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February 29, 2016, 10:08 AM

Lent isn’t for Lent’s sake, Lent is for Easter’s sake.

Whatever we think about Lent, whatever we give up or do differently in that short season of preparation, it is not giving things up or doing something differently for their own sakes, but for a much larger purpose.  Lent isn’t for Lent’s sake, Lent is for Easter’s sake, the sake of putting ourselves in the best possible position to enter into and participate in the single most pivotal event in human history - Jesus’ resurrection.

Reflecting in the introduction to her Bible study on resurrection, Kristie Berglund notes that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything.  When dawn broke on that first Easter morning, the sun rose on an entirely new world.  The very fabric of creation had been transformed.  The direction of history had been altered.  The power of death had been broken.  Life was victorious.  How are we to live in the light of that glorious day?  How does Christ’s great victory play out in our everyday lives?  As people of the risen Lord, our identity and calling are rooted in the resurrection.”

We will transition from Lent to Easter this month, from the incomprehensible emptiness of the crucifixion to the unfathomable lavishness of God’s love.  If we are, as Berglund suggests, a people of the risen Lord rooted in the resurrection, that sure has an impact on how we are to live.  There is plenty of emptiness “out there,” all kinds of brokenness and death.  But the resurrection emptied death of its power, rendered it impotent in the face of divine love.  How are we to live in the light of that glorious day?  By remembering that Lent isn’t about Lent.  Whatever we end up giving up is not for its own sake, but for a much larger purpose - reveling in the unfathomable lavishness of God’s Easter love as a people rooted in the resurrection.

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February 1, 2016, 8:17 AM

Focus on Joy

As the editor of our local newspaper for more than forty years, my dad used to write an editorial each spring imploring people of the community to refrain from using mowers and other noisy power equipment on Sundays.  It never made a difference as far as I could tell, but that never deterred him from writing it.  (I guess it did make a difference in one way, though: I don’t ever mow my grass on Sundays!  Although I have been known to use a power tool or two.)

Likewise, with some apparent futility I go to some lengths each year to try to point out that Lent often gets a bad wrap for being imposing with its heavy dose of penitence.  But as I point out in the explanation of the February forum series, the word “lent” actually comes from a word meaning “springtime,” as in new life.  Like Advent is a holy time of preparation for Christmas, Lent is a time of holy preparation for Easter - coming through the shameful and agonizing death of the cross to the irrepressible hope for new and eternal life that the cross makes possible.  As such, Lent is not a time for wallowing in self-mortification, but a springtime of good news as we become as ready as we can be for the greatest celebration the Church has in the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So if you can accept that Lent is actually good news, now is actually a good time to focus on the joy of ministry.  It is awfully easy to get worn out with trying to juggle everything that life demands - all our family obligations and personal struggles, the barrage of bad news in the media, the people who just seem to sap all your energy just by their presence.  But if we take, say, Philippians 4:8 to heart (maybe as a good Lenten meditation), we can refocus our time and energy on all there is to celebrate and be joyful about in the service to our Lord.

Lent is not about Lent in its own right, but is about preparing ourselves, heart, mind, strength and soul, for the resurrection life we share in by the great gift of love God gave us in Jesus the Christ.  So take this Lenten time, not as a distasteful period of deprivation to be avoided at all costs, but as time for being better prepared to share in the celebration and joy of ministry for our Lord’s sake and in his risen name.

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January 4, 2016, 1:04 PM

The Church Needs to Regain Its Prophetic Voice

Back in December, I railed on a bit in a couple of sermons about the Church regaining its prophetic voice.  Now that it is the new year, maybe it is time to take a fresh look at exactly what that means.  Prophecy has very little to do with telling the future, like some turbined fortune teller gazing into a crystal ball.  During the time of the prophets as Israel was becoming a nation, the prophets basically functioned as God’s mouthpiece.  They were the ones who were inspired by the Spirit to convey the will or direction that God wanted God’s people to go.  It was often risky business.  The time of the prophets was relatively short in duration, a few decades.  No one functions in exactly that same capacity today, but the Church does have a prophetic role to play.  That is, trusting that the Spirit is present and will guide, the Church can be the voice crying out in the wilderness to offer this world a different vision from our headlines, maybe the only entitiy that can do that.

When every other voice out there says, “Heck with the homeless.  Let ‘em get a job and quit sponging off the rest of us,” we can be the prophetic voice that says, “Heck with such a lack of compassion.  Take an example from our Lord and serve the poor as you would serve Christ himself rather than disdainfully dismissing them.”  When every other voice out there says, “They don’t look like me or sound like me or think like me or vote like me.  There must be something wrong with them,” we can be the prophetic voice that says, “All people are made in the image and likeness of God and we respect the dignity of every human being.”  Especially when the voices of those who would stake a claim to the Christian faith promote an ever-deeper culture of violence as a way of addressing the very culture of violence that such an attitude fosters (like the president of Liberty University who gloats at a university convocation about carrying a concealed handgun and strongly encourages the 10,000-strong student body to do the same), the Church needs to regain its prophetic voice and say, “Enough violence in Jesus’ name!  Put away your weapons and receive the peace that passes all understanding.”

It seems a daunting task, this being a prophetic voice - risky even.  Maybe you are not even sure what that means, but the prophets give us the example.  When every other voice out there screams us further and further away from the gifts of compassion and healing and peace that God has so wanted to offer this world since the dawn of creation, trusting that the Spirit is present and will guide, the Church can be the voice crying out in the wilderness to offer this world a different vision from our headlines, maybe the only entity that can do that.

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December 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.

Most of the time, our Sunday readings only come around every three years (given the lectionary cycle), but there are times when the readings are always the same from one year to the next, such as Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Christmas.  Well, actually we have a couple of options for the readings each Christmas, but it is, of course, always the same story.  For eighteen years, I’ve tried to come up with something different to say about the birth of our Savior each year.  I’ve used Charlie Brown and the Grinch, I’ve used Ebineezer Scrooge, I’ve told the story of Timothy the Hunchback.  I’ve talked about family.  How many different things can you say about the birth of our Christ?  God entered into our world in a miraculous way (the incarnation), came in vulnerability (the same way Jesus went out), revealed not to the powerful, but to the lowly; let Christ be reborn in your heart anew each year, each day.  All of that is true and good theology, can be dealt with very personally in the midst of daily life, but what can be said about the birth of Christ that hasn’t already been said a million times over?

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.  That is the value of hearing the stories of our faith over and over and over again, some more often than others.  No matter what is said by some preacher somewhere, we all are different people than we were the last time we heard the story and so often we hear something new in the story, something resonates in a way that it had not before.  So I am not going to try to say anything new about the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, this year.  I am simply going to encourage to you read it and hear it anew, and let the story tell you what you need to hear.

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November 19, 2015, 8:02 AM

Why Be Episcopalian

Here is another of what seems to be an emerging pattern - other peoples’ articles that I found interesting and thought you might too.  This one is another published on Episcopal Café on October 4 by Lisa Fischbeck, the Vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in Chapel Hill entitled Why be Episcopalian?  It may help give you food for thought when someone asks you the question (or even if you ask yourself!).


“I don’t have any desire to be an Episcopalian.  I just like the Church of the Advocate,” says the man who has been coming to the Advocate for 5 years.  The Bishop’s visitation is ahead, and I’m trying to identify people who might want to get confirmed.  “But the Advocate is an Episcopal Church!” I say. “Does that mean I have to become an Episcopalian to be a member?” he asks.  “Well, no.” I say.

Denominational identity and loyalty are less important than they used to be. Sure, some people still seek out an Episcopal Church because of childhood affiliation or a good experience in school. But more likely, people are drawn to a particular church community because its location, or what they have read about it in the news. Maybe they are looking for a particular kind of church community, so they Google “Bible study” or “Social Justice”. Some are drawn to the spiritual practices of a particular congregation, to the diversity of the community, or to its homogeneity. They may have a good friend already in the congregation, or they may be drawn to the music, the community engagement, the kids program, the visual aesthetic.

In my 20s, I truly wanted to understand whether denominations were the result of human pride or were instead a faithful response to God. I read and studied, not as much as a PhD certainly, but a lot. And I determined that denominations are both, of course. Each denominational and non-denominational tradition really is part of the whole of Christianity, each has something to offer or provide that is distinct from the others. Each has a way that draws some people to God when other ways would not. Some have an ethnic heritage, others founded on the writing and theology of a particular individual, others still are rooted in the spirit of the American frontier. Some are known for a more literal understanding of the Bible, some for being engaged in social and political issues. All have strengths and weaknesses. It is both helpful and healthful for clergy and people to able to articulate without shame or arrogance, the strengths and liabilities that our denominational identity carries. Like so much of 21st century ministry, it requires conversations.

The Episcopal Church is the American expression of the Anglican Church, a Church with a tradition of rich and thoughtful theology, spirituality and liturgy. At its best, Anglican theology is a theology that welcomes questions, that respects individual conscience, and that looks for truth in the comprehensive, rather than the particular. It is a theology that is nuanced and that thrives in the creative tension between seemingly competitive dualities. Anglican theology holds a particular appreciation of the Incarnation – God becoming a human being. This means that we believe that God comes to us where and how we are, that all of humanity has been lifted up, and therefore the dignity of every human being is to be respected. Anglican theology has a lot to contribute to conversations among Christians, between Christians and those of other faiths, and between the Church and the world.

At its best, Anglican spirituality calls forth a lifetime of conversion and transformation, what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold described as being “transformed and conformed into the way of Christ.” Anglican Spirituality holds a wealth of pre-existing resources for prayer and formation: the Eucharistic Rites to remind us of the Story again and again, the daily office with its many canticles to inform our conscience, the liturgical calendar and the rhythm of the church year to transform time. This comes as a comfort and relief to those who have not had a one-time, life-changing conversation experience. And it helps to give value to the many and varied transformative events of our lives. It also means we have more transformation ahead.

The Episcopal Church is sacramental, with the Eucharist at the center of our liturgy and worship. We are liturgical in the tradition of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Lutheran churches. We realize that Christian formation occurs by the study of the Word, but also by life lived in the Body of Christ, the church. We wear vestments, we process, we have prayer books. All of these things are formational to clergy and laity alike. But they are even more formational when explained and understood.

The Episcopal Church has a rich musical tradition, promoting congregational singing, weaving sacred poetry and ancient texts with music that has endured the test of time and thrives still today. Episcopal Church music is also increasingly diverse and global.

As an Episcopal Church, we have a history that associates us with England and with the educated classes and the affluent. Some may choose to associate with an Episcopal Church for the status it carries. Others may stay away, feeling either that they don’t have status enough or that they really don’t want to be in a church that holds such a reputation. This can be a real challenge, an embarrassment, or a source for good humor and fun. Or all of the above. The jokes about silver spoons and two or three Episcopalians always having a fifth are truly wearisome and are, thankfully, growing more and more outdated with each passing decade. Painfully, for Episcopalians in the southeastern United States, there is also a history of slave-holding that needs to be acknowledged. And there is that inevitable moment in the confirmation preparation when we come to “the Queen bit”, describing the Episcopal Church’s connection to the Archbishop of Canterbury who is officially appointed by the Queen of England.

But while some churches give newcomers a loaf of bread or a coffee cup on first visit. The Advocate opts for Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars. And when looking for ways to celebrate and bond with our land before we could worship on it, we introduced the old English parish custom of the Beating of the Bounds, whereby the congregations walks the boundaries of the parish with sticks, beating out the boundaries and noting especially the corners by building rock cairns there. Now plans are in the works to revive the old custom of Clipping the Church (

In the early years of my ministry, I cheered people on to Confirmation, telling them that they were going to be part of a wider Communion, a worldwide Communion of Christians with whom we shared our tradition and our history. The bishop who confirmed me as a young adult in 1979 told me I could walk into any Anglican Church in the world and call it my church.

But the Advocate was launched in 2003, right after the General Convention that supported Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. That move, within a few decades of the move to ordain women, attracted new people to the Episcopal Church, and certainly to the Advocate. But the reactions within the Anglican Communion in the years that followed have caused some to shy away from an affiliation with the whole. Increasingly, I don’t need or want to convince them.

Increasingly I realize that Baptism is what makes us part of a worldwide communion. I am ready to celebrate the faith we share, ready to be challenged by those Christian theologies that are different from my own (though, if I am honest, I don’t want to be challenged too much….). I want to believe that I can walk into any Christian Church in the world and call it my church (though I know not every church agrees with me).

Still, my love and appreciation of the Anglican Way continues. I am a liturgical sacramental Christian, intentional about liturgy and passionate about the Incarnation. While my own heritage is Polish and German American, I am also an Anglophile, tuning in to Kings College Choir’s Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. So I confess I struggle with growing ecumenical ministries that seem to set aside denominational traditions and distinctions in order to conserve resources.

I guess I want it both ways. I deeply believe that he Truth is in the whole of Christian belief and expression, and I want to learn from it. But I am keen on the particular belief and expression of those who share my own at The Episcopal Church of the Advocate.

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