Resurrected Hope

April 30, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a,36-41; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

This Sunday I got a bit out of my comfort zone and preached without a manuscript. A couple of years ago, a parishioner of my church encouraged me to do this, but my anxiety has been an impediment. Then, this past Tuesday I had a bit of time with my bishop, Rob Wright. In our carefree conversation about this Sunday’s gospel text from Luke, he asked, “Are you going to preach from a manuscript?” I said I was and he challenged me not to. Nudged might be a better word. He didn’t push hard, but he assured me that “you’ve got this.” My wife, Alice also bolstered my confidence. I talk about scripture passages and sermon ideas with her all the time, off the cuff, so she knows I can do it. So I decided that I’d give it a try.

Now, to be clear, preaching without a manuscript isn’t the same thing as preaching extemporaneously, which is with little preparation. I did prepare. But as someone who has always relied heavily on my carefully crafted, tightly worded, sermon in print in front of me, to instead walk into church on Sunday morning with no paper in hand, no saved document to pull up on a screen, it was odd. To move out from behind the pulpit, standing at the top of the chancel steps, with nothing between me and the congregation, I was exposed.

Photo by Bruce Halliburton, 2014.

My only safety net was the Bible given to me by that same bishop on the day of my ordination. It sat on the altar rail, just a few feet away, providing assurance that if I needed to, I could turn to the text, or peek at the squirreled away 4×6 inch index card with bullet points tucked inside.

The safety net was not necessary. As expected, the Holy Spirit had my back as I shared God’s word and the story of resurrected hope found in Luke’s Easter message.The audio file isn’t as crisp as I’d like, but thanks to iPhone technology and recording apps, I captured it and share it with you here.

Happy Easter! Go try something new!

 

 

Shining Light on Suicide

March 26, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The 4th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41; Psalm 23

When I was growing up my twin sister and I often had slumber parties to celebrate our birthday. One of these in particular stands out in my memory – the summer we turned 13.

After playing games and eating dinner and cake, it came time for lights-out, though that never meant eyes-closed. When the room got dark, the real stuff began, you know, ghost stories, séances, and in my day, the ever popular “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” This is when the whole group gathered around one willing party-goer who laid in the center, as we called upon spirits from beyond to assist us to lift her using only two fingers.

That year, in the wee hours of the morning, amid these mystical endeavors, the phone rang. One of our friends had a premonition that it was probably bad news… not really a stretch in hindsight, but at the time we gave her full creds as the enlightened one.

Sure enough, the next morning my parents called me and my siblings into their room. Their somber expressions caused me to wonder if my Grandma Caldwell had died. She was elderly and had already had several heart attacks. So, you can imagine my surprise when they shared that our cousin Carl was the one who had died. He was in training with the Air Force. His roommate had found him, seemingly asleep on the sofa, in their base-camp apartment. Carl was one day shy of his 19th birthday, and in two weeks he was supposed to get married. Read the rest of this entry »

A Lenten Mitzvah

March 12, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The 2nd Sunday in Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

(Gospel Text provided below)

Thursday a week ago I received a Facebook message from a former co-worker. In it, and the ensuing phone conversation, I learned that one of the sons of a close friend in Houston had died. Jonathan was twenty-seven. His death was tragic.

Since the family is Jewish, I knew the funeral would be quick, so within an hour I had a plane ticket and began rearranging my schedule for the weekend. I landed in Houston by mid-morning on Friday, and arrived at the graveside by 2pm. Standing in the bright sunlight, feeling the cool spring breeze, I held tightly to the yarmulke I received fourteen years earlier at Jonathan, and his twin sister, Robin’s, b’nai mitzvah.

After reflections about Jonathan’s life were shared by the rabbi, we recited Psalm 23 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. We were then all invited to help shovel dirt on the plain-wood coffin that had been lowered into the ground – I went for the big shovel. By 3pm, Jonathan was laid to rest, entombed by the earth and sealed with the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Value(s) of Joseph

December 18, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
4th Sunday of Advent – Year A
Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

(Gospel Text provided below)

When I was 24 years old, after a couple of years at one of the Big-8 Accounting firms (now it’s the Big 4), I was hired to be the supervisor of a Commercial Loan Accounting department at First City Bank in Houston. In this role, I’d manage a staff of eight people, all of whom were older than me.

My experience as an auditor was with Oil & Gas clients and a few hospitals. I knew nothing about banking, aside from having a checking account, and even that was fairly new to me. I’d never been a supervisor in a work-setting – so needless to say, being hired into this role was a bit daunting. I joked that the real reason I was hired was because Mary, the department manager, wanted me to play on her inter-bank softball team! But, it’s more likely that Mary hired me, at some level, because of my father.

Now, a few years earlier this would have been a problem. When I trying to get my first job after college, I wanted desperately to be hired independent of my family. My dad was a prominent Houston City Councilman, even a potential contender for Mayor. dad-collage-2 I love my dad, and he’s a huge part of my life, but I really wanted to “make it on my own” like the Mary Tyler Moore theme song!

Yet here I was, just a couple of years later, being hired into a job with no proven experience, and if I’m honest, softball team notwithstanding, it was probably based on my boss’s knowledge of my father. Now, she didn’t know him personally, but what she did know about him, she liked and respected. So, despite all I didn’t bring to the table, Mary took a chance on me – which began my twenty-year career in bank operations. Read the rest of this entry »

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