As Christians, we are always challenged to be on the move. The stories of our tradition testify to a life of faith spurred to action, called out of comfort, inspired to cross borders, and compelled to press forward.
We recall the voice of God to Abraham, inviting him to move faithfully to a strange land; or to Sarah, promising that she would bear a child in old age. We think of the prophet Isaiah, who challenged Israel to “enlarge the place of your tent” to facilitate the enormity of God’s blessing that was promised to come; and Jonah, commanded to travel to the land of his enemies and call for repentance (with the terrifying prospect that they might be saved!). And, of course, we always lift up the witness of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself...being born in human likeness...and became obedient to the point of death,” as St. Paul proclaims to the Philippians.
To walk this life of faith, and especially to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is to walk a path fraught with change and transition and difference, through a landscape dotted with promise and hope and renewal. We walk this path for a purpose – that we may, more and more, accept God’s dream for our lives and enact God’s dream for this world.
“God's Creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God's Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes farther than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.” –Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath
I’ve been thinking a great deal about hospitality lately. I’ve been thinking about what it would take for us to make the kind of space in our life together in order to nurture meaningful and lasting connection for newer members and newcomers to our church community.
Grace is truly a welcoming congregation. Almost everybody agrees on this. When folks visit our campus, whether for school business, for a community event, or for worship, they are met with love and kindness – consistently greeted with warmth, generously assisted in finding their way around, kindly thanked for being with us and always invited back. We welcome visitors unconditionally, affirm difference and diversity, and make space for the new experiences and perspectives that others bring. I am so grateful that this value of welcoming was already wholeheartedly embraced before I arrived at Grace early last year.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;/ to my God I cried for help./
From his temple he heard my voice,/ and my cry to him reached his ears.”
This time of year, it can be easy to forget that holidays aren’t happy for everyone.
For many of us who have experienced profound illness, trouble, or loss, a holiday can morph into another painful milestone along a seemingly endless line of “firsts” without that health, or well-being, or loved one present with us as before.
Happy New Year!
I love new beginnings, fresh starts, and trying again.
For Episcopalians and Christians of many other traditions all over the world, time moves to a different rhythm from the established days, weeks, months and years set on the calendar that governs modern society.
The Church’s year ebbs and flows with the energy of the cosmos. Our Liturgical Calendar (which guides our annual patterns of worship and activities) is set each year according to the solar and lunar calendars. Some Festivals, like Christmas on December 25, are fixed in place according to the sun. Others, Easter most of all, arrive at slightly different points each year, according to the moon.
(You may be interested to know that Easter’s fluctuating situation is a result of a conscious decision of the Church, about 1700 years ago. The Council of Nicaea established in 325 AD that Easter will come each year on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. This is why Easter can arrive much earlier or much later each year – as early as mid-March and as late as almost-May.)
“Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.”
If you’ve been in Sunday worship sometime during the last couple of months, you have probably received fresh-baked bread at Eucharist, in place of the wafers we often share. (I know that many of you have noticed this switcheroo, because you’ve mentioned it or asked about it.)
Truthfully, I prefer bread to wafers, for a reason I’ll share momentarily. But I didn’t set out to impose a Eucharistic preference on the whole lot of us. At first, we were just beginning our journey through the “bread discourses” in the Gospel of John – a series of 6 weeks during the Lectionary Cycle’s “Year B” when we read passages from the 6th chapter of John, all having to do in some way with “bread.”
Thoughts on Who We Are and Who We are Becoming.
In Rob Bell’s latest book, How to Be Here (which I highly commend to your reading), he shares a word in Japanese that has a powerful way of capturing a special sense of purpose and vocation. That word is ikigai.
Bell writes, “Your ikigai is a web of work and family and play and how you spend your time, what you give your energies to, what you say “yes” to, what you say “no” to, what new challenges you take on, things that come your way that you never wanted or planned for or know what to do with—your ikigai is a work in progress because you are a work in progress” (56-57).
I shared a few weeks ago at the Grace Town Hall, something like my ikigai. My own reason for loving this job called Vicar of Grace comes from a sense of mission in this ministry: “To Challenge and Inspire the People of Grace Episcopal Church to dream God’s Dream for this congregation, neighborhood, city, and the world; and to lead us toward enacting that dream with God, by cultivating a culture of worship & prayer, Christ-centered community, and outreach through partnership and servanthood.”
“Stay Close to Jesus”
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[i] of God,[j]and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
This year we are reading a great deal from the Gospel of Mark together. Our 3-year pattern of Scripture readings, known as the Revised Common Lectionary, ensures we encounter large portions of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—on Sundays, through Years A, B, and C, before starting again with a new “Year A.”
This year –“Year B” – readings are anchored in the Gospel of Mark. And there are a few points that are important to note about Mark’s Gospel, as we continue to encounter Jesus through it’s lens.
We at Grace were honored to open our doors to brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith last night. We began with an interfaith program that included Christians worshiping in the Episcopal liturgy of Evening Prayer. Then, we moved into Parish Hall and shared in an Iftar dinner, the meal of breaking a daylong fast after sunset. Here are the remarks I shared with all gathered during the interfaith program.
It is an honor for us at Grace Episcopal Church to welcome friends of differing faith-- and friends of no faith--to this wonderful program tonight, and to co-host with our neighbors from the Turquois Center a Ramadan Iftar that we will all share after sunset.
All of this is a high honor for us, because we are Christian: which means we are people seeking God in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, who walked the earth approximately two-thousand years ago. We find in the life and teachings of Jesus, recorded in our Scriptures called the Gospels, a compelling witness for the life of love as the means by which what is lost and broken in this world made for good, may be redeemed and restored.
On the Thursday after Pentecost, May 24, I marked my one-hundredth day as Vicar of Grace. While 100 is a somewhat arbitrary number, it is a nice round one—a popular benchmark that organizational thinkers often use to frame the high importance of a new beginning in leadership. The “first hundred days” convey how crucial it is to start well – form relationships, assess the community’s health, share values and priorities, and begin to articulate a vision for the future.
As we pass from those first hundred days into a surer sense of our life and ministry together, I have been reflecting on all the good ground we’ve covered during the se“asons of Lent and Easter. We have worshiped on the beautiful Tree of Life Labyrinth and Garden—on Ash Wednesday, on Good Friday, on Palm Sunday, for an Interfaith Celebration of Music and Dance, and to celebrate the final gathering of our Easter/Spring Book Club. We’ve served more than a thousand cups of juice and coffee, breakfast snacks, and prayer with our Grace2Go “customers” and shared fertile soil and toiling hands to produce fresh vegetables in our Community Garden, yielding nourishment for our neighbors.
“Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved. I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window. I can prove that the world is round if I’m clever at that sort of thing, that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound. I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate. I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful. I cannot even prove my own free will… Faith can’t prove a damned thing. Or a blessed thing either.” - Frederick Buechner
On April 1st, Easter Sunday and April Fools Day will occur simultaneously – on the same day! The last time it happened was 1956, before this congregation (in any form) even existed! It’s a strange confluence of two radically different days—one, the heart of Christian hope; the other, a deep dive into white lies and petty pranks.
This coincidence is interesting to me in light of several recent conversations I’ve had with folks at Grace. Easter, it turns out, means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, Easter means triumph—that in Jesus’ resurrection God is proved highest and mightiest, once and for all. For some, it means beauty—sunrises and spring flowers and lush green trees. For others, Easter means hope—that new life can come out of the driest, darkest places. And for still more, it calls forth enlightenment—a new consciousness, one that enables those who attain it to live an elevated existence above the broken, violent, impoverished ways that seem to otherwise plague this world in every corner.