Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good Episcopal Church resources for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has the financial clout and wherewithal to put out some great Christian formation/education resources for the whole Church. These for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany seem to be short, sweet, to the point. Just the kind of help many of us need to "keep the feast" at home, with our families, in our daily lives- using all the holy wisdom built into the church-year.

Keeping Advent at Home

Prayers for lighting the Advent wreath

Family Advent calendar

What is Epiphany?

More ideas from the Diocese of Texas Christian Education office, both for now and for later in the church-year, are here on Pinterest.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another good-looking church webpage: membership, baptism, and confirmation

I'm always looking for precise, clear, user-friendly ways to talk to folks about ecclesiology . . . uh . . . er, I mean the nature of the Church and how one is brought into it, how one claims the faith for oneself via the life of the Church, and the meaning of baptism, confirmation, "membership," and such as that. Just came across the website of All Saints, Homewood in Birmingham, Alabama and was impressed by many aspects of their "Become a Member" page (even if I'd use a different title!).

Become a Member � All Saints Episcopal Church

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Are Fewer People in Church? It’s the Economy, Stupid

There are a gazillion articles and blog posts of late - in the wake of multiple high-class surveys confirming same - on the decline in churchgoing & religious affiliation in the U.S. of A. This one, however, seems fresh and a bit more insightful. Perhaps it's the historian in me, but this demographic / sociological / historical data is pretty compelling. Enjoy!

Why Are Fewer People in Church? It’s the Economy, Stupid | Gestating A Church

Monday, May 06, 2013

A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter
(Lectionary Year C)
5 May 2013
Church of the Good Shepherd,

Covington, Ga.

Acts 16:9-15 (Lydia & household are converted & baptized by preaching of Paul & co. in Philippi)
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10,22 - 22:5
Gospel: John 14:23-29 (Farewell Discourse: “my peace I leave with you”)

In this Easter season, this Great 50 Days, we are called as the Church to think about what a life - what OUR lives, transformed by God’s grace, are to now look like. Given how we’ve been touched and moved by the light of the risen Christ, how are we, then, to live? To be more concrete, we might simply say: how are we, transformed by God’s love for us, to turn around and love the world? How are we to share with the world the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, peace, hospitality, solidarity, healing . . . I could go on! . . . how, when, and where are we to share with others these things God in Christ has poured out upon us?

Well, I hope you were listening carefully as we heard the appointed text today from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s a lovely and powerful story about just what can happen when we are willing to do a little bit of reflection on living as a Christians in the world, on our particular gifts to be given, and on what we might expect out there when we give them. Now, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Ellen’s excellent sermon from Good Shepherd Sunday two weeks ago, and I love the alternate title Ellen has given to the book of Acts: The Dangerous Book for Boys and Certain Women. Isn’t that so true?! Well, today’s snippet of the early Church's story is no exception. There is a dramatic vision; a sudden change of plans; another long journey by foot and by boat; an encounter with a rather special woman; and a conversion. Does that sound exciting and enough?!

Basically, today, we’re eavesdropping on a portion of what scholars now call Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, which we believe took place more or less between the years of 49 and 52 (two-digit years sound strange, eh?), so about 15 years after the stunning events at the end of Jesus’s earthly pilgrimage. Paul has left his homeland of Judea as a representative of the early Church, that is, of those Jesus-following Jews known then simply as ‘The Way.’ He has primarily traveled north, up the eastern Mediterranean coast. From there he has moved away from the coast toward the interior of Asia Minor - what we now know as Turkey - picking up Timothy along the way, then headed to the very center of that subcontinent, a locale called Galatia. Now, as best as we can tell, Paul and crew intended to carry the Good News further north into Asia-proper, not west. But all of this changed - abruptly - when Paul woke up from his vision, that vision of a Macedonian man pleading for help. “Immediately,” the text says, they crossed over to Macedonia “being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” Ah! Dangerous Book, indeed. Plans - Paul’s AND OURS - do get up-ended when we’re open to the Spirit’s leading. Our visions - our ‘imaginings,’ if you will - of others, of their particular situations, their predicaments, their challenges, their needs - can lead us to risk a little more of ourselves than is comfortable.

When, do you think, was the last time you found yourself, unexpectedly, perhaps, following a vision or a hope that led you to a new encounter with others? These, my friends, are of the marks of an Easter people, that we are both ready to dream dreams of what COULD be; and that we are ready to sometimes follow those dreams into new encounters with God’s children.

Now, consider also that this sudden decision to go to Macedonia was a far bigger matter than walking down the road a little ways to the next city. It was, in a very real way, going further afield than Paul and co. had ever gone: their little sailing stint from Troas took them, that is, to an Macedonia, you see, lay on the other side, the western side, of the Dardanelles, that narrow little stretch of water that separates, as we’ve understood the geography for centuries, the EAST from the WEST. Paul and his companions on The Way had traveled, for the first time, to the place we now know as EUROPE.

Even though they had not gone very far as the crow flies, they had jumped headfirst into the midst of a whole, new ‘level’ of civilization. Now stay with me, here. To us postmodern North Americans, Europe doesn’t sound very new, does it? Over here, in fact, we commonly refer to it as ‘the old country.’ If only from all that history and English lit we had to take in school, the idea of EUROPE feels familiar, even quaint, out-of-date, somewhat behind the North American curve. But consider the time; imagine the geography; remember that Paul was coming from far, far to the east, really from a tiny, ethnic ghetto of sorts. Know that in this massive empire that dominated the entire Mediterranean region, the prosperous Philippi had special status, status as a Roman colony, a city-state ruled directly from Rome. And since Philippi lay in Macedonia, on the other side of a particular, small body of water - a world away from tiny Judea in so many ways - we now consider Lydia, the leading character of today’s text, the Europe. Talk about the beginning of a long, long story! . . .

If we are called, above all in Eastertide, my sisters and brothers, to pay attention to the visions we encounter . . . to pay attention to the dreams being dreamed - whether ours personally or those of the Church as a whole - dreams of a world restored to wholeness by the reign, the kingdom, of God . . . are we not also called to consider traveling to new and unfamiliar places, to moving out into the world beyond our familiar environs as we seek to share the Good News, beyond our everyday orbit of home, school, office, grocery store, dance studio, country club, Wal-Mart, and the cozy living rooms of our friends and extended family? Paul & co.’s journey was long, arduous, and far-afield: in taking them to Europe it took them ‘a world away.’ I ask you: when you think of sharing with others the joy of Easter, the good news of God’s love for the world and the wholeness it can bring to people’s lives, what is YOUR Europe? Where is your ‘world away?’

Let me quickly add: this place does not have to be physically very far away. There is plenty of unfamiliar, plenty of strange, plenty of discomforting need for Easter joy right here in Covington, right around us in north Georgia, and spread around our own country, our own part of the globe. And for some of us, even, our ‘world away,’ may not be a place at all, but rather a section of our own hearts that we need to revisit; a chamber that’s been damaged or fallen into disuse, or even that we’ve closed off, over time, out of fear. Maybe that’s where the Gospel journey leads for some of us . . . the full opening-up of our own hearts to the world out there, before we’ve even put one foot in front of another.

Finally, consider the apostles’ encounter with Lydia, that first Christian convert in Europe. We learn some fascinating things about her - about the one most receptive, in the end - to the Good News of the Gospel - in the course of this short passage. We learn that she was probably quite well-to-do, namely because she was a “dealer in purple cloth,” that is, in a luxury item that had to be imported and that only the city’s elite were allowed to wear. The fact that it she could also comfortably host Paul’s entire group - remember how “she prevailed upon us,” the author writes, to stay at her home? - this is another clue of her high status in that society. And perhaps the most fascinating part: we learn that while Lydia was one of those who regularly gathered there by the river to pray, she was largely an outsider in that group: though a Gentile (meaning, simply, not Jewish), she still gathered with Jews just outside her city’s walls because of the attraction she felt to their God: she had begun to worship and pray to the Jewish God some time ago but had not yet fully converted.

My friends, I am here to tell you what you already know: there are similar ‘God worshippers’ all around us who could benefit from our travels, from our journeys into the unfamiliar, uncomfortable places where the Easter imperative takes us. Many of them, like Lydia, are professional people: that is, traveling in the same circles as most of us. We encounter them in our work lives and our play lives. We encounter them in school settings and civic settings. In so many ways they don’t seem very different from us, but if we’re attentive, we may have a chance one day to ask them about their own spiritual life, their own sense of yearning and longing and desire for something more, something bigger, something beyond themselves. And it may be, as it was for Lydia, apparently, that God, through the Holy Spirit is already working in that person’s life, already building a receptivity: “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said...,”...remember? The Holy Spirit - the very presence of the Creator-God, we have to understand, is already active out there in the hearts and minds of folks, not just of those sitting in Church.

It may just as easily be that one of these friends or acquaintances is curious about something they see in us, a particular attitude or generosity or sense of peace and well-being that strikes them as peculiar - peculiar because it’s not something the world, in all it’s striving and getting and competition, typically gives. And then suddenly it is our time to answer to that curious person, to give an account of “the hope that is in us.”

And, mainly at the cost of our attentiveness, and a certain willingness to deal in the unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable world of places, geographical and spiritual, beyond ourselves, we may find ourselves on a true, exciting journey. A journey of sharing with the world, with the people, around us, those things which we know to have been poured out on us: the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, peace, hospitality, solidarity, healing, and hope conferred by a crucified and risen Savior. It will not be comfortable and easy. It will, indeed, look more like The Dangerous Book for Boys and Certain Women than it will look like a Boy Scout meeting. Why? Because to make the journey we will have to risk our hearts, our time, our money: that is, risk our WHOLE SELVES. And I think what we will find, oftentimes, is plenty of Lydias. Plenty of folks who were all but ready to join in the Easter chorus, just needing a little invitation from us, just needing a little sliver of our hearts.

Paul, Silas, Timothy, and friends found themselves unexpectedly crossing new boundaries, into Europe, of all places; far, far afield from their original intent. But God through the Spirit had prepared the way for them - had prepared Lydia’s heart - and ultimately her home & her hospitality birthed a new instance of the Church. May we also find the way prepared, and our hearts and minds open to the journey into the new and unknown, lying just across the border, there.

© M. Edwin Beckham, 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Holy Wednesday homily for Covington's ecumenical Holy Week gathering

I suppose I have U2 on the brain at the moment, given that U2: The Hype and the Feedback is coming up in Cleveland (!) in a couple weekends. So, thought I would reinvigorate my blogging life by posting this one from just two weeks ago. It was a bit nerve wracking, actually, and the bulk of Holy Week, the Great Three Days, seemed a breeze after my official debut in the broader Covington community!

Wednesday in Holy Week (Year C)
27 March 2013
Homily given at First United Methodist Church, Covington, Ga.

OT: Isaiah 50:4-9a (“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting”)
Psalm: 70
Epistle: Hebrews 12:1-3 (“let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”)
Gospel: John 13:21-32 (Judas at the Last Supper: “After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’”)

Let us pray:
(the Collect for Monday in Holy Week)
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Well, wouldn’t you know they’d give the new guy the Wednesday of Holy Week, when the appointed Gospel passage focuses, of all things, on Judas!  ...on one of the most despised characters in all of history and on his act of betrayal that sets in motion the harrowing events of Good Friday. So . . . Judas’s betrayal. Hmmm...

Well, I certainly don’t want to make light of the stark reality of betrayal in our beautiful yet broken world, but where do we connect with this story? Am I wrong in saying that it does seem like a hard one to get up close and personal with? It seems like such grand, over-the-top kind of sin that we’re probably more inclined to think of a story of betrayal in a novel we read, or in a movie we saw, or in a favorite TV series from the mid-1980s, than to think of something we’ve been a first-hand witness to. Love - or more likely, lust - seems to often be involved. The pursuit of power and influence seems to feature regularly. Selfishness overtaking the communal ties of family, friendship, and community is often at the root of betrayal. And without a doubt, material greed has got to be THE prime motivator in the history of human beings betraying one another, right?

Now, beyond the world of fiction, I’m also thinking there is enough cumulative and varied human experience in this room to guarantee that several of us have some pretty up-close-and-personal stories of betrayal. And if so, I hope those stories are not too painful to recall. But do stay with me...there’s a good word for all of us, today.

So, in a world where, at least in our day-to-day lives, we don’t typcially experience the kind of grand betrayals of a Judas or a Benedict Arnold on anything like a regular basis . . . or even feel like we perpetrate much in the way of betrayal ourselves, perhaps there’s another way to come at this. Perhaps we need to consider the little betrayals we perpetrate - in our daily lives - betrayals of the Christ in us, and of the Christ in others. The little betrayals of that divine spark, that imago Dei or image of God, that imprint of the Divine which, as Christians, we understand resides within each of us, and not just in us, but within the heart and soul of every...single...human...being.

I’m thinking, of course, of the multitude of ways that we fail to meet our full potential as human beings and beloved children of God; the ways we fail to live whole and full and Christ-centered lives; the ways we fail ourselves and our families and neighbors, in the community and the wider world around us, by not being as compassionate, as merciful, as just, as truthful, as generous, as peaceful, and as self-giving, as God created us to be.
Now, I’m afraid that, were were to go on down that path of ‘little betrayals,’ we would be here way past lunch time! So let me share with you the thing that truly came to me FIRST, when I sat down and read today’s text.

Haven't seen you in quite a while (the song goes)
I was down the hold, just passing time.
Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom.
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time...except you.
You were talking about the end of the world.

The words are not mine. They are lyrics from the first verse of a 22-year-old rock ‘n’ roll song. I’m embarrassed to admit...that given the utter familiarity of this song and how it has played in my head, on repeat, over those 22 years, I don’t think I truly realized the story it tries to tell until about six weeks ago. (How nice to have a new insight after so long!) What I finally came to understand recently, you see, is that this song - yes, a rock-song! - is about the betrayal of our Lord on the night before his death; and that the speaker in the song is Judas himself, talking to the Jesus who was once his dear friend and teacher, and whose disciples he’d served as keeper of the common purse. It is today’s story, told from the perspective not of the evangelist - the narrator - nor of our Lord, the betrayed . . . but as told by Judas, the most famous betrayer of all time.

Do you hear the allusions to the scene we just heard about in John’s Gospel? The “low-lit room” sounds just about right for a cramped, rented room lit only by candles. How about, “as close together as a bride and groom” - that marital imagery so commonly used in the New Testament to describe the relationship between Christ and his followers. And, of course, the reference to that final, meaning-filled meal there in the upper room: “We ate the food, we drank the wine.” But what’s that at the end, there:  “Everybody having a good time, except were talking about the end of the world?” At the end of the verse, there, the focus of the action shifts away from the plight of Judas the betrayer, directing it back to the person of Jesus and what is happening with him. That is, to the approaching end of one kind of world, and the beginning of another.

In the garden I was playing the tart (Judas continues to sing, as we moved forward in the story)
I kissed your lips and broke your heart.
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.

Could it be, perhaps, that the Judas portrayed in this song is beginning to uncover a truth about the path Jesus was on, the path that could not be obstructed even by a betrayal by one of his closest friends?

Waves of regret and waves of joy (the song finishes)
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you'd wait till the end of the world.

That’s what the Judas in this song hears our Lord saying in the end, you see. Saying that this ol’ broken world as we know it is coming to to an end, that a new world is dawning, and that he, Jesus, will wait - even until the end of time - for those who want to come along.

So at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, at getting to Sunday before Thursday night, when we’ve fallen asleep in the Garden, stood dumbfounded at Judas’s kiss, and denied our friendship with Jesus to others; before we’ve watched on Friday from the side alleyways and the neighboring hillsides - watched fearfully and shamefully as our friend Jesus struggles up to Calvary to meet a tortuous death; before we’ve sat on Saturday in the utter silence of the tomb, at the bottom of the pit of despair and loss, wondering just how it all went so wrong for our teacher, the wise-cracking rabbi, our fearless leader and apparently also for us, his little band of brothers and sisters out to heal and remake the world . . . at the risk of jumping ahead in the story, this old song reminds us today that in his Passion, our Lord has shown us that this ol’ broken world, as we know it, has come to an end, that a new world - his kingdom - has dawned, and that he will wait - even until the end of time - for those who want to come along . . . even, and especially, those like you and me, who fall into little - and sometimes big - betrayals now and then, of the Christ-like people we were created to be.  Amen.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Archbishop's New Year Message: appreciate the ‘silent conspiracy of generous dedication'

It's really quite stunning to now be facing the fact of Archbishop Rowan's transition away from the Chair of St. Augustine of Canterbury, a position he's held in such a crucial period of my own life in the Church: namely the 'beginning of the end' of my vocational discernment process, then seminary, then ordination, and then my first cure.

So in the name of grieving Abp. Rowan - of which there will be more here, I feel certain - not to mention honoring his ministry and presence and leadership among us, I wanted to save and share this link to his final New Year's message. More to come soon...

Archbishop's New Year Message: appreciate the ‘silent conspiracy of generous dedication'