Friday, February 27, 2009

The First Friday In Lent

This morning I got up and headed out to run some errands before I sat down to work for the day. I was listening to a group not known for its Holy or appropriate lyrics, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was listening to Throw Away Your Television, one of my favorite songs. The lyrics are:

"Throw away your television time to make this clean decision master waits for it's collision now it's a repeat of a story told it's a repeat and it's getting old Throw away your television make a break big intermission recreate your super vision now it's a repeat of a story told it's a repeat and it's getting old[Chorus:] Renegades with fancy gauges slay the plague for it's contagious pull the plug and take the stages throw away your television now[Chorus] Throw away your television Salivate to repetition 'leviate this ill condition now it's a repeat"

I thought to myself about my lenten discipline and then I thought about the lists of things people are taking on and people are stopping in order to reconnect with God. Then I remembered one of my favorite disciplines shared by a friend in the Woodlands..."I am quitting Facebook for lent." I of course read this on Facebook, LOL...or laughed out loud. But thought that is a very current discipline.

Most of the time I hear people say they are giving up one of the following things: chocolate, sweets, alcohol, carbs, or some other such thing.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers and my Woodlands friend made me think though, what would be contemporary disciplines that you and I could give up in Lent that would make a difference in our lives and in our lives with God. If one of the essential works of Lent is to restore our relationship with God, restore the fellowship of the church, and restore our relationship with others what is really in our way?

So, I wondered, what what would it be like to give up:

the news
my cell phone
negative media messages

Each of these would give us more time to spend with living people. We would be more present with people if we weren't tied to our cell phones. We would be more available for ministries and for church fellowship. We would be more available to our families. We would actually have to interact with people to get information.

Maybe your lenten discipline is leaving you flat or you haven't chosen one yet. Why not try one of these more contemporary disciplines. Give up your connected electronic state and get connected in a different way.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Word is Living in our Midst

A striking image has stayed with me through Epiphany and seems a theme as I prepare to renew my discipline of life in the season of Lent. The image came from the Christmas readings and echoed as we listened to the story of John the baptist throughout the Epiphany season, it is from the first chapter of John's Gospel, verse 14: "The Word came and lived among us." This living, this dwelling, is described in Greek as like a tabernacle.

What a radical idea that must have been for the first listeners of John's Gospel. That the living Word came and lived out in the world as it had in the tabernacle. People, the first followers of Jesus and those living in John's community, certainly understood that God dwelled in the Tabernacle, in the Temple, in Jerusalem. But people were not acustomed to the idea that God came and dwelled out in the world. The message was clear the living Word was indeed out in the world. It dwelled in the person of Jesus and by his coming near to us it may dwell in us too.
The problem seems to me to be that it is so very hard to recognize the reality that this living Word is present with us and that we have the opportunity to be near it.

Gordon Cosby in Transformed by Grace describes for me this very same difficutly when he wrote "Christian growth is a movement from self to God; it is a progressive growing into a communion with God, into a friendship with God, until we come to the place where we are aware of God's presence…That which hinders us from knowing the reality of his presence is ourselves, our own lack of openness, our own unwillingness to belong totally to another - our resistance to the One who claims us totally for himself."

Today we seek out a tabernacled salvation in our investments, our securities, our plans for safety, our trusts, our work, or in the obviously distructive alchohol or drugs…believing each is our salvation, our key to peace. We convince ourselvs that each is our tabernacled truth. But they ar not, they are simply our own self-want and desires leading us further and further from God. We so easily get off track and when these worldly want-to-be's fail us we are dissappointed, fearful, anxious and sometimes surprised.

We are no different from the very earliest of Christians. They in their wisdom sought to radically make a shift in their living arrangements with God and chose intentionally to observe special seasons and days of devotion. They would repentent and fast. They would invite new members into the faith and join with them in renewing their lives in Christ. Those who had fallen away were given the opportunity to come home and be restored into the community of the faithful. Through this individual work the whole community was reinvigorated for the work of the Gospel and their mission of grace.

Lent is the time of the Christian year when we take upon ourselves the disciplines of the church so that we may overcome our innate tendancies to shut ourselves off from the God who claims us. It is a time when we fast and when we pray intentionally. We engage in repentance, which truly means a turning from the path that takes us away from the Lord's embrace into the arms of God's friendship.

I hope you will intentionally mark your calendar for Ash Wednesday, February 25th. Find a service of the imposition of ashes to attend. I invite you to make this a holy and life changing season. Try daily prayer again, fast on Fridays, change your life and habits that they may draw you closer to the tabernacled Word which is dwelling in your heart. Read and listen to scripture so that you may know how to be in the world and how you are to be a part of changing the world with Christ.

Take intentional and deliberate steps towards your Lord and Savior. Grow in communion with God and all those within his faithful community. Discover God's friendship with you and be transformed by his Grace.

Ash Wednesday: One is not a Christian alone

"'A Christian alone is no Christian.' And, I think the New Testament gives us every reason for thinking that a single apostle or disciple is no disciple. We cannot do these things alone, and that is why again and again in the New Testament, we find the Lord sending out his representatives and ministers in a group of companions." The Most Reverent and Right Honourable Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, God's Mission and a Bishop's Discipleship, 17-19 July 2008, p18

Someone gave me a copy of the remarks made to the bishops at the Lambeth Conference by Archbishop Williams. I began using the text with my daily meditations prior to my ordination as bishop and have continued to do so in these first months of my episcopate. These particular words of Williams' came back to me as I reflected on a comment I read: "you don't need to be a part of a denomination to practice Lent, in order to spiritually prepare for Easter." Actually I think this is true, anyone can prepare for Easter by practicing a discipline during Lent. Lent is not meant to be a solo journey.

The first Christians very much participated in self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and mediating on God's Holy Word so as to restore themselves. This much is true. But they did these things to restore themselves to the greater community and to restore the fellowship of the church!

I can certainly fast, give up something, or take on another, but this exercise in solitude does not reflect fully the incarnation of Christ in my life. I need others to join with me in this work. I am fasting, but I am fasting with a community of faith that is going through the same discipline at the same day of the week and at the same time of day. I will do the self-examination and repentance alone and then with a confessor, but that is so that I may live more fully with others and see Christ in them. I read and meditate on the Word of God each day in my personal prayer time. However, it is only when others share their ideas about scripture with me that my limited vision is opened up to the greater kingdom. Each discipline serves to renew my life in Christ, but it also serves to renew the community's fellowship and life as the body of Christ.

Sometimes it is actually easier to take on our devotions of Lent privately than it is to take them on publicly. We are not as accountable when we live our spirituality in private. And, the community does not benefit from the observance in quite the same manner. The Benedictine rule offers a sense of daily life ordered by common prayer, discipline, and work. It not only benefits but thrives from this manner of sharing. This year my Lenten discipline was written down and delivered to every home that receives the Houston Chronicle. There will be no anonymity for me this year!

I would offer something new to add to your discipline this year. Take on a discipline. Then tell everyone. Place yourself in a situation where you have to speak about it. Encourage yourself by keeping yourself accountable and encourage others by keeping your discipline and listening to theirs. Make this year's observance of Lent a communal discipline that the Church may be enlivened and enriched by your spiritual work.

Now some will counter that Jesus says to be careful not to practice one's piety in front of others so as not be a hypocrite. I couldn't agree more. The work of a disciplined Lent shouldn't be to bring attention to one's self. Your discipline should though bring you closer into community.

Most communities share anxiety like a virus. Lenten disciplines are a tool by which Christians rediscover hope; hope for one's life and hope for one's community. Remember Lent is about preparing for the resurrection on Easter morning. Imagine the hope that could be shared by contributing to the larger community your disciplined journey through Lent and what you learn as you walk your particular pilgrim way.

Deacon Ordination Sermon

The Ford Country Squire:
Everything is Created with a Purpose
Sermon on Mark 9.2-9
Last Epiphany B
Diaconal Ordination
C. Andrew Doyle

O Lord of the harvest, you entrust to us a share in the mission of Jesus. Place in our hearts the compassion of Jesus and on our lips the Good News of your kingdom, that, with our every word and deed, we may give as a gift what we have received as a gift, your grace. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

What are you created for?

There were Steve McQueen’s two movies The Getaway and the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair. There was the natural thriller: The Twister, about a F4 tornado that hit a drive-in movie theater. The lesser known movies are: Mac and Me and Two for the Road. Then there was James Bond’s Goldfinger, and Al Pacino’s Scarface. And, who could forget, or maybe who wants to remember, National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase. Each movie featured the same movie star, perfectly created for the role, perfectly created for the American road: the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon.

Born in 1950 and built by the Ford Motor Company until 1991, the Ford Country Squire was THE premium station wagon. This full-size wagon always featured imitation-wood trim (fiberglass and plastic appliqué) on the doors and tailgate. It could carry up to 9 passengers. The unique side-facing seats fitted into the cargo area were perfect for Tony Montana and his crew to tail a taxi in Scarface, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob to insure James Bond’s compliant trip to his lair, or keep the three Doyle brothers entertained throughout the endless hours passed on I45.

Certain versions, like my uncle’s, had an AM/FM-Cassette stereo with a combined and fully-integrated CB two-way radio, and dual-purpose automatic antenna. A folding table with integrated magnetic checkers board and secret lockable safe tricked out his top of the line family cruiser.

In 1966, all Ford wagons introduced the Magic Door Gate which broke all the laws of physics and astounded N.A.S.A. scientists by allowing the tailgate on the vehicle to function as a traditional tailgate that could be lowered, or a door that swung outward for easier access to the seating area. This state of the art space hatch made it easy to access my father’s homemade, four ton camping organizer made out of ¾ inch ply wood and installed in the cargo area for campouts.

The Doyle family never made it to Disney World to see Mickey Mouse. The Doyle’s did not own the Wagon Queen Family Trucker as did the Griswolds in Vacation. However, my parents did own the 1974 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. It smelled like boys, spilled Mr. Pibb and Tab Cola, melted Hostess Cup Cakes, stale New Fangled Pringles Potato Chips, and long pilgrimages to “family fun.”

All things are created with a purpose. The Ford Country Squire Station Wagon was created for the family pilgrimage.

The question is what are we created for?

There are two epiphanal events in Mark’s Gospel. The first is the baptism of Jesus by John. Upon coming out of the water Jesus alone sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending. And only Jesus hears the voice of God, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” This moment is only for Jesus and affirms his status as God’s beloved son: incarnated that all may come to know, love and worship God.

The second event is the transfiguration in our Gospel lesson today, chosen for the last Sunday in Epiphany, Mark 9.2ff.

Jesus, Peter, James and John have gone up to a “high mountain;” echoing the mountain top experiences of Elijah and Moses.

Before the disciples Jesus is transfigured and dawns dazzling clothes of white, the colors of Daniel’s Ancient One, and the color of those martyrs envisioned in the Book of Revelation.

There appears next: Elijah and Moses. They both had epiphanies on mountains at key moments in their ministry. Elijah feeling alone and fleeing into the country-side before he could be killed by authorities hears God’s voice tell him to return, and to call and anoint the two kings and Elisha to join him in his prophetic work. (I Kings 19.11ff)

Moses, having worked tirelessly experiences rejection at the hand of the Hebrews all for the desire of a golden calf. Moses returns to the mountain feeling alone and complains that God has not yet let him know who will go with him. God replies “My presence will go with you and be your partner in this work.” (Exodus 33.12ff)

Jesus comes to this moment after the essential proclamation of his mission: to suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Then he gives his call to discipleship, “If any want to become my followers, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus retires to the mountain as the proclamation of the cross turns Mark’s gospel from Gallilee where his ministry has had power and acceptance to Jerusalem where it will be rejected.

Peter misinterprets the whole thing believing it is about the holy moment of transfiguration and does not realize that this is a recreated moment along the way of Jesus. Elijah received companions to join him in the prophetic work of turning the people to God. Moses receives God’s very presence to turn the people to God. Who will join Jesus?

Remember in the very first chapter of Mark, God promises to Jesus to send a messenger ahead to prepare his way. Here Jesus again invites followers to join him and make his way known.

For here in this epiphany we the reader join Peter, James and John not as outside voyeurs but as participants in the journey. God does not speak privately to Jesus here as he did at baptism, but to us, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!”

We are created and called into being disciples to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. By God’s very words to us we are commissioned to listen and to follow. We are his partners, his companions, to carry the prophetic word to God’s people…to turn them…returning them to God’s loving embrace.

Jesus affirms God’s message to us. As we listen he instructs us that once we understand and have experienced the risen Son of Man, the risen Christ, then we must continue the work of proclamation.

The transfiguration story is not about affirming who Jesus is as God’s beloved Son, so much as it is about affirming who we are as followers along the way.

Christians for centuries listened to Jesus and followed him by taking up their cross, and losing their life. Jesus is depending upon God’s promise that we will be partners and companions along the way.

Christ was incarnated so that we might, through the cross and resurrection, come to know and glorify God.

We on the other hand are created that we might reflect and make known to the world God’s love that all might come to know and glorify him. We are to reflect the transfigured Christ to the World.

Deacons, what are you then created for? After all, today the church is changed and made new by your ordination. What are you created for?

If you are going to be deacons then you must do as Jesus instructed. Be a disciple who follows and emulates the actions of his master laying down his life for others. Serve; and in service find yourself redeemed and transformed; find Jesus there, the living Christ of God.

The actions that you manifest in the liturgy are icons to us all of the church’s own vocation to change the world.

When you hold the New Testament and proclaim the Gospel you do it facing the world outside the church re-calling the words, “Follow me” and “Take up your Cross.”

When you face the altar and pray the prayers of the people you bring the concerns, hurts, pains, joys and thanksgivings from the world into the church and lay them at God’s feet.

When you set the table you remind us of the abundance of God’s grace manifest in bread and wine and offered for all who come to Jesus’ table.

When you call forth the dismissal you send us into the world to proclaim the Gospel as prophets, leaders, and servants.

When we see you do these things, these things you have been created to do, our hearts are quickened and our souls are reminded that we too have been promised by the living God to Jesus as companions in his ministry to turn and return God’s people to his loving embrace. We see your actions and remember that we are to proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ and seek to serve Christ in all persons.

Yet if your ministry is only liturgical then you have simply set up booths or tabernacles that are mere shadows of an unfulfilled vocation.

Your proclamation of the resurrected Lord by action has to manifest itself in the world for the symbols to have meaning inside the church.

The church is a subtle mistress. She is all to eager to have you wear the collar, wear the vestments with your crooked stole, and have you serve in her sanctuary leaving the world behind, and binding your hands to the service of her own needs.

If you do not lay down the status the church is all to ready to give you and go out into the world to meet God’s beloved strangers then your proclamation of the Gospel will remain imprisoned in the book from which you read. The God you serve desires that all might come to know him and to experience his love for them. For the shepherd intends to call each stranger by name.

If you do not leave the comfort and the safety of the sacristy to hold the hand of the dying then your prayers offered on behalf of God’s people will only be names on someone else’s list. God intends to know every sparrow and to count every hair upon the head of his people.

If you do not leave the certainty of where the chalice goes and how the paten sits just correctly on the corporal on God’s table and meet the hunger of God’s people then his people will go unfed. For the God you serve intends to multiply loaves and fishes and call the multitudes to his banquet feast.

If you call for us to go out into the world and make Christ known, but stay behind in the shelter of the church the homeless will never find that place where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. For God intends to gather his people under the shadow of his wing.

Each of you discovered Jesus in your life and along your journey. Each of you found him along the way. Jesus was transfigured in your life and from that transfiguration you discovered your own calling to be deacons.

You discovered that you were created to be servants of the most high God, servants who make the symbols and actions of our liturgy more than words in the Prayer Book.

Last night we surrounded you and we each blessed you. Today I leave you with this blessing and charge. Phyllis, Tracie, Pat, Jody, Barbara please stand.

This blessing is neither unique nor new, I have no pride of authorship, but it is a good blessing for deacons and I hope it will serve you well in your ministry.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart and deep within God’s world.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, addiction, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them, and to turn their pain into joy.

And, may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

You are created to be deacons – and today we make it so --change the church and the world by your ministry.


  • "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