Advent Devotion: His Name is John?

Luca GiordanoBirth of St John the Baptist

Each year my friend, The Rev. Sean Ekberg, gathers laity and clergy to write a daily Advent reflection. Today (December 23) was mine. You can read it below or visit The Episcopal Church the Resurrection and read there along with some of the other reflections.

Luke 1:57-66

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

His Name is John?

Holden Caulfield loves his sister, Phoebe, and her innocence. He desires that her innocence go unchanged, yet he knows that every experience will change her to one degree or another. Reflecting on her many trips to the museum to view the same paintings that he has enjoyed, he thinks, “I thought how she’d see the same stuff I used to see, and how she’d be different every time she saw it. It didn’t exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn’t make me feel gay as hell, either. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.” (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger)

In many respects, the Church had come to see itself as one of those items that should be curated in a big glass case. It should occasionally be brought out to remove the fine layer of dust that had accumulated, along with any unwelcomed spider’s web, and the glass it set upon also properly dusted. But then it should be set back unhindered in its proper place in that big glass cabinet.

Close to two years ago, something came along and smashed the cabinet.

When it hit, we all lunged forward from our comfortable seats and dashed to catch the Church before it struck the ground and burst into thousands of unrecognizable shards. By the grace of God, we caught it, but then what were we to do? Build another glass museum case? Set it out of reach on some high pinnacle? Place it on the nearest flat surface and quietly walk away? No. None of the above. Besides, this is God’s Church and if we were not to care for it, then He would raise up from the stones those who would.

The Bishop, clergy and people of the Diocese of Oklahoma took their Church and began taking a much closer look at it. They peered into stained glass windows and found the wonders of God and signs of a life that they had not anticipated, but one they would embrace. This was something new. In a sense, within the Church, the events of the last few years are like Zechariah giving his newborn son a name that none of his family had ever received, and it was God saying, “Behold I make all things new.” And truthfully, we were all amazed. We were perhaps afraid in trying, but we were doing things that we had not ever imagined. We were speaking to the world in new ways, being creative in how we fulfilled the Great Commission. Sometimes those new ways worked and sometimes the internet signal was not strong enough; but we have persevered and will continue to do so, for we believe that the hand of the Lord is with us.

At the naming of John, Zechariah’s neighbors asked, “What then will this child become?” We can ask the same of the Church in this new era. What will we become? The answer: exactly the Church of which God desires for us to become. Let’s just not go and put ourselves back in another big glass cabinet. Let’s continue to seek new and innovative ways to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that has also changed. Let’s follow John out into the wilderness and be witness to Love.

The Rev. Dr. John Toles

Rector, St. Matthew’s Enid

Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma

Contemporary Koinonia

For about the last year, my friend and colleague, The Rev. Sean Ekberg and I have been working on a journal for The Episcopal Church and today it went live. It includes interviews with Bishops in the church, a seminary dean, ministry stories, and more. If you would like to know the bright side of The Episcopal Church, then you’re going to want to take some time reading through the articles. It is not a quick read, but it is well worth the time. There is much that is good happening. If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been spending my extra time… here you go. I believe, if you click the image below, it will take you to the Issuu edition.


Online Services

For those who are interested, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, we have online Morning Prayer services (Monday – Thursday and sometimes Friday and Saturday) at 10 a.m. on the church YouTube channel and Facebook Live at 10 a.m., and it is also recorded for later viewing. The 10 a.m. Sunday Eucharist service is also available on both platforms. Would be delighted for you to stop by for a visit!

Opinion: Oxygen is a Basic Human Right

You will likely be offended…

What if we decided that a person’s right to oxygen was more important than a ten minute joy ride in space?

What if we decided that children should not be soldiers instead of being offended that someone might use our preferred pronoun when speaking to/of us?

What if we decided that raising people out of poverty where they live in garbage was more important than a film festival?

What if lives in India mattered as much as lives anywhere else?

What if a drink of water meant more than you getting to work faster?

You can call me a communist or something worse for thinking these “what ifs”, but I think of it as being a Christian. St. Paul would not rest until the sisters and brothers cared for those around them. Why do we?

Oxygen is a basic human right. What if we worked on solving this and then work our way up to the joy rides of our own egos and offenses. I am offended that we are not.

That is all.

Confession from the Red Eye

Leaving Montana….

Arrived at the airport in Helena, Montana around 6 p.m…. yesterday! Flight left an hour or so later. Arrived in Salt Lake City and hung about for an hour or so, then at 11 p.m. caught the red eye to Atlanta. Why Atlanta, you ask: because I’m headed to Oklahoma City. Oh, wait… we just passed it and I’ve got to turn around and fly another couple of hours to get back to it. Well, such is the life of one on vacation: you occasionally have to pay for it.

To the confession: I’ve been wearing a mask the entire time. I am tired of the mask. I get the mask, but… so, as I’m walking the never ending concourses of the Atlanta airport, I see a fella has just finished cleaning the “Men’s”. No one else is around and I’m a rebel. I find myself a nice clean smelling stall, lock the door, rip off my mask, and just sit there for about ten minutes breathing eye-watering disinfected air free of my mask. It was brilliant! Please! No one tell the CDC.

It is now 5:52 a.m., “Dirty Laundry” is playing loudly in some closed up bar, and I’m in search of coffee, because I’ve also learned that as long as you are holding something to eat or drink, you can legally keep the mask off. My coffee may be as cold as a divorce lawyer, but I won’t be setting that cup down until it’s time to board.

Here’s hoping you have a mask free day from one living on the edge in toilet stalls across America.

Politics

A piece I wrote for October 2020 Connections, the newsletter of St. Matthew’s.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When I was nine or ten, I remember coming home from school and wanting to watch cartoons and Star Trek, but every day and every channel was the same boring show.  All these people talking.  And talking.  Sometimes they would become very animated in their talking, but it was always the same.  Even though I had no idea what was going on, I would sit and wait, hoping they would get tired of all that talking so that I could see what Captain Kirk was up to (I always hoped for the Klingons to arrive.  Very exciting.)  What were these folks talking about?  At the time, all I knew was that somebody had broken in and stolen a gate from a water building.  Who knew they had such valuable things at the waterworks.  Months later, we had a new president, the former resigning in shame.

I’ve shared with you in the past: I don’t preach politics.  Never have.  Never will.  Instead, I choose to preach the Gospel, because as I’ve also shared with you, I believe that the Gospel Message is the most radical and revolutionary message every spoken.  Politicians come and go and nations do the same, “‘but the word of the Lord remains forever.’  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)  

In such heated political times as this, you may be wondering if I’m going to change my “policy” on preaching politics.  The answer is: absolutely not, but I would be a poor priest if I did not provide some guidance through it, and the question that keeps running through my mind is: How should we as a Christian people respond?  Scream a little louder?  Sign another petition?  Join a protest?  Make nasty comments on social media (the equivalent of doing nothing)?  Vote (always a good idea)?  Not to be the pessimist in the group, but all of these have been tried and all they’ve really produced are people shouting even more loudly, paper wasted, more violence, a disintegration of tolerance and respect, and politicians who, once in office, end up being no better than their predecessors.  

Thank you for the commentary, Fr. John, but you still haven’t answered the question: what should the Christian response look like?

I’m glad you asked!

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)  What are we to do?  We are to be the royal priesthood, proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Not as our earthly leaders do, but as our Lord and Savior has taught us.  We are to be a nation, a Christian race that is set apart, not indulging in the sins of the world, but demonstrating the path of righteousness.  We are to be the Lord’s possession, not giving our allegiance to things that are passing away, but to Him who was, who is, and who will come again.  We are to be all these things, witnessing not to a campaign slogan, but to the eternal Love of God.  Unlike everything else that makes the news these days, what we do for the Kingdom won’t make good TV, it won’t draw large crowds, and it will likely only change the lives of a very few, but… You’ve all heard the story before:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”

That is the ending I’ve always heard, but recently I came across another:

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.* 

Perhaps that’s just a bit too naïve, too optimistic, but I’m really not a pessimist. 

Make a difference… be the light for one person.  This is our politics.  Be the leader, the royal priest to one person, pointing them to the path of eternal life, so that they may do the same for another.  It is through this great work of the Gospel that we will affect eternal change in the lives of many and that we may affect change in our society.

*“The Starfish Story” is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

Moon

I know I talk about the moon.

I keep waiting for it to bleed.

There is no satisfaction…

There is no pain…

There is only the bleeding moonand our hope for some solace. That is not likely to come either. To breathe and sigh and breathe and sigh…

The moon bled.

The stars cried.

And you were left with an empty glass in your hand.

Answers? There are none.

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