Sabbatical Notes, Week 7: Eleven Years of

At the beginning of June eleven years ago, I was sitting in the guest bedroom at my parents house. Graduation from seminary was a few weeks in the past, and ordination to the priesthood was a week in the future. I was existing in an in-between space for those few weeks. The end of my formal academic life was giving way to the start of my professional life. As you can see from the words below, I was a bit at loose ends. On the advice of my seminary thesis reader (and all around awesome person) Brian McLaren, I started Eleven years later, the site is still going strong as a place for my sermons and other musings.

I’ve always known that as one of the first Millennials to be ordained a priest, part of God’s call on my life would happen online. Being on sabbatical these last few weeks has given me some time to ponder what that looks like. I’ve been a faithful blogger for over a decade, but I’m not much a fan of social media. I don’t put myself out there. I tweet mostly articles I’ve found helpful. I do love YouTube, so there may be something there to explore going forward.

As for now, I want to share with you the third post ever to appear on WheretheWind. I wrote it a week before my ordination to the priesthood. (I also wrote it about two years after a tough break-up and about two years before meeting my wife Leah. That context is important.) I published the post eleven years ago yesterday, and I think it displays my mental state pretty well.

Here’s the line that always strikes me when I re-read this one.

Faith is about remembering to remember.

Right now I am in Israel on pilgrimage, so expect the balance of my sabbatical notes to be about this once in a life time journey. In the meantime, enjoy some of my writing from the dark ages of 2008. Here’s “What Size Straightjacket?”

I have had quite a bit of downtime in this month between graduation from seminary and ordination to the priesthood. While this has been a happy occasion to catch up on sleep and Law & Order:SVU, it has also produced a surplus of mental energy that is no longer being poured into my thesis and papers. Any of my friends could tell you that I think too much, especially about relationships. And when I have the time to think too much, my mind develops every choice, every scenario, every possible combination of what could go right and will go wrong to every logical and illogical conclusion.

In the last two years of seminary, I had few opportunities and even less time for my brain to engage in such frivolous and ultimately useless exercises. But now that formal studies have concluded, my mind wondered what to do with the extra horsepower. Without a relationship with a woman to examine, deconstruct, extrapolate, and fret about, my mind turned to my relationship with God.

As such, in the last month, I have had a few minor anxiety attacks, a couple small bouts of existential dread, and even a dark afternoon of the soul.* Am I ready? Is this really what I want to devote my life to? What about all the other things I could do? How huge is this commitment? Am I committed? Should I be committed? I wonder what size straightjacket I’d wear? My mind climbed the ladders to these lofty questions, and then it found a chute and jumped headfirst. The lofty questions mingled with the old set of relationship questions, and my mind ventured down all the well worn paths it has trod before, all the parallel universes in which I didn’t say this or did recognize that warning sign or missed an opportunity or or or…

Then I realized that all my dread and neuroses were misplaced. When did my relationship with God start mirroring my relationships with women? Now, this is nothing new: the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures often compared God’s relationship with Israel to a marriage, sometimes favorably, sometimes not so much. But, in those comparisons, God was always faithful–it was the people of Israel who broke the covenant and went after false gods. My dread came from confusing mine and God’s parts in the story. In my neurotic imaginings, God played the part of the leaver in the relationship. I was the faithful one, the stalwart. But that’s not how it is. The only thing that keeps me going in a world that seems full of leavings, full of broken relationships, is the faith that God will never leave, will never break a relationship. What a revelation.

My ordination is in five days. You might think it strange that someone about to be ordained to the priesthood seems just to be figuring out that God is here to stay. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve realized it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I need to. But faith is about remembering to remember. It’s easy to lose sight of God’s promises because life is built on those promises. Over time, they blend into the landscape. Small bouts of existential dread and dark afternoons of the soul jar me into remembering to remember those promises.

At the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Lord, help me remember that you are in this relationship for good. Help me remember that my neuroses aren’t going to scare you away. Help me be in this relationship with you.

The Posture of Belief

Sermon for Sunday, November 18, 2018 || Proper 28B || Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

We were talking theology over pizza last week at confirmation class, and one of the teens asked a question that was so thought-provoking, I spent the next several days thinking about it. Because the question was on my mind this week, my response to it ended up being this sermon. The question went something like this: “Adam, how do you believe all the time? Are there any times when you don’t really know about all this God stuff?” Continue reading “The Posture of Belief”

The Iterative Process of Faith

Sermon for Sunday, October 28, 2018 || Proper 25B || Mark 10:46-52

*Before today’s service, I said a word about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. You can find that here.

Today’s sermon is the sequel to the one I gave on this Gospel passage three years ago. You all remember that one perfectly, right? No? Here’s a recap: I did a first-person sermon in which I played the part of Bartimaeus. But the last bit of that sermon I was more Adam than Bartimaeus. It went like this.

He said my faith had made me well. And now it’s the eyes of faith I need, the eyes that see beyond what’s in front of me, the eyes that see God’s reality swirling beneath the mundane. And so I repeat my request: “Lord, let me see again.” Let me look again at your presence in the world around me. Let me notice again the people who are usually invisible. Let me see again your face in their faces. Let me serve again. Let me help again. Hope again. Love again. Lord, I asked for mercy, I shouted at the top of my lungs for mercy. And mercy is all about second chances. Mercy is all about “again.” And so my first request remains the most fervent longing from the depths of my heart. I have made this my prayer for all time: “Lord, let me see again.”

I’d like to pick up right here today with the concept of “again.” Continue reading “The Iterative Process of Faith”

The Faithfulness of God

Sermon for Sunday, September 9, 2018 || Proper 18B || James 2:1-17

Our second lesson today came from the Letter of James. I’ve always been attracted to the Letter of James, especially its understanding of faith and works. This short, five chapter letter is the only writing we have from this particular source, identified as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” From the early days of Christianity, tradition held this James was the brother of Jesus, a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Early non-biblical witnesses report James’s martyrdom sometimes in the 60s A.D. which would place this letter around the same time as the writings of Paul.

Continue reading “The Faithfulness of God”

Faith Behind Door #3

Sermon for Sunday, May 27, 2018 || Trinity Sunday B || John 3:1-17

About ten years ago, I was a newly-minted priest living in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. That part of West Virginia was much more farm and orchard country than coal country, and the Appalachian Mountains were a good hike west of my town. One Saturday afternoon, I got a hankering to experience some local custom, so I took myself out of my solitary townhouse and headed down to the county fair. It was fantastic – a perfect window into a particular aspect of Americana right down to the fried dough, the pig weighing, and the tractor pull.

As I wandered through one of the tents, a provocative sign caught my attention. It hung above a booth and read: “How sure are you of going to heaven? Are you 50% 75% 100% sure?” Now, I really had no desire to get into a theological sparring match with the man and woman at the booth, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to know how someone might arrive at a 75% surety of heaven. I mean, 75%? It’s an oddly specific percentage of certainty…

Continue reading “Faith Behind Door #3”

Rolling Away the Stone

Sermon for Sunday, April 1, 2018 || Easter B || Mark 16:1-8

Good morning. I am so glad to be worshiping with you on this Easter morning. And I’m so glad that I got to read the last eight verses of Mark’s Gospel a minute ago because they hold some good news I never noticed before this week. Unlike the other accounts of the Gospel, Mark focuses entirely on the women’s walk to the tomb and their conversation with the young man in the white robe. The Risen Christ doesn’t actually appear in these verses, and we’re left in that unsettling moment when the women run off and don’t tell anybody because they’re afraid. Of course, they must have said something eventually or else this story wouldn’t have made it into the Gospel.

I can imagine Mary and Mary and Salome recounting their story to the disciples later on. “We got up early that morning and bought some spices to anoint his body. We had no idea how we were going to move the stone, but we went anyway, and when we got there –” Continue reading “Rolling Away the Stone”

The Breastplate of Faith and Love

Sermon for Sunday, November 19, 2017 || Proper 28A || 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Before my kids were born, I played a lot of video games. My favorite kind of games were set in medieval fantasy realms where you fight monsters and dragons, all the while collecting treasure and renown. And new armor. In the last game I played seriously, I finished it wearing armor made of dragon scales. That was pretty cool. The armor in these games often have pretty cool names, too: The Gauntlets of Might, The Helmet of Insight, The Boots of Running and Jumping. You get the the idea.

I’ve always wondered if the designers of these games originally took a page out of the Apostle Paul’s book, because as near as I can tell, he invented this naming convention. He says in today’s lesson from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” And yet, while the Breastplate of Faith and Love has an awesome name, it’s not even made of metal, let alone dragon scales. It’s made of faith and love. How could it possibly turn aside the weapons of its bearer’s enemies? Perhaps this is armor of a fundamentally different type. Continue reading “The Breastplate of Faith and Love”

The Pearl

Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017 || Proper 22A || Philippians 3:4b-14

Have you ever noticed that when you borrow someone else’s stuff, you’re always extra careful with it? You return the casserole dish wrapped in towels, lest it break in transit. You don’t dogear the borrowed book or break its spine. Leah and I have friends who are so wonderfully generous in lending that at any given time, our house contains six or seven of their possessions, and I’m irrationally afraid of what might happen to them.

One time I had to retrieve a couch for my previous church’s youth room. I borrowed a truck that could have plowed any other car off the road, but I treated it like the most fragile vehicle out there. I wanted to honor the trust the owner placed in me, and so I treated the truck with much more care and attention than I normally would my own car.

The thing is, if we truly lived our lives as children of God and as followers of Jesus Christ, we would treat our own possessions with the same care and mindfulness as we treat the possessions of others. Because, when you get right down to it, our possessions aren’t really ours at all. Everything we have belongs to God, who is the author of all creation. Continue reading “The Pearl”

The Moment of Encounter, part 2: The Confessions

Sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017 || Proper 18A || Romans 13:8-14

Last week, I talked about cultivating our spiritual awareness so we realize we are encountering God’s presence during the encounter and not after the fact. Moses was our shining example in that sermon, as he turned aside to really look at the burning bush. Jumping forward about 1,700 years, here’s the story of another person who participated in an encounter with God’s presence and whose life was forever changed. Continue reading “The Moment of Encounter, part 2: The Confessions”

The Spiritual Desert

Sermon for Sunday, December 11, 2016 || Advent 1C || Isaiah 35:1-10

To his people in exile, the prophet Isaiah says these words of hope, promise, and comfort:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing. […]

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water…

I must confess that I needed to hear these beautiful words this morning. I must confess that I have been feeling spiritually dry lately. I must confess that an arid desert of burning sands has grown up within me in recent months when I wasn’t paying attention. There have been a few moments of oasis – notably splashing my hands in the waters of baptism two weeks ago – but overall my spirit has shriveled recently. I’m, quite simply, parched. Continue reading “The Spiritual Desert”