Language fun

So I’m doing my final paper in liturgics class.  I ran into a funny translation matrix when using Google Translate for the New Zealand name of their Book of Common Prayer.

He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – translates to “An Anglican Anglican New Zealand.”

He Karakia Mihinare – translates to “An Anglican Catholic.”

He Karakia – translates to “A Catholic.”

He Mihinare o Aotearoa – translates to “An Anglican of New Zealand.”

He Karakia o Aotearoa – translates to “A New Zealand Catholic.”

Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – translates to “British Anglican Church.”

Karakia Mihinare – translates to “Greek Orthodox.”

Karakia – translates to “Religion.”

Mihinare – translates to “English.”

This was too funny to just ignore how words are put together to mean different things.  If you go to the Maori dictionary, Karakia is a verb to recite chants, rituals and prayers.  Mihinare is an Anglican.  O Aotearoa is of New Zealand.  He without a line over it is the article An.  So more accurately, “He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa” would be something along the line of Anglican Prayers of New Zealand.

Why did I write this out here?  Because while fascinating, the paper I am to write is only 5 pages, and this really doesn’t help with comparing and contrasting the Books of Common Prayer of the United States and New Zealand. 🙂  Ignore me – I’m easily amused.


Good Advice

So, I recently posted on Facebook the following:

“We have to get over the uncomfortability of things being messy.” – Masud Olufani on racial discussions

“Tension is not something we are afraid of in Judaism… It propels us forward.” Mayim Bialik on women in spiritual leadership.

These two statements got my attention this week – it’s something that the “PC” crowd needs to understand. Changing terms, eliminating uncomfortable discussion topics, etc. are not going to help change the world. Love, tactful expression, willingness to *listen* and *empathize* are what we need to stop being stuck where we are and begin moving forward.

One other statement got my attention, by a lady named Maya Mansour:  “… really getting to know someone and engaging with people past their visual identities.”  That is a completely awesome phrase.

I’ve always said that to eliminate a prejudice, you have to get to know individuals, because prejudice is not against an individual.  It’s a concept against a bias against a “visual identity”.  What we look like means nothing to who we are.  Now you will likely find that there are wonderful people in every “category” of visual identity, and you’ll likely find some real jerks, too.  People are people.

Part of the concept of active listening is actually hearing what people are saying, and not what your own bias is hearing them say.  There’s the typical example of “You look nice today”, which can be taken plainly, that your appearance is pleasant; it can be taken with an ear toward criticism (say for instance, you grew up with a critical parent and are used to hearing the criticism underlying everything they say) – “well, you look nice today, but you looked like crap yesterday”; it can be taken with an ear of insecurity – “you look nice today – finally put a bit more effort into your appearance, huh?”

When we’re dealing with issues of prejudice, be that regarding skin color, economic class, gender, religion, physical or mental handicap, age, nationality or any number of other prejudices out there – those listening skills are crucial, for both parties.  I’m not one who believes prejudice and bias only go one way.  I do believe that every aspect of your self-identity has an influence on how you hear things, no matter what someone else might intend to say.

But I think the above speakers are absolutely correct that we can only move forward if we are willing to sit in tension, be uncomfortable, and move forward in love with the idea of healing past hurts.


What is the difference between transubstantiation and real presence in the Eucharist?

In reading Aquinas, he seems to say that the bread and wine are representative of the remembrance of the act performed by Christ, but that when received, they are transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (and given what we know about the nature of energy and matter, that makes sense) which feeds our own spirits.  That we are not able to perceive the difference through our own senses makes no difference to the fact that they are transformed.

In reading Newman (Tract 90), he rejects the concept that the bread and wine are transformed, but believes that through remembrance, Christ is present with us in the act of Eucharist, and His real presence is what feeds us.  He emphasizes that “locality” is in terms of God’s understanding and not human understanding.

I don’t think that Newman’s opinion negates Aquinas, but then I don’t see the Eucharist as merely a “symbol” either.  I don’t tend to be one to limit God’s abilities.

Sacraments are held as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace given by Christ.

Part of the question, I think, has to do with whether the bread and wine are transformed prior to ingestion by the recipient, or whether that is an individual transformation that takes place in the heart of the receiver.  There are those who feel the nature of the priest is of primary importance in this change, and others who feel that it is more despite the nature of the priest, and because of the belief of the receiver.

Adding on 3/6/18:

I found the excellent explanation on transubstantiation my professor gave:  We have substance and we have accidents. Accidents are all the qualities of the thing that are part of it but aren’t totally necessary. Substance is like the thing’s “-ness”. Kind of like adjectives vs nouns.

Take this chair. (grabs chair) We can see that this chair is made out of metal, plastic, cloth, has different colors, etc. But it’s a chair, right? (right).

Take this other chair. (grabs other, different-looking chair) It’s made of wood, different colors, has a desk attached to it, etc. It’s WAY different than the first chair, but we still know that both of them are chairs. We have this idea in our minds of what a chair is, we have this understanding of “chair-ness” that we agree on, that exists, but isn’t totally dependent on what’s in front of us. That “Chair-ness” is the substance, the materials are the accidents.

In the Eucharist, we have substance and we have accidents. The accidents are the hosts and the wine mixed with a little water. The mystery of the Eucharist is that the accidents don’t change, but the substance does. It may have all the appearances of bread and wine, but it’s “breadness” and “wineness” are gone, replaced with “Jesus-ness.” And we can’t say it’s both bread and Jesus, because there’s no “bread-ness” left. The “-ness” is what we all agree actually makes the thing a thing, not the accidents.


People of the Prayer Book

This week, our professor provided us with two questions, only one of which had to be answered.  Because of how things are assigned, one person does the “lead” post, and everyone else responds to what they’ve written.  The lead poster has 500 words to answer; the follow up responses are limited to 300 words.  I absolutely adored the first question this week, but the concept of answering it in 500 words was laughable.  The lead poster apparently agreed and answered the other one, but I wanted to get into the first question in a space where there’s room to respond.

The question(s) is:  Wasn’t it wonderful to read in Alexander how Cranmer gave us the ‘classic shape’ of the Prayer Book which has lasted for over 450 years? Doesn’t it make you proud to be an Anglican? Back in the day the Daily Offices, the Litany, the Eucharist, the Lectionary and the Psalter were all in regular use in Anglican Prayer Books all over the world. However, pull any ’79 Prayer Book out of a pew rack today and you will see a very slender section of soiled pages in the 300’s which, for the most part, are the only pages being used today (I’m not sure of the pagination in other Prayer Books, but I am confident that the phenomenon is the same). This, of course, is the side effect of the successes of the move to weekly Eucharist and the change to the Revised Common Lectionary. But can we really call ourselves Christians of the Prayer Book tradition when so little of the Prayer Book is actually in use? This difficulty raises two questions in my mind:
a.  Is there really a future for the Book of Common Prayer?
b.  Do the contents of the Book of Common Prayer need to be revised so that the Prayer Book we have is filled with material we actually use?
Please support your answers and if you reply ‘yes’ to question B, then please provide your proposed additions and deletions.

There are several assumptions in the question, particularly as made by someone in a large church, but without a parish of his own.  As a college professor at two colleges, Fr. Moroney makes himself available as a “supply” clergy – to help out smaller parishes without clergy, or to substitute for an absent or ill priest – celebrating the Eucharist Mass on Sundays.  In the instance of my church, our most common service is actually Morning Prayer, and we switch between Rite I and Rite II regularly.  Additionally, we have been trying out different services at different times of the week, to see if we can serve the community with a non-Sunday service, using the Compline, Evening Prayer, and even the Noonday Prayer rite.  When you are without a priest, you tend to use more of the Prayer Book, I think, but interestingly, not those sections of the Eucharist service, because that can only be done with a priest.

The other thing is that we tend to make things easier for the average parishioner anymore.  Our Sunday bulletin contains not only the Ordo (order of service), but also puts the responsive Psalm in, as well as the three Biblical lessons, and the version of the Prayers of the People (there are 6 forms) being used that day.  It essentially ensures that if the congregation follows from the beginning of the particular service being done, the only other things they will have to have are the bulletin and the hymnal, and they won’t have to be flipping pages around the book to get everything done in the service.  It’s a convenience, but it doesn’t mean that those sections are ignored.

Other portions of the Prayer Book are not meant for daily, or even weekly use – services for baptism, marriage, ordination, etc. – these are all important within the life of the church, and having them in a place easily accessed and referenced is wonderful, but those pages are not going to be referenced all the time.  The Prayer Book is not just a book for the organization of services, but of the Church year itself, as well as being a book from which we can teach about the particular methods we use in the practice of our faith.  As someone currently working on getting a new believer baptized, I am grateful for all the book contains.

As with every church, certain portions of the Bible are emphasized.  For instance, Pentecostals emphasize the Pentecost, speaking in the Spirit, and the Great Commission.  Then on another end of the spectrum, I know of a church that took a verse about serpents, and they have snakes that attend their services regularly.  I can’t talk – we have a dog in regular attendance at ours.  However, the Prayer Book itself is absolutely rich with Biblical passages, and the majority of our services come straight from the Bible.  It’s just organized in the fashion we choose to worship in.  So, while we still need a Bible for the lessons (generally printed in the bulletin, so you don’t have to have a Bible if you don’t want to), everything in the Prayer Book is based on Biblical passages.

Because we are a people who enjoy tradition, I think the Book of Common Prayer will continue to be in use and useful for a long time to come.  There are, of course, arguments over specific wording to be made, but I think the contents are quite good.  I wouldn’t want to see the Eucharist service separated out into its own little booklet, because I think people would miss the opportunity to discover the gems of the Prayer Book that are not often used, but can be used individually, or corporally, as needed or wanted.


Apostolic Tradition

So, homiletics is complete (my first B – not happy).  The classes now focus on liturgics and church music, both of which are completely fascinating.  In the process of reading about the apostolic tradition, it occurs to me – and isn’t part of the assignment on which I only have a maximum of 300 words to write) that Christ had 12 apostles.  There were many schools of thought from the time Christ spent here, each focusing on different things.  He left us the Holy Spirit to guide us, and yet, the Church (capitalized as the Catholic Church kind of took over the western world for quite a long period of time) focused on a monepiscopate (On The Apostolic Tradition, 2001, Stewart-Sykes), a singular source from which over a thousand years of Church history, liturgy and tradition followed.

Why did we do that?  I think it eventually got straightened out by Luther and Calvin and the rest of the Reformers, but why would we narrow things down to one path, when Christ left us with 12, each going to different places, cultures, having traditions of their own, which would obviously affect the way in which people worshiped.  I think Paul had a lot to do with how things were organized.  And the fact that he did so obviously helped the spread of Christianity, but what would Christianity look like if he hadn’t reigned in practices he thought shouldn’t be included in the religion?  Would we now be more or less unified than we currently are?

I think it would be safe to say that Christ brought us a way of life, but Paul brought us a religion.  The question is, does the religion reflect the way of life?


Blessed Christmas

Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen

St. Thomas Aquinas gave me a different perspective on the Christmas story this year.  According to Jerome and Origen, Joseph was not at all suspicious that Mary had committed adultery. He knew Mary’s purity and had read in Isaiah, Chapters 7 and 11 that a virgin would conceive:  “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  He had also known that Mary, like himself, had descended from David. Hence, it was easier for him to believe that the prophecy had been fulfilled in her than that she had fornicated with another.

In looking at the story in Matthew, we know that “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'”  A man who believed he’d been cheated on wouldn’t be afraid – he’d be angry.  And so, considering himself unfit to live together with such holiness, he wanted to put her away, divorce her, secretly.  He thought himself unworthy.

We know from today’s gospel in Luke that Joseph followed the angel’s advice, and agreed to be a dad to a child whose heavenly Father couldn’t participate in the physical life of His child.  Joseph and Mary, as husband and wife, traveled to be registered in the census.  To keep things easier in the day of the census without computers, one was obliged to travel back to the town of their family, where the ancestral records were kept.

Now we generally skip reading the genealogies in Luke, Chapter 3:23-38 and Matthew, Chapter 1 for several reasons, but you’ve seen them – listing the names of people you either don’t recognize or may have the barest familiarity with is a bit dull; the names are difficult for modern tongues to pronounce; and if you compare the two sections, there are differences, which have confounded scholars for centuries.  Some believe Luke was providing the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph, but Luke begins the list with Joseph, so there’s still the conflict.

Many of you know that my dad was hugely into genealogy, having traced his paternal line back to 9th century France.  His work on our family’s genealogy was renowned, to the point that he was the genealogist for the Sons of the American Revolution in Florida.  Of course, as with my mother’s habit of getting me involved with her projects, Dad did too, emailing me bits and pieces of information, and asking me to find more evidence, books online, or lending libraries which had material and might be willing to send particular books to him, or if I was very lucky, one that would send him just the pages he needed.

When conflict arose in a person’s genealogy, dad would look at the circumstances and people surrounding the person in question.  So let’s do that here, but let’s go back and look at the Israelites at the time of King David.  God had provided them with law, and with judges and with prophets, but the Israelites wanted a King.  God told them that He was their king, but they were quite certain that while they worshipped God, they needed a king for the everyday and mundane of life, as well as for keeping up with the Jones – or the Philistines and Amalekites of their day.  God, through Samuel, warned them against a human king, but they would not listen.  And God knew that the consequences of these actions would lead to nothing but heartache for His chosen, but He allowed them the choice.  He first gave them Saul, and ultimately determined Saul to be unworthy.  Samuel, guided by God, set David on the throne, setting up a line of succession that one day, God, Himself, would have to fulfill.

And Isaiah told them about the darkness, the heavy yoke they were choosing, the armies that would be over them.  But as we listen to him, with our present, Christian perspective, we hear the prophecy of the one God will send, with new ears:

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.

            This census – this genealogical master source of its time – carried utmost importance for the chosen people.  And while there is little doubt Mary was also of David’s line, it was Joseph, Jesus’ human dad, who provided the lineage trusted by so many.  He overcame his fear of being unworthy, and trusted in God’s plan, most likely praying constantly that he was doing the right thing by God’s Son, teaching Him properly, being there for the human experience Jesus came for.

Can you imagine being responsible for raising God’s son?  And in the very first instance, the place where He would be born, Joseph must have felt like a complete failure.  They were traveling, dusty, tired, sore from the trip.  Mary had gone into labor, and because of the census, all the inns, hotels, bed and breakfasts were completely booked.  Joseph was running out of time, and needed to get Mary to somewhere to lie down to deliver the Son of God.

What if one of the inn keepers had been moved differently?  Wally was an awkward and shy child who belonged to the church kids club. It was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Wally? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we’ve no room.” Wally grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn’t wait for the big night.

It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room we could take?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room”.

Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly precocious child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room?” Wally’s face went white – this was not planned for! – and he paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.”

“But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.”

It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story.  But maybe God had other plans for Mary, Joseph and His Son – maybe He wanted them somewhere accessible to the shepherds, where young and old alike could come as His star provided the birth announcement, and the angels sang, inviting all to visit the new family.  Joseph and Mary found room at the stable, and the Baby found his first bed in a manger.  The King had arrived, and yet, He would be nothing like what the Israelites expected.

From their perspective, they assumed that the mien and mantle of a heavenly king would be the same as one from a human king.  They had forgotten the perspective Isaiah had given them:  “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool”.  Footstools aren’t generally thought of as being fancy, but rather utilitarian.  So for the Son of God, the rightful heir of King David to lay in a manger, people should have known to anticipate something completely contrary to what they were expecting.

History will judge us by our legacy.  From the perspective of history, no other individual has had the impact on the world that Christ had.  And whatever part Joseph played in shaping the human child Jesus became, he, also, had an impact on that history of the world.

When we, too, are afraid that we are not worthy of whatever God is calling us to, let’s remember that that’s not up to us.  From God’s perspective, He has already judged us worthy, because He sent us His Son to redeem us.


Lord’s Prayer

Well, by now, you’ve probably read something in the news that the Pope wants to change the wording in the Lord’s Prayer.

On the one hand, people I know are saying, didn’t Christ give us that prayer?  Doesn’t He outrank the Pope?

On the other, there’s an interesting article written a few years ago that brings up that Christ’s language was Aramaic, which was then translated into Greek, which then went into Latin, and the vulgar languages.  According to documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls, there might be a point to this.  It indicates that a more accurate translation of “And lead me not into temptation” might be “Don’t allow me to enter into wrong thinking or testings”, thereby putting the onus of temptation on man, and not on God.

So, thoughts?

(Boy do I miss my dad at times like this.)


Writing a Sermon

It’s really rather funny, as I read all of these texts and articles and books on how to write a sermon.  The most useful about the process, for me, thus far has been Eugene Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot.  Not because I particularly like his type of sermon (narrative), but rather because he goes through the process of how one gets from a sermonic idea to writing a sermon.  And I laugh, because I have a very particular process.

First, I read the lessons from the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.  We’ll be beginning Year B with this coming Sunday, starting the year with Advent.  In this way, we work our way through the Bible every 3 years.  The lessons and psalms are matched, so we generally have an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.  So, I start with the readings.  If there is a passage I’m unfamiliar with, or want to get better insight, I take a look at some exegesis of that passage – what’s the literary style, the historical context, the cultural context, the specific words being used, and where else within the Bible do some of those specific words appear?

Generally, I’ll let all that percolate for a day or two, and then, depending on the time of year, I’ll do one of two things:  take a shower (as opposed to a bath, where I can take a book or writing materials), or mow the lawn.  Neither of these, of course, are conducive to being able to write anything down – my normal method of figuring out what I’m thinking.  It causes my mind to play with ideas, without writing them down, until I finally reach the “Aha!” moment, where it all comes together, and I can go, sit and write down the sermon.

Personally, I like to think that my conversations with God, along with inspiration from the Holy Spirit comes into play here, but either way, those are the two areas where those conversations are most likely to occur in such a way as to inspire the sermon.

My method works for me.  I’m quite certain that others like the outlining, crafting, cut/paste method used by so many preachers until they have put together a sermon word by painful word.  Likely, they are much more talented than myself.  But that’s okay.  As long as I don’t bore myself to tears, the congregation should be at least marginally pleased, or irritated, or thoughtful, or fired up, etc.


Janet’s Repentance

Ugh.  I didn’t think I would ever dislike another author as much as I dislike James Joyce, and I was correct, but not by much.  The last few chapters of George Eliot’s “Janet’s Repentance” (modified version) actually made up for the first 23.  However, I’m still of the opinion that she could have written the entire story in 10 pages, and still gotten the same message across.

All of that aside, it occurred to me:  there are a couple of things here that would be interesting to look into more:

The Doctrine of Signatures is the belief that the shape/color/texture of a fruit, flower or herb will tell you what something is good for, or for curing. It’s a medieval belief, that continues through to this day, even though it has been proven that that only works for *some* things, not all. However, it was a common belief in Victorian times, so the whole concept of Dempsey taking his mother for a walk among the cucumbers becomes really creepy. On the other hand, Mr. Tryan sits and looks over a cabbage garden, and while it is known that cabbage looks like a head (and has recently been shown to be beneficial for memory), at that point, it was known to be good for consumptive coughs.

The language of flowers is a Victorian invention, and according to George Eliot’s biography, she was quite familiar with both botany and the language of flowers. When Janet was in the throes of depression, sitting in front of a garden with cistus flowers – cistus implies imminent death. The holly at the gate of “Holly Mount” symbolizes domestic happiness.

It would be interesting – at some point when we have nothing else to do, of course – to go through the book and catalog the various flowers and vegetables used to see what Ms. Eliot might be saying through her copious use of those particular descriptions.


Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11

As you know, over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing some sermons that don’t go along with the liturgy, and I do appreciate your indulgence for my class.  I’ll make sure to post links to reflections that pertain to the liturgy or sermons from Karen on the web site, so you won’t miss out.

Today, we’ll be discussing the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, beginning at Verse 5:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul is pointing out here that Christ emptied himself of his Divine status, of wisdom and power that He could have exercised, in order to lower his status to that of a servant, a slave – the lowest position in society.  He set aside His Divine prerogatives and incarnated Himself as man.  This didn’t deny His deity in any way, but rather, gave us an example that Paul held out to the church at Philippi to emulate.

Now if you’re like me, that’s a really intimidating example.  Christ, in serving mankind, prepared by praying, studying and being baptized.  He healed the sick, fed the hungry and preached the gospel.  He selected people to learn from Him, so that His ministry for God would continue long after He was gone, training them for the day when they would take over for Him.  He gave them clear instructions with the Great Commission, and He had them practice, sending them out two by two, while He was still there to supervise.  Then He sacrificed His very life for entire world, taking our sins onto His shoulders to reconcile them with God and prepare a place for us when we choose to follow Him.

The thing is, if you allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed with Christ’s example, you’ll never be able to follow Him.  But if you choose to follow Him, then start small.  Choose one thing.

For instance, you might choose to prepare yourself, as Christ did, through prayer.  There was a  young man who had gone to Wednesday night Bible Study.[1]  His Pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice. The young man couldn’t help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message.  Several people talked about how God had led them in different ways.

It was just after 10:00 when the young man started driving home.  Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, “God, if you still speak to people speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.

As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, “God is that you?” He didn’t get a reply and started on toward home. But again, he thought, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how he didn’t recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli.

“Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk.” It didn’t seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home. As he passed 7th Street, he again felt the urge, “Turn down that street.” This is crazy, he thought.  It’s my own mind playing tricks on me, and he drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down 7th Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down 7th. Half jokingly, he said out loud, “Okay, God, I will”.

He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.” The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid.”

Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door, “Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something but if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here.”  He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?”

Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he just got out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. “What is it?” The young man thrust out the gallon of milk, “Here, I brought this to you.” The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway speaking loudly in Spanish.

Before the young man could leave, from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face. He began speaking and half-crying, said, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.” His wife, in the kitchen, yelled out, “I asked him to send an Angel with some. Are you an Angel?”

The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man’s hand. He turned and walked back toward his car and the tears were streaming down his face.  Now he knew that God still answers prayers.

So in that example, there are several things to focus on.  The man made the choice to start listening for God.  He prayed, and then trusted that God was guiding him.  He humbled himself, knowing that he would look like an idiot, but still trusting that God had a plan, and he was the tool God was using to fix this particular problem, whatever it was.

Now there are many ways to serve, but they mostly fall into three main categories.[2]  The example before exemplifies charity – responding to an immediate need or problem.  When the fire burned down the apartment building in town, all of the churches got together and responded to the immediate needs of the tenants.  We, along with the Methodists, provided vouchers for food, temporary housing and gas.  The Baptists used their large spaces to begin gathering and separating clothing and household goods.  Many of the community churches provided transportation for the donations coming in from all over town, and taking people to hospitals to visit those that were injured.  Still others made sure the firefighters were taken care of.

Advocacy, the second way to serve, emerges from charity in that we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social or political conditions.  The Episcopal Church in Montana has been very active in helping folks get to know people in groups that are typically discriminated against.  We’ve got a problem in some areas of Montana with groups that don’t want “their” kind around.  And in speaking out, the Episcopal Church itself has been targeted, with St. James in Bozeman just last month being vandalized with images of swastikas on their signs and property.  There will be persecution at this level of service, but we have the perfect exemplar who reminds us that the only response worth giving is love.  We all know Roxie and Connie, and apparently the vandals chose a weekend when the deaconate school was meeting.  St. James covered all of the graffiti within an afternoon with pink hearts carrying words of love.  And they recommitted to advocating against racism and bigotry.

The third area of service is justice – working to change systems and processes that create conditions for poverty or limit self-determination.  We all have opportunities to work in this area, depending on what our interests are.  The diocese and the national church have multiple opportunities for volunteers.  You just have to choose what you want to do.

In all things, God provides us with free will.  We don’t have to do anything to improve ourselves, serve our churches, our communities, our nation, or the world as a whole.  But Paul is asking us to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to fulfill our baptismal vows, to forget about status and being embarrassed or thought of as crazy.  He’s asking us to humble ourselves because we love Christ, and to serve God’s creation here on Earth.

That Great Commandment that Christ gave us changes the reason we do things.  Laws of the Old Testament were kept out of duty.  Christ asks that His laws be kept out of love.[3]  And in that love, we provide an example to others.

Aristotle said, “you are what you repeatedly do.”  Service ought to be a habit, not an act.  Rick Rigsby[4], the man who wrote “Lessons From a Third-Grade Dropout”, which I highly recommend, by the way, pointed out that his father left the house every morning at 3:45 to go to his job as a cook.  When his wife asked him why, he said, “Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.”  He wanted his sons to go on in life, and achieve, but to always remember that “you make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.”

Remember the reason you serve.  Remember Christ’s reason for serving.  And remember God’s promise that because of Christ’s humility and obedience, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Let us pray:  Father, allow me to serve others with a joyful heart; never keeping score; always giving; never expecting to receive. Allow me to give of myself, to give of my talents and of my goods, to give of my time and of my energy, to give of my heart and of my soul. Help me remember to allow others to give to me when I need a helping hand.  Assist me in understanding the needs of others, never criticizing, never demeaning, never scolding, or condemning.  You have been so gracious to me, always loving, always forgiving, always restoring; never gloating over my defeats, even when I have been so wrong.  Father, keep a condemning spirit far from my heart and  further from my lips. Allow me to serve others as You serve, with gentleness, compassion, and tenderness, never diminishing the worth of another, choosing to extend mercy to the brokenhearted, like You have repeatedly shown it to me.  Amen.[5]