Archive | July 2015

“I Am A Human Trafficking Survivor & Here’s What I Want To Ask Christian Activists”

July 30, 2015 by Benjamin L. Corey

street prostitute(street prostitute crossing legs waiting for client in the night)
As perhaps many of you know, human trafficking is one of the issues I am most passionate about, and have had the chance to study it extensively over several years, both in the United States and India as part of my doctoral research. My research has largely been a phenomenology in human trafficking aftercare modalities, which will now be merged into my dissertation tentatively titled: “Is Everything Okay? A Theology Of Shalom In Human Trafficking Aftercare”.

Trafficking, of course, has become a front-page cause in the Evangelical Christian world (what Ruth Graham calls “Christian Cause Célèbre” in this informative piece Christians and Sex Trafficking). This has resulted in both net-positives as well as some negatives, something I hope my dissertation will speak to on both counts.

The largest deficiency of the Christian anti-trafficking movement is an all too basic one: the cause grew so quickly and became so popular, that many individuals and even Christian organizations are now trying to work within an issue they don’t fully understand, and are trying to help people they don’t understand. No mission can succeed if you don’t really listen to, and get to know the people you’re supposedly helping. And that’s what must change in the Christian anti-trafficking world. (Case in point: imagine becoming a missionary to India if you didn’t speak Hindi, never studied Indian culture, never met anyone from India, and the only information you had came from watching a couple PBS episodes on India or from listening to one, single, Indian guest speaker at a conference? That’s not how it works– but sadly is how ground-level missiology is often done by well-meaning but unprepared activists.) Not only is this unhelpful, in many cases I’ve seen it actively harming survivors.

This isn’t to broad-brush everyone. In the course of my research I found some Christian organizations who had a great philosophy and were doing an outstanding job. I also found Christian organizations that had near unlimited funding, yet had a 100% fail rate and couldn’t figure out why. Others were well intentioned, but working within a trafficking narrative derived from stereotypes about trafficking and the sex industry (they are not synonymous- voluntary work in the sex industry and work via force, fraud, or coercion are different), and hyped-up media programs, rather than listening to the real-life voices of workers from within the sex industry and trafficking victims. Too often, in my experience, many Christian anti-trafficking activists haven’t spoken or listened to a single survivor of trafficking beyond those survivors who travel speaking and selling books– and this, I believe, is the Achilles heel of the movement.

In light of that, I have invited a survivor of human trafficking to dialogue here on the blog, so the larger Christian trafficking community can glean from her wisdom– and perhaps begin a new era of listening and learning. Meg Munoz is the founder of Abeni in Orange County, California. Abeni exists to “create a safe, confidential place for those working in the Orange County sex trades, as well as those being domestically sex trafficked.” Meg worked independently in the adult entertainment industry for several years before being trafficked, so her time in the industry encapsulates a wide variety of experiences. She is also a personal friend of mine, and I’m honored that she’d take the time to sit down for some public dialogue together.

Today’s post will be part of a series I will be doing with Meg. Next week I will release a full-length interview where you’ll get to hear more of her inspiring story, and I will do a 3rd post (if there’s reader interest/participation) where I ask her your questions. Just use the contact form in the menu bar, type your subject line “Questions For Meg” and I’ll select a handful of audience questions for the third part of our discussion.

The first question I’ve posed to Meg is below. She has been kind enough to include links for further reference; if you are a Christian trafficking activist, please bookmark this post ) and set aside the time to read the resources she has been kind enough to compile for you.

BLC: “There seem to be a growing number of Christians, and a growing amount of Christian nonprofit organizations, focused on the issue of human trafficking. In my experience, far too many of these activists have never even sat down and had a discussion with a trafficking victim (or someone voluntarily working in the sex industry), which I find very concerning. If you could gather all of them into a single room, what would you tell them?”

Meg: Here’s what I’d like to tell them:

  • Please listen to and get to know sex workers.

For further reading, visit here: What Is Sex Work?)

  • Please educate yourself on the spectrum of sex work and why people enter the industry.

For further reading, visit here: Christian Response To Sex Workers

  • Please don’t continue to exclude us from conversations about our work, lives, and trafficking. You would never make public policy or other decisions about other groups of people without their input, so “Nothing about us without us” is incredibly reasonable.

For further reading, visit here: Reversing the Power Dynamics of Philanthropy

  • Please stop arresting and criminalizing us. How you treat everyone on the spectrum of sex work directly and indirectly impacts those who are being trafficked.

For further reading, visit here: Sex Workers and the City

  • Please stop telling survivors things like “We’re so glad you’re better now” or “You can do better than that’ or ‘You were created for so much more.” It implies judgment about our time in the industry and if we want/need to return, we’ll already know exactly how you feel about us and our work. You’re reinforcing stigma and shame, and confirming to us you aren’t safe.
  • Please stop protesting strip clubs and porn companies. You can’t say ‘I love you, but hate what you do’, then expect people to have all the feels and trust you when things get rough.
  • Please stop telling us we don’t understand our own experiences.
  • Please stop thinking rescue is the answer.

READ EVERY WORD OF THIS: Harmful Anti-Trafficking Efforts

  • Please stop blaming survivors for their inability to adapt to and thrive in unhealthy or unbalanced programs or services that don’t meet their holistic needs or support their long term development and success.
  • Please stop focusing on the ‘Is sex work right or wrong?’ narrative and start focusing on people. We are all entitled to rights, respect, dignity and protections. Please stop limiting human rights to those you simply agree with.
  • Please recognize that your legislative reforms, though well-intended, can actually hurt those you’re trying to help.

For further reading, visit here: Making Trafficking A Felony Might Hurt Sex Slaves

  • Please stop using shock value campaigns and images.
  • Please stop putting girls dressed as dolls in life-size boxes with bar codes.
  • Please stop showing white females with dark hands over their mouths.
  • Please stop showing girls handcuffed and crying.
  • Please stop sharing the faces and locations of those you’ve ‘rescued.’ You’re capitalizing off of our exploitation, potentially re-traumatizing people, and reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.

For further reading, visit here: Anti-Trafficking Efforts Fail

  • Please stop conflating sex work with trafficking, as there is more than one sex work/trafficking narrative. Not everyone is a victim, not everyone is a pimp.
  • Please stop pushing Jesus at every turn. Some of our greatest hurts or abuses may have come from people in the church or those in spiritual authority. For some, it’s like salt on a wound.
  • Please stop treating mental health issues like spiritual ones.
  • Please stop making Bible Studies, prayer, church attendance, and spiritual exercises a mandatory component of your programs/services. Bible verse may be soothing, but for trauma survivors grappling with many issues, they can be a band aid on a bullet wound.
  • Please stop using the images, stories, and labor of those you’re helping. It often creates a sense of obligation, is exploitive, potentially re-traumatizing, and recreates unbalanced and unhealthy power dynamics similar to that of the pimps they may have just left.
  • Please stop watching exploitive, inaccurate, and misleading reality shows like ‘Slave Hunter”, “Sex Slaves’, and “8 Minutes” – Be a critical-thinking consumer and refuse to consume exploitation framed as education or awareness.

For further reading, visit here: Sex Workers Project Asks MSNBC To Pull Show On Sex Slaves

  • Please start questioning numbers, narratives, and policies – There’s always more than one perspective and numbers can not only mislead, but tell many different stories.

For further reading, visit here: Is One Of the Most Cited Statistics About Sex Work Wrong?

  • Please care and do more about gender inequality, racism, LGBTQ rights, socio-economic reforms, the prison system, immigrant rights, mental health, and other social justice related realities because that’s where real anti-trafficking work is rooted and starts.
  • Please stop demonizing us and treating us like we’re to blame for trafficking.

For further reading, visit here: Alaska’s Prostitution Law Isn’t Working

  • Please stop cheering for Rahab, but chastising those who are currently working in the industry in ANY capacity. Rahab was unapologetic about her work, did amazing things, didn’t leave the industry, AND was part of a pretty kick-ass family tree.
  • Please stop railing against the porn industry while shopping at *fill in the blank*, buying imported seafood, eating $1 lettuce, getting cheap manicures and massages, eating at McDonald’s, refusing to support a higher minimum wage, voting in mandatory minimums for anything, remaining silent on tuition increases, and fighting reproductive rights. If you’re going to have moral biases, please address systemic issues before attacking those trying to survive within a system they didn’t choose, but have to live and try to survive under.

For further reading, visit here: From Brothel To Sweatshop

And that’s what Meg would like to ask today’s anti-trafficking activists. Be sure to come back next week when we cover Meg’s personal story, and see how she answers the question, “What can we do to reduce human trafficking?”

The Finest Example Of Forgiveness

As weeks have passed since the massacre of nine Americans at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I have been reading and listening to the victims’ funeral services and their families’ comments about their loved ones. The families, amazingly, have all offered repeated statements of forgiveness and love to the alleged murderer . . . something that I find astounding and heart wrenching.

While suffering the greatest sadness and loss, these friends and relatives have offered sincerest forgiveness to the one who brought so much suffering! I am reminded of Jesus’ word on the cross:

    “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Truly people of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church are living the greatest teachings of Jesus.

Nine dead at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. The horror of it – the useless loss of life – of devoutly religious and good people studying the Bible on a Wednesday. . . nine kind and gentle people who invited a young white male in to study and pray with them. A young man, it turned out, who was so deeply troubled and influenced by an environment of ignorance and bigotry, that he felt it was his duty to right some of the ‘wrongs’ of the world. . . to murder a group of people he had been indoctrinated to believe were evil and a threat to America as he felt it should be.

When the relatives of these people slain inside that historic African American church in Charleston, S.C., were able to speak directly to the accused gunman at his first court appearance, one-by-one, they did not turn to anger, but instead they offered him forgiveness and their prays for his soul. And in so doing, they stopped cold any mass demonstrations, violent recriminations, or weeks-long expressions of anger and bitterness that other like murders have produced in other locations.

In the midst of what was probably the most devastating thing that had happened in their lives, the faith and belief in the true teachings of Jesus about forgiveness was so strong with these Christians that they had the love and fortitude to say:

    “I forgive you”.

They witnessed that their lives and families were built on love; they had no room for hating so they had to forgive, and pray for this tormented youth’s soul.

Personally I am still struggling with whether, if I were in their place, I could be so forgiving. I am not sure that I could live out Jesus’ teachings and example if that were my wife or my aunt or my child. And I’ll bet that many of you question whether you could be so forgiving also. Forgiveness is not easy to do; it runs counter to our culture and human nature. When we are hurt or injured or angered, our instinct is to hurt back, to take revenge.

Where do we turn to gain some understanding, some solace, some relief from the grief of the horrific and cruel things that happen to us? We might turn to the words of Mark 11:25,

    if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you

Yet, how can I truly follow these teachings in the face of so much evil and meanness in the world? From the school shooting in Columbine, or the movie theater in Colorado, or the Sandy Hook School shooting, and the senseless killings of so many black young men and women by our police, how can one believe it possible for the Kingdom of God to ever come on this earth?

How can one hope to believe that God’s will can ever be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’?

As we seem surrounded (and are participants in) daily murder, violence, and cruelty throughout the Middle East and in much of Africa, how can one believe it possible for the Kingdom of God to ever come on this earth?

In personal as well as public concerns, I wonder how I can come to learn and live true forgiveness in my heart. It is not easy; we may desire to forgive in our heads, yet forgiveness must come from our hearts.

There are several steps we can take to work toward forgiveness:

  1. We must be able to articulate clearly what happened and why it is wrong. . . to ourselves . . . to  our children . . . to our friends and neighbors
  2. We must find the right perspective in our hearts about what is happening in the world.
  3. We must realize that the act of forgiveness does more for us, than for those we are forgiving; the  act of truly forgiving wipes away the anger, resentment, and soul-destroying hate from us and bring peace where there was chaos.
  4. We must not only forgive but forget. We must truly ‘move on’. Carrying any remainder of the  wrong allows it to continue to fester in our hearts and poison our lives, and the lives of those around us.

It involves letting go in a way that frees both parties from grudges and guilt. True forgiveness involves more than saying the words. The phrase “forgive and forget” is often used because without forgetting, there is no true forgiveness.

Practicing full forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and empathy. Practicing forgiveness also leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health and brings us to an attitude that opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.

Still, I have to admit, I am not there yet. I am trying to follow the examples of the families of the saints massacred at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church and offer forgiveness to that misguided young man, and to all who do evil and violence, but I am not completely there yet. My heart still feels grief and a desire for some punishment and revenge. That is not the answer! Just like some of you, I must continue to remember Jesus’ instructions and empty my heart of anger and hatred, and forgive this tortured soul who felt compelled to murder the very people who had offered to him only love and acceptance.

In this world torn apart with racism, violence, hatred and bigotry, we as a people have no other means but forgiveness to change the world. Forgiveness is a concept that takes power away from the those who hate and harm and invites them into right relationship. We have no future except for forgiveness. This is true not only for large public acts of violence and hate, but for all the small, tedious, and spirit crushing acts of cruelty and unkindness that occur in our lives on a daily basis.

We must remember the example of our Lord Jesus, who on the cross, asked forgiveness for those who crucified him:

    “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)

Make no mistake. . . we are called daily to usher in the realm of God through one phrase, “I Forgive You.”

Come Rest A While

Mark 6:30-34

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to do something unusual. And, I believe, he often tells us to do the same thing. What we hear in the Gospel was:

    The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:30-31)

In other words, he told them to ‘take a break’, and devote some time to being, rather than doing.

And I believe that He tells us the same thing:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

He tells us to ‘take a break’, be by ourselves and rest.

We live in a world where everything is frantic – we have meetings upon meetings, obligations that we don’t necessarily want to do, but feel compelled to do, a ‘to-do’ list that is longer than our arm. We find ourselves mentally and physically exhausted. Yet we don’t rest. We may even believe that we cannot or should not rest. There is just too much to do. We push ourselves in a way we would never push anybody else. We feel something is wrong, that we don’t know what, and sometimes we even feel cheated. There is no time for ‘us’.

More often than not, we ignore Jesus’ command to rest. We want to follow Jesus and His teachings, but when it comes to Jesus telling us to take a break for a while we simply ignore Him.

To us, ‘doing’ is what following Jesus means.

Jesus has his reasons for telling the disciples to rest. They have just returned from a mission; He had sent them out in pairs and in haste They were not take nothing with them, but simply trust local hospitality to meet their needs. They were not to linger where they were not wanted. They were to be on the move, calling people to repentance, casting out demons, anointing the sick (Mark 6:7-12). It was work they had never done before, and once they returned, they must have been exhausted.

The disciples had returned from their travels and already there were people gathering to be ministered to. They weren’t even going to be able to stop for a minute and eat.

Jesus listened to the disciples as they reported on all they had done and taught on their mission. He did not, however, tell them to get moving and do more work. He didn’t ask them to do something difficult and dangerous, big and brave. Instead, what He asked them to:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Jesus also invites us to rest, yet we treat rest as a four-letter word. If people are resting, we may be suspicious of them; if we are resting, we may think we are slacking off. There’s always more to do, more things we think we ‘should’ do. But Jesus says:

    “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)

I bet most of you can recite your calendar for what you did last week, and what you have to do in the coming week. I know, for me, last week I

    • Had lunch with girl friends in Granville 
    • Had dinner with friends 
    • Went to a breakfast meeting with community leaders
    • Attended a Staff meeting on the other side of town 
    • Met a friend for happy hour 
    • Attended an all-day training at the Columbus Police Academy 
    • Got my hair cut
    • Oversaw a wedding rehearsal which lasted way too long 
    • Ate too much at the wedding rehearsal dinner
    • Provided pastoral care for a friend whose spouse is in the hospital 
    • Finished this sermon
    • Shopped for a wedding gift
    • Got my nails done 
    • Shopped for In The Garden 
    • Attended an Egyptian Coptic wedding 
    • Went to a pre-party and Shakespeare play in Schiler park 
    • Had drinks with friends flying through Columbus 
    • Served two services in Worthington 
    • And then came down here.

I don’t even want to think about what next week is like!

I wonder why we don’t have routines that ensure we have time for ourselves? Why we don’t feel that we have ‘earned’ that rest?

But we can take steps to establish rest time; build into our lives times of rest and solitude to balance out the other busyness. When we start getting some rest, our life becomes more significant, more meaningful than it was when we were always on the go.

This ‘rest’ doesn’t have to be going away from everyone; we can create a mental space where we ignore all outside interruptions. . . we can go sit on a bench at a park, or in a corner of a library, whatever removes us from the bustle of the mad world we live in. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive or solitary. We just need to get our spirit, our soul, into a place of calm, quiet and rest. We need to clear our minds of all the disturbance to peace.

We need to remember that Jesus tells us to ‘take a break’, have a rest so we are re-energized. After all, you can’t ‘smell the roses’ if you never stop long enough to see them and get near them.


Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 19 July 2015

What Are We Thankful For?

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. One day in which we like those early Pilgrims set aside time in our busy schedules to give thanks to God.

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once.

This story doesn’t have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won’t ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say “thank you” to Creator for all their blessings.

Religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load in 1620, after hearing about the riches in the northeast. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young natives for slaves and killing the rest.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their “victory”, the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with as many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre.

George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre.

Later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday, a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

The Puritans (Pilgrims) were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the “Chosen Elect” mentioned in the book of Revelation. They believed in the imminent occurrence of Armageddon and hoped to establish here in the new world the “Kingdom of God” foretold in the book of Revelation.

So they came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but in a hundred others as well, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build their prophesied “Holy Kingdom.”*

Not at all like the stories we have been told for as long as we can remember.

But regardless of the reason for the celebration of ‘Thanksgiving Day’, through the years we have continued the tradition of gathering with family and loved ones, celebrated with a big meal, and remembered that all this bounty comes from the Creator.

Here at In The Garden we have many things to be grateful for:

    • This space where we gather each week 
    • The community that we have established in the last 7 years
    • Those members of the Core Team who donate their Sundays to be a part of the community 
    • Those volunteers who provide the hot, nutritious meals for us each week
    • The Ohio State University Muslim Student Association who fasts for one day in order to provide  sack lunches 
    • The love and concern for each other we feel as a part of the community
    • The diversity of faith communities who feel called to do this much needed ministry.

If we think about our own lives, we have many things to be thankful for, starting with our family and friends.

What are you thankful for?

(Pause of members of community to tell what they are thankful for)

You will find the words to the hymn We Gather Together at your tables. Let’s sing this together.

    We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
    He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
    The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
    Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
    Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
    Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
    So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
    Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
    We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
    And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
    Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
    Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Let us pray:

Our Father in Heaven, We give thanks for the pleasure of gathering together for this occasion. We give thanks for this food prepared by loving hands. We give thanks for life, the freedom to enjoy it all, and all the other blessings in our lives. As we partake of this food, we pray for health and strength to carry on and try to live as You would have us live. Amen.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH

*Blitzer, Charles, “Age of Kings,” Great Ages of Man series, references to Puritanism, pp. 141, 144 & 145-46. Also see Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America, references to Puritan human motives, pp. 4-6, 43- 44 and 53.

Do I Have To Love “THOSE” People!?!?

Matthew 22:35-40

Last week we heard about the Pharisees, officials of the Temple, and the Herodians, supporters of the Roman emperor, trying to catch Jesus in a trap about whether the Jewish people should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus did a mighty fine job of turning the tables on them by saying

    “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21)

This week the Sadducees, Jewish people who only believed in the law and not religion, joined the Pharisees to try to trap Jesus once again so that he would be removed from the picture. Like the Herodians and Pharisees, this is another strange alliance between people on the opposite sides of religion and law, but with a common purpose. Conspiracy makes strange bedfellows!

Once again , these two groups confronted Jesus with a question that they hoped would seal is fate:

    One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:35-40)

Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question has been called “The Great Commandment”.

Simply put, The Great Commandment states that we are to love God and to love people.

That’s it!

Jewish scholars had determined that there were 613 commandments in the Law; there were 248 commandments which defined what you should do, and 365 defining what you should not do. Let’s face it, almost NO ONE could keep track of all of these, let alone make sure they did what they were supposed to and didn’t do what they were not to do.

And then there were the Ten Commandment.

But Jesus changed all that – he boiled all those laws down into two commandments:

    ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)

And the second is like it:

    ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

That was Jesus’ message to the religious authorities. He said “Sometimes you have to forget the 613 commandments and do the right thing.” “Sometimes you have to forget your principles and do what is right: LOVE.”

Jesus’ final word was and will always be LOVE.

    At his arrest

    At his trial.

    At his crucifixion.

    At his resurrection.

    At his ascension.

His final words were always about loving God and extending God’s love to others, especially those hard to love.

Do you love God . . . Do you really love Him? If you do . . . SAY IT, MEAN IT, SHOW IT.

Say it with your words, mean it in your heart and show it with your actions. After all, that’s what God did for us when He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross.”*

How do we show our love for God? Let me count the ways. At least three ways:

    • Treat with respect the things of God, including His name;
    • Spend time in His presence in prayer and worship; and
    • Live the way God wants us to live.

But God’s love is not passive; we don’t just sit around and bask in the love of God. We have to do  something with that love. We must love others for the love that we have received.

That means we have to love:

    • That horrible uncle you have in your family who hates church and those Christian do-gooders…
    • That irritating old aunt you have in your family who is always sticking her nose where it does not  belong…
    • That Christian who always finds wrong in ANYTHING and everything that is going on in the  church…
    • That lady in the church who never has anything good to say & constantly tries to stir up gossip  and trouble…
    • That person on your block who drinks too much… who curses too much… who may be obnoxious  and hard to deal with…
    • That ‘floppy-Bible’ preacher who assures you that you are a horrible sinner and condemned to Hell.

Jesus is calling us to love ALL these people!

This is NOT easy, in fact it is nearly impossible, but if we focus on our loving God, He will help us to love those who are hard to love!*

God had called us to love Him.

God has called us to love one another!

This is how we know what love is : Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…..

    Dear Children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).

Quite a challenge isn’t it?

Unless we have a true, faithful love for God, and an earnest love for our fellow human beings… our words of faith are worthless… our witness for Christ is worthless…

LOVE is what makes it all work!


Delivered to In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH

* From Cited by Brian Johnson,

Our Tongues Can Be Lethal Weapons

In the book of James, we hear:

    People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

We hear that the tongue can never be tamed, but I don’t believe that.

Our tongues can be used for many things: some good and some bad, some nourishing and some detrimental. Let’s look at some of the ways we use our tongue.

Too often our tongues are used for gossip.

Just exactly what is gossip?

    Gossip is second or third hand information that someone dumps on you without you asking for it, or without the person being gossiped about knowing about. Gossip can be true, but is usually partially true, or completely false. It is always negative personal information about another that puts them in a bad light, even if the gossiper has good intentions.

Then there is slander.

What is slander?

    The Bible defines slander as ‘speech that is harmful to a person’s name and reputation’. It’s essentially character assassination . . . the act of smearing someone. Gossip and slander color people’s perceptions of an individual unfairly and unjustly without their knowledge or consent.

One major component in gossip and slander is that the person being torn down is out of the loop.

Gossipers and slanders do not speak directly to the one they are demeaning – because they know their motives are destructive.

Think about sometime that you have heard gossip about someone and their hurt when it finally got back to them. Did you ever think how deeply a person and their family could be hurt when someone attacks their character without their knowledge or consent.

Why do people gossip about others?

    • They may be suspicious of the motives of others 
    • They could be easily offended (thin-skinned) 
    • They may be envious and jealousy 
    • They may continue to believe the worst about others 
    • They often judge others for misbehaviors they are prone to 
    • Becoming the Holy Spirit for others 
    • They may use others as a scapegoats to get out of sticky situations 
    • Often they tear down others so that they look better*

It seems that most people who spread gossip never think about this. Nor do they realize that what they’re doing is gossiping. (Some people, who intend to smear another person, in fact do know exactly what they’re doing. Others, naively spread gossip without realizing what sort of destruction it brings in the lives of others.)

Here’s a tip: always evaluate people based on your own first-hand experience with them, not on what someone else tells you about them. And remember:

    Treat others the way you want to be treated. (Luke 6:31)

No one wishes to be the subject of gossip. If you hear someone gossiping about another, never pass along anything that will hurt them.

So what should we do if we hear gossip about someone else?

First, we should consider these questions:

    • Would I want someone talking about me like this?
    • How would my family feel about this?
    • Would I want someone talking about my spouse, my mother, my father, my children, my best friends?

Most people don’t think about this when they hear or spread gossip about another individual.

If someone begins to say things that put another in a bad light, we have a responsibility to interrupt such speech and tell them we want no part of the gossip. If an email containing gossip is sent to us, we should disregard the content (that’s what the delete button is for!).

Plus we should go to the person being targeted and make them aware of it. Think about it: If someone was spreading something negative about you, would you not want to be made aware of it?

Have you ever noticed that gossip that tears others down travels like a brush fire, but news of good things about a person seems to move along at a snail’s pace? Why is it that we often immediately believe and embrace negative assessments of people, but good things about a person are not believed?

Gossip is like poison that once someone drinks, they cannot get out of their system. And it always separates people. Even close friends and loved ones. Gossip not only damages the person being gossiped about, but it also damages the person hearing the gossip and the person passing along the gossip, for it causes them to judge the other unfairly.

But our tongues can also be used to praise people.

How many times have you said something nice about someone?

How many times have you told a person they looked nice?

How many times have you acknowledged to the person that they did something to make the world a better place?

How many times have you told someone that you really liked them and wanted to be their friend?

How many times have you said ‘thank you’ when someone did something for you, no matter how small?

This is what we should be doing with our tongues – praising people and raising up the goodness in the world. We can bring peace rather than contention – just by what words come out of our mouths!

In Ephesians 4:29, we are reminded:

    Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.

How are you going to use your tongue for today? Tomorrow? This week?

Are you going to build up people or tear them down?

What would you like to hear about yourself?

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, Your Words only reflect wonders; help us respect others, that we may never gossip against anyone. Let us remember that we are all beloved children of God and worthy in your eyes. Help us to use our tongues only for good, not bad. Amen.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 7
September 2014

*Marsha Fisher, “Accusation,” Be In Health Conference, April 29, 2008, Thomaston GA

What If Things Don’t Change?

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Last week I preached about this being an opportunity to make a fresh start in this new year. About how we can choose to put the past behind us and look forward to a ‘fresh start’ in this new year. That we can control how we see and approach things with new eyes and a positive attitude.

But, as we know, much of our world is in a constant state of change. And, there are some things that never change:

    • Sometimes the treatment for an illness does not work and the patient does not get better.
    • Sometimes the prodigal son or daughter does not come home.
    • Sometimes our working conditions do not improve.
    • Sometimes the attitude of others stays the same.
    • Sometimes our marriage or relationship still falls apart.
    • Sometimes our finances do not improve.
    • Sometimes the division within a family cannot be mended.
    • Sometimes our broken hearts cannot be healed.
    • Sometimes the grief does not end.
    • Sometimes our loneliness does not stop.
    • Sometimes the disappointment is too great.
    • Sometimes the person does not forgive you.
    • Sometimes children continue to be neglected, abused, kidnapped, ignored, aborted and
    • Sometimes crime continues to rise: robberies, home invasions, abductions, murders, and rapes.
    • Sometimes no matter how hard or how much you pray things do not change.

When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane before he was handed over to Pilate, He

    fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26:39).

Paul struggled with Satan whom he called a ‘thorn in his flesh’. He wrote in Second Corinthians,

    Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

So, what do we do when things don’t change?

So, what do we do when things don’t change?

When Jesus realized that nothing was going to change he said,

    Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).

When Paul realized nothing was going to change he wrote:

    Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

When things do not change:

    • Hang on to God.
    • Surrender to His will.
    • Rely on His strength to get you through.

God’s love for his children NEVER changes. He will always love us. We can always rest in his arms and in the power of Jesus.

Think about that poster with the little kitten hanging onto a branch for dear life. . . God’s message is the same.

So when things look darkest and we are discouraged and hanging on by a thread – Hang on to God!

Let us pray:

Dear Father, If you limit me, inflict pain on me, cause me to struggle and cry out for relief, let me come back to trusting you. Your grace is sufficient for me. Your power is made perfect in weakness. In the name of him who is my strength, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Delivered at In the Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church, 16 Jan

Don’t EVER Give Up!

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

    But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

I know there are times when all of us feel overcome by problems and feel like quitting. I know because I’ve been there, and it is not a very pleasant feeling. . . feeling like everyone and everything is determined to make you fail. Nothing seems to go right and the harder you try, the worse things seem to get. You just want to give up and go crawl in a hole somewhere.

But Don’t Give Up!!!!

In the darkest hours, we need to remember Jesus suffered his trials and tribulations, but he didn’t give up. And no matter how bad we think we have it, I doubt any of us will be crucified on a cross.

We will get through this. . . with a little faith.

When I was on the path to ordination, there were lots of hurdles put before me that other candidates did not have. Was it fair? Probably not. But I kept plugging along, knowing that it was going to work out.

I did not give up, although it would have been a lot easier on me and those around me if I had. But then I wouldn’t be here today before you in a collar if I had.

Today I thank God for the courage to keep going, not knowing that God was allowing trials to strengthen my faith and to help me grow.

And as much as I hate platitudes, I have to say ‘what didn’t kill me made me stronger’. I know my faith is stronger and I am better equipped to minister to the church and the world.

If you feel like giving up and quitting, perhaps the following poem will encourage you to hang in, hang on, but never hang up when the going gets tough.

    Don’t Quit!!!
    When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
    When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
    When the funds are low and the debts are high,
    And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
    When care is pressing you down a bit,
    Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
    Life is strange with its twists and turns,
    As every one of us sometimes learns,
    And many a failure turns about
    When he might have won had he stuck it out.
    Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
    You may succeed with another blow!
    Success is failure turned inside out –
    The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
    And you never can tell just how close you are,
    It may be near when it seems so far.
    So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
    It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit. (Anonymous)

I also like a quote that Rev Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim California has used:

    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Or as the title of one of his books says, Tough Times Never Last. Tough People Do.

God never forsook the Apostle Paul or Jesus, who faced incredible trials and opposition. And he will never forsake you or me as long as we place our trust in him.

Let Us Pray:

Dear God, thank you that you will never forsake or abandon me. Please help me always to put my trust in you and your faithfulness regardless of my circumstances, knowing that in the end my faith and trust in you will be justified. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Delivered at In the Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 23 January 2011

The Parable Of The Just Steward

Luke 16:1-13

As you might have noticed, we have been reading a lot of parables from Luke in the last few months; this is Year C in the Episcopal lectionary. . . the year of Luke. And Luke seemed to concentrate on Jesus and his parables as teaching tools. We started out with some gentle parables and have progressed to some that have more substance to them. I often wonder if the tone of the parables becomes harsher because Jesus is tired of having to answer the same questions all the time.

The name of this parable is the unjust steward. . . a steward being someone who has been given the authority to oversee something for someone else. In other words, a servant – even though a steward may have control over other people and resources, he is still a servant/manager to the master. Stewards can be responsible for the house or the fields, but still have to answer to the master.

Can you see the parallel between the master (Jesus) and the steward (us) in our everyday lives. Are we not responsible for ourselves and our families, but ultimately answer to Jesus and God?

In this case, it has been reported to the master that the steward is skimming from the bottom – is a dishonest man. . . he appears to be lining his own pockets. It is interesting that owner asks for an accounting but also fires him at the same time. Obviously something had been going on, because the steward immediately plots his ‘revenge’.

The steward realizes that he no inclination to go work in the fields; he has had a pretty cushy job and really doesn’t want to resort to manual labor. And his dignity won’t allow him to beg – after all, he has been the manager of a great estate.

But, He still wants to live in the way he had been accustomed to when he was the steward.

What to do??????

Aha, he thought. “If I make deals with those who over the master, they will think kindly of me and give me a job. Then I won’t have to work in the fields or beg”.

So, not caring much for the responsibility attached to this job, he calls in all those who owe his master and make deals with them: changing 100 jugs of oil to 450, 100 bundles of wheat to 80. This was done very quickly, so that no one would catch them making these deals.

Needless to say, those who owed had to be really happy about that arrangement. But, this was
dishonest. Even though it was probably a relatively minor thing for the master, it was dishonest on the part of the steward and those who had obligations to the master.

If someone will cheat on such a small thing, what do you suppose they would do if the situation was REALLY important?

So, here we have all these deals struck, the steward has been fired, and what happens?

The master commends the steward for acting shrewdly!

Wait a minute!! Didn’t he just cheat the master?????????

This is where this parable can get really confusing. We all expect that the master would have been furious with the steward. I know I would have and I think most of you would too. He had just reduced our deserved wealth — money had been lost. Worldly wealth had been stolen.

What was the master commending the steward for? For cheating him?

No, he was commending him for finding a new place when he was losing his current job. He had foresight to set up the situation so that he had somewhere to go when he was no longer steward. He was using his existing resources to provide for a time when he did not have those resources.

I will have to say, that is not how most of us would have reacted.

How does this parable apply to us?

God has made us stewards of our lives and this earth. We are responsible for the ourselves – to live a Godly life and use God’s creation wisely. We do that in two ways.

First, we are to use the resources provided wisely –even the wealth that we earn by the sweat of our brow is only entrusted to us.

    • We are to use that wealth wisely, not storing it in a bank or under the mattress where only we have the benefit.
    • We are to plan ahead for the times that things will not be as good, being prudent in the good times so that there is no lack in the bad times.

I am afraid that we are all failing in taking care of God’s creation.

    • Think of the strip mines that destroy the earth. What are we doing about those?
    • What about our gluttonous consumption of oil that is causing extreme shifts in temperature. What are we doing about that?

I have to commend Good Shepherd in their aggressive stance on preserving God’s creation with their green movement — But, is everyone participating? I challenge those who have sit idly on their hands to get up and do something to preserve our world, our gift from God!

Secondly, what we do during our life should please God.

    • Instead of hoarding physical wealth, we should be storing up eternal treasure.
    • As a child, I was taught that when you did a good deed, you got a jewel in your crown in Heaven.  That is very simplistic, but does let us know that God is taking an accounting of what we do with  His creation.
    • In the Jewish tradition, during Rosh Hashanah, which is being celebrated now, the Book of Life is  open to contain an accounting of everything we have done in the last year. People have seven  days in which to review those things done in the past and correct their mistakes before The Book of Life is closed again on Yom Kippur.

In the Christian tradition, we have a daily accounting to God of our actions.

Are we happy with what is being written?

Do we need to change our actions?

The friends that the steward made in the parable were gained dishonestly; when the steward was no longer of use to them, he would be discarded. But if we make friends of God, we will never be discarded. We will be a member of his eternal family.

Are you making friends of people for selfish purposes or are you laying treasure in Heaven with God?

The last line of the parable sums it all up:

    “No servant can serve two masters”. (Luke 16:13)

We have to decide whether we are going to store up treasure on earth or in Heaven.

    • Is your treasure going to be one that moths eat or rust corrodes? 
    • Are you going to make friends so that you can accumulate wealth – using people?
    • Or are you going to do things that are pleasing in God’s eyes?

The master we should serve is God – we are his stewards. We must serve Him as our master to gain  eternal life.

Delivered at Church Of The Good Shepherd, Athens OH, 19 September 2007

The End Is Near (Or Is It?)

Luke 14:26

The Gospel we heard today is one of the numerous ‘apocalyptic’ verses foretelling the destruction and end of the world. Not a pleasant thing to have to preach about. . . . and not something that the average Episcopal Church lists among its favorite readings.

We start out hearing about how wonderful and beautiful the temple in Jerusalem is remember that this was the temple rebuilt for the third time by Herod the Great in 20-19 BCE. It had been rebuilt with care and was now a showplace of grandeur and opulence that made a Hebrew, and Herod, proud. People made pilgrimages to Jerusalem just to see that temple, with its immense size, white marble columns, and brilliant golden plates. It looked like it would stand forever.

But just like all the treasures we collect on earth, it was only transitory. Jesus foretells its destruction (again) and He was right — within forty years the temple would again stand in ruins.

And not only that, but Jesus foretold that the people would be divided. Brothers would betray brothers, relatives and friends would become enemies, and some would be put to death. Not a very pleasant portent. And obviously, not one that the Hebrew people wanted to hear!

One phrase that is particularly troublesome in this scripture is:

    Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

But the world did not come to an end . . . . although the temple lay in ruin and the people were again scattered to the ends of the earth, the world did not end.

And we are still here!

There have been wars and families rent asunder, countries destroyed, but the world goes on.

The end has not come.

But has it?????

Jesus talks about the end of the world, and every one interprets that to mean that the planet we live on will cease to exist. We will be blown to smithereens.

But what if that is not what Jesus meant???

Supposed that we have already seen ‘the end’ – the end of the world as it was known in biblical times. –

    • Did not the entire world change when Jesus rose from the dead those many Easter mornings ago?
    • Did not the world see the end of an era and the beginning of a new one – one of Christianity?
    • A world not dependent on what we do, but a Kingdom based on what God has done and is doing for us?

But how do we enter that world?

As it says in the reading for Malachi, destruction comes from the rejection of salvation offered by Jesus. We are destroying our souls, just as the temple was destroyed, if we do not accept the grace and salvation given by God through Jesus.

Jesus warns us that we must not be deceived by false prophets or messiahs. There has been much written about this piece of scripture those who believe in the end of the world and rapture use this, in part, to support their beliefs. They believe that only they, because they have seen the light, will be saved on that fateful day. How many of you have seen the bumper sticker that warns:

    “Beware – this car will be without a driver in case of rapture.”

Do you really think that ‘the end’ will come as a rapture with the chosen floating into heaven?

I think we can remember seeing a man on a street corner holding a sign: ‘The End Is Near’. We all laugh uneasily about it, not too sure that there might be some truth in it. But we are still here.

Remember the panic over Y2K did all the planes fall out of the sky? I certainly did not hear of any. But there were plenty of prophets foretelling the end of our civilization and many more people who followed them and lived in panic until its arrival. Some people retreated into bomb shelters or sealed up houses, waiting for the world to come to an end.

But we are to do more than sit around eating bonbons, waiting for the end.

Someone asked Saint Francis, as he was weeding his garden, “What would you do if you knew that this was your ‘last day on earth?’ His answer was simple: ‘continue weeding my garden’. We have much to do before our days are over.

Jesus further warns that the faithful will suffer for their beliefs. Even some will be put to death. But then later he says

    not a single hair on your head will be destroyed. (Luke 21:18)

How can that be?

When Saint Thomas More was about to be hanged, he kept his sense of humor and pointed out that although his might lose his head, not a hair on his head would be harmed. Neither fear nor his impending death swayed his faith he knew he was going to be with God. His body was just as transitory as the temple of Jerusalem. What was eternal was his soul.

I offer these thoughts for you to ponder:

    • What if the temple at Jerusalem really represents our external and personal wants?
    • What if the temple represents our physical body?
    • What if, by believing in Jesus and the salvation he brings, there will be no hair on our head destroyed?
    • What if we have already seen  ‘the end’ and lived through it? the end was the crucifixion of Jesus?
    • What if all we have to do is stay centered on Christ? We don’t need a prophet or mystic to tell us how to survive?

Both Malachi and Luke tell us to remain faithful in our faith and we will survive. Even though the world around us may be in turmoil, and brother had turned against brother, we will win eternal life through faithfulness.

No matter who may betray us family, friends, co-workers, governments we are secure in the love
and grace of God.

No matter what ordeals we may suffer for our faith, remember, Jesus has the last laugh. He conquered death for all of us.

Delivered at Church of The Good Shepherd, Athens, OH 5 September 2007

Parable of Taking The Lowest Place

Luke 14:1

Jesus is invited to Sabbath dinner at the home of a Pharisee; there are lots of important people there and they are all watching Jesus to see what he will do. The Pharisees were gathering information that would be used later in Jesus’ trial in Jerusalem.

At these dinners, the tables were usually arranged in levels so that the most important people were at the elevated tables where they could see and be seen. When Jesus noticed that the invited guests were jockeying for the ‘best’ seats, he used a parable to speak of the quality of humility. Those people trying to get the best seats felt they deserved it because of their position or wanted to be seen as important even if they were not. ’Jesus’ warning to them was to consider the embarrassment if the host had intended those seats for others and asked them to move.

Can you imagine how you would feel if you were seated where everyone could see you and then had to move to a lesser table? Your ego would be deflated and you would certainly lose face in the eyes of the other guests.

But those who chose to sit in a lesser seat would not be moved, or may even be invited to sit at the higher table.

This parable speaks to the humility of God’s children. In ancient times, those seated at the lower tables were considered servants to the upper tables. So, those who chose to sit there recognized that although they may have gifts and talents that warranted their sitting in a special place, they were humble enough to realize that these gifts and talents brought them no special treatment. They knew that service, especially service to God, was far more
important than prestige.

And Jesus gives a warning to the host that he should not invite only his friends or people who would be obligated to return the favor, but ask those who did not have the means to invite him back in return. By including those who were poor, crippled, lame and blind, the host would be fulfilling Jesus’ reminder that

    what you do for the least of these, you do to me. (Matthew 25:40)

From this parable, we are reminded that we should give back to God with those talents He has given us and we should care for those less fortunate than ourselves. This is the way to Heaven.

delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center, Athens, OH 29 August 2007

Just For Today

Acts 1:15-26

There are a lot of people who simply seem unable to live without excitement, without stimulation. Whether it comes from pleasure – or from crisis – they thrive on activity, on chaos, confusion – on dealing with problems – on adrenalin – on constant drama – in fact, we sometimes call them ‘drama queens’, regardless of gender.

The time that exists between one crisis and another, between one activity and another is regarded by them as boring, dull, . . as time that is lost, . . . time that is unimportant, . . time that doesn’t count.

Even people who are not adrenalin junkies find it difficult sometimes, to face a period of time in which not too much is happening, things are relatively calm, a period of time in which they must wait for a promise to be fulfilled,. . .for an event to happen, . . .something new to begin.

Today’s reading from the Book of The Acts Of the Apostles tells us how the disciples found themselves in this kind of situation – how they found themselves facing a period in which they would simply have to wait for Christ’s promise to them to come true.

After the resurrection, Jesus visited with his disciples on several occasions. He taught them, He encouraged them, He commissioned them to do a job, and then – on the day of His ascension into heaven, when they were anxiously asking Him when His kingdom would be established, when the next installment of the divine plan would take place, He tells them that it is not for them to know the times or periods established by God. That they should go  back to Jerusalem and wait,

    • wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit
    • wait for the power they would need to witness for Him there, in Judea, and all of Samaria and ultimately  in all the world.

For many, waiting is a dreadful thing, just ask any child. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Living between times, living between occasions in which all of our minds and hearts and energy are absorbed in affairs of significance can, in fact, be quite wonderful.

It can be for us:

    • a pause that refreshes
    • a time in which we gain strength
    • a time in which we quietly grow and are prepared for that which will come next

But living in the times between, in those times

    • Between one phase of our lives and the next
    • between one job and another
    • between the time when the first child has married and the last has yet to enter school
    • between the period when we have lost one dear friend and have yet to find another

These times can be difficult for us if we do not know how to wait in the manner recommended by the words of Jesus.

So how does He advise us to spend the times between?

There are three important ways.

FIRST, we need to remember the times in between are not to be passive times but times in which we are meant to work at that which is at hand – rather than at that which is yet to come. It is a time for us to pray, to examine, to contemplate, to seek understanding. In the times between, our eyes are meant to be fixed on the present. We are called to live in the ‘now’, rather to live in the future.

SECONDLY, we are called to live as Christ has shown us to live – in obedience and in connection with Him and the Father. When the disciples returned to Jerusalem they stayed together. They joined themselves with the rest of those who believed in Jesus, they sought to be one as Christ had prayed that they would. They stayed together and searched their hearts and minds, preparing themselves for the job Jesus gave them to do.

Our task in the times between. whether it is a time between what is obviously one work of God and another, or simply a time between one event in our daily lives and another is to make ourselves ready to be used by the Spirit; that Spirit which may come, as it does so often – sooner than we think.

AND THIRD, in the times between we need to trust and have confidence that what has been promised to us by God will come to pass. Whether that promise is a spiritual gift, a promise of comfort or of a new life or a promise to bless us and use us in some particular way his service.

In the times between, the times of waiting, we must trust in the Lord to come through, we must remember His resurrection and His ascension; we must remember what He has done for us in the past, and wait for the next act, the next promise to come true.

Such simple advice, . . .yet to easy to forget.

Trust in the Lord – not in other things – and live today – this day as He asks us to, connected to Him and to His word by prayer and meditation individually and with your brothers and sisters on earth in holy obedience.

I want to leave you with a story – a true story:

dr russell h conwell

    A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was ‘too crowded.’ ‘I can’t go to Sunday School,’ she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who had no place to worship Jesus.

    Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kindhearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements. As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read:

      ‘This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.’

    For two years she had saved for this offering of love.

    When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his congregation to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building.

But the story does not end there…

    A newspaper learned of the story and published It. It was read by a wealthy realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to sell it to the little church for 57 cents. Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl’s gift had increased to $250,000.00 — a huge sum for that time near the turn of the century. Her unselfish love had paid large dividends.

    When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area would ever need to be left outside during Sunday School time.

    In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell.

This is a true story, which goes to show WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH 57 CENTS.

Imagine what He can do with more.

As I leave my placement at Trinity to bring the good news of Jesus’ love to the wider diocese and ‘encourage’ political forces to remember the teachings of Jesus to ‘feed his sheep, I challenge each and every one of you to continue the work we all have started at Trinity, to extend your hands to the homeless, the disenfranchised, the forgotten, those in our community who just need a hand or a little help to be what God created them to be.

Remember the words of Jesus:

    What you do to the least of these you do to me (Matthew 25:45)

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, may there be peace within each of us today. May we trust your highest power that we are exactly where we are meant to be. May we not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May we use those gifts that we have received, and pass on the love that has been given to us. May we be content knowing we are a child of God. Amen.

Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 24 May 2009

I Will Not Leave You Alone!

John 14:15-21

In the last scene of the musical Camelot, King Arthur sings a song filled with memories of what had been the most idyllic place on earth. Alone on stage, the broken, forgiving king begs us to remember:

    Ask ev’ry person if they’ve heard the story,
    And tell it strong and clear if they have not,
    That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
    Called Camelot.

    Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot
    For one brief, shining moment
    That was known as Camelot.

Keep the story going begs King Arthur. Pass it on to your children and your children’s children. In the remembering, you will keep the dream alive. In the midst of the despair around you, recall this time, this special place. And, perhaps this one brief, shining moment will come again.

We’re might hear Jesus singing Arthur’s song as he gathers His disciples for the last time. He knew he would soon be betrayed by one of his closest followers-betrayed, arrested, and finally killed. We can imagine Jesus sitting at the Passover table recalling with them the times they had shared, the miracles they had seen. With such a song the disciples could go on, held together by the memory of this one great life, waiting and hoping Jesus would soon return.

When we lose something that is valued, someone close or someplace familiar, we worry, become
disagreeable or feel depressed. That is only human. I am sure the disciples were feeling all these – the mood around Jesus and the disciples must have been pretty despondent.

But Jesus left the disciples with a promise –

    that God would leave them an advocate (John 14:8)

– to comfort and walk with them. So the disciples then – and us for the last 2000 years – and now, are not left alone.

We have the Holy Spirit, that nameless and mysterious part of the Trinity, forever with us:

    • That still small voice that comes into our hearts when we are most overwhelmed and confused
    • When we are confused and at a loss for an answer, and the Holy Spirit comes to us
    • When our hearts are broken and we don’t think we can go on, it is the Holy Spirit that fills our hearts with love and encouragement
    • When we see someone hurting, in need of comfort and we don’t know what to do, it is the Holy Spirit that provided the right words.

The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus’ reassurance that ‘I am always with you’.

A well-beloved spiritual originating from American slaves who were the most downtrodden and alone comes to mind:

    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    A long way from home,
    A long way from home.

But Jesus says he ‘will not leave us as orphans’. No matter how alone we feel, we are not alone. We are a member of the family of Christ, eternally protected by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

No matter what happens, what goes wrong, how remote God seems from us, Jesus assures us that we have a helper in the Holy Spirit that is always with us.

We will never be alone!

Let us pray:

Holy Spirit, be with us today. Be our teacher, guide, counselor, friend. Fill us with your gifts, especially the gifts of wisdom, discernment, knowledge, understanding compassion, and most of all love. In all that we think, say and do, let it be in accordance with Your most holy and perfect will. Amen

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 29 May 2011

Making Our Way To God

John 14:1-14

Who Is God? What Is God?

How can we know the way to God? How can we see God? These questions return again and again during the course of the lifetime of a Christian – regardless of one’s faith and training.

The answer Jesus gives to us is very simple, yet so often hard for us to grasp.

We need to step back to the evening of the last supper. The disciples were gathered and Jesus was trying to make them understand the events that were about to transpire. And the disciples just couldn’t wrap their minds around its enormity. As they protested and questioned and scratched their heads, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal and washed their feet. But they were still troubled. It looked like they were about to become leaderless and they don’t know what to do or where to go.

Jesus responded to their fears with one of the most reassuring pieces of scripture:

    “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1)

I can imagine that Jesus said this with deep sadness, eyes brimming with tears and his voice choked with emotion. He knew what was going to happen. Things were falling apart and he would soon face his ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion.

Yet he told the disciples not to be troubled. Why?

Because he was preparing ‘a place for them in heaven. ‘

That was huge news to the disciples!

But that wasn’t enough for them. They kept questioning, again and again asking how and why and where.

Jesus must have finally realized that the disciples did not have the knowledge he thought they had. When they continued to question, He chastised them for their non-belief and lack of understanding. Hadn’t he been teaching them and telling them of things to come since He first began his teaching? Weren’t they His chosen ones – and they STILL DID NOT GET IT!

All they had done was ask an innocent question:

    “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” (John 14:8)

Jesus chastised them again, asking them why, after all this time, they still did not know him. They were just slow to catch on. Yes, He was a little blunt but Chapters 14-17 of John’s Gospel are not called the ‘farewell discourse’ for nothing. He’s leaving and they need to know the Way. The time had grown short.

The hour was near. The clock had run out on subtleties.

From John 14:9 through John 16:29, Jesus does all the talking. The disciples fall silent. I wonder if they might have been wary of speaking up, after Jesus’ responses to their initial questions and requests. They ask two questions they should have already known the answer to:

    • How can we know the way to God?
    • How are we to see the Father?

And these are our question too. You and I may have been following Jesus for quite a while, but we still sometimes feel lost and without answers or understanding in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. We still ask the basic questions:

How should we live? Who is God and how can I know him?

Jesus’ response is simple:

    “I am the Way” (John 14:6)

Jesus used this brief, vivid, memorable saying to express who he is and who we are to become in relation to him.

“I am the Way” has its roots in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, especially the Book of Proverbs. Jesus offers a path of life and wisdom rather than a path of self-destruction and folly. Jesus’ “I am” sayings found in the Bible present many metaphors for His Life and teachings as it related to all of us:

    “I am the Bread of life” (John 6:35)

    “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12)

    <em?“I am the Gate for the Sheep” (John 10:7)

    “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)

    “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)

    “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)

Jesus himself – Jesus the man – is a gift from the very heart of God, whose teachings guide us and whose Presence sustains and challenges us. We continue, throughout our lives, to ask and ask again the basic questions of “Am I on the right track in life?” and “How can I know God in my life?”

Again, the answer Jesus gives is both simple and profound:

    “I am the Way.” (John 14:6)

To believe in Jesus’ teachings and example, His sacrifice and love, His service and simplicity, His acceptance and forgiveness – this is the way to eternal life and happiness, peace on this earth.

We grow into the answer as we live out our lives. Every time we return to these basic questions, it is with deepened faith since the last time we asked them.

Sometimes, maybe we need Jesus to chide us—to tell us we are not making the progress in our faith that we could. Jesus’ chiding shapes our discipleship. He is reminding his disciples then and us now of what we have been taught over and over again, but continually forget when we come face-to-face with sorrow and adversity.

Jesus is saying to his disciples and us:

    Come on, now. You know this. I’ve taught you this. We’ve been through this before, you and I. Hold onto this promise. It won’t let you down now:

      “I am the Way.” (John 14:6)

In me you see God. In me you meet and will meet God. My teachings will guide you; my presence will sustain your spirit.

Jesus makes several promises that we can count on:

    “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).
    “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).
    “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10).
    “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12).

And once again he gives us reassurance. . . .

    “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:10).

Assurance His Father’s love . . . of His Love. . . For Jesus and the Father are one.

There is a legend that goes like this. Judas, after he had betrayed Jesus, found himself at the bottom of a deep abyss. He lay there for a couple of centuries and then slowly began to stir and sit up. Looking up, he saw a faint light at the surface, miles above. He began to climb. Sometimes he would slip and fall back and spend a century or so regaining lost ground. Sometimes he rested. But he kept climbing. As he climbed the light seemed to grow stronger, to glow more brightly. It seemed to energize him and to call to him. He kept climbing, his limbs gaining strength the closer he came to the light. After a couple of millennia, he reached the top, his hands and body scraped and fatigued from the climb. He struggled to find a place to rest his hands to hold up the weight of his body as he hauled himself up through the opening at the top of the abyss. When he did, his muscles shaking with the effort, he found himself in an Upper Room where a young rabbi was having supper with his friends. The young rabbi turned and greeted Judas, his face glowing with pleasure, “Judas, welcome home! We have been waiting for you. We could not continue the supper without you!”

Jesus is the way for those who dwell in an abyss of misery and futility. Jesus is the way for disciples going through the motions. Jesus is the way for new disciples who fear their questions are too basic.

How can we know the way to God?

How can we see God?

    “believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10)

So just keep on believing!

Let us pray:

The light of God surrounds us, the love of God enfolds us, The power of God protects us, The presence of God watches over us, Wherever we are, God is, And where God is, all is well. Amen.

Delivered at Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church, Circleville OH 22 May 2011

Never An Orphan . . . Or Alone

John 14:15-21

The mood of today’s gospel is very sad. Jesus is about to leave his disciples and friends. This particular scripture is a part of the long dialogue Jesus had with his disciples as he prepared them for his death, resurrection and ascension.

By listening to the readings for the last couple weeks, we see that the followers of Jesus are beginning to feel separation anxiety; the man they gave up everything to follow is about to leave them. They don’t really understand what is going to happen to Jesus, what is going to happen to them, and where they were going to go. Many of the disciples left their homes, their wives and families and their livelihood to follow Jesus. They no longer had a source of income, and were far away from the security and comfort of home.

When we are about to lose something that is valued, someone close, or someplace familiar we worry, become disagreeable or feel depressed. That is only human. I am sure that the disciples were feeling all of these – some kept it to themselves, and others, like Thomas, questioned and questioned. The mood around Jesus and the disciples must have been pretty despondent.

But Jesus left the disciples with a promise. In John 14:16, Jesus told the disciples that God would leave them a helper, a paraclete. In the ancient Bible, ‘paraclete’ is the name that Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit, in later versions this was translated as ‘advocate’. – a word that means comforter, advocate or one who walks with you. So the disciples then, and we for the last 2000 years and now, are not left alone.

    • The Holy Spirit, that nameless and most mysterious part of the Trinity, is still and forever with us.

    • That still small voice that comes into our hearts when we are the most overwhelmed or confused; that is  the Holy Spirit.

    • When you are the most befuddled and lost for answers, it comes to you – that is the Holy Spirit.

    • When we are despondent, our hearts are broken and we don’t think we can go on, it’s the Holy Spirit that  fills our hearts with love and encouragement that lets us know we can.

    • When we see someone hurting or upset, needing comfort and we don’t know how to help, suddenly the  right words begin to come and we find solace – that is the Holy Spirit.

    • When we look in the faces of our grandchildren, when we are overcome with the beauty of springtime or the twinkling of a starry sky or the touch of a loved one’s hand, that is the Holy Spirit reassuring us ‘l  am always with you’, even to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit is always with us, even when we don’t acknowledge the presence. The Holy Spirit walks with us,  leading, guiding and supporting us on our journey. The Holy Spirit may come in the form of a person or a spirit.

How many times, when you are at your lowest, does someone appear that walks the path with you and supports you as you dig your way up into the light? The paraclete hears us when we cry out and comes to prop us up.

A well-beloved spiritual originating from American slaves who were the most downtrodden and alone comes to mind:

    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
    A long way from home,
    A long way from home.

But Jesus goes on to say that he “will not leave us as orphans”. No matter how alone we feel, we are not alone.

We are a member of the family of Christ, protected eternally by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this little phrase, Jesus promises that we will be not be onlookers to a love we can never possess; instead, he says ‘come in, and join. My family is gathered and your place is reserved.

Just as Jesus offers us a place in his family, so must be not leave others orphaned. As members of the family of Christ, we must not leave anyone on the outside looking in. We all know the phrase: “what you do for the least of these, you do for me”. Just as Jesus has not left us orphaned, so must we be our brother’s keeper. Does your intimate circle include those who are orphaned or disenfranchised or abandoned by the world?

Jesus also tells us that we should

    keep His commandments. (John 14:15)

In Matthew we are told that the greatest of the commandments is to love . . .

    Love God and love thy neighbor. (Matthew 22:38-39)

No matter what happens, what goes wrong, how remote God seems from us, Jesus assures us that we have a paraclete, a helper in the Holy Spirit that will always be with us. As long as we love God and our neighbors and keep his commandments, He and the Holy Spirit will always be with us. We will always be a part of the family of Christ.

We will never be alone!

Let us pray:

Holy Spirit, be with me today. Be my teacher, my guide, my counselor, my friend. Fill me with your gifts, especially the gifts of wisdom, discernment, knowledge, understanding, compassion, love, and awe in God’s presence. In all that I think, say, and do, let it be in accordance with your most holy and perfect will. I ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Delivered at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH 27 April 2006