It this ‘MY’ Pew or God’s Pew?

I wish I could say this is a made-up story, but unfortunately it is not.

We recently had a couple visit our church while looking for a new church home. They were warmly greeted by the ushers and told to sit anywhere they wished. So, they picked a pew about midway up the aisle. The people around them were cordial and offered to help them maneuver through the service (they were not cradle Episcopalians and hadn’t been in an Episcopal church for a long time).

Two parishioners came to assume ‘their’ seats, where the couple happened to be sitting. They noisily sat in the pew behind this couple, noting that ‘someone was in their seats’ in a less than quiet voice. People around the visitors were appalled at the audacity of these two women. Then, throughout the entire service, these two women make snide remarks about the couple, their appearance, and unfamiliarity with our service. And at the Passing of the Peace, they blatantly chose not to welcome these visitors. At the dismissal, they further remarked that they hoped these people got the point and found themselves other seats; those were ‘their’ seats!

When this was related to me, I was appalled that someone in OUR congregation would be so catty and unwelcoming to visitors. Haven’t we heard in Hebrews 12:13

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

And doesn’t Jesus remind us:

I was a stranger and you invited me in (Matthew 25:35)?

Fortunately, in spite of the nastiness of these two long-time parishioners, the couple found the church to be a welcoming place and has since become active and contributing members of the church. This had to be the work of the Holy Spirit and those members who did extend a hand of friendship and Jesus’ love.

Just as the Eucharistic table is not our table, but God’s table, the pews do not belong to any one person (purchasing pews went out a long, long time ago!) Some of us seem to have forgotten that.

We want people to feel comfortable in church (except maybe during the sermon), but maybe it is time to shake some things up. We have become too complacent; doing the same thing, in the same place, over and over again can desensitize us to the wonders of our faith journey. If we don’t expect God to do anything different, we get what we expect – nothing new and exciting.

I suggest that for the remaining weeks of Lent and during Eastertide, we all do something different – change where we sit in church. Even if you know everyone in the congregation, this gives you the opportunity to get to know others at a deeper level. If you are new, you can begin to meet other people in the congregation, and they can get to know you.

Complacency of the same seat causes you to expect and perceive the service in the same way every Sunday. You never know what you will experience if you sit in another pew: you will hear the choir with a different ear, see the preacher for a different vantage point, and might even notice something about the church that you have never noticed before. You may even listen to the sermon differently, simply because everything feels new.

As in the manner of most Episcopalians, we all tend to sit in the back pews. This forces latecomers or newcomers to have to walk all the way to the front. Think about how unwelcome that would make you feel, especially if you were a visitor. We want to welcome new people, rather than creating an environment which suggests that they are not welcome, or draw a spotlight on them. Remember, you were a newcomer once.

Most people do not like change, that is a human trait. We are trying new things, such as the Formation Eucharist, and have plans for expanding our worship and outreach in the future. A church which does not grow becomes stagnant and does not expand the Kingdom of God or our individual faith. We want to be a vibrant congregation that shows the community the love and faith we have in God.

By changing your seat every week, we open ourselves to experiencing new and exciting things, and we will be more prepared for the changes as we move into the future. If you will not consider changing your seat, maybe you need to look at your heart. Pure stubbornness closes off the mind and heart and soul so that the teachings of Jesus cannot break through your outer shell. And isn’t that why we are here? – to grow in our faith and testimony to the world of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s try ALL of God’s pews!

8 March 2018

We, Too, WILL Be Lifted Up

John 12:20-33

O Lord Jesus, You chose the Cross as the path to glory to show us the way of salvation. May we receive the word of the Gospel joyfully and live by Your example as heirs and citizens of Your Kingdom. Amen.

We just heard in the Gospel reading that a group of Greeks approached Philip and Andrew, saying

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21)

At this time in history, Greeks were considered ‘gentiles’ – outcasts, non-religious, non-Jews, and aliens. Up to this time, the ministry of Jesus and His disciples had not included the gentiles – only those of Jewish faith. So, these Greeks, to have come to Jerusalem during the Feast of the Passover, was an unusual occurrence – and even more unusual was that they asked to see Jesus, for they had heard of Him. Why were they even interested in meeting this controversial Jewish man?

In His usual welcoming manner, Jesus instructed Philip and Andrew to bring the Greeks to him. Now, this was yet another instance where Jesus violated the societal laws – He was often speaking with non-Jews, or heathens. Jesus was always breaking all the rules. We hear nothing about these Greeks once they are taken to Jesus, but they serve as a segue to Jesus’ teachings about the inclusion of ALL in his Kingdom.

In Matthew 10:32-33, we are told:

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

This is just another example of John making it very clear that Jesus drew all kinds of people to Him, and to God.

I believe that all of us sitting here today, are a little like those Greeks, – we are searching for Jesus. We search in our own personal studies, by coming to church, through meditations and prayer, either alone or with other people. We yearn our whole lives to get to know Jesus better. We strive to understand who He had to suffer for, even though we are told that He is the Son of God, that God sent Him to save His creation.

Why the suffering?

Why the struggles?

Why the meanness?

Why the betrayal?

I grew up in the Catholic Church and I can remember as a young child, looking at the crucifix hanging over the altar with the broken, bloody body of Jesus on it, wondering what horrible things I must have done to cause Jesus to be murdered for my sins. I never could wrap my little mind around that, but I took comfort in knowing that through His death, I was forgiven of all my sins and when I died, by the promise of Jesus:

“when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32).

I didn’t understand it, but I believed, somehow, it was true, and it gave me comfort.

We also heard in Jeremiah that God

will make a new covenant with the people (Jeremiah 31:31)


No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, (Jeremiah 31:34)

This is the promise of the Judeo-Christian covenant: that we will always be children of God, never to be forgotten. And we will take our rightful place with Jesus for eternity.

As I have grown older, I find I am more and more drawn to Jesus, the Son of Man – that Jesus became, in a short time, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by all who knew Him or followed Him – someone in whom many believed that they, too, suffered and died and would not deny Him. But I still associate most with Jesus, the Son of Man – whose one solitary life changed the world forever.

Many of you may know this prose poem by Dr. James Allan Francis, but I cannot read it enough – I want to share it with you.

And in many ways, this ‘One Solitary Life’ has shown us ‘the way’ – and indeed, lifts us up.

For we all must die – and to live knowing we must die is, in many ways, painful. We may not die on a cross – but if you have ever observed a friend suffering from cancer or MS or heart disease – this is a type of crucifixion. If you have lost a loved one to death, a child, a spouse, a parent – this is suffering. If you have known someone encased in despair and depression, mental illness, or dementia – oh, indeed, that is suffering.

In many ways, to live is to suffer – loss, confusion, disappointment, doubt – and despite the love, the joy, the successes and accomplishments, we all suffer – and fear – and hurt. At some point we all are betrayed or abandoned, persecuted or bullied, and we must die.

We are at the end of winter now, and we have been surrounded by death – trees barren, flowers gone, grass mown, days short – all dead,

but look!


Spring is coming!

Easter is coming! Life returns in a beautiful endless cycle of resurrection and renewal.

And this is what Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God – this ‘One Solitary Life’ – came to tell us. I will leave you with this:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus promised:

Always be where I am! And I will be there, too!

Jesus defied death to show us that death is not the final thing we feared! Life goes on and on – Life is eternal – and where He is, so shall we be.

This is how we are lifted up – past sorrow and disappointment, past grief and despair, beyond loss and confusion –

to Life!

To Joy!

To Eternal Love!

This is why we follow the teachings and examples of this ’One Solitary Life’ – to learn to live a life of love, surpassing suffering, so that we may recognize and join the eternal life of Jesus, Son of Man – and Son of God. Without this ‘One Solitary Life’, this earth and all of us would be dark and dismal, indeed – but with Him, secure in the hope and promise of His life, this earth and you and I can be lifted up – each day – and for eternity.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, we resolve—and will try this day—to imitate Your example, to be like You. We will redouble our efforts to see Your image in all those we meet and deal with this day, and to be as loving to them as we would be to You. We resolve to avoid all those shortcomings we have and which we now sincerely desire to give up forever. Amen.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 March 2018

“WE” Are Killing Our Children!

On Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love, the expectation is that couples would enjoy a nice dinner, chocolates or roses, that would normally cause their hearts to flutter. However, this year on February 14th, hearts were not moved by love, but by the horror of yet another mass murder of our school children and teachers.

This brutal and senseless slaughter of 15 children and 2 teachers at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., was the 17th occurrence of mass murders in our country in just six weeks – more than twice the number of such horrific events as in the same time period in 2017, the 24th massacre in the last 14 years since the ban on assault weapons was allowed to lapse by Congress, and the 72nd since the deadly Columbine massacre in 1999.[1]

Of course, mental illness is involved, but all nations have citizens who are mentally ill – none of them experience nearly the amount of violent shooting deaths that we do in the United States.

Of course, our law enforcement and educational institutions overlook possible ‘bad actors’, but the fine balance between guidance and coercion in the treatment of juveniles and the mentally ill is difficult to achieve.

Of course, we can blame video games, violent movies and TV shows, and the ‘culture of violence’ in our society for its influence on our citizenry – but almost all nations experience a similar culture, and yet they do not see their children gunned down on a regular basis.

There is one major difference, and all studies point to it: the vast proliferation of guns in our society – some 40 million, or 1 in every 9 people (including babies)! Gun regulation laws are ignored – the massive sale of all types of guns – including assault weapons, abound online, at gun shows, and even in Walmart! “Waiting periods” to check for felony records or mental problems are overlooked. The gun trade to Mexico and Latin America is a land office business. Our police now use military-style weapons on citizens for the least infraction – bolstered by the gun manufacturing industry that knows no limits. Is it any wonder that our nation is engaged in its longest war ever with no end in sight? Is it any wonder that we spend nearly 57% of our budget on our military and war supplies? In light of that, should we be perplexed that a “culture of violence” is killing our children in schools, where they should be safe and free from fear? Should we be surprised that the majority of these murders have been committed by assault weapons of mass destruction – guns made only for one thing: to kill huge numbers of people as fast as possible in a war setting!!

The appalling shame is that our state and federal lawmakers are paralyzed by inaction and denial, and the “gun lobby”, financed by gun manufacturers through the National Rifle Association, has bought their silence and inaction.

Since the lapse of the 1994 ban on assault weapons by Congress, our legislators have been financed/bribed by the National Rifle Association to make sure that no legislation will be enacted that might limit their power, or the profit of gun manufacturers. On the average, for each fire arm or accessory sold by arms manufacturers, $1 is contributed to the NRA; this creates a slush fund that they then pass on to legislator’s campaigns.[2] The amount of money ‘donated’ to legislator’s campaign funds since the enactment of Citizens United, has been more than any other PAC or super-PAC. A list of the top ten senators and representatives receiving money from the NRA can be found at

Recent polls have shown that responsible gun owners and most members of the NRA favor background checks. The use of assault weapons taints the image of the average gun owner. We have the cybernet and electronic communications to provide an immediate background check on anyone desiring to purchase a hand gun, whether at a certified gun dealer or at gun shows. If the purchaser really wants the fire arm for a collection or use in hunting or sport, they should be willing to wait the time needed to perform a background check. One has to wonder, if they are not willing to have a background check, what they are hiding. And, just as in driving a car, gun owners should be required to register their guns and complete a gun safety course.

The perpetrator of the Parkland School murders purchased the assault rifle and ammunition legally – he was 18. But it is mind-boggling that he could purchase an assault rifle at the age of 18, yet cannot purchase a hand gun until 21 in the state of Florida. Just as in the case of concealed-carry laws, there should be a national guideline, including training and proficiency requirements, enforced in all states. We do this with driver’s licenses.

Is there no hope? What can we do?

As we are told in Isaiah 11:6,

A child shall lead them;

Thankfully, we see students from Parkland and across the nation now rising up in grief and anger to organize resistance to the NRA and to demand stricter gun laws. Perhaps the indignation of our children can do at last what adults have been unable to do: effect meaningful gun legislation and serious attention to mental health treatment. And we, as mothers and fathers and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends, must join their bandwagon to FINALLY make changes in assault weapon legislation so that no more children and citizens will lose their lives by assault weapons.

There are many organizations that are supporting responsible gun ownership; find one that is in your area and become active. Pledge that you will not support with money or your vote any legislator or candidate who takes campaign funds from the NRA or who fails to support gun legislation – and ask them what their opinions are! Remember, as horrible as it sounds, it could be your child who becomes a victim of the next assault weapon massacre.

Some of these organization are:

Everytown for Gun Safety (
Moms Demand Action (
Grandparents Against Gun Violence (
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (
Americans for Responsible Solutions (

If you are a teacher, you might consider the National School Walkout movement, joining the walkout event schedule for March 14, 2018, “for 17 minutes at 10am across every time zone … to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”[3] Almost 3 million teachers and students, along with the Network for Public Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and other organizations have planned an action on April 20, 2018, calling for a national teachers’ strike if lawmakers continue their failure to enact “sane gun laws.”

Student survivors have organized a ‘March for Our Life: A Time to Talk About Gun Control’ in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018. Let these children be the ones to finally get our legislators to address the issue of our children (and all Americans) dying as a result of unrestricted assault weapon legislation.

A favorite hymn of mine, “God of Mercy”, was sung last Sunday at Saint John’s Episcopal Church:

God of mercy, you have shown us ways of living that are good.
“Work for justice, treasure kindness, humbly journey with the Lord”.
Yet your people here are grieving, hurt by weapons that destroy.
Help us turn to you, believing in your ways to bring us joy.

God, we pray for those who suffer when this world seems so unfair.
May your church be quick to offer loving comfort, gentle care.
And we pray: Amid the violence, may we speak your truth, O Lord!
Give us strength to break the silence, saying “This can be no more.”

God, renew our faith and vision, make us those who boldly lead!
May we work for just decisions that bring true security.
Help us change this violent culture base on idols, built on fear,
Help us build a peaceful future with your world of people here.[4]

What we must not do is GIVE UP HOPE. In fact, in this season of Lent, let us give up hopelessness that our gun violent culture can be ended. There are things we can do and must do.
[1]      Mark Folman, Gavin Aronsen, Deana Pan, “US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation’, Mother Jones, February 14,2018.
[2]      Walter Hickey, ‘How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA’, Business Insider, January 16, 2013.
[3]      Organized by the Women’s March
[4]      Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, ‘God Of Mercy’; B. F. White (1844), Beach Spring


The Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison, Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio; 19 February 2018

We Are Healed So That We May Serve

Mark 1:29-39

May the words of my mouth be heard, written in our hearts, and acknowledged to God in prayer. Amen.

We are beginning a study of the Gospel of Mark, and as Father Philip told us last week, Mark is the first gospel, and in many ways a “just the facts, ma’am” account of Jesus’ ministry, In this rather short gospel (there are only 16 chapters), there are 65 stories of healing and 10 parables! As Jesus traveled through small villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee and onto Jerusalem, we learn of His encounters with 122 people as He walked and visited homes and markets – and another 100 people in temples and synagogues. He had a mission – He knew He only had a short time to accomplish it – and He had to be about the work God had sent Him to do!

Last Sunday we learned that the first person He healed was a man possessed by a demon as He taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. It is noteworthy to learn, as we do in today’s reading, that the next person He healed later that same morning was a woman: Simon’s mother-in-law. We read that after leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew for lunch. Simon told Jesus that his mother-in-law was ill with a fever, and asked Jesus to heal her. Immediately, He went to her, took her hand, and she was healed, and rose up to minister to Jesus and those with him.

Let’s take a moment to be aware of several interesting points in this encounter that illustrate the uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning.

First of all, the second person Jesus healed in His new ministry was a woman! Since women had a much less important place in the structure of Jewish society at that time, this was startling! Already we can see the work and world of Jesus was going to break the boundaries of both Heaven and earth. Women were to be of value – they became a part of His following, and in some cases, traveled with Him; they not only served, but they supported and witnessed to His ministry. Many of the parables and healings involve women.

Secondly, as was customary in Jesus’ time, women were often restricted to the home to protect their innocence and the reputation of the family; they were not ever involved with men outside the family except to serve food, and were certainly never in physical contact with them. In this case, the men asked Jesus to heal the older woman – as was proper – but Jesus went into her sleeping quarters, took her hand and she was healed forever. She rose up and went to work – everyone was so astonished and grateful that setting aside of long-held social ‘norms’ didn’t matter at all!

Finally, later that day, as the recovered woman served Jesus and His disciples, the house became overrun with crowds, seeking the healing power of Jesus and His message – and surely this woman, sick just a few hours earlier, had much to do to facilitate the gathering and miracles that occurred.

We know that Biblical writers often equated being healed with being ‘made whole’ – demons and fevers were symbols of dis-ease, fear, or depression – and when these ‘demons’ were cast out, the person was, in reality, made stronger in faith and wisdom. No rest or recovery was needed – those healed went forth at once to serve, to proclaim the good news, and praise God.

We further hear in today’s reading that after Jesus tended to the sick and broken at Simon’s house, he goes to a deserted place to pray. As is so often the case in Jesus’ ministry, his opportunities to find solitude were few and far between. Tending to the sick and the outcast can be hard work; He must have been physically and spiritually exhausted. This is just another occasion, and there are many in the Gospels, where Jesus goes off alone to pray.

Jesus didn’t “just happen” to find himself alone with time to pray. He took the time; He wanted to hear His Father’s voice. . .  in solitude, and peace. Beset on every hand by the demands of His disciples and the multitudes who sought His help, Jesus looked for, and cherished that quietness. When He could clear his mind and be strengthened by God’s voice giving Him direction and courage – times when He could withdraw from the cares and clamor of the world and re-connect with the peace and love pf the eternal world of God. If He was to do the work of God, Jesus had to have time with God! And so must we; we must make time to be alone with God for prayer and meditation, and to hear His voice, and get direction. It is the time that some people have called – “God Time”.

“God Time” – those words even sound good, don’t they? So many times, when we speak of prayer time, we think of such words and ideas as duty, habit, laborious, tedious, demanding, and a host of other words. The truth is, for many people, prayer has become a ‘thing,’ rather than a part of a growing relationship with God. Prayer is seen more as an exercise in being able to say certain words the right way, or as ‘talking to the ceiling’. Many see prayer as something abstract, an exercise to be conquered, an encounter that we know we need to experience, but one which we would really rather avoid. We know it is something that we are supposed to do, but it is also something that we are not sure does much good.

I would suggest to you that true prayer, real prayer is merely talking to God; an ongoing conversation between ourselves and God. It can be open, peaceful, enjoyable, challenging, insightful, and transformative. At times it involves debating and questioning while at other times, it may involve thanksgiving and peace.

Talking to God is never to be a chore. It is never to be stuffy or laborious. There is this idea that if we say the right things to please God, then we will get our answer, blessings or miracle. And if we don’t say what pleases God, well, then we are just ‘out-of-luck’. Our talking to God, and God talking to us is the core essence of prayer: our talking, listening, sharing life with God; our opening up our hearts, minds and our souls to be in one another’s presence; experiencing what it means to be one with God, and allowing God to be one with us.

Have you ever noticed what happened each time Jesus prayed? Heaven and earth came together; connected, and Heaven impacted earth in wonderful and marvelous ways. Jesus goes out into the wilderness to pray, and Heaven and earth touch one another. As a result, Jesus can come out of the desert and begin to rescue, redeem and restore all of creation. Jesus can come out of the wilderness, proclaim the Kingdom of God, preach repentance, forgiveness, redemption, heal and cast out demons, and call His disciples to His ministry.

Mark tells us that Jesus goes to a desolate place – a place without distractions. Jesus went out early in the morning while everyone was still asleep, and spends time in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Then, after spending time with the Father, Jesus begins pouring out His life into the lives of others all around the Sea of Galilee.

Prayer (“God Talk”) leads us to being in God’s presence. Like any other practice, it gets easier the more we do it – it becomes less awkward, then begins to flow, and finally is essential to our day! Prayer leads us to be empowered by God so that we can help rescue and redeem those around us. Prayer leads us to open our hearts and our minds, to reach out, and receive those who need to find Jesus. Prayer leads us to understand that we can trust God, depend on God, and know that God will lead us the right way.

Today, more than ever, we need to get away as individuals and as churches to go to a quiet place, and invite God for some ‘God Talk’. We need to confess, surrender, open our hearts and minds, and commit to God to do whatever He calls us to do. We need to commit that we will do, and go, and be, whatever, wherever, and whoever He wants us to be. And, like the healed woman, then rise up ‘whole’ and ready to serve.

When I pray with parishioners in the Chapel, I don’t try to be flashy, but only express what is in our hearts. Sometimes it is halting and a little disjointed, but God doesn’t care. He is always there for some ‘God Time’.

We don’t have to use a lot of fancy words when we pray. You may feel that you don’t know what to say; or you don’t know how to say it. Just speak what is on your mind; God knows what is in our hearts and reads between the lines.

Let our minds be open, our hearts open, and our ears listening. Prayer is not a scary thing, it is the exact opposite – it brings peace, a calm, and a rest. The more we talk to God, the closer we will be to God, and the more we will know how to live the wonderful life He prepares for us.

Let me invite you to try it a new this week – find a quiet place, (maybe get up a bit earlier so you can be alone) – and begin your practice of “God Talk” – and listen – and then, go forth and serve!

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 4 February 2018


John 1:43-51

Let us pray:

Helps us to allow your words to work in us, so that we may take it home with us; so that our week may be filled with the gift your grace gives us today. Let us not forget what we have heard but rather build on it; give us the love it takes to build, let this love work in us. Remain the light of our days, become the goal of our love, and bestow on us through this homily a new life in your faith, a life that is both prayer and work in your love. Amen.

Our gospel reading today comes from John – the fourth and most mystical and philosophical of the gospels. The last of the gospels written, John is less a historical narrative of Jesus’ life and works, and more a multi-level commentary about his teachings and their meanings for our lives. John Shelby Spong describes John’s gospel as:

“a book about life, abundant life, and ultimately eternal life. . . a book to be lived as much as a volume to be mastered”.[1]

The first chapter of John completely ignores the birth stories and jumps straight into Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and the beginning of His ministry. In our passage today, Jesus has travelled to Galilee and begun recruiting His followers and disciples. One of those selected is Nathanael, mentioned only three times in the Bible, and introduced to Jesus by Philip of Bethesda.

Let’s take a look at Nathanael for a moment. He was a friend of Philip; he must have been a good friend since Philip wanted to introduce him to the one he loved, this powerful new force in his life – Jesus. We all have close friends, ones that when we discover someone or something extra special, we want to rush out and be sure that that friend meets the new person or experiences that special thing for themselves. We can deduce that Nathanael was such a friend of Philip’s.

Philip described Jesus to Nathanael as:

the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:45)

Like many young Jewish men of that time, Philip was obviously a religious man and a student of the Torah. It is clear that Nathanael was also a religious man; we heard that he prayed for the arrival of the Messiah that would save Israel. It was interesting to me to learn that ancient Jewish writers equated ‘gathering figs’ or being ‘under the fig tree’ with a sacred place of prayer, study and meditation on the Torah, a place of longing for the Messiah to show himself as King. Jesus’ vision of Nathanael in this passage as sitting beneath a fig tree, is a clear indication that Jesus knew Nathanael was a serious student of the Torah also.

But Nathanael was not so sure about meeting this man, Jesus. Why not? Because of where He came from – Nazareth! It seems Nathanael, like most of us, tended to judge people by where they came from.

In his response to the invitation from Philip to come meet this marvelous man, it appears that Nathanael said what he thought, without any filters, when he replied:

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?(John 1:45)

He couldn’t get past the fact that, in that time, Nazareth was considered a backwater town, a place of mud houses, low income and populated by what generally would have been considered the ‘red necks’ of the time. He couldn’t get past his prejudice of what he thought Nazareth was.

In fact, in this new year’s list of the ‘top ten best’ and ‘top ten worst’, Nathanael would have listed Nazareth and its people on the ‘top ten worst’, maybe even at the top of that list. Nathanael presupposed that anyone from Nazareth was insignificant, unworthy of attention. . . without having a basis for this prejudice. He came to that conclusion based on his personal perceptions, or as my grandmother used to say, ‘He jumped to convulsions’. He was a prejudiced and judgmental man.

Just what is prejudice? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘prejudice’

  • ‘as a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience;
  • an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge;
  • an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.’

There is a little or a lot of prejudice in all of us. It is so hard to admit we are prejudiced. Prejudices makes us blind to things that could enrich our lives and gladden our hearts. We all have prejudices that prevent us from being our best selves, opening to new people and experiences, and fully following the teachings of Jesus.

I imagine, if we would admit it, every one of us in this sanctuary is prejudiced in some way. We all tend to group people by race, or occupation, or sexual orientation, or politics, or income, or place of origin, and then we pigeonhole individuals and judge them because they belong to one of those groups.

One of my greatest prejudices I recognized when I spent time in Salt Lake City, working for a company that was laying the Alaskan pipeline. I had grown up as an Air Force brat, and had assumed, because of the diversity in the military, that I was not prejudiced. But, was I SO wrong. I discovered that I really disliked the Mormon religion – not because of the individual members, but because of their position on women, and, particularly, unmarried women. I supervised a group of engineers in a manufacturing plant, and constantly heard from the men that I was taking food off a family’s table. I even heard it at the hardware store when I went to buy a pair of dog clippers. I was admonished by the sales clerk that because I was not married, I would not be going to the ‘real’ heaven, but only a place where I would be a handmaid to those gods and goddesses who were favored enough to gain entrance to the ‘celestial’ paradise.

Anyone who knows anything about me can imagine how that sat in my craw. I was furious that my worth would only be measured by marriage and the number of children I could produce! I had to admit to myself that I was




Boy, was that a shock to my psyche!

But, eventually, I came to admire many aspects of the Mormon religion, as I saw numerous acts of kindness and generosity lived out by the Mormon people to those not of their faith.

And the good news is that God, through the people we come in contact with, and experiences we may have, can break down our prejudices, . . if we will allow it. Because of Nathanael’s relationship with Philip, despite his conviction that

“nothing good can come from Nazareth” (John 1:45),

Nathanael went with Philip to meet Jesus, a man he had never met. But, Nathanael was not unknown to Jesus – we hear later in the Gospel:

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47)

Even though Nathanael was wary of people from Nazareth, and therefore – Jesus, Jesus recognized the goodness deep within Nathanael. Just as he sees the goodness within each of us! It didn’t take Nathanael long to realize that his prejudice was misplaced; that he had, indeed, found the Messiah.

As we now know, something good DID come out of Nazareth! Jesus came from that little backwater town to teach us the most valuable lesson there is –  everlasting, eternal love!

So, if we put our prejudices aside and follow Philip’s advice to Nathanael to

“come and see” (John 1:46)

we will see who Jesus really is, what following His way can do for us, and we will know that the best is yet to come. How many opportunities for new love, growth, inspiration and joy can be ours if we put our prejudices aside each day and become open to people, ideas and experiences that we may have formerly shunned.

So, let’s take time this week to reflect on what prejudices we each may have – and vow to work hard on changing these thoughts. . . and be ready and willing to

“come and see” (John 1:46)

Let us be ready to meet Jesus anew in the face of every person we encounter and every challenge we face.

Let us pray:

Holy God, ignorant, hurtful, hateful words churn in our hearts; they wound or distract us from your love. We are called to contradict those words and prejudices within us; it’s a lot to ask of us. Remind us, and then remind us again: Your Word is life. Your Word is light. Your Word is full of grace, full of truth. Whatever words we hear, whatever words tumble through our thoughts, let yours be the Word we speak. Let yours be the Word we live. Amen.
[1] John Shelby Spong, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, HarperOne, New York, 2014; p 9

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 January 2018

Thoughts for a Blue Christmas

blue christmas‘Tis the season . . .

For many people – especially children – the Christmas holidays are a time of joy and even magic! Joyful reunions with families and friends, boisterous laughter, tables groaning with goodies, gifts shared abound for many – all with a sense of gratitude. For those most mindful of the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus, there is a renewed hope for peace on earth and humble thankfulness for God taking human form to show us the way to happy and meaningful lives. It is a time of prayers and promises to love more, give more, serve more, and to work consciously for the well-being of our fellow man.

However, for some people – many more than you may think – the holiday season is anything but joyous, but rather something to ‘get through’ and endure. The days are not merry and bright, and a sense of isolation, sadness, and depression underlie valiant attempts to be festive.

Remember: the holidays are here—and for some – they can hurt!

Loss of loved ones, feelings of failure over families or careers, health problems, financial troubles can fester into gloom under the light of Christmas trees and merry-making. Compelled to feel happy and upbeat, these folks feel even more guilt because they are not.

So, if you are hurting this holiday season …

Let it hurt. Allow pain to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you are not OK, and you shouldn’t waste precious time and energy to pretend that it isn’t so. Let grief and sadness be there; be authentic to yourself. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. Tears help to wash away the deep pain of loss.

Don’t hide your pain. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself as you are able to give. Allow people who love you to help you through this season. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version you think they expect. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events that support your feelings. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. The holidays are just a series of days, even though the trappings may make you feel otherwise. Release yourself from the expectation to have some magical Christmas conversion like George Bailey, in  It’s A Wonderful Life. If this season finds you less than alright, stay true to yourself and your authentic feelings, and realize “this too shall pass”.

Don’t sabotage yourself. Don’t try to convince yourself that you ‘must’ be happy during the holidays. Since you’re the only one who truly knows the depth and scope of your sadness, don’t beat yourself up; don’t be complicit in your own guilt trip. Go easy on yourself. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Give yourself permission to do what you need. Make some time for yourself. There are times and places during the holidays where the hurt is too much to handle; certain gatherings, parties, people, activities. Don’t feel as though you need to do all, or any of it! Balance your need to protect your emotions ; there is nothing wrong with avoiding negative situations. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

Embrace this holiday season as-is. There is still goodness to be welcomed and blessing to be claimed this holiday season, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future when you will feel stronger and lighter; allow yourself to accept whatever gifts this holiday has for you.

Remember, Jesus was born for you. Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness and salvation is yours, even if you cannot fully feel it this holiday! His message reminds us every day that loss, grief, estrangement and guilt are all part of the human experience. When you can, reach out to others, forgive, let go, and know that the birth of the child we celebrate is also the birth of understanding, acceptance, and eternal life – and in your deepest sorrow, perhaps this can be, for you, a light of joy and peace.

And above all, friend, know that it’s OK to be blue this holiday season.

It really is.
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 12 December 2017

We Are ALL Invited!

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. ” But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

We just heard about a king who held a wedding reception for his son where none of the invited guests showed up.

Can you imagine that? Would you ever skip a wedding reception if invited by your king?

And if you remember, there were some pretty lame excuses why people couldn’t be bothered to attend!

So the king, having found out who TRULY were his friends, sent his servants out to invite anyone they found in the street. These people invited were commoners, slaves, servants and merchants. They were honest and hardworking people, but also, according to the Scripture, bad people, criminals and thieves. Anyone who happened to be on the street was invited to come to this sumptuous feast.

Now, this parable from Jesus is not really about a wedding feast, but a story about the salvation that is available if you follow Jesus. The king represents God, who asks each and every one of us to come into his Kingdom. . . no matter what our station in life, what we have done in the past. The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited to only the ‘good’ people or the Jewish people.

Heaven is open to all of us.

But there are some conditions for entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. The scripture says that there was one man who did not have a wedding robe. But this doesn’t refer to a piece of clothing – that just doesn’t make sense since the king’s servants went out onto the street and hauled in everyone they could find. Obviously, no one was dressed for the wedding.

This ‘robe’ is the ROBE OF SALVATION, which we all get when we give our lives to Jesus. . . when all our sins are forgiven and we are clean and spotless.

In Isaiah 6:10, we are told that when accept Christ, we are

clothed me with the garments of salvation, and He has wrapped with a robe of righteousness.

It is God who clothes us. Nothing that we do can possibly be enough to earn us salvation or righteousness. Only God can cleanse us from iniquity and cause us to be truly blameless, or righteous.

But we have a choice – we can choose to accept Christ and wear the ‘wedding robe’ or we can choose not to. It is solely up to each one of us.

The last line of the scripture (Matthew 22:14) says:

For many are called, but few are chosen.

We all receive the invitation, but not everyone will be chosen. Are you going to be one of the ‘chosen’ ones or will you be thrown into darkness?

It is your choice. . .  what are you going to choose?

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, open our eyes and hearts to the wonders of your salvation through Jesus Christ. Please help us to see that we can throw off the rags of our current life and put on shiny white robe through your salvation. May we live our lives on the path to your Kingdom. Amen.

Delivered to In the Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 15 October 2017