Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fearlessness Begins with an Open Heart to God

Introduction: Open Heart Surgery

We’ve been focusing on our mission as a church this year by paying attention to living the Christian life fearlessly and by allowing hope to well up in our lives making ourselves more open to God’s power at work in us. And what has struck me again and again over this past year of readings and sermons and conversations with many of you is how much of this fearless life is really a matter of the heart; of having an open heart to God, a heart restored by God, and a heart willing to let God make a home in our lives and take away our fears.

I had the opportunity a while back of visiting one of our parishioners the morning after he had undergone open heart surgery. I came into his room in the Intensive Care Unit expecting him to be barely awake, and instead found him sitting up and finishing some very bland eggs getting ready to be moved into a regular room. The timing of my visit matched his move and so I followed him in his wheel chair as he talked about how good he felt, and how blessed and lucky he was that things had gone so well.  I waited outside his room as the new set of nurses got him situated, took his vital signs and made him comfortable and upright in bed.

When the nurses left, I came in and sat down beside him to talk more and to pray together, he took my hand, drew me close, smiled into my face, and whispered again, “How blessed I am. How thankful that God has been there with me, is with me now. From the time I came into the hospital,” he said, “to the moment I woke up, I was confident and at peace.” And then he squeezed my hand as tears formed in the corner of his eyes, and he whispered, “I feel God’s grace and was never afraid.”

We thanked God together and prayed for his speedy recovery and for everyone in that hospital, and for a mutual friend who was battling cancer. I left to come back to St. David’s, thankful to God for His goodness and mercy and presence in our lives, and I was reminded of another’s experience of God’s presence facing open-heart surgery some years ago. I was freshly out of seminary with my new collar and black shirts, and was visiting a man I had never met the day after his open-heart surgery. He too was deeply thankful that all had gone well, but his fears before the surgery had been overpowering. He told me “I was crying and shaking in fear in my room, all alone, but somehow, I got the nerve to pray and ask God for help. And that’s when a young nurse came into my room. She took hold of my hand and told me to feel it, to hold it.”
“ ‘Now’, she said, ‘during surgery tomorrow you will be disconnected from your heart and will be kept alive by machines as they work to repair your heart, and when the operation is over and you’ll wake up in recovery, you may be unable to move or speak or even open your eyes, but you’ll be perfectly conscious and you’ll hear and know everything going on around you. During all those hours, I’ll be at your side and I’ll hold your hand exactly as I’m holding it now. I’ll stay with you until you’re fully recovered and although you’ll feel helpless, when you feel my hand, you’ll know that I’m there and won’t leave you.’ ”

He chuckled and said,  “It happened exactly as the nurse told me, I felt her hand as they put me into sleep and I awoke and could do nothing but I could feel the nurse’s hand in mine. I could feel it first in my mind and then in my hand Her promise and her presence made all the difference and I was no longer afraid.”
Open hearts, literally open hearts in these cases, are all God needs to calm our fears and lift us up into a life that’s really life.

God Looking For Us

In all the Gospel stories about Jesus healing people and bringing new hope, there is one common thread that links them all. The people have open hearts and come to Jesus. He doesn’t go to them uninvited. Their hearts are open to Jesus, but they have to come to Him.

The leader of the synagogue, Jairus, comes to Jesus to beg Jesus to heal his daughter and by the time Jesus arrived, the girl has sickened and died, but Jesus prays and restores her to life.

The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and is an outcast as a result spproaches Jesus to merely touch the hem of His robe to be healed, snd the power comes forth from Jesus to heal her.

The ten lepers by the side of the road beg Jesus to save them, to heal them and Jesus does.

Blind Bartimaeus cries out, Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me, and Jesus does.
The Centurion sends one of his men for Jesus to bring healing to his servant, without actually coming to heal the servant and at that moment the servant is made well.

In all of the healing stories in the Gospels, people come to Jesus in the hope of healing, in the hope of being restored and lifted into a new life. In all of them they come to Jesus, except in the Gospel today, when Jesus breaks the pattern of healing and comes to this man first. And so you and I need to understand that there is a very important purpose for John to include this story of all the healing stories John knew about Jesus. There is an important purpose because there is something in this story that is important for us to understand about open hearts and the power of hope, so that we, too, may be healed and be changed by the presence of God.

In Jesus’ day, the pool of Beth-Zatha, or Bethesda, was known for its healing powers. The legend was that once each day and angel would stir the waters and if you were the first person to enter the waters, you would be healed. So, if you had a disease of a condition that couldn’t be cured by human hands or by time, you hung out by the pool in the hope that you might get lucky and be the first one in.

On this day and every day apparently, the pool is surrounded by hurting people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed all hoping that today they would be the person to be healed, that they would be restored to the life they hoped to live.  And in this crowd of trouble, and uncertainty, and sorrow, and pain, there’s a man lying near the pool who had been there for thirty-eight years, hoping that today he would be the first one in.

Now that’s a long time to wait to be healed, a long time to be facing his troubles alone, and I suspect that his hope was pretty thin by this time. Because when Jesus asks him is he wants to be healed (and note Jesus does ask), he doesn’t say, “Yes, please, thank you very much,” but rather gives Jesus all the reasons why he won’t be the lucky one:  he doesn’t have a friend to lift him in, he’s not fast enough, he’s not near enough.

But he does have some hope in his heart, otherwise he wouldn’t even be by the pool, and Jesus takes this poor man, with so little hope and commands the man to stand up, take your mat and walk, and he does just that. And that man’s miniscule, tiny, barely existent sense of hope is what allows Jesus to heal the man and restore him to life. Hope is the one quality required for God to act and when there is hope, God will act in your life and in mine. Because the power of hope, however small, opens the way for God, and when you and I have hope in our hearts, we open the way for God to calm our fears, to change the direction of our lives and to restore us to the life God wants us to live.

Open Hearts of a Different Kind

The Friday morning men’s Bible study has been doing some work with Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a spiritual guide to all kinds of Christians for centuries. Ignatius once said, “The most powerful force in the world is the love of God, at work in the heart of a believer; And the weakest force in the world, is the love of God seeking entry into the human heart.”

Thus our Lord’s pattern of healing people who come to him rather than going to anyone and everyone, he will not force His way in, but waits to be invited. God will not coerce or force any of us into a living relationship of love with Him, but He will come alongside and wait for us to allow Him in and when we do, God makes His home with us and does a kind of spiritual surgery on our hearts and lives.                               To give us peace and fill us more and more with hope, so that God can live in us and work through us.

The Christian life, the fearless life lived with God, is all a matter of the heart; amatter of having a heart that hopes in God.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of hope, apparently, but any hope is the doorway to more life with God. So, as you look at your life today and the lives of the people you love who are in some need because of sickness or job problems or family problems; or if you’re feeling a little burned out and would like some refreshment, then let me remind you to hope, even though it may seem very feint. Hope so that God may come into your life and the lives of those you love in a new way.
Today is a good day to open your heart in hope for the first time or to open it again. And if you will, then you will be drawn into the life that is really life and the Risen One will come to you and touch your life. And your hope and the hope of those around you will grow, and your fears and mine will be no more; because, it’s all a matter of the heart.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Being the Light

I pray that you and yours are well, especially in a time when chaos and darkness have risen up again in our midst. The tragedy in Boston is so heartbreaking and sad.  People’s lives, innocent lives have been torn up and their lights extinguished in the midst of one of our country’s great events. As a parent of a former cross country runner and a person who attended a lot of running events in support, it feels even darker to me since these races are such gentle, genial events where everyone cheers runners of all abilities and gifts.

Events like the chaos that rose up in Boston can challenge one’s faith and one’s practice of being a Christian. When bad things happen to good people, or when sickness or death or real difficulties come our way, our faith and trust in God can take a hit. We wonder whether God is really there and, if there, whether God really cares. We wonder if we can trust in a God who would allow others to do such dark acts. For myself, I wonder how to practice Jesus’ call to forgive and pray for our enemies, when my mind is moving away from mercy and more toward vengeance and retribution.

We do not know all the mysteries of how God set up this world and what the effect of free will can have on our lives in these dark moments. But we do know, particularly in this Easter season, that violence and darkness do not have the last word. We believe—we know—that Jesus’ resurrection from death means that sin and chaos and death itself have been overcome and will be overcome by God’s grace and God’s power. And even though that day has not come in all its fullness, there are signs that the light is overcoming the darkness, even in moments like these. There is light and goodness and beauty and love all around us; a greater power than the darkness will ever be. When we look to the light, we can find a peace and a purpose that enable us to press on in our lives with God.

And you and I are part of that light. Jesus is the Light of the world, but we are lights, too. We, who have some sense and experience of the light and love of God in our lives, are called to share that light and love with others. We are called to act and live in ways that bring more light into the world by our lives as individuals and by our lives in community. We are a people who look to the Light and who are light ourselves. And the more we act as lights in the world, by God’s grace and power, then the faster the darkness and the chaos will be overcome.

Please pray with me for those who have been so affected by the events in Boston and for all who are suffering, that God may touch them and heal them and restore them with His presence. And may all of us remember that we, too, have been called to act and be lights in the world. May God give us the hope and the strength to be such lights.

Grace and Peace

Thursday, April 11, 2013


“All things come of thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”  1 Chronicles 29:14

I pray that you are well and are enjoying these beautiful spring days. The flowers and blossoms on some of the trees are literally bursting forth in this warmer weather and I am reminded of all the many gifts that God has given us so freely and abundantly to enjoy and to use for God’s good purposes.

This Sunday, we have an opportunity to remember all that God has given us and how we have used some of those gifts to complete part of the building program we started back in 2004. The lower level, below the new Chapel, has been completed! We now have a fine choir rehearsal/meeting room, a new classroom, real offices for our music staff, and a place for our choirs and acolytes to robe. The completion of this important space is a tangible example of how we, as a community, have given back to God some of the gifts that God has given us for God’s purposes. I am excited to think of all the lives that will be formed up through music and learning in that space and want to thank everyone for their prayers and financial support in making this a reality.

And because this space is a concrete example of using some of the gifts for God’s purposes, we will be dedicating the space with prayer and some refreshments after the 9:15 service (followed by a shortened segment of my class on prayer). I hope you will come to give thanks with us and dedicate this space for God’s purposes at St. David’s and in the world.

Dedication is one of the ways that churches and individuals can focus on their true purposes, but more importantly, when we pray in dedication we open the way for God’s Spirit to renew us and empower us for the purposes and lives we are about. In fact, each day is an opportunity for you and me to dedicate ourselves to God, to our families, our work or learning and to whatever path we are walking with God. When we dedicate we keep in mind what we are about and open the way for God to come in.

So allow me to share my favorite prayer of daily dedication with you and invite you to pray it regularly. It comes from our Prayer Book (page 461):

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth,
but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand
up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing,
let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give
me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

May God continue to bless you with all God’s gifts and the courage to use them wisely for God’s purposes. See you Sunday.

Grace and Peace

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Different Reality

I pray that you are well and that this has been a fruitful Lent and Holy Week in your life with God. Like me, you may not notice a greater presence of God at work in your life. Because the spiritual life follows the physical life, we can expect that God will use our desire for a deeper life with him, to draw us closer.

This Sunday, Easter Sunday, is the day of days for Christians. All the hoopla around Christmas and Jesus’ birth and all the teachings and healings and miracles in His earthly ministry, find their power in this singular turning point in the history of the world. Because Jesus is resurrected from the dead, His birth has meaning for us. Because Jesus is resurrected from the dead, His teachings and power can continue to work in our lives today. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we live in a different reality and know a love in our lives that has no end.

You see, there are two realities at work in our lives as followers of Jesus. One reality is the world we all live in. It is a world that is both filled with wonder and heartache. We know the wonder of human love and the magnificence of the creation around us. We also know heartache, difficulties and endings, many of our own making, that leave us wanting.

When Jesus is resurrected from the dead, God opens us up to a different reality. Yes, the gift of human love and the magnificence of creation continue to bless our lives. But the heartache of broken relationships, failed ventures, and death itself begin to be restored by the presence of the Risen One in our lives. For just as Jesus offered a living relationship with God, forgiveness, healing, and restoration in His earthly ministry, we believe and know that He offers them to us now, when we follow Him. It is a different reality and a reality that offers us the fullness of life now and the promise of life for all time.

So, as we draw closer to Easter, I encourage you take hold of this different reality. Allow God’s forgiveness, love, hope to work in your lives and live without fear, for Jesus is risen.

Grace and Peace,

Monday, March 4, 2013

Running Your Own Race with God

Introduction: The Best Messages Don’t Always Touch Us, We Think

Someone once said that the definition of a good sermon is that it’s not only short, but also it’s a sermon that goes over our heads or a message that goes past us, and hits our neighbor squarely in the heart. Think about it, how many times when we read the ten commandments in Lent, or listen to the scripture readings and the sermon and how it seems to apply less to your life and your situation and would be better heard and applied to one of your neighbors. Or to the preacher himself?

For instance, when we say the ten commandments together; and we get to the commandment about not coveting, does it make you squirm a little over the times you’ve wanted what someone else has, or do your tell yourself that that applies to everyone but me. Or when the readings and the sermon and the announcements are about stewardship and the preacher is talking about God’s call for us to tithe, to give away ten percent; does that make you tense up a little, or do you assume he’s talking to someone else because you’ve already written your check for today to put into the plate, and college tuitions and retirement plans are expensive? Or a lesson and sermon about loving your neighbor and
you check that box and zone out a little because just last week you moved your neighbor’s trash can out of the road and into their yard. Or the challenge comes to use your gifts on behalf of God’s kingdom, the call to use your time and talents more for St. David’s, more for God, and you let the call pass because you once taught Sunday School two years ago and you brought a can of soup for St. Mary’s in Chester just last month.

I learned this concept of a good sermon passing you by when I was in 8th grade. I was president of the middle school youth group and felt like I was doing a good job. Even though I had a tendency to disrupt things a little and make jokes at inappropriate times (something I now have under full control.) We went away on retreat in the fall and on Saturday afternoon, before we returned home. The priest in charge gave a sermon during the closing communion service that was pretty harsh about our behavior in general. He promised that some of us had better straighten up, or we’d be out of the youth group. I listened and thought about how some of my friends didn’t take this seriously enough,
and how the youth group would be better if a couple of them weren’t there, because they
often caused trouble and disrupted our meetings.

As we piled into cars to go home, Father Swann invited me to drive home with him; and as we were driving he asked what I thought about the sermon. I told him I thought it was a good sermon and that there were some kids who needed to straighten up or that they should leave. He pulled over to the side of the road we were traveling together, looked me in the eye and explained that he was talking specifically about me, and that if I didn’t use my gifts and leadership for good going forward he’d have to ask me to leave the group. That was a long drive back home.

It’s so easy to assume that these commandments we say together and that the message in Sunday’s readings and Sunday’s sermons have little to do with you and me and much more to do with those other people, especially those who don’t happen to be with us today. But that assumption can keep you and me from entering into a deeper life with God, and hearing the truth about our lives and the life God is calling us to live. The race each of us has been called to run. You see, we are all running our own race as Christians in the world, as followers of Jesus, but until we listen up and turn to God’s commands and God’s calling we are running a race that is very unlikely to speed us to a deeper life with God and a life that’s really life.

Jesus and the Gospel

And that’s what Jesus is emphasizing in today’s Gospel—the call for us to repent, the call for us, to turn our lives toward God and God’s purposes and to stop paying attention to whether other people are following rightly and to pay attention to the race we’re running because that’s the only race we’re responsible for.

In Jesus’ time, there was a common understanding that when bad things happened to people or someone was blind or ill, that there was some kind of correlation or connection to the kind of life they were living. A person who was a living a good life, a Godly life, received good things, and a person or persons who weren’t living such a good life or Godly life received judgment in the form of sickness or disease or even early death. So, when people come to Jesus asking about the Galileans who were executed, and had their blood mixed with the blood of the Roman sacrifices, they were asking Jesus about whether these people deserved what they got. Were they such bad people that they
deserved to be killed off? And by asking the question, they were trying to justify the lives they were living, because they weren’t among the ones who were killed.

Jesus preaches a very brief and very directed sermon to them challenging them about their own lives, basically telling them to run their own race don’t pay attention to their status with God. But unless you repent, unless you turn your life more toward God, you would perish as well. To make sure that they understood that that short sermon was meant for them, Jesus goes on to emphasize the point about running your own race by reminding them of the tower of Siloam that fell by accident and killed eighteen people. How, unless they repented, unless they turned their lives toward God they would perish as well.

It must be part of the human condition to compare ourselves to others and the races they are running, rather than to pay close attention to our own race, to our own following after God (which I’ve noticed is a pretty full time job.) But the ten commandments we’ve been reading in Lent as the decalogue, the scriptures and Sunday sermons, the messages from Jesus in the Gospels are not for others. They’re for you and for me; so that we will not only turn our lives more toward God but also run and live our lives in such a way that we turn and respond.

You see, this God who forgives us for everything. So that we can start over each day with a clean slate to try again. This God who came and lived among us and suffered for us on a cross, and rose again that first Easter revealing for all time that God loves us and wants us and forgives us, is also the God who wants us to run our race in a certain way, a certain direction.

Following Jesus is not a life where anything goes, but a life with boundaries. A course for
racing that has a starting line, a set course, and a finish line that is both directed by God
and connected to God at every step we take. And following the commandments and
allowing the Sunday Scriptures and sermons to speak to your life is often the best starting
line for a race that will keep you connected to God and for allowing room for God to
direct you on your way.

Running Your Race So That You May Know a Life That’s Really Life

There are so many races to be run in the Christian life, as many races as there are people
in this room. But all of them are directed by the word of God, by listening in prayer, and
sometimes, even by the sermon. When we were starting the capital campaign for this Chapel ten years ago, a twelve year old in the congregation heard the call to share what she had, so she broke her piggy bank and brought $42.86 for the campaign. It was one of the most important gifts we received; because she gave all she had at that time for God. Last year a senior in high school from this church, hearing the call to love his neighbor as himself, broke up three boys who were bullying a ninth grader, and he befriended that ninth grader for the rest of the year. Many of the men of the church heard the call to use their gifts for God and have dedicated thousands of hours along with thousands of dollars to rebuild the rectory at the Church of the Crucifixion, and that church has been encouraged and is coming alive because of their commitment. An elderly member of our congregation, who couldn’t come to church for years before she entered into glory last fall; used the gift of her time and her ability to knit to make chemo caps and prayer shawls that we have blessed and shared with children and persons recovering from illness.

So listen up in church and in your daily prayers because it’s meant not just for the person
sitting behind you, it’s meant for you. Then, run your race whatever it may be, following
the commandments of God and allowing God the primary place in your life, so that you
can hear God’s voice and follow in His ways to run the race that is set before you with
the power and presence of God working in you every step of the way. This is the way of
life and the path that will allow you and me and the person over there to enter more fully
into a life that is really life—the life that is lived with and lived for God.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sharing the Load

Dogs playing

I pray that you and yours are well and want to thank you for your prayers for me. It’s so important in this Christian life to remember to pray for others; to share their burdens; to lighten one another's loads by a kind word or text or a prayer to God. Sometimes the burdens we bear and the struggles we face can be overwhelming; can take so much thought and energy that we simply don’t have the ability to pray.

Knowing that others are sharing our burdens and doing the praying on our behalf not only encourages us, but opens the way for the power and the hand of God to enter into our lives. This came home to me recently while talking with a friend who nearly crushed his hand when he was changing a flat tire on his car. He was making good progress, but the jack slipped and his hand got caught underneath the wheel. He was rushed to the hospital where he had emergency surgery to repair his hand. His hand was saved, but it would involve several more surgeries and a lot of hospital time.

As I spoke with him and prayed with him, he told me how much he appreciated my calls and visit. He told me he hadn’t been able to pray in the pain and during the process of recovery and therapy, which was a problem, he reminded me, since he was a pastor. I knew what he meant, having experienced similar times of struggle when I had a hard time praying. I reminded him of St. Paul’s understanding about our need to share one another’s burdens and we decided that this was very practical advice, since there are times when our burdens make it too difficult for us to go it alone. And more than that, prayer opens the way for God to intervene into our lives and into the lives of the people we are praying for.

So thank you, again for your prayers for me in the midst of my struggles and remember that there are people praying for you and willing to share your burdens to make the load a little lighter. Please continue to pray for others and to look for ways to lift their burdens when you can. It will make all of our loads lighter and bring us into the closer presence and power of God.

Happy St. David’s Day (March 1) and I look forward to worshiping God with you and praying together on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You Belong to Me

I pray that this note finds you well and that there is some part of your spiritual life that is being fed by the season and opportunities of Lent to open the way for God to come into your life more fully. If like me, you have fallen short of some Lenten discipline you intended already, no worries. God is a forgiving God and you may take up your practice again without fear or punishment because we belong to God and He wants us. In fact, God chooses us.

Now being chosen is a high honor in life. When I was a kid growing up and at times in my adult life, there are times when we want to be chosen. As a child, we would pick teams for street football or for a pick up basketball or baseball game and choosing teams was sometimes the most critical moment of the competition. The two best players were usually the captains. After all, you didn’t want one team to be loaded unfairly. If you were a good player or older, you usually got picked first and that was a great feeling. If you weren’t so good, you usually got picked last or not at all if there were too many kids for the game. That was the worst moment. To go unchosen was humiliating and as a “fat kid” who was a little uncoordinated, that happened with enough regularity in my life that I still remember the feeling.

As an adult, it’s a great feeling to be chosen by another person as a friend or as a partner. It’s encouraging to be chosen for a job or a promotion. We like being chosen because it reminds us that we have value, that we are worthy because of who we are. And when we are passed over or outright rejected, it causes heartache that either drives us to try harder or diminishes who we are. Enough rejection and we can become less than the person God created us to be.

Well, with God, you and I are chosen. He chooses us just as we are to enter into a life with Him. He chooses us because we have unique value and gifts that no one else has. That’s Jesus’ way in the Gospels and God’s way throughout the Biblical record. God is always choosing persons just like you and me to be in a living relationship with Him. God is choosing us to live our lives with Him and for Him. God is choosing us and because He has, we know that we are loved and we are important to God.

So, as you go about your life this Lent and throughout the year, keep in mind that you’ve been chosen. You are important. You have value. You belong to God. Allow that reality to seep into your heart and mind and live your life without fear because you have been chosen by God.

See you Saturday evening or throughout the day on Sunday for weekly worship.

Grace and Peace,