Resisting the Idolatry of the Age, Lent 3 (B) – March 4, 2018

[RCL] Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

In this age, when Mammon is worshipped gleefully in the public realm of both politics and of what passes for popular religion, it is bracing to read St. John’s depiction of Jesus’ visit to the Temple, to his “Father’s house,” as he called it. It makes us cry aloud, “Oh, for a whip of justice to clean out the corruption in our own temples of power.” Yet, we know that only Jesus has the courage and the authority to do so. All we are able to do is wait and repeat, “How long oh Lord, how long?”

For Jesus, it is the first Passover of his public ministry and his first known visit to Jerusalem as a grown man. This is uniquely St. John’s chronology of the event; no less an authority than Archbishop William Temple declares that it is the correct one (the other gospels put this visit just before his arrest and crucifixion). The Archbishop makes it clear that early in his ministry, Jesus still considers the Herodian Temple his “Father’s House.” But by the end of his ministry, when he weeps over Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he declares it to be the people’s temple. “See, your house is left to you,” he cries, and the implication of desolation is in his words.

The Temple was finally finished in A.D. 64 only to be destroyed six years later. By then Jesus’ resurrected body was the temple he was talking about in his prophecy. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Later the sycophants of the high priests will force witnesses to accuse Jesus of saying that he himself would destroy the temple, but as false witnesses do, they lied. It was not he who destroyed the temple; it was human arrogance and sin.

Why did Jesus become so angry when he saw his father’s house being made into a marketplace? The Old Testament lesson gives us many clues to the answer. Idolatry of any kind was forbidden by God. The money changers had the following purpose: taxes had to be paid to the Roman overlords, but the Roman money carried the image of Caesar on it. The High Priests, considering this image idolatry, had ordered that the money paid in taxes should be converted to the shekel in order to be acceptable for Temple business. In that exchange, a great profit went into the coffers of these same priests. Jesus knew that this was both profanity of the Temple and exploitation of the poor citizens. It was another form of idolatry, but this time the idol was Mammon, a god ever present both then and now—a god not named by his followers but worshipped nonetheless.

Jesus also knew that his acts in the courtyard of the Temple would bring him in direct conflict with these same high priests, but fear was unknown to him; nothing ever stopped him from obeying the will of his Father. This early in his ministry he is very popular with the people, so the priests don’t dare touch him. As his interpretation of who God is and what God demands of us continues throughout the land, he becomes a stumbling block to the high priests, and the people, not getting the signs that they demand, agree to his death. But on this first Passover in Jerusalem, filled with the Holy Spirit, he burns with the fire and power of Truth. Afraid of that fire, they don’t dare touch him, but their desire to see him dead begins on that day.

In a few years St. Paul will articulate it very clearly to the Corinthians. The Jews, Jesus’ and Paul’s own people, were scandalized by Jesus’ courage, by his claim to know the mind of his father, by his willingness to meet his death without any retaliation or violence. To the Gentiles, with whom Paul is sharing what he learned from Christ, all this is foolishness. It goes against their own admiration for wisdom and philosophy, even for courage in battle. St. Paul summarizes the reaction to the acts of Jesus in brilliant brevity: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

In today’s gospel story, St. John shows the scandalous activity of Jesus in all its glory. The leaders of the Jews had fooled the people with a piety that had become idolatry and had allowed physical structures to take the place of a God who demanded, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our culture has forgotten this command also, and so many signs or symbols have been turned into idols: the Ten Commandments are not obeyed, but their depiction on stone is approved; the flag that is supposed to remind us of the human longing for freedom becomes an idol to be worshipped at athletic games; money that should be used to educate and feed children becomes an idolatrous acquisition for those who already have too much of it, while our streets fill with homeless people; and other, old symbols of the evil of violence return to trouble our dreams.

We need Jesus’ courage to cleanse the temples of idolatry. We long for his kind of integrity that dares to call out the oppressors, no matter who they are. We pray for the power to overthrow the tables of the moneychangers who cheat the poor and the voiceless. In St. Paul’s words, we too must “proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Nowhere does Paul ever speak of a prosperity gospel.

As we approach Holy Week, we need the love and the passion that can sustain us even unto death. We will be laughed at when we too resist the culture of the day, but we will remember with St. Paul that, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Let us be aware, more than ever during this season of Lent, that the power of God goes with us.

Katerina Whitley is an author, a retreat leader, and a social justice advocate. She has worked as an Episcopal communicator on the diocesan and national church level for four decades. The author of seven books, she lives in Boone and teaches at Appalachian State University. She lectures on St. Paul and the First Century as the author of A New Love which is centered on the ministry of the great apostle. She invites you to visit her website, www.katerinawhitley.net.

Download the sermon for Lent 3 (B).

The love that binds the universe, 3 Lent (B) – 2015

March 8, 2015

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

One summer’s afternoon in 1665, Isaac Newton took tea amid the apple trees in his family’s garden. At just the right moment, an apple stem’s dwindling hold on the tree branch could no longer withstand the pull of the earth. The apple dropped. Newton got bopped on the head, and a series of thoughts was set into motion that ended not just with gravity proven out mathematically, but with a whole new world view, now described as “Newtonian.”

Newton saw all creation as a vast machine. Newton knew that scientific methods could reveal more about this machine, and the preferred method for Newton was that we should study the parts of this machine of creation.

In the past several centuries, scientists and mathematicians have come to know more about the universe by using Newton’s method. But beneath the fabric of the Newtonian universe, more recently, quantum physics has revealed a very different world at the subatomic level.

Whereas scientists had previously noted the emptiness of space, the lack of matter, quantum physics has revealed connections. A famous experiment found that when two subatomic particles interacted, after they are separated, a cause on one of the particles still had an effect on the other. They remained connected in some way.

These recent discoveries at the subatomic level have revealed that, although the universe may be a vast machine, we can never understand the world through understanding the parts alone. The connections also matter – and perhaps matter even more than the parts alone.

While describing these discoveries briefly in a sermon makes the changes seem tame, for the scientists who have done the work, it is disturbing. They expected the subatomic world to be just as uniform and orderly as the one in which the apple dropped on Sir Isaac’s head. Instead they found uncertainty and unseen connections, which Einstein labeled “spooky.” These discoveries continue to challenge the worldview of Newton.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is countering one worldview with another – he takes on the worldview of Greek philosophers with the wisdom of the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul’s challenge to the wisdom of ancient Greece is not a new and more compelling wisdom, but foolishness. That’s the way Paul puts it: The cross is foolishness. He writes, though, that, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The city of Corinth is known to this day for a particular style of column with a fancy design at the top. These Corinthian columns held up great temples to the Greek and Roman gods. They were also the product of Greek and Roman thought. This was the sort of wisdom that Paul was seeking to overturn with his proclamation of the gospel.

Paul is writing to Christians. They have already become believers, but the church is facing problems. There are some who feel that they are smarter than others. So smart that they can bend the rules and still be OK. There are others with spiritual pride. And into a church facing these problems, Paul begins with a passage on the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. We get just the beginning of the case Paul will make in today’s reading. What he is doing is as revolutionary as Newton’s change of worldviews that we started with.

The paradoxes are wise foolishness and weak strength. At first, a paradox can sound like an oxymoron. An oxymoron has two ideas together that do not go together, such as “entertaining sermon.” A paradox is a statement with two apparently contradictory ideas that are somehow truer together. This is wise foolishness and weak strength.

Paul tells those who think they are wise that God’s wisdom is very different from their knowledge. He tells those who feel as if they have power or authority that God’s strength is very different from their ideas of power and might. The paradigm, the example, the key image to explain the paradoxes is the cross of Jesus. Paul begins:

“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”

Paul quotes here from the prophet Isaiah. As a good Jew, Paul understood the context for Isaiah’s prophecy. The leaders of Israel were facing a much superior Babylonian army. Isaiah called on the people to let God sort out Israel’s salvation. But those words of trusting God alone when an opposing army was on the march seemed like folly. Israel ignored the prophet and put their trust in an alliance with Egypt, which, to them, seemed like the smartest course of action. God responded through Isaiah that the wisdom of the wise would be destroyed. When push came to shove, Egypt did not, in fact, have Israel’s back. Babylon won, and Israel was taken captive.

For Paul this situation is happening all over. The Corinthian Christians are not putting their faith in God alone, but are leaning on that old Greek standby, human wisdom. Paul sees this as something overturned in the crucifixion.

Because as Paul notes, the cross is folly. The idea of God suffering and dying was ludicrous. A suffering and dying God was an oxymoron at best and an affront to reason and wisdom to be sure. Anyone knew that if there is a God who created all that is, such a powerful God could not be harmed by mere humans.

But with wise foolishness, God did not just sit back and watch the drama of the creation unfold. In Jesus, God became man and entered into creation. In doing so, God became vulnerable in Jesus, the Son.

This action on God’s part is not just some new teaching or clever idea. The Incarnation is a world-changing intervention into human history. By reason alone, it would have been utter foolishness for the One who could be above and beyond creation to enter in. By reason alone, Jesus’ death revealed his weakness. But when we see by the light of faith, Jesus had a choice; he did not have to be faithful unto death. Jesus could have fought the violence of Rome with violence all his own. Instead, Jesus continued to love humanity, even when the cost of that love was suffering and death. And the Holy Trinity subverted all of human wisdom and power in overturning death with Jesus’ resurrection.

This is where the two threads of the sermon get entwined as we have explored the worldview of Newton and a quantum universe, then we looked at the worldviews of Greek thought alone or the power of God as revealed in the cross of Christ.

Notice that in Newton’s way of seeing the world, we are a vast machine of separate, though important, parts. This way of viewing the world ended with people feeling very separate, very isolated alienated from one another.

In a quantum universe, essential connections are revealed. Rather than being lots of empty space, the universe is full and connected, and the connections matter. This is the paradox on which the building blocks of the universe stand, that despite the fact that we do not see the connections, all is connected.

This we see even more clearly in the cross of Christ. We do not see a disconnected God, off distant in the heavens. We find Jesus having emptied himself, being born as a human and suffering and dying on a cross. God was more essentially connected to us than we had ever imagined.

And in the cross of Christ, this wise foolishness, we discover the strength of God’s love, that God would be willing to take on human weakness and would continue to love rather than fight back. It is a love that God calls you to enter in. This love of God is the connection that binds together all creation. Paul knew that this would sound like foolishness to some, but those who have experienced that connection would understand as wisdom.

This is why Jesus distilled all of Jewish Law to “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He knew that love was the very real connection already binding us together. Paul taught us a worldview with that strong weakness and wise foolishness of the cross at its center. This undying love of God is the building block on which the universe stands.

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

 

Jesus, not always meek and mild, 3 Lent (B) – March 11, 2012

March 11, 2012

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Security is very important to most of us. There are things in our lives, some which seem very large, some perhaps insignificant, without which we feel totally adrift. It may be our home or family, or something little, like an old pair of slippers. Most of us love our parishes and churches. If our family has worshipped here for generations, that feeling may be intense. There’s a sense of ownership in our attitude to those windows or pews. To others, new to faith, the church building may be special because in it we celebrated a newfound or restored faith.

To a first-century Jew, all that sentiment and value was centered on one building, the Temple. Whether they lived close to it or far away in Rome or Babylon, the Temple was the magnet that drew them to its splendor.

The Temple Jesus entered was that built by Herod “the Great” in an attempt to curry favor with his subjects. It stood on the site of Solomon’s great building, destroyed centuries before when the Jews were conquered and enslaved. Its restoration symbolized not only religious revival, but the continuity of the nation itself. It was a bit like a combination of the Capitol and the National Cathedral in Washington, but more so.

The destruction of the Temple all those years before Jesus’s time had been a major disaster. Most Jews had been taken off to the East in captivity. Their nation expired. They also came to believe that God had left them, for God was said to dwell in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. Over the centuries, a belief that God had called and chosen Israel to be unique had devolved into nationalism or what we term nowadays “particularism” or “exceptionalism.” Now the point was that Israel was special, specially called by God. Yet that setting apart – the word ‘holy’ has its root in that concept of being separated – was not intended to justify nationalism, but rather to remind Israel of its calling to be the presence of God for the whole world. Holiness was about what we call mission. Nationalism had caused their destruction, and with it, the destruction of the Temple itself.

In the gospel today, John paints a picture of an angry Jesus, entering the symbol of Israel’s security, whip in hand, driving out those who had turned the Temple into the center of a money-making racket. As you know, the Temple was the only place of sacrifice for the Jews. Sacrifice meant the offering to God of that which God created, whether in the form of wheat or grapes, doves or lambs, depending on the purpose of the sacrifice. Sacrifice meant the offering of life on behalf of individuals and families and once a year, on the Day of Atonement, on behalf on the nation itself.

The racket Jesus encountered was rather clever. For instance, a family brought its sacrifice to the Temple. It had to be inspected to make sure that it was of high enough quality to be acceptable. If the object was rejected, there were substitutes available at a price. When the head of the family offered payment, his money was rejected because it was the usual Roman coinage. Yet, guess what? These coins could be exchanged for pure Temple currency, at a price.

Those of us who have traveled abroad know how annoying it is to find our dollars exchanged for a foreign currency and having to pay the exchange rate. So something meant to be holy, special, unique, had been turned into a crooked commercial transaction. Jesus was furious. There’s no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” in the gospel today. Jesus, whip in hand – imagine a well-aimed flick at a prominent bottom – drives out these crooked merchants, many of whom were priests.

Jesus then goes on to strike at the heart of Jewish security. He shouts that the Temple will be destroyed. To his listeners, that announcement seemed incredible. It struck at national security and national faith. Was God going to absent himself again? Indeed there were some who believed that God’s Presence had never truly returned.

Jesus was speaking about two things at once. His astounding claim to be “God with Us” rivaled that of the Temple. Later Christians would teach that Jesus is truly the new and substitute Temple, the sign of God among us. So John reminds us in this account that Jesus knew he would die and rise again; the Temple of his body would be destroyed and renewed. Yet early Christians hearing these words after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple would hear Jesus saying that God’s covenant was now to be with all who believe in Jesus, the true Temple.

Now this gospel isn’t an excuse of anti-Semitism. It is rather a calling to us all to examine just how genuine our devotion to Jesus is, at this moment, in this place. Buildings are important symbols of the presence of Jesus-Who-Is-God with his people. They exist not to suggest that we are special people, or better than others; but rather that we are “holy” people, called people, people with a mission, God’s mission, to restore all things into Jesus-Who-Is-Lord-of-All.

Perhaps you are annoyed when you hear politicians parading their God in order to win votes. We have to make sure that we are not using our faith as a cover of respectability while ignoring the poor, mistreating those near and dear to us, parading our righteousness, or cheating God and his people by failing to pray, work, and give for the Kingdom. Lent exists for that purpose. We have to make sure that we know which Temple we serve: one which exists for our own selfish benefit, or one which exists for God.

And if we don’t repent? Watch out for that whip!

 

— Father Tony is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, and an examining chaplain to the Bishop of Northern Indiana.

God’s commandments can free us, 3 Lent (B) – 2009

March 15, 2009

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

One driver sticks post-it notes all over the dashboard of her car to make sure she remembers each errand. Kitchen calendars fill up with family appointments. Many cell phones now include calendars so their owners can have instant access to appointments that are too numerous to remember.

Chronic stress accompanies an increasing number of Americans who feel busy beyond measure. It’s a common problem for the current generation, even among the retired. People are so overwhelmed that one of the greatest luxuries of the twenty-first century is free time.

Busy-ness intrudes on all of us because we have so many opportunities. And because we want everything – and more. We have become slaves to what we desire, not what we need. We have become possessed by our activities – our getting and spending and doing. Isn’t that part of the malady that infects us during this difficult economic period? Living beyond our means? Materialism and greed? No boundaries to keep us in check?

Obviously, we need to re-set priorities and follow them.

A classic story about a business management consultant is instructive. The CEO of a large company stared failure in the face as he floundered, trying to pull his workforce out of a production tailspin. Swallowing his pride, he called in a consultant and said he would take any and all advice. The consultant asked the CEO to list what he did in the course of a normal week. Once this was done, she told the CEO to rank the list in priority. This took a while, but when it was finished, she told the CEO what he needed to do. “When you come to work, complete item number one before attending to item number two, and complete number two before going to number three. The next day, take out the list and start with number one again and repeat the process. Do the same each and every day. Don’t worry if you fail to reach lower items on your priority list. That’s it.”

The CEO tried it and turned the company around. He lived into his own priorities and his workforce followed.

Emulating this would be a good way for Christians to amplify their Lenten disciplines – setting priorities and following them rigorously. This might free us from the busy-ness and overindulgence that we have fallen subject to – that enslave us. Heeding today’s reading from Exodus would make that task easier.

The Ten Commandments begins with a reminder that it is God who first leads us from that which enslaves us. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, you shall have no other gods before me.”

God’s commandments can free us from the confinement of excessive busy-ness, too much wanting everything and more, obsession with our cravings and desires. God’s commandments lay out boundaries and help us set priorities by God’s standards.

Look at the list in your Prayer Book on pages 317 and 318. This stripped down list of ten priorities provides us with a time-honored but too-often-neglected guide for daily living. The Ten Commandments provide simplicity in the midst of too much complexity and busy-ness that often confounds us.

Furthermore, the Catechism, on pages 847 through 849 in the PrayerBook, helps us even further by grouping the ten into two basic priorities. First is our duty to believe and trust in God. Second is our duty to care for and respect our neighbors.

For the initial priority, simply said, we put God first and putting nothing in God’s place. The Catechism helps us understand deeper meanings of not making idols, not misusing God’s name, and keeping holy the Sabbath day.

We show love for God and obedience to him in “thought, word, and deed.” We set aside special time for reflection on “God’s ways” through worshipping with our fellow believers, and praying and studying about the things of God that are our priority.

For the second priority, simply said, we put our neighbors first. Again, the Catechism expands our understanding of honoring parents and refraining from murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and coveting what is our neighbor’s.

We “love, honor, and help our parents” and others who exercise just authority. It is a partnership, for the sake of God, with those who teach us and lead us into the way of Christ. We respect the created order of humanity by accepting the righteous reality God has made. We honor human life, deplore war, work for peace, rid our hearts of hatred and malice, and seek to become one with what God has created.

We “use all bodily desires as God intended,” remaining faithful in human relationships. We deal with others honestly and fairly, and we work for justice in the world around us and far off. We seek freedom whether it does not exist. We share the precious resources of this planet and do not horde unnecessary surplus when others stand in need.

We do not simply refrain from lying, but we exercise the courage to tell the truth. We are careful “not to mislead others by our silence.” We resist the all-too-human temptation to have what is not ours. We guard against desires that lead us to “envy, greed, and jealousy.” Rather, we look with happiness and thanksgiving at the success of others and what they possess.

In the process of living into these commandments, we continue to expand this view and uncover for ourselves, in the particularities of our lives, the richness of what each means.

The list of Ten Commandments need not complicate our thinking, because each is a part of one whole: duty to and love for God and fellow human beings.

Our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us of this. We recall this teaching in the Penitential Order in our Prayer Book, so appropriate for Lent:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Here’s the place to grab onto the management consultant’s advice. At the beginning of each day, let’s lay aside or our calendars and day planners and lists of things to do. Rather, let us turn to this top item on our list of priorities, loving God and loving neighbor, and tend to it before we move on to the next thing.

Then maybe our problem of busy-ness, our rush to fulfill so many wants and desires, will cease to make us anxious, and the success of our personal lives will be secured.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

Covenant relationship, 3 Lent (B) – 2006

March 19, 2006

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:7-14; Romans 7:13-25; John 2:13-22

The giving of the Ten Commandments is read every Lenten season. In some churches the Commandments are read as a preparation for the Confession of Sin during penitential seasons. Recently they have been in the news, as legal battles have been fought over whether they can be displayed in public courthouses without violating the Constitutional separation of Church and State.

The Commandments need to be seen in a larger context, as part of God’s covenant with God’s people. The passage in Exodus that we read today is the conclusion of God inviting Moses up to the mountain and then agreeing to address the people of the Exodus directly, albeit cloaked in thunder, fire, and smoke.

Even amidst the noise and fear of God’s speaking, the reader is struck by how passionately God cares for the people and how much God’s desire to have a relationship with them shapes the giving of the Commandments. These aren’t just the house rules of a stern parent, they are the terms of relationship for God’s people who are loved and cared for by their creator. It’s almost as though God is saying, “Look, I know what will make you miserable, and here are ten things to avoid that will keep you from misery.”

By the time of Jesus’ ministry, a whole system had been put in place to uphold the Law and help people who break it find a way back to a right relationship with God. The faithful loved God’s law, recited it and its application night and day. In addition, a sacrificial system had been developed so people can offer the proper sacrifice at the Temple and have their relationship with God restored.

Part of that sacrifice involved purchasing ritually clean animals. Since Roman currency was considered idolatrous because it was stamped with the image of Caesar, one had to exchange Roman currency for Temple money to purchase the sacrificial offerings. Anybody who has traveled and changed currency knows the moneychangers always get a fee, and that was exacted on the Temple steps.

Jesus saw this practice for what it was: an unnecessary barrier between God and the children of God. He saw the poor having to borrow money in order to purchase the animals of sacrifice. He heard the arguing and fretting over whether the moneychangers were charging a fair exchange. And he’d had enough. He singled out a table or two, and drove out the dove sellers and the money changers. Two interesting points: One, Jesus didn’t get arrested for doing this; and two, in John’s account this event took place at the beginning of his public ministry, where the other gospels place it at the end.

Regardless of placement in the gospels, the results are the same: controversy. Commentators remark that Jesus wanted to eliminate the system that kept God and the people of God apart, while enriching the pockets of some at the expense of the poor. The new temple will be, in fact, Jesus himself, the crucified and risen Lord, who will replace the building and its sacrificial system. People will no longer need to rehearse sacrificial piety in order to be in a righteous relationship with God. Jesus, the new temple, will make that possible forever.

So, the link between the giving of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ passionate love for the people of God is a covenant relationship, one in which God desires to show us love and makes it possible for us to be in a loving relationship with our creator. The giving of the Commandments and the cleansing of the temple are both acts of love that remove barriers we create between God and ourselves.

Today as we worship in places that are deeply special to us, we might reflect on the barriers we have created that could separate people from God in worship. Is our church welcoming? Barrier free? Do we offer hospitality to guests and strangers? When we pass the offering plate, do we announce that guests are not expected to give because they are our guests today? Do we take strangers to the coffee hour and make sure they are introduced? In what ways might we better become a place where anyone seeking God might feel they are welcome, safe, and free to enter?

Finally, in our relationships with others, do we try to remove barriers that keep us and them from the love of God? Do we by our witness and speech imply that somehow we have achieved a place that might not be open to them? Where are the money changing tables in our worship, mission, and personal evangelism? And if we can’t see them, let us ask Jesus to show them to us and help remove them, so that all that we do might create a place for anyone seeking to renew their relationship with God.

— The Rev. Ben E. Helmer is currently serving as Diocesan Chaplain to staff, clergy, and caregivers in the Diocese of Louisiana. Until December of 2005 he served as a Congregational Development staff member at the Episcopal Church Center.