Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Another Threshold

I stand at a threshold, not knowing what lies ahead. I started this blog as a record of my time at St. Thomas', and like many I expected my time to be longer. C'est la vie. In speaking with people about my transition, they asked what they could do, or what they could pray for during my transition. Then almost immediately, they said, "Besides a job, of course." Yeah, a job.

As a male USAmerican, it is too easy to fall into the trap that my occupation is my identity. I am working hard to avoid that, and daily remind myself that my vocation (Christ disciple that happens to be a priest) is not my occupation (how I feed my kids and keep a roof over our heads). Like Paul, my identity needs to be found in Christ, and immerse my soul in that.

But when that question is asked about what to pray for, I would have to say my kids. I am an adult. I can read the financials and see that no matter how you cut it I need to move on. I need to move on for the church I love. But my kids are different. They are children for whom it is "Not Fair!" They took a bit to warm to St. Thomas', because it was so different from their home parish. But took to it they did, and they are losing Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Children's Time, acolyting, and the whole bevy of things that they loved at St. T's. So, if you are wondering, pray for my kids.

The other weird thing is looking at looking for a church. I have a few supply gigs lined up to help people who need Sundays off, that will not be every Sunday, and if I have I have a Sunday off where do we go? We have only "shopped" for a church once in our lives, and that is when we chose to become Episcopalians 7 years ago.

Lastly, the question that sometimes comes up is how Stephanie and I are doing. Stresses of unemployment can take their toll. Not surprisingly, we are in a good place. I love her more today than when I married her. 25 years together, 23 1/2 married, and we have only just begun. If it were not for her, and her support, I know that this would be even more difficult than it is. I know that this is not easy for her, being a J on Myers-Briggs. She wants a plan that she can work. My P sees the possibilities, and that helps me in days like these. Pray for her to be at ease during these questioning days.

I have said to many people, and many people who know and love me have said to me, that there is something HUGE that we cannot see just around the corner or over the horizon. It is time for me to put my money where my mouth is, and practice what I preach. God has brought us too far, too fast for this to be anything more than a speed bump in our priesthood. So yeah, pray for that, too. Pray for faith for all of us to be true to the faith that has brought us this far. "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 Godspeed, all of us, in following the Christ who already awaits us in Kingdom of Grace beyond our wildest dreams.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Need of Only One Thing" Proper 11 Year C 2016

“Need of Only One Thing”
Proper 11, Year C July 17, 2016
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

Luke 10:38-42
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Good morning. I am not sure I know what people came here to hear today. I do not know where you are coming from or what your week has been like. I have been away, communing with Jesus and was confronted with headlines that frightened and angered me, and others that have confused me. I have no idea what Pokemon Go is, and with the hysteria surrounding it I am glad that I have been removed and my hope is that my family and I might avoid the spreading infection. For the last week I have had the joy of Shrine Mont, specifically the week-long celebration that is Family Camp. I ate too much, I slept enough (but could have used a little more) and blissfully stayed off email and Facebook for the most part only opening the messages I felt I had to, and even most of those I flagged to come back to later.

All that being said, I will not be mentioning foreign tragedies or coups. I know next to nothing that does not fit in a headline. I am still in the shock of the news of Nice and Turkey and have not prepared enough to speak to these. I wish that I could, but not today.

Also, as many of you are aware, this is my last sermon at St. Thomas’ before I depart next Sunday. This is not a goodbye address, other than at the end of this address, that is sort of a goodbye. I thought about what I could possibly say, and the more I thought the more I worried, and today’s Scripture is most assuredly against that. If you want to know what I think please read my sermons over my last two years here in your midst. They are all available on my blog. The address could not be easier. www.rev.rocks Nothing I could say today could outweigh what I have already said.

Today’s focus is, what I believe, a sermon should be. A sermon for me should focus on the Good News that springs from today’s lectionary reading filtered through our context, our times and our place and our experiences or vice versa, our context filtered through the Gospel. The more I wrestle with something the more I trust it is a common struggle, and that as I remind myself of what Jesus is teaching me perhaps you, too, will hear something that speaks to your life as well.

Enough preamble. In today’s reading Martha welcomes Jesus and her sister sits to learn from Jesus while Martha worries and is distracted caring to all the details of a house full of people. This story has almost become a cliche, and I have heard people label others “Marys” or “Marthas.”

I try really hard to not slap labels as they quickly lose their meanings, or became monstrous caricatures of the original intent. I do not think Jesus is stating that Martha is bad, and Mary is good. I think in love, Jesus holds up a mirror so that Martha and we can see what is important.

I picture Jesus meaning in what he says: “Martha, you welcomed me into your home, and instead of enjoying our time together you choose to run around fretting about details. And in trying to ease your fretting, you point a finger at your sister. She chose to do what I came here to do, sit and talk and enjoy your home.”

That is a long way of saying what the message of Jesus’ response to Martha is, “Relax, lady, and sit down.”

It is easy to get frustrated with Martha, running around fretting over every little thing. It is no longer a joy for her, or maybe, sadly, it may be that she revels in the feeling of being needed. She frets to get the attention on what she is doing. I have met a lot of people like that.

And then, he shifts to Mary, sitting there. She has, according to Jesus, chosen the better part. Not the best part, the better part. In comparison to Martha’s worries and distractions, Mary’s choice is better.

Now too often we will jump to make axioms and mandates for our lives from this story, but for me I urge us not to do that. It makes it too easy, and lessens the lessons we can take.

One axiom I have heard about this is that worship is more important than action. Martha is “busy doing” while Mary is “busy being.” I have heard this as a reason to avoid reaching out to help our neighbors, and I have heard it as an argument against the Social Gospel, our work towards God’s justice in our broken and hurting world. Nope. Nope. Nope. I do not buy it. Mary here is shown as having chosen a better part for that day and time during the visit of Jesus. He is not speaking to our work at St. Thomas’ in Ginter Park almost 2,000 years later.

It is not an either/or learning from this story. What I do hear Jesus is saying is that we need to do what we need to do. I see Jesus saying to Martha, “Martha, if you want to play host, play host. That is awesome. If Mary wants to sit and learn and talk, that is awesome. Between worries and judging, Mary has chosen the better part.”

During the last week, one of the people who were on my staff at Family Camp had a crisis at home. It necessitated the staffer leaving for a time. Because the staffer was a responsible person they checked in to make sure that it was okay. In situations like this, especially when supervising a system of many needs and responsibilities, I try always to balance grace and distractions. This staffer was going to be of little good with the distraction back home, that is a reality. Also, we had others who could step in. The most Christlike thing to do, as I see it, is to say, and mean, “You do what you need to do.” That empowers the person, if they really need to do this thing, they have a blessing to do so. If it is not a true need, then they probably will not do it.

That is why I think that Jesus adds the line when speaking to Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

What Martha saw from her worried and distracted perspective as necessities, Jesus says there is only one thing that is needed.  The great part for us today [sarcasm] is that Jesus never says what that “ONE THING” is, not here anyway. We can assume what it is from what he says about Mary.

I do know that the one thing is not being worried and distracted. I do not think that we are supposed to be sitting and learning all the time either. Learning is about application and making a difference. Also, that would go against what Jesus teaches in other places and at other times. I do think that it was appropriate and right for Mary on that day at that place. Like was read, Jesus called it the “better part.”

So what is the better part? I think it may be just this. Do what you need to do to be your best self. Some days that is sitting and learning, or sitting and praying. Or some days it is just sitting. Some days it is working hard for ourselves or in service to others. I see that doing what we need to do to be our best self in another way Jesus puts it, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.” The Kingdom recognizes that our responsibility is to do what we need to do. Sometimes that is taking care of the wounded person in the road we come across, and sometimes is getting away from the horrors screaming at us from the 24 hour news cycle. Jesus is telling us to do what we need to do, to do the one thing, the thing that is what the Spirit is guiding us to do and who the Spirit is guiding us to be.

And when we don’t know what to do, trust the Holy Spirit. That is one of the great powers of rituals and disciplines. Most days, I pray the Daily Office. It is a comfort and joy, and it is a discipline that took years to make something I missed when I did not do it. But some days, life, ministry, family, or the Spirit barges in and I NEED to do something else. As we discern what we need to do, trust the Spirit to be clear. When in doubt, do what you should. When led, do what you need to do.

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern and care from many of you since I announced my departure two Sundays ago. The number one question is “What are you going to do?” I still do not have an answer than to that yet. My request is that you pray with me that this path God has lead us on, from leaving the security of the known to the unknown will continue to be one of faith. Remember, I was sent to St. Thomas’ by the Bishop and when I was supposed to leave after 6 months I was allowed to stay. Thanks again to Matt and Patrick, our wardens at the time for interviewing and wanting me. I have been rewarded and encouraged in my ministry here, and why would God have been with us all so far to leave us in the lurch now?

Einstein said about physics, “God does not play dice.” And I would add about the One Need, God’s Kingdom, that “God does not play games.” God who begins any and all good works that we have, will be faithful to complete them. As you pray for my faithfulness, know that I will continue to pray for yours.

It would be easy to become like Martha, worried and fretting, “What are we going to do?!?!” But the One Need is still there, and we cannot be worried or distracted. As long as our Ascended Lord sits at the right hand of God the Father what have we to worry and fret about? The one thing remains: Kingdom of God is right here right now. And how do we do live into that? I will do what I have to do, and God willing, you will do what you need to do to make the Kingdom of God real on our path and for those we meet on our way-- in Richmond, and in a scared and hurting world, and in a worried and distracted heart when that arises in us. God is with us, and we can choose the Better Part. Amen.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Announcement of Departure

*The following note was read in church on July 3. Prayers appreciated for my family, St. Thomas' and me. "For all that has been, Thank You! For all that will be, Yes!- Dag Hammerskold*

July 3, 2016

To the Rector and Wardens of St. Thomas’ Episcopal on behalf of the congregation:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

There have been ongoing conversations at St. Thomas’ about the budget and roles of the staff. In January, Susan and I began talking about the deficit and next steps for the church and for myself. I was in process of planning to apply for rector positions around the Diocese already when we began our conversations, and with the Finance Team and Vestry, we looked at closing out my position at the end of June. I have been diligent in applying for jobs that seemed to fit my calling first, and that would keep us in the Diocese of Virginia and particularly in Richmond if at all possible. I applied for three positions, and reached the finalist stage at all three parishes. During this process which has been open to the Vestry and a few other key leaders, many of you became aware and have expressed concern for me and my family. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

In speaking with Susan, she graciously allowed me to stay through the end of July, a month longer than was previously considered. Despite all our best efforts we cannot speed up others’ processes. I leave, in no way upset or angry, but in the recognition that I am no longer able to be employed by a place I care for and of which I care about the future health and well-being. St. Thomas’ will always be the place of my diaconate, my first parish as an Episcopal priest, and the church where I was ordained. All these memories are cherished, but not as much as the people that make St. Thomas’ what it is. It is in light of all of that, that I announce my departure at the end of this month, with my last Sunday being July 24, upon which time I will take my accrued vacation through the end of the month.

I leave with several solid possibilities that are still in the works, and I will share good news as soon as I am able. I am not worried, and I am working closely with the Diocesan placement team to find a place of service and growth. Please know I affirm and thank Susan as the rector for all she has done to help me grow in my strengths and abilities as a priest, and I remain thankful that she was called to be the rector of St. Thomas’. I am grateful for our close working relationship and I will miss working with her and all the staff here. St. Thomas’ future is bright, and I cannot wait to hear of your successes and accomplishments as you continue to live out our common faith in the decades to come.

Thank you for all that you have given and thank you for remaining faithful to the call of God.

In Christ,

The Reverend Jeffrey “Rock” Higgins