Our Father in Heaven

Jesus taught us that his father is our father. He taught us that his father, and our father, is a father who loves us, not one who is angry with us and who wants to punish us for our failings. His father, and our father, is a father who is present and hears us, not a father who is distant and uncaring. Because we have such a father, we need not worry about things like having food to eat and clothes to wear. We need not worry about tomorrow, because our father knows what we need before we do and will give us the things we need.

These are things Jesus taught about his father, and our father, who is in heaven. And this is what he taught us to say, “Abba” - a term of endearment, a term signifying close relationship, a term of intimacy. We say Abba because that is what his father and our father feels about us. Abba wants us to know that we are his beloved just as he called Jesus his “beloved.” We are not nobodies or anybodies, but God's very children, made co-heirs by Jesus Christ, and so also the beloved in his father's eyes.

Does this make any difference for our faith and for our trust in our father in heaven? I understand that some who did not have loving fathers can find father imagery difficult. But, perhaps all can differentiate their earthly fathers, both those inclined toward the saintly and those who fell far short of sainthood, from our one true father in heaven. I also understand that some are concerned by what may appear to be a masculine exclusivity. All this father-talk appears to exclude or even diminish the feminine. When I think of God’s strength, I think of both the strong men and the strong women I know. When I think of God’s tenderness, I again think of both the tender men and the tender women I know. I married a strong and tender woman and she daily shows me that she is made in God’s image.

Again, I appreciate that these are difficult matters and I do not suppose that my few words here are sufficient. Yet, regardless of how we feel about this gendered language, I wonder about trust. Do we trust as Jesus trusted? Do we trust enough not to worry? Do we trust enough in Jesus’ teaching and life that we can practice love even when facing hate, practice generosity even when we feel we have little, and practice trusting in God’s care for our needs even when the world tells us to be fearful for our future? Our Father in Heaven, help us to trust in you and help us in our unbelief.

If this is the father you know, please share that knowledge with others. Please tell others, even if just your spouse or children or best friend, about your experiences of God’s surprising and ordinary care for you. I believe these stories are meant to be shared for the building up of the people of God. So, please share. Jesus did.


Grace and peace remain with you always,
Fr Bill+

Honduras 2019

And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” - Mark 16:15

I invite you to a transformational journey of body and spirit. In February 2019, I and some of your brothers and sisters are returning to Honduras to visit with our friends at the LAMB Institute in Tegucigalpa. Come and see. The LAMB Institute is a multifaceted ministry including a school in a marginal community in the capital city, a group home for children, a micro -loan program for small business start-ups, a soccer program to counter gang membership, and an antisex trafficking effort. Founded in 1999 by Suzy McCall, the LAMB Institute is now led and staffed by Hondurans with Suzy, an ordained priest, serving as the spiritual director for the ministry. This will be the third team from Good Shepherd to make this journey and it will be my sixth visit to LAMB. I anticipate having my body and spirit challenged. I anticipate laughter and tears. I anticipate making a difference and coming home different.

Some wonder about the value of such trips, questioning whether they are worth the expense, whether they have lasting value, and whether we should not instead focus on local or national missions. When thinking about those questions, I think about the friends that I and others have made with whom we remain in touch. I think about how I know something of the lives of Ariel, Jose Luis, Angel, Amanda, and Wendy. I think of the hopes and dreams they have shared and the photos of their families. And I know that a North American taking time to come and see them means a lot. We work together and we share, but it really is being present that seems to matter most. Is there lasting value? We are building relationships as well as lasting structures.

Some are called to serve locally and some beyond the local community. The Spirit speaks to others to leave the land they know. Saint Paul said that he was commissioned by the one Spirit to be an apostle to the Gentiles as others were commissioned to serve the community in and around Jerusalem. There is no competition here where serving beyond our local community means something proximate will be shortchanged. Our faith is in a God of abundance who will provide for the work to which we are called, whether that is locally, nationally, or abroad. I encourage you to find your place for serving the world outside of the parish and to pray for the guidance of the Spirit in that endeavor. For those who feel called, for those who are wondering, I invite you to come and see what God is doing among our Christian brothers and sisters in Honduras.

Inquirer’s meetings will be held Saturday, May 19 and May 26 at 10am.

Going to Gallilee

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" - Mark 16:7

Have you been to Galilee? It is that place where Jesus was from, where his family lived and where he was reared. Had he been born in more modern times, it may have been that his home in Nazareth would have been turned into a tourist destination with website, advance ticket purchases, and strict tour times. No lolly-gagging and holding up the line. Be sure to stop at the Manger Gift Shop which doubles as the exit. One would also be able to see where he went to primary school, attended church camp, and the stadium where he played quarterback for the Nazareth Saints. People in the area still talking about that “Hail Mary” play his father, the coach, called and that he pulled off on that Good Friday against the Gehenna Demons. I do not know what is to be found in the real Galilee, though I suspect there are plenty of places claiming to be the authentic place where this or that happened. I have not yet been to that Galilee, though I have been to Galilee.

The evangelist Mark ends his gospel with a mysterious scene from Easter morning. Some of Jesus’ followers are headed to where he had been buried, carrying spices and other things that would commonly have been used for a proper burial. With the Passover coming and it being late in the day when Jesus died, his body was simply wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb. So these women were coming to do what was proper. Their concerns were practical. The right thing needed to be done, did they have enough spices, and who would roll away that large stone they had watched being rolled into place a couple days earlier. Perhaps they hoped the guards would help them. What they find is an empty tomb and a messenger saying that he is not there, that they will find Jesus in Galilee. “There you will see him, just as he told you.” How often it is that we want to go back to what used to be, to try to fix things, to try to make things better. How often it is that we get stuck in places where something precious has died. Jesus calls us out of those places into new life. That is Easter. He has gone back to where it all began and where it all continues. He is out there among his people, teaching, healing, feeding the poor, welcoming children, and raising the dead. Have you seen that Galilee? Have you been there?

Mark tells us that the women who went to the tomb were frightened by what they saw and heard, and so told no one. Well, we have the story, so apparently they did tell someone. They told what they saw and heard, and importantly, they told others where they could find Jesus. He is out in Galilee. Have you been there?

Easter blessings to you, Fr Bill+

Shalom for Lent and Beyond

Shalom to you and to those you love, my friend. Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. I am not the first or only to say this, but shalom is God’s dream for all creation. Peace to the cosmos. Harmony to the earth. Wholeness to broken bodies. Completeness to our sanctification. Prosperity to our ministry. Well-faring for all people. Tranquility instead of strife. It is a beautiful dream. “Peace be with you” really means may all things for you be in harmony and be whole, be perfect and be well. God offers us shalom and shows us shalom through Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. As members of God’s family, as people whom Jesus calls his brothers and sisters, we should seek shalom for ourselves as Jesus did for himself. Shalom is a family trait and a family practice.

On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus tell his followers to engage in acts of piety that are done in secret. God is the proper audience for our prayers, fasting, and alms giving. There is an interior life for all of us to tend to, and it is these acts of piety done before God who is in secret that produce peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, well-being, and rest for our souls. The change these produce can be slow and imperceptible to us, but God who is in secret works on us in secret. Properly understood, prayer, fasting, and alms giving are pathways to shalom. Properly understood, prayer is a place where in the presence of a loving God we can be honest about ourselves and accepting of ourselves, and where we can experience ourselves as infinitely loved and not in competition with others, or captive to the opinion of others for our self-worth. Properly understood, fasting curbs the desire to possess and control people and things that causes rivalry. Properly understood, alms giving is for the benefit of the giver more so than the receiver. Alms giving frees us from our inclination toward excessive selfinterested acquisition and action, and brings to mind the shalom of our brothers and sisters and of all creation.

Because we are one body with Christ as our head, we should seek shalom for others. There can be no shalom for one part of the body while shalom is denied another. Our many rivalries, as civilized as they can appear when institutionalized, our many divisions caused by those rivalries, our many claims to our rights and our rightness, and our accusations against others are a denial of shalom. Rather than rivalry, Jesus says to diffuse the rivalry by turning the other cheek, giving your cloak along with shirt, and walking an extra mile. He refused to engage in rivalries that we seem to take for granted. He refused to play the power game. He told his followers to put away their sword, and he refused to call in the support of angels. At the end of his mortal life, he accused neither his accusers nor his executioners. Rather, on that good Friday, he said for the benefit of their shalom and shalom for all of creation, “Father, forgive them.” Anything else would have been to respond to rivalry with more of the same. Accusation, blaming, and seeking revenge, as right as we might often believe those to be, is to fall in league with the Accuser.

Shalom to you and those you love, my friend. Fr. Bill+

The Spiritual Life

Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus speak from scripture saying “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Your Father who is in secret will reward you. As many will recall, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about proper disposition and warns them to not be like those who pray in order to seen and esteemed as holy by onlookers. There is also an important practical matter being addressed, one that may be especially important to our busy minds. Apparently even in Jesus’ day, people’s minds wandered, so the suggestion to go into a secluded yet familiar place and shut out the world was likely helpful. I would not be surprised if Jesus’ home had a prayer closet - a place set aside for prayer.

This much has made sense to me for quite some time, and I have found the secluded space helpful. But I have wondered about what he meant by “your Father who is in secret” and “who sees you in secret will reward you.” Recently, I have been reading a book titled Inwardly Digest by Derek Olsen. Its subtitle gives away the subject matter - The Prayer Book as a Guide to a Spiritual Life. Olsen argues that the liturgies of the prayer book along with the calendar of readings and feasts and fast, offer a means of spiritual growth that often happens without much notice that any change is happening. Slowly, over time, faithful adherence to praying the ritual liturgies of the Prayer Book shapes the spirit in ways that can usually only be seen over a long period. Something happens as if in secret. Deepening spirituality requires commitment to prayer even when one does not feel like it and when one feels like it is doing no good. But pray we should, noting that Jesus does not say “if you get around to pray...” but assumes that you will pray saying “whenever you pray ...”

A few men of the parish joined me on retreat a week ago. We went to a monastery for time away in our secret closet and to participate in a series of conferences on the topic “Confidence in God.” We talked about many things and I would rate the experience as excellent. Brother Mark, the monk co -facilitating our conversations several times mentioned “God who works in secret.” It is a reference, to the inner life of the spirit and to what happens, often slowly and imperceptibly, when we come to God in prayer. I believe this long-term deepening of the spiritual life, a growing into Christlikeness, is the reward of the God who works in secret. And one of the wonderful things about this is that you should come as you are with all your hopes and dreams, all your hurts and failures, because your Father already sees and knows you, and who loves you as an only child, desires that you come as you are.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The faithful often use this season as an occasion to take on some discipline, such as giving up something to which they have developed an unhealthy attachment or taking on a spiritual practice. Some may find this Lent a time to establish or renew a commitment to prayer in secret. Your Father who loves you as an only child is waiting for you.

Grace and peace be yours,

Fr Bill+ T

Happy New Year

I pray that in this New Year all of us would think about the gifts of God that we may have left “unwrapped.”

I am aware that many are reading this message before the New Year has begun, but maybe that is for the better. Maybe some will be reminded that something new is upon us and we wish and hope that the new thing will be a happy occasion. My thoughts this new year are about the years that have passed since coming to this wonderful parish - of all the holy things you have accomplished in and outside the church, of the praise and worship of a generous and loving God that I have seen in and through you, and the continuing hope I see expressed especially in those who have experienced significant challenges and loses over these years. In these thoughts, I recall the words of Paul who encouraged the faithful saying, “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

As was true of the early church and the days of the kings and prophets before the church, we live in a world that challenges us and threatens to overwhelm some of us. I am grateful for the love of God shown through his church and especially this parish. The church and its people are the embodiments of God’s truth and honor and its ministries are the incarnation of God’s justice and holiness. They are pleasing and commendable and excellent and worthy of praise, and importantly they keep us grounded in the love of God when chaos and darkness enter our lives. In this New Year, I am reminded that these are gifts of God for the people of God. They are freely given and for a people, people like you and me, children of God who are dear to his heart. It is a simple thought, but God wants to give us something. He just gave us his son at Christmas, yet God is not done giving. We know that, but I wonder if have stopped receiving? Are there gifts God offers that we fail to receive because we have stopped expecting to be surprised? I was at our Tuesday soaking prayer service a few weeks ago and was gifted with a wonderful reflection on the presence of the Holy Spirit in this parish. These several weeks later that message is still inspiring my soul. I guess I needed to hear the Holy Spirit speak and maybe you do as well. I believe God is always offering gifts and I had to be there to receive that message I know was spoken to all, but I also know was meant just for me.

I pray that in this New Year all of us would think about the gifts of God that we may have left “unwrapped.” Some may want to resolve this new year that they will not leave the gift of receiving Holy Communion unused. That gift is offered every Sunday and Wednesday. Some may want to start the new year with a renewed commitment to holy living through a formal act of reconciliation. Your priests are here for you. Some may resolve to seek the healing power of God by taking advantage of the intercessory prayers offered during Sunday worship and on Tuesday night. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are ready to pray for you. Others may want to recommit themselves to some form of discipleship, studying the Word of God and serving others in a renewed and intentional quest for the gift of holiness. May the light of Christ shine upon the path to the gifts you wish to receive and may the inspiration of the Holy Spirit lead you to greater gifts in this new year.

Fr Bill+

A Willingness to Serve

Somewhere along my spiritual journey I was told that God is more interested in our faithfulness than our success. I was told that we are called to be faithful, not successful. I found that liberating at the time and still do. Those who grew up in environments where achievement and success mattered greatly, and failure was associated with embarrassment and shame, may also find this liberating. For God, it is not whether you succeed or fail in your calling or ministry, and it is not results or awards that count, but it is whether you answer the call. The Bible gives us a multitude of examples of this including just these few.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
— Isaiah 6:8
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
— Luke 1:38
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
— Luke 22:42

It is our faithfulness, our “yes” to a call to serve that matters to God. There are a number of reasons why that “yes” may lead to what we see as a successful ministry or outcome, but there are probably just as many reasons for why we do not see successes. And the truth may be that most of either outcome is beyond our individual control. We do pray after all, “your Kingdom come, your will be done” as we admit that God’s will and Kingdom are “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (a terrible mystery).

Your vestry nominating committee has been busy talking with folks about their willingness to serve on the Good Shepherd vestry. I understand that there are many legitimate reasons why someone would not be able to serve at this time, but for others I want them to know that their “yes” it is not about success or failure to be elected but about their faithfulness in answering the call to serve. If you are willing to serve, please let me or a member of the vestry nominating committee know.

May God’s holiness be yours,

Fr. Bill+

Getting Beyond Ourselves

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
— Jesus the Christ, c 30 A.D.

I think I am an institutional person. By that I mean that I find a sense of place, of belonging, of stability and identity through being part of something larger, much larger, than myself. I am an introvert, but my way of being leads me to a life lived in institutions and not as a hermit. The bigger and the more connected, the better. I doubt I could be a congregationalist and I much prefer league bowling to bowling alone. Some now say they are spiritual, but not religious and so practice a kind of cafeteria-menu, individualist, ego-driven, something spiritual spirituality. Give me the ancient, institutional, and hierarchal church with such a cloud of witnesses and a communion of saints.

Paradoxically, it is by belonging that we do not get swallowed up and vanish into the whole but go beyond ourselves to become more than our individual selves. Membership, as they say, has its privileges and one is to belong and to grow. Jesus tells us that if we join ourselves with him, we will find life. If we choose to go beyond our individual, ego-driven, personal agendas and make his agenda our agenda, and to be part of the body of Christ, we will find greater life than we could ever otherwise know. The following story illustrates this principle of getting beyond ourselves to find greater life and invites us to think beyond our current thinking and to imagine a larger reality - to imagine how our fears and our experience of life’s bitterness, how our disagreements and our inability to practice reconciliation, how our lack of concern for and charity toward others, and so forth are all part of having too small a view of God’s purpose in our lives and too small a view of our place in God’s dream for God’s people.

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Stay connected and go big. As Jesus promises “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Fr Bill+

The Nature of Things

Recently I read a book on conflict in the church. I would guess that conflict is not an attractive topic and with so much else to read, a book on conflict might be one that is easier than others to pass by. The author is someone I have met and who I feel has much wisdom to share. He sees things from unusual angles and offers fresh, if challenging, insights and conclusions. So, even though I am more attracted to books more overtly about the life of Jesus, I thought I might read this book to see what this bright author had to say. I admit that I also had something practical in mind. Look around. Is there any shortage of conflict? Are there many places where we do not find disagreements? I think it accurate to say that conflict abounds. We find it in our homes and our workplaces. We find it in the public square and we find it in our churches. Of conflict, we have a gracious plenty.

I suspect that for peace-loving folk and for others who have lived a lifetime of exposure to conflict, conflict is something to be avoided. It makes us uneasy. It upsets our harmony. If it were offered as a gift, we would say “no thanks.” If it enters into our place of sanctuary, we want it to be silenced. Make it go away and give us harmony.

But what if conflict is in the nature of God’s creation? What if conflict stems from the fact that people with differences are called into relationship with God and each other? What if conflict is something we are called to enter into like Jesus did? Conflict would likely remain hard and upsetting, but maybe we could learn more about how to address our differences and how to keep our fears from becoming aggression and exclusion toward others. Maybe we could become more Christ-like, entering into the conflict with the eyes and heart of God for those on opposing sides. Maybe we could become more like Christ who gathered around himself twelve different individuals and used those differences for the singular purpose of changing the future of the world.

In the final chapter, the author talks about an occasion where he had been asked to lead a conversation on a controversial topic at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He admits his anxiety in that moment, knowing that partisans were gathering, and fearing that he would lose control of the conversation. So, he did something simple yet brilliant. He had them sit in a circle and share their stories. What brings you here? What do you fear? When did you first encounter the living Christ? People shared honestly and deeply, and those on opposing sides found they had much more in common than they may have supposed. They discovered humanity in each other. They were different, but no longer strangers. They could see each other with the eyes and heart of God.

This is what can happen when people in conflict take the time to share their stories. Take time to tell your story to another person and take time to listen to theirs. What are your hopes and fears? How has God touched your life? Difference is built into God’s creation and conflict arises out of difference, but it is possible to move forward in ways other than trying silence or drive out those with whom we disagree.

Grace and peace be yours,
Fr Bill+

Your Father Who Sees in Private

When I was a college professor one of my regular classes was research methods. In that course we spent considerable time on survey design and consideration of what methods worked best for highly sensitive topics. One might wonder what topics fall within the category of highly sensitive. If you guessed money, you guessed correctly. People would rather tell you about a host of personal beliefs and practices than disclose how much money they earn and how much they are worth. You have likely seen the outcome of this where surveyed income is reported in broad income categories. In another course on inequality we would consider the social conditions that led wealthy people to conspicuously consume their wealth and the non-wealthy to engage in practices where they tried to pass as a member of the leisure class. My students were going to have to swim in our collective cultural pool, but I wanted them to do so as somewhat informed participants. A few, perhaps, were able to find their way in life less stressed by norms of material accumulation.

You have likely heard many times that Jesus had much to say about money. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us to give alms, to pray, and to fast without making a show of it all. These three acts of piety - of ways of honoring God and coming closer to God - are of one body of a lived faith. Giving alms, for example, is a faithful response to prayer and prayers answered. Fasting supports alms giving by redirecting resources from personal use to the needs of others and prayer supports fasting. We should, of course, pray about our giving. Note that Jesus does not say, “if you decide to do these” but he assumes that all will and that there is a right and wrong way for doing so. In all three acts, we are to do so in private, and God will see because God knows all. Jesus understood that people used their wealth conspicuously to gain the admiration of others. He understood that money could take the heart captive and that it could come to be ones master. So he said this like, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” And, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. ... But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Christians, including church leaders, are probably not so different from others. They also do not like to talk about money, certainly not their own. I doubt many would volunteer to report their income to their church, though some do, and I doubt many would want their priest or pastor to look at the financials and see how much they give to the church. Be assured that that does not happen at Good Shepherd. Later this month you will receive your 2018 pledge card. What I ask is that all of us take Jesus at his word and pray about our giving. I ask that you consider where you might fast in order to increase your gift. What you decide to give to the church is what you and God have come to in prayer. That is a sacred vow that you will make with God in private, trusting that God will help you fulfill that vow.

Grace and peace be yours,

Fr Bill+