Sunday, September 9, 2012

Miracles Happen Today

COLLECT: (borrowed from Rick Warren)
“Most Holy Father, We remember right now the gift you have given us in the love of Jesus. Thank you for the miracles you’ve worked in our lives, and down through the ages. Lord God, help us to remember your grace and to be gracious. We remember your generosity to us. We ask you for the strength to be generous toward others. We trust that you will be with us, and we trust that you will finish the good work you have started within us. In the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

Jeremiah 29:11-14
Psalm 103:1-13
Acts 5: 12, 14-16
Mark 16: 9-17, 18b - 19

            May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Oh Lord our God, the Three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.        
         Okay. I’m not sure all of you noticed, so I’ll point it out: Today is the very first time I’ve ever gone “off Lectionary”. That means that our Collect and Scriptures were of my choosing: they are not the scriptures chosen by the people who compiled the Revised Common Lectionary, or even the Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. I chose them myself. The Collect is simply a prayer I came across last week, and thought appropriate for what I was called to say today.
         It is not against the “rules” to very occasionally stray from the scriptures assigned each week. It is even okay to go “off Lectionary” for a series of sermons on a certain topic. Many other denominations don’t tell their preachers what scriptures to preach upon at all, but let them choose themselves what they are led to in prayer. The reason we even have a Lectionary is to keep us honest, so we don’t consistently ignore the hard things to preach on.
         The reason I have chosen to go “off Lectionary” is to talk to you about what has been happening to me in my prayer time over the last year, and where I believe God is calling me. Now don’t panic, I’m not leaving St. Paul’s. I truly believe that God is calling all of us to a new attitude and relationship with Him. So, here’s what I need and want to say.
         Beginning last year, or even perhaps before that, I felt a pull to investigate what is called “Healing Ministry”. I’ve been reading books, and praying a lot about what this might mean for me, and for us. Week before last, I went to San Antonio for a conference of the Order of St. Luke, the Physician, an ecumenical, but strongly Episcopalian and Anglican Order that focuses on Prayers for Healing: physical, mental and spiritual healing for God’s people.
         I found a widely diverse group of people, all of whom are either searching for healing, or being conduits for God’s love to actually heal people. Miracles happened there. The books I’ve read speak over and over again of God’s healing Grace, of miraculous things occurring in the world today, just as they did in the times of the New Testament.
         There was a time a few months ago when I felt conflicted. I knew I was being called to respond to God by beginning some form of healing ministry, but I didn’t have any idea how that could happen. I even thought that it wasn’t possible to do it here at St. Paul’s, and that I would have to leave and begin again in a new way. But I was shown that this is the perfect place for God’s love to flow and for healing to happen, if at least some of us are willing to open our hearts and lives to God’s grace.
         Here’s what I’ve learned at the OSL conference, and the Forming Disciples Conference at St. David’s yesterday. First and foremost, at the end of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verse 2, when Jesus told the disciples to “Preach the kingdom and heal everyone”, he meant it not only for the 11 disciples who were with him on that day of his ascension, but also for all the disciples who would choose to follow him down through the ages. He meant that statement for us: we are not only to bring others to Christ, but also to heal everyone through the power of God.
         So we pray prayers for our friends and family members, and nothing seems to happen…why is that? I have been told, and I believe, that something happens whenever we pray. We say we are Christian, but powerful miracles don’t seem to show up in our lives. What does that mean? Is it possible that we haven’t understood what the plan is for our lives? Might there be another way Jesus is calling us to live our daily experience? Here is what I have heard: There are a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians, who say they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, yet WE, and yes I’m including myself as well as most of us in this room, we don’t really believe it. We admire Jesus and what he did as he roamed the Israeli countryside two thousand years ago, but rather than being followers of him, truly living his words and believing what he taught, we do little more than come to worship and then somehow put him on a back shelf in our minds during the rest of the week. We come to worship, yet we don’t really follow him with all our hearts. We put our trust and our feelings of worth in other things like our jobs, or families, or what we can accomplish on our own. We have no true concept of how glorious our lives really could be if we would determine to completely turn our lives over to him. If we truly became his followers, rather than admirers, putting Jesus first in our lives, amazing miracles would flow from this place. We would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and empowered to do God’s work right here in Pflugerville.
         And here’s the deal with God, and it’s very important: God wants us to completely give ourselves to him. She wants us to love her first and foremost and trust her to show us the way to live. (Since God has no gender, we can use both to describe God.) The reasons we tend not to trust God are fear and pride. We must take our pride of doing it all ourselves, of being in control of our lives, and our fear of turning over our lives completely to God’s care, and give that very pride and fear away to God. Until we can do that, we will be continue to be caught in ego and mistrust, and we will not be completely open to letting God’s love in.
          It begins with the things expected of every Christian: that we will pray daily, that we will come to church faithfully, on Sundays and other times more often than not, not just when it’s convenient. That we will put learning about God in a place of honor in our lives, being in some sort of Bible study or spiritual discipline, for developing a relationship with God is a lifelong process. We will participate in the work of the church for those less fortunate, and pledge a portion of our income for the maintenance of the church – if not a full tithe at present, that each one of us will consciously work on raising that pledge over time to a full tithe. And perhaps, more important than anything: that we will forgive: forgive ourselves, and forgive all others who have caused us pain throughout our lives. Have you been assaulted? Ridiculed or beaten as a child or molested as an adult? Forgive those persons, let our anger go. Abandoned and unloved as a child? Forgive your parents. Whatever is holding us back from experiencing the complete and full love of God must be let go and given to God.
         Have you ever wondered why I am up here? Has it ever occurred to you to question why I am a priest? I mean, seriously, why would anyone want to do this, especially someone who wasn’t getting paid a single penny, to spend hours and hours each week for St. Paul’s Church? I’ll tell you. I once experienced the overwhelming joy that can come from giving myself away to God, and putting God first in my life. Flawed as I am, God showed me the immensity of His love, and I absolutely have to share it with others, as the joy present in that time is to precious not to share it. That is the main reason I’m here, to convince you that it’s worth the decision and the follow through.
         I’m asking you to join me on a new adventure. I’m not sure what form it will take, or how we as St. Paul’s will do it. I do know it’s not the easiest work in the world, but it is the most rewarding thing we will ever experience. It all has to do with what our real priorities are! Are we willing and ready to really put God first in our lives? Do we want to be transformed into the body of Christ? Would you like to be a part of the healing of the world through Christ Jesus, in this day and time? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind and heart that miracles can happen here at St. Paul’s. I’m putting God (and myself and all of you) on the line here, and I’m asking you, each one of you: Are you ready to make Jesus your only lifeline? If there are even a few who are willing, I’d like you to stay seated here for a few minutes after the service, so that we can pray and plan the beginning of our trans-formation.
Please pray with me:
         Oh Glorious and Gracious God: we come before you this day, bringing our broken hearts and broken lives, telling you that we want to make a new beginning: A new covenant with you that you are first in our lives. That we commit our lives to growing in your love, learning more about you and truly becoming your heart and hands and eyes into the world. We want nothing more than to be your healing hands in this place. Guide us and keep us, and show us Your ways, that we may carry your Love to the world. In the names we are taught, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.         

Friday, August 31, 2012

Family Love & Expectations

My maternal grandfather, my Daddy Bill, was a farmer, a 1st generation American, who spoke German before he spoke English. Even though he was born in Texas, he never lost the German accent he learned as a boy. His life on the land was not easy: working from can to can’t, raising three children during the Great Depression. They had food because they grew it, but they never got ahead, and even in the good years life was hard.

Oh, but he loved God. He and my grandmother raised their family in an atmosphere that was permeated by the presence of the Lord. It was an atmosphere that rejoiced in the knowledge that they were loved, and that Jesus came not only to save, but also to bring them abundant life. They never had much in the way of material wealth, but oh, they did have abundant life. He played the violin and his sweet wife Emilie, my Mamaw, played the piano, and their children danced and sang while they played both hymns and popular tunes. They spent their social times with neighboring families at the church. The ladies had their quilting bees. Prayer and Bible stories infused the waking hours of the day, and at times throughout the night.

I wasn’t even in my teens when Daddy Bill shared his favorite Bible verse with me. It is part of our Old Testament lesson for today. Joshua called all the tribes of Israel together and told them to “choose this day whom you will serve.” And the end of that paragraph was Daddy Bill’s watchword: “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” It has remained with me, adopted as one of my favorites. That verse has been in a prominent place in most of the houses I’ve lived in. Our present home isn’t the first one that’s had a plaque nailed to the entry on the front porch – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Theologians commonly agree that the Book of Joshua was written sometime during the late 7th century before Christ – well over 600 years before our gospel narrative. In Joshua’s story, all the tribes of Israel speak in one voice that they too will serve the Lord. It is a different story from the followers of Jesus we hear about today.

"This teaching is difficult," they said. "It's too hard. Who can accept it?" And many who had been following Jesus departed; they couldn’t accept or even try to understand the deeper meaning of his words. To them, it sounded like cannibalism, something totally against anything they could imagine.

I remember a time I said, "this is too hard." It was when my dad had been diagnosed with stage four-pancreatic cancer and my mother had Alzheimer’s. I was talking to my cousin who had already lost both of her parents. I told her that this was too hard and I just couldn’t deal with it. She gently said, "I know, but you don't have a choice." And I was so blessed by that time with them.

It is true there are difficult things that we can't walk away from. But difficult teachings are another matter. Yet, Peter has the right of it in his answer to Jesus. Jesus asks, "do you also wish to go away?" and Peter answers, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Several years ago, some people here at St. Paul’s said they were leaving The Episcopal Church, because they couldn’t deal with our acceptance of everyone. This was shortly after Eugene Robinson was elected bishop in New Hampshire. The first question I asked was whether they had found another church. We need a church family to help nurture and support our faith when it wobbles. If those who wanted to leave hadn't found somewhere else to go, I urged them not to leave, at least not then. If they had found another community that was nurturing and supportive of them, then I urged them to go with my blessing.

Recently, I found the following statement online. I’m not sure where Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located, but this is their welcome notice, and I believe it is ours also:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli, or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery, or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”

The difficult teachings don't go away just because we change congregations or denominations. They are always there, poking and prodding us. The teachings of Jesus are frequently difficult, sometimes too difficult. That is when we turn to our brothers and sisters in faith. We need them to listen to our doubts and questions and help us come to understand better. After all, we are supposed to grow in faith, not rise from baptism fully formed. You don't teach a child to count from one to ten and then put them in an advanced calculus class.

But once we have come to believe, there really is nowhere else to go. Leaving doesn't help solve the difficult things. Difficult teaching makes us uncomfortable. It's supposed to. If we have made ourselves a cozy nest of our faith, then we are not working hard enough on being faithful. Reread the gospels. Go back and hear what Paul wrote while he sat in prison. Nowhere will you find Easy Street. Almost everywhere you will find challenges, obstacles, tests, hard teachings..

We have told God that we will serve Him as Christians: that we will follow Jesus throughout our lives. So how do we serve and follow Him? Does our service to God show in our daily lives, or is it simply played out in a minor way when we come to worship on occasional Sunday mornings? The Church universal has certain expectations of its members. One is that as Christians, we will be in worship more Sundays than not. That would mean at least 3 Sundays a month. Another expectation is that every person would be in some type of ongoing Bible study or spiritual exercise to deepen his or her relationship with God.          

What happens if someone doesn’t meet the Church’s expectations? Absolutely nothing! Your relationship with our Lord won't grow deeper. Yet God, and the church, will continue to love and accept each person who walks through the door. But as members of the family, we want to see you more often, visit with you and share family stories with you, just like I shared my family story with you today. And when the hard lessons come, we want to be close enough that we can work through them together in a spirit of love. This is how Christ’s family learns to follow him, by carrying out our commitment to serve him by serving each other. “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” May it be so, Amen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Butter, flour, chocolate chips bound in ‘Trinity’ By Danielle Tumminio

This one isn't mine, but I love it, and wanted to share. Enjoy! Jude

Butter, flour, chocolate chips bound in ‘Trinity’

Danielle Tumminio
Danielle Tumminio
[Episcopal News Service] There are few places where community is as rich and energized as on a college campus: Groups of students gather for passionate discussions about Plato and Aristotle, following their professors after class and peppering them with questions. A cappella groups practice until their different voices sound as one, and clusters of undergrads huddle together in the winter, wearing gloves with holes in the thumbs and carrying handmade signs that say, “Free Tibet!”
A college campus is one of those rare places where, at two o’clock in the morning, groups of young people gather in dorm basements, making chocolate chip cookies, eating dough and placing it on baking sheets in equal proportions. Watching that scene—or being part of it—makes one certain that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
I have the privilege of teaching college students as a lecturer at Yale University, watching them blossom during the semester we spend studying theology together and seeing how they develop relationships in class that can last a lifetime.
And I have the privilege of answering—or trying to answer—their questions.
Case in point: the Trinity.
A couple of months ago, a student raised a hand to ask me about the Trinity, and the inner dialogue in my head went something like this:
CONFIDENT SELF: Just say that it’s three-in-one-and-one-in-three.
DOUBTING SELF: That won’t be sufficient.
CONFIDENT SELF: Won’t it, though?
DOUBTING SELF: No, it won’t.
CONFIDENT SELF: Then I will say it is a mystery.
DOUBTING SELF: If you say that, then that ornery student who sits in the corner making incisive and dangerously true comments will want to know why theologians can’t explain this fundamental concept in Christianity with greater eloquence.
CONFIDENT SELF (now rapidly losing confidence): I fear you are right.
[Pause as CONFIDENT SELF deflates like an unknotted balloon.]
CONFIDENT SELF: God, please help me.
And in one of those moments when God offers exactly what we need, I found an answer to my student’s question, an image to explain this extra-biblical-fundamental-to-our-faith-mystery: The Trinity, I said, is like those chocolate chip cookies you bake at two o’clock in the morning. You take flour, and sugar, and butter, and a whole lot of chocolate chips (preferably two times as many as the recipe calls for) and you blend them together. And then you stick them in the oven, and when they come out, they’re bound as one.
You can’t pull the sugar out.
You can’t separate the flour from the butter.
And the cookie would be something entirely different if you removed the chocolate chips.
Yes, I told my students, the Trinity is very much like a chocolate chip cookie: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — all baked together — all distinct, all necessary, and yet inseparable.
Even though the word ‘Trinity’ appears nowhere in the Bible, Jesus offers glimpses of this chocolate-chip-cookie relationship. He tells Nicodemus, for instance, about how the Father, Son, and Spirit work together on our behalf for our salvation: Each person of three is part of an interwoven mission, each dancing with the other, holding hands, unable to let go, until the dance is complete, until their work on behalf of us is done, which it never seems to be.
And yet, Jesus also seems to acknowledge the mystery of the Trinity. While he tells Nicodemus that we are saved by the Son, that we can experience new life through the Spirit, when pressed, he says that, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Some things about the Trinity, Jesus says, humans will not be able to explain.
But like the wind blowing, like the scent of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, we will experience it. We will be touched by that dancing, dynamic relationship that exists between the persons of the Trinity, and it will change us. It will change our relationship with God and our relationship with the world.
Because if there’s one thing that doesn’t have to be a mystery about the Trinity, it’s the way in which we can imitate the relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our lives. Alone, we may be like flour, wholesome, but a little dry. We may be like butter, rich in flavor but greasy in morals. We may be like sugar, sweet but one-dimensional. Or we may be like chocolate chips, big in personality but a little too addictive.
As individuals, we’re all missing something, which is why we need God and each other — to complete ourselves in a way that we can’t alone. It’s why we need the church, because it’s there that we can practice knowing, loving, and serving God together: in our choirs, where different voices with different pitches and timbres and ages blend as one in praise of God; in our mission projects, where we join our hands and minds and hearts to create a world without sorrow or sighing or pain; in the Eucharist, where we share bread and wine so that we become Christ’s body.
In this work together, we see why alone is not good enough. Alone, we’ll just be a flake of flour or a lonely chocolate chip. Together, we become a tasty cookie that can nourish and feed others, that can transform the world into the place God intends it to be.
At the end of my first semester teaching, it was a beautiful spring day, and my students wanted to sit outside. Seated on grass in a courtyard surrounded by Gothic architecture and stained glass windows, I asked them what they’d learned, and at the end of our two hours together, one of my students ducked into her dorm room and emerged with a cake.
“We were up all night making it,” she said. “Some of us went to the grocery store to buy stuff, and a couple of us baked the cake, and others made the frosting. From scratch,” she added, and I could see her pride that even with limited kitchen supplies, they hadn’t resorted to a mix.
We stayed late that day, my students and I, eating that cake with the homemade yellow frosting, laughing, smiling. It wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie, but the principle was the same: Ingredients had been bound together. People had been bound together, inextricably woven, yet still distinct. And intermingled with the sun, I like to believe the persons of the Trinity shone down upon us, rejoicing to see themselves reflected on earth.
– The Rev. Danielle Tumminio lectures at Yale University and is the author of God and Harry Potter at Yale. She currently serves as an interim associate at St. Anne in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Watered Down Faith

Mark 8: 31-38
(With attribution to Marilyn Salmon at Working Preacher for portions of her exegesis on the Gospel.)

         Are you frightened yet? I think maybe we should be. “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
         Think about this…Our reaction to these words is similar to Peter’s reaction to Jesus telling them about the crucifixion. It is doubt, and unbelief. It doesn't make sense. Surely, we think, Christ didn’t really mean for us to be willing to die for him. Surely he won’t be ashamed of us if we don’t speak out even when we are given the opportunity.
         But that is NOT what he tells those following him back then, or now! This true life story of the Risen One is an invitation to living a radical faith, a faith that proclaims the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus, the cross, and salvation. It would be so easy, like the disciples, to offer some turn of phrase that would reduce the meaning of who Jesus is, and what he tells us to do, but it would not be true. Here we are told to pick up our cross and be advocates for our belief in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
         Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah. We know he is right because the beginning of Mark tells us this is the good news of Jesus, Messiah. But Peter receives no confirmation, only the command to silence. Jesus then teaches the disciples that the Son of Man will suffer, be rejected, killed, and three days later rise again. In Peter’s mind, there is a great contradiction between who Messiah was believed to be, and Jesus' words. Jesus rebukes Peter for focusing on human things as opposed to divine things. Then follows the paradox: One must lose one's life in order to save it. What could he mean?
         Bishop Andy Doyle spoke to the Forming Disciples conference on Friday night, and he made it pretty clear that we are called, just like those people following Jesus, to lose our lives to Christ. He didn’t mean that we should expect to die on a cross for Jesus, but that most of us, if not all, have never really “bought into” what we say we believe. And he’s right. If we really and completely turned our lives over to God through Jesus, living and learning of him would be the prime motivation in our lives.
         In today’s world, many of us who call ourselves Christian, and Episcopal Christians at that, tend to live two lives. We come to church when it is convenient, and together we pray and worship. But we have so many things to do, and so many things calling us away into the world that we frequently pay no attention to who we say we are. We go about our lives, trying to find the time between work and errands to run our kids from band practice to soccer games or basketball practice. Or we who have no kids at home are enticed into other things we enjoy doing, be it learning a new skill, playing golf, being with friends, or watching our favorite sports teams perform, that church and going out to proclaim the Gospel are far from our minds. We jump up when the morning alarm goes off, and hit the ground running, failing to begin our days with even a “Thanks be to God” for this day, much less a time spent in prayer and meditation. We forget to take God with us on our journey through the pitfalls and pratfalls of our days. We rarely if ever actually proclaim the Good News to those around us, or perform works of mercy that live out the covenant. And at the day’s end, we fall into bed, and may think a quick prayer to the Almighty, but fall asleep, or begin to worry, before we’ve even focused on the Almighty. We’ve become people who say we are Christian, but we don’t live the life Christ has called us to live.
         As Episcopalians, we are blessed to have something that no other Christian denomination has: it is our Book of Common Prayer. No other church has anything like it, and we need to use it to increase our faith. In it are beautiful services for private worship as well as corporate use: Morning prayers, Noontime prayers, Evening prayers, as well as Compline, the short prayer service for bedtime. Please pick up one of the prayer books in the racks in front of you and look at the closed pages. It is pretty obvious in most of those copies that there are only a few pages that have seen lots of use -- that's our Rite II worship service. If you don’t have a copy of this book at home, please take the one you have in your hands with you. Take it home and explore it, read it, pray the prayers within it, use it. Read what we say we believe in the Catechism near the back of the book. It can change your heart, and grow your soul closer to God. It is a beautiful gift that our ancient church has given us.
         Bishop Doyle suggested that if our faith were in the place in our lives that God has asked us to put it, we would be living our lives differently. If we can’t find a swim or soccer league for our kids that doesn’t have competitions on Sunday, perhaps it’s time for us to start a league of our own that respects our Sabbath. He suggested that even when we are on vacation or a business trip, it is, hopefully, our desire to find an Episcopal church and attend wherever we are, rather than miss an opportunity to be with others who are striving to live a Christian life.
         As we drive through small and large towns, we frequently see signs that say, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” That’s what we tend to do: put something on a sign, and wait for people to come in our doors. In this day and age, that’s not near enough. If we truly love God through Jesus Christ, isn’t it something we want to share? Perhaps, no, not perhaps, DO: Let’s speak to our friends and neighbors of the joy we share in our church, and invite them to come.
         Let’s leave this building and go out into the world where people are, serving them and helping them for the love of Christ, and show them the love that expands in our lives by doing good works in the name of God. As my friend Debbie Allensworth said to me on Friday: when you go out together to help people, they ask, “Why are you doing this for me?” And we too will be able to say, “I do this because it brings me joy to use what God has blessed me with to bless you. Come with me and learn about God’s love.”
         We are blessed in living in this country where it is doubtful that we will ever come to the point of having to choose whether or not we will actually die for our faith. Many people in other places around the world truly are dying because they are Christians, and it is what Christ asks us to be willing to do. This statement of Christ to give up our lives is a call to live a radical Christianity; to refocus our mundane and worldly lives, leaving behind the selfishness of “me, first and always” that our society strongly suggests, and turn to live into the joy that comes with putting Christ first in our lives. I will not go to God with the possibility that Christ will be ashamed of me! I hope you feel the same way. So I say to you, as Christ told his followers, “Take up your cross”. And I add, it will bring us all to a joy that we have never known before. Amen.