Category: Dialog

Blog posts, op eds, articles, and anything else that contributes to our evolving understanding of ministry in Higher Ed.

Peace which is no peace

There’s a hymn we sing occasionally–They Cast Their Nets In Galilee. As a child, it struck me as incredibly dark and depressing. The text goes: They cast their nets in GalileeJust off the hills of brownSuch happy, simple fisherfolkBefore the Lord came down… It goes on to detail how every nice fisherman ends up graphically […]

We need new problems

Last week, I informed my husband on Saturday night that I loathed my sermon, so he should prepare himself. There was nothing especially awful about it–and I have extreme perfectionism when it comes to preaching, so I quietly think most of what I could preach could be much, much better, but on this occasion, I […]

What Did Baptism Get Us Into?

Sermon preached at Holy Trinity by the Lake, August 18, 2019. Here are the readings appointed for the day.
Good morning! My name is Fr. Jonathan, and – speaking for my wife and kids, as well as for myself – it is so wonderful to be with you. I have been carrying a heart full of gratitude these last several weeks for Holy Trinity, for the process by which God has called us to walk the life of faith with you, for the many of you who tended to that discernment, and for the even more of you who have extended a welcome whose warmth is more than worthy of the outdoor temperatures. Thank you, and I thank God for you. I look forward to our getting to know one another, and I thank God that as people like you and me seek to draw near to God, we are not left on our own; God gives us the good gift of one another; the good gift of holy friends with which to break bread and share the cup. What a gift that God in Christ has made us friends of God and each other.
I’ll be honest, Fr. Keith and I are still working together on the particulars of my position’s responsibilities, but Christian formation is at the top of the list, especially formation of children, youth, and young families. So you can imagine my delight when I spotted the Spirit-inspired gospel lesson appointed for today. Did you catch it?
Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, asking the disciples a question he’ll answer himself:
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
A good beginning.
Now, stop. Can we be real for a second? You and I need Jesus for lots of reasons, but most of us don’t need Jesus to have conflict with in-laws. Most of us can manage that on our own. Amirite?
Same with the other family dynamics. Sometimes, the father/son and mother/daughter stuff clears up with age, but not always. Any therapist worth their salt will eventually want to talk to you about what they call your family of origin because, even in the best of circumstances, that’s where the deepest wounds lie. We all have them, followers of Jesus or not.
Jesus knows this, but apparently Jesus is unwilling to promise that following him will not add to the challenge. After all, Jesus’s first followers left their families to become his disciples. Jesus’s own relationship with his family was not without its difficulties. By contrast, many – though not all – of us were introduced to Jesus through our families, but even if that was the case for you, this does not mean you aren’t familiar with the waters the first disciples navigated. In seven years of campus ministry, I shared space with countless young adults going or not going to church for the very first time as a decision independent of their families. No one looking over their shoulders. In fact, if a parent endorsed me to their college student child, it was very often the kiss of death for our relationship. Because families are complicated. In six years of parish ministry, too, I’ve met a lot of folks for whom the words “grow my church” really meant “please help my family members want to be here, too.”
Jesus doesn’t promise that following Jesus won’t add to the challenge. But neither does Jesus ask us to add to the challenge for its own sake. The main character in today’s gospel is not division; the main character in today’s gospel is the God who comes to ordinary, mostly boring folks like you and me and shouts the life-changing invitation: “Follow me!”, giving us far more interesting lives than the ones most of us would have managed on our own, left to our own devices, had we not been found and called by the God who delivered Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead. So we follow, not just once, not just a couple of times, but each day, every day, every hour, filled with new wonder and expectation, ready to be called out and surprised. The Methodist pastor Will Willimon says, “The (whole) Christian life is spent figuring out what baptism got us into.”
Will Willimon knows something about what baptism got us into. Willimon comes from the deep South. South Carolina. His family had been a family of considerable wealth until it was destroyed near the end of the Civil War. He describes the way the day salvation found him in the person of an African-American roommate who one day began a conversation he would later call a conversion by asking, “Does it bother you that there are laws to keep us separate?” (1)
Can I ask you, when was the last time God called you in a way that invited you to leave the space of what you’d known before God called you into something new? Can you think of a time when God invited you to leave the familiar, to cross an unknown threshold or enter a brand new metaphorical land?
In the 12th century, a young man named Francis was busy minding his own business, coming of age in a wealthy family, when God called him to repair God’s church. He showed up to the church the next day with a hammer and a bucket of nails, ready to do his part, but God had a good laugh and said, “That’s not what I mean.” Instead, God called Francis to give up his wealth. Francis stripped naked in the middle of town, and an embarrassed bishop covered him up with his coat. Francis left the family inheritance behind and went on to start what we now know as the Franciscan order. He lived on the kindness of others, preached to birds and wolves alike and, less well known – while the rest of Christendom went off to war, to fight the Fifth Crusade, Francis crossed the battle lines; he traveled to Egypt to befriend the Muslim sultan there, to seek and proclaim the peace of Christ.
Look out, you’ve been warned. God only knows what absurdity God might call us to next. So we Christians stay ready, we continue to grow, to move, to expect God in strange things, unknown people and unlikely places, because God continues to call us. Not once or even a couple of times, but each day, every day, across a lifetime, so we get up, we go out, filled with that wonder, trust, and expectation. Made alive to the resurrection truth that more is possible. Made alive to the Good News that God is doing a new thing, a new thing that, with childlike eagerness, God really wants to show us.
I remember the day I met Phil Stevenson in West Texas. Phil was a former JAG officer turned small town mayor turned priest. Now he was coming up on 40 years in the priesthood. Because his path struck me as a strange one, I asked him about his journey, what led him to his change of vocation, his present calling.
He told me about another man, a cattle rancher, he met while serving as a JAG officer, post-WW II, overseas in Japan. The man raised cattle and gave away nearly all of the cattle he raised, to peasants mostly, asking nothing in return, with the lone stipulation that they also give any offspring cattle they raised to others. He’d left his family, his county, all he knew to become a wellspring of life for strangers, and to become poor alongside them. Philip asked the man why he did this. What had led him to this change? The man filled and broke my good friend’s heart with his answer; he’d seen another’s life transformed by the Gospel and God’s call, he began to believe God’s Good News might call him, too, and he found himself one day willing to be made open. He spoke about having found a great treasure; he talked about abundant life.
You can almost hear the author of Hebrews wanting to break in at this point… And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, Rahab, David, Samuel, and the prophets, Mary, Sarah, Rebekah, and Elizabeth, the heavenly hosts with all the saints, all those with whom we keep the feast; those who wait to eat until we join them, all those of the great family of faith, the cloud of witnesses we know and to which we belong through the wonder and waters of baptism.
No life, it seems, is beyond God’s imagination for holiness, beyond God’s capacity to transform, redeem and, even God help us, be made interesting.
We leave our old lives behind, true. We lay down our tired swords of self-righteousness, self-preservation, and fears that our gifts aren’t enough, that we can’t be enough. But with those swords laid down, our hands free and empty, God gives new and unexpected life. We lift up our hearts. We are fed at this table. We are met here by Christ. Christ Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
As surely as the risen Jesus bears his wounds, we will bear wounds, too, by our following. The Good News about our wounds is that God knows them. Your pain is not hidden to God. The God who calls you, sees you, knows you, and loves you. And as we continue to know ourselves more truly in the light of this love, we know we cannot help but continue to turn toward the one who calls us his own, lest we betray the burning God has placed upon our hearts for God.
Question: what has this turning looked like in your life? What might it look like still? What visions, dreams, and holy words has God shown to you? How has God surprised you? They’re rhetorical questions right now, but I’d love to hear about it, if you’d be willing to share it. It’ll be the best coffee or other beverage of my week. Question: who else knows the story of your turning, of your seeing? Of God’s speaking, and your response, with God’s good help? Of considerations and hesitations and half-grasped decisions that maybe didn’t make sense to others – or even to you – apart from their pointing to Jesus, crucified and risen.
My wife pulled me from the bedtime routine some nights ago to share the magazine story of Katie Davis, twenty-two, living in Uganda, founder of a child sponsorship program, local feeding program, and self-sustaining vocational program – empowering local women to make and sell bead necklaces. Oh, and she is mother to thirteen of the children, whom she’s adopted. Says Katie, “People tell me I am brave. People tell me I am strong. People tell me good job. Well here is the truth of it. I am really not that brave, I am not really that strong, and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am just doing what God called me to do…”
Let us pray.
Almighty God, whose Mary-like beauty compels our attention, give us hearts that jump within us with the good news of your salvation. We confess that amid the tedium of the everyday our worship of you sometimes feels like a job – just “one more thing.” Thank you for the unsettling of our lives, wherein we discover the splendor of the kingdom made possible by your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray that you will ever be here, unsettling our attempts to domesticate the wildness of your Spirit. (2)
(2) From Prayers Plainly Spoken, by Stanley Hauerwas.

In which we discuss idolatry

I had already pondered doing a deep dive into idolatry at some point, because I had mentioned it in passing last week. I don’t like leaving the idea in people’s minds that some issue or another is a problem just for the ancient Israelites–the whole point of the Hebrew Bible is that all their issues […]

“It’s always whoredom.”

The EFM class at my parish has a running joke about this passage. It’s one of those readings that makes parents silently wish that they had NOT taken their children to get a nice dose of religion this morning. And it’s one of those that makes me squirm when I read it, because the patriarchy […]

Sermon for a Slave Girl

Rev. Megan L. Castellan July 7, 2019 Ordinary Time, Proper 9 1 Samuel  The story of Naaman’s healing is one of those Biblical stories that is internally famous in scripture.  Jesus mentions it in his first sermon in a synagogue in Nazareth, and it’s part of what gets him in trouble.  (We will see why […]

Trinity Baptism: Let’s just do everyone

Rev. Megan L. Castellan June 16, 2019 Trinity Sunday, Year C So, one of the classics, in the genre of Arguments Protestants Have, is who should get baptized?   Protestantism has lots of classic arguments like this: things like how much water should you use for a baptism, and whether wine is allowable at communion, […]

Pentecost, postmodernism and language

One of the things they warn you about in seminary is How to Do Liturgical Change. There are lots of dire stories about parishes who moved their altar back against the east wall in the dead of night, parishes that to this day refuse to use the 79 BCP, Altar Guilds that went rogue and […]

Holding up our words

Rev. Megan L. Castellan May 11, 2019 Easter 4, Year C Acts In my first call, the rector decided that we needed a new photo director of all 2,000 members, and also that the new curate (me!) should take this on as my first task.  I studied our old one, and asked him if we […]

So long, and thanks for all the fish

This sermon was given in the immediate proximity of the San Diego synagogue shooting. One of the aspects of that horror that didn’t get covered much was the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. He was a young, white Presbyterian. He was a devout attender of the Presbyterian Church of America–a breakaway group of the PC(USA), […]