Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm hungry

I'm fasting today in preparation for a routine colonoscopy  tomorrow. For weeks now, I've been dreading the procedure--especially drinking that foul tasting liquid and surviving the 24-hour fast.

I like food. And I need it, because I'm an active person in my ministry and outside of it. I spend an hour in vigorous exercise five or six days a week. So, I need my food and the energy it provides: Bring on that steak burrito. Give me a large sausage and black olive pizza. Bust out another energy bar. I'm hungry.

Today, though, my "food" consists of Werther's Originals--I've eaten so many that I think my skin is turning brown--Jello, as long as it's not red, and steaming cups of chicken broth. Yummy!

Dreading the fast, I decided this morning that I had to think about it differently--to "re-frame" it, as cognitive psychologists might put it.

So, I'm treating my fast as a spiritual discipline. There's a long biblical tradition of doing just such a thing, Jesus himself fasting for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism and before the beginning of his public ministry.

In yesterday's Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus delivers his Sermon on the Plain, in which he pronounces God's blessings on vulnerable human beings, including the hungry.

Lately, as people at Christ Episcopal Church know, I've become particularly concerned about the growing level of hunger, food insecurity and starvation in Springfield, in the United States, throughout the world.

I read in The New York Times yesterday about refugees in Syria who had survived bombs and bullets in that country's civil war were now perishing for want to bread.

I'm hungry for only today, and by choice, but millions of people are hungry for days, months, even years. They're hungry because they're poor, and their food stamp benefits have been cut; because they're out of work or working at minimum wage jobs; because their countries are full of war and violence.

On this fast day, I'm hoping my hunger will help me to identify more closely with those for whom hunger is a daily reality; hoping my hunger will help me to experience more keenly God's own hunger for a just world; hoping my hunger will inspire me to work even harder for a world in which no one is hungry, but everyone is fed.

This is my prayer.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I hope I'm wrong

It seems as if for the last several Sundays, the gospel readings have grabbed me,
shaken me, and compelled me to speak about those "inconvenient truths."

Yesterday, for instance, the gospel, Luke 17.11-19, told the story of Jesus'
healing of the ten lepers, only one of whom returned to thank him.

At first, I thought, "Oh, preach a safe sermon on 'thanksgiving,'
something no one will criticize you for (but, truthfully, somebody
would have probably taken offence, even at that subject)."

I almost preached on thanksgiving. I wanted to preach that sermon.
People would have benefited from being reminded of the importance of thanksgiving.
I would have.

But the Living Jesus, whom I meet in the Holy Scriptures, wouldn't
let me preach that safe sermon. No. He wanted me to say something
unsafe, provocative, controversial--again!

So I did, focusing on the lepers' plea: "Jesus, master, have mercy
upon us."

I preached about the lack of empathy today (drawing from a recent
column by psychologist Daniel Goleman) and the corresponding
lack of mercy and love, which is mercy in action.

(The essay below from the Alban Institute says more about the Christian responsibility
for a just world).

And I cited some specifics about a truly alarming deficit--that
in empathy, in mercy, and in loving attention.

I mentioned how today the hungry cry for mercy;
how the poor, children, the working poor,
the elderly, the sick cry for mercy; how so many are crying for mercy.

From us. From the followers of Jesus--Jesus, who is God's empathy,
mercy and loving attention to needy, suffering human beings.

Now, I hope I'm wrong. But I imagined that people
who listened to my sermon yesterday
were saying silently, and perhaps even aloud to friends later:

"Enough. We've heard it all before. Change
the subject. Stop bothering us with these inconvenient truths."

And I imagined my saying to them:

"I will. When the Living Jesus lets me.
When we finally have a society that exhibits empathy,
mercy, and loving attention to others' needs, which is God's will
for the world. Until then, I must speak."

The truth as God's Living Word, Jesus, gives it to me.

Caring about the Conditions of the World

by David Edman Gray
Moses's father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you . . . You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain . . . So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace. 
Exodus 18:17-23

Pastors are called to care not only about the members of their congregations, but also about the state of our nation and world. Many churches affirm this principle and are involved in some sort of mission or outreach. I believe congregations should also consider how to improve the conditions in society that affect people's work-life balance for the benefit of people everywhere. As we have seen, work-life imbalance is a significant challenge for millions of Americans both inside and outside the church. The structures of our society affect how well individuals balance work and life.
We make a living by what we earn; we make a life by what we give. 
Winston Churchill

Christ calls us to care about the world. Christian missionaries have long traveled the world to spread the Gospel, and Christian service programs have, for many years, reached out globally to help those in need. Chances are that your congregation is involved in some mission outreach. By influencing public policy and changing the structures of society at large, congregations can help many more people than they could just by ministering to people in their local area. That is why the churches throughout the years have been involved with public policies on any number of issues, from slavery and civil rights to defending life, foreign aid, and economic growth and justice.
We read in Mark 12:28-31 about a time when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment of God:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
All who seek to love God must also seek to love their neighbors. In 1 John 4, we read that if we cannot love our brothers and sisters, we cannot say we love God. Love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably bound together.
What does it mean to love our neighbors? In Luke 10, a lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered with words similar to those in the passage above: "You shall love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself." The lawyer then asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded by telling the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan comes upon a man who has been mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Other people have walked past, ignoring the man and his need, but the Samaritan stops and, out of compassion, helps the man, a complete stranger, to safety. Given the state of Jewish-Samaritan relations and the dangerous conditions along the road to Jericho, it was a risk for the Samaritan to stop.
This story is familiar to many of us, and it underscores that we all are called to care about the world-even people who are strangers to us, those whom we do not know. We demonstrate our commitment to God as we help others around us. If we are to love people, including those we do not know-and even our enemies-we must work to improve the structures of society that affect all of us.
Many congregations are involved in mission because they believe that they can make a difference in the world for others. If congregational leaders believe that work-life balance is an important subject, we should care about the structures of society, including public policy, that affect the work-life balance of not only their congregants but of everyone.

For Reflection

1. In what ways do you show you care for people whom you do not know personally?
2. Reread the Good Samaritan story. How does it affect your view of caring for people outside your church or who are different from you?
3. In what ways is the church called to care about the structures of society?
4. Is work-life balance an issue you believe the church should be involved in addressing? If so, how should it be involved?
Adapted from  Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Lifecopyright © 2012 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Happiness now

Perhaps it is the sky this morning. I look up from my weighty world to heaven and see through tired eyes the bright  rose, blue and cloudy white sky and am moved to sighs of ease and  appreciation. Moments like these, these pauses of joy and delight in my creation, are ones of choice--first, to look up and, then, to see God in glory. Happiness is choice. It cannot wait on the future, when weights lift, by my hand or by God's. No! I shall be happy now, regardless. This realization is God at work after all, in grace. Always now, not tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wounded People

The church is full of wounded people--emotionally, psychologically and spiritually broken, bruised, bleeding.

I'm one of them. My wounds are minor when compared with others' wounds. But they're real to me. They still hurt. They made me the person I am. They might even be making me into the person I'm becoming.

Like so many others, most of my wounds come from childhood: my father's alcoholism; his assaults on my mother; their divorce and then growing up in a household with only one parent, my mother who worked full-time at minimum wage jobs to support my sister and me; living in or near poverty; bullying by peers; and physical (although never sexual), emotional and spiritual abuse in elementary and secondary Roman Catholic schools.

In high school, I watched my principal turn into a street fighter, battering a classmate of mine in front of the whole class, his punches falling upon the defenseless boy who was held from behind in a bear hug by another priest.

That day, I resolved I would withdraw further from others. I would become invisible. Keep quiet, I told myself. Hide. Run, if you're discovered. Survive.

My theme song then was one by Simon and Garfunkel, the words of which I still remember:  "I am a rock. I am an island. And an island never cries."

After high-school, I went to work-- not to college--a priest my senior year having told me that that I was fit only for a job or for Vietnam.  I painted houses for awhile. And then I got a job, working as a messenger in a bank.

Someone there said to me, "You never smile." Another person said, "You're an old soul." I know what that means now.

I was a wounded soul. On my island, it was dark. I was lonely and anxious.

Going to university, when it finally happened, was my way of saying goodbye to the island, although at the time, I didn't know I was doing so.

I went to the University of Louisville part-time at first, the bank paying for my course work. I'd major in finance, I thought. With a bachelor's degree, I'd be only the second in my family with one. I'd get a good job and never be poor again. I'd show everyone--those priests and nuns who'd told me I was stupid and would have no future. They'd see that I could do something with my life. Become someone of significance.

After trying finance and loathing it, I left the bank and enrolled at U of L full-time. I switched my major from finance to history, philosophy and literature. I wanted to understand people. To understand myself.

I loved my courses and worked hard to learn as much as I could and to get As in everything. It helped that I was studying what I enjoyed. I'd become a teacher and try to influence my students for the good. At least, I'd do them no harm.

My wounds were still there, though. Still bleeding, as it were. Still aching. I felt lonely, depressed and anxious, although at the time I didn't have the words to name my inner torment and turmoil.

One day--thanks to God's grace--I decided I needed help. I was tired of the darkness. I was ready for the light.

I went to the university's counseling center and started working regularly with a therapist. He coaxed me out of my isolation and into involvement in life beyond the classroom and library and campus job. He was one of several healers God placed on my journey toward wholeness.

He was able to listen deeply and to probe gently with his questions.  In him I found someone I could trust. I started lifting the bandages on my wounds, exposing them to light and air, cleansing them, applying medicine to them.

Because of my counselor,  I visited the university's Ecumenical Center and eventually became an active member of that diverse community of faith. I met Penny, a fellow undergraduate, and we fell in love. I experienced God's love for me. Penny is also one of those healers God has sent into my life.

I also made friends there with two wonderful, Godly priests: Father Bob Burchell, an Episcopal priest who is now with the saints in heaven; and Father Bob Ray, a Roman Catholic priest and one of the presenters at my ordination many years later. The "Bobs," as we students called them and the two other ministers who had the same first names, were agents of the Holy Spirit.They were essential in the healing of many of my emotional and spiritual wounds.

The "Bobs's" example led me ultimately out of the secular work of banking and later university and agency public relations and into the healing profession of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.

I am a priest today because of them, and because of two earlier examples of loving priests from my high-school days: my high-school golf coach, Father Bob Korst; and my history teacher my senior year, Father Peter Donnelly. They saved my life as a student at DeSales High School, showing me that I could excel academically and achieve something in life.

And it was Father Rocco, a sometimes volatile personality in the classroom (but not an abuser), who introduced me to the power of stories, initiated me into the life of writing and inspired me to pursue writing as a profession.

Over the past nearly 40 years, I have continued to seek the healing of my wounds. I have regularly received spiritual direction from monks, priests, nuns--both in the Roman Catholic and in the Episcopal faith traditions.

(I long ago made peace with my birth church, as it were, appreciating the ways the church formed me spiritually and made me the God-seeker I am. No institution is perfect. All fall short of the glory of God, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul.)

Over four decades, I've spent innumerable hours in individual and group psychotherapy and have fervently studied that discipline inside and outside the classroom. The healing of the psyche (the soul) is a passion of mine.

I continue to see a therapist, who is helping me to deal with my wounds and to become a healthier and happier person. I need this outside help for a lot of reasons, including professionally: as a priest, I'm regularly ministering with and to wounded people.

I'm a Wounded Healer, to quote the title of the late priest/spiritual guide Henri Nouwen.

God has called me to work with the wounded, because I know what that experience is like; I know that healing is possible; and I want to be God's healing hands placed upon those wounds.

Still, I never knew the work would be so painful at times, especially because the wounded can and do sometimes wound others, including the healers themselves. I'm learning ways to protect myself from further wounding.

If you're a wounded person, even a wounding one, I invite you to move from the darkness and into the light. God will heal your wounds, if you ask him and let him. You can be a whole person, which is God's will for all of us.

Jesus is our exemplar as THE wounded healer--always healing and never wounding. He heals through the hands of his body on earth, the church, and through worship, prayer, holy study, spiritual direction, and, yes, psychotherapy.

He heals those wounds of ours that are invisible to the eye, but that are ruinous to our spirits, robbing us of the fullness of life.

The journey toward healing and wholeness is worth taking. I know. Isn't it time for you to start?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Christ transforms culture

Richard Niebuhr's book, Christ and Culture, made a huge impact on me in seminary. (Occasionally, I'll review other books that have had such an effect on me, in hopes of inspiring you to read them and to be changed by them.)

Christ and Culture, published in 1951, has exerted a powerful influence on many spiritual and even secular leaders over the years. And it goes on influencing people.

Richard Niebuhr, born in Missouri in 1894 and died in 1962, was the son of a Protestant pastor. He was the younger brother of Reinhold Niebuhr, another famous theologian. Richard earned his PhD at Yale and later taught at its Divinity School. He published many books.

In Christ and Culture, Niebuhr looked at Christ's relationship to culture, culture being the sum total of human expression, including religion, art, literature, music, languages, political systems, and much more.

After surveying the ways that Christ and culture relate--Christ in and with culture, Christ over and against culture, for instance--Niebuhr concludes his analysis with a plea for Christ "transforming culture."

Niebuhr's assumption is that culture is not fully what God intends it to be. It must change. Culture, including American culture, does not fully embody and express God's relentless and passionate concern for the poor and marginalized, for a just world, for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace among his children.

The role of Christians, therefore, as expressed in our Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer, is to repent of sin, to resist evil, to strive for justice and peace, to respect the dignity of every human being. In Baptism, we pledge to carry on Christ's work, furthering God's kingdom of justice, freedom and peace.

Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we pray "...thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...." Heaven--where everything conforms to God's loving plan, and not to the world's unloving plan-- is not just out there, beyond space and time; but heaven is, potentially, right here in the physical world and in everything that constitutes this world, including human beings, our relationships, government, institutions. Everything.

The New Testament writings proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Lord of all--not just a part of our lives, that one hour of  Sunday worship, the quick prayer in a moment of desperation, the "dues" we pay to the church, that carpenter-Gothic building at Kimbrough and Walnut Streets in Springfield, Mo., called Christ Episcopal Church.

No. Christ is Lord of all creation, ruling all things through active, loving concern. He rules most visibly (his hope is) through his disciples, everyone who acknowledges him as Savior and who follows him as Lord.  To follow Jesus Christ means to conform one's life to his teaching and actions of love, mercy and justice. .

And we need plenty of help from God to do so, especially today.

Alas, too many Christians  regard themselves as  merely consumers of religious services. How can it be otherwise? We live in a consumer culture. I understand  consumers of religion, because I used to be one. Perhaps I still am in some ways.

We consumers of religion might not articulate our relationship to Christ's church in just such a phrase, but, in the words of the Prayer Book, our many "things done and left undone" would demonstrate just such a relationship.

Consumers seek out the church primarily when we need something, such as a beautiful  Christmas or Easter service, a place for a wedding, a baptism, a funeral, a priest to say a prayer at the bedside, preaching that confirms existing beliefs and choices, or some other specific service.

Please understand:  It is good when people seek out the church, as I did a long time ago, even if it's just for a one-time service, because there is, at least, a chance that the church might become more than a spiritual mall.

Through the Spirit, church can become a community with Christ and others, where we consumers of religious services can begin to grow into the "full stature of Christ," as the writer of Hebrews puts it. This process  is life-long  and is completed  in the life to come.

At the same time, increasing numbers of us consumers are weary of conforming, in St. Paul's words, to the world. Some of us are conforming ourselves to Christ by the renewal of our minds, which is usually painful, a kind of death-and-resurrection experience.

When we make that transition from conforming to the culture to conforming to Christ, we discover that our true and eternal identity is not that of consumers of religious services, but that of members of Christ's body, the church, and servants of Christ. 

Engaged in daily conversion, as Trappist monk Thomas Merton put it, we're conforming to Christ--and being transformed by him--through our regular reading and study of the Bible; by taking an active part in Christian education weekly; by praying daily, worshiping weekly, giving generously and even sacrificially, joining other Christians in ministry.

In the words of New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, we're learning and living Jesus Christ today.

The Episcopal Church and Christ Episcopal Church rightly and proudly proclaim that we welcome all people. And we do (and we can do a much better job of it).

We welcome religious consumers, in hopes that they'll meet the living God at a wedding or funeral or baptism or in a prayer at the bedside and start that life-long journey of growing in Christ.

And become part of what Richard Niebuhr aptly described--and called Christians to embrace--Christ transforming culture.

Monday, July 22, 2013

When the preacher speaks, maybe it's God calling

Most people come to church for comfort, not discomfort.

I like to preach messages of comfort, not ones of discomfort, because I would rather people like me than dislike me for what I have to say. 

But sometimes God has other plans for me and my sermon on Sunday.

Yesterday, I preached on Amos 8.1-12. Amos was a Hebrew prophet who spoke to the powerful in the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos was unpopular because he spoke God's truth. Many prophets were stoned to death for telling the truth, which people didn't want to hear.

Since Amos's time, eight centuries before the birth of Jesus, prophets have fared little better. Jesus, God himself with us, was crucified for telling the truth.

In the text yesterday, Amos speaks for God, rebuking the powerful in Israel for abandoning him and committing injustice and oppressing the poor and the needy. 

Here is some of what Amos says: "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land....(who) practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat....I will never forget any of their deeds...."

In my sermon yesterday, I spoke about Amos and his context, and then I applied the text, which is what seminaries teach students to do when they preach. Few people are bothered by sermons about "then," but lots of people are bothered by sermons about "now."

I spoke about what many people considered a recent injustice--the U.S. House of Representatives' eliminating food stamps from the farm bill. I mentioned the Tennessee congressman who had quoted St. Paul, that if you don't work, you don't eat. I said the congressman had misinterpreted the apostle.

I cited the evidence that most people who received food stamps were not "parasites," as another congressman once said, but the elderly, the disabled, the chronically unemployed, children. 

I said that nearly 60 percent of public school students in Springfield were receiving free or discounted school lunches because they were suffering from "food insecurity."

In the prophetic tradition, I issued a call to action, making a few suggestions about how we, the followers of God's mercy and compassion, Jesus Christ, might act for justice. 

You can hear the sermon for yourself at 

Several people disagreed with what I had said from the pulpit, even viscerally,  telling me so directly or indirectly. They said I had politicized the pulpit, that I had divided people. I am sure that many others also disagreed with me. Many people did agree with what I had to say; they told me so.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the sermon yesterday, thank you for listening.

To everyone who gathers at Christ Church faithfully from week to week to receive God's Word made flesh in the sermon and in the sacrament,  I say:

Thank God that we preachers in the Episcopal Church are free to speak from the heart--from our own hearts and from God's heart about those great ultimate themes of love, mercy, compassion, freedom, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, love. 

Thank God, in our church, we are are free to agree or disagree.

And, if you find yourself disagreeing with a sermon (yes, I have disagreed with sermons),  you might just listen for that Voice beneath the other voices of anger, frustration, guilt, perhaps.

When I have done so, I have found that beneath the voices of my discomfort God was often speaking to me. He was telling me something that I didn't  want to hear, but that he wanted me to hear--and embrace in faith--for deeper life in Christ. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Is it well with your soul?

I start every day (and end every day) with God. After reading Morning Prayer and doing some reflecting and writing in my journal--the latter being a daily habit since 1972--I engage in 15 minutes of contemplative prayer. Think of this prayer as listening prayer. The Prayer Book Catechism reminds us that prayer is speaking--and listening to God.

Each day, after setting my alarm clock, I get comfortable in my chair, close my eyes, and pay close attention to my breathing. "In.....and....out." The breaths flow in and out--not hurriedly, but gently. Rhythmically. "In...and...out." Again and again.

As I breathe, I listen for God's word to me. His gift to me for the day. And the word today is "trust." My mind is crowded with many other words, many random thoughts. Mine is a busy mind, not a quiet one. An anxious mind, not a calm one. I think of the work week ahead. Appointments in and out of the church office. Hospital visits. A vestry meeting Tuesday night. Men's Fellowship the next morning at 6.30. The Thursday evening Eucharist. A funeral or two and reception on Friday, usually my day off. These are the known activities of the week, the scheduled ones, and then there are the many others that will arise in the course of each day.

Understand: I am not bemoaning my schedule; plenty of clergy and lay people do all the above and probably more in just one day. No, I'm not complaining. I'm doing what God called me to do and what I willingly took on in ordination and when I said yes to Christ's Church's call to serve you as rector. I have learned in the course of 27 years of ordained ministry that God blesses me through my service to him and, I hope, blesses the people whom I serve in God's name.

In my listening prayer today, I continually return to my word from God, trust. I respond to each thought with that word. Trust means surrendering my power and my plans to God. My preoccupations. It means giving up everything to God--holding nothing back, but letting go of everything. The worries and fears. The pressures. The self-doubts. Trust it all to God, not to me. And I do. And there is peace this morning. Peace edges its way into my crowded mind and hasty soul. I know, in that peace, that God is in charge. And, in the words of that old hymn, "It is well with my soul."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Holding onto hope

The other day, I listened to a public radio report on research into suicide notes.

Yes, it's a sobering topic but an instructive one.

A researcher, a linguist, has developed a complex computer program that reads through all the notes, sorts and sifts them, and then identifies certain key words and phrases common to the notes.

When the research is complete and published one day, medical personnel, educators, clergy will have further help in identifying people with suicidal thoughts and will be better able to intervene and save lives.

What did you learn  from the notes?  the radio interviewer asked the researcher.

He said that beyond mundane concerns like instructing a friend or loved one left behind to pay the mortgage or get the dog to the vet for its shots, nearly every note mentioned the loss of hope.

Without hope, there is only despair, which can lead some people to suicide. It did for the people who wrote those tragic notes.

Despair is cumulative. Crisis after crisis. Stress upon stress. Pain added to pain. It all builds up. The weight of suffering, especially when carried alone, becomes too much. And too often, the person so afflicted sees only one way out and, sadly, that is by taking his or her own life.

But might hope also be cumulative? Can hope be planted in the soul, tended and then allowed to flower like roses in the garden?

I think so. And the time to start is now. And the way to start is through prayer. Daily prayer, the constant turning of one's attention to God, is the beginning of hope.

Despair takes root and blossoms into darkness and death when one thinks that one knows more than God, that there is no solution, that there cannot possibly be resurrection from the grave on the third day.

But the gospel declares that God has conquered death--that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave and is alive. The God of all-powerful love is the only reliable ground of hope.

 As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, "God makes a way where there is no way."

Sometimes, our mortal eyes can't see the way, but God can always see it.

So, hold onto hope, for hope is God holding onto you in the darkness until the light of dawn comes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Loving as Jesus loves: indiscriminately.

The News-Leader reports today on a local ordinance that would prohibit discrimination locally against people who are gay, bisexual or transgender.

A group of local pastors--I was one of them-- signed a letter to the paper expressing our concerns about  another pastor's use of four Scripture passages, which have been used historically to justify discrimination--and worse--against God's gay, bisexual and transgendered children.

In the same letter, we called for support of the anti-discrimination ordinance.

This last Sunday, I preached about God's indiscriminate love in Jesus Christ. Christ's love embraces all people. And Jesus calls his followers to extend his love--his love being our willing and working for the flourishing of everyone.

Here is the text of my Sunday sermon. As always I welcome your comments.

Easter Five/c
The Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley
April 28, 2013
Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35

I love this time of the year. The gloom of winter gives way to the glories of spring—cardinals singing, flowers blooming, trees bursting into green blossoms.  And—sniffle and cough—allergies!

Still, spring is my favorite of nature’s seasons for so many reasons and for so many reminders of God’s life-giving love.

Here’s an analogy: God’s love is like the sun that shines onto the earth, into our world, and life flourishes in the sun’s light. Today in the gospel, Jesus talks with us about the importance of God’s love. He gives us the love commandment.

He’s given it to us before. I guess we need reminders that love is what the Christian faith is about, fundamentally. It’s not about doctrines, dogmas, creeds, tomes of theology, as important as they are.

Love alone is of ultimate importance.

Love one another, Jesus says, as I have loved you. By this—this love—people will know that you are my disciples, followers of the way, the truth, the life.

He urges us to live according to this commandment. To love in the way God loves. Love…indiscriminately. Love the way the sun’s light shines upon everything.

In today’s gospel from John, Jesus is at supper with his disciples, his last meal with them, and he commands them to love people who are part of that immediate and intimate fellowship. To love one another indiscriminately.

Jesus loves even his disciple Judas, who even now plots his betrayal and death. He wants Judas to flourish, but perhaps knows that Judas will choose the way of death, not of life.

Love one another, my little ones, Jesus says to his disciples. Love the one who gossips about you. Love the one who has hurt you.;  Love the one who is impossible to get alone with. Love the one you don’t understand. Love the one in the dirty clothes. Love the one who makes more money that you do. Love the one who makes much less than you.

Love one another the way, I love you Jesus says, and so show yourselves to be Christians, followers of mine.

Don’t just speak love. Act it. Love as I do, Jesus says, indiscriminately. Working actively for the flourishing of others. Whoever they are. Love as intensively as the sun, whose rays fall on the earth in equal measure, bringing forth life in its fullness.

But don’t stop there in your loving, little ones.

Jesus does not mean that we are to love just one another—just the people in the pew with us. Just other Christians. Just Episcopalians. But he intends that we love everyone: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, and people who just don't care.

God’s love is indiscriminate. So love that way, Jesus says. The way he himself lives. The light that that shines from the Father into the Son and from the Son into us and through us onto others through the power of love, the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ love is to shine out of us, with its full intensity. To blaze like the sun at noontime.

God’s love for everyone is the message of the Acts reading this morning. Today’s text expands on the implications of the gospel—the words of Jesus himself. Acts is the church’s interpretation of the love commandment for a new situation.

Peter has this vision of a huge pice of cloth dropping down from heaven, and it’s full of unclean creatures, which Jews have been warned to stay away from, or God will stay away from them.

And yet, Peter hears God’s new word to him. The Spirit says, “Take up and eat.” God tells Peter to consume that which he had thought unclean. To take to himself that from which he'd religiously separated himself.

God’s love, Peter says, based on this new revelation, is for the Gentiles, too—not just the Jews, but for those non-Jews- THOSE people over there.

In God’s community, there’s so segregation. There’s no discrimination. But only equal love for all equally.

And in St. John’s revelation this morning, we see a new vision of what God intends for the human community—what God was doing in Jesus more than two millennia ago and what God is doing now in him and through him. God is creating a new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem.

It will be a new creation in which the light of God’s love in Jesus brings forth the flourishing of everyone and everything.

It is springtime. Birds are singing for all. Flowers are springing up for all. Trees are bursting into green bud for all. And there are no more tears. and, let's hope, no more pollen and allergies!

God is working for this new human community of love as we participate in his work, loving with God’s indiscriminate love.

In the words of that children’s Sunday school song, Jesus wants us to be his sunbeams.

To let God’s light of love shine through us and onto one another right here; through us and onto everyone beyond this church through our giving and serving.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on Haiti at the clinic of Les Timoun, where fragile, vulnerable babies need food and medicines to flourish.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on the needy children at Bissett Elementary who need new shoes.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on hungry people through our canned good offerings on Sundays, our cash gifts, and our volunteer hours to Crosslines. And please remember: our Crosslines gifts will be matched this month by a foundation.

And through us, sunbeams of God’s indiscriminate love can fall on God’s gay, bisexual, transgender children who are denied equal access in Springfield to housing, employment, medical care because of who they are.

Little children, Love, Jesus says today. Let the light of the Father and the Son’s love shine in you and through you in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Love as God loves in Jesus--indiscriminately--for the flourishing of life for all God’s children.

Love for that new community of earth—the new Jerusalem.

Christ Church, we are Jesus’ sunbeams of love. So shine. Shine on all. Amen

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hail Mary

In the Roman Catholic Church, May is the month of Mary--the Blessed Virgin, the mother of our Lord, the Theotokos or God bearer of Orthodox Christianity.

How well I remember May 1 from my Roman Catholic days. We, the faithful, focused our attention on Mary. We attended a special Mass in Mary's honor. In our classrooms, we listened to the nuns lecture on her significance.

Growing up in the church, I was frightened of God the Father--that exalted, almost Zeus-like dweller in heaven with the flowing white beard (Much later, on a visit to Rome, I saw the Father so depicted in  Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and realized where that image had originated). I felt at home with Jesus, the Son of the Father; Jesus was my friend and companion, my comfort. I was puzzled by the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.

But Mary? Ah, Mary, she was pure goodness--the ideal mother. She was the first disciple of Jesus, who was both her son and her Lord.  She was the examplar of faithful living.

In the Roman Catholic tradition of my birth and early years, Mary was revered, even adored because of her place in salvation history. She said yes to God, declaring to that angelic messenger: "Let it be to me according to Thy will."

And she bore the Savior, nurtured him over the years, and watched him, through anguished eyes, suffer in his passion and die on the cross. Mary wept and wailed as her child suffered and died, the way mothers have wept and wailed since the beginning of time as they have watched their children perish in war, from hunger, thirst, privation of all kinds, in storms and floods. Alas, mothers will go on weeping for their lost children.

Today, thanks be to God, Mary is honored not just by Roman Catholics, but also by many Protestants. As an Episcopalian now, I go on honoring her.

Devotion to Mary is a part of my rule of life as an associate of the Society of St. Margaret, an order of women religious in the Episcopal Church. (Yes, we have nuns and monks in the Episcopal Church.).
And so I remember the Blessed Mother today, in May, and on feasts dedicated to her.

And I pray the Hail Mary, that prayer my own beloved mother taught me when I was a toddler and that I have prayed regularly ever since.

Please pray with me...

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Remembering Boston

I was horrified by the explosions of evil at the Boston Marathon just one week ago today.

Today, I remember the three people who were killed in that attack and the more than 170 others who were wounded. I also remember the police officer who was murdered in the line of duty.

How could such evil be perpetrated against innocent people?

The alleged bombers' motives are unknown, although one of the suspects is reportedly communicating with officials from his hospital bed. We might learn more about what drove these two alleged bombers to wage their slaughter at the marathon and then to kill a police officer and grievously wound another.

Did the violence in Chechnya, a country to which the suspects were connected by family, or elsewhere, somehow contribute to their alleged murderous rampage? Was the brothers' separation from family a reason?

Had the suspects become insensitive to the deadly consequences of bombs and bullets because they'd watched too many terror videos and because they were immersed in America's culture of violence?

Why did the older brother turn to violent forms of his religion, according to media reporting? Where were more moderate forms of his religion, and why didn't representatives of the same reach out to him?  It's ironic that the older brother's boxing gym was a less violent community for him than his own online religious community.

Whatever the reasons for these cruel, calculated and deadly attacks, there can never be any legitimacy for them. Nothing can ever justify the murder of three people at the marathon, one an eight-year old boy, and a police officer in his squad car. There is no justification for the wounding of so many others. Nothing can excuse the terrorizing of Boston and the nation.

And, also ironically, these two suspects, one dead and the other in hospital now, were allowed refuge in this country, educated in American schools and received scholarships to American colleges. The younger brother had become a U.S. citizen. The older one had married an American woman and had a child with her. What had America ever done to harm these two men? Why did they hate us so much?

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. Someone asked me, "If you had preached yesterday, what would you have said, especially in the context of the Boston Marathon bombings?" Actually, I'd been thinking about that question all last week.

Thinking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, I'd have said we should not live in fear but should go on running our marathons, sending our children to school, living our lives as normally as possible in a culture of bomb and gun violence; I remember how those brave Londoners kept calm and carried on while Hitler's Luftwaffe bombed them nightly.

I'd have said that the Good Shepherd was there with the Boston victims at their deaths, holding them and comforting them as they were being born anew into everlasting life. And the Shepherd was--and is, even now--with the injured, working for their restoration.

I'd have said that I was not afraid. I believe that, no matter what happens to me, I am alive always  in the Living God; and that nothing--not a terrorist's bomb or bullet--will ever separate me from the love of God for me in Christ Jesus. It is the same for all those who belong to God in Christ Jesus.

And, inspired by the New Testament reading from Revelation yesterday, I'd have said that I saw the innocent--the four victims of Boston's week of horror--standing before the throne of the Lamb of God, robed in the white of the resurrection, rejoicing because they had come out of the "great ordeal....

"And the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A sacred moment at Starbucks

It was early morning right after my workout. I was enjoying my daily routine of coffee at Starbucks and reading The New York Times. I looked up and saw a young couple standing in front of me at the table. He was smiling. She was smiling, with a hint of anxiety in her eyes.

I knew them as one of our many young couples and families from church. We shook hands and exchanged some pleasantries.

"We're on our way to the hospital," she said, "to be induced. And we hoped you might say a prayer for us."

This was no random meeting. They knew where to find me at that early hour, because I have had occasional conversations with her husband at Starbucks when he picks up his coffee on his way to the office.

And I believe the Spirit led them to me that morning.

I thought, There is no better way to undertake some consequential event--like the birth of a child--than by prayer and with God's blessing.

I rejoiced that this young couple felt such a deep desire for God at this moment in their life together. They wanted God with them, and prayer would bring them into the awareness of his presence.

We joined hands there, with a table full of workmen looking on, and I prayed for the two of them--for their unborn baby and for a safe delivery. And then I made the sign of the cross on their foreheads--the same sign of the cross that one day I will mark on the forehead of their baby--and we hugged.

"I'll be by the hospital to see you this afternoon, " I said, adding, "This has been a week of births."

Just two days earlier, when I found out about the birth of a child to church members, I visited the baby and the family in the hospital and said prayers of thanksgiving and blessed the baby. (I would have held and kissed the baby, but the grandmother was not going to let him go.)

Preparing for new life to come into the world and welcoming that new life--resurrection moments--are among the blessings I receive as a priest of the church.

As such I am in a unique position. I am sharing with people in hard times and in happy ones, expressing, I hope and pray, something of Christ's loving presence.

When God called me to the priesthood, he had this sacred work in mind for me. Thanks be to God.

Priest or layperson, may you find sacred work to do every day.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Easter story

You are free

One day in April 1945, Captain Hershel Schacter of the U.S. Third Army drove his jeep into Buchenwald, the Nazi death camp in Germany that American soldiers had just liberated.

He saw hell on earth: corpses everywhere; chimneys belching black smoke and the ashes of hundreds of prisoners who had been incinerated; and many hundreds of survivors--hollow-eyed and emaciated with starvation and disease, just a breath or two from death.

Captain Schacter, a Jewish chaplain, shouted, "Jews of Buchenwald: You are free!"

As he walked through the camp, he detected something stirring behind a mound of corpses. He found a survivor, a boy of seven. The child shook with terror, believing this uniformed man would kill him.

The chaplain coaxed him from the corpses, and he and the boy talked. He told him he was safe now, free.

Chaplain Schater and another Jewish chaplain helped take care of the Buchenwald survivors, ministering to their physical and spiritual needs for sometime to come, eventually resettling many of them in Palestine, now Israel.

There, the survivors began new lives.

(Among them was Elie Wiesel, author, humanitarian, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  About 15 years ago, I met and talked with Wiesel at length after a lecture at Missouri State University. I found him to be a gentle, loving, and Godly man. I felt as it I were in the presence of saint.)

That seven-year old from Buchenwald grew up in Israel and became a rabbi himself, Yisrael Meir Lau.  He went on to become the chief Orthodox rabbi of Israel and to write a wartime memoir, Out of the Depths, in which he tells of his meeting Rabbi Schacter.

At an event in Israel honoring Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Lau told President Barack Obama about Rabbi Schacter and thanked America for saving him and so many others.

In Holy Week, I first read about Rabbi Schacter in his obituary in The New York Times.  He had died at age 90 after a long and faithful ministry as an Orthodox rabbi in New York City.

In Buchenwald, Rabbi Schacter had seen the horrendous evil that humans can inflict upon one another--the cruely, violence, suffering and death. After the war, he continued to devote himself to serving God and humankind.

His story, and especially that of the orphan Leluk who became Rabbi Lau, is one of resurrection--of life coming out of death, of freedom coming from slavery.

As Rabbi Schacter said to the Jews of Buchenwald, "You are free!" so Jesus says in his resurrection on the third day, "You are free."

God is the victor. For the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust, to quote Isaiah, "suffering and sighing" are no more, for they are now with the God of life.

And one day we shall be with God, too, as one people sharing in our common Creator's eternal love.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Fathers and Sons

“You’re not so different from me,” the father said to the son.

The son furrowed his brow, looking puzzled.

“Not so different from you?” he said. “You don’t know that.”

The father looked down, studying his calloused hands. He patted his son’s knee—his pant leg caked with mud—and scooted closer. They were sitting on the front step of the house’s wraparound porch.

A spring breeze rustled the maple trees. A cloud of dust kicked up on the gravel road, which wound from the highway down a lane to the farmhouse.

The father turned to his son and smiled, slightly, shaking his head in a knowing way, the way fathers do sometimes.

A year earlier, the father had said goodbye to his son. In that time, he hadn’t heard from him, didn’t know what had happened to him, whether he were alive or dead. That was the hardest thing—the not knowing.

Now, the father sat with him, looking out onto the road. His boy was a man now.

“I’ll tell you a little story, Son,” he said to him. They sat in the breeze, which carried the smell of fresh-tilled earth. Soon, it would be planting time.

“If you’re granddaddy Pete was here he’d tell you himself.”

The father told the story of a boy who didn’t like the words, “No, “You can’t,” “You shouldn’t,” “You mustn’t.” “That boy,” his father said, “was like a horse without bit or bridle. Just wanting to run free.”

He told how the boy’s parents had done everything to try “to rein him in,” to keep him from hurting himself or others, but the boy just wouldn’t listen.

All other options exhausted, the father decided to send his “wild” son off to a special boarding school, which promised in its glossy brochure “to turn a reckless young man into a responsible one.” The father believed it. He didn’t have another option.

So, off the boy went to the school. He spent a year there.

What a year that had been, the father told his son. One of Fs in the boy’s subjects, of bad conduct reports, of long-distance phone calls to and from the headmaster—until the boy reached his year of “emancipation.”

At seventeen, as he frequently had told his father, he would be free. The father almost looked forward to it. He was weary of the conflicts, the uncertainties. The father, usually on edge, wondered what the boy would do next.

Emancipated, the boy would be on his own. “I can’t wait,” the father told himself.

“Wait, Daddy,” the son said, turning to his father on that front porch. “This isn’t just a story, is it?”

The father shook his head. “No, it’s not just a story. That day I came home from boarding school was some day. Granddaddy Pete was madder than a swarm of wasps.”

“The way you can get mad, Daddy?” the son said.

“Worse. My daddy told he how disappointed he was in me, how he’d tried everything, done everything for me, and he just didn’t know what to do anymore. He’d run out of ideas.

“But I didn’t care. I was tired of being told that, ‘He was just looking out for my own good.’ I’d had years of that—of him nagging me, ‘Get an education. Make something of yourself.’

He said his father didn’t understand that he just wanted to be his own man.

There had been a lot of shouting that day, his father said. He told how his father had grabbed him by the collar of his flannel shirt. He shook him with his big hands.

“I thought he’d shake my head right off my shoulders. ’Let me go,’ I yelled. I tried to break away.

“’Let you go,” he said to me.”’I’ll let you go. I’ve tried to hang onto you too long. Go, if you want. I can’t stop you. Just go.’”

He went to his little room and packed his hand-me-down suitcase—scratched and scuffed by the years, fastened shut by straps, the lock broken long ago.

“I needed to travel light. I’d be hitching highways, hopping freight trains, until I got to the city. Then, I’d be free. I’d live.”

He went downstairs with his suitcase in hand. His mother sat on the couch in the front room. Her lap held a mound of crumbled tissues. She was crying. He’d never seen her so upset.

His father hulked before the front door. He thought his father would use his giant hands to try to stop him from going.

The father thrust a brown paper bag toward him. “’Take it. It’s yours,’ he said to me. ‘It’s what you’ve wanted. Asked for. It’s yours now.’

“My daddy gave me a bag of money. He’d been saving for me since I was a baby. For college. For my future.’

“I took it,” the father said. “I hugged Mama and said goodbye to Daddy, and off I went. I didn’t walk down that road there. I ran to the highway. Caught a ride from a trucker. My first ride to freedom. I thought.”

The father paused, remembering those days.

He went on, telling his son that he’d traveled highways and rails until he finally got to the city. What a great time he had. He ate steak and lobster, not the ham and potatoes of the farm; drank with his new-found friends, played poker, frequented the jazz clubs.

“I’d drink myself drunk,” the father said, “and then pass out. I’d wake up beside a different girl every morning. It was the same thing day to day, month to month. Until, one day, Son, that bag of cash was empty—and so was I.

“I’d spent everything and didn’t have anything to show for it. The friends I thought I had? The minute my money ran out, so did they.

“I begged food. Couldn’t afford a room, a bath, to wash my clothes. And the things I did just to survive? Waiting on the street corners ‘til somebody took pity on me. Or picked me up. Shameful things.”

The father shook his head in disbelief. He still felt regret, even shame. But that was in the past, he reminded himself.

As he told his son the story, he began to tremble. He took out a red-and-white checked hanky from his overalls. He dried his eyes, blew his nose.

What a sound he made—like the honk of a duck as it leaped from the lake into the air just before the hunter fired.

Father and son smiled at one another and, at the same time, remembered the good times and how they used to sit in that freezing duck blind, waiting, whispering, drinking black coffee out of an old thermos.

As they sat together on the porch, the father reached his arm around the son’s thin waist—he’d lost weight, the father thought—and pulled him closer, just the way he had as a child.

Quiet now, the two of them stared up the gravel road. They could hear the rumble of the big trucks on the highway as they hauled coal from the mountains of eastern Kentucky up to the railroad in Ashland.

“We’re not so different, Son,” the father said again.

The son shook his head in agreement.

They were silent for awhile on the front porch, sitting side by side, letting the sunlight fall upon their faces, the breeze play in their hair, the father’s just a few gray wisps now, the son’s thick brown hair tied back in a ponytail.

They both breathed deeply, as if drawing the moment deep inside themselves to keep forever.

The father spoke first. “So, when I saw you walking down that road right there—filthy, stinking, that suitcase of mine in your hand—I did what your granddaddy Pete did when he saw me on that road there. 

“I ran to you, threw my arms around you, and kissed you like you were a newborn. I couldn’t help myself. You'd come back to your Mama and me. This was the moment we'd prayed for."

“Oh, Daddy. You know. You understand."

“We’re not so different, Son," the father said, shaking his head. 'Yep, I do. We both were lost, but now we’re found. Dead, but now we’re alive.”

Monday, February 4, 2013


You've probably seen plenty of films in which a prisoner--his sentence served, a cheap suitcase in hand, and $20 in his pocket--steps through the prison gate and into a new life of freedom.

In the gospel today from Morning Prayer, Mark 7.24-27, Jesus sets a prisoner free. The prisoner in question is unable to hear or to speak.

And Jesus says to him, "Be opened." The man can hear. He can speak. And now, because of this encounter with the Living God, the man is released to a new life--one of sound and one with the Son of God, his Savior or Life-Giver.

How are you a prisoner? How is your life limited? From what do you need to be released?

Hear Jesus' words to you, "Be opened. Be released." Step through the gates of your prison to freedom and new life, that fullness of being in Him.

God bless you this week.

Friday, January 18, 2013

All are other

This Monday Americas will commemorate civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King championed civil rights for African-Americans and for other excluded people and advocated for full membership in society of all people.

I celebrate Dr. King's commitment to this cause, which is still awaiting fulfillment. I know that we are a better country because of his faithful and courageous witness, which cost him his life. (Of course, countless other people of color--well-known and anonymous, excepting to God--also paid for freedom with their lives.)

In white America, historically, people of color have been treated by many whites as "the Other." And many white Americans have treated the Other--be he or she an African-American or a Spanish-speaker or an Asian person, or a gay or lesbian or transgendered person,  or a woman--as wholly different from white, English-speaking, heterosexual men. Discrimination, prejudice, violence--and more--have been inflicted on the Other, including by written and unwritten laws.

Not to diminish the pain and suffering, the injustice and oppression of the Other in this and every culture, I believe that every one of us is the Other in some way--and here I want to be careful and, I hope, to be sensitive to Others.

I know that my experience of otherness is nothing--nothing--in comparison to Others' experiences.

But I know a little about otherness. In my own way, I am the Other and will always be. In Roman Catholic elementary and high-school, for instance, I was smaller than many of the other boys and was bullied.

My teachers and schools labeled me "slow," and consigned me to the math and reading groups for slow students. We worked in a separate part of the classroom.  In a Roman Catholic boys' high-school, stuck in the second of three tracks, I took "bonehead" English, math, business, and other subjects, while my classmates did Latin, calculus, chemistry, and college preparatory courses. (Thank God, a few kind nuns and priests and adults over the years encouraged me to excel.)

I was the son of an alcoholic father. I dreaded his coming home from work. Many evenings, unless he were on the road because of his sales job, he drank at the kitchen table. Some nights, my sister and I slept with my mother, while my father drank. When he threatened my mother, I took up for her, standing between her and my father, who stood with a drawn fist ready to pummel her. My classmates surely enjoyed different, happier families, I used to imagine.

And then one day, I became the boy from a "broken family," when my mother left my father and divorced him. All of my friends enjoyed whole families. But I was the Other.

Again, my experience of otherness is nothing compared to that of all the millions of African-Americans who suffered and bled and died because of racism--and nothing in comparison of all the Others today who still suffer, bleed, and die.

But my experience of otherness, however comparatively small, has proved valuable to me, if only in making me a little more sensitive to people who suffer because of who they are, how they are made, what they believe.

My Christian faith reminds me daily that God has made every one of us.  Each of us is an original. There will never be another Ken Chumbley; never another you.

And each of us is precious in the eyes of our Divine Creator. When I renew my Baptismal promises, I pledge myself to "respect the dignity of every human being." And I rejoice that I belong to the Episcopal Church, which makes that statement--and acts upon it daily.

Dr. King, a devout follower of Jesus Christ, understood that, with God as our Heavenly Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Each of us is the Other, and in our otherness resides our essential togetherness as members of God's one family.

If, then, God is our Father, and we are His beloved, how can we treat anyone "Otherwise?"