One of the things the community at St. Nicholas does really well is pray. During the prayers of the people on Sunday, petitions from the congregation included:

  • thanksgiving that a car passed its vehicle emissions test
  • prayers of concern for a parishioner and her pet rabbit
  • prayer for healing for a parishioner with cancer and for courage and strength for his partner
  • prayer for friends in the military

Intercessory prayer, they get it!

Another thing St. Nick's does well is kids. Tonight I met with three of the teens of "Team Awesome" (their choice of name, not mine) to discuss music for their upcoming liturgy. I learned (a) what I think is cool, they don't and (b) Johnny Cash - who I do think is cool - is, indeed, cool! Who knew?!

A Good Example

Today is turning out to be a good example of what I envisioned the priest-y life to be:

8:00 AM Breakfast at the Uptown Cafe with a book (enjoyed the avocado, mushroom, ham & cheese omelette)

9:00 AM Scion XB to Sterling Auto for the Allstate Appraiser's Check-writing ritual (accident occurred about 10 days ago and this was the earliest I could get in - do you suppose it would have been quicker had I said, "I'm not sure it's safe to drive?" (which would, technically, have been a lie))

10:00 AM - 1:00 PM Listening to my idea of what teenagers might enjoy for worship music appropriate for their liturgy on Epiphany 6B (I'll be meeting them later for their version of what they enjoy! - and trying to convince 2 of them that this would, indeed, be a great opportunity for them to break out their guitars)

1:00 - 2:45 PM Enjoying a leisurely lunch (Lisa G of Monson, I must, politely disagree with your assessment) while checking e-mail and surfing the web (the church does not have internet access )

3:00 - 4:30 PM back at church to prep for "Spirituality for Living" which meets tomorrow evening and to meet with my lay committee for feedback

4:30 - 5:30 PM hospital visit and grabbing a bite to eat

6:00 - 8:00 PM work on sermon and meet with teens re: music (see above)

8:30 PM arrive home again, exhausted, but happy

It's all good stuff, my friends. All good.


Love that Builds Up or "Last Prophet Standing"

Epiphany 4 – Year B
Sermon Preached at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Today’s readings have inspired a new reality TV show - “Last Prophet Standing!”1 The rules are simple: All prophets must only speak what God commands. All listeners must only obey those prophets who speak what God commands. If a prophet claims to be speaking the word of God, but is, in fact, speaking in the name of another god, that prophet will die. If, on the other hand, the prophet is telling God’s truth, and a listener chooses not to obey, it is the listener who will die. Just to make things interesting for the listeners – it may be challenging to figure out which are the true prophets because the false prophets may not die immediately! Anyone want to be a contestant?

Seriously, what are we to make of this reading about the prophets? There are certainly plenty of people who claim to be speaking in God’s name. So how do we find the truth? I think an answer can be found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to known something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” Love that builds up is an important theme for Paul and rightly so for it expresses a central tenet of our faith: God is love. Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical letter earlier this week and it too is on the subject of love. In it, he reminds us that Love is central to what it means to be Christian. It is central to our understanding of our relationship to God AND central to our understanding of our relationship with one another. I believe that Pope Benedict XVI, our brother in faith, is right on this point. He begins by quoting these familiar words from I John: “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” He continues by saying that these words express “the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of humankind and our destiny.” It may turn out that the common phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” may, in fact, be right. If we listen to what St Paul is saying to us, it is not just who you know, but how you know who you know. In other words, it is the quality of the knowing that is so important. It is much more than name recognition or name dropping. It is about a kind of knowing that, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “involves a real discovery of the other . . . concern and care for the other.” This quality of knowing is Christian Love – love that builds up.

Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit includes a conversation between the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit which is, at its core, a conversation about love that builds up. As these two toys are lying on the floor next to one another in the child’s playroom, the Rabbit asks the Skin Horse, “What is REAL? . . . Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” The Skin Horse responds, “Real isn’t how you are made. . . It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’” The rabbit then asks how it happens and the Skin Horse carefully explains, “It doesn’t happen all at once. . . You become. It takes a long time . . . . But . . . once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 2 Love that makes real, love that speaks truth – these are the qualities of love that builds up.

Paul also provides additional insight into love that builds up. Our reading from I Corinthians this morning stopped before we got to Paul’s famous words about love – words that many of you may have heard at a wedding: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” This is the nature of a love that builds up. This is the nature of the love that we are called to – “our destiny” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it. This is the love that God has for us and models for us. We recited Psalm 111 this morning:
“He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and full of compassion. He gives food to those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works in giving them the lands of the nations. The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, because they are done in truth and equity. He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant for ever; holy and awesome is his Name.”
God’s love never ends.

“Love never ends.” Those three words typically end the reading from I Corinthians at weddings; however, Paul’s letter continues with a warning: “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end . . . as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end” (I Cor. 13:4-10).

With this in mind, let’s return to our game show - “Last Prophet Standing” – because I think we will all be better contestants now that we’ve muddled our way through to a more precise understanding of love that builds up. Let’s review the rules: All prophets must only speak what God commands. All listeners must only obey those prophets who speak what God commands. If a prophet claims to be speaking the word of God, but is, in fact, speaking in the name of another god, that prophet will die. If, on the other hand, the prophet is telling God’s truth, and a listener chooses not to obey, it is the listener who will die. How will we find the truth?

True prophets will demonstrate through their words and actions a love of God and an understanding of God’s love for all of humanity. True prophets will demonstrate through their words and actions a love for humanity that is grounded in patience, kindness, humility, mutuality, truth, belief, hope, and endurance. Love builds up . . . and anyone who loves God is known by him. Hallelujah! Let us give thanks to the LORD with all our hearts for the love among us - the love among us that is indeed building up the community of faith here at St. Nicholas!

1As I searched for something "fun and festive" to link to, I discovered this link with its own variation on the TV show "Last Prophet Standing" - proving, yet again, that great minds think alike (or, as I do not know The Rev. Dr. Vaughn, perhaps I should just say, "minds think alike" - sort of loses something in that version).

2Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), pp. 12-14.



Epiphany 3 – Year B
Sermon Preached on January 22, 2006
St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
Elk Grove Village, Illinois

What would it take for you to drop everything and do something or go somewhere different? For many of us the answer is “winning the lottery!” For me, it is completing seminary and my training --- I’ve told many of you, when I’m done, “I’m going to Disney World” – that’s right, I will drop everything and fly to Orlando for a few, fun-filled days with Mickey Mouse, Eeyore, Jiminy Cricket --- oh, yes, and Andrea! But let’s face it. I’m not leaving right now. I’m not really dropping everything. I’m going to go once my seminars at Seabury are finished, once I’ve finished my internship here at St. Nicholas. Andrea will continue her work at Abbott Labs until it is time for us to pack up and go. And, what’s more, we’ll be back. A trip to Disney World is likely not to be a life-changing event. Winning the lottery . . . well, maybe that’s another matter (but should it be?)!

Can you even imagine being Simon or Andrew, James or John and being asked by Jesus to follow Him? Immediately he called them – and they left! Just like that! And believe me, they had other compelling options. These were not poor fishermen. No, we are told that they were in their own boats using their own nets working with their own hired men. These were business men who participated in THE major industry in Galilee – fishing. They were doing fine economically. And yet, when Jesus called them, they left their boats, their nets, their families, their hired men – and they followed Jesus. Just like that. Jesus must have been awe-fully compelling – so compelling that no preparation and no getting used to the idea was needed. Awe-fully compelling.

What compels us? Money is certainly a candidate here - Social status or popularity perhaps - Being the best – at work, on the baseball team, at school. All of these things compel us today. But wait just a minute. To compel means to force or to require. Are any of us truly forced to seek popularity? Sure, social pressures - peer pressures - both are rampant in our society; but surely we could say no – couldn’t we? Are we as a society as addicted to the pursuit of fortune, fame, and being number one as many individuals are addicted to alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, and/or caffeine? It is as though society says, “follow me” and, immediately we leave behind the one true God and chase after these false gods – or, perhaps more accurately, these demons.

This is what the prophet Jeremiah was warning the Israelites about in the first half of the 6th century before Christ. Jeremiah saw his people walking away from the God who had called them. To use the language of Bernhard Anderson, an Old Testament scholar (and former professor of mine), the Israelites were diseased – the outward manifestation of their illness was putting their trust in institutions, rather than God and ignoring the social bond of their covenant with God. 1 This social bond required walking in truth, in justice, and in uprightness. The Israelites had a disease of the heart and had confused their loyalty to the religious institutions with their loyalty to God. Perhaps they had even successfully fooled themselves into believing that they were doing the right thing – following the letter of the law, the Torah. But, while this may be true; it is certainly true that God was not fooled. Anderson writes that “the inner integrity that is based on a true relationship to God and neighbors in the covenant” was fractured.2

I would suggest that when we choose to follow money and popularity – to the exclusion of all else – we too are being untrue to God. We are suffering from the same disease of the heart that the ancient Israelites – our ancestors in the faith – fell victim to. We are following after idols and we have turned our back on God. As Christians, we are called to turn our backs to the idols we have created around us and to return to the Lord.

The prophet Jeremiah used the word “return” a lot. We heard it three times in this morning’s short reading - “Return, O faithless children,” “return, O Israel, says the LORD,” and “return to me.” The Hebrew word used for “return” is shûb. The word shûb has two meanings. In the first place, it means “to come back” – like our word “return.” But, it also means to “deliberately turn away from one thing and turn toward another thing.” It is a journey word, a word of conscious choice and movement that, in the context of Jeremiah, implies a “sustained, long term resolve to act differently.”3 Jeremiah tells the Israelites – turn away from your perversion, your faithlessness, your delusions, and your shameful things and turn back to the only true Lord who is the LORD of truth, of justice, and of uprightness. For this meaning of the word shûb we might just as easily use the word “repent” – and, in fact, that is the word that is used in the Gospel of Mark: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Often when we think of the word repent, we associate it with guilt or shame; and, indeed, the Israelites experienced this as well. Jeremiah says, “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the LORD our God . . . and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.” But this is not the final word – nor is it, I think, the only word we are called to hear today.

When Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John, he says “follow me” - two words spoken with enough authority to compel these four to drop everything to become Christ’s disciples. In today’s gospel, Jesus issues that same invitation to you and to me: turn to Jesus. Turn away from the false gods of material possession and popularity. Turn away from whatever your false gods eagerly convince you to do. Turn away from these false gods and make a deliberate, long term commitment to turn toward Jesus’ call to discipleship. This is the repentance we are called to today. Once we have turned our lives toward God, we can begin to discern the new vision God has for us. And it is our commitment to, our belief in, this new vision of God’s Kingdom that truly compels us to act in accordance with the truth-telling and justice-making mission of God in the world.

1 Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 4th edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986), p. 170.
2 Ibid.
3 Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), p. 170.



Why do I go to Wide-eyed and laughing? Everytime I do, I feel "compelled" (more on that Sunday) to take the darn quizzes myself. It appears that a major in religion is not included in the quiz and so I take it that a tie between English and Philosophy suggests (again) that I am in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time - at least for today.

You scored as Philosophy. You should be a Philosophy major! Like the Philosopher, you are contemplative and you enjoy thinking about the purpose for humanity's existence.





























What is your Perfect Major?
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Last night I facilitated the first meeting of a 6-week spiritual small group in which we are doing "Spiritual Disciplines Pot-Luck" as a preparation for a more intensive use of one or more spiritual disciplines during Lent. We are beginning with journaling because (a) it is something with which I am most familiar and (b) it is tangible - that is, unlike contemplative prayer, you can see that you are doing it and there is no "right" or "wrong" about it. Just write.

I really enjoyed the first meeting - in fact, I felt energized as a result! This surprised me because, as an introvert, I tend to get my energy from more quiet, individual times. Events like last night's reinforce for me that I am in the right place. "God calls, we respond" - that seems to work much better than my approach as a 20-something which was more of a "God calls, I run like heck" stance.

I spent most of yesterday prepping a sermon for Sunday. I actually dragged out my Hebrew and Greek lexicons - egad! Despite that, I am confident that the end result was a sermon (I was trying to think of an adjective to put before sermon but all of them either struck me as arrogant or self-depracating --- where are those moderate adjectives when you need them?!). I'll post the sermon after Sunday and you can supply your own adjectives.


The Day After

First, I want to say that I am aware that yesterday's poetry was less than splendid; however, do remember that I had spent a goodly amount of brain power on more pressing tasks.

Second, today is the day after GOEs and I am, in fact, still here which means:
A) I have awoken from the nightmare.
B) It was all very real and the results will arrive in the mail in mid-February.
C) "Here" is only a state of mind anyhow and I am no more and no less here now than I was yesterday.
D) All of the above.

O.k., maybe I'm not completely recovered, but it sure felt good this morning to get up, go out for breakfast, go to the credit union, come home for a nap, make some homemade pizza dough, and relax!


GOEs: A Spontaneous Poem (May it not self-combust!)

Today, I feel oddly relaxed.
Even slightly untaxed.

Could it be? Yes, you'll see.
GOEs are almost done with me.

Let's play!

. . . Soon.