Turn Toward Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23B)
First Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

7d0c57ecfa43c9e8ffca4a238ecba2e921e428f7A couple of years ago, a new video emerged online featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. By the way, this was before the world knew him as the charismatic, superstar bishop who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

In the video, Bishop Curry talks about the Jesus Movement. Now, this should come as no surprise to any of you who have heard our Presiding Bishop speak or deliver a sermon. He loves to talk about the Jesus Movement! Everyone in the Episcopal Church is talking about it. In fact, the phrase has become so popular among Episcopalians over the last three years that it’s even shown up in our merchandise. You, too, can buy a bumper sticker that says, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

But what, exactly, is the Jesus Movement? In the video, Bishop Curry paints us a picture of it by reflecting on a pivotal moment that occurs every week in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Slowly walking in the midst of the noise and commotion of New York City, the Bishop describes that moment in our liturgy when we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, that moment when we stand and sing praises to God as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s Word through the reading of the Gospel. We stand, and we sing. The Gospel book is held high as the procession moves from the Altar to the center of the Nave where the Gospel will be read by a deacon or a priest. And, as all of this is happening, everyone in the congregation re-orients themselves in order to see the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed. “That Gospel moment,” according to Bishop Curry, “the Church has become the Jesus Movement, with life re-oriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit- teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.”

I love Bishop Curry’s message in this video. It’s still available, by the way, in case you want to watch it on your own. All you have to do is go to YouTube and type in “The Jesus Movement… Michael Curry,” and you shouldn’t have any problem finding it. It’s certainly worth watching.

Normally, when we hear about a “movement” taking place in our society, we think about an event of some kind, such as a rally or a march, or a series of events taking place at a specific time in history. One that comes to my mind most recently is the #MeToo movement. But, what I love about Bishop Curry in this video is that he invites us to think about the Jesus Movement not as a single event or series of events occurring at a specific time or place but as something that’s been going on for thousands of years, something that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to participate in with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. The Jesus Movement is what happens when the people of God stand up and re-orient themselves toward the Gospel of Jesus. That is the Jesus Movement.

There’s so much beauty in the way that we worship, not only in the words that we speak but also in the way that we use our whole bodies to express our love of God and our commitment to Christ. And, what’s even more amazing about the way that we worship is that our worship of God is actually preparing us for the work that God has given us to do when we leave this place. So, there’s a reason why we stand and turn our bodies to face the place of the Gospel. Not only is it a sign of reverence for the words of Jesus, but it’s also preparing us to stand and turn toward Jesus in our everyday lives, to turn toward those whom the world has turned away- the poor, the hungry, and the neglected.

In our lesson today from the Gospel of Mark, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looks at the man and basically tells him, “You already know what you need to do. Follow God’s Law.” The man tells Jesus that he’s lived a good life and followed all of God’s commandments, but Jesus tells him that there’s one more thing that he has to do in order to inherit the abundant life that he seeks. He says to the man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” I can’t imagine the look of shock and disappointment that must’ve been on the man’s face when he heard Jesus’ instruction. In the end, it’s too much of a burden for the rich man to bear. He isn’t willing to let go of his wealth and possessions in order to follow Jesus. He turns and walks away.

Contrary to what some people may believe about this lesson from Mark’s Gospel, it isn’t intended to cast judgment on the rich or to tell us that wealthy people can’t inherit the abundant life that God desires for us. It isn’t about what we own or how much we have. It’s about what we do with what we’ve been given and realizing that everything that we have has been given to us by God. The rich man in our Gospel lesson is so attached to his wealth and worldly possessions that he’s unable to see the grace that’s right in front of his eyes when Jesus offers it. It was easier for him to walk away from Jesus than to sacrifice that which he cared about the most.

The story of Jesus and his encounter with the rich man teaches us that, in order to inherit the abundant life that we seek, we must be aware and willing to let go of those worldly attachments in our lives that cause us to lose sight of our need to follow Jesus. We must keep our eyes open and continue to re-orient ourselves back toward Jesus, the one who calls us to let go of those things that are weighing us down and to move beyond the walls of the church to love and serve the least among us.

This is why I have such love and admiration for our Presiding Bishop and why his message about being part of the Jesus Movement resonates so deeply among Episcopalians. Being a part of the Jesus Movement and participating in the reconciling work of Christ is noisy and messy and often sacrificial. Like the rich man in our Gospel lesson, it calls us to move beyond our selves and pushes us to do things that may be difficult or uncomfortable. I think that it probably looks a lot like Bishop Curry in his video- moving from beyond the comfort and safety of the headquarters of the Episcopal Church into the chaos and uncertainty of the streets of Manhattan.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to this- not that we can’t be happy as Christians but that true joy and true peace can only be found when we’re willing to give up our lives in order to follow Jesus.

If you were the “rich man” in today’s Gospel lesson, what would Jesus be calling you to give up in order to follow him more closely?

My friends, I invite you to reflect on this question in the days ahead, and once you’ve come with in an answer, I invite you to consider a follow-up question. What’s holding you back?

Amen.

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Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20B)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
Second Lesson: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1a04076156fce3dd3a0563ddff29744c.1000x502x1“Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

If you’re even a little bit familiar with contemporary musical theater, you probably recognize this popular refrain. It comes from a show that some people already consider one of the greatest musicals ever written. Of course, I’m talking about the Tony Award-winning musical, Hamilton, which debuted on Broadway nearly three years ago and was written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with this musical, Hamiltontells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of our country, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and the creator of our national banking system. The narrative begins with Hamilton’s arrival in the British colonies only a few years before the start of the Revolutionary War and spans his entire life, culminating in his famous duel with Aaron Burr.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the musical yet. Relatively speaking, not many people have. Even though it’s been three years since it debuted, it’s still very hard to get tickets, even for the national tours. But, if you listen to the original cast recording of Hamilton, you’ll quickly notice that it’s very unique and unlike any other musical that you’ve ever heard. The story is told not only through dialogue but also through a beautiful and intricate combination of hip-hop and rap and various other styles of music, making it accessible and entertaining to a wide variety of people. Once you hear it for the first time, it’s hard to stop listening. Continue reading

Not My Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19B)
First Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
Second Lesson: James 3:1-12
Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1397498704000-homeless-jesusImagine, for a moment, that you’re taking a walk through what appears to be a pretty nice, suburban neighborhood. You’re walking down a sidewalk lined with tall, luscious trees and beautifully landscaped front yards. Judging from the appearance of the homes in this neighborhood and the people who live here, it’s probably made up of mostly middle to upper-middle class families. There’s no trash on the ground anywhere, and you imagine that it would be a grave sin to even consider going more than a couple of weeks without cutting the grass. The appearance of this neighborhood is well maintained, and the residents want to keep it that way.

After a few blocks of walking, you come to what appears to be a church in the middle of this pristine neighborhood. The church, like the neighborhood in which it resides, is beautiful. The front yard is immaculate, enclosed with red brick columns and a black, wrought iron fence. You imagine that it must take a lot of work to maintain such a lovely appearance. Upon further investigation, you discover that this church is an Episcopal Church, and as you continue walking by, you witness a very shocking sight, indeed- something quite unexpected. From a short distance, you see what appears to be a homeless person, covered up with a long blanket and sleeping on a park bench next to the church. You ask yourself, “How could there be a homeless person sleeping here in the middle of this perfect neighborhood?” “How did they get here?” Despite your initial shock, you decide to move a little closer to see if there’s any way you can help. Maybe he or she needs help with food or money to purchase a bus ticket. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17B) + September 2, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17B)
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
Second Lesson: James 1:17-27
Gospel: Mark:7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

29178019315_00a54ac467_b
I have a confession to make.

Some of you know this about me already, but others may not. So, here goes.

My name is Father Eric, and I’m an Auburn fan. It’s true. I bleed orange and blue.

Some people become Auburn fans later in life, but not me. This was something I was born into. You’ve heard the term, “cradle Episcopalian”? Well, I’m a “cradle” Tigers fan. I even have evidence to prove it- a commemorative Coke bottle from 1983 when Auburn won the SEC Championship.

Yesterday was the first football game of the season. Every time I watch the Tigers play, I’m reminded of how much I love Auburn and how deeply connected I am to the town and the university. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B) + August 26, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B)
First Lesson: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Second Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel: John 6:56-69

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

tumblr_n1ofcjZ4KV1sanzo7o1_1280Have you ever noticed how some people use the phrase, “No offense,” right before they say something really offensive?

Do you know what I’m talking about?

For example, let’s say someone walked up to me one morning after church and said, “No offense, Father Eric, but that wasn’t your best sermon.” I would be very offended by that! Just because that person said, “No offense,” right before criticizing me doesn’t mean that I would be any less offended. By the way, that’s never happened to me, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything!

Has this ever happened to you? Has anyone ever come up to you and said, “No offense, but…” Fill in the blank. Or, perhaps, you were the one who said it to someone else. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B) + August 12, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

36450723_10160563180005022_128994029860814848_oThere’s a relatively new group within the Episcopal Church that calls itself, “Episcopal Evangelists.” They have a very active presence on Facebook. Anyone is welcome to join, but as you might’ve guessed, the primary purpose of this group is to serve as a means of support and creativity for those in the Episcopal Church who feel particularly called to the ministry of evangelism.

This past summer, as the Episcopal Church prepared for its 79thGeneral Convention in Austin, Texas, the “Episcopal Evangelists” were also hard at work. They were getting ready to spread the word at the convention that evangelism is important to Episcopalians, and one way they planned to accomplish this goal was by giving away these bright green “Episcopal Evangelist” bracelets to anyone who wanted it. The bracelets were meant to serve as conversation starters with the idea that someone in the public square might see it and ask questions about it. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13B) + August 5, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13B)
First Lesson: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-16
Gospel: John 6:24-35

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

38498635_465501407257457_6158961485893599232_n“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

These words from our lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are powerful. They convey a sense of responsibility and urgency. They remind us that this life to which we’ve been called as followers of Jesus is built upon how we treat our brothers and sisters. The author uses some key words to describe this life, words like humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B) + June 10, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B)
First Lesson: Genesis
Psalm 15
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

34962783_1765311520226763_8694390567460667392_nSeveral years ago, there was a story in the news about a new trend floating around on the Internet. You might’ve heard about it at the time. It was called the “Blasphemy Challenge.” Did you ever hear about this? The “Blasphemy Challenge” encouraged atheists and other non-believers to record videos of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Sprit and uploading them to YouTube for the whole world to see. When I first heard about it, I was curious to hear what people were saying in their videos. So, I went online and watched some.

To be honest, they were really hard to sit through. They made me uncomfortable.

I was struck by how much pain and suffering the people in these videos must have had to take time out of their busy lives to tell the whole world that they renounced God and the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

A Sermon for the Feast of St. Catherine (Transferred) + June 3, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Feast of St. Catherine of Siena (Transferred)
First Lesson: Micah 6:6-8
Psalm 15
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

34321059_1757782127646369_7588180409905577984_nWhen I first arrived at St. Catherine’s at the beginning of last year, one of the first things that caught my attention was this colorful greeting card posted on one of the bulletin boards next door in the Annex.

I later came to find out that it was a gift from our good friend, Judy Quick, who serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Alabama.

On the front of this greeting card was the following quote from Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of our parish: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Continue reading

A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost + May 20, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Day of Pentecost + Year B
First Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Second Lesson: Romans 8:22-27
Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

33021429_10160827458235393_1579711863644487680_n“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

These are the words of the prophet Joel, spoken by Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

Episcopalians often talk about how Pentecost is the day when we celebrate the birth of the Church. Some of us wear red to our worship services. We often have elaborate decorations and festive parties. Sometimes, we even have a birthday cake decorated with fiery flames or doves representing the Holy Spirit. All of that is wonderful, and I think we should definitely take the time to celebrate! After all, this is one of the seven principle feasts of the Church year. But, Pentecost is also a day for us to contemplate the importance of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, which Christ himself promised to send to his disciples after he ascended to the Father. This is the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in Jerusalem with tongues of fire, empowering them to carry out the mission of the Church. Continue reading