Father Jack’s Blog October 23, 2022
“Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about
following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead
in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”
Purpose: As we find ourselves humbled by some sort of conflict, we need a mentor, somebody
with skin, to help us see ourselves and find a cure for our souls. Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
I. When Jesus walked this Earth, He was known not only for the miracles he performed but also for the parables he told.
The power and punch of Jesus’ parables is the way they shock and surprise the audience by turning upside down so many things thought to be right and good. One such parable is that of the Pharisee and the tax collector. A pharisee and a tax collector went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee proceeded to thank God that he was unlike other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, and sinners like the disgraceful tax collector. He went on to praise himself for fasting twice a week and giving his tithes. The tax collector, on the other hand, bowed his head, beat his breast, and prayed: “God, be
merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said, between the Pharisee and the tax collector, it was the latter that was made right
Why does Jesus honor this man this way?
Everybody knows that Pharisees were top of the line: Dedicated religious leaders, hopeful, dedicated, teachers of the Law, obedient to the 10 Commandments and absolute believers in the PURITY CODE. When the nation is obedient to the law, God will send Messiah to free us from the Romans, and every other empire that may try to conquer the Promised Land.
That’s why so many flocked to John the Baptist. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near! Prepare ye the way of the Messiah.
He will set us free. It is easy to see why the Pharisee looked down upon the sniveling tax collector, making a buck
by taking hard earned Jewish money to the Romans! Traitor! But Jesus is not so keen on the name-calling, praying righteous.
He said, “I tell you, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. “For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward.” Jesus slammed the door shut regarding religious showmanship but his door is always open to matters of the heart.
II. To appreciate the power and punch of this parable, Let’s set it up for today:
A. The Model Christian
A model Christian and a criminal went to church to pray. Without hesitation, the Christian entered the church, made the sign of the cross, genuflected, and headed straight to his favorite pew in front of the altar. It is obvious that he knew what he was doing and was familiar with the place. Looking up, he lifted up his hands and prayed: “Thank you, God, for blessing me and making me unlike those corrupt and miserable sinners who cannot tell good from evil, who live their lives separate from you,
who do not come to church, like that criminal over there. I read the Bible daily, I seldom miss church, I pray for the less fortunate, I fast twice a week, I support several non-profits, and I tithe 10% of my net income.
B. The criminal, on the other hand, hesitated, unsure whether to kneel or make the sign of the cross first. He had not been to church in a long while. His only claim to fame was his notoriety as a wayward thief. He used to live with his grandmother, and stole even from her to support his drug addiction and the fact that he could not keep a job. Full of shame and with head bowed, he whispered this prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
What must that man be feeling and thinking? He has a sick feeling of guilt and regret. He thought of his grandmother, how he had let her down. He probably wants to hide, to move away from here. Find a Geographical Fix, start over. He is
alone and frightened. Full of shame and hiding in the shadows, he whispered this prayer, “God, Help. Have mercy, Send Help!
I am in a pit and cannot get out. I have betrayed my family and myself. I hate myself for what I am doing. It was this man, said Jesus, that was put right with God.
III. For us to hear the message, We need to position ourselves in the situation of the Pharisee or the model Christian.
Off we go to church and say this self-congratulatory prayer. It is so easy compare our lives to others. The truth is, it can be easy to hide our broken selves under the many good and beautiful things that we can do.
But there is the rub. We fall short. As Paul says, “the good that I want to do, I fail to do, and those things which I do not want to do, I DO.
IV. The good news is that this parable invites us to self-evaluate. Sometimes we need to cry, “have mercy, help”. It might be alcohol, or it might be an attitude. From the business forum to family, to church vestry meetings, we find we need help.
We find ourselves locked in familiar patterns, and we need another to help us see. We find ourselves humbled by regret and conflicted within ourselves. This is the beginning of the way out. Jesus saw a man devastated by the Romans and scorned by his own people. I don’t know what happened to the tax collector, but I do know what happens today. I know that when a man or a woman, or a country or nation, are humbled by a problem too big to handle, if they ask for help, and are willing to go to any length to find it,
God will answer.
Father Jack’s Blog October 10, 2022
At our Bishop’s Committee meeting yesterday, one of our members expressed fear and sadness, expressing loss of hope regarding the future of All Saints Episcopal Church.
I share that fear, and have been hoping and praying to strike some chord in our work together that our church would once again begin to fill with people and song. I, perhaps like you, tend to blame myself. But I think this dilemma is bigger than those guilty feelings.
I remember the words of an early mentor, “God is closer than your very next breath.” I have held onto those words and passed them along. It is a proclamation of an intimacy with God, the very nearness of our Creator, which is dear to me. And yet, so many Episcopal churches are vanishing into memory.
I have begun reading the book Grounded, written by seminary colleague, Diana Butler Bass. Her work is helping me understand in a new way, this nearness of God and how we might share that message with those we love.
The following are excerpts from Grounded. If you find her words ring true, let’s consider discussing this book thru a Zoom book group. She writes:
“Belief in God has softened since the mid-twentieth century, as most Western populations register overall decline in theological certainty and theism. Attendance at religious services has reached near record lows across the developed world, and erosion of other measures of religious adherence is obvious as well. Sociologist of religion, Michael Hout, sums up the American situation as follows:
“The historic distancing of Americans from organized religion continues to evolve. More Americans than ever profess having no religious preference…..”
All of these changes have caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth in conventional denominations, as the clergy and the faithful struggle to come to terms with what has happened and wonder what the future holds for them…
Yet despite this, something else is happening. Belief in God, although reported at a lower cultural level than in previous decades, still remains surprisingly wide spread… The Public Religion Research Institute has developed a “spiritual experiences index” indicating that 65 percent of Americans score in the moderate to “very high” range of spiritual connection: a sense of wonder, inner peace and harmony and oneness with nature – data that lends credence to the argument that God-in-Heaven is giving way to the Spirit-with-Us….
The implications seem stunningly clear: People believe, but they believe differently than they once did. The theological ground is moving, a spiritual revolution is afoot. And there is a gap between that revolution and the institutions of religious faith.
Critics may say this is happening because we are uncommitted, disloyal, or too lazy to get up on whatever Sabbath we celebrate. I suppose that this may be true for some people. But it is not true for me. I have been a churchgoer all my life, but I find myself attending sporadically. Much to my surprise, church has become a spiritual, even a theological struggle for me. I have found it increasingly difficult to sing hymns that celebrate a hierarchical heavenly realm, to recite a creed that feels disconnected from life, to pray liturgies that emphasize salvation through blood, to listen to sermons that preach an exclusive way to God, to participate in sacraments which exclude others, and to find myself confined to a hard pew in a building with no windows to the world outside.
This has not happened because I was angry at the church or at God. Rather, it has happened because I was moving around in the world and began to realize how beautifully God was everywhere: in nature, and in my neighborhood, in considering the stars and by seeking my roots. It took me five decades to figure it out, but I finally understood. The church is not the only sacred space; the world is profoundly sacred as well. And thus, I fell into a gap – the theological ravine between a church still proclaiming conventional theism with its three-tiered-universe and the spiritual revolution of God-with-us.
People like me? We are not lazy, self-centered, or individualistic church shoppers. We are heartbroken. Heartbroken by the fact that the faith traditions that raised us and that we love seem to be sleeping through the revolution. Many people have left organized religion because they experience too great a distance between the old structures and their experience of God.
In some faith communities, people are coming up with new answers and possibilities, in ways more empowering, satisfying and meaningful than the established ways of engaging faith. And in all those faith communities, the spiritual trend is similar: God has moved off the mountain, and everyone is trying to figure out what that means for their lives and the life of the planet.
So, where and how do people encounter God in a post-religious age? What kind of theology are people outside the church, and inside, making for themselves?
The spiritual revolution is about two things: God and the world. It is about God, but it does not wind up being otherworldly. The revolution is making a path that enfolds the mundane and the sacred, finding a God who is a ‘gracious mystery, ever greater, ever nearer’ 
This revolution rests upon a simple insight: God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us. We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around globe. This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.”
Enough of Grounded for now. My own experience, my own wanderings in the world have opened my eyes to things I never saw before. By attending AA since 1993 I have seen lives turned around in a dynamic spiritual way without the trappings of doctrine or dogma. “The God of one’s own understanding” has worked wonders in the lives of thousands. It has been said that AA is America’s greatest contribution to the world of spirituality and religion. I have heard more stories of answered prayer in AA than I ever have had in all my years of church.
So, what to make of these powerful experiences of personal encounter by so many with the empty pews of church?
Perhaps that is part of our quest, bringing the good news of the love of God to a hurting, but changing world.
 The phrase is from Elizabeth Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping frontiers in the Theology of God. (New York: Continuum, 2008), p. 25ff.
Listen to assorted sermons given at All Saints: