A postulant for priesthood in The Episcopal Church and on the path to becoming Parson Carson, I will soon be a seminarian at the Sewanee School of Theology! This is my blog for the ponderings of life, poetry, prayers, travel adventures, humor, space goodness, puns, and photos!
Good morning! I bring you a sermon crafted upon our holy mountain, exactly four days before my very first class on the Foundations of Preaching…
Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word: Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
Today’s passage in the gospel of Matthew follows Peter’s statement that Christ is the Messiah; Jesus calling him the “rock” upon which he will build his church, and his giving him the keys to the kingdom of God. How’s Peter feeling right about now? Secure? With a stamp of approval? In control? The most memorable lines from today’s gospel passage are: “Get behind me Satan!” and “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It seemed rather harsh to me, going from a foundation rock to a stumbling block with “Get behind me Satan!” In the Greek however, the phrase is ambiguous and can mean “get out of my way” or “a cause to stray from whom he ought to trust” or maybe “keep following my leadership”. Calling Peter Satan basically calls him out at being adversarial to Jesus’ messianic role – he’s trying to pull Jesus away from death. This doesn’t go over well. Humanity needs Jesus on the cross. Peter has indeed just taken Jesus aside and spoken to him, almost as if he were in charge and not a disciple. Peter’s disappointment with what Jesus has just told them is evident. He enthusiastically loves Jesus. He has given up his family and possessions to follow him. He has made a grand and obvious commitment - so why not react strongly to Jesus’ informing the disciples that he will soon suffer - and even die? Peter is distracted and focused on himself and his relationship with Jesus, his being “all-in”. Maybe Peter is acting instinctively out of love for his friend…acting first, thinking later. I sure can personally identify with this trait. This is not always a bad thing though…acting quickly to save a life, acting instinctively for our own survival, acting out of love for another. We recognize his humanity and over time, we get used to Peter acting in earnest innocence and discovering that he has indeed moved or spoken too quickly.
God’s call, however, is more than rapid response performed with sincerity. Unfortunately though, we happen to be drawn to quick fixes… Who isn’t? God’s calling is much more than a quick fix of say…going to church, even regularly. More than praying every day or night. More than tithing. More even than any one sacrament except….except for living out our Baptismal covenant, long term. It is a calling that we ourselves, like John the Baptist says in the Gospel of John, must decrease - and Christ increase. It is more than “making room for Christ in our hearts”, the implication of which is that we are already so full that we must shove aside, not even rid ourselves of what we have collected, but shove aside and pack the spirit in - to squeeze God into our lives. We may even live a godly life and be infused with the spirit of Christ and his goodness, but, and really ask yourself: how much have we decreased inside ourselves and increased in the image of Christ? Just how do we go about denying ourselves and taking up our cross?
It is a call, in a sense, to be forgotten…a call to be forgotten. This is in the worldly sense, where we harbor any reservation whatsoever when asked to follow Christ and instead, we put ourselves first. Putting self-interest away, inviting the difficult, the different, the unknown – essentially inviting the uninvited into our lives. Not shunning challenges to our ways of interacting with people who are different from us or our loyalties… is the giving up of self for the greater good, for the sake of community. What about being willing to suffer or even die? It is a costly process. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the WWII era Lutheran minister who battled Nazi ideology in Germany, wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, and absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. “
How many of us are really super eager…or even mildly eager, to take up our crosses? Our crosses are not likely to be physical persecution for our faith. How do we even know what and how multi-faceted our crosses are? Is it even right to equate and legitimize our own suffering with that of Christ’s? In the 21st century, the cross symbol itself has become a fashion statement as we don’t use crucifixion and are certainly removed from the Game of Thrones-like gruesome practice. Maybe you have taken up a cross…was it your own? Remember Simon of Cyrene set down Christ’s cross because it wasn’t his responsibility to the very end. So, Peter’s asking Jesus not to bear suffering and death was Jesus’s stumbling block. What are yours? Societal additions to material things, money, being right, winning? Physical or mental ailments? Loneliness? Depression? Fear of solitude? Fear of groups?
Some of my crosses were shaken and stirred during this summer’s clinical pastoral education course in NYC where I participated in a hundred hours of therapy-like examination, group discussion, and self-awareness training - basically moments of public emotional vomit - in addition to 300 hours as an NYU chaplain at a level I trauma center. Some of my many stumbling blocks are: anxiety, the need for approval, and super enthusiasm (that’s a positive and a negative for me). One you and I may share is the need to not be forgotten. Zing! That is an arrow right through that call to be forgotten, isn’t it? I do experience a certain freedom in seminary life that seems to show me that this vocation is authentic. But, I am deeply aware that self-denial is much broader and deeper than this. I’ve got my work cut out for me. Luckily, I know why I go to church. One of the many reasons is that here, “there is always room for one more” (Robertson). This church, this community of Christ-followers is the heart of opportunity to deny self. Following implies that there will be someone ahead to whom we reach out.
To you whose young ones will be baptized this morning: Your name may eventually become: “Walker’s Dad”, “Ella Grace’s parental units”, “Mary Margaret’s Momma”, “Madison’s progenitors”, or perhaps “Ellie’s antecedents”. You are here and part of this community. You are taking up your crosses and that of your infant kin. “The baptismal call for parents who baptize their infants is to take up their own crosses, because you are making promises this morning for yourselves as much as for your children. It’s also a call to bear the cross that parenting can be for a time, to carry it with and for your children until they are mature enough to take it up for themselves. Yet, the good news in all the bearing is” how much more have your souls increased because of these gifts.” (Courtney)
You are not alone. They will not be alone. As we accept your sons and daughters as new members of the body of Christ, as we all renew our Baptismal vows, the unison cry of “we will with God’s help” holds us equally in each other’s spirits. As the liturgy turns from darkness into light, we will not be alone. As we move from death in Christ into life into the same, we unite, UNITE, in the risk, in the discomfort of taking up the crosses of the spiritual forces of wickedness, sinful desires, our distrust, and we turn to Christ…..and he walks before and with us as we deny ourselves and follow him. As the old hymn says “In Christ there is no East or West, in Him no South or North, but one great fellowship of God, throughout the whole wide Earth”. Will you be called to be forgotten? For as you fade and decrease, it is God himself who will remember you.
“Lord Jesus Christ, fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we may be less of what we used to be, and that we may become more of what you want us to be. Amen”
Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) Why Go to Church (Robertson) BCP Thayer’s Greek Lexicon / Strong’s NT
O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Yes, I am THAT person. That person who LOVES OCTOBER...(and that person who has a personal blog...and uses it for all manner of things silly, academic, travel, and to tout the marvels of OCTOBER.) It has to be my favorite month and for a number of reasons. I love when Autumn actually arrives and sets in and while it doesn't come until late October or even November in my home of New Orleans, here atop the beautiful "holy mountain" in Sewanee - it sure is stunning! The smell of leaves, obvious big drops in temperature, and crisp and fresh air all mark a solid Fall. Sewanee fog is also beautiful...like living in a cloud. New Orleans fog is pretty too. Here are two of my favorite New Orleans October fog photos from the park across from where I used to live on Frenchmen Street. (Believe it or not, these are iPhone photos.)
I also love October because of Halloween and I love wearing my silly socks. I've got this Edgar Allen Poe lunchbox that I bought ten years ago in NOLA and it's hilarious so I use it during October and OF COURSE I wear it with my "Poe family" t-shirt :-) I have several Halloween shirts with bats or cats. I am the person that buys the chocolate eyeballs to give to everyone! If you know me and are nearby, you will likely hear just about every Halloween pun that exists :-)
I love pumpkin spice and though it's available in September nowadays, I get it more in October. I also love sugar free instant apple cider, sitting on the porch enjoying cool weather, walks or hikes in the woods, colorful leaves, and college football - GO USC GAMECOCKS! Sometimes, I get somewhere where there's a nice bonfire or smell wood smoke as I'm walking. The days are getting shorter more rapidly and it always reminds me of the good parts of my childhood when it was exciting to have shorter/darker days, walking to school, Halloween costumes, fall festivals, the SC State Fair (one of my favorite memories), apples, popcorn, and toasted pumpkin seeds. It IS always crunch time academically and a super busy month, but it feels great! For me, October always brings to the forefront a juxtaposition of an acute sense of the brevity of life (paralleling seasonal cycles) and the happy urgency of scurrying to finish tasks or the celebratory defiance of evening activities outside under brilliant lights before the coming seasonal cold and slumbersome stillness.
Found this poem on the Hello Poetry website. It fits how I'm feeling this Friday afternoon completely. SO. COMPLETELY. It's been a super hard week, but a terrific week. I've got tons going on and for me. I'm whining a bit though. I am reminded that there are millions who feel this way every hour of the day. I would not wish that upon anyone, but I know it's likely many feel it. Frankly, I know not everyone can have all days be fantastic and I"m sure it will make the great times feel greater, but it stinks while you're down. Today, someone changed an appt., another rainchecked a lunch (good reason), and someone else's word choice about something minor was poor and left me feeling terrible. Last year, the question was: how many times does one hint around being included before one simply stops asking? Today brought some of that back. Everything was unintentional I am quite sure, I do know that. Still, it's been a rough day. I'm allowed to have them and it always brings me to prayer and ponderings with God. Yes I shed some tears. I needed to and now I feel better. It's not a bowl of roses now, but it' not as bad as I make it out to be. I hope whoever wrote the poem below is feeling better and I hope I do and if you're having a down sort of day or moment, I hope you will soon feel better too! Hang in there!
Forgotten. "I didn't realise you weren't there" "I actually forgot all about you" "I'm so sorry I forgot our appointment" How many times Can one be forgotten? Oblivion is the state of being completely forgotten, They say it comes with death Yet I have achieved it in life.
Racism and anti-Semitism again raising their voices and
engaging in violence. I am thoroughly disgusted with the white supremacists, the rhetoric they feed upon, and especially the overt destruction of the civil progress our nation has actually made (and I know we have a long way to go). This feels like it's basically a form of terrorism. As humans, we are
far, FAR more alike than we are different.
Words fail me, maybe they fail us all, but I pray that there is an end to the violence and the belief that violent acts can foster an end to the marginalization that any group feels or experiences. When it is enough to make us all speak out simultaneously? How many violent acts resulting in injuries (to body or spirit) equal a reason that touches each of us enough to react as a whole? What is the point at which we can no longer stand the persecution of our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens *of the human race*?
I realize offering prayers might not feel right for some, but it feels right for me right now. I realize it might seem like more failed or distant words, but I believe common prayer can have communion of spirit and maybe that's what I can hang onto tonight while I mull over and try to understand the "why" of it all.
I offer this prayer for Social Justice from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I also offer this prayer from “A Year of Prayer to End Racism”
from the Diocese of West Virginia:
“Creator of all people, in our amazing diversity of size, shape,
color, and giftedness: guide us, by your grace, to recognize the beauty and
fitness of all whom you have made in your own image. Give us gifts of humility
and generosity of spirit to recognize in all people, the face of our Savior,
Jesus, and to practice his commandment to “love one another,” toward the end of
bringing harmony and peace among persons of all colors, origins, and abilities,
for the sake of your Kingdom.” Amen. Racism is NOT ok. Bigotry is NOT ok. Intolerance is NOT ok. Violence is NOT ok.