Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12A] - July 24, 2011 (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

As I was sitting in a hospital waiting room not too long ago, I picked up a local area magazine and began flipping through it, looking for something to read. The last couple of pages contained some paragraphs that some kids in an area third-grade class had written as a school project. The topic of the mini-essays was “The Most Beautiful Place I Have Been,” and the children’s entries covered locations as diverse as one could imagine in the third grade: you know…Disney World, Canada, Michigan. One kid wrote about home.

What became especially apparent as I read these aloud to Melinda later was that the third grade class had evidently used this writing exercise to practice their use of similes, a comparison—you may remember from grade school—that uses the words “like” or “as.” Almost every sentence contained a comparison, and some of them were a little humorous. One child described his most beautiful place, the beach, by saying that the ocean was a blue as a bluebird. He then followed that by saying that the sun was as yellow as a…yellow bird, and the sunset was as red as a…red bird. In another essay, a boy said that the sun in his favorite spot was as bright as…the sun beaming off the window of a car. The funniest comparison, in my opinion, was one girl’s description that the snow in Canada (the most beautiful place she’d ever been) was as white as…a white crayon.

Overall, I was impressed with their writing. After all, the world of the average third-grader might not provide the widest frame of reference for comparing things. It was clear, however, they had reached deep within their 8 or 9 years of life experience to find ways to describe something they’d seen.

When we hear Jesus’ similes for describing the kingdom of heaven, we may scratch our heads with confusion, yet he is clearly reaching within the experience of the average middle-eastern farmer or homemaker for material. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed…or a lump of yeast that a woman uses to make bread…or buried treasure…or a fishnet. Like a box of crayons for a third-grader, these are images and scenarios that would have meant something to the disciples and other ordinary folks who had gathered to listen to Jesus. As we listen in from the perspective of the twenty-first century, we might get the feeling that something has been lost in translation. After all, how many of us have gone fishing with a net? Or work with yeast and dough on a regular basis? Or breed mustard plants?

Yet, the greater issue with our unfamiliarity with Jesus’ comparisons is not that we don’t understand his similes. It’s that he’s trying to describe something that doesn’t really have a location. The kingdom of heaven is not your average kingdom. It doesn’t really have boundaries, in the proper sense. It doesn’t have regular citizens, or subjects. Unlike other kingdoms, it has no capital city or standing army or coat of arms. In other words, describing the kingdom of heaven is not like describing the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen, especially since no one can—in the regular sense—even really see the kingdom of heaven at all. The kingdom of heaven is difficult to describe and even more difficult to locate.

One thing that is clear, however, from this assortment of parables is that Jesus is not attempting to describe the place people go after they die. That’s what most of probably associate with the words “kingdom of heaven.” We are taught in this day and age—sometimes through the church but mostly through unbiblical concepts in television and popular books—that the kingdom of heaven is a place where souls go after they leave this life. In fact, it may surprise us, but Jesus is almost completely silent when it comes to describing what happens after we die. When we look closely at the words and actions of Jesus, we see that Jesus is very concerned with the here and now—with what is happening on earth currently—which might also be one reason why he uses in his teaching such common, earthy examples for the kingdom of heaven. If we insist on holding onto those other perceptions of heaven when we listen to Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven, we are most likely going to be very confused. Instead we must, as Jesus says, sort out our old perceptions and ideas and take up the ones that correspond to better teaching.

Based, then, on the example of the mustard seed, which has an inauspicious beginning but grows surprisingly aggressively to be mighty and strong, we learn that the kingdom of heaven cannot be judged on its size or strength at its outset. It can start out as something insignificant, powerless, but when left to take its course, it has surprising results.

The same type of thing may be said, too, of the yeast. In Jesus’ time, people did not bake bread with packets of active dry yeast. They kept on hand a lump of leaven which contained living yeast in it, along with the food that the yeast needed to live. It was a smelly, sticky, ugly chunk of slime. When time came to make bread, a little portion of this slimeball was added to larger amounts of flour and kneaded together so that the two became inseparable and indistinguishable from each other. Furthermore, it would multiply to make a huge amount of bread, much larger than just the leaven and the flour together. Biblical scholars suggest that Jesus’ measurements in this parable—three measures of flour mixed with leaven—would have made enough bread to feed more than three hundred people. Again, we see that the kingdom of heaven that Jesus comes to bring is that which adds substance and nourishment to the world. We must remember that that first-century folk would have known nothing about microorganisms and microscopic fungus. Leaven was just something kept on hand to make bread. It may look simple and ugly and inconsequential when it starts out, but it is that which brings life and vitality to creation. It rises mysteriously and forms something marvelous.

We can pray, too, that God’s kingdom will be born in and among us through things that are mysterious and inconsequential, but that it will grow and rise and produce something capable of making a huge difference. In fact, most of Jesus’ comparisons here relate the kingdom of heaven to something small and solitary that has the ability to become something greater. Even the hidden treasure starts rather inconspicuously but by the end—and in the eyes of the right person—has somehow increased the value of a whole piece of land. And in this vein I would like to add a modern simile of my own here: the kingdom of heaven is like Vacation Bible School craft projects. What begins on Monday with a single popsicle-stick creation becomes a whole exhibit of crayon-etched papers and cotton-ball-glued sock puppets that take up every flat surface of the house. God’s kingdom come, indeed…all over my kitchen table!

But whether it is the mustard seed, or the bread leaven or the pearl of great price or the fishnet that gathers everything in its grasp, Jesus’ parables about the kingdom teach us that the kingdom is an occurrence or a happening more than it is a place or location. In fact, the word “kingdom” may actually do us a disservice in understanding what Jesus is talking about here because we’re so prone to think of a kingdom as a place. But in the original Greek, the word we translate as kingdom is actually more related to an action, like the English words “reign” or “dominion.” But even that falls short. From all of this, we may begin to understand that the kingdom of heaven is any occasion when God’s authority is made known and acknowledged. It may happen any time or anywhere, and we pray in the Lord’s Prayer—no matter which version we use—that it come to us every day.

Whenever or wherever this world’s usual cycle of decay and despair and brokenness are interrupted by God’s grace and life, there and then is the kingdom of heaven. Whenever or wherever creation’s current monotony or sorrow and greed give way to occasions of generosity and self-sacrifice, there and then is the kingdom of heaven. Whenever or wherever this earth’s ordinary systems of so-called justice and so-called peace are kneaded together with the leaven of Jesus’ forgiveness and humility, then—voila!—there and then is the kingdom of heaven!

Need a modern-day example of the kingdom of heaven? A parishioner here at Epiphany recently responded on somewhat of a whim to a small and inconspicuous magazine advertisement that sought to know how the church is serving its often neglected senior citizens. Before she knew it, this parishioner was lead into a deeper conversation with a seminary professor about how Epiphany’s Leisure Time program could be an example for other congregations. There is the kingdom of God.

When members of a youth group kindly request that this year’s mission trip to South Carolina entail more time on the job site adding handicap ramps to low-income homes and less free-time on the beach, defying the conventional stereotypes we hear about today’s youth…there and then is the kingdom of God.

This week at Vacation Bible School the children watched how one small act of bringing in a canned food donation can leaven the ministry of an entire non-profit organization, and, subsequently, how a small, non-profit organization like the LAMB’S Basket or our H.H.O.P.E. pantry can leaven a whole community.

Hey you!  Crazed Norway murderer, with your guns and bombs, worried about the rise of Islam.  We're going to hand out quilts and scarves to people of all faiths...and teach our children to love in spite of you...because it's the kingdom that's on the rise!

Jesus’ parables may seem esoteric and confusing, but we don’t really need to think too hard to know what the kingdom of heaven is like. We know it from our own faith experience. A small splash of water makes us reborn. An inconspicuous chunk of bread and a sip of wine swell within our hearts and empower us to forgive and serve others. Love and compassion grow, and we know not how. And in the middle of it all stands that cross, a promise that God’s kingdom can take root anywhere. This kingdom has grabbed us again in its embrace and we are sent out to provide more of it to the world. As if we were a farmer, foolishly selling everything we own to gain treasure hidden in a field, in joy we learn to value Jesus’ reign more than any other kingdom that is out there. We trade selfish desires for our futures and our livelihoods for the one true future and one true livelihood that is eternal: following Jesus and learning to seek his kingdom.

And we look forward to that day when all other kingdoms will finally give in and give way to Christ’s reign. We look forward to the time when we will be reunited with all those who have striven for the kingdom before we have. We lean into the future, praying that this kingdom becomes the only kingdom we know, hoping for that time when these “kingdom happenings” we so savor now will be all that is happening, and we will, at long last, be in the most beautiful place we've ever seen!

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 11A] - July 17, 2011 (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25)

Well, the movie event of my lifetime took place this weekend, and I didn’t even participate in it. The final installment of the wildly successful Harry Potter franchise opened on Friday and, as expected, shattered all box office records for an opening day. It pulled in $92.1 million dollars, which is $20 million more than the previous record-holder. That’s what happens when an entire generation of youth grows up reading the same seven books in sequence.

I’m a late-comer to the Harry Potter phenomenon. I resisted reading or even watching the movies until earlier this year. For others of you who are unfamiliar with the stories, you should know there are seven books, each of which chronicles a year of a young wizard’s education in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that young wizard being Harry Potter. Each year Harry grows a little older, a little wiser, a little more proficient in wizardry skills. He also grows a little more aware of a cosmic battle going on between good and evil that somehow implicates him and, as we find out, everyone around him. That’s the genius of the series that makes it so popular: Harry and his friends have aged along with an entire cohort of our youth. As of this weekend, it is over. The tagline for this final episode that appears on the movie posters that emblazon every theater from here to Timbuktu contain three simple words: “It all ends.” Seven years at Hogwarts, eight movies. I suppose those who have followed along know what “it” is, in this circumstance. Currently I am getting ready to begin the fifth book, so “it” hasn’t ended for me yet, but I know it’s moving in that direction. (Just a point of privilege: I would appreciate it if people would not spoil any plot details for me. I’ve enjoyed the suspense of the series thus far and would like to continue to do so!).

I do not consider myself to be Harry Potter aficionado, but I have enjoyed one feature of the books that is done remarkably well. You see, the world of Harry Potter is populated with a dizzying array of creative and colorful characters—wizards and witches, giants and elves, mystical creatures of all kinds and, of course, muggles, the name for regular humans like you and me who have no wizarding powers. What is so interesting is that you never can be sure exactly who is on what side, be that good or evil. The author of the series, J.K.Rowling, has done an expert job at keeping the reader in the dark just long enough about who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy. There are a handful characters about whose intentions you have no doubt, but a great many are purposely ambiguous, and the plot is driven by Harry’s attempts to navigate this world. I suppose when “it all ends” these things are revealed to us. The evil will perish and the righteous, good guys go on to shine like the sun. At least, I hope.

I suppose all this means nothing to those of you who haven’t been caught up in the Harry Potter phenomenon, but—fear not!—we have the biblical version of essentially the same thing in the gospel parable this morning. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds (or, the wheat and the tares, as it is sometimes known) is like a 1st-century allegory for the cosmic battle between good and evil, between the forces that obey God’s word and respond to God’s grace and those forces that seek to undermine God’s goodness. The wheat is the result of the good seed, the words and deeds sown by the Son of Man and, presumably, those who follow him and abide in his righteousness.

The weeds, on the other hand, are the result of the bad seed sown by the evil one, the enemy of God’s plan for love and mercy for God’s people. He is a crafty spreader of lies, this evil one. He works in the dark and is rarely caught in the act, disappearing just before sunrise. Some people doubt he’s real, but evidence of his existence is all around.

And like the world of Harry Potter, it turns out there is some ambiguity in this field gone wild. For even though the slaves are aware that someone has sown weeds in amongst the wheat, the two are not as easy to tell apart and separate as you might think. The particular weed that is growing is actually a close look-alike of the good wheat. Scholarly authorities point out that this weed was likely darnel, a common agricultural pest in Jesus’ time. In fact, darnel had leaves and a stalk of grain that is virtually indistinguishable from regular wheat. Only at the time of harvest was it clear: wheat had grains that were brown and that were so heavy that they drooped. Darnel, on the other hand, had black ears of grain that stood up straight.

Under the soil, too, darnel and wheat grew together. The roots could intertwine and find nourishment together. So, even if the slaves were able to tell each plant apart before harvest time, pulling up the bad weeds could also uproot the good wheat, and that would be counterproductive. The householder, knowing all of this, of course, commands them to leave the weeds alone. As aggravating as it may sound, they are to tend the field like usual and let the two grow side by side. In due time, however, the householder will send in the appropriate workers who, knowing the difference between the good and the bad, will separate them once and for all. Interestingly, that is not the work of the slaves. Their job is to labor in that time of ambiguity, when the good and the bad are sometimes clear—but not always; when the hope of a pure field and a productive yield are sometimes visible—but not always; when the wisdom of the good householder is sometimes evident—but not always. And eventually it all will end.

For Jesus’ first disciples, I imagine this parable served to bolster their work on the kingdom’s behalf. They had likely been working alongside Jesus, even doing some good deeds of the kingdom on their own, and were perplexed that in and amongst their labors for righteousness some bad things were happening. Some people weren’t responding in faith to the good news about Jesus. Some people weren’t receiving him with hope and joy. Some people weren’t hearing of his mercy and then learning to practice forgiveness and love themselves. And if the disciples weren’t perplexed by this point, they certainly would be later on when they would make it to Jerusalem and the opposition they would meet would end up nailing Jesus to the cross.

Evil seems to work its way into the best of situations. Which of us has not experienced frustration and disappointment at the weeds that grow among the good wheat, or a desire that the field could just be purified at the outset? We picture a nation, for example, where everyone comprehends the need to cut the government’s deficit spending…or, as the case may be, where everyone appreciates the need to raise taxes. We desire a family where there are no black sheep and no personality conflicts. Or a congregation where everyone thinks and believes the same things about every issue. Perhaps those are not really examples of evildoing, but we do dream of communities where children can walk home from school or camp without fear of being abducted by people who will do awful things to them, or where we go through airport security without having to take off half our clothes.

And just as we like to dream of such a world where God’s good plans are never crowded out by intrusive evil, it is also somewhat satisfying to think about systematically going around and ridding the world of anything we know is wrong, pulling the doggone things up by the roots, once and for all. That’s what the slaves naturally want to do, and that’s likely where Jesus’ disciples will want to take this as they take up sides with his vision for a world redeemed. Yes, waiting until the end to sort this all out seems a little counterintuitive, yet if we don’t heed his command, we risk diminishing the householder’s harvest…and it is his harvest, after all.

Photo: Thomas J. Abercrombie
Jesus’ own explanation of this parable when he goes inside the house with his disciples could leave us thinking that an individual is either all one or all the other—there’s a weed here…oh, there’s another one there!—when the reality is a little more complex than that. What about the mixture of good intentions and evil intentions that each of us cultivate in our own lives? The apostle Paul happens to talk a good bit about that in his letter to the Romans, noting the endless conflict between the good he knows he should do and the selfishness and sin that come so readily. When we take a good look at our lives, especially in the light of the cross of Christ, the weed-ridden and darkest moment of God’s life, we come to realize that the task of the slaves is really the better option, for in the zeal to uproot and eradicate all sources of evil we would eventually have to turn the spade to ourselves.

And that’s another reason I find Harry Potter intriguing. By and by, even the main characters in those stories who seem clearly on the side of good realize they have the ability to think selfishly rather than altruistically. They, too, must navigate a world where the path to good and evil runs right through their own hearts.

The farming advice that the householder gives to his slaves sure might strike us as peculiar, the wisdom of letting it all grow together a little muddled. It is hard at times to keep our mind on the fact that a good harvest will yet come out of all this mess, not to mention the mess of our lives, but perhaps it’s best to leave that up to the one who raises Jesus from the dead…to the harvester who grants new life after every bit of suffering…to the Lord who promises to vanquish everything that stands in his way…to a God who prizes every good thing that can come from his people.

Eventually it all will end, as Harry Potter learns, it all will end. The final movie will come and all will get hashed out. As we, the people of God wait for our final installment, as the world groans toward that grand unfolding where good reigns and the mercy of God’s kingdom come, it’s best that we tend to the field in prayer and worship, service and encouragement. Even as the strangling weeds continue to pop up it’s best if we wait and keep the good growing, nurtured by the word, our own roots sunk deep in baptism, and tend to the precious grains of good faith in ourselves and each other. Yes, it’s best if we keep things growing, my friends…keep them growing and rejoice at the wheat that is here. As a line from a U2 goes, “always pain before a child is born, I’m still waiting for the dawn.” For, indeed, we are waiting.

I’m afraid I'm going to need to plow through the last three books to learn what Harry Potter discovers in his final chapter (remember…don’t spoil it for me!) but--thank God--because of Jesus Christ we already know ours.

Psst! The weeds don’t win.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 9A] - July 3, 2011 (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another…”

Jesus’ words as he addresses a crowd made up both of willing followers and skeptical accusers ring of frustration and puzzlement. Is he lashing out in anger? Is he throwing up his hands in disgust? We’re not really accustomed to hearing Jesus sound like this; that is, wandering into the risky waters of cross-generational criticism. In fact, he sounds here more like us.

“But to what will I compare this generation? They spend too much time in front of the computer or plugged into their iPod!” Or, “Those fuddy-duddies are so out-of-touch and old-fashioned! The world is changing! You better catch up, old man!”

“But to what will I compare this generation? That new music they’re always listening to sounds like pots and pans clanging together with a cat fight in the background!” Or, “That old music they listen to has no beat and no soul.”

“But to what will I compare this generation?” They want to pray a newer version of the Lord’s Prayer! How can you do that!?” Or, “They want to pray an older version of the Lord’s Prayer in language so formal and stilted!”

Choose your topic these days—sacred or secular—and it seems like so many opinions of what’s right and what’s good fall right along generational lines. Heads are shaken in exasperation and—if you’re like me, standing in line recently for a cell-phone upgrade that will drag me kicking and screaming into a new generation—beads of anxious sweat form along the ridge of the brow. New is not always improved, we know…and traditional may not always mean wiser. But the debates rage on, and from this morning’s gospel lesson we see that Jesus is no stranger, either, to the friction that occurs when generations of human beings set their habits and expectations up against one another.

In his case, Jesus is frustrated and almost irritated that the people of his day and age are so unreceptive to the message he is preaching, which is at odds with the message they’ve heard for so long from the Pharisees’ sermons and the scribes’ teachings. And it’s not just his message they’ve questioned and rejected. It’s also his cousin John’s. The crowds can’t seem to get their heads around the God who is presented in their respective messages. They can’t fathom the kingdom of heaven as it is proclaimed from the lips of these two newcomers.

And who can blame them? Both of these yokels hail from off-the-beaten-track Galilean towns, far from the traditional academy of Jerusalem. Neither has a formal synagogue training that we know of. One sequesters himself in the desert half the time, eating wild honey and locusts, coming close to civilization from time to time just long enough to dunk people in the Jordan River and publicly criticize the rulers’ morals. The other one hangs out with a bunch of tax collectors and other low-lifes, frequenting banquets and parties. Both seem to go against the status quo somewhat, setting themselves a number of times as the preferred option to the way things are. But John is too much of an extremist, like pots and pans clanging in the midst of a cat-fight, and Jesus seems too lax. John is a little too fanatical, Jesus not fanatical enough. Who would take these guys seriously, especially about matters that the Pharisees do such a good job of explaining in their sermons, convoluted though they may seem?

This is the situation which both John and Jesus confront: a populace of their own people who can’t seem to get their head around a new way of seeing God act and move in the world. To John, the people are hard-headed and ignorant. They need baptism for repentance and need it now, for the winnowing fork of God’s justice is in his hand and the chaff will be burned. (We must assume that would be John’s reaction to this, of course, for at the time he is currently in prison awaiting what will be his execution for the crime of criticizing Herod’s decision to marry his brother’s wife).

Jesus, on the other hand, compares the generation to children in a marketplace who try to do everything gentle and pleading they can to coax the people to dance or mourn. With inspiring words and uplifting promises of forgiveness he has played the flute, so to speak, to get them to “dance” along with his vision of the kingdom of heaven, and they still stand on the sidelines in their stubbornness. Likewise, he has cried the haunting mourner’s wail, reminding them of their need for mercy, and yet they remain unmoved.

Have you ever tried to explain your faith to someone who perhaps doesn’t believe? Have you ever tried to convince someone of the love of God or your involvement in the life of a congregation to a person who, for whatever reason, is reluctant to follow? To a large degree, Jesus’ experience with people’s doubt of and rejection of his message is common to people of each and every age. Whether we encounter difficulty in preaching the gospel of Jesus on a personal level or whether we get frustrated when our congregations don’t grow and gather new members, it seems as if the church will always have to live with some level of discomfort or frustration with how we’re received by the generation at hand.

Jesus’ immediate response to his own discouragement is to offer thanksgiving that the gospel message is not something to be grasped by knowledge or wisdom or sophisticated reasoning. Faith, as Martin Luther would put it, is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by our own strength or power. Indeed, Jesus’ teachings are hidden from the intelligent and revealed to the young and inexperienced, the simple and pure-hearted. How many of us find ourselves more captivated by the children’s sermon than by the words preached from the pulpit? And, by the same token, I know many pastors who, like I, are as intimidated by delivering a children’s sermon as they are preaching a big people’s sermon. A religious system that rightly asks its leaders to attend a seminary and receive a post-secondary degree, can send the unintended message that brains are what’s required for a deeper faith, or to have faith at all. Pretty soon we forget how the infants see things.

St. Augustine (Antonella da Messina)
And here is when Jesus reminds us once again that it’s not brains that will lead to deeper faith, and it’s not a sophisticated understanding about how the universe works that will ultimately cause one to come to Christ. It is not brains we need, but a burden. Our attraction to the kingdom of heaven comes from the desire for an easier burden than the ones we’re carrying, a longing for rest for our souls. St. Augustine, a man of supreme intelligence who did not convert to Christian faith until fairly late in life, once said, “I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are very wise and very beautiful, but I have never read in either of them, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’”

No, it is not wisdom or beauty—although they are there—that ultimately draws us to the way of Christ, but rather the promise of an easier way, the hope that when we cast our sorrows on this whippersnapper from Galilee we receive something far better than we’d ever imagine. It is, rather the confidence that this whippersnapper who goes to the cross for us and exchanges our a path of death and sin and guilt and shame for a new life filled with undying love and forgiveness. It is, rather, the understanding that somehow, with Jesus and his community, our way is indeed made easier, even though following him may be dreadfully difficult at specific times.

Thankfully, this was once again revealed to me this week during the Virginia Synod’s Kairos youth event at Roanoke College. One hundred seventy-five members of a younger generation than mine, including twenty-nine from this congregation, spent a six days praying and worshipping and studying Scripture. Although spending long days away from my family, sleeping on a hard mattress in a barely-air-conditioned residence hall is not how I’d ideally like to spend a week of the summer, I always return from these events somewhat renewed, not because I’ve had the opportunity to teach and lead but because the youth always manage to teach me something about trusting in Jesus.

Some speak it quietly in the comfort of a small group, while others take the opportunity to address the whole large group with a reflection on their faith. Some of them speak of heart-wrenching personal hardship and experiences with grief or abuse while others confess a relatively strong faith bred in their home congregations. No matter the method, no matter the venue, one theme is evident in every testimony: these youth desire an easier yoke than the one they carry now. They long for a Lord who is gentle and humble of heart. They seek a rest and comfort in a world that simultaneously idolizes youth and also expects them to grow up too fast. And in their prayers and concerns I detect a realization that coming to Christ is not purely an unloading and releasing of guilt and shame and heaviness of heart. I also hear an understanding that Jesus gives something in return. That is, he has a yoke, too. He longs for us to change and grow and bear his Word to the world.

But I must tell you it is not primarily at these types of gatherings that I am reminded of Jesus’ promise of an easier yoke and lighter burden. That happens each and every Sunday—indeed, each and every day—when you and I speak on the phone or share a word in the Commons, when you share your own stories of experiencing God’s glory or your own prayer concerns for those you love, when you show up for worship in the middle of a hectic and busied lifestyle to anchor your week in the community of Christ’s disciples.

I am reminded of your deep faith when you arrive at this rail, hands open, head maybe bowed or eyes lifted up in hopeful expectation taking this guy from Nazareth seriously—not too unlike the children who come up here earlier in the service for a time with the pastor—wanting what Christ will give, presenting your shoulders once again for the gracious yoke, handing over your heavied hearts in exchange for that easier burden.

And then I see you, once again—refreshed, empowered, head lifted higher, shouldering that lighter burden of the Spirit’s transformation making your way back to your seat in the pew, making your way back out the door ready to bear this faith once again this week to any generation you happen to meet in the marketplace.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.