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All Saints’ Day and Classical Education

One of the greatest encouragements of All Saints’ day is that an unfathomable majority of the Saints are never named as such.

Different Christian Traditions have various official and unofficial ways of canonizing or otherwise recognizing the faithful departed whose lives of holiness have made a profound impact on the Body of Christ. Some of these Saints even have Feast Days on the Church Calendar to recognize their life and work. But a vast majority of the People of God throughout the ages who have lived quiet and holy lives are not recognized with a Feast Day.

This is part of the point of All Saints’ Day: to recognize the unrecognized Saints throughout history, in an attempt to encourage every Christian to be an unrecognized Saint.

This is a daunting vocation: become a saint. It should stir within each of us a sense of impossibility.

But perhaps the first—and final—step to living a holy life worthy of the title “Saint” is a recognition of how impossible that task truly is. It is also hard to imagine a Saint that does not spend serious time each day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. But I think there is another significant step to becoming a Saint, one that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Corinthians: imitate people who imitate Christ.

Classical education, at its best, introduces students and their teachers to many such people. Some of these people are flesh-and-blood figures in history, and others are mere fiction. In his wisdom, God has allowed us to learn faithful endurance from both St. Monica of Hippo, the mother of St. Augustine, as well as Samwise Gamgee, the friend of Frodo.

when you choose an incompetent sleazebag

If religion and science are correct — or if it is even probable that they are correct — when they claim that the being inside a pregnant womb is human, the government has the constitutional right and the moral responsibility to intervene.

And when you choose an incompetent sleazebag as your party’s presidential nominee, it turns out you forfeit the opportunity for that case to be made on national television.

Better luck next time, GOP. But hopefully there won’t be a next time for the GOP.

On using Email as Email

You may have noticed a delay in my response-time for emails lately. This is because I started using email as its namesake suggests it should be used: as an electronic mailbox.

As technology advanced in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the smartphone transitioned from an executive novelty to the norm, very few of us—including myself—stopped to ask whether this was actually a good thing. We can access email 24-hours a day on our phones, but should we? Are humans the type of beings who are able to flourish when we are never truly disconnected from our work? I would suggest that we are not. I know with certainty that I am not.

My tendency, over time, became to use email as a slower version of instant messaging. I had email access on my phone and on my computer, and each of these devices notified me the instant a new message arrived. I then replied as soon as I possibly could, often feeling as though my work was not finished until I responded to every new email that arrived. This, as you can imagine, led to a sense of never feeling like I was “off-duty.” I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the “always-on” approach to email.1

All of this means that I am now using email as an electronic mailbox. Like my actual mailbox, I may check it occasionally throughout the day if I am expecting important information. Otherwise, I will likely only check it once or twice. This means that I no longer have email or internet access on my phone. (Pro-tip: you cannot really disconnect from email after-hours if you have any possible way of accessing it on your phone. iOS 10 allows you to delete the native Mail app and disable the App Store and disable Safari. I could not break my email-checking habit without making it impossible annoyingly difficult to check email on my device. You might need to do this as well.)

If you need to contact me immediately, you should probably give me a call. If you do not have my phone number, then I am probably not the person that is best equipped to handle your emergency.

If you are thinking, “I would love to do this, but my industry does not allow it,” then I would suggest two things:

(1) I thought the same thing; you are probably wrong, or

(2) You are right, but I imagine you can find a way to limit the “always-on” email mentality to regular work hours.

 

  1. See Fortune Magazine’s article “How Checking Email After Work Is Burning You Out” or read the results of one of studies it references: ”Anticipatory stress of after-hours email exhausting employees.”

Sermon: The Call of Abraham

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. September 18, 2016

Genesis 12:1-9

Sermon: Righlty Ordered Loves

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. June 26, 2016

1 Kings 19 | Luke 9

Sermon: An end that is a beginning

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. May 15, 2016 (Pentecost)

Acts 2:1-11 | John 20:19-23

 

Archbishop Justin’s Address to the General Synod

Thirdly, the future of the Communion requires sacrifice. The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient. Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree. What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

Watch or read the entire address here.

Sermon: From Law to Logos: The Sobering Beauty of Freedom in Christ

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX

December 27, 2015 (First Sunday after Christmas)

On Syrian Refugees

This is not an uncomplicated situation. (Much like the previous sentence, which could have simply read “This is a complicated situation.”) There are refugees fleeing the violence of the Islamic State. There is a chance that among those refugees—as is true among the general population—there are those who wish to do harm to the enemies of the Islamic State. It seems as though all sides of this debate are in agreement that this is the case.

There are hopefully more than two options with two opposite outcomes to choose from here, but let’s say there aren’t. Let’s say that if we accept refugees from Syria, we will die at their hands, much sooner than we had previously expected to die. And let’s say that if we don’t accept refugees from Syria, we don’t die in a terrorist attack, and we live as long as we currently imagine we will live.

(For the record, these are both baseless assumptions, but they do present us with a tangible scenario to think through. Any of us could die on our way home from work this afternoon, and any of us could survive a nuclear terrorist attack.)

Even if our two choices are (1) deny refugees and live a long life or (2) accept refugees and die in a terrorist attack sooner than we think we should, does that change our answer?

Say we choose option one. We refuse refugees, and are therefore not killed in a terrorist attack. We live longer, but our lives are less human. We feel safer, but we love less. We die of natural causes at the end of a long life marked by something other than love for our neighbor, the stranger, and our enemy.

Say we choose option two. We accept the refugee and we are killed. What happens then? We face Jesus. And he says something like “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” And we say something like “When where you a stranger, and when did we welcome you?” And he says something like “As you did unto one of the least of these, you did unto to me.”

I don’t really know what I think about all of this. Were I the one in charge of making the decision, I wish I could say that I am 100% certain of what I would do. But I do know what I want to think, and what by God’s grace I have decided to think, and how I have decided to pray.

Sovereign God, may we who are the Body of Christ, the Church, embrace and welcome the immigrant, the refugee, and all who seek shelter from any danger.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

God of protection, whose Son fled violence from his own home with Joseph and Mary and sought refuge in a foreign land, hear the cries of all who suffer because of hatred, war, violence, greed, and famine. Help us to peacefully mend our divisions, that all you have created in this world may be whole.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

God Who makes us One, we pray for our nation and all the nations of the world, that those who govern the people and have authority over them may consider each life to be of value and may serve the people of their nation with equity and fairness, dedicating themselves to peaceful resolution of conflict.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Gracious God, we pray for our newest neighbors, that those families who have sought refuge from the ravages of war and violence may find not only shelter and sustenance, but also a loving and supportive community in which to create a new beginning with dignity.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Loving God, there is no one that goes unnoticed in Your eyes. Take into Yourself all who suffer. May Christ the Wounded Healer relieve the pain of hunger of the refugee, heal the afflicted body, soothe the fears of the mind, bring peace to the soul, and be tender with the broken hearted, that those who have endured unspeakable trials may find themselves restored in Christ.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Eternal God, may you receive those who have died during times of war and violence into your loving and peaceful arms and may they find rest for their souls. Comfort those who mourn the loss of their friends and loved ones and give them relief from the painful memories they bear, giving assurance of eternal life.

We lift our prayer to You,

People: Lord, hear us.

Almighty and Loving God, you who have crossed the boundaries of Heaven and Earth to be with your people, visit those who must flee their homes because of violence and oppression and lead them to a land of safety.

We give thanks to you, Source of All Being, that you hear our intercessions on behalf of our refugee brothers and sisters. We thank you that love swallows fear, that in your compassion we learn to walk with those who suffer, that when we give of ourselves we receive far more, and that when we receive those who stand knocking at our doors, we receive Christ the Beloved One.

May all praise, glory and honor be to our God, the Most High.

Amen.

If you are looking for a place to give, consider our dear friends at For the Nations Refugee Outreach.

Sermon: Doubt, Wounds, and New Creation

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas

April 12, 2015 (Second Sunday of Easter, Year B)

Texts: Is. 26:2-9, 19 and John 20:19-31

Sermon PDF: Click to download.

Sermon Audio: Click to listen.

Doubt, Wounds, and New Creation

Doubting Thomas. I don’t imagine St. Thomas is completely thrilled with the nickname he has been given throughout the past twenty centuries. If I were Thomas, I would likely be doing everything within my power to remind people of the other places I appear in t he New Testament. “Guys. Remember that time in John 11 when Jesus says that he was going back to Judea, which we all knew was a very dangerous thing for him to do, and I was all like ‘Let’s go die with Jesus!’” It wasn’t the wisest comment, and it wasn’t free of sarcasm, but surely it should merit a nickname better than Doubting Thomas.

Maybe the nickname Doubting Thomas goes too far. After all, when we actually read the text, Jesus’s rebuke of Thomas could apply to any of the disciples. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” But was Thomas the only disciple who saw first, and then believed? Not even close.

Mary Magdalene’s first announcement to the disciples was that she “saw the Lord”; when Jesus appeared to the disciples while Thomas was absent John records that “he showed them his hands and his sides, then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord”; even the author of the Gospel of John recalls that he himself ran into the tomb, saw, and then believed. Jesus’s own invitation to his earliest followers’ questions about who he was and what he was doing was an invitation to “Come, and see.” Seeing Jesus for who he is, and then believing, is something to be celebrated, not rebuked. Other than not being in the right place at the right time, Thomas does not initially appear to be especially guilty of doubt beyond that which was normative for Jesus’s other followers. Why then, does the Gospel of John feel the need to record this rebuking of Doubting Thomas?

John doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about Jesus and those closest to him. He tells us as much at the end of our Gospel reading. All History is selective in the details it records, and the Gospel of John is no exception. So when specific details are shared—the type of food enjoyed by a crowd, the time of day an event occurs, the day of the week that Mary and the other women visit Jesus’s tomb, the details must matter. All that to say this: there must be some reason—a very good one in fact—that John takes a few paragraphs here to describe Thomas’s slow, skeptical path to belief. And I don’t think it has much to do with Thomas himself. Maybe John’s recording of Thomas’s doubt is less about Thomas, and more about you and me.

The Gospel of John was originally written to a community that likely had some access to the other Gospels. Like our own culture, the community to which John was writing contained those who had heard about Jesus of Nazareth, including the claim that he had been raised from the dead. And like our own responses at times, many of those who heard such claims were hesitant to believe them.

It is a silly notion for us to believe that modern, scientific society is the first to be skeptical of the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. We are often guilty of—quite arrogantly—thinking that it was somehow easier to believe in the resurrection in the 1st century than it is in the 21st. “They didn’t have access to the scientific research that we do,” we might think, “so of course they thought humans could be raised from the dead.” This way of thinking is a prime example of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery – the blind acceptance of the superiority of the intellectual climate of our own age, and the intellectual disdain for ages before our own. Let’s be very clear: humans in the 1st century knew just as well as humans in the 21st century that once a person dies, they stay dead. The claim that Jesus’s body was physically raised from the dead was just as shocking then as it is now. Twenty centuries of humans have been exposed to the claim that Jesus is alive, and that in the resurrection He ushered-in new creation. And twenty centuries of humans have experienced some level of doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe that Jesus is alive, or that his resurrection has anything to do with us.

So what we find in John’s account of Thomas is actually a personification of our own doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe things that are too good to be true. We see someone in Jesus’s own day who, at times, also struggled to believe. Sometimes it helps just knowing that we are not alone in our doubt. Thomas spent years following Jesus, was personally told by his closest friends that Jesus was alive, and yet he was still hesitant to believe. Sometimes we need to encounter people like Thomas when we read Scripture. It can be encouraging to read of Saints who have boldly sacrificed everything in order to follow Jesus; it is also encouraging to read of Saints that seem a bit more like you and me. Peter denies Christ when it becomes awkward to associate with him; Paul spends his entire life struggling with a thorn in his flesh; Martha is, at times, too busy to pay attention to Jesus. What we have in the story of Thomas is someone like us.

But that is not all we have in the story of Thomas. Knowing that we are not alone in our struggle is important; hearing Jesus’s response to Thomas, and therefore hearing Jesus’s response to our own doubt is essential.

So this morning let’s try to answer three questions:

1. Why was Thomas so hesitant to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

2. How does Jesus respond to Thomas?

3. If Thomas is a personification of our own doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe, how does Jesus respond to us today?

Question 1: Why was Thomas so hesitant to believe in the first place?

I think our Old Testament reading this morning contains a major clue. As a first century Jew living in Palestine, Thomas was born into an ocean of Jewish expectation and hope. First century Jews were living in the wake of a rough 2000 years since Abraham left his homeland in order to follow God. Their history was one of oppression, slavery, famine, destruction, and exile. Yet along the way they experienced, on occasion, salvation. In the face of centuries of Egyptian slavery, God raised up Moses to lead the people through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land. During the messy reign of the Israelite Judges, God raised up a foreign woman named Ruth and a faithful Hebrew named Boaz to forever alter the course of history with the birth of their son Obed, the grandfather of King David. After a bloody civil war that lasted generations, the Hebrews suffered what is perhaps their darkest blows in the Old Testament: Babylon attacks Jerusalem and destroys the Temple. As if this were not enough, the surviving Hebrews were taken as exiles to once again live in a land that was not their own. It is during this period of exile, after the devastating destruction of the temple, that the prophet Isaiah visits the Hebrews.

Our reading from Isaiah this morning captures the expectation and hope of the Jewish people in the centuries leading to and including the time of Jesus. Isaiah 26 speaks of a coming peace. But our English word “peace” needs some help communicating the Hebrew word it replaces. Shalom. Eugene Peterson puts it well, “Shalom, ‘peace,’ is one of the richest words in the Bible. You can no more define it by looking up its meaning in the dictionary than you can define a person by his or her social security number.” Shalom communicates a number of things: entering into a state of wholeness and unity; a restored relationship. It is an all-encompassing wholeness that results from God’s will being completed in us. “It is the work of God that, when complete, releases streams of living water in us and pulsates with eternal life.” Isaiah is telling his first hearers and all those who would hear his words for generations to come to be on the lookout for Shalom. Wait for Shalom. Expect Shalom.

In the face of the oppressive Babylonian empire, our Isaiah passage also speaks of a time when those in authority will be brought low, when the path to salvation is made level so that even those who are poor and needy can find their way.

And in the final section Isaiah tells his hearers to be on the lookout for life. But not just life for the living. Isaiah says that a day is coming when “the dead shall live,” that “the earth will give birth to those who have been long dead.” Generation after generation died before seeing a time of Shalom, before seeing the level path to salvation. Entire centuries passed without any sign of either. And in the face of this reality, Isaiah says that Shalom is not Shalom until those who died without it are brought to new life in order to experience it.

So these are some of the expectations engrained in the Hebrew collective consciousness: Shalom, the defeat of oppressive enemies, and resurrection. None of these realities, for the Hebrews in their day or for us in our own, happen naturally. But the prophets of the Old Testament, as diverse as they are, speak with one voice when they say that against all odds we are to trust and wait for these things to come.

So now imagine Thomas the first time he met Jesus. Here comes a man talking of a “Kingdom of God” that is on its way to earth. A man who speaks of abundant life. A man who displays power over the oppressive enemies of disease, oppression, and even death. And the longer Thomas is around Jesus, the more it appears that he may actually be the one to bring the expectation and hope of the Hebrews to their perfect end. He might just be the bringer of Shalom. God is finally bringing His everlasting Kingdom, one where even death has no power, down to earth in and through the same Jesus whom Thomas was following. It is hard to describe the level of anticipatory joy experienced by Jesus’s closest followers as they slowly discovered that He was claiming to be the Messiah. The heights of this anticipatory joy are likely what made Good Friday so low for Thomas and the other disciples. In the eyes of 1st century Jews, a crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah.

When Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Roman government, Thomas did not lose a friend he had known for a few years; He lost all hope that had been part of the Hebrew people’s collective consciousness for a millennium. The weight of centuries of failed expectations were placed, once again, on Thomas’s shoulders. It was his own sorrow, as well as the sorrow of generations of his people that Thomas experienced in the week following the crucifixion of Jesus.

We mentioned earlier that maybe the nickname Doubting Thomas goes too far. Knowing what we know now, maybe it doesn’t go far enough. A more appropriate nickname, one that captures the weight of his circumstances might just be something like End of his rope Thomas. Or maybe Been hurt too many times to ever trust again Thomas. And when we place ourselves in the story, as John is inviting us to do, we see even more nicknames for Thomas. Struggling to make ends meet Thomas. Drowning in guilt Thomas. Where is God when I really need Him Thomas. Do I even really believe any more Thomas.

When we consider Thomas’s situation, I think we know the answer to the question “Why was Thomas so hesitant to believe?” because in Thomas we see our own hesitancy to believe. I get Thomas, because I am Thomas. And like Thomas, I really, really need some sort of response from Jesus.

Question 2: How does Jesus respond to Thomas?

Artistic depictions of this scene in John’s Gospel often include Thomas reaching out to touch the wounds of Jesus. This very well may have happened, but John never actually tells us that Thomas touched, or even reached for, Jesus. He simply records that something about his interaction with Jesus caused Thomas to believe: “My Lord, and my God!”

So what made Thomas believe? What could Jesus have said or done to convince Thomas that he was who he said he was? I think Jesus shared the only words that Thomas could hear in that moment:

“Shalom, Thomas.”

“Peace, Thomas.”

Not “Peace is coming, please be patient” but “Peace be with you. Here and now: Shalom.”

Jesus announced to Thomas that, against all hope, new creation is here. Shalom is here. The oppressive enemy has been defeated. The path to salvation has been made available to everyone. Resurrection has begun. Shalom.

But Jesus shared more than words with Thomas. He showed him his wounds. His battle with the enemy was not one fought with mere words, but with nails, and spears, and tombs. And though he took the worst blows the enemy has to offer, he emerged as victor. He is not just the fulfillment of Isaiah, he is also the fulfillment of Genesis. He is the one, born of woman, who has finally crushed the skull of the serpent.

Jesus’s message for Thomas, in perhaps his darkest moment, is: “Peace is here, the battle is won, and I am alive and well to show you the wounds.”

This leads us to our final question: If Thomas is a personification of our own doubt, skepticism, and hesitancy to believe, how does Jesus respond to us today?

Every time we gather for worship, we experience the same responses from Jesus that Thomas did, if we know how to listen.

In a few minutes, we will stand, turn to family, friends, and strangers alike, and declare to one another some of the most powerful words ever spoken: “Peace be with you.” Jesus, through the community that is gathered here today, still speaks these words to us. Some weeks we really need to hear these words. Other weeks, someone around us really needs for us to say these words. The Church is the hands and feet of Jesus, and in this case, we are also to be the mouth of Jesus. “Peace be with you.” “Shalom.”

Sure, it can also be a nice opportunity to stretch after a sermon that was just a bit too long or a bit too slow, but it is at its core a powerful opportunity to declare—and to hear—that through Jesus Christ, Shalom is here. “Peace be with you.” What greater news could we share or hear than this?

Before our culture became scared of germs, these words were actually shared with a kiss. I am not suggesting that we return to that (though I am not not suggesting it either…). But can’t we at least consider an embrace?

So Jesus’s words to Thomas are Jesus’s words to us today: “Peace be with you.” And each one of us has the privilege and responsibility to be the mouth of Jesus to those around us.

But Jesus shared more than words with Thomas, and He shares more than words with us today. After the sharing of “Peace be with you” we are invited to see, touch, and consume the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. We are invited to experience his battle wounds.

There is an ancient tradition in the church to repeat the words of Thomas when the Celebrant raises the body and then the blood of Christ. When Jesus’s wounds are raised by the Priest, we respond, like Thomas, by declaring Jesus as Lord of the Universe and Lord of our lives.

“The body of our Lord.”

“My Lord, and my God.”

“The blood of our Lord.”

“My Lord, and my God.”

So Jesus’s words to Thomas are Jesus’s words to us today: “Peace be with you.” And Jesus’s invitation for Thomas to behold his battle wounds is His same invitation he extends to each of us.

We find, week after week, that the risen Jesus responds to our own doubt, skepticism, hesitancy, and wounds the same way he responded to Thomas. We who doubt find assurance. We who are wounded find healing. And when this happens, we are prepared then to bring the message of Peace and Healing beyond the walls of the Church.

What we do in here on a Sunday will affect what we do the rest of the week. When we share the wonderful message that “Shalom is here” week after week with one another, we are strengthened to bring Jesus’s message of Peace to a doubting, skeptical, and hesitant world. When we encounter the wounded body and blood of the risen Jesus week after week in the Eucharist, then we are strengthened to bring the news of resurrection to a wounded world.

So may we hear the words of Jesus, and accept his invitation to behold and participate in his victory-granting wounds. But may we do so realizing that this gift is not just for us, but for the whole world.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everliving God, we are frail creatures. We are prone to doubt even when your provision is seen all around us. We are skeptical of your power over the universe. We are hesitant to believe that you really do love us. Will you meet us week by week, and day by day, like you met Thomas. May we hear your words of Peace and may we accept your gift of the Eucharist in a way that we may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Through Jesus Christ, our living Lord and our living God, who with you and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified forever. Amen.