Thursday, October 20, 2016

With God in prayer

One of my earliest memories of my late mother is of the two of us sitting in a rocking chair in my room just before bedtime. 

I was about three or four years of age. She held me in her lap, and we prayed: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. We prayed for family and people dear to us. We prayed nightly that God would give me a sister, and he did. 

My mother and I prayed every night at bedtime, at meals, at Sunday Mass. She gave me the gift of prayer. 

Since I was a child I have prayed. Always. Even in times of doubt and disappointment and anger with God, I have prayed. I persevere in prayer. 

Jesus, a person of prayer, teaches his followers to pray always. In Luke 18. 1-18, for instance, he tells his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart and give up. 

He tells a story about a widow and an unjust judge from whom she seeks justice. As the widow who pleads with the judge without ceasing, so the followers of Jesus are to pray. The unjust judge gives the widow justice. If this is how the unjust judge acts, then will not God do even better for us?

We are to pray always, or to persevere in our prayer. We are never to give up, for to give up is to give up on God.

The widow’s pleading in the parable is analogous to intercessory prayer.  As the Prayer Book Catechism notes, intercession is one of several forms of prayer. It might be the one that followers of Jesus today pray most often. At least I do. 

God, I believe, hears all prayers and answers them in the way that is best. As I look back on my life, especially at those times when I prayed for one thing but God gave me something else, I realize now how relieved I am that God did what was best for me, not what I thought best for me at the moment of my prayer.

I know now that the greatest prayer is that of surrender to God, Thy will be done. God will always grant me justice, that which is right.

In his spiritual classic, “To Believe is to Pray,” Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey writes that prayer is “essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind and will move towards him… (p. 9).”

All prayer is essentially our being in relationship with God. 

I pray always—always,  in the sense that I persevere. I pray when I am in my car and waiting at a stop light. I pray before I enter a hospital room to pray for a patient. I pray before meetings. I pray with people who are seeking guidance. I pray before I read the Bible.  I pray at mealtimes. I pray when I swim, when I walk or cycle early in the morning, before I go to bed, when I awaken in the night, worried about something.

I pray as I sit in a comfortable chair in the bedroom and read Morning Prayer daily. And as pray there, surrounded by books, including my mother's prayer books, I drape over my shoulders a red scarf that belonged to her. Wearing it, I am close to her, just as praying, I am close to God.

In giving me the gift of prayer, my mother gave be God. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What we worship and does it matter?

What do we worship?

Early this morning, I met with Christ Church's Men's Group for breakfast, a short scripture reading and prayer.

The gospel lesson came from today's Daily Office reading, Luke 4.1-13, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness just after his baptism.

With each temptation, the Devil, in effect, asks Jesus, "Whom do you worship?"

The word translated here as worship comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon word, "woerth-ship." And the meaning of the word is that to which human beings ascribe ultimate worth. That object is that to which we devote our attention, our energy, our time, our money––every human or material thing of value.

What do we worship?

For the answer, we might go online and examine our bank and credit card statements. They will tell us where we spend our money and, thus, what we value materially.

We might look at our calendars, which tell us how we spend our time.

And, as I suggested to the men this morning, we might examine our online search histories and the ads that pop up on Facebook and on other social media, when we log in. These messages do not randomly appear but do so for a calculated reason: because Facebook and Google and other sites have profiled us and communicated our clicks and visits to advertisers. (I used to be in the PR, ad and marketing business and know something about how these businesses operate.)

Where does our cyber trail lead? What does our overall profile––gathered from social media, calendars and financial statements––tell us about who we are, whose we are and what we worship?

And will the object of our worship save us now and save us eternally?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Remembering a giant

When Elie Wiesel died recently at age 87, humankind lost a moral giant. Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor, liberated from Buchenwald death camp by American soldiers in April 1945. After studying literature, philosophy and psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris, he became a journalist. He wrote dozens of books, including his first novel, Night, which came out of his death camp experiences. It was translated into 30 languages. He helped establish the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. A scholar and gifted teacher, he taught at Boston University, among other institutions.

Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Commission describing him as “one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.”

Many years ago, I met Elie Wiesel, which is one of the blessings of my life. Night and his other work had moved me. I dreamed of meeting the author. After his speech at Southwest Missouri State University, we met at a reception and talked. For ten minutes or more, I monopolized him. We discussed the nature of good and evil.

As a teenager, he had experienced the monstrous evil of Auschwitz and then Buchenwald, his parents and a younger sister dying in the camps. He had known colossal evil, but it had not overcome him. He had overcome it. And he was overcoming it with good through his writing and political activism. He championed human rights. He condemned apartheid in South Africa and genocide in the former Yugoslavia.

Talking with him, I knew that I was in the presence of a gentle, humble and even holy man. God was in him.

Reared in Judaism, Wiesel struggled to reconcile the God of love with the existence of evil. He abandoned his faith in God in the camps, feeling abandoned by God there, only later in life to make peace with God. He and God must be having some deep conversations now. Surely, Eli Wiesel sees all existence, including history’s catalogue of atrocities, with clarity.

Today, evil is ascendant. ISIS and its sympathizers commit mass murders here and abroad.  Politicians rouse and rally their followers with hateful rhetoric. Neo-Nazi parties are gaining power in France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. A sniper kills five police officers in Dallas. Gun violence threatens us all, and there is no political will to stop it. Killing continues.

Humankind has lost a moral giant in Elie Wiesel. Inspired by him, and in keeping my baptismal vow to “resist evil,” I hope I will have the courage to confront evil and do all in my power to overcome it. I also hope that multitudes of others will do the same. To do nothing about evil or to be indifferent to it, is, according to Wiesel, “the epitome of evil.”

Monday, March 14, 2016

Preaching from the heart

Before I preach, I pray that God's Word will spring from my heart. I hope that my God-filled heart will speak to other hearts.

But before I talk about the heart, I must talk about the stomach. My stomach. The subject might be an indelicate one, perhaps too personal to discuss here. But I will, nevertheless.

This weekend, I suffered from stomach flu. 

By Sunday morning, I thought I was well enough to go to church for worship. I need weekly worship. And yesterday I was eager to preach a sermon that I felt strongly about, a message that I thought the Holy Spirit wanted me to deliver.

Early yesterday, I was preparing a simple outline. Outlining is one way I further internalize my research, study, prayer and reflection on the Scripture readings for Sunday. I need 12 to 15 hours a week to prepare, or over prepare, for preaching a Sunday sermon.

About seven, my wife Penny returned home from a walk and came into the bedroom, where I was working on my lap desk. How was I feeling? she wondered. So, so, I responded.

She urged me to stay home from church and not expose people to the virus. And I should rest and drink plenty of fluids. She spoke to me in love.

What shall I do about the sermon? I asked myself.

I did not want to ask my assistant, Father Jonathan, to deliver an impromptu sermon, although he would have done so and done so ably.

So, I decided to send him something to read to the congregation. 

I scrambled, with only a short time left before the first service. I gathered my notes, called up from my head and heart thoughts and feelings related to the texts and typed up the sermon.

The result was less a sermon, more a bare outline.

(Before I preach on Sundays, I get up at 4.50am and pray; think; sometimes, fret; and then write a short outline on a card. Later, I place the card in the breast pocket of my clerical shirt. I never take the card out and read from it. The card simply reminds me that I am to speak for God from my heart, that deepest part of my being.)

I titled yesterday's outline, or sermon sketch, “God makes a way out of no way.”

The words of that title are not original to me but come from a preacher who always spoke from his heart, a man who was and still is my homiletical exemplar and inspiration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The words are from his sermon, “God is able.” 

This sermon is worth reading, as are all of Dr. King's sermons, although I believe sermons are far more compelling when they are heard. The difference between reading a sermon and listening to one is the the difference between reading Shakespeare's Hamlet and hearing and seeing it come to life on stage.

I have attached my sermon sketch below. You can also listen to Father Jonathan delivering it, and beautifully, at:

As I looked over the sketch, I realize once more that words on paper are not sermons. God makes the sermon, the Word, out of the words on the page, which are spoken by the preacher. The real preacher in not the man or woman in the pulpit or on the stage or standing amid the people. The real preacher is the Holy Spirit, who turns our human words into the lively Word of God.

In the sermon, God is speaking to his beloved people not just through the head (or mouth) of the preacher but also, and most important of all, through the heart of the preacher.

Yesterday, in introducing it, Father Jonathan said that my sermon was brief. It is. It is only a skeleton. Little more than that. A skeleton of human words awaiting God’s flesh, muscle and breath of life.

God makes a way out of now way

Isaiah 43.16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3.4b-14
John 12.1-8

There is no way. There are times when we say, “No way.” No way will I overcome this illness. No way will my spouse stop drinking. No way can I go on living after the death of my loved one.

The people of Israel thought there was no way out of slavery in Egypt; but God called Moses who led Israel out.

And then, with Pharaoh's armies chasing them and the people of God standing at the edge of the Red Sea, there was no way that they would be able to cross the sea on foot and then travel through the wilderness to the promised land. But they did.

And now, generations after the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the prophet Isaiah reminds God's people of God’s mighty acts of salvation, and Israel is  once again is saying, “No way.”

Isaiah speaks for the Lord. “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…I am about to do a new thing.”

Israel is in bondage again, this time in Babylon. Earlier, the Babylonians had defeated the Israelites. They had devastated Jerusalem, and then led the defeated Israelites into exile and captivity in Babylon. Surely, they must have said, “No way will we go home again.”

But, in Babylon, the prophet speaks for God to his fellow captives.

God says, “I will do a new thing…I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert….I will give drink to my chosen people, the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

And God fulfills his promise to his people. He does that “new thing.” He acts through King Cyrus of Assyria and defeats the Babylonians. God frees Israel, and God’s people return home to Jerusalem.

As God did for our forebears, Israel, so God does for us. He does that “new thing.” He sends Jesus, his own son, to save us from our Egypt and our slavery to evil, sin, and death and to lead us out of exile home to him.

Jesus, who is anointed for his death today in the gospel, confronts sin, evil, death. In this way, God shows his love for us. And Jesus overcomes our enemies, and he sets us free that we might declare God’s praise.

Dr. Martin Luther King tells the story of how one night, in the midst of his leadership of the Civil Rights movement, he received a phone call. It was yet another threat. The caller said that he would shoot and kill Dr. King and would blow up his house with his wife and children inside.

Dr. King tells how he sat in his kitchen late that night and trembled. He prayed to God. He told God he was terrified. That he was weak. That he wanted to quit the struggle for securing the constitutional rights of black people in America. And God answered his prayer.

God reminded him that “…there is a benign Power in the universe that makes a way where there is no way and transforms our dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

Friends, God loves us.

And when you are tempted to say, No way, remember the Good News: God will make a way out of your no way.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Transformed in the character of Christ, our theme for 2016
by The Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley

This is an edited version of my address to the parish on Annual Meeting Sunday, February 14, which was also Valentine’s Day. You can also listen to the address on-line at

Today is the First Sunday in Lent. Lent is a 40-day period, inspired by our gospel today, Luke 4.1-13, which recounts Jesus’ 40 days of testing  in the wilderness. 

Lent is a time of self-examination; a time penitence or sorrow for our sins; a time of repentance, or turning from evil, sin and death to the God; a time of amendment of life and renewed resolve to follow Christ in faithfulness, living our baptismal promises.

Fundamentally, Lent is a time of transformation so Christ’s character, that of love, will be more fully revealed in us, in our church; and through us, in the world.

On this Annual Meeting Sunday, I want look at what I believe is God’s vision for us this year and beyond. God is calling us to transformation

                                                            Transformed People

God is calling us to deep, individual transformation.

In the delightful film,“June Bug,” June, the main character, says to her husband who is, well, no Valentine: “Yes, God loves you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

With Christ first in our lives, we will be grow, as Ephesians 4.15 says, into the full stature of Christ. His character will be formed and more fully revealed in us. 

Our transformation will come about as we pray and study the Holy Scripture daily; as we gather weekly for the Holy Eucharist; as we learn more about Christ through educational programs; as we serve others; and as we give our time, energy and money to support this, Christ’s church.

In Deuteronomy 26.1, God calls upon his people, Israel, to remember his many blessings. And they are to show their thanksgiving by offering God on the altar the “firstfruits,” a tithe or 10 percent of the harvest.

As we give God our firstfruits freely, generously, and unconditionally, God transforms us; our character reflects that of Christ.

In addition, transformation comes about when we sit quietly in God’s presence, listening for his voice. Twice a month, our Contemplative Prayer Group meets. This is an opportunity to listen to God.  This year, I  will encourage the the Christian Formation Team to plan and offer more opportunities for spiritual growth, such as quiet mornings, perhaps even a retreat. Please let me know if you are interested.
Transformation occurs when we participate in adult classes on Sunday mornings; in Wednesday evening Lent Madness, a survey of the lives of the saints; and in the Restoration Project small groups, which are being formed.

This spring, I will lead two Sunday morning discussions of David Brooks’s best-selling book, “Road to Character,” which maps the way we can become people of good or better character. His book inspired this year’s theme of transformation in the character of Christ.

Spiritual direction or guidance furthers transformation. We clergy regularly provide spiritual direction to people seeking Christ. A trained lay spiritual director is also available to you. Please call on us. And grow.

Transformed Church

As we are transformed individually, Christ Church will be transformed by our very presence and participation. This year, I will work for transformation here in many ways, including through improved internal communication. 

Communication and community contain within them the word, “unity.”

We will be transformed as we learn how to talk to one another, especially when problems arise among us. And problems will arise because we are human and imperfect. 

When we experience differences, disappointments, hurt feelings, we must not succumb to the temptation to withdraw, to change churches, to quit church altogether; to stop giving or to reduce our giving. Instead, we must resolve our problems, together. We must talk to one another, not about one another.

Not to alarm you but to inform you: I have asked Bishop Field for mediation. Some church members were offended by my sermons on justice and by a newspaper column on the same topic. Conversation with these members has not resolved the matter. I hope a trained, outside mediator will bring healing.  

Other communication improvements proposed

I have decided to take other action to foster healthy communication and promote unity.  I will work with others to review how we are communicating and how we can better communicate internally and interpersonally. 

We are making a start today. I have included on the Annual Meeting agenda a time for conversation. We need to deal with problems when they arise, not let them accumulate, harm relationships, and impede the work of the church. Let us talk through any differences, in a spirit of Christian love. 

I am exploring the formation of a Clergy/Parish Relations Committee to aid conversation, not to create more triangulation, which is that unproductive approach where people avoid talking with one another and instead talk about one another to others.
Transforming the community

As transformed people, Christ calls us to transform the larger community, inspired and empowered by God the Holy Spirit.

Episcopal Bishop C. Andrew Doyle of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, and author of a new book, “Church: a Generous Community Amplified for the Future,”was recently interviewed by the Alban Institute about the future of the church.

Bishop Doyle said, “A lot of the way we serve our neighbor is through charity models that are outdated 1930s food pantry models. ... The church is going to have to (be) at the forefront of work in poverty and health and education…(It) has to step into that.”

The bishop is not discounting charity; at Christ Church, we do great charitable work, which blesses many lives. But he is saying that charity must be matched by something else, and that is  change, the transformation of systems, structures, and institutions that perpetuate poverty, oppression and human misery.

Why should Christians want to engage in change? Because the Holy Scriptures, church teaching, the Prayer Book, and our Baptismal Covenant call us to resist evil, just as Jesus does in the wilderness in the gospel today. And in our Baptismal Covenant Christ also calls us to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for justice, which theologian Dr. Cornell West  says is“love gone public.”  Love, agape in the language of the Greek New Testament, is the relentless pursuit of the very best for all God's children. Agape is making abundant life in Christ available to all, regardless.

To that end, many Christians today, and I am one of them, are responding to God’s call and working for a living wage so people can support their families on their earnings; for sheltering the homeless, for laws that cap the interest on payday and title loans at 36 percent and creating alternatives to these predatory loans. The average interest rate on such loans in Missouri exceeds 500 percent and, in some instances, reaches 1500 percent.

In Romans, St. Paul says that those who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved. We, the redeemed, confess Christ in word and in deed. Jesus is Lord, master of everything in this world, including you and me, the church, even politics.

It is appropriate and indeed essential for Christians to be involved in politics. I believe that we must do so, however, in a way that unites people. Whatever our party, we must work for the greater good of all. That means: Registering to vote, Studying the issues, Writing letters to the editor and columns when we feel strongly about issues. Calling, visiting, writing elected officials--all in the pursuit of biblical justice. Justice is loving our neighbors as ourselves.

This year, I hope we will not only do those Gospel-mandated acts of charity, but also those Gospel-mandated acts of advocacy and action for justice and for the transformation of the world.

To help prepare for this work, I will lead an adult class in the coming months on a new book 
by retired US Senator and Episcopal priest John Danforth. It is called “The Relevance of Religion.” In his book, Father Danforth condemns today’s American political culture, which emphasizes division over unity, the pursuit of power and domination over service to neighbor and work for the common good. He explores ways that Christians can come together, regardless of political affiliation--our most important affiliation is our faith in Christ--and can work together for change. 

And that change, transformation, will come about, I believe, when we reject the extremes of Left and Right and find that Anglican via media, the middle way, for the common good. I hope you will join the discussion. Together, we can and must learn to be a church of charity and change.

People of Christ Church: you are my Valentine. I have loved and served you for more than 20 years. I shall go on loving you, as together we are transformed into the character of Christ, which is love; as this church is transformed into his character; and as we, the church, transform the world for the glory of God. God bless you.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Singing the song of connection

Melanie has a song on her lips. She is a musician—she spent 18 years playing in a band—and is a conductor. She is a different kind of conductor. She likes to work with diverse groups, even prisoners, bringing them together in song. She just returned from four days on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia, where she led a music camp as part of a commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Melanie is an African American. I think Dr. King is smiling on her from heaven, maybe even singing along with this woman whose God-given vocation is to bring people together in song.

I met Melanie this morning at breakfast. She is here in New York City for the Trinity Institute, whose theme is bringing people together, especially blacks and whites. She will lead our music tonight at the Eucharist and before the start of our sessions over the next two days. She will have us on our feet singing. We will be together, even in our differences, singing the same song.

Melanie's song on her lips is overcoming divisions and forging connections, and it is a song that is especially important today in this country, where African-Americans are increasingly in peril simply because of the color of their skin. We talked about the tragedy of Ferguson, MO, which alas is repeated nearly every day. She told me about a 24-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a gang recruit as part of his demonic initiation ritual. "He was the one chosen to be killed," she said.

With music, Melanie is doing the work of Jesus. In the Gospel reading this morning from John, Jesus takes a drink of water from a Samaritan woman. In doing so, he breaks down a wall between a man and a woman and between a religious outsider and a devout Jew. She asks him for "living water," and he gives it to her. That water is connection between the two of them and connection between the woman of Sychar and God himself in Jesus.

Melanie’s music is filling people with living water. And they are singing.