders had excommunicated any and all who followed the teachings of Jesus—including a man born blind! (Read chapter 9.)

So, consider: local synagogues were a lot like modern local churches. People gathered as spiritual communities in buildings created for that purpose. Their worship services followed a liturgy very much like our own Morning Prayer liturgy. In addition to Sabbath worship services, synagogue congregations would gather, much like today’s church congregations, for times of communal celebration and grief—like bar mitzvahs and funerals.

And yet, as John writes to the ousted and re-organizing Johannine Community, he has Jesus say, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

Without Jesus, that local body of the synagogue was lifeless, a corpse.

5.

What is our takeaway?

We are smack dab in the middle of the season after Pentecost. It’s a six-month season, primarily focused on the question of Jesus’ mission: How are we to be the incarnate Christ to the world around us?
For the last five weeks we’ve encountered Jesus presenting a particularly difficult teaching. He presents the crucifixion and resurrection, the Incarnation and love in an altogether new way—through a metaphor involving the very common, everyday practice of eating and drinking.

It’s a difficult teaching because it involves a tremendous amount of personal sacrifice from Jesus’ followers.

As we learned from the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, we often want to follow Jesus for the wrong reasons, self-focused reasons, like utility, political expediency, seeking the miraculous, or as a mere intellectual exercise.

Following Jesus requires from us so much more: to let go of our egos; to let Christ fill each of us as air fills a tire—air without which the van tires are effectively useless.

The same can be said for us as a corporate body.

We gather weekly as a spiritual community. In our gatherings, we pray, worship, hear the word of God together, respond, and commune around Christ’s Table.

But if we do this for the wrong reasons—utility, political expediency, and so on; any reason, really, that strokes our own egos—we do not allow the air that is the spirit of Christ to fill us—air without which we are effectively useless.

This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it?

But—and here at last is our takeaway—when we do accept it, when we abide in Christ and take him out to those who truly hunger, he is life-giving both to us and to the world all around us.

Outward. It sounds so simple.

Why, then, are we interrupted in the middle of the season after Pentecost in Year B? Why are we told so often to go in peace to love and serve the Lord?

Maybe because it’s so difficult actually to do.

God give us grace to go outward!

Following his Lead

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by timtrue

Part 2 of last week, really.

TECshield

John 6:24-35

1.

Last week we explored together the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus saw a large crowd and realized they were hungry; and he quickly formulated a vision to feed them.

But remember Philip? He heard Jesus and was immediately overwhelmed by the vastness of his vision. “How we gonna do that, Jesus?” he 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.

But then there was Andrew. A little hope, it seemed, shone through his cloud of doubt. “Here’s a boy,” he told Jesus, “with five barley loaves and two small fish. Oh,” (and the silver lining fades) “but what are these among so many?”

Maybe in Andrew, maybe in the boy, maybe in both, there was a little bit of faith. And Jesus took that little bit and, through love, turned it into so much that twelve basketfuls were left over!

A miracle!

Now, a question I did not ask last week is this: Do you think the crowd knew a miracle was happening in their midst?

The five thousand people were sitting there, probably engaged in conversations and small talk, just as you and I would have been today, when all at once baskets of bread and fish came to them; and they did just what you and I would have done: they took some food for themselves and passed it along to the next group of people.

Of course they didn’t recognize a miracle was happening in their midst! I would wager money on it! It was just routine, normal behavior: grab a basket; take some food; pass it along to the next person; thank you very much.

Well, so why ask this question? Because of what happens next, in today’s Gospel.

2.

Today we find people from this same crowd—people who do not know that a miracle just happened in their midst—seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Some seek him for utility.

These folks are hungry. Jesus fed them quite satisfactorily yesterday; and so, they reason, maybe he will feed us again today. They’re asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” Not the right question!

Others seek him for expediency.

Jesus was the organizer of the event, after all; and he showed no small amount of competence. He gathered and fed us all; and he had some really good things to say. So, “I know!” some of them declare; “let’s make him our king!”

Overnight, Jesus has become not only their religious but also their political champion. They seek Jesus because he is a potential mover and shaker in society, because he will promote their political agenda (or so they imagine).

But again, to seek Jesus for expediency is self-focused rather than God-focused; asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for Jesus?”

Others still seek him for the miraculous.

“What sign are you going to give us then,” some of them ask, “so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?”

Really! “What sign are you going to give us?” Didn’t Jesus just feed about 5,000 people yesterday; and today you want a sign? A miracle took place right in front of your noses. How did you miss it?

The irony thickens even more when they say that Moses gave them a sign: manna from heaven. They know about manna, that famous narrative from their nation’s history; yet they fail to see the true bread of heaven right in their midst!

Anyway, do you see where this is going? Those who seek Jesus for the wonderful, the spectacular, the miraculous are more than likely going to miss it when it happens—and it does happen, right in their midst.

And others still seek him as a kind of intellectual pursuit.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea,” the text reads, “they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’”

They got to know Jesus some yesterday—they sat at his very feet in Bible study—and figured they could know him fully. Trouble is, how can we finite humans ever comprehend the infinite?

Anyway, whether for utility, expediency, the miraculous, or intellectual satisfaction, the crowds in today’s Gospel seek Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, once they re-prioritize their focus, they find him easily.

Right in their midst, the miracle occurred; right in their midst, he is the true bread from heaven.

3.

Last week, also, as a kind of modern-day parallel to the feeding of the five thousand, I posited to you an idea I’ve been chewing on for some time: creating an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County.

Full disclosure here: positing this idea wasn’t just an exercise in conjecture; I wasn’t merely throwing out some impression off the top of my head to consider hypothetically. Rather, I’ve been thinking through this outreach vision for a while now.

For a few years now, I’ve been working with Vida Joven.

Over the past year, I’ve been on the phone and in email conversations with people from the NAES, San Pasqual Academy, and Imago Dei Middle School.

In the spring I presented this idea to our diocese’s Executive Council.

In June, while in Sewanee, I brainstormed with a headmaster there about whether he might be able to bring a similar program to his school.

Just since last week, several of you have approached me about the next step. You’ve said things like, “This idea sounds awesome, Father Tim; how can we do more?”

And in two weeks I will host an initial gathering, to form the New Life Academy Exploratory Committee—a team that will be formally recognized by the NAES.

This vision is getting real!

But, to be honest, like Philip, the whole thing feels overwhelming to me; even paralyzing. It feels risky and vulnerable even to speak about it to you all today.

I mean, what if it fails?

So first, before telling you how I envision going forward with this idea, I want to admonish us all—myself included—really to hear this week’s Gospel.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to apply Jesus’ mission in this way, the creation of an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County?

If so, then let us not do it for the wrong reasons.

Let us not do it for utility—seeking things that feed our egos but do not fulfill our souls.

Let us not do it for expediency—hoping to promote a political agenda.

Let us not anticipate the spectacular or miraculous—missing Christ in the world all around us because we are looking for him only in the grandiose.

And let us not engage in Christ’s mission only as some kind of intellectual exercise—failing to see God’s image in those we serve because we are preoccupied with doing it right.

If any one of these is our chief motivation for realizing this vision, then we are headed for failure right from the starting gate.

Advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us is not about any of these things. It’s not about us! Rather, it’s about Jesus—seeking, finding, and leading others to him; and when we re-prioritize our focus we realize that he’s already here, right in our midst, waiting to be seen.

4.

So then, my sermon’s over, really; but for those who are interested, here are the important logistical details: “how I envision going forward with this idea.”

I mentioned an initial gathering. It will take place here at St. Thomas on Saturday, August 18, from 10am to noon. The plan is to meet in the St. Benedict Conference Room; but if the crowd is too large we can move into Julian Hall—or even the nave (although, so you know, I am not planning to feed you).

The agenda is simple: introductions, introductory comments, a video, and maybe a Powerpoint presentation; followed by group discussion and strategy. My hope is to put together an exploratory committee to carry this vision forward.

Please call the office and let me know if you plan to attend.

Jesus is in our midst. Let’s follow his lead and see what happens.

Keeping It on the Move

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2018 by timtrue

VJ

Mark 1:29-39

1.

Vida Joven de Mexico is an orphanage I like to visit in Tijuana.

Okay, to be honest, I don’t really like to visit the home. I don’t necessarily enjoy visiting it in the same way I enjoy visiting a good restaurant. Nevertheless, there is something profoundly enjoyable—as in it fills me with life-giving joy—each time I go.

My most recent visit was last Saturday. My wife and son went with me. We sponsor an 8yo boy there named Daniel. One of his front teeth is still growing in; and, though the two of them don’t speak the same language, he and my son will pass a soccer ball to each other or play checkers or wage dinosaur wars.

It does my heart tremendous good when, after enduring the hassles of remembering our passports and long drives and waits, we arrive to the smiling, well-fed and cared for, and comfortably dressed children of Vida Joven.

But I said they were orphans. This is not entirely true. For the parents of all the children who live at Vida Joven are probably all still alive. The children have been abandoned, fortunately found by the state’s meager social services network.

Daniel’s story paints the picture as well as any. He’s the third of four siblings, the only boy. Social services found them all when Daniel was only three years old because his older sister, still a small child herself, had ventured outside to forage for food in an effort to keep herself and her little siblings from starving. The children, dirty and disheveled, were living in a shanty, trash strewn throughout, no sign of parents anywhere.

Of course, along with the life-giving joy I experience when I visit Daniel, his sisters, and the other children of Vida Joven, I also experience a kind of righteous indignation.

No child ought to have to experience the inhumane conditions faced for a time by Daniel! And yet it continues to happen: only a fraction of Mexico’s large street-children population ever become wards of the state.

God is love, we know. And love sees dignity in every human being. Mexico is our neighbor; and demonstrating love to our neighbor is a key part of what “God is love” means. Moreover, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is in a formal partner-relationship with the Anglican Diocese of Western Mexico; and Tijuana is geographically within this diocese.

Shouldn’t we privileged neighbors to the north be doing more about it?

By the way, if you ever want to join me on a trip, let’s talk. A vanpool typically visits on the third and fourth Saturdays of every month, leaving the parking lot of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chula Vista at 9am, returning between 2pm and 3pm.

2.

So: joy, compassion, indignation—and we come to today’s Gospel.

Jesus and the two sets of brothers with him leave the local synagogue, where Jesus has just healed a man of an unclean spirit; and now enters the house of Simon, one of the disciples.

Jesus carries the Good News from a public place to a private place. And, after all, isn’t that what the incarnate God is all about? God with us?

And Jesus doesn’t just enter Simon’s house as a normal guest would enter, to lounge in the triclinium, in the front part of the house, and enjoy a meal. No! Jesus, instead, goes into the most private part of the house, to the house’s inner recesses, where Simon’s mother-in-law is convalescing.

The Incarnation is everywhere—from the most public to the most private places of our lives.

And there Jesus takes this dear woman by the hand, lifts her up, and her fever leaves her immediately.

The Incarnation, we see, heals both spiritually and physically.

And she responds to Jesus’ healing by serving others! In fact, Simon’s mother-in-law is the first human in all the Bible to be called diakonos; in other words, she’s the church’s very first deacon.

Simon has been called disciple. But here’s a picture of true discipleship: someone who responds to Jesus’ love by loving others outwardly.

Well, word gets out. All the villagers needing spiritual and physical healing are brought to Jesus; who heals them, presumably, late into the night.

And very early in the morning, probably very tired, Jesus withdraws to a lonely place so that he can pray.

And what does Simon do? He hunts for Jesus.

This word, hunts, is a verb of purpose in the Greek. Simon hunts for Jesus with an agenda, with an intervention in mind.

Why in the world has Jesus gone off to pray, Simon wonders? Doesn’t he know there’s more work to do?

And so Simon—unlike his mother-in-law—gets it all wrong. He asks, “Don’t you understand how badly the people here need you, Jesus? What are you doing praying? It’s time to get back to your ministry and mission!”

Simon misses the point. The Good News is not to be cloistered up in a house somewhere so that people can make a pilgrimage to it and be healed. Rather, the Good News is to go out, to heal the people wherever there is brokenness, in places public, private, and anywhere in between.

The Gospel is meant to be kept on the move.

And so Jesus says, “Let us move on, for that is what I came out to do.”

And that is exactly what he and his disciples do. They go throughout Galilee, proclaiming the Good News in synagogues and casting out demons.

3.

What impresses me most about today’s Gospel?

It’s not that Jesus meets me where I am.

Sure, this is an important truth, one with which we are all familiar. The Incarnation is with us. We have our personal demons. He helps us confront them and overcome them. And he does this right where we are, in our present state of life, without having to make a pilgrimage to an English cathedral or the Holy Land. Jesus meets and loves me right where I am.

But that’s not the truth hitting me squarely between my discipleship eyes today.

Nor is it that here the Bible gives us a strong and important argument for women in ministry. Simon’s mother-in-law is the very first human called a deacon in the Bible. Angels have been called deacons before this point, but not humans. Later on other humans are called deacons—Stephen and Philip in the Acts of the Apostles, for instance—and it even becomes an office of the church!

That all starts here today, with Simon’s mother-in-law, a woman. Why then has it been a struggle in the modern church’s life to ordain women? Why is it still a struggle for two congregations within our own diocese?

Anyway, yes, the ordination of women, too, is an important point. But I don’t think it’s the main point.

Rather, what impresses me today is that Jesus determines to move on, to keep the Gospel on the move, to bring the Good News out to those who need it. He doesn’t want us to keep it to ourselves.

Now, don’t misunderstand me; I am not saying that our buildings are unimportant.

A key part of Israel’s history was to establish a building for the king—a palace—and even more importantly, a building for God—the Temple.

Indeed, today’s passage touches on buildings and their importance. A large part of Jesus’ ministry occurs inside buildings—in synagogues; in houses; in the Temple courtyard.

The buildings we build are necessary and good. They give us a place to gather as a community and engage in the important rituals that unify us as a body of Christ. Things like architecture, furniture, and placement of windows matter. Facilities serve a valuable purpose.

Even the word!—it comes from the Latin facilis, which transliterates almost directly into English as facile, meaning easy: our facilities make Christ’s mission to heal the world easier than it would be otherwise.

But, human nature being what it is, we can tend to want our buildings to exceed their purpose—just as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had exceeded the Temple’s purpose by locking God inside and making it well-nigh impossible for the common person to approach the divine.

Whenever we convey the message that Jesus is to be found only in here; whenever we stop bringing the Good News out to the broken world around us, we end up doing the same thing Jesus so vehemently opposed throughout his earthly ministry.

Despite whatever our facilities might tempt us to think, the church’s purpose is not a social club, not a place for refuge, not a museum to house historical and cultural artifacts, and not a community chapel.

The local church, according to Jesus, our founder, is a force for transformation if it is anything at all, going outward, outward, ever outward, healing the world around us from its brokenness.

4.

In light, then, of this discussion, how can we—St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church—keep the Gospel on the move?

That’s an admittedly broad question. So, let me be more specific.

How can we, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, bring the Good News to the abandoned children of Mexico?

These children are our neighbors. These children live within the geographical boundaries of our partner diocese. And these children are growing up impoverished and illiterate—broken and in need of Christ’s healing. How can we go out to them with Christ’s Good News?

It’s not a rhetorical question.

I wrestle with it all the time.

  • I am a member of the diocesan multicultural taskforce.
  • I am continuously alerting others to the plight of Mexico’s street children.
  • And I am seriously considering joining Vida Joven’s Board of Directors.

But I am also a priest of Christ’s church, called to be the spiritual leader of this local body. So today I’m asking you to wrestle with this question too: How can we bring Christ’s Good News to children like Daniel and his sisters?

Purpose Probe

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2016 by timtrue

Christus_heilt_einen_Besessenen

Luke 4:14-21

I’m going to probe a little this morning.  It might get a little uncomfortable in here.

But why not?

Surely Jesus experienced a little discomfort on that morning when he went into his local synagogue, unrolled that scroll from Isaiah to the people of his hometown, proclaimed that the realization of this scroll was happening right now, as he spoke, in their midst—that he was in fact the Messiah they were waiting for, the Messiah that all the Jewish people had been waiting for, for centuries!—and was rejected!

The people rejected him—the people of his own town—the friends and family members who’d watched him from childhood—

Who’d observed him growing in wisdom and stature—

Who’d seen him make his first, rough, misshapen carpenter’s box—

Who’d spent time with his family and other families at synagogue fellowship meals—

Who’d subconsciously noticed him make mistakes as children do, as he’d played with the other children.

And now he’d grown up and gone away.  He wasn’t carrying on the family tradition of carpentry.  Instead, he’d gone off to spend time with one of his more on-the-fringe cousins, or so the rumors went, some unusual guy named John, who spends his days in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey—of all things!  And he’d gone away to teach!

That’s what Jesus had been doing: teaching.  Not something worthwhile, like building houses for people in need.  He was just teaching!  Can you believe it?

Anyway, I bet he experienced a bit of discomfort that day, when the Spirit carried him into the local synagogue.  That day he unrolled a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.  And he unrolled it to that part about the Messiah, where it says who the Messiah is and what he has come to do.

And then he claimed that this passage was about him!  He was the Messiah.  And what he’d come to do—his agenda—was right here!

I bet it was uncomfortable for him as he prodded the people—the local people—with his agenda.

I bet it was especially uncomfortable for him when these people—friends and family, mind you!—rose up as a mob and led him outside to hurl him off a cliff!

Yeah!  That’s what the following verses tell us.  We didn’t read that far this morning.  That’s because we should focus on his agenda.  Nevertheless, that’s what happens next.  Jesus tells his friends and family in his local synagogue—you know, the one he grew up in—his agenda; and they are so stunned they say nothing.  So he explains: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then—well!—his friends and family are so angry they rise up against him with the intention to kill him.

This isn’t the Pharisees we’re talking about here, or the scribes, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or any other of the people he has trouble with later on in his ministry.  This is his friends and family!

Sheesh!  No wonder there’s that part that says a prophet is without honor in his home town!

But the friends and family who turn against Jesus can’t do him any harm.  Luke tells us that he just walks right on through the midst of them to safety.

That’s because he was being led by the Spirit.

Did you catch that part?  Luke is very sure to tell us that Jesus is being led by the Spirit through this beginning part of his ministry, his epiphany to his hometown and beyond.

Remember, when he went out to John in the wilderness, he was baptized and a voice spoke from heaven and the Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove.

Then he was led deep into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he ate no food for forty days and was sorely tempted by the devil.

And now, here, again it is the Spirit who leads him to his hometown synagogue, where he experiences a great deal of discomfort after he probes the people with his agenda, his must-do list.

So, like Jesus, I’m going to probe a little now.  And I’m going to do so using Jesus’ agenda.

I figure: if Jesus is stating this agenda at the outset of his ministry, and he is; and if I have committed my life to following him, which I have; and if we as a church are called to be his disciples, which we are; then this agenda must be important, something like a mission statement.

In fact, let’s see it as a mission statement: Jesus’ mission statement.  And let’s get out our own church’s mission statement.  And let’s compare the two.

This is how I’ll probe a little this morning.  And this—comparing Jesus’ own mission statement to ours—is why it might get a little uncomfortable in here.

I only ask a few things of you.  First, hear me out.  Second, ask if there are ways in which we might align our church’s mission statement more with Jesus’ own.  And third, please don’t hurl me off a cliff.

So then, here’s our mission statement:

We are servants of Jesus Christ, putting his love into action by:

  • Magnifying God’s Name;
  • Proclaiming God’s Word;
  • Equipping God’s people for ministry;
  • Caring for God’s world.

We are seeking, serving, and sharing Christ.

In my opinion, this is a good mission statement.  As servants of Jesus Christ, we recognize that the entire Gospel is summarized in one word: love.  And we desire to act out the Gospel, to put love into action, in four specific ways: magnifying God’s Name; proclaiming God’s Word; equipping God’s people for ministry; and caring for God’s world.

Moreover, there are specific ways in which we are accomplishing these actions already, as demonstrated in the annual report (get your fresh copy today!).  On the other hand, though, there are specific ways in which we could grow in each of these actions.

Now, to refresh our memory, here’s what Jesus read in the synagogue on that morning:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In my opinion, this is a good mission statement too.  In fact, it’s very good, way better than ours.

Like us, Jesus puts love into action.  But his actions get way more specific than ours do.

He is not simply proclaiming the good news.  We say that.  We are “Proclaiming God’s Word.”  He says it too.  But he doesn’t just leave it there.

Rather, he proclaims the good news to the poor.  Similarly, he proclaims not just release and recovery, but release to the captives; and recovery of sight to the blind.  He preaches not just a pie-in-the-sky form of liberation theology but freedom to the oppressed.  He proclaims the good news to people right where they are, whatever their lot.

Jesus’ own mission statement is quite specific.  It is undeniably focused on righting wrongs, on bringing justice where there is none, on doing and not just being love.

At St. Paul’s, we seek, serve, and share Jesus.  We love him.  So what are we doing about it?

Look: here’s my main concern.

Right now is the time of year when we tend to be asking, “How are we doing as a church?”  We have our annual meeting next week; I have to complete the Parochial Report by the next vestry meeting; the present elephant in the declining mainline church is, “How can we sustain our resources, or will we even be able to?”

These aren’t bad questions to ask in their own right.  But they can distract us from our real mission.

When it comes to our mission, instead of asking, “How are we doing as a church?” let’s ask, “What are we doing for God?”

And let’s get specific about it!

What are we doing to right the wrongs that are taking place in and around Yuma?

We’re already doing some things, sure.  (See our annual report.)  But can we do more?  Do we want to do more?  Enough so that we incorporate specifics into our mission statement?

Jesus’ own mission statement espoused such radical social transformation that even his friends and family were ready to hurl him off a cliff.  Are we ready to transform Yuma with the Gospel, even if it makes our friends and family members uncomfortable?

The Holy Spirit was with Jesus, making his mission not only a possibility but also a reality.  The Holy Spirit is also with us.  Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to lead us; and through the Holy Spirit let’s turn Yuma upside down!

And, since we’re here, a final comment: when Jesus sat down, after reading the scroll, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Today!  The Spirit leads right now, in the present, today.

Let’s not procrastinate.

Pray with me. . . .

Compassion a Two-way Street

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2015 by timtrue

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Sometimes we miss important details in the scriptures.

For instance, do you recall the story of the exchange of power between King Saul and King David in Israel’s history?  If you don’t, I commend to your reading 1 Samuel 23 and 24.  You won’t be bored!

To remind you. . . .

And so what we remember is that David righteously spared King Saul’s life; that Saul was cut to the heart and repented of his folly; that waiting on God’s providential hand is what people do who desire to live after God’s own heart; and so on.

But we forget a very pertinent detail: God’s hand of providence works in and through even the most earthy of life’s details—even in and through bodily functions!

In today’s Gospel, then, the architects of the Revised Common Lectionary—the people who decided what passages we read today—didn’t want us to miss some details that are often overlooked.

Did you notice?  They left out a good chunk of narrative.  We hear just 9 verses of a much larger section of scripture, a 27-verse passage: after 5 verses we skip 18 then read the final 4.

Now, these middle, omitted verses are extremely significant.  They relate two very important miracles; namely, feeding the 5,000 and walking on water.  And, just so you don’t come away feeling slighted, it’s okay: there are other Sundays when we contemplate each of these two miracles in the Lectionary.

But today we look at the bookends: the narrative that takes place on either side of these miracles.  And I’m convinced this is the case so that we don’t miss them—so that we don’t miss the important details Jesus wants us all to know—because we’re too distracted by the signs and wonders.

So then, what is it Jesus wants us to know?

It starts with v. 34: “As [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

It starts with compassion.

A question then: What’s the difference between compassion and pity?

The Gk. pathos can be translated either way: pity; or compassion.  Jesus had pathos for the crowd.

From pathos we get our English words pathetic, sympathetic, sympathy, empathy, pathological—to name but a few.  And we see something of pity and compassion in each word.

But the chief difference in my thinking is this: pity is removed; whereas compassion is involved.

Pity takes on a sort of distinction.  I feel a type of sorrow for my neighbor because his plight is so pitiable—or sad, or tragic, or whatever.  So, out of the goodness of my heart I decide to do something about it—I buy her a pair of shoes; or offer him a ride; or throw some money her way.  And thank heavens I’m not in his position; for then I don’t know what I’d do!

You see, pity has left me feeling sorry for my neighbor, maybe even sorry enough to do something about it.  But at the end of the day I’m still over here dealing with my life and he’s still over there dealing with his: a distance still remains between me and my neighbor.

But compassion means, literally, suffering with, or suffering alongside.  There’s no “me vs. him” mentality here.  Compassion is involved, not one step removed.  Compassion is thus significantly different than pity.

And this is exactly what Jesus does with the desperate, noisy, dirty, smelly, needy crowd.  He comes alongside them and is moved to passion for them—a kind of suffering with them.

And isn’t this a picture of what he did on a much larger scale?  In the Incarnation, he emptied himself of the Godhead; and he took on humanity.

He comes alongside the whole world—the cosmos—and takes on our passion, our suffering.

And it’s exactly what he calls us to do: to be moved by the hurting, desperate, needy people of our day; and not merely to have pity on them, but compassion—to come alongside them.

We are called to live out the Incarnation.

But (earlier) I said it starts with compassion. What other details can we discern from today’s passage?

A few observations:

  1. As followers of Christ (and as already mentioned), we are called to be the Incarnation of Christ.  We are the Church and thus Christ to the world; even if we are merely the fringes of Christ’s cloak, we possess the divine power to heal a hurting, desperate, and needy world.
  2. As followers of Christ, we are called to live out his compassion for the world.  How?
    • Flexibly, knowing that God may change our plans, just as God changed the plans of Jesus and the disciples.  They were withdrawing to an uncrowded place for renewal; yet the crowd follows them and doesn’t allow this renewal to occur.  So what does Jesus do?  He allows his plans to be changed and has compassion for the crowd.  He loves his neighbor.  He exercises selflessness.
    • Untiringly, with the knowledge that the work here is ongoing, around seemingly every corner.
    • Trustingly, knowing that God will give us the strength to sustain us even when “robbed” of planned times of renewal.
  3. But also—and here’s where I want to focus in our remaining time—we are humanity, the disciples, the crowd; we are not Christ.  Look around: in our world, today, who’s flocking to Jesus on Sundays—to be with him, to be healed by him, to commune with him, to touch him—but us?  It’s not that weekend-warrior neighbor of yours; or that other neighbor who sleeps in every Sunday and finds his spiritual refreshment through his bicycle.  No, these aren’t the picture of a flocking crowd, desperate to see Jesus.  If anyone in our culture fits a description of desperation, it’s us!

Okay, so that’s not quite fair.  I realize it.

We are the ones flocking to Jesus on Sundays, yes.  And the world around us can appear not to care much about Jesus, like they’re fine on their own without a Savior and Lord, thank you very much.  But they are nonetheless needy, hurting, even desperate.  As are we.

Our world often shows its desperation in vastly different ways than it did in the days of Jesus.  All too often, today’s world turns to alcohol and drugs—legal and illegal—out of desperation.  So, yes, it’s not really fair to say that we churchgoers are the only desperate ones in the world.

But we are desperate; and it brings up a fair point for us to consider.

We are Christians, disciples of Christ earnestly trying to bring the good news of Christ to the world around us; through teaching, healing, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked.  This is called outreach.  And it is a very important part of our community life.

And right now, incidentally, (I don’t know if you know this, but) outreach is a kind of fad in churches all over the country (if not the world).  During my job-search process, without exception every single parish profile I looked at placed outreach as one of its top priorities—to the point where I began predicting it; and muttering things to myself like, “Tell me something I don’t know”; and, “Well, that’s original!”

Now, hear me clearly: I’m not downplaying outreach.  It is very important.  As today’s passage demonstrates, the world all around us desperately needs Christ.

But we, the Church, are desperate too.  So, what I want us to ask ourselves is: What about in-reach?

We are just as desperate and needy as the world around us for Christ’s hand of love and selflessness; of joy in all circumstances, whether good or bad; of peace, healing, and reconciliation in our relationships; of patience and large-heartedness; of kindness, giving others the benefit of the doubt; of goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So, what about in-reach?  Is this a priority for us—as much a priority, anyway, as outreach?

It was for Jesus and his disciples.

We know, as individuals, just how important it is to live balanced lives.  It is important to interact with others, to live in community, in relationship.  And thus it is important to put others first: to practice a form of personal outreach.  We know this!

But, as individuals, we know it is just as important to set aside times for personal rest and refreshment.  Taking time to withdraw for prayer is a practice Jesus himself modeled.  Medical research today touts the values of getting enough sleep and taking regular vacations.  And what of mental health?  We’re learning more and more daily about just how important lifelong learning is.  All these pursuits are simply forms of personal in-reach.

It’s the same with the body of Christ!  As a church, we value outreach immensely.  But let’s not forget in-reach!

In our zeal to be Christ’s hands and feet to the needy world around us, let’s not forget that we are hurting and needy people too; just as desperate in our desires—maybe even more so!—to see Jesus and to experience his compassion.