Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today's Sermon: Luke 13:31-35 “Fixing It”

The Pharisees weren’t particularly known for their love of Jesus. The gospels are full of stories painting the Pharisees, the religious leadership group of the time, as manipulative and evil men who actively disliked Jesus. For that matter, he didn’t much like them, and told them so in no uncertain terms. So why would the Pharisees go to Jesus and warn him that Herod wanted to kill him?

It doesn’t make much sense, does it? But political machinations are nothing new. We might ask ourselves what’s the politics of the situation? Who is jockeying for position? Who gets something out of this exchange?

Some commentators have suspected that the Pharisees were perfectly willing to have someone get rid of Jesus, but they didn’t want the responsibility for his death to fall on someone who was a Jewish governor. They didn’t want the Jewish leadership to be blamed. And so they told him, hoping that Jesus would flee Herod’s territory, and walk into the hands of the Romans, who were suspicious of Jesus’ political motives. Perhaps Pontius Pilate would get rid of Jesus, and then it would all be the Romans’ fault.

This bears no small resemblance to the kinds of politics we’ve seen in play in recent years on the local and national stage. State governors often punt a problem to the national government so they don’t have to take the blame for problems they can’t solve. And if the President is a different party than the governor, so much the better. Jockeying for political power, or for avoiding political fallout is nothing new - such machinations have been with us a long time.

But Jesus will not allow himself to be drawn into the Pharisees’ political problem. He is busy doing the work he was sent to do, caring for those who are in need of him. He knows what is coming, but he still does the work, even as he grieves that he is so little understood. He sends a message back to Herod through the Pharisees, who are possibly in league with Herod : “You go tell that fox, that untrustworthy and corrupt one, that I’m busy doing my work of healing and when I finish, then I will go to Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem is coming, inevitable and like a dark shadow. For him, Jerusalem is a corrupt and corrupted place, a place of death of the soul as it will be the place of the death of his body. But even as it becomes clear that the political powers will cause his death, and that his trip to Jerusalem is inevitable, he still longs to care for those in need. Others would turn their back on the city, turn and run as far and as fast as they can, but Jesus accepts that this is the path that he is on, even thought the outcome will be bad. And as he accepts it, he mourns those whom he will not be able to help, those whom he thinks he will leave behind.

That image, a sad and grieving Jesus mourning those in Jerusalem who do not hear him, is a powerful one. Anyone who has tiptoed into their child’s room at night, full of love and worry, wanting to make sure that nothing bad happens to them, knows that feeling. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers its brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

That poignant lament speaks to all of us who have suffered over our children.

A woman I know, a waitress in a diner I used to frequent, had an adult daughter who is very troubled. This girl was addicted to drugs, lived with a string of abusive men, gave birth to three children by different fathers, who were taken away and put into foster care. My friend tried everything to help her daughter. She gave her money to get away from her abusers, paid for rehab several times, tried to get custody of her grandchildren but couldn’t because of poor health, put up her daughter when she needed a place to live….over and over again, she tried to save this girl from herself. Over and over again, the girl stole from her, took advantage of her mother’s love, lied….over and over, the mother wished that there was something she could do to fix her broken daughter. She wept many tears and prayed many prayers, but it did no good.

She was a good mother. She did everything she could. But in the end, the young woman died of an overdose. All her mother could do was mourn, and keep going by putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work she was meant to do, working in a restaurant, waiting tables. The people whom she served didn’t know of her personal tragedy. Perhaps they sensed a certain sadness in her, but they also sensed a certain determination, a gritty smile, and they appreciated how she took good care of them in her way, by bringing their food orders promptly, and rarely making a mistake.

Inside, though, she still wept, as Jesus wept, lamenting lost possibilities, lamenting his own coming death, lamenting the fact that the very people who should know their God and honor him had gone astray.

But even as he wept, he made a promise: if we honor him, saying “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” he will be with us.

There are two things that really strike me in this passage. The first has to do with suffering. Often, people say to me, “I don’t understand why my mother is suffering. She was such a good Christian.” Somehow, we have gotten the idea that Christians, being good people, get a bye on ever having bad things happen to them. “It’s not fair,” we cry. Good people are not supposed to have bad things happen to them. But where in the gospel does it ever say that? In point of fact, aren’t we told over and over again that following Jesus is hard and may cause us even more problems? And aren’t we told that our reward is not an easy life on earth, but eternal life with God?

Here’s the second thing I hear: the promise of this gospel passage is not that if we are good and follow Christ in all things, we will never suffer. No, the promise is that God loves us so much, wants to be with us so much, that even in this imperfect world, even among this imperfect people, God will still give us his Son to do the hard work of redeeming us. And that Son will weep at our imperfect hearing of what he has to say, but will still do the work, will still die on that cross, to save us, just so that, in the end, we will be with him and his Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Jesus will still walk toward Jerusalem, knowing what awaits him, something more horrible than any of us could stand, because his work is to bring us to a more perfect relationship with God.

My friend the waitress could not save her daughter, but she smiles at her customers and gives them good service. The pain she feels over what happened to her family has not gone away, but she has a larger obligation, and she fulfills that obligation with as much grace as she can muster. In her own way, she brings souls to Christ by being Christ in their eyes, whether they consciously recognize it or not. “I don’t know, Mary” she said to me one morning as I sipped hot coffee out of a thick ceramic mug. “It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but I got to get to work in the morning, you know? If somebody comes in, looks like he’s havin’ a hard start to the day, if I can smile and pour him a cup of coffee, baby him a little, make him smile, maybe that’s my good deed for the day. I can’t fix the big stuff, Lord knows that, but maybe I can fix the little stuff, and put him right before he goes out the door.”

None of us can put the world right. Even Jesus cried that he couldn’t fix it all. But his promise is that if we bless him and honor him, in our prayers and in helping fix the little stuff, we will know him, and we may even put someone right before they go out the door. That’s a goal for Lent and for every day. Fix the little stuff.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Five: Winter Olympics Edition

Songbird brings us a fun Friday Five from the RevGalsBlogPals:

1) Which of the Winter Olympic sports is your favorite to watch?

I love to watch the snowboarding, because that's my kids' sport, but it scares me to watch the half-pipe, just like it has when my kids have done it. And call me sappy, but I really do like the ice dancing, mostly.

2) Some of the uniforms have attracted attention this year, such as the US Snowboarders' pseudo-flannel shirts

and the Norwegian Curling team's -- ahem -- pants.

Who do you think had the best-looking uniforms?

I actually like the Nordic event outfits, mostly because they show how incredibly buff those folks are! Norwegians, particularly, in those great red suits.

3) And Curling. Really? What's up with that?

It sort of looks like something surveyors do. Not my thing. And as for those Norwegian curlers' argyle pants, they look like something from the Last Markdown rack at K-Mart.

4) Define Nordic Combined. Don't look it up. Take a guess if you must.

Ski jumping and cross-country ski race. Go Bill Demong!

(There will be a prize for the best answer, but be aware, this is a judged sport.)

5) If you could be a Winter Olympics Champion just by wishing for it, which sport would you choose for winning your Gold Medal?

I'd think biathlon. I used to cross-country ski, years ago, novice level, and I loved how it made me feel. To be able to do that - it's hard work - and then be able to calm oneself so completely and instantly so that I could shoot a small target, that would be pretty darned impressive.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty much ready for the Olympics to be over. I love it, and appreciate the great gifts of the athletes, but the commentators have run out of fresh things to say and I miss non-ahtletic comedy and drama....

Yes, I've been busy...

As I mentioned a few days ago, stuff is going on which must remain unblogged for a bit longer. So be patient, dear friends. All will be revealed shortly, and all is well.

In the meantime, we had a wonderful Vestry meeting last night...we did a visioning exercise for our Youth ministry which took the Vestry out of their comfort zones, but they hung in there and did fabulous work. The end result was a decision to focus on developing a plan for regular outreach ministry for our middle-and senior-high kids in the community, and a plan for mentoring across generations. As an example of the latter, one of our young people asked one of our young moms to serve as a spiritual mentor...the young person serves as such a mentor to the mom's six year old son. In a small congregation like ours, working across generational boundaries in a fluid way can be so powerful.

And the new Saint Middle School website is up, much cleaner and with much more helpful content. we are still figuring out some of the content, but now key persons can update it without the poor overworked Webmaster having to tend to every little thing. Thanks to the Diocese of VA for providing a user-friendly and reasonably priced platform and to our fearless webmaster who made the conversion!

I am hip-deep in the taxes but am almost done. Hope to finish that today. I've got a zillion phone calls to make, a sermon to write and an Adult Ed program to finish. I'd better stop blogging and start working...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Today’s Sermon: Luke 4:1-13: “Temptations”

I struggle with the idea of real devils, like the one we hear about in today’s Gospel. I know, though, that evil is real. I see it in the pictures of innocent people killed in wars or acts of terrorism, in greed of people who have power, in oppression of the poor. There’s big capital-E evil, and there are the thousand little evils around us daily, and many of those little evils take the form of temptations.

Temptations come at us all the time, not just out in the wilderness with a devil offering us great things. With the exception of a few mean girls in sixth grade, I can’t really think of anyone in my life who was truly a devil. No one on the list of the ten worst people in my life comes close to the picture of the devil that this story paints for us.

He’s a smooth salesman, this one. He offers what he thinks would be most attractive to Jesus. If you’ve been fasting for 40 days, don’t you want some delicious homemade bread? If you’re divine, don’t you want to enjoy the power and pleasures that being God should bring? Don’t you want to show everyone just how powerful you are? You have angels at your command!

And Jesus refuses to take the bait. He says no. Three times. And the devil slinks away, as the gospel says, “departing from him until an opportune time.”

That’s the truly frightening thing about this devil. He may give up, but he waits for an opportune time to try again. Temptations are there, and they keep coming back.

As I said, I have a hard time thinking of the devil as an actual being – I know St Augustine wrote about the fallen angels who became devils, seduced by the love of their own power and proximity to God – but for me, here today in Leesburg, I think the devil really is the unending list of temptations that draw us away from God.

Temptations are everywhere. They’re big and little. The second piece of pie. Padding the expense account. Telling the boss you were late because you got caught in a traffic jam, not that you wanted to sleep in an extra half hour. The little white lie. The cheat.

Tiger Woods was talking about temptation the other day on television. I’m not sure if he did his little press announcement as part of his treatment for his bad behavior – if he is in a 12-step program, asking for forgiveness of those whom you wronged is part of the process - or as part of his attempt to keep a few endorsements while he is away from the pro tour, but it was clear that the temptations had come to rule his life in a way that caused pain and disaster all around him.

I think it’s a good thing to confess, although I wonder at the motives of this particular confession. If you don’t do the bad thing in the first place, you don’t hurt anyone, and you don’t have to confess. But we keep on falling, tripping over ourselves doing stupid things, taking the bait of those temptations.

Temptations are all around us. The devil of whatever it is that draws us away from the presence of God keeps waiting for an opportune time. Ultimately, God vanquishes evil, but in the meantime, we have these temptations all around us. What do we do?

First, we don’t try to pretend that they don’t exist. They’re real, they’re ever-present, they’re – well – tempting. Jesus’ first temptation was for food – the desire for something that fulfilled a physical need. If I’m trying to follow a particular diet, and I’m hungry, the temptation to eat that chocolate cupcake is there, and it is strong. Just as a good Boy Scout learns the motto “Be Prepared,” we as Christians need to prepare ourselves.

What does preparation look like?

If it is a diet, I try to be sure to have appropriate snacks around the house, and lots of water. If the temptations are of the spiritual kind, preparation starts with prayer, and there is no better time to work on one’s practice of prayer than during Lent. It is a season when we are supposed to take a closer look at ourselves and ask God to help us do better. So perhaps the prayer that has great resonance for us is the final verses of Psalm 139:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

We pray to be able to hold up the mirror and see ourselves clearly, because in doing so, we can ask God to help us be better, to more closely follow what God created us to be.

Second, we do not judge others. It’s another temptation, isn’t it? Maybe my doubt about Tiger Woods is me judging. Maybe I should look into myself and my own sins and temptations instead of worrying about his. Jesus’ second temptation was about power – to have all the glory and authority that would bring the world to his feet. I wonder if some of the difficulties that our star athletes get themselves into have to do with what we offer them. We lay at their feet millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals, fame, incredible celebrity…and then when they fall prey to the temptations in that life, we judge them. We hear jokes about Plaxico Burruss, we see the tabloid stories about Brad and Angelina and their endlessly growing family, and we wonder whether Amy Winehouse is going to stay out of rehab…they fall prey to the very temptation that the devil presented Jesus. “I will give you the glory of the world if you will worship me.” And they take the bait. They fall. We laugh. We judge. But could any one of us say if we had their athletic or artistic gifts, we wouldn’t fall as well?

Again, the response to the temptation to judge is prayer. The proverb “there but for the grace of God, go I” might be the prayer that immediately springs to our lips, but it might be more appropriate to say the Jesus prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We all sin. How can we possibly judge another? We go back to the Gospel of John: “If any of you are without sin, cast the first stone.” None of us meet that standard, so when we see someone – a friend, a family member, someone famous – has fallen, we pray for God to help them, to give them the grace they need.

Third, have faith that you are a beloved child of God. No more, no less. The third temptation was about a test: if Jesus threw himself off the cliff, would the angels truly come to rescue him, as scripture prophesied? Prove it! Show me you are truly God!

I wonder what we think we need to prove in our own lives. Several years ago, we used to have a cleaning lady who came once a week. Every night before she came, and on the morning of her visit, I’d rush around the house straightening up. I was cleaning up for the cleaning lady. How silly is that? Was I trying to prove to her that I really was a good housekeeper? Heaven knows that’s not really so. What did I need to prove? The temptation was there to be something I was not. It’s a temptation we struggle with all the time – to appear smarter, richer, prettier, more powerful. But can we fall prey to a more foolish temptation? We are beloved children of God. What more do we need to be?

Again, prayer is the answer, the conversation with God that reminds us that this is what is really important.

We hear God’s voice in today’s Psalm:

Because you are bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver you; *
I will protect you, because you know my Name.
You shall call upon me, and I will answer you; *
I am with you in trouble;
I will rescue you and bring you to honor.
With long life will I satisfy you, *
and show you my salvation.

God is there, always. The temptations are there, but they are merely an annoying low-level buzz compared to what God offers to us to help us, as long as we ask.
So in this holy time of Lent, look at the temptations in your own life, whatever they may be. Ask God to help you see them for what they are, things that separate you from God. Pray God to see them as foolish things, and to give you the strength to resist them. Know that God will help, and when you trip over them, he will offer his love to help you back up.


Saturday, February 20, 2010


Stuff is happening.
Good stuff.
Can't tell you yet.
I'll keep you posted.

Please keep praying for PH and me in the midst of the stuff.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010 Matt 6:1-6,16-21 “Mark of the Work”

We’ve been in the process of calling a new vicar here at Saint Middle School and that's gotten me thinking about how we evaluate candidates, and which ones seem just a little bit, um, scary. You know the type I’m talking about. You may have been to those kind of services, or you’ve seen these folks on television… you know the person I’m talking about, the charismatic preacher who wows the crowd. He waves his arms around, sings loudly, tells you everything you’re doing wrong, and that you’ve been doing wrong for the past decade, or even your whole life…

…and then he prays. Stands there, clenches his eyes shut. Bows his head. Raises his hands up and hunches his shoulders. And then he prays, out loud, sometimes very loudly…demanding Jesus do something.

I talk about this style of preacher and I’m afraid I get pretty sarcastic. They seem to be all about the external trappings of ministry. Folks at the Alban Institute, an organization that studies congregations and provides consulting services to those that are troubled or in the midst of change, calls this type of pastor the “42 Long.” The outward trappings – height and build – make them attractive, and they often are socko preachers…but they also may believe that their physical attractiveness means that they don’t need to have the inner spiritual life that makes for a true pastor. Another colleague of mine refers to the Episcopal version of this type as “6, 40, 2.5, gold.” A guy who is six feet tall, about 40 years old, nice wife, 2.5 kids and a golden retriever. An archetype that is often very attractive when you’re looking for a new pastor…but that’s not all you should be looking at when you seek a new leader of the flock.

Now I’m not saying that such a candidate should be suspect, simply because of appearances. What I’m saying is that outward appearance is not the prime measure of a good pastor. And for the record, I’m not telling you this because I’m female, 5’2”, well over forty, and own two neurotic cats instead of the golden retriever. Honestly, I’m not…

But I think it is important to know what the mark of a good priest is, just as it is important to know what the mark of a faithful Christian is.

Our gospel this evening suggests that outward trappings should not get in the way of the search for the truly spiritual, in a search for a new pastor, or for that matter, in our personal search to find a deeper relationship with God.

The description in Matthew sounds almost like a caricature: sounding a trumpet before you put a donation in the alms box, making ugly faces showing how much you are suffering if you’re fasting, standing on the street corner so that everyone sees you when you’re praying.

No, we don’t do that. We’re not that caricature. But if we worry about what others think about how we worship, how we have a conversation with God, we are on the edge of the caricature. If we think of a donation that will make us look good, rather than thinking of the good it will do for God’s work, then we are on the edge of the caricature.

It is so easy to fall into that trap. We become so focused on the outward appearance of piety, of personal holiness, that we forget that pious acts are supposed to be about a deeper, more vulnerable conversation with God. And how can we be vulnerable if we are worried about what other people think of us and how we “do” church?

On this Ash Wednesday, let’s think about how we evaluate candidates for our new vicar. Are we impressed by outward appearances? Are we impressed by academic credentials? Are we impressed by snazzy flashy sermons? Or are we looking for someone who has a deep and strong spiritual life, who prays not only in church with all of us, but alone, who listens for God’s voice in the work rather than choosing to do what would be self-aggrandizing?

It is easier to see the sins of others, the ego, the stubbornness, the worry about what others think…and as we continue the process of seeking a new vicar, I have no doubt that the Search Committee will be able to sort out the good candidates from those who only have the outward appearance of being good.

But the challenge of Ash Wednesday, and of all of Lent, is to hold a mirror up to our own faces and look really clearly and honestly at what we see. Where is our own ego, our own stubbornness, our own overactive concern about what others think of us? Where is our own willingness to discard our prayer life when life gets too busy? Where is our own inability to trust in God’s love, to speak with God in prayer honestly, not trying to hide all our flaws?

We talk about the ashes of this evening’s service as a reminder of our own mortality – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – but we might also think of them as the product of burning away the practices in our own spiritual lives that get in the way of our relationship with God. We mark our heads tonight not only to remind ourselves of our own limited time on earth, but also to remind us of our mortal flaws, and the work we will do during this holy season of Lent. May we bow our heads and pray that we may be refined, cleansed, purified, in this season and always. May the mark on our foreheads be more than mere dust – may it be the glow that comes from a steadfast dialogue with the God who loves us so much that he sent his Son as a living sacrifice for us.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowpocalypse, Snowmagdeddon, Icechaton, snowverkill, SnOMG

And the nicknames - and curses - continue as we continue to dig out of the latest of our blizzards here in Your Nation's Capital. PH and I dug out the cars again this morning. This last one dumped maybe another 10 inches, so our total for this winter is 55 inches, a record winter, breaking the total in the year 1898-99, which was the first year they kept records.

For my friends and family from more northerly climes, that may not seem like a lot, but for this area, big storms like this are a rarity, and having three biggies in less than a month, with our relatively limited number of plows and such, is a problem. Some folks are still without power, some are without water...praying that this will be taken care of quickly, and praying for the poor plow drivers, who must be so far beyond exhausted that words fail us.

PH and I just finished cleaning off and digging out the cars, again. We will wander out later today. Tomorrow we will head out to the airport, assuming it is open again, and will head out to the Windy City for the funeral of PH's uncle.

It was wild and beautiful, though. Here's some footage from the White House, where (unlike Chez Mibi) they have staff to clean away the snow...

(BTW, what you see covered in snow at 00:31 is a set-up for the headshots that the news reporters who cover the White House do on the WH grounds. Not much of that happening yesterday, when that picture was taken.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Please pray for the repose of the soul of PH's uncle Rueben. He died this morning at the age of 70. He is the first of that generation to pass - hardy Swedes from the U.P. - and this will be very difficult for the family.

He was a faithful Christian, a devoted husband and father, and a funny, hardworking guy. Please pray, too, for his family, as they bid him farewell.

Almighty God, our Father in heaven, before whom live all who die in the Lord: Receive our brother Rueben into the courts of your heavenly dwelling place.
Let his heart and soul now ring out in joy to you, O Lord, the living God, and the God of those who live. This we ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

An Interesting Experiment

We were snowed out of church today, both the normal 10 am service and the contingency plan 2 pm service. I hate to do that, but the roads are still so treacherous that it seemed the reasonable thing to do (although some will disagree with me on that).

A Presbyterian friend held a virtual service on FB this morning, so I decided to try something similar on FB this afternoon for our community and the larger virtual community. FB does not necessarily suit itself to such things - the 420 character limit makes it hard to get through some of the longer prayers and the Scripture passages, but there were obvious places for comments/interchanges. A couple of folks participated, including a seminary friend who is now back in Kenya. I inserted some YouTube music - a couple of the hymns we were going to sing at church plus another piece by EmmyLou Harris.

Was it a success? I don't know. But if two or more of us gathered together in God's name, I know God was with us, and that's success enough for me.

Today's Sermon: Jer. Isaiah 6:1-8. Luke 5:1-11 "Out in Deep Waters"

I am, at heart, a pretty shy person. You may not think so, because I become an extrovert every Sunday morning – you bring out the outgoing in me!

But as much as I can get in the groove for church on Sundays, and for other events with you all, it is hard work for me, and I usually take a nap on Sunday afternoons. That’s a secret that most clergy know – we almost all of us take naps on Sunday afternoon – even the extroverts!

Being an introvert at heart means that going to events like Diocesan Council are hard work for me. I see lots of people whom I love and enjoy, and really have fun talking with them, but it is, in a way, too many people, too much talk, too much commotion. It is not my natural state. It is not my comfort zone.

That said, this Diocesan Council that was held a week ago was a wonderful one, because the end result of it was something very good for St Middle School – I’ll tell you a little more about that in a minute – but it definitely took me out of my comfort zone.

The work of the Lord does that, so often…it takes us out of our comfort zone and into deep waters in the middle of the lake.

Jesus has this way of calling us out of the place where we feel all relaxed and easy. He certainly does that with Simon Peter in today’s gospel.

Picture it: a sandy beach, a couple of fishing boats pulled up above the waterline, a large crowd of people begging Jesus to teach them. The crowd pressed in on him – Jesus could not be heard or seen – he knew he had to do something, so he grabbed Simon Peter and one of the boats, and rowed out a ways, so he could be seen and heard by all the people on the shore. He taught and preached for a while, and the crowd, sitting now on the shore, rested and contemplated what he had said to them.

Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “Let’s do a little fishing, my friend.” Simon Peter did a double take. “Fishing? We were out fishing all night and we didn’t catch a thing!” But Jesus just kept looking at him. “Let’s do a little fishing.”

Simon Peter thought “you’re a carpenter, not a fisherman. What do you know from fish?” But he said “You want to go fishing, we’ll go fishing.” So they rowed out to the middle of the lake and put out the nets.

He doubted, because his experience as a fisherman told him that there were no fish to be caught in the Lake of Gennesaret that night, but he did what Jesus said, because Jesus is just not a man you can say no to, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone of fishing.

The ordinary rules don’t apply when you’re working with Jesus.

Suddenly, there was a tug at the nets, and another and the boat was nearly tipping with the violent activity in the nets…the nets were full of fish, beyond any catch that Simon Peter and his friends had ever experienced. A ton of fish, now so much that the nets were breaking, so Simon called out to his friends on the shore to bring out the other boat. The others rowed out quickly, and started to haul the catch into the boats. Two boats so full of wriggling, silvery fish under the light of the moon that they seemed not boats, but living organisms, settling deeper and deeper into the water, starting to sink under the weight.

None of these fishermen had ever had a catch like this, no gift of abundance from the waters, no wriggling mounds of hundreds of glistening fish …what was this? Who was this Jesus, in whose presence such abundance was found?

Simon Peter was not an educated man. His hands were rough and callused, a workman’s hands, his knowledge was the lore of the watermen, and his experience of the divine what he had been taught by the rabbi in his little town. In that moment, though, he knew that this was something remarkable, beyond his experience of life in Nazareth, and he was in the presence of someone who both frightened him and struck him nearly speechless with wonder. He fell to his knees in the small boat, oblivious to the fish around him, to the damp wood pressing against his knees. “Go away from me. I am a sinful man.”

Go away. I am afraid of the power you have. I am afraid of what you expect of me. I am afraid I am not enough.

The others, James and John, Andrew…they were afraid, too. Out of their comfort zone? Oh, it was well past that.

Jesus saw their fear and wonder, and smiled. It was good that they sensed how much would be expected of them. To be afraid of a task is to respect it, isn’t it? If you think it is easy, you don’t understand it.

So he told them: “Don’t worry, I will help you do something different now. Not in boats, hauling nets full of fish, but going out into the world, telling people about the Word, hauling in people.”

We don’t know what they said in response – perhaps they were speechless still over what had happened – but they rowed those heavy, fish-filled boats to the shore and…did what?

Left them there. Left their familiar existence, with the boats and the wives and the local gossip and the well with the water. Left it all behind, to follow Jesus, whatever he had in mind for them.

Were they out of their comfort zone? Without a doubt. But something drew them to this Jesus, and they had no choice but to say yes, even as they grappled with the fear of the unknown.

Fear is, in fact, a normal and appropriate response when God calls us to do something.

That was true for Simon Peter in the boat. That was true for Isaiah, when God called him in our Old Testament reading today: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’”

I am lost! How great an expression of fear, and awe, was that? God takes us out of our comfort zone, into some other place, out in the deep water in the middle of the lake.

We are afraid, and yet we cannot say no. It’s God, after all.

So what has this got to do with Diocesan Council, and my introverted personality?

It is about proof that God uses us, outside our comfort zone, to do what God wants to get done.

We here at St. Middle School are looking forward to calling a permanent vicar to this place. We want the best possible person. God wants us to have the vicar who will help this community of faith to spread the gospel, to care for each other and the larger community, to grow inward and outward.

And that cannot happen without a full-time, fully committed shepherd of this flock.

So at Diocesan Council, with the blessing of Bishop J, I approached rectors of several of the largest and most well-resourced parishes in this diocese. I told your story, the story of this parish, and I asked for their help, their money, to take us from a ¾ time position to a full-time one.

Out of my comfort zone? You bet. It is not easy to ask people for money, even for the best of causes. But our God gave me the words, and the help of a friend or two, the funds have been committed. Even Bishop J and his wife are helping us out.

I tell you this story not to tell you what a great thing I did. No, I approached this with fear and trepidation. I don’t like large crowds, I don’t like to ask for money, I don’t like to talk with strangers and say I need their help. Left to my own devices, I’d much rather sit in my office and figure out alternative plans by myself, or with Sharon and the Vestry. But God wanted me out of my comfort zone, in the deep water in the middle of the lake, and he made it possible for that to happen by giving me what I needed when I needed it, to do his work. God delivered, with abundance, like a boat full of fish after a day when nothing had been caught.

Saint Middle School is in a time of transition. We are all out of our comfort zone. The founding vicar is gone. Uncomfortable, but with the love of God, St Middle School survives. The Search Committee is working through packages from a variety of candidates, and they are sworn not to tell us about any of them until the final decision is made. Uncomfortable, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will make a wise selection and St. Middle School will not only survive, but prosper. We work towards the acquisition of the land, a process that has taken a long time, and is not yet completed. Uncomfortable, but with the knowledge that Christ walks the journey with us, St Middle School will have a place for a permanent home.

It is only when we step out of our personal comfort zone, when we row out into the deep waters, that we find ourselves in the comforting and comfortable arms of God. Then we can take holy risks that God’s work will be done in us, with us, and by us. There is a new comfort zone that awaits us. So set the boat of the familiar on the shore, take up your pack, and follow…something new awaits.


Saturday, February 06, 2010


We've got 20+ inches so far, and it is still coming down hard and fast. No church tomorrow morning. I suspect we will have no church in the afternoon, either, but I'll wait until tomorrow to make that call. We lost power briefly last evening, but it came back on, and I wouldn't be surprised if we lose it later today, what with the power of the winds and the heavy wet snow. Not a good time to be a snowplow driver or a tow-truck driver or a first responder...those folks will be working nonstop for the next two days, I'd wager.

Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of the natural world and for all of your creation. We thank you for the houses in which we dwell, the food in our cupboards, the books to read and the family members with which to keep company. We ask for your help in coping with the power and force of your creation in this snowstorm that blankets our houses and streets. We ask your help for those who are in need of warmth and food and shelter, for those who work the plows and answer the ambulance calls, for those who are alone in the midst of this. We know that you will be with us in this storm and in all the storms of our life. We pray that we, too, will be of aid to those in need, in this time and in the future. We ask all this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And the people say: Amen.

Stay warm and dry, y'all.

Picture at top is PH, hip deep in the snow. At left is Spooky the cat, thinking twice about going out to explore the snow. Smart cat.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Staving Off the Gloom: Friday Five

Sally offers us a RevGals Friday Five on surviving in the midst of winter:

1. Exercise, what do you do if you can't face getting out into the cold and damp?

We've got an elliptical exercise machine in the basement, as well as a pretty extensive set of weights (PH is a fitness fiend), so I tend to use those items through the wintertime.Of course, sometimes I just look at them and think about exercising.

2. Food; time to comfort eat, or time to prepare your body for the coming spring/summer?

Mostly healthy eating, with an eye toward what is in season. Some comfort foods, though, especially on a day like today when we are housebound and the snow is falling hard (we are expecting between 20-30 inches over the next 36 hours0.

3. Brainpower; do you like me need to stave off depression, if so how do you do it?

Lots of reading, lots of work. I'm not very subject to seasonal depression, but when it hovers, I exercise, cook, read, pray.

4. How about a story that lifts your spirits, is there a book or film that you return to to stave off the gloom?

Really just silly situation comedies and such. Right now I'm reading the very funny and poignant "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress"by Rhoda Janzen...I recommend it highly!

5. Looking forward, do you have a favourite spring flower/ is there something that says spring is here more than anything else?

I love to see the little white snowdrops flowering in March, and the crocuses not far behind them.

Bonus; post a poem/ piece of music that points to the coming spring......

Just thinking about the Easter portion of the Messiah does it for me!