Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Good Shepherd and His Gate, Sermon from May 7, 2017

The Good Shepherd and His Gate
May 7, 2017
Good Shepherd, Austin
St. James’, Austin

Heavenly Father, I humbly beseech you as I offer these words this morning, to see before you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock and a sinner of your own redeeming. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The day in which in all of Christendom, Episcopal and denominational churches everywhere set aside the lessons and the readings in our Scripture to dwell on the image of the Good Shepherd. And so for me, at the beginning of the week, as I started to think about my words this morning, it immediately conjured up the image of the first church that I remember, certainly not my first church, but the first church that I remember as a child. My father was an Episcopal priest and so I grew up in the Episcopal Church and the church was The Good Shepherd Church in The Heights, this is where my father served. And I think part of that is that on Saturdays, when my dad would go up to get the church ready for services the next day, and I have a sneaking suspicion he was probably working on his sermon at the last minute, but I would have free rein of the church. And so my dad would go into his study and begin to do his work, whatever that work was, and I could walk around and go wherever I wanted. But I remember many times as a six-year-old making out my way into the nave, into the center of the church in the center aisle, and looking at the back wall which had this massive stained glass window of the Good Shepherd in it, and just the beauty, just the beauty of the light coming through that into a dark nave, a dark church. And so, when I think about these lessons, it is a very warm childhood memory that is evoked. That touches my heart. That reminds me of a loving and caring shepherd, a savior who embraces around his shoulders the sweet lost lamb, that one that he went after. And what I recognize, of course, is that like any childhood memory I am of course taking, collapsing all of the gospel images of the Good Shepherd into my memory of the Good Shepherd. That they don't all exactly exist there in that same space, but in my memory, they do and what I want to say is that then I grew up. And I grew up and certainly didn't imagine that I would become a minister, but that happened and I went to seminary in order to learn very important things. Specifically, things about this parable stand out, the first being that shepherds were smelly people. That you have to understand the context in the life of a shepherd in order to break open this image of the Good Shepherd and that they were smelly people because sheep are smelly and that they live outside. And that certainly stuck in my mind, but also that in some way, shepherds were a common reference in the scriptures for religious leaders. And that bad shepherds, especially in the New Testament because there are a number of bad shepherds, were poor examples of faith and statesmanship, and that those are woven into the conversation that is happening in today's scripture. I also learned of the ecclesiastical or institutional church layer of apostleship, of the episcopacy of the bishop as a shepherd, with the shepherd's crook, the shepherd's staff, that the bishop carries.

Then there is Psalm 23, which most Christians might remember some portion of. And how Psalm 23 is really about God's deliverance of Israel being led into the Promised Land out of the Valley of Death and slavery, and how Christians have now interpolated that to speak to us of Heaven. And that's why this is so often used at our funerals services and our memorial services. And, of course, the Great I Am, the Good Shepherd, is the fourth in the seven different "I Am" statements. And lastly, that the Christians didn't invent the Good Shepherd, but, rather, it is a Greek notion of Kriophoros, the ram-bearer. The one who bears the lamb to the sacrifice. And what I can tell by looking at you is you are about as bored as that is boring, to go through that long list, and that we should name it. But then I come to this point. Right? Where the reality is that my childhood fascination with that good shepherd window and all of the jumbled gospel narrative gets mixed up in that deep theology, which does a good job of bearing all the very best stuff from the scripture, and as I was pondering all of this, I came upon this quote by an Episcopal priest and scholar, Robert Farrar Capon, and I felt as though he was talking about me and all of that theology when he says, "I don't like it." He says, "It is as if you have recently discovered two wonderful stimulants namely theology and white wine, and they have-- and that you have gone slightly ga-ga over both of them. True enough," he writes, "both thinking and drinking are delightful projects, with which to grace afternoon and enliven an evening, but as one who has kept a wine cellar since 1953, and a theology addict since well before that, I assure you," Capon says, "that neither of these repositories of my hopes ever quite delivered what I expected of them in my first enthusiasms." So, let us set aside for a moment everything that I and you have brought in this morning to our Good Shepherd story. And let us come to it again as Marcus Borg once said, let us take a look at it again as if for the first time. I think when we do that, what we find then is that there is great truth in these parables, in these sayings of Jesus that are closer to, if not nestled deep within the actual childhood understanding of the Good Shepherd but in a deep and powerful and terrible way. God and Christ Jesus stands as shepherd in our lives in a single solitary space as the gate, says John's Gospel. Upon the cross the Good Shepherd stands in our lives unmovable in good times and in bad. Its shadow no matter where we go always touches the hems of our garments no matter what we are undertaking. God's cross on Calvary, is the gate that opens to us in our green pastures and still waters and in our darkest valleys amidst of our enemies, heaven and God’s embrace.

God, as the Good Shepherd, Christ upon his cross is our rod and our staff. It is that which bridges Heaven and earth, God, and humanity. As Capon says, the content of theology is this fact of the cross and resurrection. I say the content of faith is this trust. 

What I have learned in the many years is that the world is filled with many other gates, many other sheepfolds and other shepherds and other ways, all of them promising deliverance in exchange for doing things. Jesus though, as gate and shepherd in his act of crucifixion and God's act of resurrection has put an end to all forms of religious exchange that promise you God's love if you will but behave. If you believe that doing the right things, thinking the right things, acting the right way, voting the right way, being the right person, all of that does not get you God's love and God's embrace. That is the truth of the God who stands as Shepherd at the gate. Being good and God will love you is a phrase that does not work on the Christian who holds the cross at the heart of their faith. No correct actions, speech, code of conduct is required at the foot of the cross on Calvary. No lightly bouqueted, religion chilled to our liking. It is free and it cannot be earned by you or by me. It is a single offering of God's love for us. The Good Shepherd, the God Shepherd on his cross has signaled the end to earning God's love and has opened for all creation a way to the other side where death has no victory, politics have no victory, and religion has no victory. The gate has been flung wide open, and it is held there by the foot of the cross. And you and I are free to enter. No matter by way of going the frequently-traveled or less-traveled road, no matter how we arrive, the high road or the low road. Regardless of arriving in good form and bad, we arrive, all of us. When the day is done and the last breath breathed, all of us arrive at the gate. And there, to quote Capon once more, is the "terrible goodness of it all" for everybody. And we will find ourselves safe in the power of God's resurrection. For He is the Good Shepherd, and He beckons us with His voice to come in, for all who come to Him shall be led and shall cross over into God's green pastures.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Let's Open Up Our Minds

St. Alban's, Austin 

St. Julian of Norwich, Round Rock 

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Bishop's Breakfast Club: A reflection on House of Bishops Spring Meeting 2017

I woke up this morning in a very cold, 18 degree, Kanuga cabin in North Carolina. I made my way to breakfast and ate with fellow bishops. This morning people left for home, board meetings, visitations, and all kinds of episcopal ministry. We just finished 5 days as bishops of the Episcopal Church. Our time together this retreat was an ebb and flow of worship, Bible study, reflections on "isms", and personal story telling. 

When I come back from a meeting of the House of Bishops people will ask, "How was the House of Bishops meeting?" 

You may not know this, when we gather, we gather in table groups. We will sit together, 8 of us, for 6 meetings. We mix up the tables every 3 years in conjunction with General Convention. My table is a bishop of the armed forces, a seminary dean, the pastoral bishop for the House, two Texans, an easterner, and a Mississippian. A little bit like the motley crew of The Breakfast Club. It's a good table and this week I got to listen to stories about growing up, adversity, poverty, and the various cultural contexts that formed and shaped our ministries. 

I am always reminded a bit of the movie the Breakfast Club. In the movie, a diverse group of people spend all day in a high school detention. They are supposed to write an essay for Mr. Vernon (the teacher assigned to Saturday detention) on the topic of "who they think we are."

"Dear Mr. Vernon:

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain... ...and an athlete... ...and a basket case... ...a princess... ...and a criminal.

Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

They of course are exactly the people they describe and more. You find out in the end that you had the same ideas about the group at the beginning of the movie as Mr. Vernon. Now though, after spending the day with them you see a diverse community with a variety of stories. 

I know some people don't understand and some may even think that the House of Bishops is drudgery or a bit like a mandatory sentence of detention. I think some come to our meetings hoping we will speak with one mind on important issues. Still others come hoping for retreat. I think another expectation is that we will debate the great theological debates of our age. And, still others hope that we will solve the problems they see before us as a church. I can't imagine the pressure on the planning committee to come up with something to please us all. We are all very different you see – not only in our expectations but in our stories.

I am struck with a bit of self-reflection today as I await my plane ride home. I feel privileged first to represent the good, hard working, visionary, and mission minded people of Texas to the wider group. I am so humbled by the gifts and work of my fellow bishops. The trials and tests so many of my fellow bishops face, and the grace by which they steer into the storm is amazing and awe inspiring in some cases. 

I love attending our meetings of the house because I have friends there. I enjoy my time because of the stories I get to hear. I think the fellowship and friendship and worship are the most important parts. The program is good too…but sometimes I think we in the west over emphasize the program to the detriment of relationship. I don't really need the meeting to be much of anything other than, as I learned in Alanon, a place where I might have to read something challenged, have the opportunity to learn something new, do something good for someone else, share the journey with an intimate group, and share a bit of gratitude for life and ministry.

I think if I were to draft my letter to "Mr. Vernon", I would say this:

Dear Mr. Vernon:

I accept the fact that as a bishop there are many sacrifices I make for ministry but attending the House of Bishops' retreats is not one of them. It is probably crazy to think that any of us deserve this privilege and honor or can explain why we get to be here. 

I imagine that as you look at us individually as bishops or as a collective house you will probably see us as you want to see us – as you imagine us… in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions: a brain... ...and an athlete... ...and a basket case... ...a princess... ...and a criminal.

But what I have found out, and we are learning about one another, is that we are more than bishops. We have families, we have stories, we have walked crooked paths, we have made pilgrim journeys, we have been despised – even hated, we are often dismissed because of color, gender, political stance, or language. We love our church and want to be part of the living mission of Jesus. We are excited to see growth and we grieve when we see death. We face the reality of institutional life  – but relish being a part of our clergy and parishioner families as they journey from birth, struggle to make it, celebrate the good, shed tears in the pain, and face death. We make these journeys together. When I leave the House, I leave it with a host of bishop colleagues behind me, praying for me, and supporting me. I too pray and support my colleagues wherever they may be. 

One of the most poignant moments in the movie is when they discuss if they pass each other in the hall will they say, "hello." Let me tell you that I love this house – the new bishops and the old. I am proud to call them friends and co-workers in the vineyard. I will always claim them as fellow pilgrims. 

One of the tag lines for the movie is: "They were five total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls and touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible." Same.

I am glad to be coming home. I miss my family and love my work in Texas. But as I do so, I am mindful I am not traveling alone. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 El mensaje de Cuaresma

 “Te ganarás el pan con el sudor de tu frente, hasta que vuelvas a la misma tierra de la cual fuiste formado, pues tierra eres y en tierra te convertirás.” 
- Génesis 3:19

El miércoles de ceniza miles de personas iniciarán un viaje que comienza con la imposición de cenizas en su frente. Estas cenizas nos recuerdan que somos polvo y que al polvo volveremos. El Miércoles de Ceniza marca el comienzo de la temporada de Cuaresma, tiempo en el que muchos en la fe cristiana participan en un período de autorreflexión y disciplina renovada espiritual para prepararse para la Pascua.
Estamos marcados con cenizas en forma de cruz como un recordatorio de que nuestra vida humana es defectuosa y que finalmente llegará a su fin. El Miércoles de Ceniza nos recuerda que seguimos a un Señor que murió por nosotrosy no sólo por nosotros, sino por el mundo entero.

La Cuaresma es una invitación para reflexionar inten-cio-nada-mente sobre nuestra propia vida y peregrinación con Dios. Durante la Cuaresma reconocemos nuestros pecados, nuestra completa incapacidad para sanarnos a nosotros mismos, y humilde-mente pedimos perdón a Dios y a los demás.

Durante esta temporada de Cuaresma, como su Obispo, los invito a ser intencionales acerca de decir no a conductas que les impidan profundizar su relación con Dios y con otras personas y adoptar un nuevo hábito santo que trae vida al mundo.

Tal vez quieran involucrarse más en su iglesia. O tal vez desean pasar menos tiempo en la iglesia para liberar energía para formar una nueva asociación y comunidad en el mundo. Tal vez, el compromiso de estudiar un libro en particular de la Biblia o un tiempo para la oración diaria puede apoyar su viaje. Tal vez Dios le está pidiendo que reserve un tiempo para conocer a sus vecinos y encontrar a Cristo en lugares inesperados.

Todo lo que elijas, recuerda: eres polvo, sí, pero polvo que es profundamente amado y amado ante los ojos de Dios, polvo que está siendo remodelado en algo tan hermoso y santo que apenas podemos imaginar.


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball