What Are You Looking For?

A sermon preached on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-121 Corinthians 1:1-9, and John 1:29-42.

Do you recall the moments when another person invited you into their life and into a relationship you have treasured ever since? Think of the day you met the person who would become your husband or wife. Do you remember it? Or what about your best friend who has been a friend for life. Or a valued colleague. Do you recall the day you met? How some details may be hazy but others are remarkably clear, with amazing detail.

You remember perhaps what you were wearing or the quality of the light or a phrase that was said. The significant thing is that you value the relationship, whatever sort of relationship it is, beyond words. And when that happens, you remember such interesting details.

Today, we see that moment happen for two of the disciples when they enter into a relationship with Jesus that would change their lives forever. They are with John the Baptizer as his movement is winding down. They and he may very well be discussing , probably sadly, the decline of this great movement, wondering why it is declining and asking where is God in this. As they are talking Jesus passes by. It is a measure of John’s greatness that he points them to Jesus, unselfishly and courageously.

Whether they follow his suggestion immediately, we don’t know, but at some stage they take their leave of John and set out after Jesus, probably a little wary because they don’t know him, perhaps even a little embarrassed, wondering how all this is going to go. Suddenly Jesus turns around, looks at them, and asks a simple disarming question: “What are you looking for?”

I like to think they were thrown by the question.

  • It’s not an easy question to answer.
  • Try it yourself: “What am I really looking for in life?”
  • It is a deep question, defying any casual off-hand answer.

We can’t help but smile at their response: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” they ask, wriggling out of an embarrassing moment.

  • When we don’t know what to say, we blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, and often regret it..
  • Yet Jesus says nothing that would further embarrass them.
  • Instead, he takes them at their word and issues a warm and easy invitation: Come and see.

It is a wonderful moment,

  • a moment of ease, graciousness, sensitivity,
  • a moment of natural hospitality.
  • In the deepest sense they are being welcomed in.

A tribute to the richness of the welcome is that they “stay all day”. An even greater tribute to the relationship that subsequently developed is that years later one of them remembers, “it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” This is exactly how it is when we recall an unforgettable experience in our lives, particular nuances are etched sharply in our memory.

So we have shared a moment in Jesus’ life when he first changed the lives of two people for ever.

But there is more in the story for us. It lies in the awkward question that Jesus asks: “What are you looking for?” How do we respond?

  • Is success as it’s generally understood enough for us?
  • Are we satisfied with the relationships in our lives?
  • Are we happy with the contributions we’re making to the good of the world?

What are you looking for?

Are you looking for some place, some zone of blessedness, peace, compassion, and health, a place where we experience the world in a way that begins to grasp at the transcendence in this space, a way that points to the One

  • the one we come to know in word and sacrament,
  • music and liturgy,
  • fellowship and service.

That one, our Gospel suggests, is already searching for you,

  • That one calls you into a life in which you can become not only a seeker of God but a seeker of others with God,
  • a life in which you serve as an agent of love and justice, healing and hope in the world.
  • I’m thinking of Martin Luther King Jr., of course, but also of you
  • This search and call are not only about being found and saved.
  • They are about a new life in which, as Jesus did, we offer life and hope to others.

“What are you looking for?” If it’s Jesus himself doing the asking, our reply might be to way, well, I’m not really sure, maybe I need more time to consider…. And I wonder if we mightn’t hear him say, “Come and see.”

  • Come and see,
  • act on what you wonder.

God’s truth is not ultimately a riddle to be solved; it is a life to be lived, a thing done.

I think it was Samuel Johnson who said that the business of life is drawing adequate conclusions from inadequate information. That is why the ‘come and see’ method is so essential. We discover great truth by acting on the little truths we already know.

So, come and see.

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Brian McLaren on upending doctrines to follow Jesus

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Grace Youth Remember

As we prepare for a new year, the youth (and former youth) of Grace Church, Silver Spring want to look back as well as forward.  A good spiritual discipline for a new year:


The older “What We Believe” is here:


Happy reflecting, all

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Thanksgiving at Standing Rock

Thanksgiving at Standing Rock

A sermon preached for Thanksgiving Day at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Deuteronomy 26:1-11Psalm 100Philippians 4:4-9, and John 6:25-35.

You know I’ve heard from many of you that today is your favorite holiday. Today, Thanksgiving Day. And for many parishioners at St. Peter’s, even some who aren’t here because they’re traveling or home this morning tending their birds, this is a favorite holiday, too. And maybe that’s because there’s really only one thing we have to do today.

I know there are retail folk who are opening today but we can ignore that insanity. The agenda for today is really very simple: just to offer thanks. Maybe watch a little football or take a walk, help out with the community meal here or with the dishes back home. But really the agenda is to rest and be thankful. How life-giving is that!

This is the day all Americans are invited to

  • step off the treadmill,
  • put away the cellphone,
  • close the laptop,
  • and take a fresh look at our lives and our beautiful world.
  • So that we can return to that original posture of the Holy One,
    • who at the beginning of creation surveyed it all and said,
    • “Behold, it is good.”

It IS good, but it often requires a kind of returning to this posture of thanksgiving for us to remember that it is indeed good.

Fr. Kenyon, a former rector of this parish, did us all a great favor in 1946, in the wake of World War II with so many losses, of establishing the tradition of this particular service at St. Peter’s. We now follow in the footsteps of people who, time and again, ritually have chosen to return to gratitude, even in times of unimaginable adversity and hardship.

The pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony suffered enormous losses in 1620 and 1621 with every single family bereaved; half of the colonists were dead after their first winter. And still, remarkably, they chose a day of thanksgiving. They could have chosen a day of mourning with half of them dead, but they chose to focus on the fact that half of them were still alive.

Two and a half centuries later in the midst of Civil War, no one would have faulted President Lincoln if he were to declare a national day of mourning, but in 1863 with no victory in sight and an unruly cabinet, Lincoln instead proclaimed this day to be our national day of Thanksgiving.

Today, the Dakota Sioux are holding a day of Thanksgiving – quite apart from folks serving the protesters a meal, the Sioux themselves have opted for a day of thanksgiving. Why?

Because the pilgrims, Lincoln, the folks from Standing Rock know something that you and I all know, too: that in times of hardship and adversity what can happen is that our usual center of gravity can shift

  • so that our whole lives begin to revolve around what is wrong,
  • around our misfortune, our misery.
  • This sort of shift is completely natural, and we would be foolish to deny the importance of grieving and mourning.
  • But when our center of gravity is hardship and grief, we can literally begin to feel life draining out of us.

And what we need are ways to help us return back to our true center of gravity, which is God. We need to remember that the same God who brought us into this world is preparing for every person more than we could ask or imagine.

***             ***             ***             ***             ***             ***           ***             ***             ***

Part of the challenge of that kind of spiritual re-centering is that so often when we think of thanksgiving, we think of gratitude as a feeling, or an emotion. But gratitude, real thanksgiving is not about feelings, it’s about doing.

The New York Times had a good little article a couple of years ago about the effects of living with gratitude. And it got this action point right.

The author, John Tierney, suggested ways of practicing gratitude. Maybe you already do some of these:

  • It suggests that if you’re down in the dumps or are facing some kind of problem, try jotting down five things for which you’re grateful.
    • Just put one sentence for each thing.
    • If you just do this once a week, over, a few months, you’ll see a change.
  • early on in our relationship my spouse and I would try to get over a rough patch by stopping and sharing, “what three things are you grateful for in the other person.” It’s hard to stay mad for long.
  • some people like to “make a gratitude visit”
    • Think of a person for whom you’re grateful.
    • Think about what you might say to the person.
    • And then visit him or her in person, and tell them what you’ve been thinking.
  • In a tight bind with not much time for planning, adopt the triage gratitude posiyion: it could be worse
    • when your aunt shows you pictures on her iPad, be thankful she no longer has access to a slide projector
    • when your uncle expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that he does not hold elected office
    • turkey is dry? be grateful the 6-hr roasting process killed any toxic bacteria
  • Thanksgiving can be doing something as simple as sending a note, making a call, giving something away
    • btw, when we usually think about giving things away, we think about clothes or tools or books,
    • but maybe what some of us need is to give away is the need to always be right or to have the last word.
  • Or, like the Dakota Sioux, you can “do thanksgiving” by making eucharist together. That’s right, they, like us, are coming together to make eucharist around Christ’s table
    • with friends and family and with perfect strangers we make eucharist
    • to align our hearts with God
    • to rediscover our true center of gravity
  • so that we can say with the Holy One, “Behold, it is good.”
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Christ the King

crownA sermon preached for The Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Jeremiah 23:1-6Canticle 16Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23:33-43.

In a series of adventures that C.S. Lewis wrote for children, there is a country called Narnia. It is a country in which a great struggle is being waged. The prize is the country itself. On one side is the White Witch and on the other is a great lion named Aslan.

Four human children find their way into Narnia and become involved in the struggle. Over the course of their adventures, they and Aslan form a very deep relationship.

  • They find Aslan at times to be friendly, helpful, protective.
  • They learn to relax in his presence.
  • And yet there is something about him that prevents them from ever taking him for granted.
  • Eventually they discover that Aslan can become a towering, majestic presence whom the children know implicitly they must obey and respect.

That discovery is precisely what this celebration of the reign of Christ is about. For the past year, we have read Scriptures that reflect on the life of Jesus:

  • from the tender beauty of his birth
  • through the darkness of his suffering and death
  • to the glory of Easter
  • we witnessed the presence of him risen from the dead
  • and we experienced the fire of Pentecost.
  • Then we spent months, week by week during this long green season, working out in Scriptures what it might mean to live out his quality of life.

And now we are at the end of that sacred time. Next week a new year of sacred time begins. What happens then today? This last Sunday? Suddenly and vividly the letter to the Colossians shows us the majesty of our Lord. He is:

  • the image of the invisible God,
  • the firstborn of all creation;
  • in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
  • things visible and invisible (written before John’s Gospel and its beautiful prologue which also has words like this and centuries before the Nicene Creed – a nice reminder for all the folks who find our creed difficult – it helps to appreciate the words as the expressions of people who tried to find words to describe the indescribable truth of God in Jesus Christ)
  • in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
  • and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things

This follows the intimacy and ease in his company we knew as the summer unfolded, as he taught us week by week, parable by parable. Today, though, like the children in Narnia who had begun to see Aslan as tame and friendly and useful and who suddenly came to see him as royal, we are shown Jesus, our friend and intimate, suddenly royal and majestic, even as he dies on a cross.

Disturbing? A little maybe. But that’s only because it reveals what is true. Let’s take a moment and see how that played out with the disciples.

They lived in great intimacy over the three years they were together with him. The culture of the time made that unavoidable:

  • houses were small
  • boats were small
  • when they travelled together, they knew all about one another
    • The disciples knew when Jesus was elated or depressed
    • they saw him pouring out energy and subsequently exhausted
    • they saw him speaking to great crowds and off in solitary prayer
    • they must have noticed the fragile relationship he had with his immediate family, who had some difficulty understanding what was happening

But, despite that almost claustrophobic intimacy, there were incidents when it was shattered and replaced by something totally different, when a great gulf yawned between them and they knew there was an essential, qualitative difference between them:

  • when they were crossing the lake and a storm came up with Jesus still asleep on the cushion in the stern. They cried out, “Wake up! Do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus rebuked the wind, “Quiet!” And suddenly the wind died down and the waves calmed. What manner of man is this?
  • or another time on the water, after an entire night of fishing and they had caught nothing. At his request, they let their nets down one more time from the other side, and suddenly were struggling with more fish than they could handle. It was Peter who felt the great gulf between them, and so he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
  • And at least three of them saw that difference when he took them up the long climb up Mount Tabor. Afterwards, they tried to describe what they had heard and seen and felt. But they succeeded only partially because there still were no words for the awe they felt when Jesus, the familiar and loved, suddenly blazed with a glory that blinded the eyes and caught the breath and brought all three of them to their knees.

He was their friend, leader, advisor. But there was something else. There must have been moments when they heard it in his voice,

  • saw it in a gesture,
  • felt it vibrating in the air and in their bones,
  • rippling along their own skin.
  • They must have known many such moments. But what of us?

We cannot know Jesus like the disciples did, but we have the gift sometimes of forming a relationship with someone who, we slowly discover, shares Jesus’ Truth and Way with us. There comes a time –

  • some episode, some event, some ordeal, some challenge –
  • when we are made to realize how deeply this other person believes,
  • and how fine that soul has become.
  • Sometimes, merely to stand with that person is to know that one is standing alongside a human temple where Christ dwells, a human palace in which he reigns.

I met such a person in my chaplain residency right before I came to you. I’ve spoken of her before, but some stories bear repeating. She was sick, of course, and knew she was dying. But she was a woman who modeled for me how dying can be a holy process, a time of deepening one’s faith, for growing in love. I saw her several times over the next 7 months and visited her last in May, near the time of her death:

  • her eyes were deep pools of pain and infinite weariness
  • we spoke simply and honestly
  • she wasn’t frightened, with the suffering she knew deep, deep peace
  • it was quite obvious that she had become an inner country whose total allegiance was to Christ
    • his spirit blazed from her
    • he reigned in her
    • and therefore he reigned FROM her
    • by my mere telling you of her, he continues to reign through her.

You will have already thought of an equivalent relationship in your life, one in which for a moment you saw Christ reign:

  • in unselfishness
  • or courage
  • or quiet faithfulness

Whenever we experience Christ as king, certain things happen.

  • We cease to think of Jesus as merely comforting or personally therapeutic
  • We cease to regard Jesus as a religious symbol to be used as a personal resource at times of our choosing
  • We cease to think of Jesus as tradition or a piece of history
  • We cease to think of Jesus in any way that we can control.

Instead, we experience power and grace and presence. We experience immediacy and energy and demand.

We learn that it is not we who are in control of him, but he of us. We learn, in short, that this loving, secure, ultimate Jesus reigns. Long live the King.

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