Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: St. Francis Church

From the Vicar's Desk #4

We are now in the midst of the season of Advent, a time of spiritual preparation.  During this season I invite you to reflect upon the various themes that will be highlighted in our scripture lessons, and to consider what they mean for you in your life.

One of the things that you’ll notice is that Advent is a season of tensions.  Perhaps more than any other time of year, during Advent we are reminded of what some theologians have called the “already/not yet” character of the Christian faith.  We spend Advent awaiting the celebration of our Savior’s birth on December 24-25 (which we will celebrate for 12 days thereafter)–this is the “already.”  We celebrate Christ’s birth because in doing so we testify to who he is, and what he has already done in going to the cross and rising to new life–this is a birth to be celebrated!  To be heralded!  “Go tell it on the mountains” as the old spiritual says… Jesus Christ is born.  The Savior of the world–God in the flesh–came down to us and was born in a manger over two thousand years ago.  On Christmas we get to relive the anticipation and joy that characterized the first responses to our Lord’s birth as Shepherds and Magi came to greet him, and during Advent we get to anticipate this most wonderful of stories with the fondness that can only come from having heard a story many times before, but finding that it only grows richer for the telling.

And yet, there’s a “not yet” element within the anticipation of Advent, one that is easy to loose–especially in our society–in the rush surrounding Christmas.  And it is important that we be reminded of this “not yet” aspect of our anticipation in part because this is the older aspect of Advent.  What is this “not yet” quality?  You’ll notice that many of the readings of Advent don’t so often speak of Jesus’ birth as they do of what are called the “last things,” that is, they focus more on the second coming–the second “advent”–than they do on the first, or Christ’s birth.  The reason for this is that Advent began its existence not as a time of preparation for the Christmas celebration, but as a distinct portion of the Church year called “St. Martin’s Lent,” named for St. Martin of Tours.  This, as the name suggests, was a time of penitence and fasting which focused on the imminent return of Jesus.  Eventually as the Christmas holiday gained importance, it was thought to be appropriate to push the beginning of St., Martin’s Lent back so that it could serve as a time of preparation not only for Christ’s second coming, but a season of reflection upon Christ’s birth and what it means that the savior of the world was born in such a way–or born at all, God in the flesh!

This is why Advent makes me think of the Revelation to John, where God says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” (Rev. 21:6) because in Advent we are called to reflect upon the beginning, the “already,” in Christ’s birth and the “not yet” in the second coming.

Because of this all-encompassing sense of preparation that pervades Advent, I have decided to preach a series of sermons over these four Sundays, culminating with a fifth on Christmas Eve, entitled “The Truth that God Imagines.”  Inspired in part by J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, this series will take us through the readings of Advent and Christmas from the perspective of God as author, and us–all of us–as characters with roles to play in the greatest story ever told.  But God imagines differently than we do.  While we may imagine and create something that approximates what we’ve imagined, what God imagines cannot help but be real and true…the story of salvation being the greatest example.

So join us in worship this Advent, and invite your friends and family to come as well (forward them this email perhaps…), and let’s consider the very great story we are part of.

Your servant in Christ,


From the Vicar's desk #3

It’s amazing how time flies. I sound like an old man, I know, but it’s true! Time passes quickly, especially at this time of year. It seems like only yesterday that Anna and I came to visit with you all on June 10th, and already we’ve been together for four months. And you haven’t ran me off! Amazing!

Seriously though, it seems strange to say that I’ve been among you now for four months. And it has been a great four months; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, as I hope you have. And as quickly as these first four months have passed, I’m sure the next four will seem to go by even faster. We are coming up on that time of the year where the pace starts to pick up for the holidays, where the calendar drips with ink from all the events and many of us begin to find it difficult to even breathe because of the numerous activities and preparations.

It is a blessed irony that just as our lives become more busy and our society thrusts event upon event on us, the Christian year actually comes to a point of preparation, a time of reflection. I know that we’re just past Halloween and All Saints (which we will be celebrating this Sunday), but before we know it the first weekend in December will be upon us, and with it the season of Advent and the beginning of a new Christian year. So I want to encourage you to prepare for Advent, to prepare for this time of preparation, by taking the time to slow down a bit, by refusing to get caught up in the pressure and stress that can make this season so difficult. Instead, consider this Sunday’s celebration of All Saints, and the coming Thanksgiving holiday, a time to remember what is important in your life, to think about old friends and family and to consider the ways in which you’ve been blessed. After all, isn’t that what the spirit of the season is supposed to be all about?

This Sunday during the sermon time I will be talking about the fact that the Church is a community of contradiction, and why that is a good thing and a blessing. Christians are a people of contradictions, and one of the ways we exhibit this most visibly, when we are at our best, is in refusing to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and the angst surrounding it and instead refocusing on the reason we call this whole time of year the “holy-day season.”

The understanding of Christians as a peculiar people and the Church as a commiunity of contradiction–that is, a community that contradicts many of the assumptions of the broader society–comes from the fact that we as Christians share in a story and self-understanding that is far different from the one we see and hear everyday in the broader society. To help us refocus on the fantastic and awesome nature of this story, of who we are as Christians and why we are here (and why it matters), I have planned a series of four sermons for Advent entitled “The Truth That God Imagines.”

I encourage you to invite your friends to church during this time because I think the topics covered in this series will be of great interest to non-Christians and non-Churchgoers (not always synonymous, as many of you know) as well as our community at St. Francis. One of the points of this series is to put the celebration of Christmas in context and I pray it will be beneficial to all who attend.


I believe we are entering a time of renewal at St. Francis, and I encourage all of you to redouble your prayers for our church family. I also want to thank you all for everything you do to make this a faithful and loving community. Recently I was reading about the great missionary and evangelist to India, E. Stanley Jones who, it is said, never refered to himself as a Christian, but only a “Christian-in-the-making.” I thank God that he has brought us together so that we can discern what it means to follow Jesus in our daily lives as chaotic as they can be, and to be a faithful congregation in the midst of a Church that is often equally chaotic.

Your servant in Christ,

Those who are not indifferent

Sermon Notes for Proper 21, 18 Pentecost, Year C
Scripture: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 6:11-19; Luke 16:19-31

Lazarus and the Rich manThe other day I had a conversation with the guy who cuts my hair, and he asked me if I’d heard about or had read the book entitled The Secret. I told him that I had heard of it but that I hadn’t read it (I didn’t tell him what I heard about it), and I was interested to hear what he would say. So he tells me his impression of this book. “It’s about energy” he said, “and everyone has positive and negative varieties. When you focus on bad things, bad things are attracted to you. When you focus on good things, good things come to you.” “So” he says, “you want a nice car, you just have to be positive and think that you’ll get that car and you’ll find a way to get it.” So things like getting sick and other bad things that happen to us are because of our negative energies.

You can see, probably, why such a belief would be popular in modern America. It’s practical, simple, easy to understand, and if something good happens, you get to take all the credit. And we have a lot of opportunities in our country for good things to happen to us. I’m not sure this idea would be so popular with or comforting to a cancer patient, or someone who’d just lost a loved one or had any number of bad things happen to them. “Too bad you’re going through that, guess you didn’t keep up on your positive energies.”

The whole frame of thought that The Secret and other examples of the “new thought” movement come out of is profoundly negative because it encourages people to self-aggrandizement, and to take credit and responsibility for things that are, in the nature of our world, largely or entirely out of our control.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea…you may have thought it sounded a bit like Karma in Hinduism, but it also bears similarities to some ideas that are present in scripture.

That’s right, these are biblical ideas. What I mean is that they are in the Bible, not that they are held up as good or commended. But we see examples of this when Job’s friends insist he must have sinned and brought his calamity upon himself. We see it in the Gospels when Jesus is asked about the man born blind: who sinned, this man or his parents? Of course Jesus doesn’t confirm their prejudices but instead sees it as an opportunity for the grace of God to be made manifest.

But people in that time, as much or more than people today, believed that people’s status in life and especially any disease or physical affliction they might have were a direct result of their (or their parents’) own moral fault or sin. That’s certainly what Jesus’ hearers would have been thinking when he started telling them the story of Lazarus and the rich man that we find in our Gospel reading this morning.

“Surely,” they’d think, “the wealthy man is blessed by God. Not only can he afford to wear white, but purple cloth as well–and cater such a feast daily! He must be truly holy.”
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From the Vicar's desk #2

Cross posted from St. Francis Church.

Last Sunday I preached the first in a planned series of sermons that will focus upon various aspects of the Church. I plan to focus on one detail of what it means to be the community known as the Body of Christ each week until we reach Advent. In the midst of this time we will have much to reflect upon and give thanks for. This Sunday as the Bishop visits we will see several of our members either confirmed or recieved. In a few weeks on All Saint’s Sunday we will be blessed with a double Baptism as Levi and Luke Waites are made one with Christ through water and the Holy Spirit. These are all exciting things, but they all raise questions about the nature of the Church and exactly who it is we are supposed to be as Christians.

These questions are only magnified by the current state of American Christianity. It is easy at the moment to get bogged down in the conflicts wracking the Episcopal Church, but we are not the only denomination experiencing conflict. Our sister church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recently entered the same arena of conflict as the Episcopal Church in the area of human sexuality. Indeed, our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church are probably not far behind. After a convention which saw alternative names given to the Trinity, The Presbyterian Church, USA has begun to splinter with congregations leaving to join other Presbyterian bodies.

But such conflict isn’t limited to the old-line “liberal” denominations. Conservative Christian churches such as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention have also endured doctrinal conflict and splits, and the troubles of the Roman Catholic Church often mirror our own even as their hierarchy takes a firmer stand. And of course, many of their dioceses are still reeling from the after-shocks of the sex abuse scandal.

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The space we need…

Since the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans is now over, I’ve posted the revised text of St. Francis Church’s consensus response to several questions presented to the Diocese by Bishop Bauerschmidt. During the revision process this post was password protected, but I’ve removed that feature now because I think some of what we said is applicable now in the days after the House of Bishop’s meeting. In particular, I wanted to point out this section:

Each of the requests mentioned above (the requests of the primates) have been made of the Episcopal Church by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in order to accomplish one very important goal: to achieve the space necessary to mend the broken relationships of trust and mutual affection upon which our communion has been built.

The first step in this process of reconciliation is that the offending party—in this case the Episcopal Church—must come not only to a place of realization and repentance, but also a place where real action can be taken to right previous grievances. It is not just that the Episcopal Church pursued a direction that the majority of the Anglican Communion has indicated it cannot follow; it is that this direction has been pursued despite repeated requests, pleadings and warnings not to do so.

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I believe this meeting of the House of Bishops was a crucial point in providing the sort of space needed for healing and a relief from the psychic stress which many in our congregations find themselves under. I recall that the Bishops heard a presentation on how unhealthy it is for clergy to minister in such ambiguous circumstances, but it’s not just or even primarily clergy that suffer from the fissures and stresses in our common life. So, at the end of the day, how well did the House of Bishops, at least from what we’ve seen so far, address this need?

For myself, I’d say they’ve provided slight relief if any. At the moment it looks like this was an affirmation of the status quo, though the coming days may reveal that to be an incorrect assessment. The statement at least seems to clarify what was meant by B033, and indicates that it’s reach extends to any candidate for ordination to the episcopate who is a non-celibate homosexual. At the same time, the statement relies on the direction of General Convention in the future, and rests upon the limited distinction between authorized public rites of same sex blessings vs. blessings that are conducted as pastoral acts. In other words, in those places where they are already going on, they will continue, no rite will be approved, but even blessings that are technically “public” will be considered private because they don’t have an authorized public rite to use. We shall see.

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