The Church Universal

the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13
August 2nd, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can find these readings here.

            Baptisms are great, aren’t they? I think the theme for any baptism is “my cup runneth over.” Back in seminary, I was taught that, at a baptism, you should use lots of stuff. Water – use tons of it. Submerge if you can, if you can’t, make sure to get everyone wet. And chrism? Make the whole church smell of it. Get so much on your hands so that you smell that chrism through the rest of the day on your fingers. Our dean, the old bishop of Atlanta, said that we should pool as much chrism in our hands and slap it on the baby’s head (slap it gently, of course). And then, at the end, we’re supposed to use what’s called an aspergellum, that little wooden thing with a sponge at the end, and take holy water and fling it on everyone in the pews.

            And, of course, now with our pandemic and all, I’m not going to use as much stuff as I want, but our cup still runneth over. You might not get wet, and I’m only going to use the tiniest little bit of oil, but this is still a party. There should be too much of something, and, luckily, even at baptisms when there’s no virus, the cup still runneth over in other ways as well.

            And part of the cup that runneth over, or, well, the runneth over part, that’s all of you. It’s the Church, it’s our community, it’s the people of God sitting here, not just watching, but living the water that runneth over the cup that is Theodore’s life.

            You see, there’s something special about baptism. It’s the same thing that’s special about all the sacraments, of course, but it’s especially special about baptism. Because, in a way, baptism is just for the person being baptized. We are here gathered together to baptize this little kiddo, little Theodore, who we’ve been praying for since more than a year ago, praying that he’d be healthy, that his parents would be healthy, that he’d be raised in a household and a community of love and affection and safety. And here that same family is bringing that same little Theodore before God and saying, Lord God Almighty, baptize Theodore into your love. Seal him with the Holy Spirit. Give to him the grace that your Son gave to us on the Cross, with the Empty Tomb, with his Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Pour out that grace and that love on little Theodore. We’ve come here to make that prayer and to make it for Theodore.

            But, just as much as today’s baptism is about Theodore alone, it’s also not at all about him alone. It’s about the Church as well, and I mean that Church with a capital “C”. Baptisms are not only about the individual; they are, but they’re also about the community. There’s a reason we are celebrating this baptism on a Sunday morning at our usual Sunday worship. Baptisms are a celebration of the whole community. Theodore is being brought into that community, which is that great Body of Christ, through your presence, your prayers, and indeed your promises.

            And part of the wisdom of this is because, well, quite plainly, Theodore is a baby. Babies don’t talk, I mean, they babble, but they don’t talk, and they certainly don’t make baptismal promises within a high Episcopal liturgy. And what we are doing here, in making those promises on his behalf, is promising to help raise him in the Christian faith. And while I hope that many of you will keep in touch, we are not making these promises for ourselves alone but for the whole Church, from Coquille to Chicago to Cairo and back. We are making a promise to raise Theodore in Christian love and hope for the people at whatever church the Browns will be attending in five years. You’re making a promise for a little old lady sitting in the front pew in some church that has never heard of Theodore – yet. You’re making a promise for the Brown’s family friends who will teach Theodore really, really important lessons about Christ’s sacrificial love, and the Browns may not know who these family friends are just yet. They’re out there, somewhere, a part of the Church and a part of that promise. And that little old lady, those family friends, they’ll be living out your promises just as you yourselves are living out the promises made by some folks in Tennessee who promised, as the Church, to raise Gwendolyn in the Christian faith. You might not know who Isabella Leake and Melissa Heartly are, but they made promises for Gwendolyn that you are now living. You are doing the same for Theodore.

            And that’s the thing about the Church. And that’s the thing about Baptism. And that’s the thing about God and God’s love for us. We experience it and live it in community, even as we know that God was Incarnated as Jesus Christ, lived, taught, died, and was raised to life, for each and every one of us. We are not alone in Christ. We are together, with those who have come before and those who will come after, with those who walked with Jesus Christ as his footed his way to Jerusalem and those who will be baptized a thousand years from now in the third millennium. Theodore is being baptized today into a community of love that has as its center and its essence our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

            And that’s pretty cool, I gotta say. And here’s something even cooler. In these waters, these waters right here in this little bowl, is a presence of love that is more powerful, that is deeper, that is huger than we can ever imagine. For God’s love for us is so awesome that is overflowed death itself and made even death the gateway to new and eternal life. We are baptizing Theodore today into that eternal and holy promise, that promise from God that is not just the center of our lives but the center of all existence, from Coquille to the planet Saturn to Alpha Centari and back. And we are witnesses to that, and not just witnesses who watch but witnesses that are living members of that love. I can think of no greater joy, no greater responsibility, no greater hope, and no greater community than that love. And it is into this that we are baptizing Theodore. And it is within this love that we ourselves live and move and have our being – now and for all eternity.

Happy Birthday, the Church! (and thank you Holy Spirit!)

May 31st, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 7:37-39

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click on this sentence to find these readings.

       Happy Birthday, the Church! Today is Pentecost, which means that it’s the Church’s birthday! It’s the day when we celebrate the founding of the Church, and the founding of the Church not just by human hands but by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Fire, and the Light, to guide us wayward and confused folks into a life lived as Christ’s Body in this world. It’s on this day, just short of two thousand years ago, that all of this began.

       You can learn a lot about something from its beginnings. You can learn a lot about something from how it’s made, when it was made, and what sorts of things went into it. First impressions are important. I remember when we brought Gwen into her school just before she started pre-school, and all the teachers had their doors decorated in fun colors and with silly animals. Going to school for the first time can be tough for a kid, and that first impression is important. One of the reasons the transition into school life was good, I think, was because the door, and inside that door the teacher, and the room, was so welcoming.

       So when we sit down and wonder, what is the Church, who are we as the Church, it’s important to remember what we’re founded on. And this is a particularly important question these days. For the past few months, what we usually know of as church sure didn’t look like church. We’ve been watching our worship services online, and few of us have received the Sacraments at all, be they the Eucharist, Baptism, Reconciliation, and so on. And as we move on into these times, and even as we begin in-person worship again, church might still look pretty different, and I don’t mean just what we do on Sunday mornings. This is a good time to reflect on what we are as the Church. What does it mean to be the Church? What does it mean to be the Christian Church, capital C? What does it mean to be the Anglican or the Episcopal Church? And what does it mean to be St. James Church in Coquille, Oregon?

       Luckily, we’re not beginning at square one. God may have created the world out of nothing, but we’ve got two thousand years of history (and, really, more than even that) to stand on. And we’ve got Pentecost. We don’t, and we shouldn’t, try to reimagine the Church from the ground during in these difficult times. The Church isn’t something that we’ve built; it’s something that the Holy Spirit gave us two thousand years ago.

       So, then, what does Pentecost tell us about the Church? Well, quite a lot. Too much for a single sermon, that’s for sure. Too much for a whole life, or even two thousand years of life, because the grace and the love and the joy that was spilled out by God upon the disciples, that the Holy Spirit himself, the third person of the Trinity, gave to all humanity, that grace and love and joy is more than we can possible imagine. It has taken two thousand years to even catch a glimpse of what the Church, founded by the Holy Spirit, can and should do in the world. And we’ll never get to the bottom of it, because there’s no bottom, no end, to a life lived, in community, as the Body of Christ, living that life of love another day and yet another day.

       But I do want to point out something so very important about Pentecost. It’s the languages. It’s the wealth and breadth of all those languages and, specifically, all those personal languages proclaiming the Good News and Love of Jesus Christ. If you have ever traveled abroad, you know how important your own language is. For what the disciples were speaking weren’t just a bunch of different languages, as if the Holy Spirit went down the list of a bunch of classes you could take at college. You know, like, “Well, Peter, you’ve got Arabic; James, you take French; the other James has German; John, sorry, I know it’s a tough one, but you’ve got Irish. But buck up, you can do it; Bartholomew, you take Swahili”, and so own. You see, each of those languages they spoke was the home language, the mother tongue, of someone in the crowd. It was like one of the disciples started speaking French, but not just French from Paris but the dialect of some guy who was born and raised in some little village out in the middle of nowhere; it’s like that someone didn’t just speak English but spoke Jersey.

       I mean, pretty much everyone there that day could probably speak Greek, or at least make it out with a struggle, so that if the disciples proclaimed the Good News in Greek, most of the folks would have gotten it. But that’s not the point. For these people were abroad, away from the land they knew. And when you’re abroad, you’re in a strange land, and nothing’s familiar, even the food, even the bathrooms, and from dawn until dusk you’re surrounded by differences. And even if those differences are wonderful, it gets tiring after a while.

But then imagine this. Imagine that you’re one of these people in Jerusalem. You’re far from home, you’re yearning for just something that’s familiar – anything. And then suddenly, suddenly, you hear your own language spoken, and not just by someone trying it out but by someone fluent, who knows it, as you know it, from the first day you were born – your heart is moved to its depths. And oh, it’s not just someone reading off a list of stuff to do, or sometone making a crude joke. What this person is saying, in that language that touches your heart, is the most amazing and wonderful news that you have ever heard. And this message, this message of love and hope, this message that you’ve loved and you’ve hoped for down in the depths of your heart, maybe this message that you could barely admit to hope for because it’s just too good to be true, that God loves you, that God loves the whole world and will go to the ends of the earth and back just to tell us about that love, that this message is proclaimed in your own language. Two hearts: the longing for home and the message of love, they meet on this day of Pentecost. Nor is this message just for anyone, but it’s for you, and you, and you. This is the miracle of Pentecost, that the hope of the world isn’t just something you can look up in a book, but that’s it’s personal, it goes to the heart of our hopes and longings. And it is here that the Church, the community of the faithful, the very Body of Christ, is born.

       This says something so very important about the Church and about our lives as Christians. God speaks to our hearts, to the things that we care about and love the most. Most of us were converted, or stepped into a deeper conversion to God, because we heard a voice calling to us from something we loved. God spoke to me through good stories and the natural world, two things I already loved; and God has continued to speak to me through family, my children, my good friends, food and travel and laughter. You don’t gotta get rid of those things in order to become a Christian. But through those things God speaks to us, and turns us more fully to God’s light through them. And as God does this, those beautiful things become only more and more beautiful, until all our lives shine with the glory of God.

       But there’s something else, too, and it’s one of the biggest lessons of Pentecost: the Church isn’t just for us. Just as we follow the example of Jesus Christ, who is God, so too do we, the Church, which was founded on Pentecost, follow the example of the Holy Spirit, who is also God. We’re to go outside of ourselves, outside of what we know and serve others from where God has touched them. We don’t proclaim the Good News in our own language or from our own experiences alone, but from the hurts, needs, hopes, and loves of those we serve. So that when we serve the world in Christ’s name, we’re not just doing what makes us feel good and happy but that we’re answering that call from God within each and every person who we meet. And this can be tough sometimes, because it requires patience, an open ear, and an open heart to the experiences of others.

       It’s tough to do sometimes, but, in the end, what a gift, right? What a gracious and beautiful gift, that we are given the privilege to serve God’s voice in the life of those around us. It is a humbling gift, truly; you can’t be proud when you do this work. You can’t think you’ve got all the answers. And it can be a hard gift sometimes, especially when the world is hurting so deeply, and those in front of us see only darkness and despair. But even still, what a gracious and beautiful gift, to be able to serve in God’s Name, the Gospel, that most glorious Good News, that before all else you are loved and that salvation is a free gift. And our work, now, two thousand years later, it’s the same as it was two thousand years ago: to listen to the love of God singing out through Creation, to serve that voice and that love, and to live together, together, with the love of God upholding it all.

Waiting with Simeon

Simeon with Jesus, Andrey Shishkin

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
2 February 2019

Today’s readings are:
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 84
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Click here to access these readings.

            An author friend of mine used to say, “The best part of the story is the one that isn’t told. That’s the part that’s full of possibilities.” And what part of the story of Simeon, whose story we hear just a sliver of this morning – what part of his story do we not hear about?

            The years – the years of waiting. There is a weight to this story that is so very beautiful. Simeon probably waited a very long time for the coming of the Messiah, and he was probably very old. He may have, like Anna, whose story we also hear this morning, he may have come each and every day to the Temple to wait and to see. The Holy Spirit had promised him that he would not see death before the coming of the Messiah. And when he sees Jesus, when he finally sees what he’s been waiting for so long, Luke tells us that he wraps the young boy in his arms and speaks an echo of Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is finished. Now at last may I go into peace.”

            There is a quiet, gentle relief in Simeon’s words that, at least to me, say quite a bit about how he waited. The years were probably long. They may not have been as gentle and as gracious as those moments when all the waiting ended. Luke tells us that Simeon was a righteous and devout man, but we know from the saints (especially saints like Mother Theresa) and our own lives, that even the most devout of us face real darkness.

            And even if Simeon was devout all the way through, even if he waited with patience and with fortitude, even still the years wear down on a person’s heart. The Holy Spirit rested upon him, and he was told that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. And maybe he was excited by this, moved with a fire and a joy that he had never before known. But the years wear things down. They’re like wind and rain and the great storms of the sea that turn even stones smooth. Simeon wouldn’t need doubt to wear zeal down; life does that already.

            What sort of life, what kind of waiting, would have led Simeon to be type of person who, when all that waiting, all those long years, were finally over, not to rush up to Jesus and pick him up, toss him in the air, and parade him around the Temple with shouts of joy and happiness beyond anything imaginable? There’s a great short-story by Ray Bradbury where astronauts come to a planet where Christ and come as well and just ascended, and these Earthlings, who are so jaded and tired, look on as these aliens rush around, shouting in exaltation, trying to tell them of the utter joy they have come to know in Christ but can’t. They grab the astronauts and babble, then rush away laughing. Why doesn’t Simeon act like that? Why does he simple kneel down, wrap Jesus in his arms, and say, “Now you have set me free?”

            Back in college, I studied abroad in Japan. I had been learning Japanese since high school, and I had taken every language class the college offered. I had watched movies and listened to Japanese music and had prepared and prepared and prepared. And yet, when I finally got there, to this land that I had studied and loved and dreamed about for years, the first thing I did was simply look. I walked around neighborhoods, just looking, just drinking it all in, all the things that I had seen on a flat screen or the page of a book; and not the famous temples of Kyoto or the artwork or the geisha or the samurai; but the normal, everyday streets, the wooden houses with tiled rooves, the people going about their business. I just watched, and looked, and wandered, and loved.

            Or, almost five years ago now, Helene and I went to the hospital for Gwendolyn to be born. Now, Helene and I had dated for ten years, and we had been married for around five. We had thought about having kids, considered, discerned, and wondered. Then, we had waited nine months of mounting anticipation. We bought clothes and toys and blankets. We had a baby shower and got things we didn’t even know existed. Then we bought a crib, and put it together, and set it in our room, a bed for someone who was not even born yet. And each day our joy and anticipation rose, until one day, the evening of May 13th, we rushed to the hospital. Then it was more waiting, until on the following day, at something like 11:27 in the morning, our first daughter was born.

            And those first few moments were exciting, and we’ve got a picture of me holding Gwen, all wrapped up in blankets, with joy (and a bit of exhaustion) on my face. But then that night, that first night of her life, I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to look at her. I wanted to hold her, actually, but I was too scared that I’d break her she was so delicate. And so I just watched her sleep. She’d catch her breath suddenly, and so would I. She’d wiggle a little, make those tiny little baby noises, and I just watched.

            What will it be like when we meet Jesus? After all the hard, long years, after all the grief and sorrow, after all the joy and excitement, after all the darkness and the doubt, what will it be like for Jesus to be, finally, standing right in front of us. What will it do to us? What will it do to all that grief and sorrow, that joy and excitement, all that darkness and doubt? What will it do to our wayward life and our tired soul to stand before Jesus Christ and see, finally, God face to face?


The Waters of Baptism, the Love of Jesus

The first Sunday of Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord
12 January 2020

The readings for today are:
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Click here to access these readings.

        The other day, I was talking to my Evangelical friend about Baptism. Which is kinda appropriate: today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, as we read this morning in the gospel of Matthew. But when my friend and I started getting into our discussion, we realized that we both had some pretty different ways of thinking of Baptism. He thought, as many or most Evangelicals do, that baptism is a symbol of something that’s already happened. It doesn’t have any internal meaning, but it’s a way of seeing something that is already taking place, of God coming and dwelling within a person who has made a commitment to Jesus Christ.

        For me, and for most liturgical traditions, something really does go on in baptism. We’re changed in some way, we’re brought closer to God and given a new relationship to him through Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism. Baptism is, after all, one of the two great sacraments along with the Eucharist. And sacraments are gifts from God, special acts of grace that draw us closer to the life of the Trinity.

        And so we disagreed, pretty fundamentally. I dunno, what do you all think?


Here, Father Tim listened and responded to people in the congregation.


        There are, I think, three ways out of this sort of situation. First, we can say that “everybody’s different” and go our separate ways. And that’s just fine if you’re trying to decide whether you like apples or oranges, or if you are wondering what kind of cheese to put on your hamburger, but we’re not dealing with simple choices. We’re talking about our relationship with God, and that’s a bit more serious and important to end with a shrug and a “let’s just agree to be disagree.”

        Another way you could solve the disagreement is to force agreement. I could say to my friend, and to all Evangelicals: you’re wrong. You’ve got baptism all wrong, you’re schismatics, you’re heretics. But that sort of thing breaks the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

        So what should my friend and I do? Or, to put it more broadly, what do we do with any sort of disagreement in the Church? There are quite a lot of issues in the Church these days that risk to rupture the Body, and there are a number of issues right here in our Episcopal Church, and even our diocese, that push people apart.

Back last summer, the bishop search committee did a few surveys to see what people in the diocese wanted in their new bishop. Remember this? And we gave a bunch of options: spiritual leader, teacher, prophet, activist, liturgist, administrator – stuff like that. And we asked people: choose three of these that you want to see in your next bishop, and choose three that you most certainly DO NOT want to see in your next bishop. And you know what? Some of the things that were in the “definitely want” column were also in the “definitely don’t want” column. Some of us vehemently want something that others vehemently DON’T want. And you know what, we’re not all that different from the rest of the Episcopal church, or, really, the whole Church as a whole.

So what binds us together? How do we live with our differences but still live in deep relationships with one another? My friend, the Evangelical, answered these questions when he answered one of mine about baptism: if baptism is only a symbol for you, with no real inner meaning, why do you do it? And he said, simply: Jesus.

I’m not going to get into Evangelical theology, because I’d probably misrepresent it, but even though baptism for many of them is just a symbol, even though their theology sounds strange to me and doesn’t get it just right, even still, they encounter Jesus in baptism. And I get that, I get that. For Jesus is at the heart of the sacraments for those in the small-c catholic tradition. Jesus is present in the Eucharist – “This is my Body” “This is my Blood” he told us. Jesus is present in the sacrament of Healing, Jesus, who spent his ministry going to the sick and the suffering. Jesus is present in Reconciliation, for it is not to the priest who we confess, but to Jesus; and it is not the priest who absolves us, but the priest speaking the words of Jesus pronounces his mercy and love to the penitent. And in baptism, when we are submerged in water, we are brought into Jesus’ life and his death upon the cross. Jesus is the foundation and life of it all.

And that’s where we agree. We could argue over details – is it the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or whether we should baptize babies. And those are important details. They teach us how God is with us in this world and how to respect God’s gift to us in Creation and in the Holy Spirit. And I think there are real answers to those details, and I’ll continue to preach the Real Presence and I’ll continue to baptize babies, but at the end of the day, what all this is built on, what truly and wholly matters, is that we are standing on a sure foundation, and that foundation, Jesus Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity, is unshakable.

Today we celebrate baptism, and in baptism we celebrate the community that we were brought into when we were baptized. My mom just found my own baptismal record, and it seems I was baptized in a Lutheran church in New Jersey. Helene was baptized as a child in a Roman Catholic church. Gwendolyn was baptized at All Saints in Sewanee on the same day that our presiding bishop was blessed into his position. Fiona was baptized here, so was Cooper.

Where were you baptized? Whose hands poured water over your head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Were you a little child dressed in white? Or were you an adult, and do you remember being thrust into the dark waters? Whatever the case, at the center of all that was Jesus Christ, for the center of our lives as Christians, and the center of the universe itself, is Jesus Christ.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to have Jesus Christ as the center of your life and of the universe? Well, stay tuned for the next, oh, fifty years, and maybe I’ll be able to speak somewhat to that great and beautiful mystery. But I can say this if you don’t want to stick around that long: on the night in which he was betrayed, on the night that he instituted the blessed sacrament, the Eucharist itself, Jesus gave to his disciples a new commandment: that you should love one another. As he has loved us, so shall we love one another. Then he went to the cross for those he loved.

Be a Blessing

the Second Sunday after Christmas
5 January 2020

Today’s readings are:
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

Click here to access these readings.

        When you travel abroad, you learn how many things you take for granted (and seriously, no joke, when I was writing this sermon last week, I had just written this sentence when, boom, the power went out. Things like that make you start thinking, you know?). Anyway, when you’re abroad, you realize that things you usually count on to be there – you know, things like food that looks familiar, or signs that you can read, or beds. While in Japan, I realized that there were a lot of things that I did, and always had done, that the Japanese just didn’t do. And one of these was saying “God bless you” after someone sneezed.

        The Japanese, you see, don’t have a tradition of saying anything after a sneeze. And this felt really strange to me. I’d be sitting in the teacher’s office, and someone would sneeze. Then, nothing. I’d look up, worrying about whether someone would say anything, but people just, you know, kept on working. It just felt weird. And when I asked some of the Japanese teachers who could speak English, they scratched their heads and asked, “Why do you say anything at all?” And all I could say was, “I dunno. It’s just what you do”, which is pretty unhelpful.

        When I became an Episcopalian, I had some similar experiences. Episcopalians, as you know, have certain ways of doing things, and we like doing things these ways, and we get uncomfortable when someone tells us to do things differently. We kneel, as able, at certain parts of the liturgy, we cross ourselves during certain prayers or parts of prayers, and we’d rather read a prayer than make one up on the spot. And we like doing these things or praying in these ways. We get, I think, quite a bit out of kneeling and crossing ourselves and reading such beautifully written prayers. We find depth in these things, and learning about them, and loving them. And, while I hope that we can learn to pray in the spirit and such, loving our tradition is a good thing. Because we see God there, and, often, we feel God so personally in the things we do.

        One of the traditions we hold, and that some of us hold dear, is that around Epiphany, we bless our houses. It used to be that a priest would make his visit to people’s houses around this time, you know, to ring in the new year, to bring the love of Christmas into the home, and, often, to bless the house and the family together, where they live. I am happy to come and bless your house if you wish, but nowadays, usually what we do is take blessed chalk home and, together as a family, bless the house (I’ll talk about this in a little bit).

        But, like my Japanese co-workers might ask, why do you bless houses? Or, to ask a bit further, why do we bless things at all? What are we doing when we bless things?

        Now, I could answer these questions with the history of blessing homes on Epiphany. Or, I could answer it with a theological discussion on what it means to bless things, or how, why, and when Jesus blessed those people and things before him. But, instead, I want to tell you a few stories about blessing things. It’s my hope that, while you might not be able to write a nice essay about blessings, that I can instead deepen your sense of the gift that God has given us in being able to bless things.

        Our chapel at seminary was called The Chapel of the Apostles. It was a weird building, but I liked it. There were great, huge windows that lined the walls, and the back of the church, behind the altar, was one big window, and it looked out into the Tennessee forest. Everything had a strange, almost art deco design to it, and this included the baptismal font. This thing was huge, maybe four feet around and a foot deep, and they’d fill it up to the brim. It was right in the middle of the foyer, so that when you walked in, there it was, full of life-giving water. Seeing it each morning, and each noon at our daily Eucharist, and in the evening if I caught a chance between studying and the family to go to evening prayer, was like having God standing there, with his hand out, welcoming me into his home.

        And this font was so huge, they refilled it (literally) with a hose every few weeks. The sacristans would do this in the mornings, before anyone came in, and they’d snag the first priest who walked in the doors to bless it. This was beautiful. Some days, you’d walk into the chapel in the morning, all sleepy and tired from late nights in the library, and there, before you, would be a little ring of students and a priest, praying over the water. To either side of the door were other students, their heads bowed in prayer, and you’d step aside yourself and join them. There are few better ways to start your day than to pray when someone is blessing the waters of baptism.

        Here is another story. Back before I went to seminary, Helene and I worshiped at the Church of the Resurrection in south Eugene. It was (and is) a great community of really dedicated Christians, and they do amazing work there. Helene and I did not often attend the Sunday services; we went to Mass on Saturday night, what the priest Father Brent called “Saturday evening high Mass.” Brent chanted the whole service, we used lots of incense and the sanctus bells. It was really beautiful.

        But I think one of the best parts of the service was afterwards. Helene and I were on the altar guild, so we often cleaned up. Father Brent insisted on using loafs of bread, and that’s cool, though there was often a lot left over. And while Helene and I love bread, it’s hard to eat a whole half-loaf reverently. We often asked if anyone could help us, but when word got around to the kids that there was more Eucharist, they’d charge into the sacristy (which was tiny) and all call out for more bread. Nor was it just any bread: it was blessed bread, consecrated to be the Body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And here was this trampling rush of kids and a dozen or so outstretched hands, all saying, “Can I have some more! More! Please, let me have some more!”

        Now, I’m sure that those kids were thinking quite a bit about their stomachs and not their spirits. Saturday evening high Mass was just before dinner, so they were probably hungry. But I’ve seen hungry kids rushing to the dinner table, and while there is often joy, it was not the same sort of joy as those kids standing at the door of the sacristy. They knew that something was different about that bread. They couldn’t explain it (who could?), but there was something different about it. Perhaps it was the ritual of the Eucharistic prayer that gave them the hint. Perhaps it was the reverence that people brought to the altar rails and that they, themselves, also experienced. And perhaps it was the love they felt when they took those little bits of bread and ate them, together, with the rest of the church, the rest of their church family. Perhaps that joy came a bit from knowing God in that bread and knowing that the love of God filled them just like bread filled their tummies.

        I could tell you many more stories about blessings. I could tell you stories about being at the hospital, here in Coquille or down in Sewanee or during my chaplaincy in Florida. I could tell you about personal blessings, like spring mornings as a kid in New Jersey, or the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope and how much awe I felt at God’s world, or the Sacrament of Confession, and when Jesus took all my sins on his back to carry them for me. I could tell you many more stories, and, I think, so could you.

        During the liturgy, it is the priest’s responsibility and privilege (if the bishop isn’t here) to bless the people. We do this after the post-communion prayer, and it often is, “and the blessing of God Almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit, be with you all and remain with you, always.” But just because I’m the priest and so I get to bless you all doesn’t mean that you yourselves, as Christians, can’t bless stuff. You can. And your blessing doesn’t count less because you aren’t wearing a collar. It counts just the same amount.

            I can’t remember who said this, it was one of the Church fathers, I believe, but: we should be blessing things all the time. We should be speaking the Name and Love and Hope of God over all things we encounter. For what is a blessing other than allowing the Life of God, the breath of the Holy Spirit and the loving arms of Jesus Christ, to reach further into the world? Bless all things to the glory of the Lord, and be a blessing to others, so that the world may be brought ever more fully into the light of God in Jesus Christ.