Sunday, December 20, 2015

The minimum standard of giving

For several years now, the Episcopal Church has declared the tithe to be “the minimum standard of giving.”  That doesn’t mean that parishioners are following the standard by any stretch of the imagination.  But, we should “strive” to tithe—work toward giving a percent of income rather than a set dollar amount. The starting point for our commitment to tithe could be one-percent or five-percent, with a commitment to work toward a ten-percent tithe.

But giving a tithe to the local church is not the end of it.  A tithe implies a legalistic relationship between us and God—a tithe is about our relationship with God instead of a loving response to God’ grace.  This leaves a huge understanding gap in our knowledge of the tithe.

Faithful stewardship includes generous and abundant giving to those people and institutions that give witness to God’s compassion, God’s justice, and God’s transformative power.

There are other options available to us—such as giving to the Red Cross, Public Radio, or any of a number of perfectly good organizations.  But I would ask any who are faithfully trying to discern the recipient of their donations to consider the effect the church has by ministering to us in time of personal transition and through the distribution of the Holy Sacraments.

If in honoring a tithe standard we assume that 10 percent—or whatever the amount of the tithe percentage is—belongs to God and the remaining 90 percent is our money, we completely miss the reality of New Testament teaching that it all comes from God and God may require more than 10 percent from us.

As much as St. Andrew’s needs pledges and funds, the goal of this church is not to meet the b-word (budget), but the transformation of souls into disciples of Jesus Christ.  Clear and consistent teaching about stewardship and the tithe; about giving and pledging, helps to get us there.


Father Mark +

Pledging has little to do with stewardship. Rather, it has to do commitment and with budget planning. To pledge to a particular organization is to make a commitment to support that organization. When people are able to estimate their giving ahead of time and pledge a particular amount, then leadership of the church is able to determine a budget for the year and establish certain commitments and expectations. Even people who are averse to pledging can be convinced of its merits when it comes to making commitments to staff and program. The church needs to be transparent and clear about its needs.
It gets complicated, too, when we realize that more and more people are living in times of fiscal uncertainty. And they are living with large debts. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to make pledges to the church under these circumstances. I wonder if it is good stewardship for church ask people to defer paying off their loans and therefore pay more interest in order to give to the church. I wonder if it is faithful to encourage people to tithe borrowed money. I wonder if it is wise for churches to tempt people to take on more credit card debt by giving them the option of paying a pledge online by credit card.
The local church compromises itself when it teaches or asks its people to give ten percent to the local church, and calls it stewardship. The local church does not model faithful stewardship when is asks its people to give and trust that God will provide, while clergy receiving those gifts are living with the promise of health insurance and remarkable pensions. The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

If we are followers of Christ, what are we willing to give-up to live differently?

When I was head of stewardship as a young lay person in the church, my assistant was a retired, avid golfer. He used to say, “the church isn’t like a country club—we don’t charge members’ dues, and fees.” We are a mission outpost—a lifeboat for the lost and adrift.  We do not raise money to run the church; we nurture healthy people who will be fully engaged as disciples of Jesus.

We are not the best “givers” in all of Christendom, but we are not the worst either.

Episcopalians give at about the same rate as the rest of the world—including non-Christians. The average Episcopalian gives between 1.75 % and 2.25% of their annual income to their church. (If your annual income was $40,000 that would equal a pledge of between $700 and $900.) If we were just looking at generosity you could not tell a Christian from a non-Christian.  Being Christian does not impact giving.

Jesus didn’t talk about the Church’s need to receive, but he did talk about our need to give. In that regard we are different from most people.  We know that disciples support God’s work in the world through the work of the Church. We should ask ourselves, if we are followers of Christ, what are we willing to give-up to live differently?  Many of us do not give generously because we live on the edge of financial failure; “tightness,” over-our-heads.

Money is not the root of all evil—it is the love of money, the hoarding of money, the living beyond our means—that is the root of all evil. If you feel the tension, stress, and pressure of a life spent trying to make it until the next payday, you need to spend some time talking with your friend Jesus to hear what he has in store for you as a true disciple of Christ who supports God’s work in the world.


Father Mark +

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Making of Stewards

We are lucky people; lucky in that we have been allowed to live in this wonderful time in history and in this beautiful place in the world—northern Florida.  We are lucky because by any possible measurement we have control over much in terms of resources, both personal and corporate. We have money, jobs, health, and assets. But for God to accomplish his mission of reconciliation, we need to be ready and trained in sharing our assets with God for his purposes.

Our sharing involves discerning how much of our income we will return to the source from whence it came—God.  We have talked of the tithe as the “gold standard” and ten percent being the minimum amount we should be giving as disciples of Jesus.  But, we have left room for growth—from a portion of a tithe to a full portion over time. We also have to grow into being faithful in using our assets to further God’s kingdom.

None of us want to waste our time, talent, or treasure by giving to organizations which do not match our values, or expending our time in areas not producing fruit in God’s orchards. But we also do not want to bury our treasure in order not to lose any portion of it to rust, rot, or thieves.  We, the Church, have been entrusted with the things of our faith; hymns, traditions, and liturgies which assist us in spreading the Good News of God’s endless love and grace.  Every event, sacrament, and liturgy are pointed toward development of stewards, and sharing the Good News for all to hear.

God’s kingdom is truly among us and with us and trying to burst forth for all people to share. That death has been defeated and is no longer a source of fear for any of us is truly Good News that all would appreciate hearing as truth for all. To know and believe that Christ was victorious over death is news that all humankind could receive and rejoice over.
So let’s all share that News.  Let’s minister to the lost and rejected. Let’s reach out to those unfamiliar with Christ’s Gospel—the Good News. Let’s live like disciples of Christ, and live lives of example—examples of Jesus.  Like God’s love for us, or the love of a parent for a second child—where there is more than enough to go around.

We are stewards of God’s assets entrusted into our care. We are stewards of the faith—not owners of it.

Father Mark +

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The True Mission of the Church is to Grow Stewards.

In order to accomplish God’s Mission in the world we have to be willing to use some of our gifts for God’s work.  The tithe is the standard by which we measure our commitment to God.  But many find the tithe too rigorous a standard and I have suggested that half a tithe (five percent of gross income) might be a better start. Then we can commit to grow our tithe over time to a full ten percent measure.

Of course, if we give some of our gifts to God, that means we have less for ourselves. Then we begin to think that having less for ourselves means there is scarcity in our lives—we don’t have enough. This thinking comes from our culture and its insistence that our lives are filled with scarcity; everything is finite and there isn’t enough to “go around.”

But our lives are full of abundance. Is it difficult for us to count our blessings in this season of Thanksgiving?  Whatever failure we have in understanding that the abundance in our lives is from God, comes from listening to our culture and its message to live above our means.

We have been entrusted with great wealth and abundance. We have been gifted with resources which God will use in his mission to reconcile the world to himself. Growing stewards means we must learn to live within our means.

Recently on the “Today Show” there was a segment on how to save money on buying a car.  One commentator spoke of various financing options; lease vs. purchase, five year term vs. six years, new vs. previously owned.  The second commentator replied, “Buy a less expensive model—one you can afford.”

Stewardship is not money—it is how we organize our lives and set our priorities. It’s all about the care of souls.

Father Mark +

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Care of Souls

There is a conversation which is going on among church leadership and clergy groups wherever I go and that is a conversation about the changing of the church.  I’m not just talking about the decline of Sunday attendance in the mainline Christian Church—attendance has been declining for fifty years.  I am talking about the unexplained shift in society away from traditional Christian values with regard to the care of souls.  I am talking about the increase in the number of people we see who are raised outside of the family tradition of Sunday church.

All across this nation churches are closing and being re-purposed as bars, retail shops, residences, and classrooms.  These closings are the result of declining attendance and shrinking membership. People think they have figured out that God is not really necessary and God has no interest in our lives. Fewer and fewer people talk about eternal things. Fewer and fewer people spend time studying scripture.  Prayer has become a way to ask a divine being for favors.  More and more people find themselves adrift amid a society fixated on consumption, acquisition, and status.  It is like we find ourselves trying to sing in a world inhabited only by the tone-deaf.

As Sally Forth said in one of her comic strips, “the problem with keeping your head in the face of a crisis is, people don’t think you know there’s a crisis.

This problem may have many causes, and we may settle on many solutions, but each conclusion will have the same premise; the way we think about church and ministry must change.

As our society embraces the nihilism of the future, and as we walk away from all that previous generations struggled to build and leave to us, we turn further away from what brought us here as we simultaneously bemoan our loss of the life we hold so dear.
Maybe we cannot keep God on the back-burner until we need him.  Maybe we have reached a tipping point in church attendance and participation. Maybe our society is shifting away from the past and toward the future.

But our future holds a place for those things for which we long: liturgy, music, preaching, and Holy Communion.  These are the traditions which connect us with the traditions of the church.  These are the bridges which lead to God and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And these are the Remagen bridges which we must fight to keep open in order to retreat away from a God-less society of tomorrow. If we let the church fade to darkness, to what will we return when we discover the promises of this day hold no solutions to the problems of tomorrow?

Think you are up to this challenge? You better be; for to be the church in this new and changing environment of tomorrow is going to take the total commitment of everything we have.

Father Mark+

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Live Like there’s Heaven on Earth

We continue our conversations about money with a simple question.  Does God really need our money? Our tithe is our response to our need to give, not God’s need to receive. We have read many times that the tithe is the place to start our conversations about our giving. A tithe is ten percent of our income which seems like a lot. Who can afford to tithe?  It is a big commitment considering some people don’t even save ten percent of their income. How are we expected to give ten percent to the church?

Our tithe is not about what we can afford, rather it is an expression of our deep gratitude for God’s grace in giving us more than we deserve.  If we received in income what we deserved, how much would that be? If you believe that your money comes from God—not from the business or company you work for—how much would God pay you for the work you do?

If you believe that your income is a fair representation of what you deserve, can you see yourself giving back a tenth of what God gives you in the form of a tithe to the church?  If that is too steep of an ask maybe you should start with a half tithe—five percent.

You see, God doesn’t need our money—God can take care of God’s self. We, however, need to give in order to avoid being mastered by our own money.  We need to give to show our gratitude for the gifts God has given us. We give to show we trust in God’s plan for our gifts.

More importantly, by giving our time, talent, and treasure to the church we are participating in God’s plan to heal the world by giving God the resources necessary to do His work and make it like Heaven on Earth—Here and Now.

Father Mark

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Over the next few weeks we will talk a great deal about money.  It is a topic we need to explore.  After all, Jesus said more about money than almost anything else. Thoughts about money consume our consciousness. Whether we are rich or poor, spenders or savers, we all think and talk about money—a lot.  To begin our conversation we need to begin at the beginning.  Gratitude.

Gratitude needs to come first.  As people of faith we are invited to discipline ourselves to express our gratitude at every opportunity. When prayers are answered, we give thanks. Sometimes when prayers are unanswered we also give thanks—as Garth Brooks taught us some years ago. When we experience success, like a promotion or a physical healing, we give thanks.  When God teaches us some valuable lesson regarding the faith, we give thanks. And if we remember to give thanks enough, pretty soon we realize that all good gifts come from God and we should be thankful and express our thankfulness.

Stewardship is the main work of the Church.  It is all we do with all we have all the time. It is paying close attention to the gifts God has given us—our intelligence, our education, our families, and our churches.  We must be clear how we invest those gifts for God’s use in the world and how we might pay forward some of our gifts to benefit others.

Are we slaves to our money or possessions?  Does our greatest happiness come from money or the things our money buys us?  We have become slaves to our possessions and our lives need to be re-oriented.  Our gratitude for God’s gifts needs to be reflected in how we use those gifts?  Our need to be gracious comes from the realization that we are the beneficiaries of God’s grace, mercy, and love. But, when we are slaves to our money and possessions we begin to feel entitled to God’s gifts.  Giving back to God as an expression of gratitude will help us break the stronghold our possessions have over us.  Too many of our possessions hold influence over our lives—making us slaves instead of Masters.

Next week:  How we participate in the healing of the world depends on the gratitude we have for the gifts God has entrusted with each of us.

Father Mark+

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be the disciple Christ calls you to be!

“The Lord said to Moses, … ‘anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time.”   (Num. 9:13)

In our Wednesday Bible study we read this passage from Numbers where God instructs the Israelites on proper etiquette for keeping the passover to the Lord.  After the sole sanctuary had been built the slaughter of animals became sacred and sacrificial since they were killed at the altar.  Therefore, impurity became an issue and Israelites who were unclean or traveling and didn’t observe the passover were cut off before the Lord. The crucial importance of the passover offering to members of the community is reflected in this command.

There are things in our churches today that are of crucial importance to our community. What comes to my mind are the six signs of discipleship and the giving of our treasure for God’s work through St. Andrew’s parish.  Stewardship is the main work of the church. It is what we do with all we have—all the time. It is focusing on the gifts God has given us and how we use and invest those gifts and treasures. But mostly, the work of the church is to grow true stewards.

This is what concerns me. In the spirit of discipleship, our parish has been entrusted with the things of our faith: the Good News that God’s love abounds, grace that is freely offered to all people, knowledge that the kingdom of God is truly among us and within us, and that in Christ death no longer has dominion over us. We are not alone in this trust, but if we fail our sacred obligations who will step up and take our place? Who will continue in the prayers and in the teaching?   We are approaching the end of the church year and moving into Advent and the people of St. Andrew’s are behind in their commitments to God and the church by nearly twenty-thousand dollars; commitments that were made and have not been honored!

But unlike Moses, you will not be cut-off from the Sacraments if you made a commitment to tithe your income to the church and cannot fulfill that commitment.  But there is time.  If you are not able to meet you commitment by year-end, call your rector or vestry member and let them know your situation.  Your tithe is only a part of your plan to be a better disciple—albeit an important part!

So, continue in your prayers and study. Come to worship whenever you are able. Serve somebody, and continue to fellowship with other like-minded Christians. Be the disciple Christ calls you to be!

Father Mark+

Sunday, October 25, 2015

“veritas liberabit vos”

As I slipped on my University class ring I was immediately drawn to the inscription which read, “veritas liberabit vos”. I had spent a lot of time and money on my education and I was not going to wear a ring which had a motto that I did not understand, so I looked up the Latin words which translated, “The Truth Shall Set You Free.”

Of course there was no Google in those days and my translation made no reference to the Biblical text from John’s Gospel. It made sense to me that this ring—a symbol of academic accomplishment—referred to the knowledge I had received during my years of study, not the truth of the Gospel.

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The Jews did not understand that the bonds that chained them were the bonds of sin.  And they did not understand that Jesus' word was the key to releasing them from their bondage.

We understand this only a little more than the disciples understood, but our bondage to sin is just as real as theirs. What holds us back? What poisons our relationship with God?  The world offers many distractions which draw us away from the mind and will of God and leave us lost in the wasteland of wealth and possessions. To find our way out we must exercise our spiritual muscle by becoming the disciples Jesus calls us to be.  We need responses to the call of our world and its culture. We need responses which can only be found in the pages of the Bible where Jesus’ word lives and instructs us.

Father Mark+

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What are you doing for others?

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is,
 'What are you doing for others?”M.L. King, Jr.

I was well into my thirty’s when I came to a better understanding of King’s famous quote. Most people I knew growing up—some of my family, friends, and acquaintances—had a misconception of what King was urging people to do. In my community there wasn’t a lot of support for King’s admonition to help others in making the world a better place. No one wanted to be a nurse aboard the Mercy Ship, to teach an illiterate person to read, or mow the lawn of the woman who lived down the street whose husband died last summer. After all, I had an Aunt and Uncle that lived on an eighty-acre farm who barely survived the Farm Bureau policies on land-use and crop rotation.  My Uncle was forced to take a second job at the 3M factory in order to make it from one growing season to the next. I knew people who needed the assistance of others and they were not getting anything—from government or otherwise. It was people like these who needed help.

King’s message wasn’t about handouts, charity, or income re-distribution. King the theologian properly read the gospel as a message for service. We are made to be in relationship and we discover our wholeness only as we join ourselves to the fortunes of those around us—preparing a meal for a family who has lost a loved you, providing a ride to church to someone who can no longer drive themselves, growing vegetables for the community food bank.

We don’t have to go to Africa to find an opportunity to serve others, but we could.  We cannot turn our backs on those less fortunate that us, in effect saying to them, “Why don’t you get a job and feed yourself.” And we shouldn’t default to government policies and agencies to provide subsidized housing, food stamps, or low-cost child care.

I know that lots of people spend their lives scamming the system, but that doesn’t mean we can turn our backs on everyone because some are cheating. In doing so we are cheating ourselves out of the blessings of service.  The greediness of society, evidenced in the widening gap between rich and poor, is evidence of whom we really serve. This gospel lesson is another call to mature faith, to grow up into the fullness of Christ.

Like Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.”

Father Mark+

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Passing through the eye of a needle

I’ve always thought that the reference to passing through the needle’s eye referred to a small passageway through the main gate of the City of Jerusalem which was left open at night so that travelers might have access to the City, but not access so open that it might be exploited by invading armies seeking to sack the City while the residents slept.  Modern scholarship disputes this interpretation as being false—such a gate did not exist in the time that the Gospels were written.

Which is fortunate for the sake of this teaching, because the response of the rich young man was he became sad and he was not willing to do what Jesus asked of him, because he had wealth and was unwilling to give it up.

We often think that our objectives can be achieved by “doing something”:  say more prayers, care for the poor, take up your cross, or sell your possessions. These are some of the go-to responses to Jesus.  But then we are left with, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The truth of the matter is simply this, we cannot earn our inheritance, and we cannot earn God’s grace.  Both are gifts which we can only accept or reject. In fact, an inheritance can only be received when someone dies. And our status as children of God became real with the death of Jesus on the cross. God’s grace freely given—but the cost is not cheap.

Father Mark+

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Half Time

Bob Buford wrote his book, Half Time in 1995. Its premise is that people live with two purposes in two halves of their life. In the first half they live in pursuit of success.  Money, fortune, and possessions are primary.  Whoever dies with the most toys wins, is the motto of the success-driven people in the first half of their lives.

In the second half our attention is drawn from success to significance.  Having achieved some model of success, and realizing that we are not made happy by the accumulation of stuff, or its pursuit.   We turn our focus and attention to significance—making a difference in the world, in our sphere of influence, or in our families.

If you find yourself searching for significance in the world, who is influencing how you see yourself.  How do you view the world around you—as sheep or wolves?  Or as something more nuanced—sheep, wolves, or sheep dogs?  If this is your world view, who are you?  Who is influencing what you are and how you see yourself?

Our gospel lesson today is mostly about identity—which Christians have struggled with throughout time. Is it any wonder we still struggle with “who we are?”  Wolf, sheep, or sheep dog?  The answer might depend largely upon how we answer the question not of “who we are” but “whose we are.”

Father Mark+

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Growing in Grace

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today we mark the beginning of a new program year in the church. After a summer respite we enter the fall refreshed and ready to begin again the task of directing our hearts and minds toward the Holy Spirit.  Much like the beginning of a new school year we anticipate new learning and the beginning of new life: transformational change.

But like learning new subjects, such change does not just happen. It comes through dedication, study, and exercise. In school we do not achieve high marks by willing their being. We increase our marks through diligent work on the subjects at hand; by setting ourselves at the tasks which lead us to growth and achievement. Some of those tasks prove easily achievable. Some of them prove to be difficult. And some are beyond our reach.

But, no one shrinks before work that is difficult and no one avoids the impossible if inspired and lead by the Holy Spirit. So as we begin the new program year we have an opportunity to choose how we will serve the church and our Lord in ministry and outreach. In the Parish Hall today, parish leadership has displayed many of our parish ministries for your consideration.

Examine, discuss, question, and compare the many ways our parish has to serve and be guided by the Spirit.  Let this year be the one in which it was said, everyone was engaged and no one was left behind. Let it be that everyone was involved in a ministry and all pursued the goal of discipleship through prayer, study, service, outreach, stewardship, and community.

Father Mark+

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I will be taking a "Blogging sabbatical" from July 1 through September 13

Please check back

Emerald Bay
Lake Tahoe, California

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Though rich, Christ became poor

NET Letter – June 28, 2015

Though rich, Christ became poor for our sakes, 
so that by his poverty we might become rich

You see a lot of strange things on the Jacksonville highways as you commute to and from work. The other day I saw a van with very neat script on the rear window.  It said, “This is America, we don’t re-distribute wealth, we work for it.” Really? The streets provide me with a never ending supply of people for whom to pray.

I know that most priests and pastors are seen as bleeding-heart socialists. We are often accused of being more interested in money than souls. People think churches trade favors with politicians for their tax exempt status. But all this stems from a lack of understanding of our own abject poverty that Jesus exchanges with us that we might experience his absolute wealth.

In spiritual terms, our reconciliation with God and God’s reconciliation with the world through Christ, overflows into our lives and the lives of all people who share in this reconciliation. When this happens to us we cannot help but be transformed into an attitude of sharing our excess—of time, talent, treasure, and grace—with one another.

When we feel the excess of grace through Jesus we feel God transforming our theology from one of scarcity into abundance. No longer do we hoard our excess in the hope of having our needs taken care of today, tomorrow, and all the days of the future.  When we feel the power of abundance we suddenly feel the power to forgive, to be generous with each other, and the power to share our wealth so that “no one might have too much and none shall have too little.”

Jesus exchanged his vast wealth as the son of God, because though rich, Christ became poor for our sake so that by his poverty we might become rich.

Father Mark+

Sunday, June 14, 2015

All Are Welcome

What say you at the judgment seat of Christ?

I’ve been wrong in the past and I will be likely wrong in the future.  I am not thankful about that but being wrong is not a bad thing.  It is often just an indication of a need for clarification and understanding.

When I was young I was often wrong—as I’m sure many of you were.  I didn’t understand lots of things; what my father did all day at his job, why my high school athletic program was so poor, or why I cried when my favorite dog died but not when my best friend did.
People are eager to set us straight about how things are—even if they don’t really know any better than we do, they weigh-in with their opinions no matter how right or wrong they may be. What I have learned about opinions—and right and wrongness—is this, when things get personal all bets are off regarding wrong and right.

My father and mother were bigots for most of their lives.  They didn’t like Catholics or people of other faiths, had no respect for people of color, and knew that homosexuals had chosen the wrong life-style.  But when Sol, a Jewish co-worker asked my father to be a character witness at his divorce hearing dad readily agreed.  When mom baked pies for us at home she always make an extra for the black janitor at the school where she taught, and when the son of a neighbor contracted AIDs and died they both volunteered at the Gay Pride clothes distribution center.  For them things became personal and that overcame the bigotry with which they had grown-up.

My Christian faith is on full display in our Book of Common Prayer. I believe that our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to others as we wish them to do to us.   I believe that God has been revealed to us by his Son as love, and it is our duty to follow Jesus; to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

To do this I believe that the Church must be a big tent into which we welcome all people regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation—erring always on the side of inclusion.

At our General Convention this summer the Church will once again take up discussion of topics of same-sex marriage and the rights of LGBT people to receive Sacraments in our Church. Do not be shocked to read about our denomination in the news in the coming weeks. Many wish we would take our conversation and go away and stop talking about such things. But God is not about exclusion—He is a God of inclusion.

I may be wrong again.  When I appear before the judgment seat of Christ I may learn God was not in favor of same-sex marriage—that God did not want us to welcome all people.  But for me now, I will err on the side of being a welcoming priest—offering full acceptance of Christian LGBT persons and couples into the church.  All are welcome!


Father Mark+

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Work of Satan's Minions

"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

As early Bible Authorities, my friend Scott and I lacked much in the way of experience and understanding.  One of our favorite things was to argue over which sin was the most serious—or which commandment was the most important to keep.

Scott always believed that to kill someone was the most egregious. I however, took serious this passage in Mark in which blaspheming God was the unforgivable sin and therefore must be the most important. But I have grown and matured in my understanding of the Biblical texts.  What does Jesus mean when he says that “… whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

The sin that is spoken of here is the rejecting of Jesus’ and attributing his saving work to the devil.  By not recognizing the Messiah, rejecting the good work of God in Christ, and refusing to credit God’s Holy Spirit with the renewal and redemption of Creation—one risks not receiving the grace God offers us freely given—wholly undeserved.

But, I wouldn’t worry too much about your soul and eternal damnation.  God has a way of looking past our slip-ups and momentary fits of rage and anger—unless you have decided to engage in an ongoing rejection of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus most certainly is more concerned with our having a long-term, rigid stance against God’s work in the world. The sin Jesus is naming here is a permanent refusal to be open to the work of the Spirit in the world and in our lives.

Jesus will not let us be swept away by Satan’s minions by an accidental slip-up.  To be guilty of this sin one must have a systematic way of being which utterly rejects God. If you can fathom such a thing and you are worried, you probably need not be concerned.

However, if you are debating your best friend you should probably hold out longer on you position.  It’s always good to let the opposition sweat.

Father Mark+

Sunday, May 31, 2015

We Are Sanctified

During the life of our nation more than half a million Americans have died in the conduct of war throughout the world. We remember all those who have died in the defense of freedom wherever those conflicts arise. We give thanks for brave soldiers, sanctified by their willingness to die for us—not themselves.

Christ calls us to be sanctified—made perfect, good, hallowed, blessed, pure, and holy. If we live according to the power of the Spirit we are led to a life as children of God, turning away from the deeds of the body—human weakness.  While not themselves sinful, by following these actions we allow sin to control and have domination over us and turn us away from God’s desire for our lives.

If we live according to the flesh we die. For to live for those things that are temporary, transitory, or “of this world”, we ignore God and indulge in those things which please ourselves without thinking of others.  And if we please ourselves and not others—we displease God. Brave Christians are sanctified by Christ by living a pure life without selfishness but with regard for others before themselves.

As we struggle in these present times to do for others rather than doing for ourselves, we experience the tension felt between today's suffering and tomorrow’s hope of Eternal life in the world to come with God.


Father Mark+

Sunday, May 24, 2015


I know if it has happened to me, it has happened to a lot of you.  On this Sunday morning you arrive at church at a different time.  There are more cars than you expect, and fewer parking places.  As you walk to the church, you notice many more people wearing suits and jackets than you expect.  And there are more strangers than you expect—and there are young people with flowers or corsages on their dresses.  Maybe there are little babies.  Then it hits you. Today there are going to be baptisms!  Worse, this is confirmation Sunday and you expect the Bishop will be here.

It is enough to ruin your whole day.  You expect that your pew will be taken by one of the many strangers at church.  You expect not to be able to see very well and you expect that the sound system will probably be on the blink and you will not be able to hear either.  And you expect the sermon to be long and boring, or short and uninspiring—does it matter?  You expect the babies will cry as they are baptized—and you know none of the confirmands.

But today your expectations will not stop there.  These young people have completed their study and training and are going to stand before the Bishop, the congregation, and God, and proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ.  What is so special about these young people is this ... we know them!  They are ours. They are dear and special to us all. And they have chosen to be Baptized or confirmed—standing against the tide of popular culture and living their faith for all of us to see.  Thanks be to God!


Father Mark+

Sunday, May 17, 2015

In the midst of life we see death; from whom can we seek help?

I don’t remember the circumstances exactly, but my cousin Jim and I were being allowed to walk to the theater, at night, to see the new Bond movie, Thunderball.  It was not far from my house to the town square where the movie house was located, but I imagine our relative’s tongues were wagging over the prospects of these two boys being let loose on the town at night by my “free range” mother.  I always appreciate thinking of the amount of rope I was given by my mom and I don’t remember taking advantage of her leniency—very often.

“Of course we could walk to the movies on a weekday night, without getting into trouble,” I had argued.  After all, we had done it often enough on Saturday mornings—in the broad daylight.  If we had gotten into trouble though, there would be no one to lean on for help.  Only our wits and our legs to get us home.

Jesus said, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name.” Once before Jesus told the disciples that He was going ahead of them to prepare a place for them.  That was when Thomas protested that they would never find Jesus where He was going.
Thomas said, “How can we know the way? We don’t know where you are going.” But Jesus told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the light.”

I imagine the disciples were afraid of what they heard once again—Jesus was leaving.  He would no longer be their protecting force.  They knew that protection was necessary.  They had seen what happened to Jesus at the hands of the Romans. They were right to be fearful. The world could be a place to be feared and now they faced a dark and scary world without Jesus—only under the protection of God.  How would this all turn out?

Father Mark+

Sunday, May 10, 2015

“We have been chosen”

As a young boy my favorite sport was baseball and my town’s baseball leagues were set up just like the professional.  We had Little League, for the boys to learn the game and practice their skills.  And we had Babe Ruth League—where the better, older players, went on to play at a higher level. The transition from one to the other took place through the draft—the selection process by which coaches picked the players for the upper division teams and Little League player graduated to the “Big Leagues.”

Draft day was important.  If you were drafted by a big league coach, it was confirmation that you had skills.  The Babe Ruth games were watched and followed by everyone in town.  The newspaper covered the games.  Box scores were published each evening. It was a big deal in a small town.  It preceded fame and glory. Next stop, High School baseball and just maybe a professional scout would see you and . . Well, you can see where this is going in the mind of an adolescent boy in small town Indiana.

But being chosen for a major league team in the Babe Ruth league meant that desire and rough skill were no longer enough to perform well for your team. As a pitcher, I knew that I needed to work hard in order to pitch against the bigger, older boys and be successful. Being drafted—my goal as a Little Leaguer—was just the start. You could not take anything for granted. In my first Major League game I threw my best stuff at an average opponent—and they hit my pitches all over the park.  My curve ball didn't curve enough, my fast ball was only average fast, and my slider hung and found the center of every bat that swung at it.  I was obviously poorly suited for this league.

My coach knew I was despondent and after my first game he told me, “You had a rough outing, but you have the talent to play on this team—you have the skill—just get serious and work to improve. Remember, in the draft, I chose you, now you need to get with the plan and choose me.”

On a much bigger and more important level, God chose you.  Now we need to step up our game and choose Him.


Father Mark+

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Trial by combat

In a one-hour episode, Game of Thrones can touch on many interesting legal issues. For instance, when the government's dragons snatch and charbroil your flock of goats, you can recover damages under the common law theory of "trover”, an action to recover the value of goods wrongfully converted to another's own use.

Queen Mhysa isn't being nice, she just has a competent understanding of tort law. And she holds the whip.

Of far more importance to medieval justice is the idea of "trial by combat." Apparently, any accused person can claim this "right," and have a champion fight on their behalf to determine their guilt or innocence.

Think Coca—Cola and Pepsi duking it out with proxy champions in the Octagon rather than with lawyers in $1,500 suits in the courtroom.

Jesus is always more able and ready to represent us in trial by combat because we would never be able to overcome the challenges of the enemy on our own. Our Good Shepherd stands tall against all comers in the battle between good and evil. Our Champion has been anointed for battle through his death, resurrection, and ascension, thereby assuring us of a heaven here and now, and eternal life in the days to come.    


Father Mark+

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Problem of Relevance

Over the last three months I have been involved in purchasing three new cars for my son and daughter.  You might say I have a reasonable amount of experience in this regard.  Based on my experience I am not surprised to hear that new car sales are dramatically down for the young adult age group.  Driver licenses are being delayed well past age sixteen, the traditional age we have obtained such permits for many years.

What has happened?  Why are car purchases down for the age group many of us identify as prime buyers?  Why are fewer and fewer young people not waiting expectantly to get that age-old sign of maturity and independence—the driver’s license? Are automobiles no longer relevant to the sons and daughters of America?

The fact that 18 to 30 year olds are buying cars at much reduced rate is one of the largest and most significant relevance challenges of our time. Much of the sharp decline in new car purchases is due to the younger segment. The average age of new car buyers advanced from 43 up from 48 just two years ago due to shrinkage of young buyers. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the percentage of those under 19 with a driver’s license declined from 64 in 1998 to 46 percent in 2008. For many youth, cars are simply not relevant. What can car makers do to resist this trend?

Relevance in the marketplace is not a problem for the car manufacturers alone.  I will be closely watching Detroit (and Tokyo and Seoul) to see how they deal with this new phenomenon.   Underlying reasons such as college debt, unemployment, interest in digital games and social media, and urban living with its mass transit and Zip-cars are difficult for firms to address.

Do we in the church have similar underlying causes for the decrease in interest in religion, God, and Jesus Christ?  Or, do we ignore the relevance question and simply wait for our traditional congregations to return to the fold?  It might be a long wait.


Father Mark+

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Gift

Have you ever received a gift you didn't think you deserved? It could have been something expensive, but not necessarily.  Maybe it was something that required a lot of time and effort to create—or maybe it was something very rare such as true friendship. 

Generosity can be difficult to accept. It can humble us. 

For some, Christ’s gift of the cross may seem like an undeserving gift for us undeserving sinners. What a foolish sacrifice, to lay down one’s life for the sake of others.  It may be tempting to look at the cross of Christ as a foolish sacrifice for us undeserving sinners. But face the breathtaking realization that God’s love really is an infinite commodity—that God wouldn’t have it any other way.  God’s love is for you and for me and God presents it to us to receive as undeserving as we are.

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, to the end that we should not perish, but have everlasting life.”


Father Mark+

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Where do our plans take us?

I admit it—I am a planner. I like to have plans and I like for the plans I make to come to fruition. Sometimes they do and often they do not. Sometimes planning can backfire. Peter comes close to missing an encounter with God become he is also a planner. When God steps in and interrupts Peter saying; “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” Peter wants to fit what is happening into a plan. God invites him instead to experience the wonder and mystery of Jesus; not exactly according to Peter’s plan.

How often we do the same. We want an encounter with God to give us a sense that we are not alone, that there is something more than what we can see and touch.  But in those very moments when God comes near—those thin places where earth and heaven come very close—we find ourselves frightened, afraid, unsure—suddenly feeling  very out of control.  In times like these we resort to our baser instincts and try to domesticate our experience of the Holy by fitting it into a plan.

Maybe the church should not be the place we look for order and stability. Maybe the church should be the place we meet to share our stories of wonder and worry—our hopes and disappointments and stand with each other as the God of our fathers draws near once again to unsettle our plans and meet us in the mystery of God’s love.


Father Mark+