You Will be Found

Sermon for Sunday, August 26, 2018 || Proper 16B || John 6:56-69

Sometimes ordinary conversations spur the deepest of thoughts. This past Monday, I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes while listening to the kids talking to each other at the kitchen table. At their recent birthday party, they had decorated small terra cotta pots with glitter glue and stickers. Inside the pots they planted seeds that hopefully will grow into tiny spruce trees by Christmas. So there they sat at the kitchen table, and then they started listing off all the people they wanted to invite over to see their Christmas trees when they’re done growing.

They began with close family friends who had helped bake their birthday cake. Then they listed all their family members – Nana and Papa, Amma and Abba, their aunts and uncles and cousins. Then they moved onto friends who attended their party and their parents; then to other friends from school; then to people from church. They kept naming people they know, people with whom they have some level of relationship. And for a pair of four-year-olds, they had a pretty extensive list. Continue reading “You Will be Found”

The Airport Rule

Sermon for Sunday, July 8, 2018 || Proper 9B || Mark 6:1-13

When I was growing up, my parents instituted a family ordinance called “the airport rule.” The airport rule stated that whenever we were in a crowded place like an airport, we always had to be holding hands with another member of the family. Observing this safety measure meant we were less likely to get lost or (God forbid) snatched. All my parents had to do was call out, “Airport rule!” and Melinda and I immediately buddied up with them.

When I became a parent myself, I finally understood the genius of the airport rule. It wasn’t just about safety, though that was a big part of it. The airport rule also made our travel more efficient because, once buddied up, we had to walk at the parent’s pace instead of the child’s. And there was one more sneaky element of the airport rule that I would never have dreamt of when I was a kid. I’m certain my parents called out for the airport rule just because they liked holding our hands. There’s simply nothing like reaching down and finding those warm, little fingers to squeeze. Every time I hold my son’s or daughter’s hands, I can’t help but send up a prayer of thanks that God entrusted these two precious lives to Leah and me.*

Continue reading “The Airport Rule”

Announcing Adam’s New Novel: The Storm Curtain


A new novel of high fantasy and adventure from author Adam Thomas.


The Storm Curtain is open.
The Three Sisters have fallen.
War has come to Arillon.

The orcs of Ornak have taken the islands known as the Three Sisters, bringing sudden war to the coast of Arillon, a country on the grand island of Sularil. Hopelessly outnumbered, an alliance of humans, dwarves, and elves attempts to slow the orcs’ march towards the immense city of Thousand Spires. How could the small country of Ornak contain such an overwhelming force? This is the question on the minds of Sularin general and soldier alike.

Only one person is in a position to find the answer. New recruit Grail, an elf of the Oruana Kir, is shipwrecked on her way to the front and finds herself washed ashore on the coast of Ornak. Will she remain alone in a hostile land to find answers? Or will she return across the sea to rejoin her best friend Daxa Torn in the fight? Whatever she decides, one question haunts Grail more than any other: why can she not commune with animals, taking their shapes like the rest of her people?

Adam Thomas, writer of wherethewind.com, presents the first novel set in Sularil, his own Tolkien-esque fantasy world. A lover of works of high fantasy ever since reading The Hobbit and Redwall way back in middle school, Adam brings his own offering to the genre with a pair of strong female heroes and a story about finding family and releasing shame in the midst of turmoil and war. (For ages 15 and up.)

For a brief excerpt of The Storm Curtain, please click here.


Click here to purchase The Storm Curtain
on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition.


 

The Inciting Incident

Sermon for Sunday, May 1, 2016 || Easter 6C || John 5:1-9

theincitingincidentAt the beginning of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins leads a comfortable, if unexciting life in his home at Bag End in the town of Hobbiton in the idyllic land called the Shire. Bilbo had never left the Shire, nor had any but a few hobbits, whom the rest of hobbit society thought a bit addled in the head. Bilbo contented himself with a leisurely life of eating, walking about town, relaxing with a good pipe, and eating some more.

Even if you’ve never read The Hobbit, you know it’s an adventure story, so obviously something needs to happen to Bilbo, something known in the study of literature as “the inciting incident.” JR.R. Tolkien has a whole world to show Bilbo, a world that starts at his doorstep and leads to a solitary mountain where Bilbo bandies words with a terrifying dragon.

Well, such an inciting incident happens when Bilbo hears a knock on his round front door. The wizard Gandalf has come to invite Bilbo on an adventure with a dozen dwarves. Their tale of the dragon seizing and laying waste to their homeland sends Bilbo’s imagination soaring off to distant places. But when dinner is over and the dwarves have finished their hauntingly beautiful song, Bilbo’s good sense reasserts itself. He thanks them for their offer but politely declines. Tolkien has presented his protagonist with the perfect inciting incident, but for the moment, Bilbo doesn’t bite.

The next day Bilbo begins going about his day as usual, but something has changed within him. He has awoken to the wider world beyond his door, and suddenly he realizes he simply cannot miss this chance. He dashes out of his house in such a rush that he leaves his pocket-handkerchief. He catches up with the dwarves and the adventure sweeps him away. The inciting incident has happened, and Bilbo’s life is forever changed.

Every story, both fiction and nonfiction, has an inciting incident. Sometimes the character has no choice in the matter; events conspire in such a way to make the path inevitable. Sometimes, as in The Hobbit, the character does have a choice as to whether he or she wants to remain in the relative security of the normal or risk the adventure of the unknown. Harry Potter chooses to step with Hagrid into the wizarding world. Katniss Everdeen chooses to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. Like Bilbo and Harry and Katniss, you and I have a choice. An inciting incident presents itself to us this morning. We can choose to stay home. Or we can dash off without our pocket-handkerchiefs.

This inciting incident comes in the form of Jesus walking up to you and me and asking us the same question he asks the man by the pool of Beth-zatha: “Do you want to be made well?” It seems like a question with such an obvious answer, doesn’t it? “Do you want to be made well?” Yes! is the answer you’d expect, right? But that’s not what the man says. Rather, he gives a resigned speech about why he’s never made it into the legendary healing waters of the pool. It’s been 38 years, and by now, he seems resigned to his lot in life as the one who never makes it to the water on time.

In response to the man’s resignation, Jesus skips the preliminaries and goes straight for the command: “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Perhaps the man thinks Jesus is having a bit of fun at his expense. But the tone is all wrong. This was an invitation, not a joke. The inciting incident is here, and the man has a choice. He can stay put and not realized he has been given the gift of healing. Or he can get up: he can make the choice that will change his life for the better. And still, the choice is not as obvious as we might first think. Change for the better is still change. And change is scary, no matter if it’s for good or for ill.

The man by the pool chooses to engage his inciting incident. He chooses to stand up. When he does, he realizes Jesus healed him, and his life takes a sharp turn from the paralytic monotony of the last 38 years. In light of this, my questions for you this morning are these: when have you responded to an inciting incident in your life? How did your life change when you took the risk to venture into the unknown? How was God present to you as you walked from security into uncertainty? As you ponder how you’ve responded to inciting incidents in the past, pray with this one final question from Jesus himself: “Do you want to be made well?”

Perhaps you’re in a toxic work environment, and the personalities you work with have made you dread stepping through the doors of the office. Your physical and emotional health have both declined precipitously because of the stress your workday puts on you, but you need a paycheck. When you hear Jesus say, “Do you want to be made well,” you realize the choice before you boils down to how much your own health is worth to you.

Perhaps your family has a history of diabetes, and you’ve started noticing lately that you get pretty sluggish when you eat sugar. It makes you feel awful, but you crave it just the same. When you hear Jesus say, “Do you want to be made well,” you realize the choice before you pits immediate gratification against long-term health.

Perhaps a close friend has confided in you a concern that you drink more than you should. At first, you ignore the concern, then you get defensive about it, then angry, and suddenly you start to wonder why you’re upset. It’s because you really do have a problem, you realize. And that’s when you hear Jesus say, “Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus’ question exposes the fact that we all have choices to make that will lead to better health. The status quo may be comfortable, if unexciting, but in the end it leaves us paralyzed by the pool. Jesus’ question is a new inciting incident in each of our lives. Each of us can make a choice to lead a life that promotes wellness, for ourselves and those around us.

For me personally, the inciting incident began when I went to the CREDO conference a few weeks ago. I was introduced to a concept called “margin.” Margin is the space in our lives between the loads we carry and the limit to our carrying capacity. I realized I spend too much of my life with my load and my limit being equal, which means collapse is a real possibility whenever my load increases. At the conference, I heard Jesus ask me his inciting question. My response was “Yes!” followed by the obvious question: “But how?” A simple answer came to me: “You are not alone.”

We’re all in this together, and Christ is here, both calling us to greater health and giving us the gifts to achieve the changes we need to make in our lives. In whatever way Jesus calls you to a life of better wellness, know that you are not alone. You have us to support you when you respond to that inciting incident; when you dash off without your pocket-handkerchief; when you hear Jesus ask, “Do you want to be made well,” and you answer, “Yes!”

The Last Prayer in the Bible

(Sermon for Sunday, May 16, 2010 || Easter 7, Year C, RCL || Revelation 22:20)

Words can help and words can harm. Words can enlighten and words can confuse. Words can dull the mind and words can infuse the soul with joy. Recently, I spoke some words to someone that wounded that person, and I continue to work to repair that relationship. Recently, I also spoke words to someone else that brought her a bit of peace, a quarter cup of hope for the recipe of her daily walk with Christ.

Words by themselves are innocuous little things, like bullets rattling around safely in the box. Then we employ these innocuous little words to order our thoughts. We combine them into phrases, sentences, speeches, lullabies, poems, diatribes. We use them to teach and to welcome and to express deep emotions that rarely fit neatly into our vocabulary. We also use them to manipulate and to control and to stoke our own fragile egos. Knowing that words surround and define us, the fact that we spend so little time choosing our words is startling. The fact that we spend so little time examining the repercussions of what we say is quite disturbing.

This is true at home, where a conversation can end in a tearful embrace or a slammed door. This is true at school, where teachers use words to encourage, and bullies use words to demean. And this is especially true at church, where we say collections of words used nowhere else in our lives. These words inspire humility and invite transformation, and yet we rarely take the time to notice the power of the words we speak here in this building.

This morning, we heard the final prayer in the Bible, the literal last words in the last book of the library that chronicles God’s interactions with all those grimy, messed up, beautiful people. “Come, Lord Jesus,” prays John of Patmos at the end of the Book of Revelation. Come, Lord Jesus. No prayer in the Bible is more fervent or more concise or more powerful. These three little words pass us by in the midst of another reading on another Sunday morning. But these three little words illustrate the fact that we rarely notice the power of the words we speak in church. We’ll get back to this final prayer in a few minutes. First, let’s explore this power that we tend to overlook.

In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard diagnoses this blissful ignorance that affects lay people and clergy alike. She asks, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should be wearing crash helmets.”

In her colorful prose, Dillard reminds us all that worshiping the Creator-Of-All-That-Is has never been an altogether safe or predictable proposition.  In our worship, we consciously commune with the foundation of our very existence, the God who transcends all thought and who, at the same time, moves within and around each of us, breathing life into our bodies and purpose into our souls. The church is not a museum for us to tour with amused and sleepy detachment; there is no frozen exhibit of doves in midair, no taxidermied Holy Spirit. Our God is no divine watchmaker who wound the universe and then left well enough alone. We worship the God who was and who is and who will be. God continues to speak creation into existence every moment of every day. But one of the things God never created is the box in which we often try to stick God, so that we can go about our daily lives secure in the knowledge that God is collecting dust on a shelf in the cupboard.

This box doesn’t exist. Any attempt to domesticate God is a severe delusion of grandeur, one that I know I’m guilty of. We worship a God who moves through our lives like the wind, uncontrollable and yet ever visible in the dancing of leaves and the billow of sails. This is the God whose name we toss about in frustrated oaths when we’re stuck in traffic. This is the God we rail at when the pain of loss wallops us in the gut. And this is the God to whom we address our praise and our prayers.

We ask God for forgiveness in the words of the confession. We invoke God’s name when we offer each other Peace. We recite the poetry of God’s grace in the words of the Eucharistic prayer. We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom in the words that Jesus taught us. After communion, we tell God of our plans to go out and serve God in the world, and we ask for strength and courage.

But how often do we stop and realize that God actually hears these words of ours. How often do we take stock of our conviction that God listens to our pitiful, halting, inadequate, wonderful prayers. Our words are powerful and transformative because we speak them to the God who empowers and transforms us. When we speak words like “Come, Lord Jesus,” are we really prepared for the transformation into which these words draw us?

This is why we need those crash helmets, of which Annie Dillard spoke. God calls us to participate in our own transformation. When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we signal our readiness to become a part of our own remaking. We discover the arduous path of discipleship, a path which Jesus never promised would be safe or easy. Rather, he promised that he would always be with us on the path, no matter the danger or difficulty. When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we notice that Christ is already here with us.

This is a comforting and a disturbing thought. Christ is already here with us guiding us and holding us up. But Christ is also here pushing us to step into new encounters that will transform us and, at the same time, transform the world. I know I can’t speak for all of us so I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes, I’m afraid to say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because I know I might hear Jesus echo my prayer and send me where I don’t want to go. “Come, Lord Jesus,” I’ll say, and then Jesus will say: Come, Adam. Come to me here. Come to me at the prison, at the slum. Come to me when I rattle a Dunkin Donuts cup at you on Tremont Street. Come to me when I hold up a cardboard sign at the intersection. Come to me when I’m alone at the table in the soup kitchen.

Our transformations take place in those moments when we cry out “Come, Lord Jesus,” and Jesus hears us and echoes our cry with one of his own. The more conviction we have in saying those three little words, the easier will be our reception of Jesus’ call in our lives. The more often we pray, “Come Lord, Jesus,” the less often will we be tempted to sequester Jesus in the upper room or to stash him in the manger where he can’t do too much to stir our lives. In The Lord of the Rings, old Bilbo Baggins used to say to his nephew: “ ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ ” Likewise, when we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we step into the Road of our own discipleship, and Jesus sweeps us off to those places where our own transformation intersects God’s transforming of the world.

Words by themselves are innocuous little things until you combine them into phrases and invest those phrases with meaning and conviction. The last prayer in the Bible is just three little words: “Come, Lord Jesus.” With these words, we accept Christ’s invitation to participate in our own remaking. We open ourselves up to hearing Christ’s call to go to those places and to those people who are in need of change themselves. And when we arrive, we’ll find that the Lord Jesus has come there first, and that he will continue to strengthen us in our ministry with his grace.