Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I have been thinking about the importance of intercessory prayer. There are always little articles flying around the internet about prayer. Some of the articles are campy. Some are full-blown studies on the effectiveness of prayer. It is all very interesting.

However, I am thinking about something else. I am thinking about the resistance to public intercessory prayer. During my time in parish ministry, I have had countless people ask me to pray for them. If appropriate, I usually ask if a person would like to be included on the parish prayer list. Often, the person will thankfully agree, but not always. Sometimes, a person will ask to be in my prayers, but not in the Prayers of the People.

There are probably many reasons that exist for not wanting to be prayed for at a Sunday service. Some don’t want to answer questions. Some are just more private.

My interior struggle has to do with the nature of the Church. Can’t we be a community of celebration and support? It is hard to feel vulnerable; I understand that. Yet, real community and trust depend on our willingness to be open with one another.

Offering prayer for another is important and transformative. Asking for prayer is at the very heart of our faith.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It

Krista Tippett, the NPR host of Speaking of Faith, has written a marvelous volume. Speaking of Faith is a spiritual autobiography, recounting life as a child in a religious family. The reader follows Tippett through the examination of her inherited faith, and the development of her own faith.

Tippett’s approach is unique. The book chronicles her reading of the Bible, Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Charles Darwin and Einstein. Tippett mines these sources in search of spiritual wisdom, and finds it. They help shine a light on historical shifts in the public role of religion. These thinkers also provide insight into the science/faith conversation, and the religious assumptions of our day, that are relatively new.

The remarkable gift that Tippett offers is a wealth of interviews from her career as a journalist. The reader is invited into conversation with partners from Elie Wiesel to John Polkinghorne. The first-hand material from the interviews is stunning, and provides the reader with keen insight.

Tippett uses her journey, and the journeys of ancients and moderns to illustrate, how we might mediate the public/private role of religion. This mediation is bound up in humility, experience and embracing mystery. Experience is the discovery of truth apprehended by the individual. Humility guards against the violent imposition of truth onto another. Mystery is the recognition that, ultimately, faith is more poetry, than science.

This book is not a step by step, how-to guide. That is where its strength resides. Speaking of Faith is descriptive, rather than prescriptive. The book illustrates the productive paths of figures from the past, and gathers wisdom from our peers of the present. The beauty of Speaking of Faith rests in the timeless methodology of people of faith in genuine conversation.

It is well worth a read.

Monday, February 18, 2008

We Are Mortal

In a high school religion class, I watched a video about the spiritual practices of Buddhist monks. One in particular stuck with me. A monk walked back and forth, along a path, between two human skeletons. Standing before each skeleton, at the end of the path, the monk paused for a time. The exercise was a reminder of his mortality, and the temporary nature of human existence.

This life is temporary, and we are bound by time. Our challenge is to use the time we have. During the season of Lent, we evaluate the quality of our existence, and our use of time. Self-denial, prayer and fasting are the tools at our disposal. We are called to strip ourselves of the fluff, which marks so much of our lives, and deepen our faith by asking what truly matters.

Ultimately, we look to Jesus to seek that, which matters. We look at his short life of teaching, the people he mixed with, his manner of life and his identity as signposts of eternal value. Jesus laid down his life in the name of the eternal. His way of life and faithfulness to God caused his violent death.

Most of us will not be called to die in the name of our faith, but we are called to faithfulness. What are you doing to remind yourself of the time-limited nature of this life? In the midst of this mortal life, what are you doing to live faithfully in hope of eternal life?

I will also post this on my blog. I would love to hear from you.


Archbishop of Canterbury

Many reports are circulating about recent comments by Canterbury. Some comments are offered at Faith and Theology.

Faith and Theology

Lent 2 Sermon Notes

The 20th anniversary of my high school graduation is this summer. I am really conflicted about whether or not I will go to it. There are a number of barriers to attendance. Part of me just doesn’t feel like carving the time out to go. That is perhaps the most superficial of reasons. Another piece of me doesn’t feel like explaining how the guy most likely to own a used car lot, became a priest in the Episcopal Church. I don’t really care for the-do you remember when-conversations. Mainly, because I do remember when, and now, I want to look forward.

The conflict really resides in wanting to know what 20 years has meant in our lives. I want to know how the people I knew, way back when, have turned out. I only know part of my classmates’ stories. It would be useful to know more.

We are given only a snapshot of the life of Nicodemus. We know him to be a Pharisee that approaches Jesus with a desire to understand more. Jesus gives him a confusing explanation. You must be born from above to grasp what Jesus is doing. Nicodemus can’t quite take this onboard. It doesn’t seem to make sense, being born a second time. Jesus means it is necessary to gain a new perspective and vantage point to get it. Perhaps, he means that is necessary to attempt to see the world as God sees it. Perhaps, he means to understand his teaching, one needs the aid of God, to see God and one’s fellow humans with the eyes of God. One must be remade to have this kind of vision.

Nicodemus fades from the scene, seemingly confused. He reappears twice in the Gospel according to John. His second appearance, in Chapter 7, shows an escalation of conflict, where Nicodemus’ peers seek to foil Jesus. Nicodemus speaks up that the law, which orders his ay life, demands a fair trial. This foreshadows the end Jesus will meet. Nicodemus appears a third and final time in the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to John. He is there with Joseph of Arimathea, to take Jesus body and prepare him for burial.

In each encounter with Nicodemus we see a person in process. He comes to Jesus first by night seeking understanding. He then incorporates Jesus into his vision of life by placing him within the law. Finally, Nicodemus’ new birth is complete, at the end, as he grants Jesus a decent burial.

Through the choppy story of Nicodemus, we are given a picture of the development of faith. It starts slowly and can be confusing. It becomes an integral part of our lives, touching every part of our lives. At some point along the way, we are reborn.

Through an unfolding process, we are granted a new vision from above. Then, we can see. We see something of the way God sees, and we see ourselves.

Maybe I will go to that reunion after all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent 1 2008

These are the notes from the sermon preached Lent 1a.

The Great Litany, the long prayer we prayed/will pray at the beginning of the 10 am service, is one of the most ancient prayers we have in our church. It dates from 1544, which means it is about five years older than the first English Book of Common Prayer. It is regal in its language, and all encompassing in its content. I would challenge you to find a condition of life, or need the great Litany doesn’t address, or a means of sin the Great Litany doesn’t reference. That is certainly the point of the Church’s ancient tradition of doing the Litany on the first Sunday of Lent.

We are meant to be put in mind of our need for repentance and our need for God’s aid.

Our need for repentance and help is more ancient, than our expressions of that need. The scriptures assigned to this day speak to this reality. We begin Lent looking back to tale of our first disobedience in the Genesis account of the Fall of Creation. St. Paul reminds us of the implications of the Fall, and the pervasiveness of sin. Matthew points to Jesus, who faces the temptation to sin. Most of us would prefer to avoid the topic of sin, but this season of Lent will not accommodate our desire for avoidance.

One cannot grasp the heart of the Christian message of redemption and salvation, until the problem is recognized. Historically, we have displayed an enormous capacity for self-deception. We have become overly-optimisitc about our nature, technology and progress. WWI was also known as the war to end all wars. It was followed by incredible economic and technological expansion. A kind of, we can accomplish anything attitude, prevailed. Then comes the stock market crash and the Depression, followed by WWII and the Holocaust. We were forced to admit that the world was not so different than before, and neither were we. We want to believe that we can save ourselves, and we fall prey to that desire, time and time again.

In the Gospel, Jesus is dealing with this head on. The temptations offered him are from Israel’s history. When you hear 40 days, you are supposed to be reminded of the forty years Israel spent wandering the desert, after the Exodus. That time was a major disappointment for God. Israel is finally free, and 15 minutes later the whining starts. They want bread and are given it by God, yet their craving continues. Moses spends his forty days on top of Sinai, only to return and find the people worshipping a golden calf. It went on and on.

Jesus’ forty days is different, because he is different. Facing temptation he reverses the historical failure of Israel. Jesus does it, not by quoting the law, but by being the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is the obedient child that God has always wanted.

Jesus resists temptation in the simplest of ways possible. He refuses to exercise the power he possess as a quick means of satisfaction. He places his trust in God.

Isn’t this one of the pieces that makes Jesus so different. He doesn’t fall prey to the quick fix, and the temptation to box the air. Jesus recognizes what is his and entrusts what is not to God.

We will never be free from sin in this life, but Jesus takes first step on our behalf toward freedom. He shows us a better way to be in the world. The good news is that God can be trusted, even when we cannot.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Thoughts On Preaching

Preaching and hearing a sermon are hard work. This little article puts both tasks in perspective. I think it is very well done.

Word of God