Costly Grace

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 13, 2018

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

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The Greatest Gifts

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 6, 2018

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

Every Christmas is Perfect

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

The Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Second Lesson: Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

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.

mangerToday is the Third Sunday of Advent, which means that, after today, there’s only one Sunday left before Christmas. It seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? This season goes by so fast, which is probably one of the reasons why we’re encouraged to try and slow down in the midst of it all, to take a deep breath and to spend some time reflecting on what this season is really about.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

If you’re like me, the laundry list of things that have to get “checked off” before December 24th keeps getting longer and longer, and it feels like there will never be enough time to get it all done. During the holidays, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have the “perfect” Christmas-

  • to find the most beautiful Christmas tree;
  • to get all of the decorations put up on time;
  • to bake all of the special treats that we want to share with friends and family;
  • to purchase just the right gifts for our loved ones;
  • and the list goes on and on.

Why is it that we put so much pressure on ourselves during this time of year? When we know that Advent is a time for stillness and contemplation, why is it that we load ourselves down with so many extra things to do? Continue reading

Waiting for Jesus

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

The First Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36

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.

160825084841_1_540x360A few days ago, I came across an article on social media from the Episcopal Café, an independent website that publishes news and articles having to do with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition. Knowing that the First Sunday of Advent was quickly approaching, the title of the article immediately caught my attention. It was entitled, “The Waiting,” and it was written by a priest from the Diocese of Missouri named Leslie Scoopmire.

In the article, Leslie describes an experience that she recently had while waiting in traffic for fifteen minutes in order to get to a meeting at her church. She describes those same feelings of frustration and impatience that we all get while waiting in the car to get to our desired location. As I was reading about her experience, I could actually feel myself tensing up and getting anxious as if I was in the car with her. Those of us who have lived in the Birmingham area for even a short while know exactly what I’m talking about. Continue reading

There’s Only One God

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28B)
First Lesson: Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:11-25
Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

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.

ThorDarkWorld_2194942100-TDW0NNG1._V362444527_RI_SX940_Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I love superheroes.

It’s true. I love superheroes and stories about superheroes. I’ve loved them ever since I was a young child when I would beg my father to make me a Batman costume after watching the classic Batman television series from the 1960s, starring Adam West. Continue reading

A Living Sacrifice

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27B)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Second Lesson: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

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.

45702861_10156419538850845_6461514487055777792_nOn Election Day this past Tuesday, I saw a picture on social media that was posted by the Equal Justice Initiative (also known as EJI), a non-profit organization based in Montgomery that helps provide legal representation to prisoners in Alabama who may have been wrongfully convicted or denied a fair trial because of racial discrimination and other forms of inequality. They also work very closely with prisoners on death row. The picture was of a man named Anthony Ray Hinton, who in 1985 was accused and wrongfully convicted of murdering two restaurant managers in the Birmingham area. Mr. Hinton was sentenced to death for crimes that he didn’t commit, and he sat waiting on death row for almost thirty years, stripped of all his rights, before he was finally released in April of 2015.

This past Tuesday, he voted in the mid-term elections as a free man. The smile on his face in the picture that I saw was priceless. It filled my heart with joy to know that he was so happy. Continue reading

I Mean, God Helping, To Be One Too

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 4, 2018

All Saints’ Sunday
First Lesson: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Second Lesson: Revelation 21:1-6a
Gospel: John 11:32-44

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.

45257878_2198988253467835_7719053685526888448_nThere are several hymns in our hymnal that are especially appropriate for us to sing on All Saints’ Day, beautiful hymns such as the one that we sang at the beginning of our service this morning, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest,” or the one that we sang just a few moments ago before the Gospel, “By all your saints still striving.” But, there’s one hymn that, for me, really gets to the heart of what this feast day is all about.

It begins like this:

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green: they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” Continue reading

Your Faith Has Made You Well

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25B)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Hebrews 7:23-28
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

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.

father and childAs a young child, I loved asking questions. Then again, I suppose all young children, to some degree, share that same kind of natural, inquisitive curiosity, the kind of curiosity that inspires them to seek answers to questions they might have about why things are the way they are or why their parents tell them to do certain things.

I’m absolutely certain that my parents loved answering all of my questions, especially when I felt the need to ask, “But why?” every time they told me to do something that I didn’t want to do.

“But, why, Mom and Dad?” “What legitimate reason could you have for telling me to stop running near the edge of the swimming pool? It’s so much fun!” Or, “Why do I always have to look both ways before crossing the road? That takes too much time!” Or, “Why do I have to go to bed early on a school night? I want to stay up late!”

Well, if you’re like me, then you might’ve been given a similar response to these types of questions, a response that can be summed up in four simple words: “Because I said so!”

Apparently, nothing more was needed in those moments when reasonable answers seemed to escape my parents. “Because I said so” was reason enough, and that was all there was to it.

It’s funny how the tables have turned since becoming a parent myself.

Somehow, having children of my own has given me the authority to use the same line when either Sophie or Jude ask me, “Why?” and I don’t have a better answer than, “Because I said so.”

Thankfully, as Sophie and Jude have grown older, I’ve gained some insight as to why parents say some of the crazy things that they say to their children.

As parents, I think we say things like, “because I said so,”not because we want to exert supreme authority over our children but because we want them to have faith in us to care for them and to trust that the things we ask them to do are actually in their best interest. We want them to be safe and to make wise decisions. We want them to know that our greatest desire is for them to have the fullest lives possible. We want them to become the best versions of themselves that they can be and to know that we’ll always be there to love and support them as they grow older.

I wonder if this might be the same kind of relationship that God desires to have with each of us, a relationship not built on fear and control but one built on love and trust.

God calls us, not to rule over us or control our lives, but to be in a close, intimate relationship with us. God calls us, not because God expects us to be perfect, but because God loves us more than we can possibly imagine and wants us to know that the only way to truly live is to love and serve others.

God knows our struggles and our faults and that we’re continually faced with obstacles in our lives that cause us to stumble and fall, obstacles that sometimes prevent us from seeing the truth of God’s Kingdom, the dream that God has for us and for all of Creation.

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for.”

My friends, the Kingdom of God is right in front of us. If we only had the eyes to see it and the courage and strength to pursue it, the world would be a much better place.

In today’s Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus and his disciples are passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus hears that it’s Jesus who is passing through, and he calls to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus can heal him, but many try to prevent him from disturbing Jesus by telling him to be quiet. After all, why would Jesus care about a blind beggar? Certainly, it isn’t worth his time to stop and care for the man.

Despite the peoples’ best efforts to silence him, Bartimaeus calls out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus hears Bartimaeus and immediately stops to care for him.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.

 “My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus pleads.

Jesus responds, “Go; your faith has made you well,” and immediately, his sight is restored.

“Go; your faith has made you well.” I’ve always been perplexed by this statement. What does Jesus really mean when he says to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well”? Does he mean that God only heals those who are strong in their faith? That can’t be right. As we all know, miracles happen every day, often to those who don’t even believe in God.

Does Jesus mean that Bartimaeus has the power to heal himself because of his faith? That can’t be right, either. We know that God is our only source of healing.

So, what does Jesus mean, then, when he says, “Go; your faith has made you well”?

We hear a similar story earlier in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus encounters a woman in a crowd of people who believes with all her heart that if she simply touches the cloak that Jesus is wearing, she’ll be healed of her disease. So, she walks up to Jesus as he’s passing by, touches his cloak, and is healed instantly. Sensing that someone had touched him, Jesus looks around to see who it is, and the woman comes forward to explain what happened. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Two stories of healing with the same conclusion. “Your faith has made you well,” Jesus says.

In both of these stories, I think Jesus is really trying to emphasize the importance of faith and the impact that it has on our relationship with God. Yes, the physical healing of blind Bartimaeus and the woman in the crowd is miraculous, but the true healing only comes after both of them demonstrate remarkable acts of faith. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and asks for his sight to be restored. The woman in the crowd risks coming up to Jesus and touching his cloak in order to be healed. Yes, they believe that Jesus can heal them, but even more importantly, they depend on Jesus to heal them. They put their lives in his hands, trusting in his grace and mercy.

True healing, the kind of healing that makes us whole, only comes when we’re willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel and trust that God’s way is the only path that leads to the abundant life that God desires for us.

It’s kind of like young children trusting their parents when they’re told to do something even though they might not understand why. It’s an act of faith.

Do we put our faith in Jesus and in the lessons that he has to teach us?

Do we trust that God’s greatest desire is for us to live full and joyful lives and that the Way of Jesus, the way of sacrificial love and service to others, is our only source of true healing and wholeness?

As we ponder these questions, I pray that the Holy Spirit might grant us the wisdom and strength to respond to God’s call in faith, and I pray that we may always “know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.