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

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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

The Hospitality of Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Gospel: John 2:1-11

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.

wine-2Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to help plan a wedding.

It takes a lot of work, doesn’t it? Chelsea and I have been married for almost thirteen years, and I still remember how stressful it was to plan all of the details for our big day- everything from the save-the-date cards to the reception after the ceremony. Ours was a relatively small affair. So, I can’t even begin to imagine how stressful it must be for those who choose to have larger, more elaborate weddings.

There are so many details to consider when planning a wedding. There’s the guest list, which might change at any moment. There’s the location for the rehearsal dinner, which of course has to be reserved months in advance. There’s the ceremony itself, which has to be beautiful and memorable but definitely not too long. There’s the photography session after the service, which may or may not be held outside depending on the weather. There’s the menu for the reception, which has to include food and drinks that everyone will enjoy. So many details and so many things that can go wrong at a moment’s notice. They say, “the devil is in the details,” and I think that’s right, especially when it comes to weddings. Continue reading

Costly Grace

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 13, 2019

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
First Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Second Lesson: Acts 8:14-17
Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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.

why-was-jesus-baptizedToday is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. The seasons of Advent and Christmas have passed. We have the Feast of the Epiphany and once again heard the magnificent story of the three wise men from the East who travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn King. Now the church is ready to once again hear the miraculous stories in which God’s grace was revealed to the world through his beloved son, Jesus Christ. This will be the focus of our lectionary readings from now until the end of this liturgical season, leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

In all three years of our Sunday lectionary, the first Sunday after the Epiphany is when we remember the Baptism of our Lord by John the Baptizer at the River Jordan.  As we heard in today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, John says to crowd gathered at the river, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”The baptismal narrative in Luke’s Gospel concludes with a voice from heaven proclaiming to Jesus after his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Continue reading

The Greatest Gifts

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ
First Lesson: Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3:1-12
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

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.

magithreegiftsIt’s normally a strict rule in the Mancil household each year that no Christmas presents may be opened until Christmas morning, and with a couple of exceptions, we’ve stuck pretty close to that rule. You can ask Sophie and Jude if you don’t believe me. However, we decided this year to let that rule slide just a little bit.

A few months ago, I discovered a new children’s book that I really wanted to give to Sophie and Jude on Christmas Eve night, a book by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. If you’ve heard me preach at least a few times, you’ve probably heard me use a quote from Barbara Brown Taylor, whether it was from a sermon that she once wrote or from one of her many outstanding books. Continue reading

We Are Not Alone

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, December 24, 2018

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
First Lesson: Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20

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.

dr._seuss_the_grinch_stillA few days after Thanksgiving, Chelsea and I took the kids to the movie theater to see “The Grinch,” a modern-day, retelling of the classic Dr. Seuss book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it. The creators of this modern spin on the classic, Christmas tale did a wonderful job expanding upon the story of the Grinch, whose heart is “two sizes too small,” and offering viewers a glimpse into the Grinch’s past, helping to explain why he’s so bitter and why he has such a strong hatred for Christmas in the first place. All of the major plot points from the original story are still there. The Whos down in Whoville are making their final preparations for Christmas, and they’re filled with more Christmas joy than Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve. This is all too much for the Grinch to bear, and he finally decides that he must do something to prevent Christmas from happening. So, he comes up with a devilish plan. He’ll disguise himself as Santa Claus, sneak into the homes of the Whos on Christmas Eve night, and steal from them everything having to do with Christmas- everything from the gifts under their Christmas trees to the beautiful lights and decorations on their homes. And, once he’s completed his mission, he’ll take all of their beloved gifts and decorations to the top of Mount Crumpit and dump them over the ledge. Continue reading

The Prophet Mary

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

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 15: The Song of Mary
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel: Luke 1:39-55

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.

mary as prophet, detailIf you’ll indulge me this morning, I’d like to begin my sermon by sharing with you a poem by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Malcolm Guite, who also serves as a priest in the Church of England. The title of this poem is “The Visitation.”

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys,
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place,
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power,
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’.
They sing today for all the great unsung,
Women who turned eternity to time,
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth,
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth. Continue reading