Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Moved by His Episcopal Christian Faith, Reverend Charles Graves IV Uses Advocacy and Service to Right the Wrong and Help Those in Need

The following article was written by Mr. Saad Ghosn for Streetvibes, an independent newspaper in Cincinnati whose sales benefit the homeless community in the city. The article was published July 27, 2018. ** Words appearing in italics are corrections from the original article. You can find the article at https://sosartcincinnati.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/moved-by-his-episcopal-christian-faith-reverend-charles-graves-iv-uses-advocacy-and-service-to-right-the-wrong-and-help-those-in-need/#more-771

Saad Ghosn
Reverend Charles Graves IV grew up, an only child, in a loving and religious family. He lived with his parents in a peaceful, upper middle class neighborhood of Baltimore, MD and attended regularly with them, St. James, an Episcopal church, located, however, in a dangerous and crime infested area in the center of the city.
“Every week i will go from an idyllic place to one where desolation and violence predominated, experiencing the pain, suffering and poverty of others,” says Graves.” This was, from an early age, my calling and at the center of my faith.”
Graves’ father, a city planner, will often talk to him of various city issues, particularly of those pertaining to poverty and the needs of the disadvantaged; and his mother, a professor of English and reading at a local college, of education, the support needed for those who cannot afford it, and the inherent inequality its lack creates in them.
His early awakening to peace and justice issues was reinforced by the Friends (Quaker) school that he attended and where anti violence and anti war protests were common and the notion of public service prevalent.
“There were frequent demonstrations in which parents, teachers and we, students, participated,” says Graves. “Around the invasion of Iraq, for instance, the school had a banner up in front of the meeting house at the edge of the major street in town. It rejected war, calling for peace.”
At his church, Graves was also exposed, and since the age of 3, to the teachings of bishop Michael Curry, the current presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church in the US and preacher at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry & Meghan Markle in May 2018, but then the pastor of St. James. Curry always preaches about the necessity of Christians to stand up for justice and peace in every way, in support of the poor and the downtrodden, as per the Gospels and the example of Jesus. After Curry, and under his successor, the church organized every Palm Sunday, at City Hall, with invited city councilmen/women and politicians, blessings and prayers for the poor, the homeless, the sick, and for the end of violence. The church also ran an after school program for neglected kids, a support home for the elderly, and several other activities for people in need. Graves would usually lend his hand to many of them in any ways he could.
In 2008, after graduating from high school and after a short summer internship at the City of Cincinnati where his father had recently relocated as Director of City Planning, Graves joined Hampton University, a small predominantly African American college near Virginia Beach, VA, to study political science. He felt then that, as a lay person, his vocation was to achieve public service to the community through involvement in politics and government; and that, as a legislator or a political officer, he would be able to implement broad changes and make a difference.
His years in college were ripe with activism for social justice. He was active in anti-racism advocacy and became president of the political action group of the College NAACP chapter. When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, he organized students to write letters to congressmen urging them to vote for it. And when, in 2010, the Governor of Virginia proposed to make April a Confederate history month, he also organized successful student efforts to oppose it. In the meantime he had also worked on various political and city council campaigns supporting politicians and causes he believed in, and after graduating from college, for senator Sherrod Brown in his Washington, DC office. All along Graves was very interested in political advocacy to push elected officials and politicians to do the right thing; however, his experience overall, and in particular in Congress, was disappointing.
“I found working in politics to be quite difficult, and the environment competitive, unhealthy and somewhat petty,” he states. “I realized that it was not my vocation, and that rather I was called to serve in the church.”
Graves prayed, reexamined himself and his feelings, spoke to various clergymen, and became encouraged to pursue his faith and deepen his knowledge of theology. He decided to apply to seminary.
Accepted at Yale’s Berkeley Divinity School, he quickly realized, within his 1st year of studies, that God was calling him to his ministry, and in his 3rd year the Episcopal bishop of Southern Ohio admitted him in the ordination process. Graduating in 2015 with a Master’s degree in Divinity, and not sure of what to do next, he joined the “Young Adult Service Corps” program of the Episcopal Church and served for one year, abroad, at St Paul’s Within the Walls, in Rome, Italy. There he came in contact with a large population of Latinos from Peru and Ecuador, also with a large number of refugees, predominantly Muslims, from Central Africa and Central Asia. These latter were seen and served at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, run by the Episcopal church, the only such daytime center in Rome. Graves helped teaching them English, find apartments, get organized, and mostly discovered their humanity and their horrendous personal stories.
“These individuals were foreigners just like me,” says Graves, “and yet they had a totally different reality. They had been beaten up, tortured, had members of their family killed, had to face hunger and cold, to travel long distances across the sea… What they had to go through was unbelievable. It determined me to fight for their rights.”
Upon his return to Cincinnati, Graves was assigned to Christ Church Cathedral where he worked for a while with the homeless ministry, lead worship services, preached, and served in the Cathedral’s cafe, establishing a friendly and personal rapport with its various visitors. In June 2017 he was ordained transitional deacon and was reassigned to the Church ot the Advent in Walnut Hills. A year later (June 2018), he was ordained a priest, serving in the same church.
“It is a smaller community and the church is very devoted to the neighborhood,” he states. “We serve the poor, the hungry, all those in need. We operate a food pantry five days a week.”
Graves also preaches every other Sunday, sits on the church’s board, visits with the homeless, and is involved in many ministries around the city, in particular the Latino Ministry Commission of Southern Ohio. At the Episcopal ministry center in Price Hill, he tutors kids twice a week, connects with their parents – many of them immigrants – , translates for them, helps them fill out immigration documents, accompany them to court for hearings, etc. He also participates in protests and marches for immigrants, women and LGBTQ rights, for tax reform…, as well as remaining very active in political advocacy.
“I support many issues and groups and various causes,” Graves says, “but i have decided to devote my ministry and services to immigrants, to fighting racism and poverty.”
Being openly gay, Graves has also been all along very active in empowering the LGBTQ community and in fighting and advocating for its rights, and more recently helping students who are being bullied or who are just confused because of their sexuality.
Graves appreciates the diversity in people and the richness each of us brings to the world. He is committed to fight for everyone’s rights and well being irrespective of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status… It is in our differences that he sees our common strength. In fact, a text he loves and that he would like read at his funeral when the time comes is Paul, 1 Corinthians, in which St Paul speaks of all the parts of the body, different and diverse, yet coordinated, united and working together, necessary for each other, guided by the outside force of God.

A text Reverend Charles Graves IV likes to quote: 

Unity and Diversity in the Body (Paul, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Covenant

The Covenant
February 18, 2018
Church of the Advent, Cincinnati


What is a covenant? 

This beautiful ark is on display at Church of the Advent.
A covenant is an agreement, but not any agreement. It’s a contract between humans and one another and God. Therefore it’s the most sacred and most holy type of contract.

You can’t have a covenant without God and without at least 2 people involved. Marriage is a covenant, not just between the couple, but the couple, God, and the whole church.

Baptism is a covenant, between the baptizand, sponsors, God and the Church. We witnessed this in baptizing Sochi last week.

It’s not just what the people will do in relation to God, or what God will do in relation to the people - it’s both. A two-way street, supported by the whole gathered people.

In the 1st reading, God institutes the first covenant, with himself, Noah’s family and all living beings. 
“This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:”  -All of creation is involved for ever. not even just people. What a reminder of our responsibility to care for the earth as it takes care of us.

We’ve just begun the season of Lent, when we re-examine our baptismal covenant, and all the covenants we have with God, to recommit to what we’ve done right and repent for what we’ve done wrong. Perhaps it’s a time to commit to a new covenant too - but remember, covenants aren’t short term agreements. They often last forever, or at least for the rest of our lives.
An ark made of Legos in Charles' office!

Our tradition of giving something up for Lent is like that. it’s a small sign, a reminder of our eternal covenants with God and one another. It’s a reminder of our promises to love and serve God, and God’s promise to love us, and to protect and to care for us. 

A priest friend of mine said this a few days ago: What if we didn’t just give things up for Lent individually, but what if we gave it up collectively as a church too? What if we as a whole church community gave up gossip or pettiness, or speaking ill of one another for Lent? What if we made a covenant with God to never degrade ourselves and one another with foul language again?

In the face of the horrific gun violence across our nation, What if we as a society made a covenant to never participate in systems of violence again? What if this Lent we gave up tolerating violence & picked up new ways of justice and truth?

What if I told you that you have already made that covenant - and if you don’t believe me, you can read it on page 305 of your prayer book. (Baptismal covenant)

May this Lent be a season of renewed care for the covenants we keep, and to the love between us and God which is behind it all.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What to do about Demons?

What to do about Demons?
Sermon from Feb. 4, 2018
Church of the Advent, Cincinnati
Mark 1:29-35

If you’ve been paying attention to our gospels for the last few weeks, you’ve noticed that this is the second week in a row in which we encounter Jesus, in rather dramatic fearsome detail, talking about - and healing people from - the grip of horrifying demons. They appear like monsters in our scripture, leaping out at Jesus, speaking to him in gruesome voices pointing to him, even calling out his name!

On top of it, remember that not long ago Jesus called these four fishermen out of the boat to come follow him, and in the very first city they visit as new disciples of Jesus, here they are face to face in the grip of a physical one-to-one battle with demons in the flesh! Not exactly the way I’d want to start my first day on the job! Have you ever had a day like that, where you decide to start something new, and as soon as you walk into the door on day 1, you’re thrown right into the deep end, thrashing around trying to figure out what to do & how in the world you’re supposed to stay afloat. I hate to tell you, but sometimes following Jesus is like that!

Now - before I get too much further, I know this subject of demons is a very tricky one in the church. Generations of bad theologies and painful teaching in some traditions has have pushed some awful ideas, often identifying anyone or anything they didn’t like as “demonic” and even making good people to believe that they themselves were possessed by demons for thinking, feeling, or behaving a little different from what those in positions of power would have wanted. So often the victims of this theological mistreatment have been the marginalized, who because of who they are are made to believe that they are demons or posessed by demons just for being a little bit different. And other times it’s those we disagree with politically who in this age of political extremes and abject division, we on both the right and the left characterize one another’s beliefs not just as disagreement but as demonic - leaving us virtually no way to move toward reconciliation and to move forward together. 

Maybe in a reaction to that sort of awful theology coming out of the extremes of the Christian faith, we “mainline protestants” sometimes overreact in the opposite direction, failing to talk about that which is truly evil in this world at all. Instead we paint pictures of flowers and roses, but shy away from doing what Jesus did - confronting the demonic powers of this world head-on and bringing about healing as in our gospel today. We know that what was considered “demon possession” in Jesus’ time was what we would call severe mental illness today, rendering people unable to speak, or to speak non-sensically, making its victims pariahs cast out of society or left on the street in an era long before therapies or modern concepts of mental health.

What are some of the demons (problems, not people) you see in our society? In our city, country, our world? What are some demons we see within?

In last week’s gospel, just a few verses earlier than what we’ve read today, the demon cries out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God”.  - The demon calls out Jesus by name and proclaims his holiness even before the disciples do! And at that, he uses nearly the same words  This demon recognizes Jesus’ authority and so do the crowds around them, as Jesus commands the demon to be silent and casts it out of the man who was possessed. 
Immediately afterward, as we begin this weeks story, the disciples seeing Jesus’ healing power take him to the mother of Simon (Peter) and whom he heals - or in the Greek “raised up” from a fever, which in those days was a seriously life-threatening condition. This, we are told, was a physical illness and certainly not a demon, but Jesus goes out and immediately back to casting out more demons, and we get this fascinating line at the end: “and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

What do you think this means - that the demons knew him? Where do you see that reflected in the world today?

That takes us right back to the beginning of that story from last week where the demon calls out “Jesus if Nazareth” “Holy one of God” and Jesus commands him to “be silent”. That is one of the primary ways Jesus confronts evil in the Gospel of Mark. “Jesus commands the spirit to “be silent” with the same word as he commands the sea to “be still” “be silent” (Mark 4:39). He rebukes the unclean spirit, the sea (Mark 4:30) and even Peter (Mark 8:33).

I have to say I really like Jesus’ approach - in an era when we see so much pain and degradation from the demons at hand in our society - when there’s so much grief that you don’t even want to pick up a newspaper or turn on the tv for fear of finding out what horrific acts of human violence have taken place today - It feels good to tell those demons to be silent. 

What are some ways in which we might be called to bring silence to the evils of this world? 

It’s a whole lot harder to do in real life than for us to imagine in our heads. It’s a lot harder to confront the racism or the sexism or the mean-spiritedness in the voice of someone you know or even love, and to tell that mean-spiritedness lovingly to be silent. It’s a lot harder to stand up against the threat of physical force to tell the oppressive powers and authorities of this world to “be silent”.

But I really do believe that’s what we’re called to do as the people of Jesus Christ in this world. But first, I’m going to watch a football game.


What Does a Deacon Do All Day? - Annual Report

Preaching my first sermon at Advent in July 2017
People ask me all the time what it is that a deacon actually *does*. Is it like a priest, but just not yet? Far from it! Take a look at my Annual Report for Church of the Advent from our January 2018 Annual Meeting. In it I share much of my varied and interesting ministries at Advent and beyond!

On July 1 2017, I was proud to join Church of the Advent as its Clergy Resident for a period of two years, through June 2019. In my first six months at Advent It has been my pleasure to participate in a broad range of ministries in nearly every part of life at Advent. As a deacon, my primary purpose is to focus on service to those most in need in our communities, and in the words of our ordination vows, “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world”. My ministry is also to assist in worship including preaching and in the Eucharist, and to help the priest in matters related to leadership of the Church. I am also a “transitional deacon” which means that I am in preparation and training, with God’s help, to be ordained a priest in the near future. Some of my service here involves training to provide the skills and practice needed for me to be a successful priest. My areas of focus here are are administration, pastoral care, empowerment of others, liturgy, preaching, justice, administering the sacraments, teaching and Latino ministry (with special emphasis on the first three).

Administration: Each week I participate in a number of activities related to the administrative care of Advent. This often includes attending meetings of the vestry, wardens, Open Door advisory committee, or others. This often includes discussing financial matters relating to the management of the church and Open Door. Each month I closely review the budget documents prepared for vestry to check for anything that may be a concern and to better understand the fiscal health of our parish. I also speak with the money counters nearly every week as they record weekly contributions, so that I might better understand how these processes take place and how donations are to be registered properly. In early November I completed a six-week online course in Episcopal Church Financial Management by Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Additionally I meet with Rev. Stacy at least once per week to discuss staff and administrative concerns as they arise. Bishop Breidenthal also recently appointed me as a member of Diocesan Council, which is one of two major governing committees for the roughly 65 churches in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Pastoral Care: My pastoral roles at Advent vary from week to week based on the needs of parishioners & the community at the time. Sometimes I am making pastoral visits with Rev. Stacy or alone, including to a few shut-in, elderly or injured parishioners and to those in the hospital. Alternately, sometimes I am meeting with parishioners in my office or Rev. Stacy’s office, or I am pulled aside during the week or at Sunday coffee hour to discuss some issue going on for that person. Sometimes this also involves conflict resolution interpersonally or helping others to process emotional or spiritual difficulties.

Empowerment of others for ministry:
For me, empowerment of others has largely taken on two forms; internally at Advent and externally via the Faith Alliance in Walnut Hills. At Advent this has meant helping to train new acolytes and altar guild members, helping to identify potential new vestry members, and discussing with Rev. Stacy ways in which to involve a number of our parishioners in a range of diverse ministries around Advent. As for Faith Alliance, I am pleased to work with a number of lay leaders and fellow clergy from at least eight neighborhood congregations. I also manage the group’s Facebook page and email account, and I help to spread the word about its events digitally, in person and through print media.

Liturgy: Worship planning is of course a very regular part of my role at Advent. I discuss with Rev. Stacy each month the liturgical events to take place in the coming weeks, especially including upcoming feast days or important occasions on the worship calendar. We begin to plan together some ways of bringing the scriptures and traditions of the Church to life within our Episcopal structure of liturgy. I often prepare several of the liturgical resources that may be needed and help those plans to materialize as a worship leader each Sunday, including leading Psalms, prayers etc. I also take turns leading our weekly Morning Prayer on Wednesdays, along with Rev. Stacy.

Administering the Sacraments: As a deacon my role is to prepare the sacraments for the priest to administer. Each week I prepare the bread & wine in the sacristy before the 8am service, and often assist the altar guild in setting up the table for 10am if needed. I also liturgically assist the priest in distributing Communion and help with any other sacramental services.

It is a really special part of my ministry to get to help teach about scripture, the Christian and Anglican/Episcopal traditions and other important aspects of our Christian life in our church. Sometimes this takes place in the context of our Wednesday Bible Study, or in helping to instruct new acolytes or Altar Guild members in how to carry out their duties well. Again often I am pulled aside and asked questions about faith, scripture, tradition or spirituality which often leads to a wider conversation. It is also my role to continue to teach and educate myself as a leader of this community. I am now preparing to teach a course during Lent 2018 in “Episcopal Church 101” as an adult confirmation class.

(Diocesan Latino Ministry) Since September 2016 I have been a weekly tutor for the Price Hill Learning Club, which is a program of the Diocesan Latino Ministry in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. We meet on Mondays & Wednesdays from 5-6:30pm with normally about 25 elementary or middle school kids and five adults. The kids are mostly the children of Guatemalan immigrants whose parents speak no English. I help to tutor the students in English, Spanish, math or whatever subjects they need. I also help to be a role model for the kids, and sometimes provide lessons on various events of the Church like Ash Wednesday or All Saints. I also serve as a member of the Latino Ministry Commission for our Diocese, which governs the 4 Episcopal organizations geared to Latinos in Southern Ohio. Because nearly all of our organizations’ parents are undocumented, this leads us at the Bishop’s encouragement to engage in pro-immigration advocacy with elected officials and others.

Note: Some of this report has been previously shared with the Resident's Formation Committee.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

“Fishers of Women - Pescadores de Mujeres”

Charles Graves IV
Sermon, January 21 2018
“Fishers of Women - Pescadores de Mujeres”


Almost 2.5 years ago, I was standing on a boat with some friends. It was a good-sized wooden schooner, fitting about thirty of us on board, rocking gently on the soft wind-blown waters on a clear spring day. That boat was perched peacefully upon the Sea of Galilee, with Israeli soil a few miles behind us, Jordan to our right and the edge of Syria straight ahead, just 10 miles in the distance. Looking out across the water to the seashore, I stood astounded at the mountains that seemed to jut out almost directly from the waters with very little lowland in between.

Taken by Rev. Charles at the Sea of Galilee, May 2015
With a 360 degree view to the waters’ edge on every side, I could almost see Jesus standing there at the shoreline, his voice ringing out clearly on a nearly windless day. Some local fishermen taught us how to throw out a large fishing net, quite like the type that would have been used in Jesus’ time. It was enormous and heavy and unwieldy, requiring several strong people and lots of practice to accomplish correctly. I gave a hand at it myself, trying my best to cast it out far and wide without getting tangled in between! Long story short, the net went about 2 feet outside the boat, fell against the side and nearly caught up my ankle along the way! Needless to say, I would have been a TERRIBLE fisherman if I had been around two thousand years ago! We certainly did NOT catch any fish that day.

Fortunately Simon (who would later be called Peter), along with Andrew, James and John were by all accounts much better fishermen than I am! It wasn’t an easy profession, nor incredibly lucrative, but it was their life, and as we can tell here in this story it was a family profession, carried from generation to generation. 

What strikes me every time I read this passage is how abrupt Jesus’ call to these soon-to-be disciples seems to be. He doesn’t walk up to them saying “Hi, my name is Jesus, you probably haven’t met me before... can I take you guys out for a cup of coffee...” or any of that. Maybe they had heard of him and the big scene at his baptism a little while earlier, or heard his preaching which we hear about at the beginning of this gospel, but we don’t know that. He doesn’t even say his name, much less anything at all about what he’s doing or why they should follow him at all. All we get is that odd but memorable phrase “And I will make you fish for people” or in the older translations “fishers of men”. What does that even mean? What about leaving their families, their professions, everything they knew and everything they had in the blink of an eye? 
Rev. Charles at the edge of the Sea of Galilee

Think about it: these men knew nothing at all of what would lie ahead. It was dangerous, following this man they’d never met, and they couldn’t possibly have imagined where it would lead or what they would encounter along the way. They couldn’t have anticipated the dangers it would expose them to or the violence they would risk along the way. Nor could they have known the blessings, the incredible sights, visions and miracles they would not only see but perform, or this thing called the Church that would still call their names 2,000 years down the line!

They didn’t even know where they would sleep that night, or what they would eat, or who they would stay with, or where they were going, or how they would get there. For those of you who are like me & like to have a plan or a schedule in life, it’s enough to give you the willies!

Many of you know that one of my great privileges in ministry is to serve a wonderful community of Latino & Latina immigrants and their children here in Cincinnati. Over the last 16 months I have learned a great deal from them, not least of which about their backgrounds, their former lives, and the journeys that brought them and us together. 

Young mothers, years younger than myself tell me that in their home village in Guatemala, girls usually don’t get past 6th grade because they don’t have pencils, and if you can’t afford pencils you can’t go to school. They come from some of the poorest and most war torn places on earth, and some have been threatened by the cartels that if they don’t pay the ‘impuestos’ - the “taxes” drug lords charge for “protection”, they and their families are dead. These young women, living through the kind of fear I cannot even imagine, have no greater dream than to scratch out a life so that their children will not have to endure these same horrors.

So many of them set out on a journey - an extremely dangerous and expensive one that could easily cost them their lives, and especially for women carries added risks of sexual violence and all manner of other potential disasters. They, like these four fishermen called by Jesus at the sea shore, have no idea where this journey will take them or if they will even survive it. But they have to go.

Whether by walking across great distances, or in the modern world by jumping on top of the treacherous northbound train through Mexico called “la bestia” - the beast - for the number of people who’ve lost their lives on it, to being smuggled in cars or trucks by “coyotes” - coyotes, the drug lords who take every cent they have and abandon them at any sight of trouble, this journey is a treacherous one. Jesus’ disciples would risk martyrdom at the hands of angry mobs, gory deaths at the hands of lions in the arena, crucifixion itself or all manner of bloody demise for the road they would walk with Jesus.

The good news for us, and for these four fishermen whom we would come to call disciples, and to these young mothers from Guatemala is that Jesus Himself is the one who tells all of us “Follow Me”. And that same Jesus is the one who walks with us, who guides us, teaches us and even carries us every step of the way. Jesus who himself was a refugee in the arms of his mother  fleeing to Egypt from the murderous desires of King Herod, that same Jesus walks ahead of us, and beside us, so we never have to journey alone.

How might Christ be calling you to get up and “follow me”? What does your “follow me” journey look like? What is our “follow me” journey together as a Christian and Episcopalian community in Walnut Hills? How might we be called to support those who journey with us, or whose journeys may be very different than our own? What new directions could Christ be calling us into, and what do we need to leave in order to get there?
If you’re seeing some connections to the Exodus, and that long journey story from captivity to freedom, then you’re right. Think about that this week, as we prepare for the annual meeting next  week, as we consider together where God may be calling us to go in 2018 and beyond.

May it be so.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Follow Jesus. New Beginning. All People.

Follow Jesus. New Beginning. All People.
Sermon for January 7, 2018
Baptism of Jesus (First Sunday after the Epiphany)
Church of the Advent, Cincinnati
Mark 1:4-11

Our own Nativity creche here at Advent, with Magi watching
If the Gospel I just read sounds really familiar to you, it’s actually because it’s the same reading I preached on less than a month ago on December 10th, for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. If you find it a little odd that we would do the same reading twice within such a short span - you’re right! but the reason is because the Church is encouraging us to pay attention to 2 different things. During Advent, our focus was on John’s gospel of repentance. But now as we re-read it, our collective focus turns to another important theme in scripture: Baptism. It’s the remembrance of the Baptism of Jesus. 

Some of you know that I’ve been pulling my hair out this week (figuratively!) over a sort of odd situation in our church calendar that left me torn all week about what I was going say to you all today. You see, Yesterday was what’s called the Feast of the Epiphany- it happens always on January 6th. And on the Feast of the Epiphany - a word that means “revealing” or “revelation”, we remember that beautiful story of the Magi - the wise men or kings who came from the East, following the star by night and bringing their gifts to the Christ child. Now, this story takes place, we believe, when Jesus was probably a toddler of about 2 years old.

Now for us here in modern times, we have a really big jump forward, because the very next day - today - we jump forward to the Baptism of Jesus which takes place when he’s a grown man of about 30 years old! So we jump about 28 years in less than 24 hours! And if, by chance you’re not the sort of person who likes to celebrate religious feast days on a Saturday, it’s an even bigger jump because we miss the story of the Magi, the “holy innocents” and the flight to Egypt altogether. We’ve just gone from the birth of Jesus all the way to adulthood from just one Sunday to the next!

So I asked around - I talked to some of you here at Advent, I talked to some clergy friends in Cincinnati, and I even polled my seminary & clergy friends on Facebook about how I ought to deal with these two extraordinarily important but really very different remembrances that we’re both basically celebrating at the same time. I vacillated back & forth for days & eventually my friends appealed to me that actually there’s a lot to be learned from them both. 

Door marked for Epiphany House Blessing. Credit: Mark Branch
Now, I’m giving you a homework assignment. Take out your bibles & open yo Matthew, chapter 2. Sometime this week I want you to read that whole chapter, it should only take you a few minutes. But really spend some time with it. Reflect on it, pray with it, visualize it in your head and walk around with it throughout the week. Find me sometime in the next week or two and tell me what you think. It’s not only the story of the Wise Men from the East, but it’s the story of the terrible order by King Herod to murder the boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to stamp out this newborn baby Jesus who would be a threat to Herod’s grip on the people of Israel. And it’s the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing as refugees into Egypt until Herod’s death, and their starting a new life in Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus would come to grow up.
I have a sentence I want you to remember. Repeat after me: 

Following Jesus is a New Beginning for All People.

Following Jesus is a New Beginning for All People.

Following Jesus

Just as the Wise Men got up and followed the star, making the sometimes dangerous and uncertain journey to worship that child Jesus, so we also commit our lives to following Jesus, no matter how far and how difficult the journey. From the day of Jesus’ baptism onward he would call all of us to follow him. For the next several weeks we’ll be talking about what it means to follow Jesus.

New Beginning

As with any young child, a birth represents a new beginning, a new life - and especially with this young baby boy whom these men came from the East to adore. And it was a new beginning for the Wise Men too - their lives would be forever changed by this journey, this encounter with the Christ child. Baptism too, is a re-birth and a new beginning. Jesus’ baptism by John was the beginning of his ministry as an adult - the launching point for the three years of his life that would change the entire world.

All People

The Wise Men were not Jews - they were Gentiles, and people from far away - foreigners! And yet they were among the first to adore and worship Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s Baptism and our baptism - all of us are able to enter into the redeeming mercy of Jesus. Baptism is open to all, and it obligates us to all people. As Episcopalians, we pledge at our baptisms to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being”.

Following Jesus is a New Beginning for All People.

So in this Season of Epiphany, over the next month or so as we walk this journey together, I encourage you to write down that phrase. Carry it with you as you go. Pray with it and live it every day of your life in Christ.

Following Jesus is a New Beginning for All People.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Epiphany Dawns

The following is my article for the January 2018 edition of the Church of the Advent parish newsletter.

2018 - It’s the dawn of a new year on our global calendars, even though for us in the church, our “New Year” was a month ago at the beginning of Advent! During that month, we spent time in preparation for the birth of Christ in our world, and we rejoiced at the celebration of his arrival in the Christmas Season. Now that Christ, the Word made flesh, is born among us once again, we stand at the edge of another joyous and profound celebration. It’s not New Year’s Day, it’s the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Epiphany is the day when we remember the visitation of the Magi (often known as the Three Kings or Wise Men) who traveled from the East, following the star to find Mary and Joseph with the young boy Jesus. Of course, these Wise Men famously bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor and serve this child who would be called King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

As we collectively turn the page to 2018, God reminds us again to consider how each of us is called to offer our own gifts to Christ in serving the Church and supporting one another. What skills and talents might God be growing in you & challenging you to share in 2018? How might God be nudging you in new directions, or moving you to nurture others to share in new ways? 

Maybe it’s as an acolyte, or altar guild, or as a lay reader or usher or as a Vestry member. Maybe it’s by bringing others to church with you, or by visiting someone who is sick or alone. Maybe it’s something else entirely! 

At the end of January we will have our Annual Meeting of the whole congregation. This is our chance to take stock of our successes and challenges of the past year, and plot a course for the journeys on which God is guiding us for 2018. We will continue to examine where our Lord is leading our whole congregation in the new year, and how to continually offer our gifts to Christ in Walnut Hills and beyond. Join us, and discern with us together as we look to share the treasures of our lives with the newborn King.