Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Reflection on September 11, 2011
(A Service for Peace)
John 14:27
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Jesus says to us:
“Peace is my last gift to you, my own peace I now leave with you;
Peace which the world cannot give.”

Ten years ago this morning, I was searching for peace.
I was searching for the peace which the world cannot give.
On September 11, 2001, I was 37 years old with a wife and two small children, all of whom I had just uprooted 4 weeks before.
I had just resigned my position as the CFO of a benefits and trust company.
And a moving van had just recently carried all of our possessions away.

Ten years ago, I was a brand new student at the Virginia Theological Seminary, near Washington, DC.
I had never preached a sermon in my life.
I had never performed a baptism or gone on a hospital visit.
Yet I was searching for peace, the peace which I knew, I knew, that the world could not give me.

On that clear sunny Tuesday morning, a classmate told me that a plane had crashed in New York City.
With other classmates, I huddled around a tv set in the student lounge.
Then a large sonic boom shook the buildings and the windows.
We ran outside, searching the skies, not realizing that we had just heard the Pentagon explosion just a few miles away.
The sound of sirens filled the air and all of us headed into the seminary chapel for prayer and for hymns.

On that day, Susan had students in her classroom with parents who were in the Pentagon.
My sons, who were 10 and 7 at the time, remember being at their classroom desks, feeling the sound of Flight 77 shake the windows.

Desperate to find my peace and to give sacrificially, I drove frantically around Washington, DC, trying to give blood.
I drove down I-395 with my windows down, with the smoke from the Pentagon filling my car.

When I finally got to Susan’s school late that afternoon, I cried.
I cried for two reasons:
God had turned the interior of our lives upside down by calling me to be God’s priest.
And now it seemed that the exterior of our lives was being turned upside down as well - as God had moved our family into the epicenter of this horror.

Yet Jesus says to us:
My peace I give to you.
Peace which the world cannot give.

In the last 10 years, I have found an interior peace that I did not have on September 11, 2001.

In the last 10 years, my marriage has grown stronger and deeper, as I have found great peace through my wonderful wife – my wife who has sacrificed so much for me.
In the last 10 years, my sons, whom many predicted would grow up to be screwed up “preacher’s kids” - are now incredible young men.
In the last 10 years, I have discovered that I am a pretty good priest - who can actually preach a decent sermon, on occasion.
In the last 10 years, I have discovered an inner peace, a peace which our suburban dream house never gave, a peace that my job never gave, a peace that I cannot receive from things.

And this inner peace only comes - from Jesus living within me.

Today I remember the smoke, the sirens, the sonic boom of that September morning.
But most of all today, I give thanks.
I give thanks that Jesus has given me his last gift.
I give thanks that Jesus has given me something that the world cannot give.
I give thanks that Jesus has given me - his peace.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Group Project

Sermon from September 4, 2011
(Pentecost 12 – Year A)
Matthew 18: 15-20
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

When I was a boy in school, I really did love school work.
I was eager to learn and diligent in doing my homework.
I got especially energized by school projects.
I enjoyed delivering book reports about Tom Sawyer or about the life of Thomas Jefferson.
In science, I remember a project on the respiratory system where I used two plastic baggies to simulate the work of human lungs.
In social studies, I used scrap plywood to construct a map of Washington, DC, using blue paint for water and green paint for land.
I really liked it when my teacher would exclaim:
“Class, I have a wonderful project for you to work on all by yourself!”

Yet I did not like it when my teacher would proclaim:
“I have a very special project for you to work on.
And this project - is to be a group project!”

At the mention of a group project, the classroom would erupt in with squeals of delight.
Yet I remained stoic and skeptical.

Now I hope that by now you know that I do love people.
But I did not like working on group school projects.

In group school projects, I always felt like I ended up doing the majority of the work - without getting the majority of the credit.
Invariably, there was kid in my group who figured out that he could just coast by and do nothing.
Invariably, there was kid in my group who thought that her ideas were better than mine.
In the midst of those group projects, in my mind, I wanted to kick out the non-productive kid.
I wanted to kick out the bossy kid.
I wanted to kick out the kid who got on my nerves.
I just did not like group school projects.

Yet living in Christian community is much like a group school project.
And Jesus teaches us how to handle when we have a problem with someone in our group.

Jesus says that if we have a problem with someone,
Before kicking them out, we should have a one-on-one conversation with them.

Then if that doesn’t work, bring others into the conversation.
And if that doesn’t work, then bring the whole classroom into the conversation.

Since I am a person who enjoys clear directions on projects, I am really liking Jesus’ methodical and clear cut ways of dealing with conflict.
As I listen to Jesus’ directions, I am just itching for a good reason for the ax to fall and to get rid of the problem children.

Yet Jesus then gets a big grin on his face.
He looks into the self-righteous eyes of his students, students who are looking for an honorable way to get rid of people.
And Jesus says:
“If all of those steps do not work, then treat the other kids in your group as Gentiles and tax collectors.”

My heart sinks.
For how does Jesus treat lazy Gentiles and know-it-all tax collectors?
Jesus does the exact opposite of kicking out the Gentiles and tax collectors.
Instead, Jesus treats Gentiles and tax collectors with extra grace and extra care.

So now it sounds like I must learn to work on the group science project with the girl who smacks her bubble gum and twists her hair.
And it sounds like I must learn to work with the boy who is dyslexic and has trouble reading the textbook.
It sounds like I must learn to work together on the group project of the Christian journey – instead of kicking anyone out.
It sounds like we are stuck with each other.

Our concept of church is different than the concept of the Christian community in the first century.
We tend to think of church as an activity on Sundays, maybe with some worship and education during the week in the St. Alban’s community.
In this 21st century, we have the option of keeping our church relationships and our everyday relationships separate.

However, church in the first century was not separate from the community that you lived in.
In the early days, church was where you cooked together, prayed together, worked in the fields together, shared wine over dinner together and blew out the candles at the end of a long day together.
Most likely, the church community that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew was addressing was more like a group school project on steroids.

And Jesus says to this faith community:
“To those who offend you, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
To those who offend you, show them extra grace and extra care.
For truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in eternity.”

We are bound to each other on earth.
We are stuck with each other for eternity.

Today we are baptizing James Lane Hughes.
We are binding another person into our faith community, a person whom we will give extra grace and care to.

And Jamie is being assigned a group project.
In this group project of love, Jamie is to work with us to love God and to love his neighbors.
Jamie is making a covenant.
And we are making a covenant.
This baptismal covenant will bind him to us and will bind us to him, on this earth and into eternity.
Jamie doesn’t know it yet, but he is stuck with us.

And as Jamie grows up, he will learn how to walk the Christian journey, yet not as his own private project.
Instead Jamie will walk the Christian journey together with us, as a group.

Because when we get tired of each other and disputes get heated, we have bound ourselves to Jesus and to each other.
When we get on each other’s nerves, we have promised to treat each other as Gentiles and tax collectors.
We have promised to show extra grace and care to each other, in God’s grand group project of love.

I would imagine that there are people in your life whom you might like to kick out of your group project:
The lazy co-worker who always comes in late to work and who always leaves work 15 minutes early.
The strange cousin who overstays his welcome and never says thank you for anything.
The old friend who is always asking to borrow money from you and yet who never repays a dime.

And Jesus says that if a brother or sister offends you, then have a conversation.
And if that doesn’t work, don’t kick them out, but treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector, with extra grace and love.

You see, the Christian faith and life is not lived and practiced as our own individual project.
In our Baptism, we are bound together.
We are stuck with each other.

For Jesus, our teacher, does not say:
“I have a wonderful project for you to work on all by yourself!”

But Jesus proclaims:
“I have a special project for you to work on.
And this project - is a group project.”


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Jesus teaches us: “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. (John 4:35)”

Last year, Bishop Doyle asked me to lead an exciting new venture, a “Greenfield Initiative,” by chairing a new Greenfield Commission. I have been leading this Greenfield Commission, a creative bunch that includes 8 clergy from all over our diocese. Yet our name - “greenfield” - brings about many questions as to the meaning of that word.

Evangelism in the greenfield means looking around you and seeing how the fields are ripe for harvesting. Greenfield evangelism does not mean knocking on unknown doors and passing out paper pamphlets about Jesus. Greenfield evangelism does not mean staying inside our churches and waiting for people to come to us, just because we have an attractive sign out front with our worship service times.

Greenfield evangelism means looking around at the places where you gather right now – and then seeing how the field is ripe for harvesting. Your greenfield might be a yoga class that you have attended for years. Your greenfield might be the group of guys that you go deer hunting with every fall. Your greenfield might be: a book club, the parents on your son’s football team, the college students on the floor of your dorm, the early risers with whom you power walk with every morning, the people who you meet for happy hour after work.

These are the greenfields that are ripe for the harvest. Then, in your greenfield, just open your mouth and share your story. And the harvest will come, in ways that we could never ask for or imagine.

Bishop Doyle is hosting a Conference on Evangelism at Camp Allen for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. The conference will be Friday, November 11 – Saturday, November 12. Jimmy and I will be there; please come and join us. You can register at If you come, I believe that you will learn to look around you, to find the greenfields in your life. You will learn how to share your story more effectively, so that the harvest of Jesus’ message of love will come, in ways that we could never ask for or imagine.

A video will be shown at the conference, highlighting the exciting challenge of the Greenfield Initiative. Our St. Alban’s Bible Study at Barnett’s Pub (the study begins again on Tuesday, September 27!) will be featured, an example of harvesting outside of the church buildings and into the ripe fields.

Where is your greenfield? Just look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.