Sunday, July 27, 2008

This is one of those weeks when I am actually thankful that we a bulletin and that I am expected to try and offer a profound thought, reflection or message. As I noted on Sunday, I have really wanted to spend some more time in Genesis, but it is hard not to take advantage of some of the Bible Study on Matthew that we did with Rev. Dr. Michael Green last year. So, while I can talk about the feeding of the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish, I can write about what is occurring in our first perusal in the RCL of Genesis' narrative.

The Genesis story, however, seems to be speaking to a number of the issues which we have been facing collectively and individually at St. Alban's. On the one hand, few would likely argue that we are not doing a good job of trying to love people into our Lord's kingdom. Through Angel Food, Community Meal, our support of the food pantry, our efforts with Winnie's Place, our support of Brighter Futures, our assistance to the Crisis Pregnancy Center, our faithful intercessory prayers, and countless other unmentioned ministries, we are working hard at becoming His hands in a world that wants little to do with His offer of salvation. So, when broken ribs, cancers, broken relationships, computer viruses, vandalism, undiagnosed diseases, blood clots, stitches, job losses or demotions, storm damage, care wrecks or other "bad things" happen in our lives, we cannot but feel a bit angry at God. "Father, I am doing all these things You ask of me. Why do You let these things happen to me." We might accept that He is punishing us in light of such events when we judge ourselves to be coming up short in His expectations; but when we think we are really doing what He has called us to do and He allows these things to happen, we tend to get really upset with God and question His love of and commitment to us. But Genesis reminds us of the story of Jesus' family. Sometimes, they are seemingly blessed by God and can have no wrong assault them. At other times, even they lose faith in God's ability to shepherd them through particular crises. And, at still other times, the world seems to conspire against them and God's will and even, for a short time, succeed

Yet for all the failures of faith, for all the assaults on God's sovereignty by His people and by His enemies, the family continues on its inexorable growth. What began as a simple man and his wife, Sarah and Abraham, has by this week turned into a family with grandchildren. Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, is the focus of our reading this week. And Jacob has been called to do something scary. He tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright. He has spent years laboring under Laban to get the wife that he wanted. Now God has instructed him to go back home. How will Esau react? I know how I would have reacted had I felt my brother tricked me out of my birthright. And Jacob knows how he would have reacted. So, he takes the cowardly way out. He sends his wives and children across the river. If Esau attacks, at least Jacob can get away. Jacob knows that his wives and kids may pay the penalties for his misdoings. Once everyone has crossed, however, a man appears and wrestles with Jacob. Jacob contends with the man to the point that he does not release the man even when his own hip is knocked out of socket by a touch. Jacob informs the man that he will not let go until he is blessed. The man asks Jacob's name and gives him the name, Israel -- because Jacob has contended with God and man and has prevailed. Who was the man? And what does the wrestling match have to say to us?

A number of theologians have dealt with the question of the man. Was it really God? Was it an angel of the Lord? Was it simply a powerfully built human? I tend believe it was God, but not in the way that we might think. Hosea 12 provides the only Biblical commentary on the wrestling match, and we are told that it was God. However, the Bible is also explicit that we cannot see God face to face. Indeed, God tells Elijah that he may not look at Him. And Israel is so terrified of the reflective holiness in Moses' face that they ask him to wear a veil in their presence. And while it is not unusual for angels to be mistaken for humans initially (think the travelers who speak of Sarah's pregnancy or the visitors at Sodom and Gomorrah), they tend to reveal themselves as angels. And we are left with Jacob's own interpretation of the match. He names the location Peniel, because he saw God face to face and won. How could he wrestle God and win? So often, we in the Church tend to forget that both the Son and the Spirit were co-eternal with the Father. We are taught that the Son appeared in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago and that the Spirit was sent that first Pentecost after Christ's Ascension. Yet Jesus, Himself, reminds us that all that was written in the Old Testament -- the Psalms, the histories, the law, and the prophets -- pointed to Him. Knowing that He was co-eternal with the Father, is it so unbelievable to believe that He appeared to Jacob and wrestled with Him? It would make a great deal of sense given that both Hosea and Jacob seem to think that He wrestled with God. Part of Jesus mission was to show us the Father. Jesus became fully human and walked the path of Calvary that you, me, and all those to whom we minister might be able, one glorious day, to see the Father face to face and not be destroyed! And, as fully human, it would make some sense as to why He did not thrash Jacob quickly.

But what does the story teach us today? Our relationship with God is such that He is not necessarily "put off" by our wrestling with Him. When we find ourselves in those nadirs of faith, when we find ourselves questioning whether He has a plan for us, it is ok for us to wrestle with. Arguing with Him is not some horrific sin. He is not so far off that He does not relate to us. In fact, Jesus reminds us always that He loves us as the perfect Father loves His children. He knows that we will sometimes chafe at the bit, we will sometimes not see the "big picture" that He sees, that we will misunderstand events in our lives precisely because we are myopic. Part of why Jacob wrestled was that he feared for his life. Jacob knew how he would have reacted were his and Esau's positions reversed. So, part of his wrestling with God is his efforts to determine whether God really wants him to do this. "God, are You sure You know what You are doing? This could end badly." And yet, God's promise to all of His sons and daughters in that they will be justified by Him in the end and that they will see Him face to face. Sometimes, life's events conspire to convince us that God is far away or that He really is not in control. Sometimes, the enemy uses these events to remind us that we are not worthy of such a beloved Father. Yet the Scriptures exist to remind us that He really is in charge and that His will prevails. No matter what occurs in the interim, His people will be invited to that great feast and filled. So, in the meantime, feel free to wrestle with Him. Just remember, He wins in the end! He would not be worthy of our worship were He not able to shepherd us through life's pitfalls and vicissitudes. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The parable of the sower can sometimes be one of the more difficult stories in Matthew to read. The problem is not that the story is hard to read or difficult to understand. Quite the contrary, the story is quite easy. What often makes it difficult is the challenge it puts to us. Like the apostles and disciples before us who heard Jesus' teaching, we are forced to examine ourselves in His light. The story begins seemingly innocuous enough: the sower goes into the field to sow seeds. I say innocuously enough because the translation is literally "the sower." It is not a random "a sower" but rather "the sower" who has the seed that can transform the soil. And Jesus makes it quite clear that the Kingdom is the fruit of the seed and the soil. When the seed meets the soil and germinates, the Kingdom flourishes in our midst. So far, so good. The problem comes when it begins to dawn on us who or what we are in the story. We are the soil.

Jesus then goes on to describe the different types of soil and its response to the seed. If we miss the description in the parable, Jesus takes time to explain the parable more clearly near the end of our reading. By the end of Jesus' explanation of the parable, every disciple who hears the parable of Jesus is forced to confront a difficult question: What kind of soil am I? Some in our midst may never get the parable. Those "without ears to hear" are simply the lousy soil among us. Having heard God's word, they reject Him utterly as they go on with life. For them, the parable causes no introspection.

Some in our midst may be shallow soil. We hear God's word, we initially accept His offer, and then life happens. Perhaps we expect life to be a bed of roses when we first accept God's offer of salvation. Maybe we expect our finances never to be stretched thin, maybe we never expect others to get a leg up on us at work unfairly, maybe we expect God to answer our prayers immediately, maybe we think illnesses will skip over us, or maybe we think all our relationship problems will be solved for us immediately. Whatever the reason, life's cares act like the scorching sun in the parable and burn up the newly germinated plant. The Kingdom work in us dies.

But even Jesus' description of the good soil is not without its difficult questions. Jesus talks about the different yields of the good soil. Some of the good soil produces a yield of 30x, other 60x and still others 100x. All is well and good for us as hearers of Jesus' words when we think that we are good soil, at least initially. But at some point in our walk with the Lord when we read and hear this parable we are forced to examine whether we are 30x, 60x, or 100x soil. We might see ourselves as producing 30x yield trying to avoid real work for the ministry God has placed on our hearts, but maybe we feel God's tug that we should be doing more. Maybe we believe we are 60x soil, and yet we feel His nagging assertion that He has called us to still more work on His behalf.

So often, we as human beings want to take the easy way out. We are so jostled and accosted in life that we need a break from hard work, and make no mistake, ministry is often hard work. We would rather leave the organization of ministries up to others. We might labor faithfully when asked, but we pray like fanatics asking God to make sure we are not asked to help. Maybe we have a particular secular talent that we are loathe to exercise on behalf of Kingdom work. Perhaps we doubt in our abilities to minister effectively in His name. And yet, the parable reminds each of us that the sower and the seed are always the same, it is the soil and how it responds which dictates the yield. Our attitudes, our response will determine the yield of the Kingdom.

What kind of soil are you? Have you, like the worn path, been oblivious to God's call in your life? Or, like the shallow soil, has your response to the seed been choked out by life's cares and concerns? Or, are you good soil? Are you producing the yield to which He has called you? Truthfully, the parable is a difficult one because it forces us to examine our own responses and our own hearts. The glorious news is that His living water can change even the parched wilderness into the 100-fold soil! How will you respond to His seed? If you find yourself resembling the worn path, simply pray for His grace. Ask Him to help your unbelief. If you find yourself resembling the soil that allows only shallow roots, try immersing yourself in His word more often. Often, the more time we spend in pursuit of Him, the deeper our roots go. Join a Christian small group or a Bible Study. If you find yourself resembling the soil with too many weeds, find a Christian mentor who can help you understand better the priorities of God's economy. Yes, the bills and career and relationships are serious business, but all pale in comparison to eternal life in His kingdom. And if, upon reflection, you discern you are not producing the yield to which He has called you, pray for the strength, boldness or whatever needed that you might step out in faith to accomplish His purpose!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Calling Alban and all the Saints!

This past Thursday, I shared with the Thorns (yes there is another man coming now) among the Roses Bible Study that my seminarian class wanted to choose "Jesus wept" as its class verse. A number of the roses laughed and wanted to know the why's. As I shared with them, those called into the church in 2003 had to be an odd bunch. Nobody had any idea what was going to happen to the church into which many of us were called. So, we received an early lesson in trusting God. That allowed for a certain amount of freedom. So, as a seminarian class, we earned a reputation as a joyful bunch. We used all kinds of excuses to get together and throw parties. At one lunch during my first year, Dean President Peter Moore came up and asked me if I knew that seminary was not supposed to be like college. "We don't throw keggers in the church. Our ministry is far too important to be deemed a bunch of partyers." Never mind the fact that we probably could not scrape up the money for kegs of good beers, most of us were adult Episcopalians and liked stronger drinks ("where three or four Episcopalians are gathered there is always a fifth" may have been on Moses' third tablet of commandments). Plus, we all had homework and, in the case of your priest, many of us had parish ministry to attend to as well. I simply reminded Dean Moore that we were the future of the church. Rev. Scott Garno chimed in with the "Jesus wept." And it stuck. We know that Dean Moore did not step down because of us, as he had previously announced his intention to retire, but he did thank us all for making the transition to retirement so much easier.

A couple of the ladies asked what we settled on as our class verse. I told them we settled on "My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness." Those of us called to seminary through diocesan processes understood our calling. We were being called to be faithful laborers, faithful shepherds to Him who had called each of us. And, given the state of the church and our abilities to quickly settle things, recognized our own impotence in such matters. And yet, those who had gone through diocesan processes had been granted a certain freedom. Whatever comes out of the current mess will be radically different from the church each one of us had come to love in the years prior to accepting a call. I told then Bishop-elect Scarfe during an interview that the result would be one either of us jettisoning our catholic standing of church and becoming more congregationalist than we would ever like to admit or we would jettison some of our Protestant understandings and become a bit more papal. In short, things were out of our control. And in His. Hence our class verse. We knew that He would be needed if we were to accomplish anything to glorify Him. It was a lesson that was drummed into me each time I called Bishop Scarfe with another job offer. As I was offered interviews in Durham England, Singapore, Tennessee, and other parts of the world my senior year, Bishop Scarfe would kindly, but firmly, refuse to release me to explore calls to these other regions. As classmate after classmate secured jobs, I had yet to interview. Each of you has been given two years to get to know me, so you can imagine how I was chaffing on the inside. Yet, God's reminder was always there. Whether it was a lady at THE St. Alban's who stopped an ordinand to talk about her worry for her church, a parish which asked a seminarian to minister and train among them because God had seemingly abandoned them so many times before, the discovery of an envelope with $100 bill in it when we had no money to even buy groceries, or even the gift of David when we thought we were done with our family, God was always reminding me He was in charge and that I was very weak indeed. How would this ever work out?

What does all this have to do with our readings from this week? Cheekily, I could leave that question unanswered as so many chose not to celebrate the Feast of St. Alban's with us this past weekend, and no one would be the wiser. Yet, the story of Alban speaks to our own impotence in many matters of life. Alban laid down his life to protect an itinerant monk. Were you and I in charge of this story, the priest likely would have gotten safely away, and Alban would have died the hero's death. Yet, we know from the records that not only was the priest captured and killed shortly thereafter, but even the first executioner was killed for failing to perform his duties on our patron saint. One selfless act led to three deaths. How in the world can such nonsense ever be explained or redeemed? And yet, here we are some 17 or 18 centuries later recounting the story. Witnesses were so moved that the story was passed down generation after generation. The local Roman governor, it is said, was so moved by the events of the day that he ceased to persecute the local Christians. And what is more amazing is that you and I know the story. We may not know the name of the priest or the executioner, but their story remains even to this day. If that is not God's power at work, I do not know what is. That story should have ended with their deaths; yet people were moved by their witness to the point of preserving the story. And that story survived the confusion caused by invading warrior queens, invading hordes, and even the conquering of England itself. Too may times that story should have died. Yet, through each event, the story has survived; and the witness remains.

Each of us called by God to St. Alban's ought to take fearful heart in the story of our patron saint. Given his and our Lord's suffering, we ought not be surprised when we find ourselves suffering. In the past few weeks, a number of parishioners and AFM recipients have come to me looking for answers. Some have seriously considered ending their lives their troubles have seemed so insurmountable. Relationships have soured to the point that there seems to be no hope that they can ever be restored. The economic conditions have become so overwhelming that their seems no way to provide for one's life. The recent floods have simply rubbed salt in many of our open wounds. "I could barely pay my bills before, and now God decides I need to spend money fixing other stuff." Even the Vestry, during its recent retreat, noted how as a parish we face real economic troubles. Our income is nowhere near meeting our expenses. Other parishes more directly impacted by the recent flooding, tornados, or government raids seem to lack the resources necessary to help their brothers and sisters let alone their neighbors and strangers. Even our diocese struggles with these questions as a body. How can we do ministry when so many are struggling? All of us together, individuals, parishes, and dioceses are asking "What can I do?" "What can we do?"

Alban's story reminds us that there is not a lot that we can do, but there is no end to what He can do. If we are faithfully discerning His call on our lives as individuals, parishes, and dioceses He will make things possible. When we go to Him in prayer recognizing our weakness and His strength, He will provide. His provision may not be the solution you or I or deacons or priests or even bishops expect or even desire, but He promises to provide. Over the past few weeks our readings from Matthew have reminded us of our value to God relative to the sparrow and the grain in the field, and Jesus has even addressed our worries directly and reminded us that our Father in heaven has numbered our hairs. He knows our needs. He knows our wants, but He promises to meet our needs no matter the obstacles. And the same God who raised His Son from the dead, the same God who redeemed each one of us, the same God who promised Abraham and Sarah that their children would be as numerous as the stars, the same God who preserved the story of Alban is the God who promises to meet all your needs, whatever they may be! What obstacle in your life are you trying to solve? In what part of your life are you not up to the task? Thankfully and mercifully none of it is ever up to us. Once we begin to figure that out, we can get out of His way and on to our knees. And when we acknowledge our weakness and our need of Him, the results can be nothing short of miraculous! The same God who preserved the story of our patron saint and the raised our Lord from death has made the offer to us. On whom will you depend? Yourself, or Him?


Sunday, July 6, 2008

My yoke is easy going . . .

     Her name was Rachel. Fr. Greg, the rector of the St. Luke's HHI mission team, told us of just some of the lives that they touched, by the grace of God, during the recently completed mission trip to Tanzania. In the place in Dar Es Salaam where that part of the mission team stayed, they would encounter any number of people. In particular, people would stop and watch them on the lawns during the morning as they gathered for Morning Prayer and daily devotions. But, wherever they went, they encountered people who wanted to meet these people who wore a cross. Some were other Christians from Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, others were Muslim from the same parts of the world, and there were even unbelievers drawn to their witness.

     Each of the mission team members had been given a cross to wear until they had given it away to someone in need. Many on the team agreed that Rachel was one of the ones most in need of Christ's love. Rachel had run away from home at age 16. She is now 21 and works as a physician's aide in Dar. Why did she flee home? Poverty? Seeking a better life? No, she fled her Christian father who physically abused her in the name of God. He was the head of the household, and the women were called to submit to him. When they did not, or did not submit in the way in which he wanted, he would beat the females in his family. And so she fled. Understandably, she is not active in any church or any religion right now. She is furious with God for commanding her father to abuse her. For the past five years, everyone she has met has wanted something from her. Some have promised her food or money in exchange for sex. Sometimes, they have even made good on their terms. Others have promised her good jobs that amounted to little more than slavery. Her life is a life that many of us can understand even if it is one to which we cannot relate. We might not be rich by American standards, but most of us have never eaten out of garbage. We might not have had the best parents in the world, but few of us have felt our skin peeled back and allowed to bleed from our beatings. We might have passing anger to God at times, but few of us have ever felt as abandoned by God as did Rachel. That is, until the mission team from St. Luke's descended upon her world.

     Rachel's doctor's office was near the "hotel" where the Dar team was staying. Over the course of a couple weeks, she was able to watch this group of people come into town, work hard at the jobs asked by the local church, trek off to a river delta to perform surgeries in settings that lacked electricity and water, gather each morning for Morning Prayer, and generally lift one another up. Singularly, none of the mission team members were there to touch Rachel. Our reading from Matthew this week reminds us that our Lord's yoke is well-fitting. Jesus meant that no one is so ill-suited to His task that He can not bring His purpose to happen. Fr. Greg is a priest with nearly 30 years of ordained service in Christ's church. He is not the young buck of his youth and able to do much more than menial tasks and teach God's word. Dan is a surgeon. He is a gifted surgeon who felt God's call to go on this trip. He works in hospitals in Hilton Head. He lacks for very little. He could do little other than perform surgeries as he always hires someone to do many of the menial tasks at which others performed. Sarah, as you all know, is a young midwestern teenager. She has a love of Jesus and a midwestern work ethic. When others tired or griped, she simply tried to pick up their slack as best she could. Sometimes she made up for the shortcomings; at other times, she was unable.  She was there to serve, not be served. None of those I have mentioned, nor any of those I have not, could have accomplished everything that happened on the mission trip by themselves. God yoked them together as a farmer might a couple oxen, and the results speak for themselves.

     "My burden is light." The truth is that everybody with whom we come into contact carries some heavy baggage. Like Rachel, we may have the baggage of a broken family. Like Rachel, we may have the burden of a life spent without creature comforts. Like Rachel, we may have the burden of not being able to trust anyone. Yet, like Rachel, God calls each of us. "Come unto me all you with heavy loads, and I will give you rest." Jesus calls each of us into that relationship that defies all expectations. The Lord of all that is calls to us and reminds us that He loves us and wants us to spend eternity with Him. And so often we are so prone to wander, prone to reject His offer. And still, He calls. He calls you and He calls me.

     How we respond often is the best witness many of us will ever make. Will you accept His offer and go where He wills, or will you postpone your decision hoping that you do not have to make the hard choice until it is too late? So often it seems like there is so much to do, and we are so insignificant when compared against the problems with which we are confronted. What difference can we make in the lives of battered women? What difference can we make in the face of such natural devastation as the recent floods and tornados? What difference can we make financially when so many of us are wondering whether to buy gasoline or medicine this month, whether to buy groceries or pay MidAmerican Energy? Thankfully, He is Lord of all, and the yokes He gives us make us perfectly suited for His purpose.

     Ironically, for Fr. Greg, it was Rachel who heard the call and another ordained minister who did not. Over the last week of the trip, Rachel came and worshipped with the group from the United States. When left with free time, she would often try to find one of these mission team members just simply to talk. When they left, Rachel made sure she was there to wish them well and to thank them. She made sure to thank them that she had witnessed finally what so many had always described. "You asked for nothing from me." In her world, that was the opening that Christ needed. One of the gentlemen on his first mission trip had given her his cross. No doubt she will always be reminded of that group of people who simply loved her as Christ had first loved them.

     "Come unto me all you with heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for it is easy-going, and my burden is light." I was struck by the individual testimony of the team. Individually, they knew that they had really done nothing to make an impact in Tanzania. There are too many children to be educated, too many people to be operated upon, and too many demands upon their resources. And yet, the sense of accomplishment has given them all pause. "There is still so much more to be done, and yet we have completed far more than many of us thought possible." That, brothers and sisters, is what life in Christ is like! We are so impotent compared to the needs of the tasks at hand, and He is full of such abundance. Will you accept His offer of abundance? Or will you continue your struggle under the oppressive weight of your personal burdens alone and overwhelmed?  A world craves your answer.



Saturday, July 5, 2008

A bragging father

     As we were loaded up in the family roadster and heading on our version of the "horde vacation," my daughter, Sarah, called.  She wanted to know where we were.  She was apparently as excited to see all of us as we were to see her.  She had just completed a mission trip to Tanzania with St. Luke's Episcopal Church Hilton Head Island, so she had spent almost a full three weeks away from home.  But she had something to tell me . . .

     "Dad, you remember that money you gave me in the airport back home?"  I told her that I did.  Before she got on a plane in the Quad Cities for Atlanta, I had given her a $20 bill for emergencies.  "Well, I sort of don't have it any more."  Hmmmm.  Sort of don't have it any more?  What could that mean?  "I spent it."  Understand, we clergy are by no means overpaid (well, that's not entirely true as I know some clergy who are paid too much for what they do, but many of us are way underpaid).  And when one has six kids and lives on a clergy salary, one tends to press upon one's kids the importance of good stewardship with regard to finances.  What did she buy?  I expected her to have bought food or a Webkinz or a gift for one of her siblings.  Her answer was enough to make a father's heart burst with pride . . .

     "You see, dad, there was this boy named David at the school in Dar es Salaam.  David's mom had died a few years ago.  I don't know why, but his dad had run off and left David and his brother all alone.  David and his brother had to go live with their uncle.  Anyway, David has been going to the school that we were working on.  His uncle does not have much money because he has to raise his kids plus David and his brother.  You know, that is a lot of work and takes a lot of money.  Anyway, the people here were sad because David was going to have to drop out of the school.  He is really good, maybe their best student, but his uncle cannot afford to pay for him to continue going to school.  I gave the head person the $20 bill you gave me to help pay for him to keep going to school.  I figured I was travelling with Grammie and PopPop, and they would pay for anything I really needed.  And besides, they have their credit cards and debit cards with them.  I know people help pay for us to go to Rivermont (the old Episcopal Day school here in Bettendorf), and I just thought I could help David out.  He's really nice, and he was a really big help to us.  And besides, the whole group pulled out money before we left, and we gave the school enough money for David to go to school this year.  I hope you're not mad at me.  I spent all my other money for presents, so I really can't pay you back right now.  But he needed the help.

     I suppose I was mad.  I was furious that I was in southern Indiana and she was in South Carolina.  I could not take her in my arms and hug her for the way she had made me feel.  Sometimes, it is hard being a parent.  Karen and I sometimes joke that we ought to just tape ourselves saying "no" on some feedback loop, because that is the word we use the most and we could save some breath.  And so often, the kids seem to let our advice go in one ear and out the other.  Yet here she was.  Sarah had paid attention to some of life's lessons and some of God's Gospel lessons.  Sarah recognized a need in another.  She could not fathom a father abandoning a son, let alone two.  She could not imagine someone wanting to go to school and not being afforded the chance to go.  She even recognized that the faithful giving of Episcopalians and others over the years has made it possible for her and her siblings to attend an excellent school.  And so she reached out with what was in her purse.  A $20 bill seems so inadequate these days.  It might get us a 1/4 tank of gas.  It might pay for a couple weeks of internet access.  It certainly will not pay for two months of World of Warcraft.  And like the faithful widow who gave out of her need, Sarah willingly gave her dad's $20 bill to the school for David, fearful that her dad might be angry at her for misspending it.

     When we clergy get ordained, the bishop celebrant always asks us, "Will you do your best to pattern your life and that of your family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people."  Naturally, we always say that we will; yet each of us understands the fishbowl in which we and our families live.  And those who have been to seminary have heard the horror stories of how the behavior of kids torpedoed more than one ministry when altar rails were treated as balance beams, kids got busted for drugs, or rectories were treated with contempt.  Most of us know we teach our kids right, but we also know we cannot control how they behave.

     And then it hit me.  That understanding sounds familiar.  Somebody teaches me right and lets me choose how I will behave.  And when I mess up, he has already walked before me paying the cost of the clean up.  God is good.

     One other note before this braggart moves on to other important events in parish life:  infant baptism.  My wife and I argued passionately over whether Sarah should be baptized as an infant.  i was a champion of believer's baptism.  I remember Fr. Mark finally telling me, "Just do it for your wife."  It was not until Jerry Smith made me read Bishop Buchanan's work on infant baptism that I had a theological justification for what my wife wanted to do.  And here was God, more than a dozen years later, still instructing me on that question.  Bishop B compared infant baptism to circumcision.  The goal of both practices, he argued, was to fully immerse the infant in the family of God.  Infant baptism specifically was the grafting of the child into the vine of Christ at such a young age that he or she would never know a day in his or her life when he or she was not absolutely certain that he or she was loved by our Father in heaven.  I may just be a proud papa, and Karen and I have many teenage years ahead of us, but I think Sarah has taken root.  Thanks be to God!