Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fully Alive

As we emerge from a very long, very hard, very cold winter and an equally uncertain spring, we find ourselves, no doubt, feeling as though we are blossoming. We find ourselves itching to get out, to work in the garden or in the flower bed, to go for long walks, enjoy the sun on our faces and the warm air around us.

Spring means renewal. And in the spring, as we exult in the season of Easter, we find renewal to be sort of the catch phrase for everything we do in church. Easter, for us as Christians, of course means renewal. It means not only finding life int eh midst of darkness and death, it means living fully in the wake of death.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” wrote Irenaeus of Lyons and in this season of Easter, we are reminded again and again that, in Christ, we are fully alive. We are full of life and we should be thankful in the life we have been given and should live that life as fully and completely as we can.

I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, An Altar in the World. In it, she describes her “larger vocation” as “the job of loving God and neighbor as myself. Over the years,” she writes, “I have come to think of this as the vocation of becoming fully human.”

More concretely, Taylor goes on to describe what it means to be fully human: “”To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that ‘I’m only human’ does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its aching frail and redemptive reality.”

In this Easter season in which we experience Christ as fully divine and fully human, we are to glimpse in him the full potential for ourselves as well. We are able to realize that we can truly strive to be fully human and fully divine and to recognize that one is not necessarily less than the other, but rather complete wholes that make us more whole.

In this Easter season, exult in life and rejoice in life. Live fully and completely. And when you do, you will be experiencing Christ in your midst.

-peace,
Jamie+

Sunday, April 26, 2009

3 Easter


April 26, 2009

Luke 24.36b-48

Yes, I’ll admit it. Ghosts fascinate me. I love a good ghost story. I love the Sci-Fi channel show Ghost Hunters. It’s one of my favorite shows. I love some of the other supposedly reality-based shows that explore haunted houses, hotels, hospitals, churches or whatever. I can’t ignore them if they are on when I am flipping through the channels.

So, yes, ghosts fascinate me, but I will also admit that I have never really believed in ghosts. However, occasionally, as a priest, I have been asked to come and intervene when someone suspects something supernatural in their homes. Sometimes people hear things—footsteps, voices, bangings—that simply cannot be explained.

One of these experiences came up shortly after I was ordained a priest. A friend of mine and her husband were experiencing strange happenings in their home. There were weird sounds, strange voices, strange phenomena. She asked me if I would come in and bless her house and see if maybe that would take care of it.

As intrigued as I was by it and as much as I saw it as a pastoral need, I also felt myself in a bit of a quandary. Was it right of me to go in and do such a thing when I personally didn’t believe in ghosts?

Since I was serving as an assisting priest at that time at the Cathedral, I went to the sabbatical dean, Bishop John Thornton, retired Bishop of Idaho. I went to him and I said, “Bishop, what should I do? These people want me to come and bless their house, but I don’t know if I should. I don’t believe in ghosts.”

The Bishop leaned back in his chair and with a twinkle in his eyes, said, very nicely, “Who cares what you believe.”

I was shocked by this. That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear.

But he very quickly added. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, Jamie. If these people think they have a ghosts, go in and bless their house. If they need you to be an exorcist, be an exorcists. If they need you to be a ghostbuster, be a ghostbuster. Whatever they need you to be, be that. For that period of time you’re with them, believe whatever they believe. If they believe they have a ghosts, while you’re in their house, believe they have a ghost. Bless their house. Drive out whatever they think they have. And then once you get back in your car and drive home, you don’t have to believe in ghosts any more. The key is this: be what they need you to be.”

So, I went. I blessed their house. And sure enough, whatever the issue was, it didn’t never made itself known again.

Bishop Thornton’s advice was by far the best advice I ever heard. It simply blew me away. It has also been advice that I have been able to apply to many other situations in my pastoral career.

In a sense, what Bishop Thornton commended to me was to embody my life as a Christian. I needed to embody Christ for those people in their need.

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ followers experiencing something they believe to be a ghost, but the experience they have is also much more incredible than a experience with a ghost. It much more life-altering.

The Jesus who stand before them—the Jesus they know had been tortured and murdered, the Jesus who breathed his last and actually died—now stands before them. But this Jesus is no ghost. He is flesh and blood. They can touch him. They can feel the wounds of his death. They can hold him. And he can eat actual food with them.

The Jesus who appears to them, who actually lives with them, is someone they no doubt cannot even begin to understand. If they thought what he said and did before the crucifixion was amazing and mind-boggling, now it is even more incredible.

This Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel is just as incredible to us. And maybe even more so. For the people of Jesus’ day, they could actually wrap accept the fact that things happened beyond their understanding. For us, we tend to rationalize away anything we don’t understand. And the idea of someone who has died suddenly appearing before us—in the flesh, with wounds—and eat with us—is more than incredible. It seems impossible. And as we hear it, we do find ourselves beginning to rationalize it away.

Bur rationalize as we might, the fact remains: Christ is still present to us in the flesh. We, the Church, those who have collectively come together to follow Jesus, to live the Christian life, to live out what Jesus taught us—we are the physical Body of Jesus in this world still. We, with our wounds, with the signs of our past pains with all that we bring with us, are the embodiment of Jesus in this world.

And certainly, what we celebrate and partake of here at this altar—this celebration of the Eucharist, in which we experience the physical Body and Blood of Jesus in our midst, this too is a physical reality of Jesus’ Presence we can not rationalize away.

And just as Jesus sat with those he loved to eat with them, so are we called to eat as well. Here we partake of the physical Presence of Jesus and are nourished by it. And with this Presence, we become the Presence of Jesus in this world. We are then called to turn around and share what we have eaten with hose we are called to serve. Just as Jesus shared what was given him, so are we to share what is given to us. And when we do, we are Body of Who we follow.

We are not called to be ghosts. We are not called to be wraiths and specters of Christ in this world. What we experience at this altar, with this real physical Bread and this real physical wine, is not some ephemeral thing. It is real. It is physical. It something we can hold in our hands and eat and drink. We can see it, smell it, taste it. And when we partake of it, when it becomes one with us, we then are called to be living, breathing, bleeding, crying bodies in this world.

So, let us carry out this mission together. Let us partake of this physical Body here and let us be the Body of Jesus in the world. Let us sit down and eat with those with whom we serve and those we serve. Let us never be ghosts.

And as the Body of Jesus in this world, we can do what Bishop Thornton reminded me to do when I was a new priest: we can be whatever we are called to be in a particular situation. We, as the physical Body of Jesus, can adapt and mold ourselves to those situations in which we can make Jesus present in those areas in which he needs to be present. If we do, we are doing what Jesus calls us to do.

If we do so we will find that we are not frightened and that few doubts will arise in our hearts. Rather, by our presence, we will drive way those ghosts of fright and doubt.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter


April 12, 2009

John 20.1-18

Today marks an anniversary many people don’t think about anymore. 48 years ago today the first human being went into space. That man—Yuri Gagarin—went into space on April 12, 1961. Now Gagarin, as most us of know, was Russian. A Communist. An atheist. The first words attributed to humankind in space came from him and they were not words of awe, or praise or joy. The first words from a human in space were:

“I see no God up here!”

And let’s face it—he didn’t. He didn’t see God there or anywhere. Because it’s easy to look up into the sky and say, we see no God. It’s easy to say there’s no God. It is easy to say that we live in some random existence—without purpose or meaning.

Today—Easter Sunday—we are faced with something just as formidable as belief in God. We are faced with something just as difficult to believe in sometimes as God. We are faced with a mystery that is just as difficult to wrap our minds around as the mystery of God.

I am, of course, speaking the Resurrection. I am speaking of that moment—that moment when everything changed—when Jesus, broken and battered and murdered, rose up from the tomb. The Jesus who appears to us on this Easter morning is not a ghost. He is not a figment of our imagination. He is not an illusion. And this story isn’t a fairy tale.

Every so often, someone will come up to me and ask that age-old question: “Do you really believe in the Resurrection? Do really you believe that Jesus rose again from the grave?” And my answer is always this: “Why not?” Why couldn’t God do this? If we look long and hard at what happened on that Easter morning, we realize that what happened there was more than some vague experience for some ancient people. What happened on that morning changed everything. Everything since that point has been broken open for us. Our old fear of death and dying is gone. Because now we know that what we once held to be a mystery, is no longer a mystery. What happens to us when we die? We know now, because Someone has been there already. Someone has gone there and by going there has defeated death. What seemed to be the end—the bleak and horrible end on that previous Friday afternoon—has been broken apart. And what we are faced with is life. Life that never ends.

Now, when people ask me if I believe in the Resurrection, I say that I do, but I usually leave it there. Anything beyond my belief that it happened—and that it will happen for us—is beyond me. I don’t understand it fully. I still find bits and pieces of it being revealed to me. I find on bad days or skeptical days that I’m, not certain I believe in it. And to be brutally honest, the idea of unending life doesn’t always appeal to me. But what I have discovered is that, mostly, I find one deep, strong emotion coming forth in me when I ponder the Resurrection.

That emotion is: joy. In our Gospel reading for today, we find joy. Joy comes to Mary Magdalene when she realizes that it is Jesus, resurrected, standing before her. We can almost feel that joy emanating from her as she proclaims to the others: “I have seen the Lord.”

Joy is an emotion we seem to overlook. We think, maybe of joy as some kind of warm, fuzzy feeling. But joy is more than just feeling warm and fuzzy. Joy is a confident emotion. It is an emotion we can’t manufacture. We can’t make joy happen within us. Joy comes to us and comes upon us and bubbles up within us. Joy happens when everything comes together and we know that all is good.

This morning we are feeling joy over the Resurrection—over the fact that today we celebrate the destruction of everlasting death. We also celebrate today the joy of new life. And we are joyful over a life renewed in baptism.

Today Samantha Joy Lemke is going to be baptized. This morning she too will be washed in the waters of baptism. In her baptism, on this wonderful day, we get to see a glimpse of that glorious life that waits all of us. Baptism is a way of saying “yes” to the glory that awaits us. Baptism is a way of saying “yes” to the Resurrection. Baptism is a way of saying “yes” and affirming this joy that we have within us on this morning. Those of us who have already been baptized get to share in this joy too, when we renew our own baptismal vows and, maybe, for a moment, ponder and think about our own baptisms and all that it has been given us in our baptisms, whether we are fully aware of it or not.

I am happy that Sam has chosen this day to be baptized. I hope, Sam, that you will always remember this day with a true joy. This is what Easter is all about.

I guess that’s maybe why Easter is, by far, my favorite feast day in the Church Year. Some of you have heard me say in the past what amounts to almost sacrilege to some of you: I don’t care for Christmas. Christmas is not one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy the beauty of how the Church prepares for Christmas, with its season of Advent, and I enjoy such things as Christmas Eve Mass, but for the most part, Christmas, personally and spiritually doesn’t do much for me. Easter, however, is the epitome for me. This is what it’s all about to be a Christian. If anyone asks me what I love most about being a Christians, I almost always answer: Easter!

By Easter, I don’t mean bunnies and Easter eggs. I don’t mean that I particular care for any of those fluffy, bright things we celebrate on this day, though I do think it’s sweet. What I talk about when I talk about Easter is that fact that today is truly the embodiment of the joy we should all feel as Christians.

Today is a day of true joy. Today, we are all filled with joy at the resurrection and our baptism into that resurrection. This is a joy that sustains us and lifts us up when we need lifting up. It is a joy that causes us to see what others cannot see.

While Gagarin went into space and saw no God, we realize we don’t need to see God out there—floating around like one of us. God dwells with us. God dwells within us. And to see God, all we have to do is look around and see God in the faces of those around us.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Gagarin, though. Recently a revelation was made by a friend of Gagarin, who said that Gagarin actually never made the statement attributed to him. The first words from a human in space are actually unknown. And that Gagarin himself was, it’s suspected, secretly a Christian. Whether to not it’s true, I love those situations in which something we thought had been a certain way turned out to be the complete opposite. For over forty years, most of us believed that the first human in space was an atheist and that the first words he spoke from space where words disparaging God’s existence. But now, we know that it isn’t necessarily true. Now we know that the first person in space may have been a Christian—a Christian who was awed by space and whose faith in God was simply renewed by the experience.

That’s sort of like how Easter is. In what seems to be a bleak moment of defeat—Jesus has been betrayed, he’s been tortured and murdered, he seems not to be who his followers thought he was—suddenly it urns on us. Nothing seems like we thought it was. Christ is not only what his followers thought he was, but much more. He wasn’t defeated. In fact, even despite his betrayal, his torture, his murder, he arose, the ultimate victor.

He arose, and by his rising, he destroyed everything we feared the most. By rising, he destroyed death. By rising, he destroyed our fears of an uncertain future. By rising, he brought victory to all of our defeats and failures.

See, there is a reason for joy on this Easter morning. In fact, it is joy that dwells with us and among us as we gather here. Joy. So, on this Easter morning, don’t let this joy you feel at this moment be a fleeting emotion. Rather, let it live in you and grow in you. Let it provoke you and motivate you. Let it flow forth from you. And when you live into this joy—when you let this joy fully consume you—every day with be Easter day to you. Every day will be a day of resurrection. Every day will be a day of renewed life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed!

Alleluia!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday


April 11, 2009

Matthew 27.57-66

Now it might seem strange to be gathering here this morning. Not many of us usually even think of coming to church on Holy Saturday morning. After all that we’ve been through liturgically and all that we will go through liturgically, it’s going to end up being a roller-coaster ride emotionally. But maybe that is why I love this liturgy so much.

We gather here today in a church stripped of everything symbolic. Even the cross lies before us, veiled in black. The altar is stripped. The aumbry, that held just a few days ago the Body and Blood of Jesus, is now empty, its door wide open. The sanctuary light, which gently reminds us of the holy Presence of Jesus in that Bread and Wine, is extinguished and has been taken away.

For those of us who delight in the Presence of God—who strive and long for the Presence of God—who find our purpose and meaning in the Presence of God—today is a bleak day. That Presence seems…gone.

For now, time stands still. We are caught in this breathless moment—between the excruciating death of Jesus on the cross yesterday and the glorious Light that is about dawn on us tonight and tomorrow morning. For now—in this moment—we are here.

And Jesus…Where is Jesus? We imagine his body lying there in the dark stillness of the tomb, wrapped and broken and bloodied. But where is Jesus?

Well, one explanation can be found in the fact that today we commemorate a tradition in the Church called the Harrowing of Hell. The belief was that, on this day, Jesus descended to that place where all the dead who died before Christ went. There, he broke open the doors of hell and released those waiting for him.

One of my favorite images in the icons of the Eastern Orthodox church is the depiction of Jesus descending into hell. In these icons, we see Jesus standing over broken-open tombs. He is pulling a man and woman up from the depths of hell. This man and woman are, of course, Adam and Eve. It’s a beautiful image—the new Adam—the Adam who undoes all that the old Adam did—has not even allowed Adam and Eve to disappear, to die without hope. Even now, the new Adam, takes hold of the Old Adam, the old Eve, and lifts them up. He brings them to the glory he brings with him.

In a way, we can see our own faces on the faces of the old Adam and the old Eve. In a sense, it us that Jesus has come to and is lifting up from our old ways. It is us he lifts up from the Hades of our lives. Or, as the Eastern Orthodox Church sings on this day:


When You did descend to death, O Life Immortal, You did slay hell with the splendor of Your Godhead, and when from the depths You did raise the dead, all the Powers of Heaven cried out, O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You!

The message for us this morning is that, as bleak as seems, there is more going on than meets the eye. Yes, Jesus has died. He truly died—he truly tasted death and partook of it fully. And we too must die as well. We too will taste death and partake in it fully. We too will experience our own Holy Saturday morning. Sometimes we will experience the equivalent many times in our lives as we lose those we love to death, when all will seem bleak and hopeless.

But the fact is that, not even death can separate us from Christ. That place wherein we find ourselves, lost, lifeless, without hope, is the place in which we cannot escape Christ. In the hells of our lives—and we all have them—in the hells of our lives, even there Jesus can come. In those places in which we seem so far separated from God, from the love that God gives us, from the light God shines upon us, even there Jesus will come to us. No matter how far separated we might seem from Jesus, Jesus will cover that great distance and come to us.

Even there. Even there, he will come for us. Even there he will find us and take us to himself. Even there, he will even die, like us, to bring us back to a life that will never end. That is what Holy Saturday is all about and that is certainly why I love this day.

So, on this Holy Saturday, when all seems bleak and lost and without purpose, remember: There is more going on beneath the surface than we might originally think. Jesus is at work even in those moments when we think he might not be. The Presence of God is with us even when it seems furthest from us. In the darkest moments of our lives, the bright dawn is about to break. Let us wait patiently and breathlessly for it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday


April 9, 2009
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Fargo

1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35

Tonight we commemorate an event in our lives as Christians that has changed us and affected us and transformed us and made our spiritual lives better. Tonight, we commemorate that incredible and amazing miracle—the institution of the Eucharist. Tonight, we remember the fact that Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it and said, “This is my body,” and that he did the same with the wine and said, “This is my blood,”

Every Sunday, in our two congregations, we participate in this event. We come together. We celebrate together this mystery. We come forward and take this bread and drink from this cup and, in doing so, we take the Body and Blood of Christ. Most of us probably do so without too much of a second thought. If we poll our congregations, we might get some interesting (and maybe even disturbing) explanations of what exactly it is we partake in when we take this bread and drink from this cup.

As most of you who were raised Lutheran or Episcopalian, may remember that Holy Communion used to be celebrated only once a month. In the Lutheran Church I grew up in, it was celebrated the first Sunday of every month. For some people, it was a big deal. I remember how there was a bit of excitement for me over the fact that we got to do something a little different at church on Communion Sundays. We didn’t just have to sit there and listen to sermons and sing hymns We actually got to get up and do something. We got to participate And as a young boy, it was especially exciting to have my little shot glass of Mogen David wine. Probably that was a sign that the beginning seeds of my Episcopalianism.

But I also remember some people who, if they forgot it was Communion Sunday, would quietly groan to themselves when they saw the Communion plates on the altar. Some people—people like my mother and my grandmother—for whatever reasons, were simply uncomfortable going up and receiving Communion.

Most Lutheran Churches around here still don’t have Communion every week. St. Mark’s is still unique in its approach to celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday.

For Episcopalians, this issue was solved about thirty years. Although some High Church parishes celebrated the Eucharist every Sunday going back to the 1840s, most churches (except for a hold-outs) began celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday with the introduction of the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. This belief that the Eucharist is the highpoint of our liturgical and spiritual lives is in line with what the Church as a whole tends to believe and hold up as an ideal. The service of Holy Communion is the heart of our worship as Christians, because it is that service in which we are uniquely reminded that Jesus is truly present in these elements of bread and wine.

After all, that’s what we believe we receive when we come before the altar, don’t we?

Well, not all Christians believe the same thing about what Communion is. The Roman Catholic Church believes in something called transubstantiation. It’s a big word, I know and one that I promise you’ll never have to ever remember. It is the belief that when the priest at the altar calls Jesus down with prayers into the bread and the wine, they stop being bread and wine and are, in fact, the actual physical body and blood of Jesus. The Council Trent—one of those defining councils in the Roman Church—in the 1500s defined it this way: “[Transubstantiation is] the changing of the entire substance of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. After the consecration”—after the moment the priest blesses the bread and wine—“only the appearance (color, taste, smell, quantity, etc) of bread and wine remain.”

In other words, it might look like bread and wine, but it isn’t anymore. This is part of the reason why Protestants and other non-Roman Christians are not allowed to receive Communion in the Roman Church.

Lutherans believe in something called consubstantiation. (Again, you won’t ever have to remember that word). This is the belief that the Body and Blood of Jesus are united to the bread and wine, but that there is no miraculous change—the bread is still bread, the wine still wine. The changes are spiritual. Jesus is still just as present in the bread and wine—only nothing has been changed. When we receive the bread, we are receiving Jesus. Jesus is present in the bread. When we receive the cup, again, we are receiving Jesus. Jesus is present. In a very practical way, we can say it this way—what feeds the body is physical, what feeds the spirit is spiritual.

Now Episcopalians are uncomfortable with either of these words—transubstantiation or consubstantiation . I’ll admit Episcopalians are often guilty of copping out in our theology. We say things like, “it’s a mystery.” “We don’t really know what goes on. But something important happens.” Some of us, especially those of us of a more High Church, Anglo-Catholic bent, lean more toward the direction of transubstantiation. Others, those of more evangelical belief, tend to believe in something more like consubstantiation. In our typical way of being sort of the “middle way” between the Roman Church and the Protestants, we seem, at times, to have one foot in each world. Or we simply may be seen as sitting on fence, unable to decide what it is we believe.

Probably one of the best summations of what some Episcopalians believe regarding the Eucharist is by one of my personal spiritual heroes, Blessed James DeKoven, a priest from Wisconsin in the 1800s. Dekoven wrote,


I believe that in the Eucharist after the consecration of the elements, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the very Body and Blood of Christ, not by transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or any other device of human reason, but super-naturally, spiritually and ineffably, are present in the elements. I believe them to be present by the wonderful sacramental union which unites the outward sign to the thing signified….[1]

Or, more succinctly, in the words of the great Queen Elizabeth I:

"He was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it."


So, no matter what we might believe, the fact is that something incredible and wonderful happens when we gather together here to celebrate the Eucharist and that we shouldn’t take what we do lightly. Christ comes to us and is present with us in a unique and wonderful way. And recognizing this presence, we should be in awe. We should be blown away by it. And we should remind ourselves that, no matter what we believe, Jesus is our spiritual food.

This is why Holy Communion is so important. There is nothing else like this kind of worship in the Church. It is one of the most intimate forms of worship we can know. Jesus truly comes among us and feeds us with his very self. We form a bond with Jesus in Communion that is so strong and so vital to our spiritual lives.

But Jesus tells us tonight, on the eve of his death, on the eve of his leaving us, that will not leave us without something. Rather, he will leave us with a sign of his love for us. As John tells us tonight, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He loved us even at the end so that he could leave us something to nourish us and sustain us until he comes to us again. He does so in this bread is his Body and this cup that is his Blood.

But Holy Communion is more than just being fed in our bodies. What we learn at this altar, when celebrate the Eucharist together and we share Holy Communion together is that, Jesus is our Bread of Life, our cup of Salvation, whenever we are starving or thirsting spiritually. When we feel empty and lost, Jesus comes to us and refreshes us. Jesus feeds our spirit with that presence of absolute love in our lives. When the scriptures speak to us in a deep and meaningful way, we find our hunger and thirst being quenched in Bread and Cup that is Jesus. In other words, what Jesus is saying to us is: I am what will fulfill you.

Jesus then becomes the very staple of our lives. Jesus is the one who feeds that hunger we have deep within us, who quenched that seemingly unquenchable thirst that drives us and provokes us. Jesus fills the voids of our lives with his life-giving Presence.

But it’s more than just a “Jesus and me” moment. This love that we experience in this Communion, is love that we can’t just hug to ourselves and bask in privately. This love we experience in this Eucharist is a love that is meant, like the Bread and the Cup, to be shared with others.

“Love one another,” is Jesus’ commandment to us in those moments before he is betrayed, in those hours before he is tortured, on the eve of his brutal murder. “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Communion—and the love we experience in it—is not just something we do here in church on Sunday mornings or on Maundy Thursday. It is something we take with us when we go from here. It is something we take out into the world from here. As Christians, we are to share the Body and the Blood of Christ wherever we go because we carry those elements within us. And because we carry those elements within us, we are to feed those who are not just hungry of body, but are hungry of mind and spirit as well. We are to share the Body and Blood of Jesus with all of those we encounter in the world.

So, as you go from here this evening, during the rest of this Holy Week and especially during the holy season of Easter, go out into the world remembering what you carry within you. Remember what nourishes you, what sustains you, what quenches your own spiritual hunger and thirst. Go out, refreshed and filled with life-giving bread and life-refreshing cup—with Jesus, who feeds you with his very self. But go out also into the world ready to share that bread and cup that gives such life to you. Show it in your actions and show it in your words. Show it by living out that commandment of love to all. Let that Presence of Jesus within you nourish those around you just as it nourishes you.



[1] Dekoven, The Eucharistic Controversy

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CREDO Conference

The Rev. Jamie A. Parsley to attend CREDO Conference

The Rev. Jamie A. Parsley has accepted an invitation to attend a CREDO conference from October 5-12, 2009 at the Gray Conference Center located in Canton, Mississippi.

The eight-day conference provides participants with the means to find direction and clarity in four component areas: spiritual, physical, vocational, and financial. CREDO provides a foundation for participants to embrace wellness and to prayerfully discern the direction of their vocation.
CREDO was founded in 1997 as a pilot program funded by The Church Pension Group. Episcopal clergy, deacons and bishops from virtually every diocese in the country have taken advantage of the CREDO benefit. Participants are selected at random from all active clergy with more than one year in the Pension Fund. The Church Pension Fund pays all but $500 of the conference costs.

Jamie will join approximately 30 other clergy in the CREDO conference. Over the course of the conference, participants will meet in plenary sessions, small groups and private consultations with faculty members. Participants also have ample quiet time to reflect on their personal and professional lives.

Each participant commits to extensive reflection through pre-conference instruments and surveys that focus on personal and professional wellness. The work of CREDO is organized around four major areas in each person’s personal and professional life. Each of these components is explored as an integral part of the whole.

Spiritual – offers a sacred space where each participant can reflect on his or her interior life and relationship with God in Christ.

Vocational – provides opportunities for reflection, discernment, and planning in the professional areas of vocation, career, and work.

Health – encourages reflection on physical and emotional health and well-being, stewardship of the body, and development of a plan to address the individual’s health needs.

Financial – explores all aspects of personal financial management and encourages reflection on God-given resources and how best to use them in response to God’s call.

Through this discernment and visioning process, and with the help of a faculty team of professionals, each participant builds a CREDO Plan – a personal covenant based on his or her CREDO work and a formal expression of the CREDO experience. The CREDO Plan provides a personal baseline and strategy for effective implementation.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm/ Passion Sunday



April 5, 2009

Mark 15.1-39

The Gospel reading we just heard was a long reading (even in the slightly abbreviated form we heard this morning)—and a disturbing one to say the least. For us Christians, this story is doubly disturbing. This Jesus we are hearing about isn’t some stranger to any of us. We are forced to hear about the horrendous torture and brutal murder of a friend, a sibling, a parent. That’s the kind of relationship most of us has with the Jesus we encounter each Sunday in the Gospel readings and, hopefully, in our own daily spiritual lives. But more than that, this Gospel has a deeper meaning—a more personal meaning.

I’m especially glad this morning that we have had the opportunity to hear this Gospel read in parts by the congregation. It’s important that we, as the congregation, are given the part in these readings of the crowd. Because, let’s face it, it is uncomfortable to say those disturbing words, “Crucify him!” For some of us, maybe we do relate to the crowd. Some of us might feel closest to the anonymity of being part of a mass of people who can either sit quietly by while an innocent person is killed or we can be so taken by the crowd’s energy that we can shout, with at least some conviction, “crucify him. Others may relate to Peter in his denial or even Judas in his betrayal. Some of us are able to relate to the women who followed Jesus or to Jesus’ mother who must watch the torture and murder of her child.

But many of us relate—and all of us should relate—to Jesus in his suffering and death. Why shouldn’t we? When we hear this Gospel—this very disturbing reading—how can we not feel what he felt? How can we sit here passively and not react in some way to this violence done to him? How can we sit here and not feel, in some small way, the betrayal, the pain, the suffering? After all, none of us in this church this morning, has been able to get to this point unscathed in some way. We all carry our own passions—our own crucifixions—with us. We bear, in our own selves, the wounds of Christ.

Now most of us have heard stories of people who have borne the supposed actual wounds of Jesus in their bodies—actual nail holes in the hands and spear wounds in the side and wounds from the crown of thorns on their foreheads. This stigmata, as it’s called, is one of those strange and sometimes uncomfortable phenomena that occur among Christians every so often. Whether we believe in it or not—or whether we believe that it is miraculous or the product of a few overly pious people—the fact remains that stigmata, in some way, exists.

The first recorded stigmatic was our deeply beloved St. Francis of Assisi who supposedly received all the wounds of Christ in his body—on his hands, on his feet, in his side. Over the years, there are have many others who have claimed to have these wounds—many of whom were fanatics. Some of them, however, were not. The stigmata is not necessarily a singularly Roman Catholic phenomenon. There was an Anglican woman in England within the last forty years or so by the name of Jane Hunt who supposedly bore the wounds in her hands. She was not a fanatic by any means, nor did she consider herself a mystic. She was supposedly just as baffled as any of us that she bore the wounds she did.

But, stigmata, in another sense, continues on in our lives. If we believe that Jesus is not still suffering in us and among us then we are deceiving ourselves. If we believe that Jesus is not still suffering the insults, the whippings, and is being murdered in our world then we are blinding ourselves. If we believe that Jesus is not still being denied proper burial and is dependent on the kindness of others to bury him, then we are have not been paying attention.

The Gospel story we heard this morning is our story in a sense. We are the stigmatics of our day, but not in some mystical, metaphysical sense of that word. We are the ones carrying the wounds of Christ in our bodies and in our souls. Every time we hear the story of Jesus’ torture and death and can relate to it, every time we can hear that story and feel what Jesus felt because we too have been maligned, betrayed, insulted, spat upon, then we too are sharing in the story. Every time we hear about people turned away, betrayed, deceived, and we can feel their pain in some small way, we are sharing in Christ’s passion. When we can feel the wounds we carry around with us begin to bleed again when we hear the story of Jesus’ death, we too are the stigmatics.

But the greatest part about sharing in this story of Jesus is that we get to share in the whole story. Look what awaits us next Sunday. These sufferings we read about today and in our own lives, are ultimately temporary. But what we celebrate next Sunday is forever—it is unending. Easter morning awaits us all—that day in which we will rise from the ashes of this life and live anew in that unending dawn.

One of my favorite quotes is by one my spiritual heroes, the priest and poet George Herbert: “Jesus dries our tears with his abandoned grave clothes.”

Our tears are dried and our pains healed in the glorious light of Easter morning. This is our hope. This is what we are striving toward in case we might forget that fact. Our own Easter morning awaits us. So, as difficult as it might be to hear this morning’s gospel, just remember that in the darkness of Good Friday, the dawn of Easter morning is about to break. With it, the wounds disappear. The pains and the sufferings are forgotten. The tears are dried for good. The grave lies empty behind us. And before us lies life. Before us lies a life triumphant and glorious in ways we can only—here and now—just barely begin to comprehend.