SERMON 7/22/18 Pentecost 9B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A Call to Prayer

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.”  I imagine Jesus sitting there patiently with the twelve, as they shared their stories.  Maybe one or two were overjoyed about how the ministry that they were doing with Jesus was changing lives.  Maybe a couple of them were disappointed and wanted the mission to go into another direction. Maybe one of them was deeply saddened, because back home the family was struggling without him.  Even so, Jesus invited them to come away from the chaos and sit with him for a chat, to lay their burdens at his feet, and to share the joys of their day together.

You can just picture Jesus listening to each one of them as he occasionally offered gentle encouragement or patient correction. I bet he lovingly taught, counseled, guided and consoled them too.  Put yourself into that scene for a moment.  Imagine being with Jesus having a conversation like that with him every day.   You do know that you can right? We have a powerful communication tool that we can use to share our joys, fears, disappointments, and stories with Jesus anytime. We call it prayer.

What is Prayer?

Prayer seems a simple thing to do, but not all of us knows how to do it, or we believe we have to do it a certain way.  Some of us did not grow up in a home where our parents prayed.  Many of us were taught only one or two prayers like, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  Maybe before bed we prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Television and movies do not provide a good model for prayer either.

One of my favorite mindless comedic movies is “Talladega Nights” starring Will Farrell, who plays a successful, failed, and successful again, egotistical NASCAR driver named Ricky Bobby.  One of the early scenes in the movie goes like this, after successful race Ricky and his family gathered around the dinner table, and Ricky says grace.  He begins it with, “Dear sweet, tiny, eight pound six ounce Baby Jesus,” and then breaks into this weird speech prayer that I dare not repeat in church.  Ricky’s prayer was naïve, immature, inappropriate, and a bit heretical at best, but the fact remains, he believed that he should pray.

Prayer is not perfect words or specific incantations we say hoping God will respond and give us what we want.   Wikipedia defines prayer as, “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship, typically a deity, through deliberate communication.” The key to prayer is to see it less as a one-way dialogue, and approach it as holy communication. Communication, as I have experienced it, happens through the exchangeof information with someone. Communication requires more than talking. Communication requires listening and speaking.  Prayer also requires listening and speaking.

Prayer is not empty one-sided requests by which, we proclaim our needs to an unseen cosmic vending machine.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Prayer is conversations like those you would have with a close friend.  Prayer can be conversations like those found in our prayer book, which have been used by generations who come to God weekly to talk with God together in community.  Prayer can be simply listening and relaxing with God in an awareness of God’s presence.  We all need to pray, not to check off a spiritual to do list, but prayer affords us a chance to “take a break from all the chaos of life and spend time alone with Jesus every single day.” Prayer is about a relationship.

Why Pray?

Put yourself into this scenario for a moment. You come home every single day after a hard day’s work, and you sit in your favorite chair and your spouse or partner is sitting on the sofa lovingly anticipating hearing about your day. He or she smiles at you, patiently waiting, but every day you never saying anything to them.  There is no communication, and thus that relationship is doomed for failure. I guarantee it will not grow and flourish, because the couple will not share their lives with one another.

Prayer is a relational conversation and the model of that kind of prayer is found throughout scripture.  Jesus invited his closest friends and followers to share with him, what they had done in their ministry.  Jesus is interested in us.  Jesus wants us to share our lives with him, as he shares his resurrected life with us. In a world where social media, cell phones, music, and other noise drowns out the still small voice of God, we disciples must make it a point intentionally to carve out space, to be present with God.

How to Pray

“Alright Eric, I will do it,” you may say, “but I have no idea how to pray.”  It is so simple, because there are so many ways to pray.  Reading scripture can open up a whole new way to pray.  Let me give you an example using Psalm 23 and its beautiful words to help you pray.  First you read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”  Maybe the prayer goes like this, “Dear brother Jesus, Lord, you promise to provide for my needs and you do so in so many ways, thank you Lord, my friend, my brother.”  Next you read, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”  Maybe the prayer is, “Father, I am in a really bad place right now with work, and I messed up. I am afraid I might lose my job.   You promise me that I have nothing to fear, for you are with me. I trust that Lord, but right now, please give me peace and calm to deal with this situation.” You get the picture right.  The Psalms are a playground for prayer, and each one can help the novice and expert prayer warrior alike, to have a conversation with God.

Maybe you would rather use something tactile to help you pray.  I bet you did not know that the first “spiritual” fidget spinners (invented by monks) are called prayer beads.  Prayer beads help you have something to focus your hands on, and to center your mind while praying. Repeating a simple word or phrase (grace, Jesus, Lord), while fidgeting with prayer beads, can calm your mind as you listen for God. Prayer beads can take you to that specific quiet space that allows you to rest and relax with Jesus. I know for a fact that the alcove in the parish hall has a plethora of prayer beads available.

Journaling is another way to pray. I often write in my prayer journal, and I start by finding a quiet place in our house, where I can write what I want to say to Jesus about my ministry, my day, my struggles, and my intercessions for others.  On one page of my journal, I write a letter of love to Jesus, in which I pour out my fears, joys, and sometimes my anger.  On the second page, after spending some time in silence and listening for the still small voice, I write a letter from Jesus to me, and that is where the conversation gets interesting.  It has been one of the most powerful spiritual practices of my life.   There are so many ways to pray, but the key is to commit to creating space and time to have holy conversations with God.

Go Pray, all day, every day

            Do you know the old Janis Joplin tune, “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” At one time in my life, I thought prayer was a futile exercise, because I honestly thought prayer was merely coming toGod, as if God was vending machine.  I thought prayer was saying the right words, only to get what you want.  I love Joplin’s prayer song, but like her, many years ago, prayer sounded less like a holy conversation, and more like a negotiated transaction.

We disciples must pray not to negotiate with God. We pray because like in any relationship, we need to have conversations, which cultivates growth in our love and commitment to one other and that requires and exchange from the heart.  Even Janis Joplin’s famous song or even Ricky Bobby’s “Dear Sweet little Baby Jesus” prayer may seem silly and irreverent, but I do like them both because they are honest and non-pretentious petitions from the person’s soul.  Prayer must be authentic and from the heart, even if the words are not right, or even if the intention is a little misguided.

Then, there are times we do not have any words to say. Theologian Rachel Srubus wrote in a recent Christian Century article, “I trust that the Spirit, who deeply sighs where words leave off, intercedes for me— and for you, and for all creation.”  If we but make the time, God will lead the conversation. Remember, the invitation to pray is there, “My beloved child, just come away to a deserted place all by your self with me, and rest a while.” Pray my friends, and then, pray some more.  Jesus is waiting patiently to hear from you today. So say a prayer, and “take a little break from all the chaos of life and spend some time alone with Jesus.  You will find peace, strength, and hope when you leave your burdens at His feet.”

REFERENCES

(1) Srubas, Rachel M. “Pray as You Can.” The Christian Century, vol. 122, no. 14, 12 July 2005, p. 19.

SERMON 7/15/18 Pentecost 6B St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

To-tell-the-truth-bgAmos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

To Tell the Truth

In the late 20thcentury, there was a popular game show called “To Tell the Truth.” Three contestants, all claimed to be the same person, and tried to stump a panel of celebrities.  Two contestants were lying and only one was telling the truth.  The panel would ask each contestant several questions, and try to guess which one was the real mystery guest. After several minutes, the host ended the questioning, and said, “will the real mystery guest, please stand up.”  Each contestant would act like they were going to stand up, and then the real person would rise from their chair, and claim their true identity. It was just a game show, but I wonder if it can serve as an example of how we face the challenges of claiming our true identity as Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, speaking truth to power.  To tell the truth today requires great courage and it may even come with great consequences.

Truth is Costly

In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist was arrested, put in prison, and executed for speaking truth to power, for speaking plain truth.  John announced truth throughout his ministry.  He preached to the crowds about how they needed to repent, turn from their ways, and return to God.  John proclaimed the truth about who Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  John was a bold, out there, in your face, prophetic voice, and his mission was to tell the truth. I believe he was the forerunner of disciples to come.   So, how did his truth telling cost him his head? John publically revealed the scandalous truth about Herod’s sinful behavior, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John the Baptist spoke truth to power and it cost him his life.

Now for we 21stcentury Christians, telling the truth of the Gospel, claiming your true identity as follower of Jesus may not cost you your physical life, but it may cause you to lose friends and it may cause you to suffer rejection.  Claiming Jesus may require you to take a stand on issues that the world finds distasteful, and it will definitely cause you to be transformed.   When we are changed, and we begin to live the way of Jesus, the way of mercy, grace, peace, reconciliation and love, truth abounds.  Even in a culture where truth can be elusive where “fake news,” false advertising, and alternative facts seem to be all around, the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and peace is truth, on which, we can rely.

What is truth?

What does it mean to tell the truth as disciples of Jesus?  Sometimes truth telling is when we help our sisters and brothers that stray, and we share straight talk with them, even if the truth hurts. Sometimes we must speak truth to power and stand for justice for all.  All the time, we must always claim the truth of our identity as followers of Jesus, even if it costs us friends.  Truth tellingcomes with great consequences; it did for John the Baptist; it did for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus is costly, because it requires us to leave our old selves behind, in order to find our new identity in Christ.

The early Christians understood this concept and their claim was simple, “Jesus is Lord!”  This simple statement meant that the following Jesus was how they lived their lives.  They claimed that Jesus ministry, his life, his love would lead, guide, and directs their lives.  We Christians today must do the same, claiming Jesus as Lord of our lives.  We Episcopalians at General Convention over the past two weeks, spent some time dying to our old selves and then, boldly claiming, “Jesus is Lord” in ways that I have not seen before.  Here are a few examples.

Telling the Truth – General Convention

First, we Episcopalians spoke truth to power and stood for justice for the least, lost, and lonely.  Hundreds of us stood in solidarity and protested the detention practices of the “T. Don Hutto Residential Center,” where immigrant detainees are being held as captives, and separated from family members.  As they stood outside, God’s people inside waved, shed tears of joy, and thanked us for our love and support. Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry shouted, “We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.”

Our Episcopal Bishops two weeks ago at Convention spoke truth to power at Austin’s Brush Park Square, and stood in solidarity against gun violence while claiming, “we are disciples of Jesus Christ” and “we reject violence as a way of life.”   On Thursday morning last week, the Episcopal Church took a stand for justice and voted to reconcile our sin of over 50 years, by which in the 1960’s we chose to separate from and abandon the Episcopal Church in Cuba.  Tears flowed down thousands of faces that day, when we voted to welcome back to the Episcopal family, our sisters and brothers of the Episcopal Church in Cuba as full members of this communion.

The Episcopal Church also took a stand for justice for all and passed resolutions that boldly and loudly proclaimed that all our sisters and brothers (siblings), regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation have an equal place in this church.  We claimed that we are family and “together we are disciples of Jesus Christ.” The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement stood boldly together, and claimed our identity as followers of Jesus Christ, and in so doing we spoke truth to power, to each other, and to the world.   So, what does all that mean for the local church?

 Evangelism and Mission – To Tell the Truth

Imagine the “To Tell the Truth” game show as real life played out in our local neighborhood.   Pretend for a moment that we are the contestants, and the observers of the church serve as the celebrity panel.  Pretend that each one of us stand up and claim, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” The panel watches and asks us no questions about theology, church history, scripture, doctrine, or even liturgy. The panel only observes, “how our faith has changed how we serve others, just like Jesus did,” “how our faith has changed how we face tragedy, joys, and challenges,” and “how Jesus’ love has brought healing, reconciliation, and mercy to us.”  Every day, our friends, our neighbors, and our family are intrigued by the way of Jesus, and you know, we are the only gospel many of them will ever read.  These folks hear our claim that Jesus is Lord, but they are looking for our actions to match our words.

St. Monica’s, we “tell the truth” of Jesus’ love, and we claim our identity as followers of the way of Jesus, but there is so much more we can do.  All of us need to expand our local mission work, right here in our neighborhood.  All of us need to advocate for, serve, and love our neighbors who are on the margins. All of us need to commit to the Jesus Movement already moving today, by taking a risk to share the Good News of God’s love that each one of us has experienced in Christ.  I know we can do this.

Our culture stands in wonder and asks, “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and love one another?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus tell the truth of how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and care for the least, lost, and lonely?”  Religious skeptics of the world are not be interested in our history, doctrine, tradition, and some of the things we hold so dear, but they are interested in whether like Jesus, do our actions speak louder than our words.

Claiming Jesus as Lord requires us to respond to the call for grace, justice, and dignity for all, by loving our neighbors as ourselves. My dear sisters and brothers, we are the Jesus Movement that is already moving throughout the church today.  However, we must be willing to tell the truth of the Good News of the love Jesus Christ, by sharing how that love has changed us, and claiming “Jesus is Lord” in all that we do.

So what will you do the next time you meet a friend, maybe a religious skeptic, or a person that God calls you to love?  The opportunity “to tell the truth” happens everyday, even though folks around us may deny God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, peace and love is real. We are the living advertisements of the Good News and the bearers of God’s love.  So when the opportunity to tell your our of God’s grace comes, when the opportunity to love our neighbor comes, and when the opportunity to take a stand for injustice comes, “will the real disciples of Jesus Christ, please stand up?”


REFERENCES

(1) Thomas, Rodney. “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus.” Restoration Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, pp. 155-166

(2) Campbell, Charles L. “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 28, no. 2, Lent, pp. 10-18.

(3) Baker, Kevin. “Capital T.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 14, 11 July 2006, p. 20.

 

General Convention 2018 Days 10 & 11 7/11 & 7/12/18

The last two days of General Convention have been filled with discussion, debate, and voting on multiple resolutions in the House of Deputies. On the 11th, we had three legislative sessions that continued until around 9:30 PM. Today we dealt with many more resolutions, and we were able to finish up our voting at around 6:00 PM.

Tonight we gathered as a General Convention community,and we celebrated our closing Eucharist. It has been an incredible two weeks of fellowship, worship, teaching, and sharing. We have been witnesses of the fervor, excitement, and movement of the spirit found in the Jesus movement in the Episcopal church. We stood in solidarity with immigrants detained in a local center, we gathered as a community in revival, while misguided protesters marched against love outside the arena and yet, we, the Episcopal Church spoke truth in love!  We are living out what it means to care for our sisters and brothers in Christ, all people on the margins, and all of God’s creation .

Tomorrow afternoon, I return home to Southwest Florida. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the Episcopal Church as a deputy to convention. It is through this particular service, I long even more for the opportunity, to go back and share with the congregation that I serve, how God is moving this church today.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples!”  Episcopal Church, let’s go!

Peace,

Fr. Eric

General Convention 7/10/18 Day 9

Yesterday was filled with debate, discussion, and voting on legislative resolutions to include:

Ethical investment Gun Manufacturers

A just Peace in the Holy Land

Pension Equity for Lay Employees

Inclusive Language Policies

Inclusion of Transgender People

Commend the Evangelism Charter

And many more …

Today, we work on the resolution to address prayer book revision, as amended by the House of Bishops, and the new Triennial Budget.

More updates to come.

Peace,

Fr. Eric

General Convention 7/9/18 Day 8

Monday 7/9/18 was a day filled with legislation matters for the House of Deputies. Resolution B012 “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church” was debated and discussed, and passed by HOD. Many other resolutions came to the floor. More information can be found here.

Today, we begin our deliberations in Joint Session (HOD and HOB) to discuss “Care of Creation,” which will inform and impact our legislation, related to our call to care for and be good stewards of God’s creation.

More updates later. Please keep your Deputation in your prayers.

Peace,

Fr. Eric +

GENERAL CONVENTION 7/8/18 DAY 7

Yesterday was my day “off the floor”  at convention.  The Rev. Roy Tuff of Good Shepherd, Punta Gorda took my place in the Deputation.  This day off gave me an opportunity to serve with my fellow Episcopal priest/Military Chaplains who were in the exhibit booth.

The day began with a wonderful Eucharist in the Convention center.   The music was incredible.  A young man, Andrés Gonzélez-Bonillas, whose grandparents immigrated from Mexico was our preacher. Last year, at the 2017 EYE annual event, Andrés was the final speaker and here is his sermon.  Yesterday, he once again inspired, encouraged, and challenged all of us to never again forget, never again repeat, and never again allow the atrocities of fear and racism to rob the dignity of every human being.

Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries Booth

After the Eucharist, I spent four hours with my fellow Chaplains.  I met many new people, and had the opportunity to share the work and ministry of the CAP Chaplain Corps with visitors to the booth. I networked with two of our Military Chaplain recruiters, who informed me that they often make referrals to the CAP Chaplain Corps, for people desiring to serve as active duty military chaplains, yet they do not meet age requirements.  I also connected with my dear friend, Ch. Lt. Col. Jerry Sathers, USAF who was ordained in our diocese two years ago.  He is serving in England.  My dear friend Meghan Froehilch, Episcopal Church Transition Officer at 815 (Washington Office) stopped by to say hello.

The day ended with a  wonderful diocesan deputation meal hosted by Bishop Smith and Mary.  It was another wonderful day at General Convention.  Today, I am back on the legislative floor and there are many resolutions to consider.

More updates to come.

Peace,

Fr. Eric+

GENERAL CONVENTION 7/7/18 DAY 6 (House of Deputies Legislative Session and Episcopal Revival)

I began my day yesterday with joy and blessing!  My dear friend The Rev. Christopher Caddell and I had breakfast together.  Chris and I were friends in seminary at Sewanee and we have not seen each other since 2010.  Chris serves a parish in Dripping Springs, TX, which is about 20 minutes away from Austin.  It was a great way to start the day yesterday, and I am grateful to my friend and brother for sharing breakfast, conversation, and prayer together.

Yesterday was primarily a legislative session for me.  The committee on which I served has completed its work, and I can now concentrate on legislative work of the other resolutions.  The House of Deputies took up the resolution related to prayer book revision and it passed by a majority vote.

We have had the same prayer book now for almost forty years (1979) and although the diversity and  riches of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer have not been fully embraced in all churches, it seems that it is time that we begin the process of revision.

It will take several years before a new prayer book comes to the church, and many of my colleagues and I may be retired by that time, but it is work we need to begin now.

Later in the day, we participated in a joint session with both houses (HOD and HOB) that focused on Evangelism.  I can tell you know, that evangelism (Episcopal style) will be the topic and focus of the church in the years to come.  Go and make disciples is our mission, and the Spirit is calling  the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement to go and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.   I foresee some training possibilities at St. Monica’s, to help all of us live our faith story each day.

EPISCOPAL REVIVAL

 

 

We ended our day yesterday with a “Revival!”  It was an incredible experience to actually be in a huge room with thousands of Episcopalians singing, praising, praying, and worshipping Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It was incredible!   We knew though that we were doing something right though, the Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest.

“Day of Rest” Sunday 7/8/18

So today, I have a bit of a down day.  I will not be on the legislative floor, but my dear friend The Rev. Janet Tunnell will take my place with the Deputation.  I will be serving with my Military Chaplain colleagues at their booth on the Exhibit floor.  Please keep all Military Chaplains in your prayers.  They serve in a unique ministry and they need our support, and so do our military service women and men.

More updates to come….

Peace,

Fr. Eric+

GENERAL CONVENTION 7/6/18 DAY 5 (MORE COMMITTEE HEARINGS, HOUSE OF DEPUTIES LEGISLATIVE SESSION)

Yesterday was another busy and meeting filled day at General Convention. My day began early with a Legislative Committee meeting with the “Evangelism and Church Planting Committee.”  After much testimony, our committee completed its work and sent our resolutions to the Consent Agenda.  The resolutions we proposed are listed at the end of this blog.

In addition to committee work, we gathered as a Joint House (Bishops and Deputies) and listened to some of our sisters’ and brothers’ stories of racial prejudice and injustice.  We discussed as individual Deputations, our own responses to those stories, and how we might both in parish and diocese, respond and reconcile.

The afternoon legislative session focused on the resolution to revise the Prayer Book.  This legislation promises to be one that will garner much discussion, debate, and emotion.

Here is a link to today’s legislative calendar:  https://www.vbinder.net/calendars/11?house=hd&lang=en

On a personal note, I was unable to serve at the Military Chaplain booth yesterday, but I have it on my schedule for Sunday afternoon.  This morning, I have the joy of having breakfast with my dear seminary friend, The Rev. Christopher Caddell.  I have not seen Chris since we graduated from Sewanee in 2010.  Chris and his awesome family live about 20 minutes from Austin, TX, and I look forward to reconnecting with him.

Stay tuned for more updates as General Convention continues.

Peace, love, and blessings,

Fr. Eric+


Evangelism and Church Planting Committee Resolutions

A005: Continue a Church-Wide Network For Planting Churches—2018. Full text.

A006: Collect Demographic Data of Leadership. Full text.

A029: Commend the Evangelism Charter for the Church to All Episcopalians. Full text.

A030: Small Evangelism Grants. Full text.

A031: Evangelism Staff Officer. Full text.

A032: Congregational Redevelopment. Full text.

A081: An Episcopal Theology of Evangelism. Full text.

A082: Training For [Digital] Evangelists. Full text.

A196: Fund a Full Time Evangelism Officer. Full text.

%d bloggers like this: