Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Wisdom to Act Courageously

sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

Our reading from the Book of Wisdom today presents us with the middle of a long rhapsody on the works of Holy Wisdom throughout the Genesis stories. Today we hear about Wisdom at work in the lives of Jacob and then his son Joseph. Earlier in the chapter, we hear recaps of the stories of Adam, Cain, Noah, Abraham, and Lot, and it continues from here to tell the story of Moses. The point is that Holy Wisdom has continued to work through human beings ever since, including you and me, granting us the wisdom we need to be courageous in our actions.

The psalmist speaks of the kinds of actions we need to take that might require such courage: “Save the weak and orphan; defend the humble and needy; rescue the weak and poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.” Furthermore, the psalmist expresses real urgency in God’s judgment of us when we do not act: “How long will you judge unjustly, and show favor to the wicked?”

In my experience, the Christian life should be an epic adventure. Yet we live in a time and place where many of us don’t have to be adventurous if we don’t want to be. Many of us have the option to carve out a rather easy life for ourselves and not worry about those whose situation in life won’t allow them this privilege. I think it’s a form of entropy—meaning to develop courage, but never actually doing it. It takes a lot of effort to resist such entropy.

William Lloyd Garrison
image from

Today we honor two people who definitely did not carve out an easy life for themselves. They were heroes of the 19th-century anti-slavery movement: a white man, William Lloyd Garrison, and a black woman, Maria Stewart. Garrison was the founder of the anti-slavery newspaper called The Liberator. Stewart was the first African-American woman to make public speeches and lectures against slavery in America.

Garrison insisted that slavery should be abolished immediately, and that former slave owners should receive absolutely no recompense for their slaves’ release. Why should we financially compensate people, he asked, for perpetuating such deplorable sin? The Liberator was an extremely popular paper; even the White House carried a subscription.

One occasional contributor to The Liberator was Maria Stewart, a free black woman who, shortly after her husband’s premature death, experienced a religious conversion and committed herself not only to the anti-slavery movement, but also to fighting systemic racism against free blacks in the north. It was not enough to abolish slavery, but also to insist on the absolute equality of all people. To relegate all free blacks to servants’ jobs was to waste the intellectual capacities of millions of Americans. Despite her eloquence and power, Stewart stressed that she was not well educated—that she, too, was a victim of American racism in her lack of opportunity. She claimed that her inspiration came not from any particular skills she had attained, but directly from God. She herself put it this way in 1832:
Methinks there are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance—no fetters so binding as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge. O, had I received the advantages of early education, my ideas would, ere now, have expanded far and wide; but, alas! I possess nothing but moral capability—no teachings but the teachings of the Holy spirit.[1]
Maria Stewart
image from
Maria Stewart was the first American woman to speak to a mixed audience of white and black men and women. She also worked for women’s rights. And during these years she occasionally penned essays for The Liberator. But after only three years of public speaking, she gave it up. One day in 1833, when speaking at Boston’s African Masonic Lodge, she opined that black men lacked “ambition and requisite courage.”[2] Her comment caused such an uproar of negativity that she decided to go back to teaching, a sad end to a very exciting ministry.
These days, we have laws that are meant to prevent racism from oppressing people. Those who espouse truly racist attitudes have to find more subtle ways to act on them that don’t attract quite as much notice, while deniable, unexamined racism is also a real issue. So I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like to fight something as ubiquitous as slavery in America 200 years ago. It’s hard to imagine now that to be against slavery was once a radical issue. And no doubt, many times, both Garrison and Stewart heard these words: “Look, we understand your good intentions, but can’t you tone it down a little? Can’t we take baby steps? Slavery is the economic backbone of the south. Do you have any idea how much damage it would do to the economy to just end it?”
To Garrison, such economic worries mattered not a whit in the face of a situation so obviously and deeply immoral. In the first issue of The Liberator, Garrison made his agenda known in no uncertain terms, as follows:
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.[3]
Despite his strong language, Garrison rejected violence as a means of freeing slaves. Still, his critics viewed him as a dangerous inciter because he was so unyielding.
In 1963, with the work of Garrison and Stewart still going on in new ways, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote from a Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When criticized for causing tension, King wrote, “There is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” And when it was suggested to King that fighting racism was merely a matter of individual people’s choices, he wrote, “Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”[4]
King’s words still ring true today. When I imagine myself living 200 years ago, and I try to strike from the record all of our history since then, I cannot help but wonder what I would think of Garrison and Stewart, even if I found their views compelling. Would I not stand with those who were calling for them to tone it down, to take it slowly, to be patient as God is patient? I’m ashamed to say it, but I probably would. And when I think of Maria Stewart, who had the courage to challenge those who were normally her most ardent supporters, I’m reminded that prophets are not typically welcomed in their hometown. Speaking God’s truth, especially when there are detractors on both sides, can be very costly indeed.
How does all this sit with you today? When you hear a story of Jesus healing a woman immediately—not next week, not in a few decades, but right now—what does that stir in you? When you hear that the wisdom of God dwells in you and enables you to do courageous things today—what are those courageous things? What words of wisdom is God speaking into your heart today? And what will you do about them? Amen. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

John and His Allies

sermon preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
The Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014

In our Collect today—that is, in the prayer towards the beginning of the service that sums up our intentions for gathering in worship on this particular occasion—we heard this: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.”

“We are sorely hindered by our sins.” And so we ask for grace and mercy. This is our purpose in gathering on this, the third Sunday in Advent, and it is a vulnerable thing to say. Saying it in communal worship makes it easier, I suppose, but it can also distance us from the effect of the words. Let’s not do that today. Let’s lean into the discomfort of our sins a little. The challenge of the Christian life is not to never, ever fall short. Rather, it is to repent and start again.

Remember record stores?
Friends, I want to tell you today about the first time I came face to face with racism in me. Twenty years ago I was an assistant manager at a record store in Seattle’s Southcenter Mall, and I found myself eyeing black customers with more suspicion than white customers. We moved the hip hop CDs near the register to keep an eye on them. Over the course of a year, every single shoplifter we caught was black. And then it finally hit me: Whatever other shoplifters there may have been, we didn’t catch them because we weren’t looking for them.

Furthermore, I hadn’t even begun to ask the question, “Why do people shoplift?” They were the bad guys, and I was supposed to stop them. But if there's one thing Jesus has taught me, it's that the world isn’t cleanly split into good guys and bad guys. Yes, it is wrong to shoplift. But what is the larger story, and how does my place in the system guarantee that I do not immediately comprehend it? On that day, I saw clearly the racism in myself.

Theologian Karl Barth once said that he prepared his Sunday sermons by taking “the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.” There’s lots of discomfort to be found there. And I could give you a laundry list of social ills, but that would be to spread the discomfort around and thus mitigate it too soon. Instead, on this day when we hear from John the Baptist, I want to talk very plainly about race. Because when it comes to race in America, “we are sorely hindered by our sins.”

I am not saying that we are all a bunch of racists. But sin is not just about actions that we choose to do. It is also about what we don't do, and about the systems that we are a part of. When it comes to issues of race, we Americans are still hindered by our history, by our habits, and by what we allow to happen. From the very beginning, “all men are created equal” meant no such thing. While we claim to value diversity, our schools, churches, and neighborhoods are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s. We want to see police as those who protect and serve. But in black neighborhoods, most everybody knows someone who has been treated unjustly by law enforcement. And today, all around our country, protesters are calling us to repentance.

Wait. Whom are they calling to repentance? Surely not us, right here in this room! Well, the presenting issue is police behavior. Protesters are calling our nation’s police departments to higher standards of accountability, and that’s a pretty clear-cut goal. But all of this is part of a much larger conversation that has been going on for centuries, and while I'd like to say that we cannot avoid being a part of it, that's not actually true.

Now I know that I’m talking to a room full of people who hate racism and want it gone. And most of us in this room are white. Though our ancestors may have come from a variety of countries, when I pass someone on the street who is a different color from me, that person does not see me as a mix of German and Swiss and English; such differences are not relevant in that moment. In America, we are seen as white. So whatever it means to be white, whether we like it or not, we bring this quality to all our encounters with strangers.

Chris Rock
image from
Biologists tell us that race is a social construct, and that's true. But our ancestors did construct it, and so we have to deal with the consequences. It’s only been a few decades since Italians, Greeks, and Jews in our country were categorized as “black.” Comedian Chris Rock recently said, “When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense ... White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”[1] Indeed. A recent study by the FBI shows that every three or four days in the U.S., a black man is killed by a white police officer.[2] That’s not because every one of these individuals, criminal or not, deserved summary execution without judge or jury. Therefore we know that the situation for black Americans is rife with injustice.

Another case in point: if you raised kids, did you at any point have The Talk with them? I don’t mean The Talk about sex. I mean The Talk about what to say and do when the police pull you over without cause, and what concrete steps you might take to try to ensure your survival. Did you know that black American parents have to have that Talk with their sons? Until Trayvon Martin was killed, I had never heard of it. It was at that time, too, that NPR asked people to send in six-word essays about their reaction to Trayvon Martin’s death. One of them resonated so strongly that I knew I still had a lot of work to do. It read: “Angry black men are so scary.”

Friends, we need to listen to the voices of African-Americans today. Our town of Bellingham is 88% white, and our congregation of St. Paul’s is, at a glance, more than 95% white. Is this something to be ashamed of? No, but it’s crucial to be aware of it as we proceed. To be white in the Pacific Northwest means that we don’t even have to think about race if we don’t want to. This is an example of what has become known as “white privilege”—the ability to look at a situation involving race and to say, “I don’t choose to think about that today.”

Blogger Franchesca Ramsey speaks to people’s concern over the term “white privilege.” She explains, “Privilege does not mean that you are rich, that you’ve had an easy life, that everything’s been handed to you and you’ve never had to struggle or work hard. All it means is that there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about, just because of who you are.”[3] So understanding my privilege means admitting, “I have never been in your shoes, and I will not ever be. My stories are not your stories.” It’s a call to listen before speaking.

Hey! I made a meme!
John the Baptist came to preach a baptism of repentance, and to announce the coming of the anointed one. John wasn’t criticizing all Jews. He was criticizing hypocritical behavior among his fellow Jews, and many of those hypocrites came out in droves to hear him speak. In the same way, the protests around our country today are not a condemnation of all police officers, or of all white people. They are a call to open our eyes to things happening in our country today and in our very selves, so that we can be of use in efforts to chip away at the evil of racism.

Franchesca Ramsey
image from
Franchesca Ramsey gives five tips for being an ally in the fight against racism. First, understand your privilege. I’ve found that this is a pretty touchy subject for a lot of us white folks, so I hope we’ll continue to have conversations about it at St. Paul’s. In short, understanding white privilege is not about feeling guilty or ashamed for being the color we are. It’s about accepting that there is a whole reality that is all but invisible to us, and then choosing our actions based on this knowledge.

Ramsey’s second tip is to listen and do your homework. There are always more stories to hear. I’ve been reading a lot of opinion pieces and blog posts, and I also have books I can recommend on Christianity and race. I think the most important thing here is to accept that our good intentions will often go awry if they are not well fed with the stories of many people other than ourselves.

Third, speak up, not over. We’ve seen this step ignored quite a bit since the Ferguson decision. When the slogan “Black Lives Matter” began to emerge, white America was quick to rush in with a counter-slogan: “ALL Lives Matter.” Well, yes, that’s true, but it is implied in the first slogan, and that’s not what we were talking about anyway. This is a classic example of speaking over—saying, “Yes, I know you’re trying to say something true, but I can say something truer.” We rush to place the specific story into a larger narrative, and this comes from our discomfort at being called out. But if it’s not our own story, we need to let it be.

Step four is this: You’ll make mistakes; apologize when you do. About five years ago a friend of mine wrote something on Facebook about discrimination she had experienced. I stepped into the conversation and proceeded to make it all about me, speaking right over her. Now, I meant well. I thought I was being a good ally by saying, “I can relate to that!” But she helped me see that I was belittling her experience, so I apologized and went back to listening. That was the beginning of my education in being an ally.

Finally, writes Ramsey, saying you’re an ally is not enough. It’s not about slapping on a bumper sticker. It’s about actually putting ourselves on the line. For some of us, that may mean marching in protests. For others, it may mean speaking clearly and firmly to that one really racist relative. Being an ally takes both humility and courage—kind of like being a Christian.

John himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John taught that justice and liberation are what God intends for God’s people. John spoke up until Jesus showed up. And then John didn’t speak over Jesus. He baptized him. But make no mistake: by hearing these words and by engaging in conversation about them, not only are we are not the Messiah, but we are not even John the Baptist. John the Baptist is protesting in Ferguson and in many other cities around our nation today, calling for greater police accountability, as John actually did at one point in Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:14). But John the Baptist is also pointing beyond himself to someone greater.

Today, I invite you to join me at the river Jordan. Let’s pay close attention to this man named John. Let’s long for release from the way our sins hinder us, that we may make room for new birth. Christ is coming to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. When we speak about race, let us speak of the hope that God’s Kingdom will be born in us. Let’s continue that conversation together. As we examine ourselves, do our homework, and learn when to speak and when to listen, we wait and we work for that redeemed world. Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. Amen.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't Miss the Mystery

"A King is coming, but he is not the kind of king that people thought was coming. This King had no army, no great house, and no riches. The King was a baby who was born in a barn.

"The King who was coming is still coming. This is full of mystery. You know, a mystery is hard to enter sometimes. That is why this time of Advent is so important. Sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. This time of year you will see people hurrying in the malls buying things and doing this and that, but they will miss the Mystery. They don't know how to get ready ... or maybe they just forgot."

- Jerome Berryman's Godly Play story for children, First Sunday in Advent


"Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

- Mark 13:35-37


Shhh. Slow down. Quiet. It's not Christmas yet ... not by a long shot. It's Advent. Don't rush through it! Don't miss the mystery.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Edmund, King of East Anglia

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

In the late ninth century, the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were invaded by the Great Heathen Army of Denmark—well, at least, their enemies called them that. They called themselves the Great Viking Army. Either way, this “great army” swept into Britain under the leadership of Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless. (Did you know that? I didn’t.) They took over a giant swath of the island, including the little country of East Anglia, where Edmund was king.

Edmund of Anglia was probably a real king, and he was probably martyred in this invasion. Other than that, most of the information we have about Edmund is hearsay from an Archbishop of Canterbury 90 years later, who heard it from someone who claimed to be Edmund’s armor bearer, so … you know. Grain of salt. But Edmund became universally loved in that part of the country, his fame peaking about forty to fifty years after his death, when coins honoring him became very popular.

The story goes that Edmund came to the throne at the age of 15, but the invasion didn’t take place until he was 29. Two Danish Vikings named Hinguar and Hubba, whose force of men had been burning, looting and plundering the countryside, offered to share the loot with Edmund if he would renounce his faith, ban Christianity, and act as their puppet king.  Edmund refused, choosing to fight the invading force instead. Though he fought valiantly, he was captured, tortured, beaten, shot through with arrows, and beheaded. Edmund’s traditional site of burial is a place now called Bury St. Edmunds.

You know, every November, as our weekly Bible readings turn gloomy and dark, I wind up preaching a lot about death and what it might mean to prepare for it. The feasts of martyrs inevitably turn our thoughts in this direction as well. I wonder what Edmund did throughout his life to prepare for the moment of his death. I wonder what I am doing, and what you are doing.

Do you ever wonder how you would react if your life were threatened on account of your Christian faith? I sure have. But we don’t even need to get that extreme. When faced with a crisis, whether life-threatening or not, what is the source of the strength you need to overcome it?

The first letter of Peter instructs us to be ready at all times to give an accounting for the hope that is in us—that is, a defense of our faith—maybe the “elevator speech” I mentioned last week. Yet Jesus’ promise in Matthew’s gospel says something rather like the opposite. Jesus counsels us not to worry too much in advance about a situation like this. Rather, we are to live our lives knowing that we are in the presence of God, and this is what will prepare us in ways that we can’t begin to understand now. In the same way, it is not running a marathon that enables us to run marathons—it is the exercise we do in the weeks, months, and years leading up to it. Moments of crisis—including martyrdom—work the same way.

Jesus counsels his disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” It seems that most people prefer to be one or the other—shrewd, or sheltered. I don’t know how shrewd Edmund was. It sounds like the Great Heathen Army was not something that could be avoided, and as Edmund learned, it could not be appeased except through moral concessions that the king was not willing to make. So whether wise or innocent or both, Edmund came to a moment of decision, and he chose to stick to his principles. He decided that it was not acceptable for him to fold under pressure.

I have a friend who came to her bus stop one day and saw a man and a woman there. The man was aggravated about something. He took the woman’s scarf off her neck and started beating her across the face with it. My friend acknowledged that she was afraid, but she knew something had to be done. She stepped up to the man and said, “Hey, are we going to have a problem here?” Immediately the man shrank back and began to make excuses: “I’ve had a very bad day.” The woman said nothing, but she was visibly upset and crying. A large, burly man stepped up behind my friend to support her, and that helped her feel bolder.

Eventually the bus came, and everybody got on board. The man and the woman didn’t look at each other at all; the woman sat on the edge of her seat as if she wished she could be anywhere else. My friend was the first to get off the bus.

As she told me the story, and she wondered: “Did I do the right thing?” It bugged her for days: “What should I have done differently? I didn’t know what to say, so I just said things. I wasn’t prepared for anything like that.”

I replied, “But you were prepared, and you know that because you acted. Something prepared you. The sum total of your life experiences prepared you in some way to choose to do the courageous thing instead of the easy thing.” My interpretation is that the Holy Spirit gave her exactly the words that were needed.

My friend went on: “I just hope I didn’t make things worse for the woman later on, when the two of them are alone.” I commended my friend’s bravery and sensitivity, and I acknowledged that she was right: we don’t know. But we can never know all the consequences of our actions. We can only do what we believe to be right, and often that’s the courageous thing instead of the easy thing. And when it comes to those we’re not likely to cross paths with ever again on this side of the grave, well … we can pray for them as often as we like.

It’s a small example. It’s not martyrdom. But I’m glad my friend stood up to the man, sending him a clear message. She gave an accounting of the hope that is in her: that the world should be different than it is. Nobody should never have to cower in fear. Such a world is not OK and must not be allowed to go unchallenged. There was no excuse for this man’s violent behavior.

I remember times in my own life when I have succeeded or failed at doing the courageous thing. I remember failing completely to call out words of blatant racism. On another occasion, I remember hearing misogynistic language and not letting it go, but giving my account in no uncertain terms. So today I want to commend to all of us the courage of King Edmund of East Anglia, and also of my friend at the bus stop. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Elizabeth of Hungary

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

Have you ever seen the film Schindler’s List? One part of the film (among many) that will always stick with me is that at the end, the people attempt to honor Oskar Schindler for saving so many Jews from certain death in the Holocaust. But all Schindler can do is obsess over the millions of people whose lives he did not manage to save. All he can do is wish that he had done more.

I thought about Oskar Schindler when I read about Princess Elizabeth of Hungary. Born in 1207 as the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary in what is now Slovakia, Elizabeth was married at the age of 14 to King Louis IV of Thuringia in modern-day Germany. She became a mother of three. Her lifelong concern for the poor and sick attracted her to the order of Franciscans she met in 1223, from whom she received spiritual direction.

Elizabeth’s husband Ludwig allowed her to use her dowry money for almsgiving. She even sold all her jewelry to establish a hospital, and she fed the sick from the royal grain reserves. One story has it that Elizabeth placed a leper in the bed she shared with her husband. Ludwig was prepared to be furious about this, but when he pulled back the sheets, he saw a vision of the crucified Christ lying there instead.

Only six years into their marriage, Ludwig died, and the royal court, aggravated by Elizabeth’s record of extravagantly giving away the royal treasure, sent her and her children away. Elizabeth became the first of the third-order Franciscans and spent the rest of her short life caring for the sick and needy. She died at the tender age of 24, having exhausted herself to death.

So Elizabeth was a master at caring for others while failing to care for herself. Is this the sort of behavior for which we canonize people as saints? Well … yes, so it would seem.

Our readings today encourage us to give generously to those who have less. You will hear our text from Matthew again in church this coming Sunday. It is, for Matthew, the culmination of Jesus’ teaching: whatever kindness you do for another person is kindness you do to Christ. In fact, those who are saved on the last day are precisely those who have done the work of caring for others. Elizabeth took that teaching so seriously that she died for it.

The Book of Tobit raises almsgiving to a status higher than prayer and fasting, and it counsels that those who give alms will live “a full life.” Well, Elizabeth of Hungary lived a full life and died at 24.

Meanwhile, today’s psalm credits God with caring for widows and orphans. This is just what God does. So to what degree is the work up to us? We may say, “If we don’t take care of the poor and sick, nobody will.” This is true, for we are to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. But is it up to each one of us to care for all the poor and the sick? Even Jesus didn’t cure everybody he encountered.

Did Elizabeth need to work so hard to secure her salvation? No. But in a medieval world that gave women so few options for personal fulfillment, Elizabeth’s actions could only be seen as heroic. I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and urge Elizabeth to take a vacation.

Oskar Schindler wished he had worked harder; how many more might he have saved then? Elizabeth worked too hard. How many more might she had saved if only she had stepped away to take care of herself every now and then? We can see that playing either game is fruitless. One of our post-Eucharistic prayers asks God to “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

The idea of self-preservation as a condition for service to God might not have made any sense to Elizabeth. It may well be that she worked herself to death simply because she could do no other. So today we honor Elizabeth of Hungary for her single-minded dedication to living the gospel: to feeding, clothing, and welcoming all the people God placed under her care. Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Elevator Speech

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

The Rev. Charles Simeon
(form Wikimedia)
Charles Simeon, a young undergrad entering Cambridge in 1779, prepared to receive communion for the first time. He was given as preparation material a 17th-century tract called The Whole Duty of Man, a document that taught him he could only receive the sacrament if he scrupulously followed God’s laws. He became depressed and discouraged at this theology, as he heard in it that it was all up to him to make himself worthy before Christ—and he knew himself to be a sinner.

Later that year Simeon was given a different document, Instructions for the Lord’s Supper by Bishop Thomas Wilson. The theology here reassured him that by no amount of good works could make himself worthy before Christ, but that Christ, in his sacrifice, had done all the work necessary to reconcile him. In this theology Simeon experienced true salvation, and it inspired him to become a priest, preacher, and evangelist. Upon his ordination, Simeon was given the congregation of Trinity Church, Cambridge, and he held that post for the rest of his life—over 50 years.

In the early 19th century, Simeon became known as the leader of the evangelical movement in England, spreading the good news of Christ. He was a great supporter of English missionaries worldwide. The historian William Lecky said of him and as friends in the evangelical movement that “they gradually changed the whole spirit of the English Church. They infused into it a new fire and passion of devotion, kindled a spirit of fervent philanthropy, raised the standard of clerical duty, and completely altered the whole tone and tendency of the preaching of its ministers.”[1] Indeed, his preaching is what Simeon is most remembered for, and he published sermon outlines in order to assist many other priests in crafting their own sermons. Simeon was, to his core, an effective communicator.

Last weekend a group of us represented St. Paul’s at Diocesan Convention, our annual gathering of all the congregations and ministries of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington. The theme was “So That All Might See Jesus.” One presentation we heard was the concluding report from a task force that has met for the last two years, a task force that included our own Brad Howard. They called themselves Outside Church Walls.

Of the wisdom they taught us about how we Episcopalians can bring the church to people outside the range of our church walls, the one that stuck with me most was this: Episcopalians tend to be great and “what” and “how,” but not so hot on “why.” Why do we come to church? Why do we get involved in ministries here and elsewhere? Why do we pray? What is behind all this? What does it do for us, anyway? In short, they said, if someone asked you, in an elevator, “Why are you a Christian?,” would you be able to give a compelling answer before one or both of you leaves the elevator? What is your elevator speech? If we can’t explain to others why we are Christians, we certainly can’t expect them to understand us, let alone join us in our joyful faith and work.

I decided to tweet my own response from the convention floor. After all, limiting myself to 140 characters seemed like a great way to get my speech down to elevator length. I worked with language I had thought through before. And here’s what I came up with:

I am a Christian because Jesus says, “Love. It'll hurt; it might even kill you. But believe me, it's the only thing that works.”

Charles Simeon learned from his experience with dueling confirmation preparation tracts how important it is to communicate well, so as not to mislead people into impoverished theology. He preached simple, straightforward sermons—certainly nothing short enough for a tweet, but his preaching resonated because it spoke to people where they were, putting them on the spot to clarify the essence of their faith.

In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus putting Peter on the spot, and using his birth name: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Hidden in the English text but clear in the Greek is the fact that in Peter’s answers, he tries to wiggle out of the question. In essence, Jesus asks Peter whether Peter gives his entire self to Jesus, heart, mind, body, and soul, and unconditionally so. But Peter replies that he maintains a strong liking of Jesus that could certainly be called love—a dedication, to be sure, but more like dedication to a best friend than dedication to the divine. Jesus asks him again and receives the same waffling reply.

Finally, Jesus changes his language to match Peter’s: all he asks is whatever dedication Peter can muster, and Peter, probably in tears, confirms that this is what he can give. But we know that Peter will not stay stuck in that lesser love. He will give the rest of his life obeying Jesus’ commands: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” He will even give himself to Jesus in his martyrdom.

Jesus loves us, this we know. And Jesus will always meet us right where we are. But he loves us too much to let us stay there. Jesus keeps calling us into the kind of life in which there will always become more of us to give to others, not less of us to protect from harm. Jesus teaches us as he taught Peter: “Love. It'll hurt; it might even kill you. But believe me, it's the only thing that works.”

With that in mind, what is your elevator speech? I’m going to ask you right now, in fact. Imagine that we’re in an elevator. And let’s just start with one word or phrase. If you could boil your faith down to one word or phrase—knowing that this is not at all a fair representation of your entire faith, but knowing you have to start somewhere—what word or phrase would you be certain not to leave out?


This week, work with that word or phrase. Develop it into a tweet if you like—a 140-character limit. Or go a couple sentences longer, but not more than that. Be focused and dedicated to giving a compelling answer, not a waffling answer. Speak the deepest joys of your heart. Be prepared to answer the question, “Why are you a Christian?”


[1] Biographical details and quote from Holy Women, Holy Men (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2010), 676.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27), November 9, 2014

Every year in the weeks leading up to the season of Advent, things seem to be ending and falling apart. Running through all of our readings today is a sense of urgency coupled with a strong wish to reassure. We hear Paul's words to the Thessalonians, who have formed a joyful Christian community. One assumption of the early church was that since Jesus had risen from the dead, the end of the world must be near. I imagine the people were so overwhelmed by this unprecedented divine action that they felt there must not be much history left.

Paul counsels the Thessalonians not to worry about the end of the world, but just to continue to live joyously and generously with everyone. And it’s just as well, because Paul and all the other evangelists were mistaken: two thousand years later, the universe continues to unfold. Yes, to each one of us does, indeed, come an end. But Paul reassures his hearers with a compelling vision of the dead being reunited with the living. In the past 200 years many Christians have tried to conflate Paul’s vision and other Bible passages into a blow-by-blow account of what will happen when the world ends … completely missing Paul’s point, in my opinion, which was not to worry about such things.

image from
And then in Matthew's gospel, Jesus, in the final days of his life, is also trying to get across an urgent message: "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." What were the earliest Christians waiting for? And considering all our science and everything we have learned since then, are we still waiting for the same thing in 2014? It's a fair question. But we know we can ask, right along with the Thessalonians, "If Christ is risen and has destroyed death, why are people still dying?"

Like the disciples, and like the Thessalonians, we also live in the in-between. We live in the knowledge that the Kingdom of God is at hand but is not fully realized in our timeline. We wait for "the coming of the Lord," the Greek word for which is parousia. It's the same word that would have been used to describe the ceremonial arrival of a king, or as in today's parable, the ceremonial arrival of a bridegroom. We hear of ten bridesmaids who have been invited to this wedding banquet. But it's a very strange story.

A little bit of cultural background is helpful. Assumed is the tradition that the bridesmaids are waiting at the home of the bride's family, but the party will be held at the home of the groom. Momentarily--or so they believe--the groom will arrive to pick up the wedding party, who will escort the happy newlyweds, by lamplight, to the groom's house and to a grand banquet. But the groom still hasn't shown up -- where on earth is he? In the bridegroom’s late arrival, we catch the anxiety of the early Christians of Matthew's community waiting for Jesus to come back and set the world right. Ever since, we in the church have been the bridesmaids; can we really be blamed for dozing off after 2000 years? And then we have to figure out what to make of the distinction between “wise” and “foolish” bridesmaids.

Five of these girls have brought oil for their lamps. They are prepared for a long wait: Episcopal priest and author Robert Farrar Capon describes them as dragging along giant Clorox bottles full of lamp oil; he also imagines them to be a gaggle of giggly fourteen-year-olds. Now, in what world do five out of ten teenagers plan ahead so painstakingly? Yet these over-prepared bridesmaids are vindicated as the wise ones in this parable. Meanwhile, the other five girls have brought whatever oil is currently in their lamps, but no extra. They have the minimum ... if that.

All the bridesmaids start in the same boat: adolescent girls on their way to a party, excited to be seen in their pretty dresses, chatting gaily away as the night wears on, and finally sacking out as if this has become a slumber party. Are they concerned about when the bridegroom will arrive? Maybe, or maybe they're just enjoying each other's company. But when the foolish girls realize they will not have enough oil for the procession itself--the whole reason they're in the wedding party to begin with -- the wise girls refuse to share their own oil, for there might not be enough, and at least some of the girls need to process, right? So they send their friends away to buy more. Will the girls find, somewhere in ancient Judea, a 24-hour convenience store ready to sell lamp oil at midnight? We never find out. But either way, the "foolish" bridesmaids miss the procession completely. And when they finally make it to the groom's house and ask to be let in, they hear the chilling words, "I do not know you.”

None of the girls is punished for falling asleep; they have all fallen asleep. And nobody is punished for not having enough oil, at least not directly. But it's like going on a business trip without the laptop that contains your presentation, and then missing your plane in order to retrieve it. It's like realizing you don't have bus fare, and then leaving to get change just before the bus arrives. If you're not there when the bus comes, nothing else matters. If you miss your plane, you don't get to do any presentation, no matter how ill-prepared.

Time waits for no girl. But what were they doing earlier in the day? Getting dressed up. Getting their hair and nails done. Sure, all of them wanted to look really fetching. But five of the girls stopped and realized, "I have a job to do at this party. I am one of those who are escorting the bride and groom to their home. If I don't have enough oil for my lamp, there's no point in my being there." Perhaps the other five girls merely thought, "I can't wait to be seen at this party! Maybe that one boy will be there--ooh, I hope so! He's so cute!"

Theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann pointed out that eschatology--the theology of the end--is not so much about endings, but beginnings. Even so, to each one of us does, indeed, come an end. The hour of the party will arrive, but in this moment, right now, we have time to decide whether and how to get ready. Life is a series of closing doors. But the closing of doors is what gives shape to the lives we live. No matter how many things we wind up not doing, we are privileged to get to do so much! Life is, to some degree, about preparing for death without feeling defeated by it--about preparing our lamps for the inevitable moment when we must step out into the darkness in the hope of processing to a big party.

So maybe the oil has something to do with how we choose to spend our time while we wait for Christ's return, whatever that return might mean. Our call from Christ is to love--to love freely and without reservation. Are we practicing? Are we developing the disciplines of patience and forbearance and mercy and forgiveness that mature love cannot flourish without? To be sure, it's not our works that save us, and indeed, we have all received our invitations to the wedding banquet. The host wants us all there--every one of us! But when we get there, will we find that we're able to perform the functions we're asked to perform?

Worse still, if the bridegroom arrives and finds us unprepared, will we face him and admit to our failure? Or will we forget how loving and insistent that original invitation was? Will we scramble at the last second to make ourselves worthy for the banquet all on our own, and only after yet another round of pigheaded insistence on self-reliance come crawling back and beg to be let in? In so doing, we would demonstrate that we haven’t learned a thing about love or forgiveness, because we don’t even recognize our own need for it. Indeed, the host may not recognize us at all.

And so the question I want to ask today is this: What would have happened if the five unprepared girls had not left to buy more oil? Maybe, just maybe, if they had been willing to admit embarrassed defeat, the best man would have said to one of the groomsmen, "Hey, get these girls some oil. They can't process like this!" It may even be that the one wise thing those five wise bridesmaids actually did was to be there when the procession left. Maybe when it came time to go out into the darkness, they would have been shocked to discover just how much light had been provided for them. I don't know. It's a parable, not an allegory -- so we get to play with it a bit!

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
(image from
I heard a story once about a little boy whose mother committed suicide. The family’s congregation wondered how best to minister to the boy. In Sunday school the week after her death they happened to tell this very story, using Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a curriculum similar to our own Godly Play. Later the boy was working with the storytelling materials, which included a house ready for a banquet, five little figures with lit lamps, and five with unlit lamps. He processed the five with lit lamps into the house and positioned them at the windows, looking out. The door shut. Then he took one of girls with an unlit lamp and had her peek into each and every window, one at a time. Finally, the door opened, and the unprepared girl entered the party. The boy explained to his teacher, “She didn’t have a light. But they let her in anyway.”

It may be that there are those who, like the five wise bridesmaids, are perfectly prepared for Christ's return. I pray that I may count myself among them. But if not, I pray that at least I won't run away and hide. Our trust in our creator, redeemer, and sustainer must be such that we can be there to hear the words: "There you are! I created you, but you squandered your existence. I redeemed you, yet even in that knowledge you acted selfishly. I sustained you, but you were still unprepared. Nevertheless, you are here now, and I know and love you. Please, please ... come in and join the eternal party. It won't be the same without you." Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Jesus, the Lousiest Dinner Guest

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
November 5, 2014

Luke 14:15-24
“For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

Have you ever thrown a really great dinner party? I can think of numerous times when my wife and I have hosted good friends, like-minded people, people who share many views in common with us, people it’s great to share a glass of wine with, and then maybe to play Ticket to Ride or Lords of Waterdeep. I love these times.

But this isn’t the kind of dinner party Jesus blesses.

Have you ever been a guest at a really terrible dinner party? You know, the kind where one person makes everybody else feel uncomfortable, and it’s clear that everybody wishes the person would just leave, so the party can go back to being a group of like-minded people, people who share many views in common with us, people it’s great to share a glass of wine with?

The gospels show us that when Jesus is on the guest list, this second kind of party is much more likely. Someone at the party is going to make a scene, whether it’s an unseemly woman breaking in and crying all over Jesus’ feet, or in this case, Jesus himself.

Jesus is eating at the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. He tells a parable to one of the dinner guests, and by extension, to the table in general. Now, it’s not like they didn’t mean to invite Jesus. Most likely, Jesus is the supposed guest of honor, and the crowd invited has been invited for one purpose: to trap Jesus in his own words and to give them a reason to seek his arrest. And that’s the context into which Jesus drops his parable.

So what if you threw a party and nobody came? Even if you have a fairly healthy ego, chances are you’d wonder, at least for a fleeting moment, what that said about you. “Maybe nobody likes me. Why not? Where have I gone wrong?” But that’s not a problem for the dinner host in Jesus’ parable. The host is angry about the guests who didn’t come, but his greater concern is that there’s all this food, and it wouldn’t be right for it to go to waste. And so he invites “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” None of these people hold any status of value in his society. All of them will be hungry. So they will be much more likely to come to dinner.

Jesus tells this parable after just having said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He has also just advised, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, don’t invite your friends, or rich people! Invite people who could use a meal, and who can’t possibly repay you.”

In the world of social services, we hear that we should not give cash to people on the street; who knows how they will use it? We should not support the dependent nature of those who are not helping themselves—whether they can or cannot help themselves is another question. There will always be those who want to assume that the poor, if they just worked a little harder, would no longer be poor. And there will always be those who helping instincts are difficult to rein in, who might not recognize their tendency to breed unhealthy dependency.

But both of these extremes are based on the assumption that we don’t actually know the people we’re helping. They’re based on caricatures, not on individuals. Jesus, on the other hand, was all about individuals. He could look at a person and very quickly ascertain the necessary remedy. In some cases, it was food or healing. In other cases, it was a very hard truth designed to shake the person up. Jesus’ response to a given stranger is totally unpredictable, but only because we don’t know the stranger. Jesus does. He evaluates this situation and decides that what this party needs is a hot, steaming, and very bitter plate of truth. And so he tells this parable.

Now, here I want to point out a detail of the parable we can’t possibly render in English unless we resort to a technique for Greek translation I picked up while living in the South: for singular “you,” say “you.” For plural “you,” say “y’all.”

“Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.’ For I tell y’all, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

In the last verse, “you” is plural! So the voice has shifted from the parable back to the real-life dinner party guests. “I may be a guest here, but in reality, I’m the host, and when the time comes for the heavenly banquet, not one of y’all will taste a bite.”

What an ungracious and embarrassing guest! Who does he think he is? Could somebody please ask this Jesus guy to leave so we can go back to our comfortable party of like-minded people? And then could somebody please uncork another bottle of wine? We’re going to need it!

Indeed, blessed is anyone who will eat bread (and drink wine) in the kingdom of God. But the very people who were invited first, when they assume they are included, become the ones in danger of being thrown out. These are the people who assume their place at the head of the table. So Jesus shames them and tells them to move down to the lowest seat. Jesus invites to the table first any poor, downtrodden soul who feels forsaken by society or even forsaken by God. But for those who feel assured of God’s blessing, Jesus offers only fear and trembling. He says, in essence, “I’m throwing a party for everyone in the world, all right. On the menu tonight you’ll find mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. But y’all are acting boorish and arrogant and threatening the other guests. If you’re not interested in what we’re serving, I can’t allow you to stay here and spoil the party. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” And so the guest becomes the host, and before long, he will also become the meal.

Friends, there is nothing more important than this banquet—not your land, not your oxen, and not even your own wedding. Not your financial security, not your self-assurance, and certainly not your social status. Even within the realm of God’s infinite loving mercy, there are consequences for our actions. Our places can be given away. But today, look! The table is richly laid, and you are welcome to it, as long as you understand that you may not unseat anybody else from it. Not even the wicked. Not even the undeserving. Not even those who never get their lives together. Everybody is welcome to eat their fill of mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Come and eat. Amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Journey of Love and Wisdom

sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

"Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world." Last month as students returned to Western Washington University, the members of EpiC, that is, Episcopal Campus Fellowship, superimposed this slogan over an image of a solar eclipse and had little buttons made to hand out at the school's annual Info Fair. "Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world." This is a paraphrase of Jesus’ words from today's gospel, words which came from two places in the Jewish law: Deuteronomy, and Leviticus. We gave our buttons away to students who stopped by our booth, but also to the other religious groups whose booths surrounded ours. We gave buttons to the Christians, and since Jesus was quoting the Torah here, we also gave buttons to the two Jewish groups. It was epic.

Jesus presents these two great commandments to those who are listening to him teach in Jerusalem. Over the past few Sundays, we've been hearing a number of stories that take place during this time, after his triumphal procession into the city, but before his arrest. The atmosphere is tense, with those in positions of power continually trying to knock Jesus off his high horse.

But Jesus isn't on a high horse; he prefers a humble donkey. Every time they try to trap Jesus in his own words, the leaders of the Pharisees and Sadducees find themselves exposed and vulnerable instead. With unassailable authority, Jesus has ranked tax collectors and prostitutes ahead of the holiest keepers of the law. He has taught emphatically that the kingdom of God will be taken away from those who think they have it all together and given to people who know how much mercy they need. He has sidelined the mighty Roman Empire as irrelevant to God's agenda, since God is all-powerful, even over Caesar. And now, in tying these two old commandments together in a new way, Jesus seeks to clarify the priorities of God’s chosen people. Love, he says ... just love. Do this, all the rest of those old rules will make sense to you in a new way. Pour every decision you make through the funnel of love.

Well, OK. The words are clear, but how do you and I go about them, loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves? Obviously, loving God is an important thing to do, but it seems like a rather abstract directive. Is it simply an exercise of will, or of memory -- remembering to say "I love you, God" every now and then? Loving our neighbors is the commandment that helps us, because it gives us a field in which to practice loving God. We cannot love God without loving what God loves: human beings, and the world God is creating out of love. God loves even our enemies, and when we hate them, we are failing to love those whom God loves. So if you want to start loving God right now, begin by loving your neighbor, whoever he or she may be. Encountering people in the flesh and acting towards them out of love is an undeniably concrete way to go.

Here at St. Paul's, we are always trying to engage, on some level, these two commandments to love. People come to us with all different kinds of experiences of God at work in their lives, seen through the lens of a huge variety of life experiences. People come here because the news headlines are devastating and scary. They come here to heal from deep pain and confusion. They come from other churches where they may have felt that the pieces didn't quite fit together. Many come seeking concrete answers to very big questions. If you're in this camp, allow me to confess something to you. In the Episcopal church, we're not all that big on hard and fast answers, because above all, we don't want to offer a simplistic answer. We have answers, to be sure, but more often than not they come with a footnote that leads to some other entry, or even to an opposing point of view. Sometimes, as the Indigo Girls once put it, “There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line.”

Maybe you’re sitting here today thinking, “OK, I believe in God, or at least, I believe in something." Well, great—then let’s just begin with that. Where does this belief come from? Is it a gut feeling that we are not merely a temporary grouping of random molecules? Or does it run deeper? Is there emotion in it? Is there trust in it? Does it lead you towards any particular action? Could it be that love is somewhere in the mix?

Maybe despite being here today, you're saying, "I don't need a church. I'd rather follow my heart and do it my own way." Well, there's nothing wrong with having a one-on-one with God on a mountaintop--in fact, this is a great thing to do, especially around here! But when we bring our holy experiences alongside those of others, we find untold opportunities to learn even deeper wisdom, to see God in a clearer light. Individuality is very important, but individuality paired with community is far stronger. In a community, people can bring their personal, individual experiences of God, who cannot be understood in the same way by everybody, and we can have a conversation.

Perhaps your gripe is that the Bible is so full of rules, and you wonder whether joining a church means committing to the whole shebang. Well, we've just heard Jesus set all those old rules into their proper context. Rules arise out of culture and situation, and they do change over time. But the great commandments of love do not change. Christianity is an art form, not a rule book. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that being a Christian is a matter of giving intellectual assent to a list of propositions, while checking off a list of commandments not broken today ... but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Christianity is, instead, a venue for holy conversation, and it is a road we make by walking it. Christianity is a journey that seeks wisdom too grand and too elusive ever to be fully understood by the human mind, wisdom that is about being loved and loving and serving others. Those of us in the church have come to believe that this wisdom is worth pursuing just for the sheer joy of pursuing it. Many of us can't imagine living our lives any other way.

So you can't be a Christian in a vacuum, and you can't fully understand Christianity looking from the outside in. Our hope at St. Paul’s is that everyone who walks through these doors will feel welcomed and will be able to connect with us in some way. Perhaps God has led you here today through some mysterious process. Indeed, God will always meet us where we are. But God loves us too much to let us stay there. We won't to tell you what to think, because your life is your journey, and it is simply our pleasure to walk alongside you. And so we welcome you to a well of wisdom that we have been keeping here for centuries, and we invite you to drink deeply.

Furthermore, you are absolutely welcome to hover around the edges for as long as you want, but know that this is also a place where you can make a commitment for life. Baptism is that commitment: it is what makes one a Christian. We baptize infants and children because we are eager to hold out before them a specific path to wisdom. Then they make their road by walking, and we walk alongside them. We also baptize adults, and we invite adults who were baptized as children to make an adult proclamation of their faith and to take on their baptismal vows for themselves. And we do all these things in community, not in private. Christianity is for people who want a way to walk alongside others, and who have found that the way that makes the most sense includes the story of the creator joining forces with the created. Jesus walks with us on this way, having gone on ahead and come back to assure us that there is nothing to fear.

Here at St. Paul's, we've been journeying together in a very concrete way in the little community of people that has formed on Wednesday nights over the past month. We offer a Eucharist on Wednesday evenings at 5:30, followed by a community supper prepared in turns by those who come. Following supper are our classes--with simultaneous childcare! And we've just finished our first four-week series. The next set will begin this coming Wednesday night at 6:45. If you wonder what it might mean to live in the tension between doubt and faith, come join Ben Amundgaard and the Rev. Armand Larive for their four-week class on that topic. If you wonder about the Bible, what’s in it, what it’s for, and how you might approach it, I myself will be teaching that class. And Father Jonathan’s class on prayer will be a great way to engage that first commandment: “Love God.”

In January, these Wednesday night classes will flow naturally into a process we call Journey, a process by which you can come to be baptized or to make an adult affirmation of the baptismal vows that were made for you in childhood. Journey is the St. Paul's version of the process by which the earliest Christians came to be baptized: through prayer and learning, through fellowship and theological reflection. Journey will meet on Wednesdays from January through May, culminating at the Great Vigil of Easter when we will baptize new Christians. You can be a part of Journey even if you don't want to make any particular affirmation of faith. Journey is also just a great way to join this holy conversation.

And so we invite you, whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on this journey of faith, to Journey with us towards ever deeper wisdom. The church isn't here just to sustain itself, but to help God transform people's lives from fear into faith, hope, and love. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." Amen.