Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Last Sunday, several folks were a bit dismayed when we heard a scripture reading from the Prophet Hosea, in which the word “whoredom” was used no less than three times in just the first verse. In this passage, God commands Hosea to take Gomer, a prostitute, as his wife. As Hosea lives out his marriage to Gomer, he can now relate to how God is like a jealous husband. God is scorned when we are unfaithful to him and “prostitute ourselves” to money and other idols in our culture.

Next Sunday, we hear from Hosea again, as God is depicted as a jealous mother or father who complains “the more I called to them, the more they went from me,” even though God has “lifted us, like infants, to his cheeks.” God is depicted as the mother of a teenager, weeping as her daughter storms out of the house with her keys in her hands, screaming: “I hate you, Mom!”

Holy Scripture uses very human characters: a prolific prostitute and a humiliated husband; a rebellious teenager and a sad mother. Scripture shows us, on human terms, our constant unfaithfulness. Scripture also shows us the faithful and continual love of God for us. For even in our unfaithfulness, even in our rebelliousness, he still lifts us to his cheeks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We are Bold to Say

Sermon from July 25, 2010
(Pentecost 9 – Year C)
Luke 11: 1-13
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

In my office here at the church, my bookshelves are filled with books.
As you might expect from knowing my penchant for organization, each shelf in my office is devoted to various topics of religious life.
I have one bookshelf devoted to church history, one to the Old Testament.
And one whole bookshelf is devoted to the subject of prayer.

On that bookshelf that is devoted to prayer, I have a whole assortment of prayer books, some of which derive from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
I have books that are collections of the prayers of famous people.
I have books that are even about how to pray:
Some books are about how to pray in groups and about how to pray with rosaries about how to pray using hypnotic music.

You would think that with all of those books about prayer in my office that I would be pretty good at praying to my God by now.
You would think that with all of my seminary training and workshops I have attended about prayer that my prayer life would be robust and bold.
Yet it took 64 8 and 9 year old summer campers for me to realize how I am really to pray.

Last Sunday, Susan and I went down to Camp Allen, the Episcopal Camp for the Diocese of Texas near Navasota.
Every summer for the last 6 years, I have been the Session Director for a week long session of summer camp.
The age group that we like, believe it or not, is 8 and 9 year olds, kids who are going into the 3rd and 4th grade.

Every night at bed time, the other camp director and I go into each and every cabin to say bedtime prayers.
In each cabin, there are 9 kids and 2 teenaged counselors.
For 6 nights, I went into 7 cabins each night carrying a lit lantern.
I sat down on the floor among the smelly socks and the wet bathing suits and I asked the kids this one question:
“What should we pray for tonight?”

And with boldness, these children and teenagers knew exactly how to pray.
With boldness, one boy immediately called out from his top bunk bed:
“Let’s pray for my dad because he needs a job.”
One girl boldly replied:
“We should pray for my aunt, because she has breast cancer.”

One boy prayed that we would have good food the next day.
Another girl prayed that the girls in her cabin would get along with each other and not leave anyone out of any activities.
Another boy prayed for his grandpa, who had died the month before.

For 6 nights in a row, I went into 7 different cabins to pray.
For 6 nights, I sat down on those sandy cabin floors and I asked just one question:
“What should we pray for tonight?”
And for 6 nights, I was instructed in how to pray, more than any seminary textbook or fancy workshop could ever teach me.

Those children and teenagers taught me - that prayer is simply saying what is most on your heart.
Prayer is simply expressing exactly what you need, with boldness.

In the Gospel of Luke, we hear this morning about Jesus teaching his followers how to pray.
The followers of Jesus are watching Jesus praying.
Then, they make a request of Jesus:
“Hey, Jesus, teach us how to pray like that.”

So, Jesus replies:
“When you pray, pray boldly, like this:
Father, holy is your name.
Bring your kingdom to this earth.
Give us food each day.
Forgive our sins, just like we forgive.
Save us from times of trial.”

Amen. The end. Period.
No textbook on prayer needed.
No long paragraphs or deep theological doctrines to be constructed.
No fancy words or flowery phrases required.

Instead, Jesus says, when you pray - just simply say what is most on your heart.
For prayer is simply expressing exactly what you need, with boldness.

While I was at summer camp last week, the children taught me another lesson about how to be bold in worship and prayer.

Last Friday night, all of the campers and the counselors and the staff gathered together in the dining hall for our closing worship service.
We pushed the tables in the dining hall against the side of the room.
We pulled benches into the center of the hall into long rows like pews.

We began the service of Holy Eucharist, with candles on a makeshift altar and the light down low in the dining hall.
The guitars sound forth and the beautiful voices of 64 children boldly belted out in songs and hymns of praise to God.

As the bread was broken in the Eucharistic Prayer, I said the usual invitation.
“The Gifts of God, for the People of God,
Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.”

Now, in a usual Sunday worship service, this sentence is the cue for the congregation to sit down and to patiently wait their turn to be directed up to the altar rail to receive the bread and wine.
However, in the Eucharist service last Friday night at camp, right after the invitation to communion was spoken, the kids boldly rushed up to the altar rail with their hands outstretched to receive the Body of Christ.
These children of our heavenly Father were literally running up to the altar to eagerly approach the Table, the approach the throne of grace.

In the New Testament, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, instructs us to live this simple and bold life of prayer, as he writes this to us:

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)

It is no wonder then that in the Episcopal liturgy, after the prayer of blessing over the bread and wine, I invite us to approach the throne of grace with boldness, in the simple and direct words of prayer that Jesus taught us.
It is no wonder that I invite us to pray the Lord’s Prayer by saying these words:
“And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

The invitation to prayer does not come from a detailed textbook,
But the invitation to prayer comes from a sandy cabin floor:
What should we pray for tonight?

Prayer is not some lofty and heady exposition on complex theology,
But prayer is simple words of need, communicated to our Father:

Give us good food tomorrow.
Heal my sister.
Forgive me for interrupting you.
Save me from this nasty divorce.

Prayer is not politely waiting our turn to meekly approach the communion rail.
But prayer is asking, seeking, knocking, banging, pounding on the door of grace –
With boldness.


Monday, July 12, 2010


Sermon from July 11, 2010
(Pentecost 7 – Year C)
Luke 10: 25-37
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

When Susan and I were young parents, we lived in the suburbs of Houston, in a house in Katy, Texas.
When we moved out to the suburbs, Scott, our oldest son, was just a little toddler.
And every morning, I would take Scott to day care.

Every morning, I would feed Scott his breakfast in his high chair, then get him dressed, and then load him into his car seat to begin our insane commute into Houston.
The commute involved traveling all the way into Houston on Interstate 10, also known as the Katy Freeway, in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

On a good day, little Scott and I would spend about 45 minutes stuck in traffic before I delivered him at his day care.
Then, to get to my office, where I worked as an accountant, it would take me another 30 minutes.
You can see now why I love Waco so much.

Anyway, one morning, Scott was in his car seat in the backseat and I was creeping along the Katy Freeway, when the check engine light on my car came on.
I put my hazard lights on and crept over to the emergency lane of the freeway - just as my car died.

Now this was back in the days before I had my own cell phone.
And I had an 18-month old child in the backseat whom I obviously could not leave behind to go walk for help.
So I reached into my briefcase and I got out a legal pad and I wrote, in giant letters:
“Help Me.”

I got out of my car, dressed in my pinstriped business suit and tie, and held the sign up so that passing cars could see.
For over 20 minutes, I stood there and watched as my suburban neighbors passed on by me.
For over 20 minutes, I stood there with that sign and watched as attorneys, doctors and accountants in business suits, people just like me, kept their eyes straight ahead, acting as if they did not see me.

So I thought of another idea.
I added some words onto my plea for help written on my legal pad.
I wrote:
“Help Me.
I have a baby with me.”

For 10 more minutes, I stood outside with my new sign, pleading for help.
Finally, an old beat-up pick up truck slowed down and moved into my emergency lane.
A man got out and came over to my car and asked me if I needed some help.

Now this man had several teeth missing and he reeked of tobacco.
His body odor was so strong that I thought I was going to be sick.
If I had seen this man walking down the street in my suburban neighborhood, I would have assumed that he was a burglar.
But I was desperate to be rescued, so I let him get into my car, with my baby in the backseat.

Yet this dirty man let me use his cell phone to call the Honda service department.
This smelly man let me use his cell phone to call a wrecker service and to call into my office.
I thanked him profusely for his help.
But he said:
“If it’s all right, I’ll stay with you until the wrecker comes.”

And for the next 15 minutes, he and I made small talk about football and the weather and the insane Houston traffic.
After the wrecker arrived, we shook hands as I said good-bye to my rescuer.

For in my desperate need, I accepted a dirty and smelly man to be my rescuer.

In the Gospel reading from Luke that Jimmy read to us this morning, we hear that favorite old parable that we have come to call the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus tells us this story:
On the road to Jericho, a man is beaten up by robbers and left for dead beside the road.
Priests and Levites in robes and in business suits journey on down the freeway with their eyes focused straight ahead.
But a smelly old Samaritan, a man in a most despised sect of Judaism, pulls off the road and offers help to the man in the ditch.
The Samaritan loads the half-dead man in the ditch into his truck.
The Samaritan takes the wounded man to a motel and bandages his wounds.
In his desperate need, the half-dead man in the ditch accepts a Samaritan to be his rescuer.

For years and years, we have called this story the story of the Good Samaritan.
For years and years, we have acted like the central figure in this story is the Samaritan, the man who offers mercy and kindness.
And for years and years, this story has become a source of guilt, because we can never seem to measure up to extravagant and over-the-top care that the Samaritan gives to the stranger in the ditch.

Yet, I believe that the central character in this story is not the Samaritan.
The central character is the half-dead man who lies in a ditch, bloodied up by robbers and left for dead.
The central character is the man who accepts the heretical and unorthodox Samaritan as his rescuer.

In the story of our faith, the central character is not me –
Pre-occupied with my own selfish actions and my lack of mercy and my resulting guilt.
In the story of our faith, the central character in the story is Jesus.
And the captivating question is whether or not we will accept Jesus as our rescuer.

In the very First Chapter of the Gospel of John, we hear:
“Jesus was in the world;
Yet the world did not know him.
Jesus came to what was his own;
But his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, [to all who accepted him, to all who welcomed him as their rescuer],
To them he gave power to become sons and daughters of God.[1]

Jesus does not pass us by on the highway while we hold up a sign that says “Help Me.”
Jesus pulls over into the emergency lane in his beat-up pick up truck to save us.
And Jesus rescues us through his people, the people whom we call his Body, the people whom we call his Church.

If you are holding up a sign that says, “Help me, my husband is an alcoholic,”
Then look in your worship leaflet and accept help from one of several Al-Anon meetings that meet at St. Alban’s, meetings that can help in your rescue.

If you are holding up a sign that says, “Help me, I am lonely,”
Then come over to the coffee hour after this worship service and invite one of our rescuers to join you for lunch.

If you are holding up a sign that says, “Help me, I am a sinner,”
Then accept the love and forgiveness from a smelly, rejected, spit upon, crucified man to save you from your sins.

For in our desperate need, we have accepted a manual laborer, a carpenter from Nazareth, to be our rescuer.

So receive Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Let Jesus get into your broken down car –
And accept him - as your Rescuer.


[1] See John 1: 10-12

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Good Samaritan Law vs. Good Samaritan Grace

I am digging into the parable that we know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in preparation for this Sunday's sermon. When I want a very new perspective on the parables, I always like to turn to the writings of Robert Capon, an Episcopal priest and author. Capon seems to always turn Jesus' parables on their head and force me to see them through a completely different lens.

We tend to see the Good Samaritan as Christian Law: love your neighbor (and your neighbor is everyone), then go and do likewise. However, Capon seems to think that we should not try to emulate the Samaritan, but rather the half-dead man in the ditch, uniting ourselves to the passion of Jesus, who was left half-dead (then whole-dead) on the Cross. For Capon, is not about the law of good works that we go and do likewise. But it is about the grace of lying half-dead in the ditch and still being healed and raised.

Where will my sermon for Sunday head? Am not sure yet where the Spirit will lead. But I am so drawn to this sentence that Capon writes:

"For if the world could have been saved by providing good examples to which we could respond with appropriately good works, it would have been saved an hour and twenty minutes after Moses came down from Mt. Sinai."

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all evermore.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For I am Convinced

In the Daily Office Lectionary, the cycle of scripture readings that are appointed to be read everyday, today's readings include a portion from the Letter to the Romans that I must say is at the bedrock of my faith. This passage is Romans 8:38-39 and it reads:

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I am attracted to the fact that Paul (or the writer of Romans) is convinced. He does not theorize. He does not guess. He does not kinda-sorta-believe. He is convinced. Why? He is convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God because he has experienced that love so powerfully and tangibly.

May we all experience God's grace and love so powerfully and tangibly that we may proclaim:

For I am convinced.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Shared Ministry

Today at St. Alban's, we officially welcomed our new assistant rector, the Rev. Jimmy Abbott, into our midst. And because we are Episcopalians, people who are fueled and formed by the order of the liturgy, the arrival of a new clergy person among us did not seem completely real or complete until we broke bread together at the Table in the Eucharist this morning.

For months (years actually) I had envisioned what it would look like to share ministry with another clergy person. Yet, as most things in life, the actual experience exceeded the vision. Walking side by side with someone and standing next to another person behind the altar is a much different feeling that walking or standing alone. It is shared ministry.

Jesus was pretty clear in his directive that it is better for us to go out into the world and serve in pairs. Jesus knew what he was talking about when he sent us out into the world to do the work we have been given to do, two-by-two.

Today, I give thanks that, in the work I have been given to do, there is now shared ministry.