Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

And It Was Good . . . But Not So Much Any More!

God created the heavens and the earth and everything on it – and it was good (Genesis 1:1-25).

And then God created man and woman (Genesis 1:27) – to either “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) or “have dominion over all” (Genesis 1:28).

But, we, the people God created as part of His creation, have made a big mess of it. As world populations have grown, we have not been good stewards of our planet. We have polluted the air, dirtied the water, raped the earth, and removed essential elements without concern for replacement and renewal.

The American Indians and many other people remind us that the earth does not belong to us; we are to preserve it (Genesis 2:15) and pass it on to our children. We have a responsibility to preserve both the Earth and everything in it.

However, we have treated the earth like it belongs only to us; many animals are becoming extinct and whole areas of the earth are no longer suited to grow that food needed to feed the people of the earth. There are millions of people in the world who lack clean drinking water, others are starving to death due to constant war and living habits that strip the earth of its nutrients suitable for growing food. Major corporations are appropriating clean water to bottle and sell at exorbitant prices. Global warming, basically caused by human activity, is destroying the world’s eco-balance and eliminating thousands of miles of shoreline.

We are in the midst of a crisis of our own making. But not is all lost yet! Creation is a process that is still happening. We can choose to repair creation or destroy all that is being created anew.

There are many things that we can do to stop earth decimation:

1. Look at your carbon footprint

  • Use less fuel – walk instead of drive
  • Open the windows instead of turning air conditioning on
  • Choose less gas-guzzler automobiles
  • Support the development of clear alternative fuel sources

2. Go “green”

  • Use renewable/reusable products
  • Participate in your local recycling program
  • Boycott genetically-modified foodstuffs
  • Use cloth shopping bags (or paper, but not plastic)
  • Use locally-grown fruits and vegetables

We are stewards of this world we live in, and it is time for us to take this responsibility seriously. God gave us this earth and we must care it for so that we can pass on to future generations the beauty and bounty that was given to us. It is no longer someone else’s responsibility –

it is ours! and

the time is now!
 
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 April 2017

Are We the Wheat . . . or the Weeds?

Today’s Gospel is from Matthew 13:24-30. In it, Jesus tells another parable, one of his many stories that has special meaning. It says:

God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30)

Now, I come from a long line of Illinois farmers and I know the parable of the wheat and tares (or weeds) very well. Often the bags of wheat seed you buy to plant your wheat crop contain seeds from a type of rye grass, which when it sprouts looks exactly like wheat. In the days before weed killer that could target only weeds, we nieces and nephews were ‘hired’ to pull out the weeds in the wheat fields. Unfortunately, unless you waited until the plants were mature, you often also pulled up the wheat instead of the weeds, which, needless to say, did not make my uncles very happy.

This parable of Jesus’ is also about letting things sprout and grow until they show their true nature before you decide what to keep and let grow, and what to remove.

The farmer in this parable planted good seed; that is certainly what he intended when he bought the seed and carefully prepared the field and planted it. But something went wrong. Weeds suddenly appeared among the wheat stalks – robbing the wheat of rain and sun and nourishment. But the farmer was not surprised – anyone who buys and plants seeds knows that there are all kinds of other things in the seed bag. He also knew what to do to ensure that he had a good harvest.

Jesus’ disciples were troubled by the parable, and asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus told them – and us – that He, himself, was the one who was planting the good seed, and that the field where the seed was being planted was the world — the whole world. The wheat is those of us who follow Jesus’ teachings and try to live decent lives of love, services and justice. Jesus told the disciples that an enemy of goodness – or in reality – evil actions and thoughts that occur in our lives separate us from God. These evil things always get mixed in with the good seed. Jesus advised his followers to wait until the harvest to pull the weeds. That then, God would separate the good from the bad – the wheat from weeds – and the good wheat would be saved for the Kingdom.

Today you and I live in a world where good seed and bad seed co-exist. This world of ours is a great field, a field just waiting for good seed. But just as good seed is sown, so is bad.

When we try to eliminate every weed, we forget that we have weeds within us. Not only do the weeds and the wheat grow together in the same field; they grow together in our own lives.

There are no purely good people or totally bad people. As much as we love the old-time westerns where there were good guys and bad guys, and they were easy to tell apart by their black or white hats, the world just isn’t that way. We often judge others and their shortcomings, but we do not see our own quite so clearly.

We often make judgments about our community and those around us

  • this person is a liar;
  • this person is going to cause trouble;
  • that person is manipulative or bossy.

Sadly, it is human nature to judge and compare, but try to remember that the judgment of people should be left to God. This is what the parable is saying.

Don’t judge too hastily, don’t harm others in your zeal to rip out the weeds; wait until the harvest.

So, how does this parable tell us to live now?

The parable says to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest. Let them grow; wait until they mature. With the weeds, if you let them grow long enough, they show themselves for what they are. The early sprouts of a weed can look like the beginning sprouts of a wheat plant. It’s only with time that we are able to distinguish one from the other.

In this parable, weeds and wheat are not plants but people. And the good part of that is that as children of God, the weeds can change their nature. Someone who is viewed as a ‘weed’ can repent of those things that make them a weed to society and become a positive member of the Kingdom. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

There are times when we are all wheat – and then weeds. We change and grow.

Are you following the good parts of yourself or are you settling for the “weeds’ in you?

Don’t pull out the weeds.

Don’t judge others around you.

Instead, build up the community. Make sure you are not becoming a weed yourself! Be alert.

So, what are you?

Are you a

stalk of wheat. . .

or a weed?

As I look around you all, I see only a beautiful field wheat – you are all beautiful children of God.

Amen.
 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 July 2017

Here We Are, Lord

Today’s scripture continues the great commissioning of the disciples which started with last week’s gospel reading. Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He quickly realized that there was much more work to be done than He could accomplish by himself – that He would need help. So He began to select his apostles. The word ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles He selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and tried to become prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of like a ‘disciple school’. [They were now prepared to proclaim and spread the good news, just as Jesus had done.]

It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you didn’t have to be as pure as driven snow. None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, or well-positioned in the synagogue. And although Matthew does not tell us this, we also know from other scriptures that Jesus called women to be disciples. None of his followers had training to heal or preach before they met Jesus; none would have been considered persons headed for sainthood or martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus without looking back. What a motley crew they must have been. Scripture tells us that they didn’t even get along with each other; there was all kind of jockeying to be Jesus’ favorite. Some mothers even got into the act.

Let me remind you who they were:

Simon Peter, a fisherman, became the spokesperson for the group, although his impetuousness often got him in trouble. Although his faith always seemed to go from strong to doubt (remember he denied Jesus three times and almost drowned while trying to walk on water), Jesus called him ‘the rock’ on which the church would be founded. He spent his life after Jesus’ death evangelizing and eventually ended up in Rome and was crucified upside down for his faith.

Andrew, also was a fisherman and the brother of Peter, stopped following John the Baptist to join Jesus. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus, letting him step into the limelight as the apostles taught and converted people. He spent his life bringing people to Jesus and like so many of Jesus’ followers he was killed because he preached the gospel. History suggests that he was crucified on a cross shaped like an ‘X’.

James was one of the fisherman sons of Zebedee who followed Jesus. He is often called ‘James the Greater’ to distinguish him from the other apostle James. He and his brother John were known as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their loud voices and desire to punish anyone who slighted Jesus. James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred, killed with the sword on orders of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D.

John, the brother of James and also a fisherman, was called ‘the apostle that Jesus loved’. John obviously was one of Jesus’ favorites because he entrusted his mother, Mary, to him at his crucifixion. John is credited with writing the gospel of John, first, second and third John, and the book of Revelation. John continued to teach and preach against heresy until he died of old age, the only apostle who did not die for his faith.

Philip was one of the first apostles to be called, having left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. And he wasted no time calling others, like Nathanael, to do the same. Although little is known about him after the ascension of Christ, Bible historians believe Philip preached the gospel in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and died a martyr there at Hierapolis

Nathanael is thought to have been known as Bartholomew, who was introduced to Jesus by Philip and immediately recognized him as the Son of God. Although little is known about Bartholomew, legend has it that he preached in India and was crucified upside down.

Levi, who became the Apostle Matthew, was a customs official in Capernaum who taxed imports and exports based on his own judgment. The Jews hated him because he worked for Rome and betrayed his countrymen. But when Jesus said ‘follow me’, he did and became the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Legend has it that he traveled to Ethiopia and was martyred there.

Thomas, who we all know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ spread the gospel to the east after the death of Jesus and was martyred.

James the Less, son of Alphaeus, was called ‘the less’ to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. He is the least known of all the apostles – he is only mentioned with all the other apostles in the Upper Room.

Simon the Zealot has almost no mention in scripture except in lists of the apostles. Sometimes he is referred to as ‘Simon the Canaanite’, as we heard in last week’s gospel. His life before following Jesus and after the resurrection is a mystery – the name ‘zealot’ may refer to his religious zeal or that he was a member of the Zealots, an assassin group during that period.

Thaddeus or Jude is another one of the unknown apostles, only referenced in a list of the apostles. Some biblical scholars think Thaddeus wrote the book of Jude. Church tradition says that he founded a church in Edessa and was crucified there.

Judas Iscariot is probably the most infamous apostle, and not for a good reason. We all know the story of his betrayal of Jesus, followed by his suicide. There is some theological thought that Judas’ betrayal was part of God’s plan, but that is for discussion at a later date.

So those were the apostles that Jesus called to follow and help him throughout his short life on earth – rather an ill-assorted crew, people from all walks of life. But what it says is that Jesus can, and does call all kinds of people to follow him – people that would normally never be friends or associates, but were brought together because of their belief in Jesus and his message.

How little did those disciples know what lay ahead for them. Their path would be fraught with discomfort, persecution and often painful death. Yet, so intense and amazing was this man Jesus and their attraction to him that they followed Him anyway.

The apostles were told to gather the ‘lost sheep’ into the fold. Sheep without a shepherd are a foolish lot; they will wander off and not be able to find their way home. There is absolutely nothing more pitiful than a group of sheep with no one to lead them. Jesus commissioned the apostles to bring these sheep back to the fold, and He clearly gave them the power to do so. In Matthew 10:19-20 Jesus told them:

“do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time”

Today, as then, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls all people to know and be part of the Kingdom of God. So throughout the ages He has sent, and today He sends, apostles, prophets, evangelists, priests, deacons and teachers to go forth and preach His word.

And YES, he even sends YOU and ME!!!!

Each and every one of us is called to be disciples for Jesus. The word ‘disciple’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘learner’. We are called to be disciples when those three handfuls of water are poured over our heads in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we are brought into the family of Christ. We cannot escape – we dare not escape – that calling from the baptismal covenant. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the Gospel.

As Christians, we have a special responsibility to stop the church from becoming complacent and forgetting its commitment to God and God’s purpose in the face of struggles with changing demographics, budgets shortfalls, ecclesiastical protocols and Biblical interpretations. The church is, first and foremost, asked to build a community where one does not exist, or reinforce a community that is fractured. We are challenged to bring calmness and peace to the chaos of individuals’ souls and lives and to reach out and follow Jesus’ command to ‘feed my sheep’.

Just as the apostles were directed, we can learn to reach out to bring lost souls to the grace and salvation of Christ. As members of His body, it is up to us to do His work. And just as the apostles were varied and an unusual lot of people, so are we. Just as Jesus looked into their hearts and knew what they were capable of, so does he look into our hearts and knows us far better than we know ourselves.

Now, I expect some of you think that you can’t be shepherds to lost sheep, that you are not called to do the work of Jesus. We all have many excuses why we can’t be disciples for Christ:

  • We don’t know what to do;
  • There are ‘professionals’ to do this;
  • “It’s not my job”;
  • We don’t know what to say to people;
  • We are not good enough Christians to witness to others;
  • We are afraid.

So I ask you, how did YOU get to know the love and grace and salvation of God through Jesus???????

Didn’t someone gather YOU in like a lost sheep? Didn’t someone show you the grace of God and welcome you into the fold, regardless of who and what you are?

  • Was it a pastor?
  • A friend or family member?
  • A stranger who gave you love or hope?

The love of Jesus comes to us through the eyes, hands and hearts of everyday people, just like you and me. We are all called to be shepherds, to love and guide each other in the path of Jesus.

A visionary from the fourteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila, reminds us:

God has no hands but our hands, to do his work today;
God has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
God has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died;
And, God has no help but our help to lead them to His side.

You say you do not know what to do. God has equipped all with the tools necessary: Prayer!!

  • Pray for open hearts, ready to hear the hope in God’s love
  • Pray for the strength and courage to share that hope with others
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to work his power in the hearts of others.

The best evangelist is one who reaches those around them. Perhaps first learn to talk about your faith to fellow church members through study groups and witnessing. Through this you may then learn to talk about your faith to the disenfranchised and strangers. Most of all, be an example of the gospel message, then the needs, hurts and fears of the lost sheep will be made known to you.

Remember, God is love in this world!

This love is free and need not be earned and cannot be bought.

This love is complete and total, with no restrictions and no boundaries.

God sent His Son Jesus, to live as a man and die a most painful death as a man to teach us God’s love, to teach us that our ultimate fear – death – does not exist – Is not an end, but a beginning.

What good news indeed!
What great love!

This is the love that we can grow into and learn to give each other freely and without end.
We are reminded that we are all children of God. And no matter what happens to us, we will always be His children and He will always be there for us.

This, then, is our great commission: our great baptismal pledge, to live this love every day, to show it in every choice we make and to everyone we see. This is how we become his true disciples.

God will give us the tools,
God will give us the words,
God will give us the strength,
God will teach us.

A well-beloved mission song says:

(sung) Here I am Lord,
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Let us all become true disciples of Jesus, follow him and feed his sheep with love peace, forgiveness and joy!

Let us pray:

(sung) Here I am, Lord,
Here we are Lord,
Send the people of Saint John’s.

To do your work.
Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 25 June 2017

You Can Change Your Habits!

I ran across this story as I was working on this homily and want to share it with you:

“A bazaar was held in a village in northern India. Everyone brought his wares to trade and sell. One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail. He had tied a string around one leg of each bird. The other ends of all the strings were tied to a ring which fit loosely over a central stick. He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle, around and around, like mules at a sugarcane mill. Nobody seemed interested in buying the birds until a devout Brahman came along. He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life, so his heart of compassion went out to those poor little creatures walking in their monotonous circles.

“I want to buy them all,” he told the merchant, who was elated. After receiving the money, he was surprised to hear the buyer say, “Now, I want you to set them all free.”

“What’s that, sir?”

“You heard me. Cut the strings from their legs and turn them loose. Set them all free!”

With a shrug, the old farmer bent down and snipped the strings off the quail. They were freed at last. What happened? The birds simply continued marching around and around in a circle. Finally, the man had to shoo them off. But even when they landed some distance away, they resumed their predictable march. Free, unfettered, released . . . yet they kept going around in circles as if still tied.

The moral of the story is:

“Until you give yourself permission to be the unique person God made you to be . . . and to do the unpredictable things grace allows you to do . . . you will be like that covey of quail, marching around in vicious circles of fear, timidity, and boredom.” [1]

Our lives today are essentially the sum of our habits.

  • How in shape or out of shape are we? A result of our habits.
  • How happy or unhappy are we? A result of our habits.

What we repeatedly do (i.e. what we spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person we are, the things we believe, and the personality that we portray.

We all have gotten ourselves into ruts of behavior (or habits) that we don’t even think about . . . we just do. Take a minute and think about something that you do ‘because you have always done it that way’.

We need to look at why we established the habits in the first place. Habits generally get established because we get something in return for the behavior. We need to ask ourselves what kind of reward do we get when from the habit? Is the reward good or bad? Do we really want to keep the habit?

Habits are hard to break. . . anyone who has tried to stop smoking will tell you that. And there are other habits just as destructive to our health and well-being. But deep-seeded, habitual habits are hard to break.

Have you ever thought that you could climb out of that rut and change? It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in our lives. But, we all know that it is not easy to change a habit (ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking). Habits are so ingrained in us that we often don’t even know they are habits. And to change a habit is not easy, and can’t be changed in on fell-swoop. They have to be changed one little piece at a time.

Mark Twain once said:

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

So how do we break a habit?

First, we have to acknowledge that we have the habit. We can’t change something that we can’t or won’t name. After we admit we have that habit, we need to determine why we started the habit in the first place – did we start biting our nails as a child because we were afraid? Did we start cracking our knuckles to irritate the girls in our schoolroom? Whatever habit we want to change, we must first name it and figure out why we do it.

Secondly, we need to write it down – take a piece of paper and write ‘I will stop. . . . “ whatever the habit is and put it on the refrigerator, or bathroom mirror, or in your wallet, or anywhere you will see it many times during the day. This will remind you the desire to break the habit. Don’t’ say ‘I will try to stop. . .’ – be positive – we can break a habit if we really want to and are willing to expend the energy.

Another trick is to put a rubber band around your wrist, and every time you do the habit, snap the rubber band. Trust me. it won’t take long to remember to stop the habit. Or if you are a smoker, switch to Life Savers or gum when you feel the need to put that cigarette in your mouth. We only have so much room for habits, so replace that destructive habit with a good habit.

The last thing we need to do is forgive ourselves if we fall back into that habit. Habits are not changed overnight; some of them take months, even years to break. Be ready to forgive yourself when you don’t slip back into the old habit – changing is not easy! And EVERYONE has habits they would like to break.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Be kind to yourself. . . remember that God loves each and every one of us and we should love ourselves. Habits are not unsurmountable! We can overcome them!
 
 
[1]      Charles Swindoll, Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 2-7-05; http://www.preaching.com/newsletter/
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 25 Jun 2017

 

Who is God?

The last couple of weeks I have been talking about following Jesus and that the Holy Spirit has been sent to help us do that. But one of the things that is often overlooked, is

‘just exactly who is God’.

As I was preparing for this homily, I was thinking that we hear about Jesus and have a pretty good understanding of who He was and what his life, suffering and resurrection mean for us. And although the Holy Spirit is a bit of a mystery, we can accept that the Holy Spirit was breathed upon us to help us follow the teachings of Jesus. But it suddenly dawned on me that we never talk about who God is – probably the most important person – the creator of us all and everything that lives and breathes.

Little children often ask that question, ‘who is God?’, but by the time we reach adulthood, everyone assumes we know who God is – therefore no one talks about that. I think it is time for us to look at who we believe God to be and what God means to each one of us.

We hear in the story of creation in Genesis that the world and everything in it was created by God in only six days. Now, we don’t know what a ‘day’ was in the time before creation, but science has just proven that the earth is a little over 4.4 billion years old. So God, the creator, has been around for a very long time – since before the universe.

God is known by many different names; sometimes God is called ‘Lord’ – not in a political sense, but as a sign of ultimate respect.

Wikipedia defines ‘God’ as ‘the Supreme Being’, the principal object of faith and worship,’ all knowing’ (omniscient); ‘being every present everywhere’ (omnipresent); ‘having unlimited power’ (omnipotent) – after all, you would have to be pretty powerful to take nothing and make the world out of it – and ‘all-loving’ (omnibenevolent).

But, God has no gender. I have a bag that says ‘God is not a boy’s name’, which often causes a stir at some religious functions. But I believe, and theologians agree, that God is not a man, nor is God a woman as we often hear in feminist theology. The Bible says God is a spirit (John 4:24)—without physical form (not in a human body as we are). And, contrary to all the pictures we see of God, He is not a white man! God has no color, He is a spirit, formless – we normally see pictures of God as a white man because people needed something they could see. The picture we often see of God is an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud in the sky; the most famous of these depictions is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican – most everyone has seen this fresco and associated God with that depiction.

And in love (1 John 4:16), God created us in His image as we read in Genesis 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

What we do hear repeatedly in Scripture, and need to remember, is that we are all children of God, the same God, no matter what God is called. And we are all beloved children of God (1 John 3:2).

But that still doesn’t answer “Who is God?”

Let’s look at what the Bible says:

When Moses asked God who he was, God answered:

“I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14)

And later in Revelation 22:13:

“I am the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end”

In most faith traditions, God is the ultimate, the Supreme Being, the creator and sustainer of all living things, one to be worshipped.

Some of the things that we hear in the Bible about God is that he is:

just (Acts 17:31),

loving (Ephesians 2:4-5),

truthful (John 14:6), and

holy (1 John 1:5).

God shows compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3), mercy (Romans 9:15), and grace (Romans 5:17) to all his people. And although God may judge our behavior (Psalm 5:5), He always offers forgiveness (Psalm 130:4) – again and again as we stray from the right path.

God is a loving God. He cares about us; and always loves us, no matter what. And He sent Jesus down to help us learn how to live right. And by grace, even when we make mistakes, we are always forgiven. We know from the scriptures, that Jesus brought us eternal life, through his crucifixion and resurrection.

God is the ultimate Being in existence, perfect in power, love, and character. Since God wanted to share His love with others, He created people – us – spiritual creatures who can relate to Him. Because God is love, He wants us to love Him and love other people (Matthew 22:37-40).

That is the God that we know, who knows us and loves us, and the one we worship.

Let us pray:

Dear God, creator of our world and all that is in it, please grant us forgiveness when we don’t follow Jesus’ teachings, help us to remember that you created all people and we are commanded to love them as Jesus loved us. Help us to preserve your creation and live in love with all our brothers and sisters. Amen.
 
 

     Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 18 June 2017

Receive the Holy Spirit

Easter is over, but Jesus has not yet ascended to be with God. But the disciples know that He will be leaving them soon; He had told them that and they were afraid. He had been their teacher and guide; now he would not be there to tell them what to do.

And just as happened after the crucifixion, the disciples were locked inside a room, afraid of the Jews and even their own shadows. But we hear in the gospel of John:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22)

First, Jesus reassured the disciples saying:

“Peace be with you” (John 20:19)

He wanted them to know that everything was going to be alright; they were to go about teaching, preaching, and healing as He had taught them. We know from other passages in the Bible, that the disciples were not sure they could do what He has instructed them to do (Matthew 17:16-19). They did not believe they had the power. Then He blew on them and gave them, and us, the greatest gift of all: the Holy Spirit.

But what is the ‘Holy Spirit’? The Holy Spirit is, an energy, a power, that little voice we sometimes hear in our head when we are troubled or questioning what we should be doing. It has to be experienced, acknowledged, and kindled from within us like a holy fire. It is a guiding light, leading us in the way we should go to follow the teachings of Jesus. It is a spiritual light – not one we can actually see, but one that lives within us. . . we can feel it, but not see it. Saint Paul tells us

that God’s Holy Spirit is a mark of God’s ownership of us.” (Ephesians 4:30)

Each one of us belong to God; we are one of His beloved children. And to help us through life, through Jesus, we have received the ‘Holy Spirit’.

We experience the Holy Spirit at various times in our lives – often when we are troubled or depressed or at the lowest points in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit that comes and shows us what is real, not what we suppose or imagine, but what is ‘real’ in the situation we are in. The Holy Spirit is very important because it comforts and guides us so we can get through dark nights of doubt and despair. Although we may not identify it, the Holy Spirit comes into the lives of each one of us. Jesus promised he would send up an advocate, and the Holy Spirit is that reassuring force.

The Holy Spirit is there to remind us that God has told us He will never desert us. In the depths of the darkness or despair, never doubt or forget that. Remember that the resurrection of Jesus is real; Jesus said He would

go and prepare a place for each of us” (John 14:2-3)

and He has. When our time comes, we will join Jesus in eternal life.

If we just listen, we can be led by the Holy Spirit to do the things God has planned for us. It can be a guide, a counselor, advising us how to follow Jesus. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit will comfort us when we’re hurting, saying.

I will not leave you as orphans,” (John 14:18),

promising that the

the Spirit will bring us peace” (John 14:27).

But the Holy Spirit can’t do all the work for us. We are still responsible for doing our part—asking the Holy Spirit to show us the truth and teach us how to live. All we have to do is let the Holy Spirit enter our lives. Just listen to that small voice to follow the teachings of Jesus and have eternal life.

Let us pray:

Spirit of the Mighty, Gentle One, come upon me, anoint me.

I see the oppressed. I name them; I hold them close. Make my life into good news for them.

I see the brokenhearted. I name them; I hold them close. Give me gentle grace to bind up their hearts.

I see the imprisoned. I name them; I hold them close. Give me true words and deeds to release them.

I see the ruined cities. I name them; I hold them close. Make me a part of their building up.

Spirit of God, be upon me. I see my own ruins, my chains. Hold me close and set me free, that I may be your good news for others.[1]

Amen
 
 
[1]      Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, ‘Spirit, be upon me’, Unfolding Light
 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 4 June 2017