Posts in this category are posts which I have personally written. As other authors contribute to the blog they will have a different category.

This was originally published in 2018 for our (then) parish blog. It has been altered and updated for St. David’s by the Sea Episcopal Church where I now serve as Rector.

Memory and thanksgiving. They are part and parcel of the Christian life, friends. One could sum up the whole of Israel’s life in the Old Testament and the life of the early church with these two words. We are a people of memory and a people who give thanks to God for what he has given us. Is this not why we gather on Sunday mornings? This is heightened or brought into sharper focus during the two-day celebration of All Saints (Nov 1) and All Souls (Nov 2).

All Saints

The Feast of All Saints is a time for the church to gather and celebrate those who have gone before us in the faith. On All Saints we look beyond the borders of both denominational distinctions and chronological time in order to bear witness to the great cloud of witnesses. The Collect for All Saints begins, “you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” We join our voices with the mystical body across both time and space when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might” at the beginning of the Eucharist.

You have heard it said before, and you will hear it said again: you cannot be a Christian in a vacuum. It takes a church to be a Christian, it takes the body of Christ to grow, shape, form, and nurture a Christian in godly living. The fellowship we have at St. David’s is a foretaste of the glory divine we will be sharing with every saint who has gone before and who shall come after.

The liturgy for All Saints makes clear that our celebration is directed toward an expectation: that we would follow the saints in “all virtuous and godly living.” The example laid before us over the last two millennia of the church is vast, deep, and wide. Part of the beauty of All Saints is that we recall those who have preceded us, and in so doing, bring them into the present that we might learn from them. Our creedal proclamation of believing in the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” is more fully realized on All Saints Day.

All Souls

All Souls – or sometimes known as All Faithful Departed – is the day set aside for us to give specific thanks for those who have recently died in the Lord. This year we remember in particular John Rockefeller, Gary Tharp, and others who have died in the last year. Several others remember family members they’ve lost this year. The beauty of All Souls is that we have a time set aside to celebrate their lives and memories together.

If I may move from blogging to meddling: do not go through All Souls alone. Anniversaries of death can be particularly painful, and as I’ve already mentioned, being a Christian is not a solitary activity. I urge you to corporately give thanks for those who have died by reaching out to their loved ones and friends. Send a text or an email, make a phone call, go and see someone: do it together!

On this day, as with every other day, we boldly proclaim that we are a people of hope. The reading from 1 Corinthians 15 – commonly used on All Souls – solidifies this as we read, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have become a people who know that death does not have the last word, that Life will be victorious, and that Jesus has trampled down death. May our grief and sorrow be turned to joy on this day as we remember our loved ones and await the fullness of the coming kingdom.  

All Saints and All Souls remind us that we are not alone. The Christian life can feel lonely and arduous at times, but we have the many examples of saints and fellow sojourners who can teach us and guide us through the harder times and rocky paths. The focal point of our thanksgiving and memory is always the same: our triune God. We might recall individuals, but we do so as part of worshipping Almighty God from whom all good things and blessings flow.

Photo by Daniel Borges on Pexels.com

My boys are growing up. Sure, they’re still little— not even teenagers at this point!—but they are getting older. The bittersweet reality of parenting is that children grow and transform before your very eyes and while you are excited about who they are becoming, you are also left with a sadness over each closing of a chapter.

I vividly remember bouncing each of those babies to sleep from the time they were infants until they were toddlers. My arms can still feel the weight of their little bodies as they curled up against me; I can still smell their sweet breath and feel their hair on my neck. It has been over five years since my oldest was small enough for me to bounce him regularly, but that activity was so normal, so familiar to me, that I know what it feels like. What I wouldn’t give to be able to bounce each of those babies to sleep one last time.

We all have memories stored inside of us which have penetrated our being far beyond cognition. Our muscles have memory, as do our senses.

As churches begin to reopen in phases, our memories will recall the physicality of our liturgical worship. It has been over three months since I have worshipped with other believers in person. I have not partaken of communion; I have not embraced my brothers and sisters during the Peace; I have not passed the offering plate down the pew; I have not processed into nave behind the cross with the weight of my alb and stole on my shoulders; I have not touched the water in the baptismal font and made a slightly dampened sign of the cross, nor held the chalice and paten aloft (“these are the holy gifts of God for you the holy people of God”), nor felt the swell of the organ and the voices of the faithful as hymns of praise are directed toward the heavenly throne room…

I know exactly how each of those things feels across my five senses. I remember their meaning, their touch, their aroma, their sound. I remember them, but things will be different…

How we are supposed to worship when we gather for in person worship?

Things will be different when we begin worshipping together again. Worship will include masks and hand sanitizing stations. It may be months before communion is offered in both kinds instead of just one. Congregational singing might be absent for an extended period of time. Our physical senses will engage in worship that is at once intimately familiar, yet wholly different.

As much as I would like to time-travel and hold each of my boys once more as infants and toddlers, I am forced to hold tightly those memories which have seeped from mind into my heart and muscles. The scene of bouncing and holding tight which was once so familiar to me is now but a tiny (yet utterly essential) component of my relationship with those three boys. We now create new memories and engage in different activities. Some things have changed while our relationship remains the same, totally familiar.

I would invite each of you to acknowledge the ways that worship will look and feel different as our churches slowly reopen from one phase to another. Release any and all expectations that things will “return to normal.” Liturgical life will never go back to precisely the same way it was before because, as a people, we have been forever changed by the events of the last several months. Even if one day things feel more “normal” than they do now, we are still changed. Give thanks for memories you have—those memories which have penetrated your senses beyond just cognition—and hold them tight, but then open yourself up to what the Spirit is doing during this strange season of corporate worship.

As we prepare to re-enter corporate worship together, we are left with our memories of “before the pandemic,” and we have an opportunity to give thanks for all God has done. We can hold in tension the gratitude for worshipping in person and the lament of change, but let’s give the muscle of thanksgiving more space to grow and flourish.

When the church gathers for worship, she does so to offer her sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving upon the altar to the glory of God and for the life of the world. Things may be different, but they are altogether familiar.

Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century)

This week we have journeyed across the spectrum of human emotion from the joyous song of “Hosanna!” to the command from Jesus to love one another, and ultimately to the crowd crying out “Crucify him!” We find that the emotional progression of Holy Week mirrors the depths of our own hearts; we are confronted with the reality that we too easily and too often vacillate between Hosanna and Crucify him!

The biblical story depicted in the liturgical calendar moves past the murderous crowd and beyond the crucifixion of the Son of God. The next scene in the story takes place on the day after Jesus’ death. The original Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday invites us into a time of intentional rest. 

This is not the first time creation has waited in rest. After God created all things, He rested on the seventh day, setting it apart as Sabbath. Similarly, in John’s Gospel, we learn that the day after the crucifixion was the seventh day. Sabbath, again. Rest after creation was finished; rest after the crucifixion. The rest of Holy Saturday is different, though; it lacks the joy of the Genesis Sabbath rest. 

It is a painful silence, an aching rest. 

At this point in the biblical account, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have already taken Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in the unused tomb. The women have prepared their spices and perfumes for the body but they are waiting to treat the body until after Sabbath when they can work once more. Jesus’ body lies in the tomb and his followers are faced with an existential grief – a longing lament over the loss of their friend, rabbi, and leader. And no answer is provided as a balm for their pain.

On this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ last words echo in our hearts and minds: It is finished. These words should point us, once again, back to the story of creation.

The Passion echoes Genesis and creation because the Passion was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world. In Genesis we find the story of creation, and in the Gospels we encounter the story of new creation. God rested because “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing.” Jesus rests in the tomb after saying, “It is finished” because his work was complete. God’s rest came after his proclamation that it was “very good”; God was glorified in Christ crucified…it was very good.

It is so easy for us to rush from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without pausing for breath or reflection. We should, however, be convicted by the reality that Sabbath being situated between Friday and Sunday represents a hard stop, an intentional rest, a painful silence for the whole of the cosmos. Christ’s work was finished. Full stop. And we are invited to rest in that completion. 

Before we move on to the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday when we ponder anew the Resurrection and new creation, allow yourself to let the fullness of Christ’s complete work on the cross wash over it. 

It is finished…and God saw that it was very good.

This sermon was written and preached for Church of the Apostles, Kansas City where I serve as Theologian in Residence. You can watch the whole Maundy Thursday liturgy, including the sermon, here.

Everything is different. 

There is no other way to describe our present reality: overarching, overwhelming, overactive change. We have had to change the way we shop for groceries; the way we work Monday thru Friday; the way we “do” Church; tragically, we have even changed the way we interact with our fellow humans. 

Tonight is no exception.

Typically, Maundy Thursday is a very hands on liturgy. As you probably remember, Maundy Thursday’s liturgy normally mirrors Sunday worship but adds a foot washing. It is a powerful experience, often with many smiles and many more tears. Then we come to the altar as we remember the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his friends; we drink the wine and eat the bread; we experience, taste, touch, and smell the body and blood of Jesus in a poignantly palpable way. Finally, the altar is stripped and washed. We watch as the sacramental vessels, the candles, and the liturgical accoutrement are silently removed, the lights dimmed, and the cross draped.  

All of this is thick with meaning and beauty…and yet this year is different.

What does it look like for the church to celebrate Maundy Thursday when she is separated, scattered, and dispersed? How do we enact and embody Jesus’ command to love one another and to “do this” in remembrance of him when we are under order to “stay-at-home”? We are separated by time in addition to distance because I am recording this sermon on Wednesday which means you are watching it a day later…

Everything is different.

And yet…it is all the same. It is all very much the same.

It would be so easy to sit amid the changing landscape of human history and modern society and throw our hands up in the air, exasperated, and proclaim, “Things will never again be the same!” You would be right on one hand…many things won’t ever be the same. There are so many variables at play, and we’re still so in the midst of this situation, that we really don’t know what our world will look like when this is over. 

Friends, we are disoriented.

But disorientation is never an isolated event when things are changing. Change involves the same progression over and over: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. 

We all know just how often things change in our lives, and just how much we typically hate it. However, and this is an important however, there are some things which are always the same; some things do not change; in some things we can place our trust or perhaps even the entirety of our lives and know that they are secure…

…and this is precisely what we encounter on Maundy Thursday.

In the Exodus story we find Israel on the very cusp of a change–a change which would affect her identity and her memory forever. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years and in our text we find YHWH giving instructions for a meal that would become the ritual which defined Israel more than any other, even to this day. YHWH tells his chosen people to take a lamb and slaughter it at twilight. The people were then to take some of the blood and mark the doorposts of their houses before eating the lamb hurriedly, with girded loins, sandaled feet, and staff in hand. Why? Because this is the night that YHWH would pass over the houses of Israel and strike down the firstborn in Egypt. This is the night when YHWH would secure the release of his people so that they could worship him in the desert. YHWH finishes by saying: This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

The remembrance was always the same because the event that they were commemorating was always the same. When Jews celebrate Passover during times of peace or times of trial, she always remembers the Passover when YHWH redeemed his people. Throughout Jewish history, though, we know that the Jewish people had vastly different circumstances year to year. From wars, global dispersion, and persecution, the faithful celebrate the never-changing ritual of Passover even when life looks radically different. 

During the Passover celebration, the youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This is a question we should be asking ourselves tonight. Ask yourself or look to the person next to you and ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?

This night is different because tonight we remember the last night before everything changed forever. Passover was the calm before the storm; so too was the Last Supper. Passover was the meal before YHWH struck down the first born and Israel’s redemption from the hands of Pharaoh; the Last Supper was the meal before the crucifixion and resurrection. 

Both the Passover and the Last Supper were rituals given to carry people through disorientation.

Jesus gives his disciples not one, but two, ritualistic remembrances. The first is the washing of feet. This was the most powerful symbolic act demonstrating love, a pouring out of divine love, for one another. Jesus said that the world would know his disciples by their love; he revealed to them what that love would look like: it was the master taking on the form of a servant. 

The second was the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus broke bread and poured wine for his followers during the Passover celebration because he was the Paschal lamb; he would be the blood on the doorposts allowing God to “pass over.” The Lord’s Supper is the festal remembrance, the perpetual ordinance which we have been given. 

Notice that Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet at first because he knew just how lowly it was for Jesus to do the job of a servant. Clearly he did not see it as humility but as humiliation. When he finally understood, Peter wanted his entire body washed! Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, even Judas’ feet when he knew he was about to betray him. Would we consider washing the feet of our enemies? How about those we disagree with theologically? How about those from whom we are estranged? Forget washing, would we even pray for them? 

In washing each others’ feet we are invited into the unending love of the Trinity extended to all of creation. We open ourselves to the overwhelming love of God.

Holy Week allows us to enter into the full disorientation of the crucifixion and the resurrection; we see the Son of Man glorified and lifted high, we see God being glorified in Christ crucified, we see Christ enthroned upon the cross. All of this forms our remembrance when we celebrate Holy Eucharist. Paul tells us that as often as we eat and drink the bread and wine we are proclaiming Christ’s death until he comes. 

The same ritual which carried us through disorientation is the very fabric of our reorientation. 

Tonight is different, not just because it’s Maundy Thursday, and it’s “different than all the other nights.” That’s already baked into the liturgical cake. Tonight is different because we’re at home. One of the very rituals given to us that we normally celebrate tonight, the Eucharist, we can’t because we’re separated. We’re dispersed. We’re disoriented. 

We may not have the visible symbols and tangible experiences in front of us this Maundy Thursday the way that we have in the past, but God has not changed; the Passion of Christ has not changed; the command to love one another and to share in Jesus’ meal has not changed. As we worship in “a foreign setting” I want you to hold on to the fact that Eucharist is still part of our re-orientation; the very absence we feel tonight because we lack Holy Communion is evidence that every Eucharist we have celebrated before–flowing directly from the Last Supper–is an action which still affects and directs our reorientation toward God.

The symbols and signs of Holy Week remain true whether we’re dealing with a global pandemic or “life as we remember it.” Despite everything else going on around us, we remain tethered to the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I leave you with an invitation and a promise: enter into the most powerful three day period in the liturgical calendar with the assured knowledge that the changes occuring in the world around us can do nothing to mitigate, mute, or muffle the cosmic victory of Christ’s Passion. These rituals, then, keep us rooted in who we are as God’s people. They keep us rightly reoriented toward God despite the disorientation we are presently experiencing. May your Holy Week disorient and then reorient you toward Almighty God.

Since the publication of this post, I have updated the liturgy to include an original Collect as part of the closing section. The updated liturgy is the second document provided at the bottom of this post.

One of the beautiful things about liturgy is that it can be used to mark the highest highs and lowest lows of life. The joys of birth, baptism, marriage, and ordination are commemorated with individual rites; the sorrow of death has its own liturgy; we mark time by day, week, and year with various offices. 

Liturgy helps us answer the question, How then shall we pray?

As we face this global pandemic of COVID-19, many of us find ourselves full of anxiety. Through social-distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine, how are we to pray? Through states of emergency and government lockdowns, how are we to pray? As our daily lives are turned upside down with school closings, job uncertainties, and economic instability, how are we to pray? 

The answer is often, I don’t know. It is difficult to find concrete words to pray in circumstances for which most of us have no context. In an attempt to give us a common language of prayer during this time, I have written a liturgy specifically designed for use during this global pandemic.

In this liturgy, you will find a prayer of general confession devoted to fear, anxiety, and worry; included within the intercessions are prayers for those who are sick, for health workers, for churches, and for all of humanity; I have included the General Thanksgiving because all of prayer (and liturgy) is doxological; finally, I have included some prayers for specific times of the day. You can use this liturgy once or often throughout the day. It has been composed for both individual and family use. Lastly, I have written it in the hopes that it gives us a shared language with which we can approach Almighty God in prayer and supplication, praise and lament, sorrow and hope.

You can access the liturgy below:

UPDATED LITURGY:

This sermon was prepared for and preached with Church of the Apostles, Kansas City (my home parish) in mind. I offer both the audio link and text here for any who may be inclined to listen/hear. I hope you find it to be an encouragement and blessing — all critiques and feedback welcome.

AUDIO VERSION HERE

“Constant Vigilance”

The human ability to adjust to our surroundings is unparalleled, a byproduct of both God’s design in creation and the faculties developed and nurtured through centuries of survival. The human eye is able to adjust to a dark room within 20-30 minutes. The process, known as “dark adaptation,” occurs as the cones and the rods in our eyes adjust to the lack of light, allowing us to gain a sort of night vision. According to Rafael Caruso, an investigator in the National Eye Institute’s Ophthalmic Genetics & Visual Function Branch in Bethesda, Md., “The human retina can perform its light-detection function in an astounding range of light intensities, from bright sunlight to dim starlight.”[1] Athletes often train in higher altitudes in order to shock their systems with less oxygen, therefore requiring their bodies to adjust to the intentionally imposed stress and forcing them to thrive; this is particularly true for the world’s greatest runners and cyclists.

Similarly, researchers and thought leaders say it typically takes 30-40 days to form a new habit. Our bodies are able to adapt to a new diet, the engaging of regular exercise, or a new sleep pattern. The first 10 days are rough because you are essentially shocking your system by introducing something new. The next 10 days are the normalizing process during which you are learning to walk like a newborn foal; you have your legs underneath you but you are still wobbly, as it were. The last 10 days see you flourishing in your new practice so that by the time you hit that 30-40 day mark, you have put in a significant amount of hours and minutes in adopting the new practice, your body and mind have adjusted to the new thing, and you have now successfully incorporated it into your daily routine,…the success, however, is dependent upon one key principle:

Constant vigilance.

You cannot start-stop your diet or your exercise on a daily basis and still achieve the same weight-loss results. Trust me, I’ve tried. You cannot save money for a season, then spend it all, and then save, and keep it up and still hope to retire with a fat bank account. Again, trust me, I’ve tried. In the words of the imposter Mad-Eye Moody, aka Barty Crouch Jr, you have to practice constant vigilance…you have to constantly be watching, working, pursuing the goal.

Today we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church’s calendar, and we begin to prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of Messiah. However, and this is a very big however based on the lessons for today, we cannot adequately reflect upon the First Advent of Jesus without also bearing in mind and thinking about his second Advent, that day when he comes in glory to judge, to reign and rule, to usher in his kingdom fully and finally. The lessons for today are focused on that second advent and thus prompt the question, “What do the two advents have in common and what do they mean for our daily lives?” and beg an answer that is at once both reflective and applicable.

So, we start. The passage from Isaiah is both prophetic and apocalyptic. Here we see an outline of the end times. There will be a day, says Isaiah, when the whole world will come to the city on a hill (Jerusalem) and there they will learn from God. Remember, Isaiah is writing during the reign of the kings of Israel. There have been good kings and bad kings. Before that there was the period of the judges when Israel was push-me-pull-me with her God. One might, just might say, that in the realm of covenantal faithfulness, Israel had not been practicing constant vigilance with any regularity…

This will be a time of peace, a time when the wars shall cease, and the swords are beaten into ploughshares. So powerful is this prophetic image that even the musical Les Misérables references it in its closing song citing the day when, “We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord, we will walk behind the ploughshares, we will put away the sword, the chains will be broken and all men shall have their reward.” This is not a temporary cease-fire between warring nations, nor is it the promise of man-made world peace. We also know that Isaiah isn’t describing the first advent of Christ because when Jesus finally does come on to the scene, he both enters and leaves amidst fighting, wars, hostility, and pain. This is the day depicted by John in his revelation when there will be no more tears or crying or sorrow or pain or death, the day when the whole world resides with God…and don’t miss that key fact. This is not Israel’s future with YHWH, but the future of the whole world, the opening of covenant to Jews and Gentiles alike.

The Psalm also depicts this. What you need to bear in mind about Psalm 122 is that it is one of the Psalms of Ascent. Israel made pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals. During this pilgrimage, those traveling along the road would sing the Psalms of Ascent. These Psalms ascend in two senses. First, Jerusalem is the city upon a hill, and one must ascend the hill to reach the city. The second is that thematically, these Psalms gradually ascend until reaching final crescendo in Psalm 134 when Israel proclaims:

1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

who minister by night in the house of the Lord.

2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and praise the Lord.

3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,

he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

We can see the theme of ascent from the beginning because Psalm 122 begins with, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD?’” Where is the house of the LORD? Jerusalem! Why would one be glad to go there? Because her life had been shaped and oriented around worshipping God. Israel made these pilgrimages tri-annually because she believed that worshipping YHWH in this manner, on these occasions, was an intimate part of her relationship with him. Despite Israel’s lack of constant vigilance, this festal worship was a regular reminder, a regular call to return to God and to joyful receive his compassion and forgiveness. It was an opportunity to step back into the bright light after days, weeks, months, or years of living spiritually with dark adaptation vision.

We come to Romans and Matthew and we get into this sticky matter of time. Who knows what time it is when the Son of Man will come again? Only the Father! Not even the Son knows the time of his parousia. Don’t worry, Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father, reigning and ruling over all things. When we read that the Son of Man doesn’t know the time this is a nod to Jesus’ incarnation and the fact that he was both fully God and fully man. It is in the humility of his humanity, just as the Collect suggests when it says, “now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility,” it is in this humility that the Son of Man does not know the time.

Jesus talks about other events that happened when no one was expecting them…Noah and the flood, two women working and two men working, and one is taken and the other is not. The point of these stories is not a retroactive marketing ploy to boost sales of Left Behind. Most commentators agree here that the point of these vignettes was to highlight the sudden and unexpected nature of Christ’s return rather than the manner of how it happened.

The real meat of these two passages, though, is when they begin highlighting the types of behaviors and actions we should be engaging in and/or abstaining from while we await his coming in glory. We are to give up smoking, drinking, chewing, and dating girls that do…seriously, drunkeness, licentiousness, sexual immorality. What if we added lying, stealing, cheating, dishonesty, judgmental thoughts, portraying a holier than thou persona on social media, hostility in relationships and friendships based on unmet expectations and hurts, pride of position, lack of humility …oh dear, I hope that list wasn’t too specific and uncomfortable 😉

Jesus describes the master of the house who keeps watch when he knows the hour of the thief coming to rob his house. If you knew that the burglar was coming to your house at 1:07am then of course you’d be ready. But what do you do when you don’t know the time or hour, the day or month, the minute or year? How does one adjust one’s life to include constant vigilance when considering an earth shattering even over which you have no control and for which you can only prepare but can never know the exact time?

But now we have finally come to the crux…what are we to do with these lessons about the second Advent when we are in fact gathered to celebrate the first coming of Messiah?

Jesus’ first advent was like a thief coming in the night. After Isaiah’s prophetic-apocalyptic vision of jubilee, Israel was exiled and conquered over and over again. She went 430 years without hearing a word from YHWH and then a little boy was born to parents with royal blood but no real position in the world. In Herod’s and Caesar’s backyards, men who believed themselves to be the sons of god, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem and his coming was only known to his poor, unwed mother, his father, the wise men, the shepherds, and of course the paranoid, bloodthirsty, and murderous Herod. He came quietly; the religious leaders expected a military and political leader to come and vanquish Rome, usher in the theocracy, and instead they/we received a humble king who rode into town on a donkey rather than a chariot and warhorse.

This season, we will sing songs about preparing our hearts to make room for Christ. This is not a sweet, poetic it of theological pander…there is actual work to be done here. Constant vigilance! To be vigilant is to be on the watch, to be alert and aware, to be ready and prepared. We cannot be lazy, distracted, slow, or negligent in our care and concern.

So, friends, I would like to take this opportunity to propose that we treat this Advent season as a mini-Lent. In Lent we take on disciplines and practices, while also giving up unnecessary stuff, in order to prepare for Easter Joy. Let us do the same thing during these four weeks as we prepare for Christmas joy. And, don’t worry, I have given you a list of 4 pairs: a discipline alongside something for you to give up. You have 25 days until Christmas to embrace and introduce a new habit to your life.

  1. Take on the discipline of reading the Daily Office and give up worrying about the future. The good news is that God is god and you are not. The bad news is that this will likely hurt your ego. Worrying about the future does nothing other than rob us of joy and energy in the present. The Daily Office will help you trust God by spending your time focusing on him instead of worrying about things outside of your control. This means people, places, things, events, acts of God, traffic patterns, money…
  2. Take on the discipline of abstinence and give up impulsivity. I am not talking about “that” kind of abstinence. Figure out the activities from which you ought to abstain: social media, gossip, speaking critically of others, lying, drinking, overeating, an obsession of self. Instead take on slower habits: reflection, thoughtfulness, prudence. Little good actually comes from impulsivity. Exercise restraint of pen and tongue—that is, don’t like your lips write a check you aren’t willing to cash—and think before you act. The goal is to become slow to anger and quick to love rather than quick to anger and slow to forget…
  3. Take on the discipline of daily confession and give up judging others. We cannot adequately prepare our hearts, minds, imaginations, and lifestyles if we have been unwilling to look into the darkest corners of our hearts. We typically judge others when we have unconfessed sin in our own lives. Set aside time every day to reflect and confess your sins to your Heavenly Father, not because he is a despot or task master, but because you truly desire absolution and remission of sin. Focus on yourself here and thereby stop focusing on the sins and shortcomings of others…
  4. Take on the discipline of sacrifice and give up self-serving endeavors. Let’s be honest and admit that the next month feels like Christmas instead of Advent, a focus on me instead of he. We will be pressed for time, money, and energy. This is the moment to shift our focus to others and give more than we have before. Find people to serve in discrete ways. More than anything, think on others instead of yourself. If you think about what you can achieve or get out of something it’s not the right thing.

We are not awaiting the thief to come in the night. While the second coming might be compared to a thief coming in the night, please remember that we are actually talking about the return of the King, the coming of the One who has a rightful claim to the throne and who will judge all things and put the world to rights. Jesus is coming, both King of kings and Lord of lords, and our call is to prepare our hearts for his return, even as we reflectively prepare to celebrate his birth once more. May we be found faithful and vigilant.


[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-eyes-adjust-to-darkness/

By Porter C. Taylor
Written for Church of the Apostles, KC.

Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The evangelist and physician, Luke, has provided the church with a wealth of detail, historical context, and beautifully articulated depictions of God’s love for His people and His world. The feast commemorating St. Luke is a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate his writings and the collect for the day captures two central themes worthy of deeper examination: “the love and healing power” of Jesus. Year C of the Lectionary, the liturgical year which ends next month, has included a lengthy trek through Luke’s Gospel which will culminate on Christ the King Sunday with the scene of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness from the cross (“Father, forgive them”) and the promise of life after death to the repentant thief. Surely, there can be no better depiction of healing and love than this.

The images of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 are particularly poignant when considering these twin themes because through the stories we see a God who seeks after the least, the last, and the lost. We find a father running to meet his wayward and rebellious son while he was still a long way off and then throw a party for him, complete with fatted calf and signet ring. Love personified in such a way is overwhelming, it is scandalous; it restores, redeems, and heals.

It would be easy to relegate references of healing in Luke’s gospel to stories of physical being ailments reversed, overturned, and wiped away. However, the deeper layer of truth to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is the power of God’s love to heal His people, their land, and His world. Early on in the gospel, we encounter Jesus in the synagogue where He stands up to read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The passage depicts the year of the LORD’s favor (jubilee) and Jesus read aloud to those gathered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The steadfast, unrelenting, covenant love of YHWH for His people can be tangibly and palpably seen through the hope-filled promise of jubilee. Luke’s gospel shows what this healing love looks like in action: friends lowering their lame companion through a roof; a shepherd searching for the one sheep; a woman looking for a lost coin; a Father restoring his son; Jesus dying on the cross and yet forgiving those who were killing him.

The love of Jesus heals more than just the body; it affects the heart, mind, and soul. Our call, as Christians, is to then love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as well. Through this type of love, we praise God in the fullest and purest sense. Luke’s Gospel invites us into such a loving relationship, it beckons us to die to self, to hear Jesus’ absolution from the cross, and to receive His promise of new life. Luke’s story continues in Acts as we discover the gospel bursting forth into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithful witness of the disciples, apostles, martyrs (Wednesday was the lesser feast commemorating Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century), and the early church. This heritage is what should inform us and urge us on toward sharing the love of God with neighbor and stranger alike, just as God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.

Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name.

(Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes St. Luke as the original iconographer. Here’s an interesting article attributing several icons of Mary to him.)

By Porter C. Taylor

I have never been a fan of the sound of my own voice. For those who know me as someone who preaches, teaches, or talks about Manchester United and literary fiction, this may come as a bit of a surprise. I tend to use more words in a day than most people do in a week.

As I was driving away from Holy Cross Anglican Church in Loganville, GA during the summer of 2006, I thought it might be a good idea to listen to my recently recorded (and first ever) sermon. I put the CD into the disc drive in my Nissan Sentra–yes, I am that old–and waited for the audio to begin. This was my first mistake…

The opportunity to preach a sermon for the first time on a Sunday morning had been overwhelming. My previous speaking experiences had come within the context of youth ministry, but this sermon was to be one of my final acts as part of my summer employment. I had big plans for the sermon: I was going to re-write the Nicene Creed satirically and had dubbed the rendition “The Doubters Creed.” Rebecca gave me a loving and necessary nudge in the right direction and I abandoned my 20-year-old-know-it-all-full-of-arrogance plans and returned to the lectionary texts.

I preached at both services that morning with family, friends, and students from the youth group in attendance. I was nervous and excited and full of questions. What do you do with your hands? Should I stand still or move around? What if my voice cracks and I fall down the chancel steps and what if…? You can see how my mind was firing on all cylinders.

So, when I walked past the table outside of the Nave on the following Sunday, I was delightedly surprised to find a CD with my name on it. I grabbed the disc and immediately put it into the drive to accompany me on my 30-minute trek home.

Spoiler: I did not listen for long.

My voice came on through the speaker system in my Nissan and I was horrified. Is that how I really sound? Is that what my voice actually sounds like in real life? My ears were so attuned to the noises coming through the recording that I was distracted from everything else around me…including the pickup truck in front of me which had come to a stop (along with the rest of traffic). I did not stop my car until I had hit the rear of his bumper.

Yes, friends, that’s right: I was so anxious and disturbed by the sound of my own voice that I had a fender bender in the church parking lot.

Moving beyond that embarrassing and non-ticket-able-moment, I had the joyful privilege of recording two podcast episodes which went live last week. The first to “drop” was my segment on The Podluck Podcast with Megan Westra. I was asked to answer the question, “What does it mean to be saved?” in 20 minutes or less. A dangerous task because remember, I like using words. I opted to answer the question from the angle of narrative theology. You can listen to the whole episode.

The second podcast episode to go live was my interview with Ian Lasch of All Things Rite and Musical regarding the #schmemannvolume (We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee). Ian and I had a great time talking all things liturgical theology, Schmemann, and prayer book. You can listen to it here.

I would love for you to listen to both of these episodes, but reader-turned-listener beware: my voice can sometimes lead to parking lot fender benders. Listen at your own risk. Buckle your seat belt. Keep both eyes on the road. Let the dulcet tones overwhelm you…happy listening!

By Porter C. Taylor

The liturgical year presents the Church with many opportunities to reflect upon Christ’s work on the cross. On Good Friday we are invited to meditate upon the agony and pain, the love and obedience, the silence and awe of His crucifixion. One typically leaves the Good Friday liturgy full of sorrow and torment mixed with thanksgiving for God’s unrelenting love. We then return to the cross, in a way, on Easter as we come to flower the cross with our own blooms and blossoms, celebrating that what was intended for evil by man was ultimately used for good by God for the life of the whole world.

The cross is everywhere around us, and yet I wonder if we, both culturally and as a church, have become blind to its meaning and power. Is it possible that we have simultaneously become both desensitized to the brutality of Jesus’s execution and overly personalized/privatized the crucifixion (i.e. saying “Christ died for me”) that we have neglected the redeeming work accomplished on Calvary? We throw around the idea of “taking up our cross” and following Jesus as though we have forgotten what that meant for Him, and for His disciples, and ultimately for us. As with many things in our faith, the cross presents us with a paradox, for it is at once both a symbol of death and life, of agony and glory, of defeat and victory. The Feast of the Holy Cross is therefore an opportunity to think, reflect, and celebrate this paradox.

The Collect provides us with the guidance we need to read our lessons and understand the meaning of the Feast: “whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him.” Here we find both the universal and the particular co-mingling in the same sentence; Jesus is drawing the whole world to Himself, and we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. There is a connection here between the once and for all nature of Jesus’ passion and our invitation to live as a cross-shaped people.

Lifted High

The Bible is teeming with references to the Son of Man being lifted high for all to see. Our lessons for this Feast include Isaiah 45 and John 12 as examples of this, but we might also remember Moses raising the bronze snake in the Exodus story and then Jesus echoing this story when he said that he must be lifted up in the same manner. Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John’s gospel is richly imbibed with a theme we might summarize as “God is glorified in Christ crucified” and these passages point to the power Jesus’ crucifixion holds for all who believe.

As Paul reminds us in his epistle to the church in Philippi, Jesus went to the cross willingly, obediently, and faithfully. He did not end up on the cross as some sort of accident or coincidence; He was neither outsmarted by the religious leaders of the day nor caught while trying to escape. Jesus set His gaze like flint toward Jerusalem and then journeyed directly to the cross for the sins and life of the whole world. The cross is both the reminder of humanity’s wayward desire to life apart from God and the fullest expression of God’s self-emptying love for His creation. In order to view the cross as a symbol of discipleship, we must first see the cross as the place where our Savior willingly died that all might know God; that is, we cannot have an empty and clean cross without first embracing the cross with Jesus dying upon it.

Taking Up Your Cross

The invitation to take up your cross is not cheap. Culturally we have become so flippant with our references that it is common to equate a personal disagreement or verbal attack with the crucifixion. And yet, the apostles carried their crosses unto death; the martyrs and saints of the last 2000 years have done the same. To take up our cross is to similarly set our gaze like flint toward whatever your horizon the Lord is calling us and to journey there intentionally and with God’s love, compassion, mercy, grace, and mission overflowing from our hearts. As they say in AA meetings, “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.”

A Christian who has been shaped by the cross is a person ready to lift that cross even higher that others might see Jesus and turn to him, as well. The cross we are called to bear is not an inconvenience or annoyance to which we can say, “We all have our crosses to bear…” as though putting a theological bow on it will somehow make it more palatable. The cross we are called to bear is the cross of Christ, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Think about Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus when He could no longer do so himself: Simon had to follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha with the cross on his back…how far are we willing to carry the cross?

Challenge

Here at COTA we have been blessed by the beautiful processional cross created for us by our own Tom McDonald. We bow when the cross processes past us as the verger carries it into the nave and again out into the world. If you are intentionally attentive, then you will notice the handle on the cross changes based on the liturgical season, a visible symbol of the tenor and theme at hand: penance, glory, ordinary time, etc. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the colors as you meditate upon Christ’s work. Allow yourself to be arrested by the image of Christ upon the cross, forcing yourself to gaze upon Him a second longer than you would normally do. Let the Feast of the Holy Cross be both a reminder of Jesus’ passion and of your invitation to take up the cross and follow Jesus daily, wherever He might lead you.

This was originally written for and published by our parish blog – Church of the Apostles, Kansas City – where I serve as Assisting Priest and Theologian in Residence. You can read it here.

I wrote this blog post for our parish blog (Church of the Apostles, Kansas City). You can find it here; you should also read the fabulous contributions from far more talented writers in your community, too.

The Feast of the Transfiguration (celebrated August 6) is one of my favorite feasts in the entire church calendar. While other holy days merely commemorate a person or an event, this one is powerful because it is very easy to imagine the palpable glory and majesty which the disciples saw displayed atop Mount Tabor. The Feast of the Transfiguration is a high and holy day (pardon the liturgical pun) because we are invited to ascend the mountain with Jesus and the disciples and there “behold the King in His beauty.”

As with any passage of Scripture, we are invited to dig a little bit deeper and remember other mountain-top and glory-filled encounters. Our minds ought to wander to two scenes in Exodus: first, when YHWH descended upon Mt. Sinai with cloud and smoke before consecrating His people and giving them the law; second, when Moses ascended Sinai and met with YHWH and beheld His glory so much that Moses himself radiated it and had to veil his face from Israel. Moses’ appearance was transfigured because he had been in the presence of the Holy and yet journeyed back down to the people each and every time in order to live out his calling. The awe-some power of God inspired both “the fear of the LORD” and a sense of reverence and worship.

We might also think of Elijah atop Mount Carmel battling the prophets of Baal in the name of YHWH and calling down fire from heaven. Elijah had feared for his life, running from Jezebel, yet ended up proclaiming YHWH’s victory and power against 800 prophets. Elijah did not stay at the summit once he was done, though. He moved on and poured himself into his disciple, Elisha, before being caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. He encountered God both in the silence and the terrifying display of fire, and his life was devoted to calling Israel back to her God. One does not find God and keep the experience private…

Moses and Elijah: prophets and leaders; mountaintop experiences with power and glory; YHWH victorious over all things, reigning over all people. Do you see why our minds wander here? Jesus takes His closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the top of a mountain, and there He appears transfigured, radiant in white, between Moses and Elijah. These holy three discussed Jesus’ impending death and the voice from heaven affirms and validates Jesus’ identity, charging the witnesses to listen and obey. Jesus then sets His face like flint toward Jerusalem and begins His intentional trek toward the cross.

As we read the assigned lesson from Peter’s second epistle, the document he wrote decades after this experience, you can almost feel the emotion pouring forth from Peter’s memory; you can almost see the scene he is recalling. The Transfiguration shaped and transformed Peter in a mighty way. Peter may have descended the mountain with Jesus only to betray Him three times before the crucifixion, but Jesus reinstated Peter and his ministry was faithful unto death. You cannot remain unchanged, unphased, unaffected when you encounter the glory and majesty of the Living God.

The invitation before you today as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration is an invitation to behold the King in His beauty, to taste and see the Lord’s majesty and glory, and to move forward from that holy place into a more faithful expression of obedience. When we focus exclusively on the glorious majesty of God, we are freed from the disquieting distractions of this world; when we look to Christ, we are no longer consumed with external pressures, influences, and burdens which tell us that we need to accomplish/achieve more. I pray that we can all find God in the silence and the awe-some vision of Jesus’ transfiguration and let that encounter spur us on from one degree of glory to the next.