Choose Joy

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
The Fifth Sunday of Easter + Year C
May 19, 2019

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

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.

newbornbaby-parentHenri Nouwen once wrote, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”

I’ve decided that joy is a spiritual discipline.

It’s not something that happens to us in an instant in the same way that we experience happiness.  Happiness comes and goes. We can be happy one minute and sad the next, and often, our degree of happiness depends on forces that are beyond our control. Continue reading

God is Always Near

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C)
May 12, 2019

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

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.

southern-grits-recipeSeveral years ago, before going to seminary, Chelsea and I were members of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Dothan, Alabama. One Sunday, our priest at the time, Mother Ede, preached a sermon that’s stuck with me for a long time. In her sermon, she shared with us a story that she had once heard from another priest. The story goes like this.

“Once upon a time, in the Deep South, a hungry man was having breakfast at a diner. A waitress took his order, and he asked for bacon and eggs with coffee. She brought the coffee right away, and then, a while later, came back with a heaping plate of food. He looked down, and–to his surprise–next to the bacon and eggs he’d ordered he also noticed a strange lump of runny, white porridge. ‘What’s this?’ he thought. When he spoke up to complain, the waitress shook her head and got a funny look on her face. ‘Honey,’ she said, ‘those is grits. You don’t order grits. Grits just comes.’” Continue reading

New Life is Always Possible

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day
First Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

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.

notre-dame-crossThe heavenly messengers in our Gospel lesson for this morning said to the women at the tomb of Jesus, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

On Monday morning, the world watched in shock and bewilderment as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was engulfed in flames. A beautiful symbol of our Christian faith, ancient and revered, was suddenly taken from us without any warning. My immediate thought, after seeing the initial news reports was, “Oh, Lord, please don’t tell me someone did this on purpose.” After further investigation, it was reported that the fire was likely caused by a chemical reaction during the process of renovating and restoring the eight hundred year old cathedral.

Nine hours after the fire began, it was finally extinguished, and what remained of the cathedral was a smoldering shell of its former glory. The building had suffered colossal damage. The spire above the cathedral had collapsed. Parts of the roof and all of the wooden architecture on the inside of the church had been reduced to embers and ash. Continue reading

The Way of the Cross

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday
First Lesson: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22:1-21
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:16-25
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42

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.

E20B6481-6AA0-4A57-A05E-B8248AF5D382“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

In a meditation on Good Friday, the Rev’d Martin Smith once wrote, “He was numbered with the transgressors, crucified between the thieves. We will not find him in our hearts except in the same company. For each Good Friday to be good the Spirit must take us by the hand and re-establish our contact with that inmost core of recalcitrant evil, enmity and impotence where we are sisters and brothers of the most depraved and lost. That is where Christ is, clasping them with his pierced hands.” Continue reading

Extravagant Love

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Fifth Sunday in Lent
First Lesson: Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Philippians 3:4b-14
Gospel: John 12:1-8

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.

1351-f9d833c2-5563-44ea-b16c-3c1e08c3d081If you spend any time on Facebook, you might’ve come across a page called “Episcopal Church Memes.” A “meme,” in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is basically an image or a video that’s shared with a lot of people on social media, usually referencing something they find humorous or entertaining. To give you an example, there’s this famous meme called “Grumpy Cat, “featuring a brown and white cat with squinty eyes and a frown on his face. “Grumpy Cat” says lots of funny things, such as, “I had fun once. It was awful.” Or, “If I had a dollar for every time I thought of you, I would be broke.” It never ceases to amaze me how creative people get with the memes they post on Facebook.

Most of the images posted on the “Episcopal Church Memes” page are harmless enough, but occasionally, there’s one that gets pretty controversial, one that stirs up lots of different emotions and opinions. Continue reading

A Wideness in God’s Mercy

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Fourth Sunday in Lent
First Lesson: Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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.

300px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectOne of my absolute favorite hymns that we sing in the Episcopal Church is the one that we sang just a few moments ago before the reading of the Gospel, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” which was based on a poem by the nineteenth-century poet, Frederick William Faber. The hymn begins with the words, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.” The hymn continues on and speaks of “welcome for the sinner” and “mercy with the Savior.” It speaks of “plentiful redemption” and “the goodness of the Lord.” The version of the hymn that we sing in our hymnal includes many of the stanzas from the original poem, but if you were to read the original, you would notice that the final two were left out.

If we were to sing them, it would sound something like this:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own. 

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at his feet? Continue reading

The Wilderness

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, March 10, 2019

The First Sunday in Lent
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Second Lesson: Romans 10:8b-13
Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

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.

judean-desert_dsc04153lmauldin-copy-1-760x428I have a confession to make. I have a love/hate relationship with the season of Lent. I love it because I know it’s good for me. Lent is a special time in the life of the Church, a period of forty days and forty nights (not including Sundays) set apart for the sole purpose of working on our relationship with God. It’s a period of time that we’re given each year to be intentional about falling back in love with God, to reconnect with the one who formed us from the dust of the earth. This leads me to the reason why I also don’t really care that much for Lent. In order to reconnect with God, I know that I have to be willing to make some changes in my life. I know that I have to be willing to let go of my selfish need for control and my belief that I can do everything on my own.

In the days and weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, we’re encouraged to think about what our Lenten disciplines are going to be. We ask ourselves, “What am I going to give up during Lent this year? Will it be chocolate? Will it be coffee? Will it be some other indulgence that I normally enjoy?” Or, we might ask ourselves, “What new spiritual practice will I take on during Lent? Will it be spending more time each day in private prayer? Will it be volunteering more of my time at church? Will it be reading a book of daily devotions each day during Lent or some other practice that goes beyond my normal routine?” Continue reading

Father, Forgive

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

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.

stock-photo-23785349During the evening hours of November 14, 1940, Nazi Germany sent over 500 bombers to raid the English city of Coventry. The Coventry Blitz, as it’s often called, lasted over ten hours, leaving more than 500 dead, 2,300 homes destroyed, and the town’s Gothic cathedral in ruins.

During the raid, many people in the town worked hard to try and save the cathedral from being totally lost in the flames, but they were unsuccessful. In the end, the only parts of the building still standing were the tower, the spire, and the outer wall. Everything else burned.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Provost of Coventry Cathedral, the Very Reverend Richard Howard, had two words inscribed on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building. “Father, forgive.” Notice that the inscription wasn’t “Father, forgive them.” Just “Father, forgive.” The Provost realized in that moment that the only way to break the endless cycle of violence and retribution was to choose love over hate. He realized that the only path toward peace and reconciliation is to acknowledge the fact that all of us are in need of forgiveness. All of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, need to be forgiven. Continue reading

Blessed

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Gospel: Luke 6:17-26

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.

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“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

Blessed. That’s a loaded word, isn’t it?

This may be surprising to hear from a priest, but I have to admit that I cringe a little bit when I hear someone use the word blessed- not because I don’t believe that God blesses us with all the gifts we’ve been given but because it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that God has rewarded us with what we’ve been given. There’s a big difference between a gift and a reward. So, it’s important that we’re careful with how we use the word “blessed.” It can easily be interpreted as a way of saying that God favors certain people over others, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Continue reading

The Love of God

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

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.

holy-crossHave you ever seen those short, black and white, “Coffee with Jesus” comic strips on Facebook? Do you know the ones I’m talking about? If you’re on Facebook regularly and you’re friends with at least a few other Episcopalians, you might’ve come across these at some point. They feature a modern-day Jesus with dark, long hair and a beard. He’s usually pictured wearing some sort of business suit and holding a cup of coffee while he has a casual conversation with one or two other characters.

These “Coffee with Jesus” comic strips are usually light-hearted and funny, but they also tend to be very thought-provoking, using humor and sarcasm to illustrate deep, theological points about God and our relationship with God. Continue reading