Lent: Tickets to Spring Training


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In the early church people preparing for baptism, called catechumens, would spend 40 days fasting, praying, and meeting daily to learn the Christian faith. Eventually, as a show of solidarity, the rest of the church began fasting with them. Lent, the old English word for “Springtime”, became, as bishop Nick Knisely calls it, “the Spring Training of the Christian life.” It is an apt analogy: Spring Training is where baseball players try to break bad habits in their swing from the previous season or try out a new pitch. In Spring Training players hone skills for the regular season. And Opening Day, Ash Wednesday, is this week.

How can you maximize the opportunity our spiritual Spring Training presents?

Ash Wednesday: The tradition is to begin Lent by fasting until you go to church for the imposition of ashes to “remember you are dust” and holy communion. We break our fast in Holy Eucharist. Attend an Ash Wednesday service!

Personal Devotion: During the forty days of Lent we adopt personal Lenten devotions: either giving up a bad habit or adopting a new spiritual discipline. One act of personal devotion you might engage in: Attend a Lenten Study. Ours is Anglican Faith – 5 Centuries of Prayer Practices.

Corporate Worship: If you count, you will notice there are more than 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter. That is because Sundays are not part of Lent. The celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord is always a holiday! Even though we do not maintain Lenten fasts on Sundays in Lent, we do mark our worship with reminders of our time of preparation to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. We eliminate the word “alleluia”, exchange flowers for greenery, and clergy wear cassock and surplice (which looks like the black robe worn by Keanu Reaves in the movie The Matrix), rather than an alb (white robe) and chasuble (the poncho the priest wears during communion).

Many Anglican churches add penitential beginnings to worship services and the Gospel readings in Lent are from the “four encounters with Jesus,” readings in the Gospel of John the early church taught the catechumens.

Why go to all this work? In order to remind our wandering hearts of our deep need for a savior. Lent reminds us that our need for redemption is not just theory, but an objective reality. Lent is 40 days of turning from – the bible calls that “repentance.” But Lent is also 40 days of looking toward – toward God’s deliverance. Thomas Merton said, “The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.” Staring at our inability is the ultimate act of hope when it drives us into the arms of the one who is able. It is only when we recognize our need…recognize, as the prayer book says, “that we do not come to this thy table O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies” (BCP, 337) that we open our hearts and minds to experience the transforming power of God in our lives purchased at the Cross and proved by the Resurrection.

Spring Training is here. Batter up!

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The Great Tradition

The Fathers

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New folk are often struck by how much Anglicans talk about “the tradition.” People sometimes assume we mean, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” But that is not what we are talking about at all. Refusal to change is not “the tradition,” just stasis. Jaroslav Pelikan, called that, “Traditionalism, the dead faith of the living.” The Great Tradition is the living faith of the dead. What we mean by “tradition” is robust and life-altering. The Apostle Paul commended the Corinthians because they, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2) and, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thes. 2:15). So while Jesus criticized the traditions of the elders (Matt 15:3), the traditions of the Christian faith passed along both verbally and in scripture are applauded.

But what is “the tradition”? When Lancelot Andrewes, the bishop who oversaw the translation of the King James Bible, was asked what Anglican Christians believe, he described the tradition: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries…determine the boundary of our faith.” “The Tradition” is the elemental seed of the faith found and taught in the Church’s first five centuries.

Why not just go with the Bible? Because heresy after heresy and schism after schism arose in those first five centuries. The early church dealt with them and told us how to deal with them. St. Vincent of Lerins referred to the tradition as, “That which has been taught always, everywhere, and by all.” In our era many claim God giving them new revelation. Yet these “new ideas” are always remarkably similar to ideas resoundingly rejected by the Church as novelty centuries ago. “The Tradition” is Mere Christianity, the core of the faith, that which has been passed from generation to generation.

The verb form of the Greek word for tradition, “paradosis” is “handed off” or “delivered.” When Paul said in 1 Cor 11:2, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” Paul literally said, “maintain the traditions as I traditioned you.” He used the same word when he said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). Jude called it, “the faith once for all delivered.” “The tradition” is nothing less than the core of the faith that is handed from generation to generation. It is the baton that must be passed, the irreducible minimum. It is much more than what I received in my flattened evangelical background that assumed nothing was needed beyond a personal experience of Jesus and a passing knowledge of the scriptures that could be interpreted as a promise towards myself. It is important to know “the tradition” because “the tradition” is not just that which must be received for our lives to be changed. It is “the tradition” that guards that we do not wander into the ditch of narcissism on one side or traditionalism on the other. It is the tradition we must pass on for the answer to Jesus’ question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth” to be a resounding, “Yes!”


Photo credit: Kievan Rus’ miniature (11th-century) retrieved from: http://pravoslavie.ru/30762.html

The Difference a Few Steps Can Make

A Sermon for October 6, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. 

Habakkuk 1:1-2:4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10


Chinese Philosopher LaoTzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 

A single step. It doesn’t seem like much. But a single step a year ago would have taken a fatigued Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, to the small number on the side of the apartment door. She would have seen she was on the wrong floor. Instead, after a 14 hr shift and distracted by texting her boyfriend, she drove past her garage level, opened the door of the apartment directly above hers, and shot Botham Jean, an accountant doing what many of us do after work: eating ice cream and watching television. One step.

Several small steps Wednesday would have taken you from the inside of the courtroom where Brandt Jean, the victim’s brother gave the most moving victim’s statement I have ever heard, to the street in front of the courtroom where a crowd protested Guyger’s 10-year sentence. 

What a difference a few steps can make. Outside to inside. Just a few steps. Outside the outraged crowd. Their shouts echo our Old Testament reading from the prophet Habakkuk: “How long shall I cry for help and you not listen, cry violence and you not save? 

They are fair questions. Injustice is nothing new. Habakkuk, put God on trial for injustice 6 1/2 centuries before Jesus.

God’s answer to Habakuk’s is, in effect, “Yes I see the injustice. I’m going to use the Babylonians to judge the injustice among you.” Habukkuk then asked the obvious followup question: “How can you use folk getting an F- in the treatment of others to punish people getting a D? That hardly seems fair! 

God answers, “Write this down large enough that a passing car can see it from the highway: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’” You see, the “that’s not fair” game is a trap. It’s a hole that once we fall down, we are never satisfied until we create a new victim. So God says, “You just have to trust me with this.” It is often frustratingly slow on our end, but the White Hat posse of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have promised to ride into town before the end of the movie.

It’s natural to cry for justice. And it’s natural to get wrapped around the axle of the evil around us. Ps 37 tells us how to live in such a world: Don’t fret or be jealous, trust in The Lord, take delight in The Lord, commit your way to The Lord, be still before The Lord…This is a matter of focus. We must focus beyond our pain onto The Lord. 

And Ps37v9 we really need to hear: “leave rage alone…it only leads to evil.” If there was ever a word for us this morning this is it. Every news source is seeking to engage you in the rage. God says, “look away, look to me.” Your newsfeeds are paid by eyeballs and clicks. Inciting you is how they pay their bills. Leave rage. Look to the Lord. 

In our NT reading St. Paul instructs his young protege, Timothy, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching (doctrine is important!)…guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” The Holy Spirit is with you, but we have to protect the treasure from creeping doubts. You and I are called to be “apostles and heralds and teachers of the grace that has been revealed in Jesus Christ.” Don’t join the Gen X pastors who let their personal lives unravel then blame their exodus on God’s failure. A “good treasure” is entrusted to you. Talking about steps: Are you taking steps to “guard the good treasure” entrusted you?

In our Gospel reading the disciples make a wise request: “Increase our faith.” Jesus responds with two seemingly unrelated stories. The first, “if you just had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would.”  That’s Hyperbole: a standard rabbinical teaching technique. Jesus isn’t trying to make waterways unnavigable with trees. Jesus is saying, “With a little faith, the smallest seed’s worth of faith, you can ask the ridiculous and I will amaze you.” 

Then Jesus tells a story about slaves not being presumptive but doing their jobs. IOW Jesus is saying, “After I do the amazing, don’t go thinking you’re all that.” 

Remember that Jesus would send the disciples out on preaching tours and they would come back and tell him how amazing THEY were. Jesus is reminding them: “You ask. I deliver. Don’t get confused about who did what, yo.”

We need that reminder too. Our hearts are high-efficiency idol factories. I can elevate something to idol status in a hot Florida minute. It is no accident the first commandment is “have no other God before me,” and the second is to not make idols…and the third to watch how I use God’s holy name…and the fourth to set aside a sabbath for God to remind myself that my salvation is not me, my abilities, or my amazing activities on God’s behalf.

Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depends on God. Act as though everything depends on you.”

But how do we act as though everything depends on us without getting confused about who it actually depends on? To keep the theme going: Take a few steps. A few simple movements. The Christian faith depends on Jesus on a cross for you and me. But there are things we can do to help us “guard the good treasure.” 

Here are four steps or movements you can take: 

The first is upward. That is Worship – Our hearts, minds, wills and and hands open and upward. Christians need to place ourselves under the mighty hand of God. 

The second is downward: Formation. We are to be grounded in scripture and the teaching of the church. Cursillo is teaching just that to the 20 or so ladies who are up at Camp Weed this morning with Fr. Ken.

The third is inward: Connect. Connect with one another. This is a particular strength of Trinity. If you are new, people here will welcome you! 

The fourth is Outward: to Serve and Share. Doing good, certainly, but as we do, we as St. Peter said, “give a reason to everyone for the hope that is within.” 

I opened this morning talking about “taking steps.” I will never forget the steps Brandt Jean took on Wednesday. In his victim’s statement Brandt told Amber Guyger, “I don’t hate you. I forgive you…I love you…I want the best for you…for you to give your life to Jesus Christ, that would be the best.” And then Brandt said to the judge. “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug please?” (Imagine you are that judge and a victim’s brother asks to get within “return the favor distance” of the perpetrator.) And then Brandt asks again, “Please?” Then the young man stood up, and took 7 steps toward his brother’s killer…and embraced her. 

Those 7 steps are not the steps we expect from someone whose brother has been violently taken from him. They are the steps grace takes. Those steps only come from a young man far down the path of the Christian journey. Years of stepping upward and downward and inward and outward. 

People, grace under fire; courage during adversity; character in confusion; composure in chaos, all are available. But they come as the result of a workout regimen of the faithful. 

This year the rage shows no signs of letting up. Pain and injustice show no indication of going away. Take Augustine’s advice: Pray as if it depends on God, then act as if it depends on you – take the steps you need to take to create a balanced and regular spiritual step-regimen…that keep your focus on The Lord…so that when the time comes, you have the grace and strength within you to step toward rather than away from a broken world, a world which so desperately needs the love of God in Christ. 

This morning step deeper into your trust in Jesus Christ…The journey of a thousand miles, or across a courtroom, begins with a single step.

The True Cross



You probably missed it. It doesn’t show up in most calendars, and it isn’t mentioned newsfeeds – Holy Cross Day was September 14.

Here’s the story: Constantine converted to Christianity and sent the one person he trusted to discover whether or not this “Christian stuff” was true: His mom, Helena.

Helena arrived in the Holy Land in 326 and found Christians worshipping in the places Jesus walked, just as they had since the resurrection. They showed the emperor’s mother the places of Jesus’ life, and she built churches atop them. One of the places Christians were worshipping was around a pagan temple to Jupiter in Jerusalem.

It turns out the temple had been built by Emperor Hadrian (as in Hadrian’s Wall across England) after a Jewish revolt against Rome in 133. As one might imagine, Roman emperors didn’t much like revolts, so Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem and rebuilt it as a Roman city. Hadrian sought to get Christians to abandon the site of Jesus’ resurrection by destroying the cave tomb and covering the site with a pagan temple…forever marking the spot for posterity. Think about it: In 133AD people who had been led to faith by the apostles were still alive to watch the tomb destroyed.  Two hundred years later Helena arrived and ordered the temple torn down and the enormous Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over Calvary and the empty tomb.  In the demolition, as the story goes, they discovered three wooden crucifixes. Church historian, Eusebius, records that Helena located a sick woman and had her touch the three crosses. Upon touching the third she was healed. Helena declared that cross “the true cross.”

According to very early tradition, they kept the cross in the church yard the day of the church’s dedication for all to see, and brought it inside to elaborate ceremony the next day, the day we call, “Holy Cross Day.”

It’s a neat story about an artifact that was later chopped up and distributed…so widely that John Calvin once quipped that if all the pieces of the “true cross” were gathered, the hold of a large cargo ship couldn’t contain them.

Holy Cross Day, though, is not really the celebration of a now historically unverifiable artifact. No, commemorating the instrument of Christ’s death is appropriate because the central focus of the Christian life is the work Jesus accomplished on that cross and the cruciform life Jesus’ followers are called to live in the world. The Cross is the unveiling of God’s true life in the world; and the Cross is the proper shape of human existence. The Cross of Christ is more than an event in history. It is the event of history.

Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The world’s need is the cross. The Good News is the news of the cross. God’s gift to you is the cross: God taking your sin and death upon his Son, forever transforming an emblem of shame reserved for the worst criminals into the icon of transformation and grace for all the world.

The cross points to the great truth that our lives are not our own, we were bought with a price. If you are in Christ, you were buried with Christ in baptism and raised to new life in him. If you are in Christ, you belong to the Crucified One – A Savior who calls His friends to himself, and then sends us out as heralds of His arms open wide on the hard wood of that cross.

Did you miss the Feast of the Cross this year? Did it slip past you unawares? Despair not. The true artifact God has left in the world is not a collection of rotting splinters. God has left behind something infinitely more powerful to point the way to the Father’s grace – living artifacts. Christian, God has left you as a testimony of His grace, as the picture that is worth a thousand words, as the implement of healing for a sick world. That’s right:

The True Cross…is YOU!


The Church is for All Y’all

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One great thing about the South is that southerners maintain the second person plural personal pronoun. Before you stop reading, hear me out: Since “thee” fell into disuse, most English speakers do not have a way to express the second person plural. Not so the South. The South has “y’all.”

Why spill ink on pronouns?  For one, the South’s favorite colloquialism is more than charming, “y’all” expresses and shapes the culture. In a fracturing America, the South still believes “we are in this together, y’all!” That idea: “we are all in it together” makes “y’all” important. Without a second person plural we are left with a language that only expresses “I, me, and mine.” Isn’t it ironic that we kept those pronouns and dropped the selfless one? This loss of the second person plural pronoun exposes an issue hard-wired into us. It crops up whenever I want to make sure something works the way I want it to. And it pops up again when something works for me so I stop worrying about whether it works for you. It is insidious, this I, me, mine stuff. It’s why we need “y’all.” I need “y’all”, “y’all” need me, and we all need each other.

The second person plural is especially important if you are a Bible reader. Much of the New Testament is addressed, not to “you” but to “y’all.” Those promises the tv preachers tell us to name and claim to get our blessing? Most of those are not addressed to you or to me. They are addressed to “y’all” – to the community, to the family of God.

In the church especially we have a call to keep our eyes open to the other, to ask; “who is not here?” What part of the family is missing? Compare your Sunday attendance to the demographics in the 3-mile neighborhood around your church. Do they line up? 

-Have a college near you? Are college students in church?

-Does the percentage of young families in church equal your demographics? (Often, even in areas with retirement communities, the number of 35-54 year olds and the birth-18 year olds they are raising equal 40-50% of the population. How is your church doing?

The church needs to address each of these. In the “parish” mindset, a parish exists for ALL who live within its’ boundaries.

In the South when you want to make sure everyone knows you are talking to them, we use the uber-plural, “all y’all.” The church is for “all y’all.” Together we can make sure it works for all, y’all!

Grace and Peace,


Believing Crazy Stuff


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Acts 1:1-11, Eph 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53 (with a shoutout to Matthew 28:16-17)

St. Augustine of Hippo said, “If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the gospel you believe but yourself.”

When I hear Augustine’s words I can’t help but think of Jesus’ Ascension. The Ascension is the embarrassing event. The hard to believe event. The event most Christians would rather just avoid thinking about. Ask us about the incarnation and without blinking we say, “God did something amazing.” Ask of the resurrection and we think, “500 people at one time saw Jesus and people don’t have group hallucinations.” But bring up the Ascension…A group of guys standing around 40 days later watching Jesus’ feet disappear into heaven. Its’ …awkward, Ok.

A variety of scholars will tell you that the ancient world had numerous “ascensions.” Rome had Romulus and Augustus, The Greeks, Hercules. In the Bible, Genesis has Enoch whose story ends with “and God took him,” and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah disappears in a whirlwind. But, no matter how many reports may have been out there, the New Testament witnesses don’t seem any more comfortable with the Ascension than we are. They tell the story with as little elaboration as possible, and with more than a hint of confusion. In the description in Acts 1, two men in white appear and ask them, “why are you standing around looking into heaven in the middle of a workday?” It’s a wonder they didn’t respond, “Are you kidding? Our friend, who we watched them kill stone cold dead, has been hanging out with us for more than a month telling us he would ascend to the Father. And. He. Just. Did. So excuse us, if even though he told us what he was going to do, we just can’t stop looking.”

In the book of Acts we find out the disciples did what one would assume they would do when God does something beyond explanation: They worshipped. We Christians still worship on Ascension Day. The church in Jerusalem has gathered on this day on the Mount of Olives from at least the late 300s. A simple chapel with a hole in the roof sits over a rock tradition says is the place from which Jesus left. You can stand there and look up and see the sky.

Unlike many of the commemorative sites in the Holy Land, this one is thoroughly unimpressive. The impressive part is long gone…seated at the right hand of the Father. As Paul said in Ephesians: “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

“How” Jesus did it is a mystery. What it must have looked like to the witnesses is as well. In the East they taught the faith with icons rather than stained glass. In iconography there is an artistic technique called a mandorla, the Italian word for almond. A mandorla is an almond, or round or starburst looking shape around Jesus that generally gets darker as you get closer to Him. It indicates a mystery beyond mere seeing. You see mandorla’s in the transfiguration, the resurrection, and the ascension. A mandorla is sort of a visual parenthesis that says, “What is happening, we saw it, but we don’t understand it…it’s a mystery.” They may have been witnesses, but they couldn’t really describe it – and painters can’t really paint it.

In the West we have all sorts of representations of the Ascension from ceramic feet disappearing through church ceilings, to Dali’s painting of the ascension that has Jesus disappearing into what looks like the atomic structure of the universe. Is it any wonder in Matthew 28:16 and 17 we read, “Now the eleven disciples went…to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.”  If eyewitness were enough, you might have the inability to capture the image, but there wouldn’t be doubt.

Instead, the scripture points us towards mystery in our relationship with the risen Christ. We know Him and perceive Him, not through a set of coherent intellectual propositions, or even trust in the reliability of eyewitnesses. A “faith” founded on propositions alone, no matter how sound the argument, still fails to change the one who accepts it. That sort of faith is just opinion.

True faith is union with God, participation in the life of the risen Christ. We are not baptized into observations or opinions, we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the language of icons, our life is plunged into the mandorla that is the Kingdom of God. God calls his people into that parenthetical state where our lives constantly refer and point to a new reality, a reality which has filled us…a quality of life that transcending opinion, is nothing less than union with God, a union that itself witnesses to the coming Kingdom.

More than mere eyewitness observation…more than persuasive propositional truth…OUR walk with the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ is what affirms the living truth of Christ. To quote St. Paul, you can be one with God because “God placed all things under His feet.” Because Jesus has ascended, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”  Because Jesus has ascended, “you may know…the hope to which he has called you.” Because Jesus is ascended, available is “his incomparably great power for us who believe. Because he is ascended, to you, his body, are the riches of his glorious inheritance.

If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don’t, it’s not the gospel you believe but yourself. But if you dare believe the Gospel, if you cling, even to the “crazy stuff”…if you have faith, not as spectator or as “opinion” holder, but faith as participation with Jesus, as union with God, then you find, not only a confidence unavailable for those who trust in themselves, but that your life becomes the irrefutable evidence of “the  fullness of Him who fills all in all.

The Greatest Comeback


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It might have been the biggest comeback in sports history: Tiger Woods, once golf’s greatest player, had not won a major tournament in 11 years. His emotional issues, self-destructive behavior, and substance abuse problems well-documented. Winning the Masters Tournament when off your game in life sounds far-fetched. But winning the green jacket for the 5thtime after barely being able to walk two years ago is simply unbelievable – The man has had four back surgeries, the last one a spinal fusion.

Yet, when the ball rolled into the cup on the 18th hole giving him the win, Tiger and everyone I could see on television, erupted in cheers. It was a moment of redemption. A man who for years appeared to have given up on himself, a man who has spent a decade as a has-been, all of a sudden playing the best golf of his storied career.[1]

But Tiger wasn’t the only comeback last week. All around the planet Christians celebrated the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. An event so momentous, that even when we attempt to purge the religious roots, everyone still knows we date time by it. An event so powerful, that it is the historic basis of the most-followed religion on earth.[2] An event so persuasive that many who have attempted to debunk it have become believers in it.[3] And regardless of the dismissive opinions expressed by Union Theological Seminary president Serene Jones last week, Jesus’ return was THE great comeback.[4] Unlike Tiger, who seemed to have given up on a comeback, Jesus actually predicted his.[5]

It is because of Jesus’ comeback you can have your Tiger moment. No matter what might have happened in your life; your pain, struggles, addictions or past, Tiger’s weekend is a reminder that comebacks are possible. That weekend points to the other, even greater comeback in which death itself been defeated and real life taken-up from the grave. Jesus offers that ultimate victory to you and to me.[6] Maybe this year is the year for your great comeback!


[1]Golf Digest says that Tiger is hitting the greens at a higher rate than at any time in his career. the-critical-stat-tiger-performing-at-a-career-best-level

[2]1 Cor. 15:17-19

[3]CS Lewis, Frank Morris and Lee Strobel to name a few.


[5]See: John 2:18-22, 10:17-18; Matthew 12:39-40, 16:4 & 21, 27:63; Mark 8:31, 14:58; Luke 9:22

[6]See John 1:12 and Revelation 3:20