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.

Funeral Sermon for OJ Endicott

            The first time I ever heard of OJ was on a clothing tag. It was a short few days after I came here to St. James. It was on the neck of this alb here that I’m wearing now. When I came here, I was using a hand-me-down alb, and you know hand-me-downs rarely fit all that well. It was too big in some places, too tight in others, and I was always worried that I’d trip over it and spill out into the pews and make a fool of myself. And so I went into the closet here, looked around, and found this alb. It fit like a glove.

            Over the next few weeks, I heard OJ’s name quite a bit more. He had left not too long before I arrived, but he and Barbara were still the talk of the church. They were always here at the church, always serving at the altar, reading, working at some ministry, or helping folks at another. And every month I’d get a letter from OJ: even living far away, he’d still keep up his donations, still kept honoring the church that he had served for so long.

            And in all this I began to see not just a name written on a clothing tag, but a name written on a community. People didn’t have to mention his name for me to know that he had touched their lives. I could see that the people here were formed in something good, that some hand or presence had brought them up, shaped them, nurtured them into something strong and healthy. It wasn’t just OJ, and it wasn’t just Barbara, of course, but these two people had taken their place with others who had grown St. James into the community it was. And this church, this little church on the corner in Coquille, would not be as healthy and as close as it is without people like OJ.

            We are formed by more than we know. We may think we’re self-made, but it’s more like we’re other-guided. We are influenced so much by those around us. Some of them we know: maybe our parents or a favorite teacher, a family friend who helped out when all seemed like darkness. Others we don’t. You know, in this little church behind me, there are all these little plaques with names on them. There’s one on the parish hall wall, there’s one on the little box that I take with me to the hospital to bring people communion. There’s even one on the lamp just behind me here. And all these names, they’re just names to some of us, but for the church of St. James, for the people here, they were voices of life and, perhaps really and truly, God-sends.

            Behind all good things there is true Good. As our Scriptures tell us, we can’t be good alone. Goodness comes from a source, like a stream out in the wilderness, like a sour-dough starter, Goodness has a beginning. Behind all healthy people, all loving churches, all hope and love is a presence that we Christians call God. Just as OJ and Barbara stand with the heart of this church, so too does God stand at the heart of all that is good and earnest and truthful. All that is beautiful, all that is holy, behind them is God. When we find healing, whether it be from physical pains or from emotional ones, whether a broken spirit is healed or we face, yes with a bit of trepidation, but face even death with a strength and a hope, there is God behind it.

            And there’s something important about this presence. This presence of God isn’t just a thing, or some energy, or some source. God isn’t just some tap that we turn on when we want some water. God is a person, a presence like the person sitting next to you, though even moreso. God has a face, and it is the face of a human being just like ourselves, though transfigured to be shining and bright, so that when we look at it our mouths drop open and our eyes go wide. And this God has a voice, and it says just one thing, Love, spoken sometimes in languages that we can understand, sometimes in healing of hurts decades old, and sometimes in the good, honest work of a man who loves his church, loves his family, and loves those things that God has given him.

            And it is this presence, this person, that OJ is with right now, even as we sit here on this fine afternoon. And, now, our culture will say that OJ will live on in our memories, but in reality OJ will live on in more than memory. For God, that presence, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, died for us, was raised for us, and all to make that road firm that leads from this world to the next.

            And where OJ is now, Heaven, is not just some vague place in the sky, but a world more real than ours here. It is our world that is vague, confusing, dark, and sometimes frightening. Through God’s love OJ has gone now to that world that Isaiah speaks of, where there are no more tears, where Barbara was waiting for him with open arms, and where they both now reside, with Christ their beloved, for all eternity. And they are now praying for us, that we see the love and the hope behind all good things, that we accept that hand that Christ reaches down to us. So let us thank God for all the good things in our lives, for OJ, for those others who gave us life and hope, and for the presence of God Almighty, through whom all darkness turns to light.

What should I pray for?

July 26th, 2020
the 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12

Today’s readings are:
1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

I love this question that God asks to Solomon. Here’s Solomon, King David’s son, rich and powerful and breeming over with wisdom, and God asks this strange, cryptic-sounding question: “Ask me what I should give you.”

Now, this is what we call a loaded question – or, at least it sounds like one. Ask me what I should give you. As me. what I. should give. to you. Now, I think the base meaning is pretty plain, and different translations make this less torturous of a question. Ask what you want me to give you, says the NIV. The Common English Bible has, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.” So, if Solomon said, “A puppy and a pair of hiking boots,” God would have given him a puppy and a pair of hiking boots. And if Solomon was smart, he would have asked for the world as his oyster, an army ten thousand swords strong, and a time machine. But Solomon isn’t smart, he’s wise; and so he asks for the ability to lead his people. He asks to be a good king.

But I think our translation this morning, from the NRSV, has it best: “Ask me what I should give you.” And it is one word here that, I think, gets to the heart of the matter: should. Ask me what I should give to you.

Last night, it was my turn to cook, and I looked around the kitchen, put my hands on my hips, and asked myself, “What should I cook for my family.” If I had asked, “What do I want to eat”, the answer would have been pizza. I always want to eat pizza. But “what should I cook” brings up something else. “Should” is more than desire, more than wanting, more than a fun meal. The answer to “what should I cook for my family” asks about their health, their well-being, their future growth and development. And while pizza might make their taste-buds sing, a healthy balanced meal is what I ‘should’ serve them.

What “should” Solomon pray for? What “should” we pray for? I don’t know about you, but nowadays I come to this question a lot. I mean, we’ve got a prayer list for the parish, full of names of one another’s loved ones. And I’ve got my own personal prayer list, full of little notes about who I’m praying for, who asked me for prayers, and when I should get back in touch with that person to ask how things are going. We should always pray for folks on the prayer list, and I hope you do.

But I mean something else. Each day in my email, I get two different emails from the government. One is from the county, one from the state. And at the top of these emails is a list of folks in the county, state, country, and world who are sick with COVID and who have died from COVID. They don’t print how many families are affected by the virus, how many children and grandkids have been left without a parent or grandparent, and so I just multiply the number a little for that. And I think: Good Lord, how do I pray for all this?

Or I look at what’s going on in cities like Portland. I have a few friends up there, some of whom are just trying to live and work in the city. They’re scared. And I have other friends, Christian friends and fellow priests, who are at the demonstrations, and who believe that it’s their Christian duty to do so. And I get calls from friends further afield, asking me what’s going on, what can I do, what can you do, what can we do? And, now, I’m the kinda guy who tries to hold the center, and so I’m sitting between all this and wondering: what should I pray for? God, how should I pray?

Now, this question – God, what should I pray for – it actually is a prayer, too. As long as we’re not throwing up our hands and turning our backs on everything when we pray it, the question “God, what should I pray for” is sometimes a good, honest, wholesome prayer. God hears prayers in the form of a question, and God hears mumbled prayers that show our confusion. But prayers aren’t just us expressing our frustration, pain, and confusion; prayers are conversations with God, places we encounter the life-giving, transfigured, eternal love of God. If we can speak our prayers instead of mumbling them, we should.

The word “should” is about foundations. It is about the heart of our common life with one another and our common life lived to God – which, really, should be the same thing. Solomon sees this, and that’s why his prayer pleases God. Solomon sees that the point of being a king is not to have better things than everyone else, to be rich and famous, to drive a nice chariot and have a beautiful wife and tons of kids who don’t fight. It’s not about having a long life. It’s about service, about working for the good of those under his charge, and about having the skills to help them live a healthy, vibrant, life-filled life.

What should we pray for? If God came to you and asked you, “Ask me what I should give you”, how might you answer? Health for our loved ones? Yes, certainly. Health and safety for our town, county, state, country, world? Yes, definitely.

But go a step further, as Solomon did. His responsibility was to his people; who are you, as a Christian, responsible for? How did Jesus Christ ask us to live? What do we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer? What did we promise in the Baptismal Covenant? We are servants of God, servants of the ultimate Good, of Love itself. What should we pray for?

Breaking Ground

the sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 12th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:1-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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

      Today, I want to offer you not a sermon but a meditation. I want you to sit and think about something with me. The readings this morning are pretty much all about God’s love and the abundance of that love, and the freedom of that abundance. God’s love for us humans is offered with an open hand, scattered around with a sower throwing out seed. And we, as followers of God, should do the same.

      But I want to ask you something else this morning, to come at these passages not from the rich, good soil in Jesus’ parable but from the hard and rocky ground. Now, I often ask you all to think of these beautiful, wonderful, holy times in your life – and it’s important to do so. It’s important to recognize God’s simple and daily acts of love, to turn our hearts to that outpouring not only in the tough times but in the normal times, too.

      But I want to talk about those tough times this morning. I want you to imagine when you were the rocky ground, or where you were choked with weeds, or where you felt that others were coming in and snatching up those good things that you longed for. Imagine for a moment, if you will, the really troubling parts of your life. It’s okay to go back to them in your memory. God’s with you as you remember. Take some time and sit with them and God for a little.


      Okay then, my next question is this: what changed? What changed for you to bring you out of these times? What scared away the birds, broke up the rocks, tilled the soil of your heart? The answer’s God, of course, but how did God work that change in you? Was it a change in circumstances? Was it another person? Was it a book you read or a sight you saw? What turned your hard and rocky heart into something fresh and new again? Think about that for a little.


      We Christians live in miracles. We live in daily miracles and we live in miracles that need years or even a whole lifetime to accomplish. We are present when God changes death into life. What an amazing gift to be able to witness that, to be a part of it.

      And I don’t know about you, but these miracles fill me with gratitude. I want to thank God for them. I want to thank the people who have been the bearers and the messengers of God’s love and forgiveness. I want to thank things that it sounds really weird to thank, like the Pacific Ocean, or the Black Hills in South Dakota and Wyoming, or the city of Kyoto in Japan – these things that for me have been messengers of God’s miracles. All these things have not just shown God’s love to me but have been the ways that God has reached down into the rockiest parts of my heart and broken those stones to pieces, then planted a seed I don’t think I deserve but have been given anyway. And all this births in me the deepest sense of gratitude. I hope that you have experienced this sense of gratitude as well.

      How do we live that gratitude? How do we live in thanks for all the goodness, all the abundance, or the joy and hope and life that we have been given by God? Well, I mean, there’s the service of the Church, the ministries to the poor, the lonely, the destitute. There’s the Sacraments, living our Baptismal Covenant, in Reconciliation (which is the fancy word for Confession of Sins), in the Holy Eucharist.

      But living a life of gratitude is not just doing these things, going through the motions, but in being within them, being moved by them and through them and with God in them. I mean, as a kid I learned pretty quick how to write a decent thank-you note to a relative for a birthday gift. I could write a bunch really quick without a second thought and without an ounce of gratitude. But when I really had to thank someone, I realized that there’s not really way to say thank you – there’s only living gratitude.

      This is where we connect with God. Or, to say it better, this is where God comes so close to us: in how we live the gratitude of our gifts. For myself, the way I have chosen to live the gratitude for all those who have helped me – the teachers who have opened my eyes to the depth of literature, those authors who have written books that have helped me see God, those places in the world where I felt that I was walking side-by-side with Jesus Christ – the way I’ve said thank you is to teach. I want to show others these good things, to show them the depth and beauty of the world, of art, of our Scripture, our liturgy, our tradition. How about you? How are you – how can you live a life of thankfulness?

      And this question isn’t just for you individually. Think about St. James, our church. We here have so much to be thankful for. We’re in a peaceful and beautiful part of the world. We’ve got this beautiful building here, this beautiful place to worship and be lifted to God’s presence. And, hey, we’ve got the natural world around us, from mountain to shore, where God is also present. And we have our traditions here, both those common to all Christians and those that are pretty particular to St. James. We have a healthy and honest community here that is St. James. How can we live all this that we have, how can we live our gifts thankfully? What does a church look like that lives, first and foremost, thankfully?


Live a Resurrection Life

the fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 5th, 2020

Today’s Readings are:
Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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

I’ve got to say, these last words of Jesus in our gospel reading this morning are some of my favorite verses in the Bible. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is such a beautiful invitation to grace. It reminds me of Simeon, the old man at the beginning of St. Luke’s gospel, who, when seeing the child Jesus come, says, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see.” These are words of deep, deep thanks for being rescued, for being set free, for our Savior coming in the tired, lonely, lost moments of life, gathering us up, and bringing us home.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Have you ever experienced rest for your soul? I mean, I’ve definitely felt rest for my body. I think we’ve all rested physically – after finishing up a day of work in the yard, after moving house, after traveling long hours in the car where your body is all stiff, and then you step out at your destination and streeeeeech out your tired body. That’s good rest, truly, and a gift from God.

But I don’t mean just physical rest – I mean spiritual rest down to your soul. Have you ever experienced that? I find it myself in the Sacraments, and especially in Confession and the Eucharist. There are beautiful times of rest and silence in our liturgy, times when we can just relax back into God, leave all for that most beloved embrace. I found that rest in Japan, while wandering between the rice patties of my town; I found it while traveling west in South Dakota and Wyoming, especially in the Black Hills and the Grand Tetons; and I find it while camping and looking up at the brilliant stars. But wherever I find it, I know that this rest is from God, for it is not just a rest for the body, nor for the mind or even the heart, but down to my very soul. Here God says, don’t worry, learn from my voice and presence in this moment, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls in me.

God calls us to a lot in this world. God calls us to be servants in a rough and tumble world. We’re called to be followers of Jesus – Jesus, who served the sick, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, and the downtrodden. We’re called to follow a man, who was more than a man, but even still was a man who went without a word to his death upon a cross. And we’re to take up our own crosses, deny ourselves, deny those parts of ourselves that might give us those creature comforts, that might make us feel easy and find and dandy, but to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow our Lord and Savior.

And I gotta say, that’s not easy work. It’s hard to deny yourself, right? It’s hard to look at money that I’ve earned with my hard work and say, ‘This doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God’, then give it to those in need.It’s hard to say, sometime daily, with Jesus in the garden, “But not my will, but your will.” It’s hard to hope, it really is, while living in a world that seems so ready to anger, hatred, bigotry, violence. It’s hard, but that’s the life, and sometimes it seems all we can do in such a life is grin and bear it, have a stiff upper lip, grow our hearts harder so that we can bear that terrible burden of the cross.

And yet our Lord and Savior asked us to take up his yoke, for it is easy and his burden is light. And we can ask, angry and frustrated, ‘Is it really, God? Your yoke is the Cross. Your burden is Death” or we can open ourselves to God and remember that after the Cross came the Resurrection.

You see, we Christians need to understand all things – all things – in the light of the Resurrection. That God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, did not just die but rose again – that has ultimate meaning. That is the foundation on which we stand. It’s the lens through which we should view all things. The Resurrection is the yeast in our bread, it’s the manure for our garden. It’s the reason we should love our neighbor, even our enemies, for God died and rose for them just as God died and rose for us. God’s Resurrection is in the song of the birds, even the funny cawing of the crows; it’s in the laughter of children, the phases of the Moon, and both the winter and summer storms. And that Resurrection is in you, growing and thriving, giving you strength to do the good work of Jesus Christ and giving you rest, true, soulful rest, an image of our final rest in Heaven, our true home.

Remember these words of Jesus Christ. Read them often. Print them out and stick ‘em next to your mirror in your bathroom. Read them to your children and to your children’s children. Rest in them, rest in Jesus Christ. Rest in life, and love, and Resurrection.