Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Commemoration of Saints (Page 2 of 2)

Obnoxious Jesus – From the Daily Office – January 17, 2014

From John’s Gospel:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 2:1-5 (NRSV) – January 17, 2014.)

Icon of the Wedding at CanaToday is the feast of St. Antony of Egypt. According to a Life of St. Antony written by Athanasius, Antony and his younger sister were orphaned when he was about 18 years of age, inheriting a goodly estate which he began to manage. However, writes Athanasius, six months after his parents’ death he was “turning over in his mind the way the apostles had left everything to follow the Savior” when he heard a sermon on Christ’s encounter with the rich young man whom the Lord instructed, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21)

According to Athanasius:

As though this reminder of the saints had ben sent to him by God, and as though that passage had been read specially for his sake, Antony went out immediately, and gave to the villagers the possessions he had inherited from his ancestors — they consisted of some three hundred very pleasant and fertile acres — so that they would not be an encumbrance to him and to his sister. He sold all his possessions and gave the considerable sum h raised to the poor, keeping back only a little of it for his sister.

Again when he went into church, he heard what the Lord said in the gospel, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” He could not wait any longer, but went out and gave away even what he had kept back to the poor. He left his sister in the care of some well-known, trustworthy virgins, putting her in a convent to be brought up, and he devoted himself to the ascetic life not far from his home, living in recollection and practicing self-denial.

When I read that, I wondered what Antony’s sister’s reaction to it all might have been . . . . Truthfully, had I been her, my affections toward my older brother would not have been kindled! And then I read this morning’s Daily Office gospel about the wedding at Cana and the (to my mind) very uncomfortable repartee between Jesus and his mother. If we take off the rose-tinted glasses through which the Holy Family and the saints are often viewed and assess this conversation honestly, these are two people talking passed one another and not being terribly pleasant to each other!

When I was in seminary, my New Testament professor Bill Countryman referred to the portrayal of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel as “obnoxious.” In his book The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel, Countryman called Jesus’ repeated pattern of hard-to-understand responses to questions “obnoxious discourse.” Jesus seems intent on making his claims as difficult and offensive as possible; everything he says seems designed to irritate the people listening. And, in the story of the wedding at Cana, he seems to be starting with his mother!

Taken together, the story of Antony disposing of the family fortune and this gospel lesson serve as reminders that every family has its “issues.” The saints and holy people whom we revere and to whom we look as exemplars, even Jesus and his mother, were just “regular folks” doing the best they could and trying to work things out as well as possible. Sometimes they were wildly successful and are examples we should seek to emulate. Sometimes we look at them and question their judgments and their actions; not every example is one to follow. In either case, we hope to learn something, even when they are being obnoxious. Perhaps especially when Jesus is obnoxious!


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Cleaning the Windshield — Sermon for All Saints Sunday, RCL Year C – November 3, 2013


This sermon was preached on All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The Revised Common Lectionary, All Saints: Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; and Luke 6:20-31. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

[Note: The Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament reading for All Saints in Year C is an edited pericope; I had the reader at Mass read the entire thing, verses 1 through 18.]


Windshield with BugsToday is the first Sunday in November which means that instead of the normal sequence of lessons for Ordinary Time, we are given the option of reading the lessons for All Saints Day, which falls every year on November 1. So today we heard a very strange reading from the Book of Daniel, a to-my-ear very troubling gradual psalm (in which we sing of wreaking vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, of binding king in chains, and of inflicting judgment on the nobles bound in iron), a bit of Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus extolling the riches of the inheritance of the saints, and to Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in which Jesus not only blesses the poor, the hungry, and the weeping, he sighs woefully over the future plight people like ourselves – the comparatively wealthy, those whose bellies are full, and those in relatively good state of mind.

I asked our Old Testament reader this morning to read a somewhat longer lesson from Daniel than you find in your bulletin insert because the edited (or, more accurately, gutted) version there (which are the verses required for the day by the Revised Common Lectionary) includes only the introduction of a dream or vision experienced by Daniel and then skips immediately to the interpretation. We would have heard none of the apocalyptic imagery of the dream, but I think it important that we listen to and consider Daniel’s troubling vision of four strange beasts and the coming of one “like a son of man,” else how are we to understand the interpretation given by the “attendant.”

Early in my meditations and study for preaching today, I thought I would explore with you the meaning of the beasts and so on, but the more I thought about that, and especially as I began actually organizing my thoughts and writing out my sermon, I decided against doing so. It would I think be a distraction from the focus of the day. I was thinking that the reading as edited in the Lectionary presents us with a passage that makes little sense, but after reading and hearing again the full Daniel’s story of seeing a winged lion, a tusked bear, a four-headed leopard, and a ten-horned and iron-toothed monster, I guess that’s what we have in the longer reading, too! A lesson that distracts us, as so much in the Bible can do; so many people focus on these arcane details that they miss the bigger picture the Bible tries to show. As result, we get such non-Biblical nonsense as the various forms of “tribulationism” and the story of “the Rapture;” we get “one-issue Christians” who refuse to recognize as members of the same faith Christians who disagree with them. We get exactly the opposite of what the Feast of All the Saints is supposed to underscore.

So, instead of dealing with this troubling bit of the Bible right now, what I’d like you to do is come with me for a drive. Let’s just set the Bible aside and go get in our car and head off down the road. It’s a country road, a hard-pack dirt country road out in the farm country. We’re taking a country drive on a fine, beautiful spring day. It’s been raining, but it’s not raining now. Now the sun is shining and the birds are singing and insects of all sorts are buzzing and humming and chirping. In fact, there are loads of insects. It’s one of those days when the damsel flies are swarming, doing their brief romantic aerial ballets to attract mates and perpetuate their species. It’s one of those days when the grasshoppers are doing their best to eat everything in sight. It’s one of those days with yellow swallow-tails and monarchs and viceroys and white cabbage butterflies are flittering all over the place.

As we drive along, we’re traveling at a pretty good clip and, as you might expect with all those bugs around, the windshield is getting pretty messy. And since it just stopped raining and the dirt road is still a bit muddy, a lot of that has splashed up onto the windows and the windshield, as well. In fact, we can barely see through the windshield! We put the wipers on and twist the knob so the washer fluid sprays onto the glass, but the bug juice is sticky and there’s a lot of mud, so the washers only clear a little of the muck away, and the windshield is now not only covered with dead bugs and muck, it’s streaky, too!

Still, we peer through the streaks of bug blood and mud, and keep our eyes on the road ahead. Eventually we come to a filling station and we pull in. In a bygone era, a man in coveralls with a greasy rag tucked in his pocket would have run out and begun filling our tank with gas, and he would have checked under the hood, and he would have carried out a bucket of soapy water with a large sponge and a squee-gee, and he would have washed our bug-be-splattered, mud-streaked windshield and cleaned away all that distracting muck that was keeping us from seeing our way ahead.

A few days ago, I was reviewing a Vacation Bible School curriculum based on the story of Jonah and in the sales literature the publisher had written these words: “The Bible is a window that shows us God’s heart. In the stories, in the writings, and in the Gospels we see what God is like. The Bible reveals God to us, just like the windows in a car or in a building reveal what is going on outside.”

Isn’t that a great image for Holy Scripture: “The Bible is a window that shows us God’s heart.” Now I don’t know about you, but when I am driving in a car on a day like I described to you, a day when the windshield gets are splattered and messy with dead bugs and mud, I have a hard time looking beyond that cloudy window in front of me. I get distracted by the details on the window; I focus on them and not on the road out in front of me.

But so long as I focus on the window, the window is not serving its purpose. The window is not there to be the object of my attention; it is there to let me see what is happening on the other side. So it is with the Bible.

The Education for Ministry group that I have the privilege to mentor in this parish is made up of all first year students, so everyone in the group is working through study of the Old Testament. We are about six weeks into reading Genesis and Exodus now, and one of the things we’ve noticed is that the stories of the Patriarchs and the first Hebrews are not very pretty: Abraham is a liar; Jacob is a cheat; Joseph’s brothers are petulant bullies who nearly kill him; Moses whines a lot; and Aaron (Moses’ brother), although he is the first high priest, is the one who turns the people away from God and fashions the golden calf for them to worship! We are all, I think, finding it difficult to look past the peccadillos of the Patriarchs in order to see the God who is behind the stories; just like its difficult to look past the bugs and the mud on the windscreen!

And then today, along comes Daniel with his weird vision, the Palmist with his bloodthirsty delight in vengeance and revenge, and Jesus telling us that those of us who are fairly well off are destined to be hungry and in mourning! It’s hard to look past all of that understand where God is. As one commentator on Daniel noted, we who read this story in the Bible are “in the midst of bewildering events that affright and confuse.”

We find this all hard to accept and difficult to look through because we want the Bible to be clear! We want the Bible to be the answer book, to lay it all out for us in simple and easy-to-follow instructions; we want to be able to say, as our Sunday School children sang last week, “The B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!” We just want it to be clear! But the Bible doesn’t exist to be the object of our devotion; the Bible doesn’t exist to be regarded on its own and for itself. The Bible is a window through which God is reveals Godself to us and, like any window, its got some distracting stuff we have to look past.

It does so because it is book (several books, actually) full of human stories, and human stories are messy. So we end up with stories of people who are sometimes liars and cheaters; people who can sometimes whine and be unfaithful. We end up with stories of weird hallucinations and frightful dreams. We end up with poetry by someone who’s been hurt so badly that vengeance and revenge can look like a gift of God. We end up with troubling warnings that we might, probably will, face hunger and grief. How do we look past that to see, as Paul encouraged the Ephesians, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, so that we may know what is the hope to which God has called us?

Well, when we were on our drive through the countryside with our windshield spatted with bug goo and mud, we pulled into a gas station, and a mechanic came out and washed all of that away. Remember? Today is the day that we remember those who help clean away all of the distractions, the filling station attendants of the faith. Today we remember the saints who help to clear our vision of God. Broadly speaking, of course, the saints are all those who are baptized, who follow Jesus Christ, and who live their lives according to his teaching, which would include all of us here today. Church tradition, however, also uses the term more narrowly to refer to especially holy women and holy men who are heroes of the faith, who through lives of extraordinary virtue reveal the Presence of God to us, who clean that window through which we all look.

Cleaning a WindshieldThe saints whom we celebrate on this day (and the many who are given special days of individual recognition) were people who tried to live according to the Bible as they understood its teachings. Like us, they read it and encountered those troubling visions, those petulant patriarchs, those bloodthirsty psalms, and somehow looked past them and through them to see the God of faith, the God who Incarnate in Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” We extoll the virtues of those saint and we celebrate their lives and their witness because they help us to do the same. By their lives and their examples, they clean the windshield for us; they clean away the bug blood and the mud, so that we no longer focus on the window, but on the God the window shows us.

This is not to suggest that we should not study nor seek to understand the murkiness and cloudiness that we find on the window, the questionable and troublesome visions of Daniel, the lying and cheating of the Patriarchs, the bloodthirstiness of the Psalmist, or the petulant pettiness of the Prophets. Certainly, we should for we can learn thereby of the graciousness of the God who overlooked and overcame those faults, who regarded and redeemed those men and women! But following the example of the saints before us, we should not let ourselves be distracted by them so that we fail to see and appreciate that same God.

Today we give thanks for the saints, the filling station attendants of the faith, who help us clean our windshields.

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 1979, Burial of the Dead, page 504)


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

To Boldly Go: Sermon for a Celebration of Ministry – St. Paul’s, Manhattan, Kansas – October 16, 2013


This sermon was preached on October 16, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan, Kansas, where Fr. Funston’s son, the Rev. A. Patrick K. Funston is rector. Fr. Patrick was installed as rector, and the appointment of the Rev. Sandra Horton-Smith as Deacon in the parish was also celebrated.

(The Episcopal Church sanctoral lectionary for the Feast of Hugh Latimer & Nicholas Ridley, bishops and martyrs: Zephaniah 3:1-5; Psalm 142; 1 Corinthians 3:9-14; and John 15:20-16:1.)


Ridley and LatimerI bring you greetings from the people of St. Paul’s Parish, Medina, Ohio, where I am privileged to serve as rector. Nearly all the active members of our congregation know and respect Patrick, and have asked me to convey their congratulations to him and to you, together with the assurance of their prayers, as you continue together in a new ministry only recently begun. Of course, none of them know Sandy, but we offer our greetings and prayers for her diaconal ministry among you, as well.

I suppose my son asked me to preach this evening because he believes that in 40 years of church leadership including 23 years in ordained ministry as a deacon, curate, associate rector, and now rector in four dioceses, I may have picked up one or two bits of useful information to pass along. I shall strive, Fr. Funston, to make it so.

Sandy, I have never been a vocational deacon and I have had only a little experience working with deacons in the course of my ministry; nonetheless, it is my hope there may be something in what I have to say that will be of use to you.

We are gathered this evening on the feast of two Anglican martyrs — Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. They were bishops of the reformed Church of England put to death, by being burned at the stake, during the short reign and attempted Roman Catholic restoration of Queen Mary I, eldest daughter of Henry VIII. During her less-than-six years on the English throne, nearly 300 Protestants were killed, including these two bishops, so she is known to history as “Bloody Mary.”

The bishops’ martyrdom is most notable for the probably apocryphal story that Latimer, as the fires were lighted beneath them, reached to Ridley, took him by the hand and said, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”

I’ll skip the other details of Latimer’s and Ridley’s lives and ministries; I bring them up really only to explain the otherwise incomprehensible choices of lessons for this service; one really must stretch to find anything remotely enlightening about parish ministry in Zephaniah’s “soiled, defiled, oppressing city” filled with faithless people and profane priests, or in the Psalmist’s languishing spirit and loud supplications. There may be (indeed there will be) times when both priest and people may feel like the Psalmist in the course of a pastorate (as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the work of ministry will be tested by fire), but dwelling on that hardly seems a constructive way to begin the relationship.

I must admit that I was tempted to use the bishop’s martyrdom as a metaphor for parish ministry, but thought better of it; it would be an incomplete metaphor, at best. I think I’ve found a much better metaphor, but before I get to it, I want to digress for a moment and tell you something about our experience, my wife’s and mine, in raising our son.

When Patrick was in junior high school and high school, his band and orchestra directors said to us, “Your son is a talented musician. He could have a great career in music.”

“Yes!” we replied, “Encourage him in that!”

When he was in high school and college, his mathematics instructors said to us, “Your son is a natural mathematician. He could have a great career as a professor or a theoretician.”

“Yes!” we replied, “Encourage him in that!”

When he decided to major in business, we heard from his fellow students and his professors that he had a great mind for economics and finances, and could make millions as a financial planner.

“Yes!” we said, “Encourage that!”

Earlier in his life, from about the age of 14 on, when he was active as an acolyte, and in youth group, and in the diocesan peer ministry program, people would come to us and say, “Patrick has all the skills and the personality to be a wonderful priest.”

“No!” we cried, “Please do not encourage him that way!”

It’s not that we didn’t want Patrick to become a priest; we’re delighted that he has found his calling amongst the clergy of the church and that he has been called to be Rector in this parish. However, his becoming a priest or Sandy’s becoming a deacon is not something we, any of us, including them, have any business “wanting.” It isn’t something that we or anyone should be “encouraging.” Ordained ministry is something to be discerned and what it is to be discerned is whether the potential priest or deacon can be anything else.

Every potential clergy person is asked, over and over again, “Why do you want to be clergy?” And every priest and deacon here tonight has answered that question. We may have phrased the answer differently, but for each of us it is the same. It’s not that the person called to the diaconate wants to be a deacon; it’s that she must be a deacon! It’s not that the person called to priesthood wants to be a priest; it’s that he must be a priest!

Presbyterian pastor and author Frederick Buechner spoke for us all when he answered the question in his book, The Alphabet of Grace:

“I hear you are entering the ministry,” the woman said down the long table meaning no real harm. “Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?” And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else’s. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring of the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and if I could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you a high and driving peace. I will condemn you to death. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, pp. 109-110)

Buechner’s last sentence does call to mind the martyrdom of Latimer and Ridley and so many others: “I will condemn you to death.” As a description of the call to parish ministry it is both terrifying and terrific!

The Christ we follow, the Christ we proclaim, the Christ who said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” does call us, does lead us to die! To die to selfishness, to die to ego. But through that death he leads us to life. We die to self to uncover what the Quakers call, “that of God within” or the “inner Teacher” … the True Self. Your call, Patrick, to priesthood and yours, Sandy, to the diaconate … our call to parish ministry is a call to continue dying to self and, as a result, to continue becoming truly alive.

It is, as any priest or deacon here will tell you, a painful process. To be clergy in Christ’s church is, as Paul made quite clear in his letters to the congregations in Ephesus and Rome, a gift; it is a wonderful, precious, costly, and painful gift. It will take you into the deepest intimacy with God’s people, with your people. At times you will be with them in the midst of their worst nightmares – death and divorce, devastating illness and the depths of despair. At times, you will feel put-upon and misused. At times, you will feel left out and neglected. At times, there will be conflict, and it will seem like it is consuming you alive. At times, it may seem that, a bit like Latimer and Ridley, you are being burned at the stake, because people will hurt you, sometimes intentionally and spitefully, sometimes negligently, often simply because they are in pain.

But as I said a moment ago, that would be an incomplete metaphor because the source of that pain is also the source of the most exquisite joy, when that same intimacy will privilege you with sharing God’s people’s, your people’s happiest and most blessed moments – when two people commit themselves to one another for life, when their children are born, when they get that long-sought promotion, when their kids graduate with honors, when children marry, when grandchildren are born, when these people among whom and with whom you minister know themselves to be God’s beloved.

Cherish those intimate moments — both the painful and the joyful — because they are moments of grace. Each of them is unique; never fall into the black hole of thinking you’ve “been there, done that.” There may have been similar moments . . . but that couple has never been married before and never will be again, that baby has never been born or baptized before and never will be again, that teenager has never graduated from high school before and never will again, that man has never died before and never will again. Each intimate moment, painful or joyful, is unique and no one has ever been there before. Each unique intimate moment, painful or joyful, is bursting with the promise and potential of God’s grace!

Do not fear those moments of graceful intimacy; cherish them because it is in them that you and the people of St. Paul’s Parish will die to self and become truly alive, to continue growing in boldness and righteousness, in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and even holiness. It is in those moments when we are in the presence of God, when we stand before the throne of grace.

I think you know, Patrick, that one of my favorite verses of Scripture is from the Letter to Hebrews: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16 KJV) So . . . if I say to you that our mission in parish ministry is to boldly go into those unique moments of grace where no one has gone before, you probably know that my metaphor for parish ministry is “the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.”

I read somewhere recently that one can consider oneself an unqualified success as a parent if you have raised your child to be a Star Trek fan; by that measure, Patrick’s mother and I were successful.

Star Trek Uniform SocksIn the original Star Trek series, the crew’s uniforms were color coded: gold uniforms were command; red uniforms were engineering and security; and blue uniforms were science and medical. Parish ministry entails all three. So, Patrick, I have a little gift for you — a set of three pairs of official Star Trek color-coded uniform socks to remind you of these aspects of pastoral ministry.

Gold — command: Patrick, the canons of your diocese (with which, you may recall, I have some familiarity) provide that as rector, “by virtue of such office, [you have] the powers and duties conferred by the General Canons of the Church, and in this connection shall exercise pastoral oversight of all guilds and societies within the parish, and [you are] entitled to speak and vote on all questions before these bodies.” (Canon IV.6, Diocese of Kansas) The canons provide that you are the chair person of the vestry and that you not only chair the annual meeting of the parish, you are also the final arbiter of who may vote at the meeting.

That’s a good deal of command authority and it should not be taken lightly. Remember two things about it. First, that you share it with others. The canons specify that the vestry “shall share with the Rector a concern and responsibility for the mission, ministry, and spiritual life of the parish.” (Canon IV.5.6(a)) But not only the vestry, all the good people this parish are your co-workers. As our catechism makes clear, “the ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons;” every single baptized person, every member of this church has a ministry. The Rector does not do it alone, nor should he.

You remember on Star Trek: TOS, Captain Kirk went on every away mission. That’s a model of poor leadership; the captain should not have commanded, or even been a part of, every away team. Trust the rest of the crew — the vestry, the staff, volunteers, all the people of the parish — to handle things.

Remember Paul’s opening words to the Corinthians in this evening’s epistle: “We are God’s servants, working together . . . .” You and the vestry and people of this congregation are God’s servants, working together. You as the Rector don’t have to do it all — you do have to know what is happening; you have to be in the information loop and be privy to all the information pertinent to the running of the church and to ministering with and among its members, but you don’t have do it all!

I suspect that if Jesus were to critique Kirk’s style of leadership, he might say something along the lines of “It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:26) That is the second thing to remember about command authority in the church. Be like the 6th Century pope St. Gregory the Great and remember that as a leader in the church you are the “servant of the servants of God.”

The red uniforms were for those doing engineering and security, and there is a lot of that in parish ministry. Much of it, knowing where the boilers are and how they work, knowing where the circuit breakers and fuses are, knowing how to fix a leaky faucet or a squeaky hinge or a broken kneeler . . . much of it falls into the category of “things they didn’t teach us in seminary.” But there is also a lot of engineering and security that they did teach us.

The ministry of word and sacrament are the engineering and security jobs of the parish priest; preaching God’s word and celebrating God’s Sacraments, for which seminary did prepare us. They are central to any priest’s ministry, and to do them well takes time and it takes prayer.

Preparing a sermon can easily consume 10-15 hours per week. Similarly, planning liturgies, not only for regular Sunday services, but for weddings, funerals, holidays, and other special events takes time and care. Many people are willing to say their clergy should put in this kind of time, but the only way the rector can have this time is if other demands are otherwise taken care of. I have admonished Patrick not to be Captain Kirk going on every away mission. So I admonish you, the people of St. Paul’s Parish, that you must not expect him to make every pastoral visit, oversee every parish activity, make every administrative decision. As St. Paul wrote the Ephesians, each member of the church is given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift and each member must work to properly promoting the body’s growth. I encourage you to claim the shared ministry of the whole people of God and join with your rector and your deacons in providing pastoral care to one another, in managing parish activities, and in administrative governance.

Patrick, this obligation of the congregation means that you must answer it with a similar commitment. Just like Engineer Scott was always adjusting the “warp coils” and tuning the “dilithium crystals” (whatever those were), you must take time in prayer adjusting your spirit and tuning your psyche. Take the time your congregation gives you to prepare prayerfully for these “red uniform” ministries — preaching and sacramental celebration. Be like Captain Jean-Luc Picard in TNG; take private time in your “ready room;” spend time in conversation with God every day. Other things can wait or someone else can do them . . . but no one else can listen to God for you. You must spend your own time in prayer.

Sandy, I would say the same thing to you. Your engineering and security ministry will be different from Patrick’s, obviously. As a deacon, you are (I’m sure) familiar with the description of the role of the deacon as bringing the world’s needs to the attention of the church and taking the church’s ministry into service in the world. Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship, nurture others in their relationship to God, and lead church people to respond to the needs of the most needy, neglected, and marginalized of the world. Those are definitely “red uniform” tasks, and they too can only be done well with careful and prayerful preparation.

Prayer is also the “red uniform” ministry of whole congregation. The early 19th Century American Presbyterian preacher and seminary professor Gardiner Spring wrote in his book The Power of the Pulpit:

[H]ow unspeakably precious the thought to all who labor in this great work, whether in youthful, or riper years, that they are … habitually remembered in the prayers of the churches! Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be very much such a minister as their prayers may make him. If nothing short of Omnipotent grace can make a Christian, nothing less than this can make a faithful and successful minister of the Gospel!

We might express this thought differently today, but Gardiner’s point remains valid. Your prayers, good people, even more than their own, are the wellspring from which flows the water of God’s grace on which Patrick’s ministry as priest and Sandy’s as a deacon so much depend. If you wish their ministries to bear good fruit, do not forget to pray for them, and let them know that you are doing so!

Star Trek:TOS CrewWhich brings us, at last, to the blue uniforms, the science and medical corps of the star ship. Mr. Spock the Science officer and Doctor “Bones” McCoy always wore blue. One of the ancient terms that we still use for pastoral ministry is “the cure of souls,” the word “cure” having pretty much the same meaning as it has in medicine. Broadly speaking, this ministry is the care, protection, and oversight of the nourishment and spiritual well-being of the souls committed to the pastor’s care; it may be shared with others, with deacons or with lay ministers, but it is truly the ministry of the parish priest. It is in this “blue shirt” ministry that those wonderful, painful, joyful, intimate moments of grace that I spoke of earlier will happen.

It is customary at these services to ask the clergy about to be installed to stand for an admonition or a charge, but I’m not going to do that this evening. We aren’t here celebrating only the installation of the rector, or only the new ministry of these two clergy; we are celebrating the whole ministry of all the People of God in this parish. So I have a charge for all of you.

I know you expect me to say something like “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before,” but that would just be too hokey, don’t you think?

No, I have rather more practical and down-to-earth advice.

Give each other time; give one another your attention; support one another with your prayers; respect yourselves and each other; and, most importantly, love one another. (Members of St. Paul’s, I can’t underscore the last one enough. You expect your clergy to remember your birthdays and your wedding anniversaries, to thank you when you perform some volunteer service, to greet you pleasantly when they see you at the grocery store. That’s only natural, and it’s right and proper that you do so. But, please, do the same for them! It is the most important thing the people of a parish can do for their clergy. Love Patrick and Sandy, their spouses and their families. Invite them into your homes. Remember their birthdays and anniversaries. Remember to say, “Thank you” once in a while. Believe me: it really is such little things that make all the difference.)

And, again, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “We are God’s servants, working together.” So together represent Christ, bear witness to him wherever you may be and, according to the gifts given to each of you, carry on his work of reconciliation in the world.

If you do these things, you shall, by God’s grace, like Ridley and Latimer, light such a candle in Kansas, as, I trust, will never be put out.

Make it so! Amen!


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Better Angels – Sermon for St. Michael & All Angels Day – September 29, 2013


This sermon was preached on St. Michael and All Angels Day, September 29, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The Episcopal Lectionary, Michaelmas: Genesis 28:10-17; Revelation 12:7-12; Psalm 103; and John 1:47-51. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)


Icon of the ArchangelsWe are stepping out of the “common of time,” away from the progression of lessons assigned for the Sundays of Ordinary Time, and instead celebrating the Feast of Michaelmas, known variously as the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel or as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael, or as the Feast of the Archangels, or as the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (the latter being the preferred Anglican name for this commemoration). The only reason we are doing so is a personal conceit of your rector; Michaelmas, the 29th of September, just happens to be my birthday. Today I am celebrating the 30th anniversary of my twenty-eleventh birthday. I’ll get back to that in a moment, but first . . . a word about Michaelmas.

It shouldn’t surprise any of us that on, St. Michael and All Angels Day, we are treated to three very familiar stories of angels in Holy Scripture: first, the story of “Jacob’s ladder;” second, the story of the war in heaven in which Michael, leading the “good” angels, beats “the dragon” (named “the Devil or Satan”) and his “bad” angels; and finally, the gospel story of Jesus telling Nathanael that he will see something like Jacob’s ladder, “ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

We know what angels are, or at least we think we do. They are a separate order of creation, beings of spiritual energy who interact with human beings as the servants and often as the messengers of God. The English word angel derives from the Latin angelus which in turn is the romanization of the ancient ángelos which means “messenger” or “envoy.” In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, we find the terms mal’ak elohim (“messenger of God”), mal’ak YHWH (“messenger of the Lord”), bene elohim (“sons of God”) and haqqodesim (“holy ones”) translated into English as angels. The first of these, mal’ak elohim, is what we find in today’s Genesis passage. In addition, there are specific kinds of angels identified in the Hebrew Scriptures. There are the Cherubim – one of whom is placed with a flaming sword to guard the gateway to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 and who are said to flank or support God’s throne as, for example, in Hezekiah’s prayer in the book of the Prophet Isaiah (ch. 37); the Cherubs are apparently not cute, little, chubby baby angels! And there are the Seraphim – whom Isaiah describes as having “six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew,” and who sing God’s praises in the heavenly throne room.

We know the personal names of some of the angels, particularly the archangels – Gabriel, who is named in the Book of Daniel and identified in the Gospel of Luke as the angel of the Annunciation; Raphael, who is identified as a companion and advisor to Tobias in the apocryphal Book of Tobit; Uriel, who was sent to test the prophet Ezra according to the apocryphal Second Book of Esdras; and Michael, who is the leader of God’s angel army in the story of Revelation today.

We know that human beings, when they die, do not become angels . . . although lots of people say things like that in order to comfort the bereaved who have lost loved ones. Angels, as I said, are a separate order of creation, beings of immense spiritual energy. If the Book of Job is correct, they were created before the physical world: in questioning Job, God asks him if he was there when the foundations of the earth were put in place, “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (38:7; the term here is bene elohim, sons of God.)

So . . . we know a lot about angels, but why do we venerate them on this particular day? And what can we learn from them? The first question is easy to answer: the date commemorates the dedication of the Sanctuary of St. Michael Archangel built on Monte Gargano in Italy in 493 a.d. in honor of an apparition of the archangel a few years before. The second question is not so easy.

What I think we learn from angels is conscience. Whenever I hear the word “angels,” to be very honest, my first thought is not of their religious history or meaning, but of the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address given on March 4, 1861, just two weeks after Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as president of the Confederacy. Referring to that secession and the potential of war to preserve the Union, finished his speech saying:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

I love that turn of phrase, “the better angels of our nature.” I’m not the least bit sure what Mr. Lincoln meant by the phrase, but it has always appealed to me. A few years ago, a Harvard psychologist named Steven Pinker used it as the title of a book in which he named four of these “better angels:”

  • Empathy, which “prompts us to feel the pain of others and to align their interests with our own”
  • Self-control, which “allows us to anticipate the consequences of acting on our impulses” and thus to regulate those impulses
  • Moral sense, which “sanctifies a set of norms and taboos that govern the interactions among people”
  • Reason, which “allows us to extract ourselves from our parochial vantage points.”

These are all, to my way of thinking, gifts of God. In a sense, they are a modern rendition of what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit,” although Paul listed nine attributes: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Or of those gifts of the Holy Spirit listed by Isaiah: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. It is through these fruits and gifts that human conscience is informed and moral judgment enlightened, and conscience, as Thomas Merton said, “is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.” (No Man Is an Island)

Some of you may be familiar with the Henry Fonda film from the 1940s entitled The Ox-Bow Incident. It’s based on a novel of the same name by the Nevada writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark. In the story, the narrator Art Croft is one of two men who drift into a Nevada ranching town and end up becoming part of a posse that turns into a lynch mob. They end up hanging, without a trial, three men who may or may not actually be guilty of the crimes they are accused of — cattle rustling and murder. Reflecting on what has happened, Art Croft asks, “If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience?” If the angels are the messengers of God, perhaps our conscience is the means through which the “better angels of our nature” communicate God’s will to us. As Theologian Peter Kreeft explains, the conscience as “the voice of God in the soul.”

Along those lines, in a Michaelmas sermon preached a few years ago, the Very Rev. John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, said this:

We can and should then think of God speaking directly to us, out of his love and care for us as individuals. However we must understand God’s presence with us as a reality inseparable from that of God’s presence among us. Through our fellowship in the Church, Christ’s Body, God informs our conscience through his Word and feeds our soul through the sacraments, drawing us together as Christians into unity with each other and with himself. If we try to go it alone as Christians, we run great risks of going astray. The Church understands the work and role of the angels as assisting in mediating the presence of God with us and amongst us. (29 September 2010)

I don’t think I can learn much from angels as mighty beings standing guard at the entrance to Eden, or as warriors fighting Satan and casting him out of heaven, or as singers in the heavenly choir, or as the pillars and supports of God’s throne. But as the prompters and prickers of my conscience, as the “better angels” of empathy, moral sense, self-control, and reason, as the communicators of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, as mediators of God’s presence in the Church, I can learn a great deal from them.

The Psalmist, in our gradual this morning, declared that God’s righteousness and merciful goodness endure forever “on those who keep his covenant and remember his commandments and do them.” It is these “better angels” who keep that memory alive in our consciences and to them, and to the God whose presence they mediate within us individually and among us corporately, we can turn for answers to life’s challenges.

So . . . as I said, it’s my birthday. Today, and for the next decade or so, when asked how old I am, I can answer, “Sixty-something.” (A graphic I posted today on my Facebook page says, “I’m not sixty-something. I’m $59.95 plus shipping and handling.”) In any event, a birthday is a time of taking stock, or considering one’s past, one’s actions, the answers one has developed in one’s life, and one’s future.

I mentioned in a conversation with some parishioners last week that when I’d been ten years at St. Francis Parish in Stilwell, Kansas, my congregation last before this one, Evelyn and I came to the conclusion that it was time to leave. One of the people I was talking with asked, “You’ve been here at St. Paul’s for ten years. Is it time to leave?” That’s a birthday sort of question. It’s what might be called “a big question.”

The past six decades, like everyone’s life, has been full of big questions of that sort, to be honest. Whether to study law? Whether to get married? Whether to leave the practice of law? Whether to become a priest? Move to Kansas? Leave Kansas? Accept nomination in an episcopal election? Those are big questions. But sometimes our replies to big questions are little answers, puny responses that put off meeting the real challenges.

A friend recently shared a poem with me, a poem by Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell. I wasn’t familiar with Sitwell so I did some research on her. She was the eldest child of the 4th Baronet of Renishaw Hall, born in 1887. In her twenties, she began publishing poems in the Daily Mirror newspaper. She was six feet tall and habitually wore brocade gowns, gold turbans, and (one biographer said) “a plethora of rings.” Apparently she was given to public feuds with other literary figures. One critic said of her that “wore other people’s bleeding hearts on her own safe sleeve,” and another called her “an eccentric matriarch with a slender grip on reality.” Just my sort of poet! No wonder I liked what she had to say about our responses to life’s questions in a short poem entitled Answers:

I kept my answers small and kept them near;
Big questions bruised my mind but still I let
Small answers be a bulwark to my fear.

The huge abstractions I kept from the light;
Small things I handled and caressed and loved.
I let the stars assume the whole of night.

But the big answers clamoured to be moved
Into my life. Their great audacity
Shouted to be acknowledged and believed.

Even when all small answers build up to
Protection of my spirit, still I hear
Big answers striving for their overthrow.

And all the great conclusions coming near.

I believe the “great conclusions coming near,” the big answers clamoring, the huge abstractions shouting to be acknowledged, are the angels calling each of us to greater ministries, the messengers of God urging us to a more audacious Christian presence in the world.

In a couple of months’ time, our construction project will be done. We’ll have a great new gallery, an expanded parish hall, a great new face presented to the community. When we broke ground here in July, the Old Testament lesson was the same reading from Genesis we hear this morning. I suggested then that this place, this St. Paul’s Episcopal Church located at 317 East Liberty Street in Medina, Ohio, is like Jacob’s Bethel.

It is an awesome place. It is a house of God. It is a gate of heaven. But just like Jacob’s Bethel, it is a place we are bidden to leave; it is a place from which the angels of God bid us go. A church building is meant to be the base from which the people of God go into the world. A church building is meant to be a place of life, a center of ministry, a place of assembly, where God’s people gather to worship, to hear the message of the angels, to celebrate the meaning of life, and to be transformed, and then “burst forth,” back out into the world to share the Good News with, and transform the lives of, others. The angels of God call us individually and corporately to greater ministries, to a more audacious Christian presence in our world.

The answer to that “big question” I was asked is, “No, it’s not time for me to leave St. Paul’s.” But it is time for all of us as St. Paul’s to leave this place, to go out from this new building we are creating, to “burst forth” into the world like Jacob and his offspring, to be “angels,” messengers of God, telling the world the Good News of God in Christ.



A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Pecking Chickens – From the Sanctoral Lectionary (Julian of Norwich) – May 8, 2013

From the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

(From the Santoral Lectionary – John 4:26 (NRSV) – May 8, 2013.)

Roosting ChickensNote: Today, my verse for contemplation isn’t from the Daily Office Lectionary. It’s from the sanctoral lectionary for the commemoration of Julian of Norwich. Today is the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons; we used the lessons for Julian’s feast. So, I took the personal prerogative of reading those lessons this morning.

Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman are conversing by a village well where she, an unmarried woman apparently living in an adulterous relationship, has come to draw water at a time when other women will not be present. He, a Jew traveling through this hostile countryside, in contravention of Law and custom, has spoken to her. At the end of what must have been the oddest conversation of her life, he drops this bombshell: “I am the Messiah.” I’m sure she could hardly believe her ears!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a conference for clergy in which the presenter at the opening session asked us to engage in a bit of silent reflection, first to remember our sense of call (when did it happen? has it faded? when did it start to fade? what is different, then and now?), and then to call to mind the ways in which we feel bound up and exiled from that original sense of ministry. During our time of silent reflection, the presenter softly read selected verses from the Psalms.

As he was reading, I closed my eyes. I listened carefully to the words he was reciting. I tried to recall that growing understanding of discernment, of a sense of urgency about doing ministry as an ordained person. But a sound intruded, a rhythmic but irregular tapping, a familiar staccato, as if my consciousness were being pecked by hens the way my hands often were when gathering eggs in my grandmother’s chicken coop. I tried to ignore it . . . but there it was: tickety-tick-tick-tack, tackety-tack-tick-tick, pause, tickety tickety tickety. Pecking away at my mind. Suddenly I recognized it — the tapping of the keys on a lap-top computer not unlike the one I am using right now. I could hardly believe my ears!

I opened my eyes and searched the room. There! One of my colleagues across the room, typing away on a MacBook or a Dell or something. Apparently not listening to the speaker sonorously reciting the Psalms. Apparently not contemplating, reconnecting with his call. Not seeming present to the moment at all.

At first I was amused. I smiled. I closed my eyes again, determined to ignore the sound; now that I knew what it was, I could filter it out. — But I couldn’t. The more I tried not to hear it, the louder the typing became: TICKETY-TICK-TICK-TACK, TACKETY-TACK-TICK-TICK, TICKETY TICKETY TICKETY! I stopped smiling; I wanted to strangle my colleague! Those damned hens were pecking away at my soul!

Suppose the speaker had quietly announced in that tone of voice we all have heard, the one that cannot be denied, the one we know in the depths of our souls is speaking truth . . . suppose he had said to us, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Would my colleague have heard it? Would I have heard it?

I don’t blame my colleague. I had arrived late, so I had left my lap-top in my car and run into the conference room just as the session had started. If I’d gotten there early, I’d probably have found an electrical outlet, plugged in my converter, fired up the ol’ MacBook, and started working on something. And when it came time to close my eyes and contemplate my sense of call, the chickens at my own hands would have pecked so loudly I’d never have heard a word of what was said.

The woman who came to the well came at a time when only she would be there. When the foreign rabbi spoke to her, she put down her bucket. She listened. She contemplated. She connected. She was present in the moment. No chickens pecked at her consciousness; no chickens pecked at her soul. She was able to hear him say, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

We need to do that from time to time. We need to do that often. We need to get away from the pecking chickens so that we (and those around us) can hear.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Whole World is Irish on March 17 – Sermon for the Feast of St. Patrick – March 17, 2013


This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 17, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Episcopal Sanctorale Lectionary, Patrick of Ireland: Psalm 97:1-2,7-12; Ezekiel 36:33-38; and Matthew 28:16-20. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary. At St. Paul’s Parish, during Lent, we are using the Daily Office of Morning Prayer as our antecommunion; therefore, only these two lessons and the psalm were read. The Epistle lesson, 1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12, was not used.)


Icon of St. Patrick of IrelandIn Ainm an Athar, agus an Mhic, agus an Spioraid Naoimh. Áiméan.

Dia dhaoibh ar maidin, gach duine. Beannachtaí na fheile Padraig oraibh.

That’s more Irish than I’ve spoken in nearly two years! What I said was, “God be with you this morning, everyone. The blessings of the Feast of St. Patrick be with you.” In other words, Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Everyone loves to be Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. Even though we Funstons being descendants of Anglican Irish (or as the Irish would say, “Protestants”) did not have much, if anything, to do with the Irish communities of my childhood, we still (like everyone else) enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day. We would go to the parades, see and hear the pipe-and-drum corps, and all the other traditional sorts of things. On the evening news, we would see the reports of parades in other places, especially the big one down Fifth Avenue in New York City. And we would usually have corned beef and cabbage for dinner.

I have no problem with people dressing kilts (which aren’t really Irish, at all), putting green food coloring in beer, eating corned beef and cabbage (which is also not really Irish), or any of the other silly things people do on this day. It’s all part of the fun. Many like to watch Irish-themed movies on St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite is the heartwarming tale of a boxer’s return home in The Quiet Man, but I also like the mythical nonsense of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, or the intense drama of The Field, or the whacky comedy of Waking Ned Devine. Those movies are the only times I hear anyone say, “Top o’ the mornin’ to ye” or “Faith and begorrah.” At least, I’ve never heard anyone say those things during any of my trips to Ireland.

The worship committee thought we ought to step away from Lent for a day (because March 17 today falls on Sunday) and celebrate St. Patrick. After all, on March 17, the whole world is Irish . . . but the man we commemorate wasn’t Irish and it would be much truer to his memory if on his feast day all the world tried to be not Irish, but Christian.

Patrick, who was a Romano-Brit (meaning a Roman who lived in Britain) was the son of a minor imperial official named Calpornius, who was also a deacon in the church; his grandfather Potitus was a priest. Around the year 406 A.D., at the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave in Ireland to a minor tribal king. After six years, he escaped and returned home to Britain, and then went to Rome. There he was ordained a priest and a bishop and, according to the chronicle of Prosper of Aquitane, was appointed bishop to the Irish by Pope Celestine I; he arrived back in Ireland in 432 A.D. He landed near modern-day Belfast and set up his principal foundation in Armagh, which is now considered the Primatial See of Ireland. He ministered primarily in that part of the country known as Ulster. Patrick was not the first bishop appointed to bring the Christian faith to the people of Ireland. Ciaran and Palladius came before him, but their mission (primarily in Munster and Leinster, further south) did not bear the same fruits as Patrick’s. So today, what we celebrate is not Irish identity or heritage; today, we celebrate the success of a mission to spread the Christian faith.

The choir is going sing a poetic prayer or lorica attributed to Patrick, the famous St. Patrick’s Breastplate, as their anthem. It is attributed to him, but there is disagreement as to whether he actually wrote it. But he did write this prayer:

I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things, so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people. (The Confession of St. Patrick)

For St. Patrick it seems the faith which passed the test was deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical. He is credited with using the shamrock, now one of the national emblems of Ireland, as an illustration of the Trinity – three lobes, yet one leaf – although that is probably an 18th Century legend rather than a historical fact. And as you heard, the Gospel lesson for his commemoration is the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Christ’s final words to his apostles before ascending into Heaven. This evangelical, Trinitarian faith — not green beer nor Celtic music nor corned beef and cabbage nor Irish-ness itself — but trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit shared with and commended to everyone around us, this is what we celebrate when we celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick.

I thought perhaps the lesson from Ezekiel was chosen for his feast because, with its “forty shades of green,” Ireland might make one think of the garden of Eden, and in Ireland there are both ruined towns and towns that are inhabited, some of both walled and fortified. But I think rather that it was chosen because, just as the nations around Israel came to know the Lord, the God of Israel, so the nations to which Irish missionaries went came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. What Patrick started in Ireland in 5th Century by the mid 6th Century was spreading to northern Europe, carried there by Irish priests and monks practicing what was called “white martyrdom.” The term comes from a 7th Century Irish sermon called the Cambrai homily:

Now there are three kinds of martyrdom that are counted as a cross to us, namely, white, blue, and red martyrdom.
It is white martyrdom for a man when he separates from everything that he loves for God, although he does not endure fasting and labor thereby.
The blue martyrdom is when through fasting and hard work they control their desires or struggle in penance and repentance.
The red martyrdom is when they endure a cross or destruction for Christ’s sake, as happened to the Apostles when they were persecuted the wicked and taught the law of God. (O. Davis, Celtic Spirituality, Paulist Press: 1999)

The white martyrs left everything dear to them — homes, families, familiar surroundings, even Ireland itself — to spread the Gospel in distant lands; white martyrdom was a pilgrimage on behalf of Christ that might be extended permanently so that they would never again see their homeland. They went first to Scotland and the north of England, but then further afield to Holland, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and even further. Like the man who had brought Christianity to their homeland, they held a deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical faith; and it is that faith which we celebrate when we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

It is that faith we all claim and, when we commemorate Patrick, it is to the spread of that faith that we dedicate ourselves. On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, a special Litany of Penance is recited in Episcopal Churches. Among the confessions of that Litany we find this petition: “Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, we confess to you, Lord.” (BCP 1979, page 268)

Let us remember that confession on St. Patrick’s Day and try not so much to be Irish, but try to be better Christians. Let us be like Patrick, who was not Irish, but Christian, and like him let us follow Christ’s Great Commission. If we must be Irish on this day, let us be like those Irish white martyrs of old, and commend the faith that is in us, a faith that is deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical.

Let us remember, also, a petition from the Great Litany which we recited on the First Sunday in Lent four weeks ago:

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good, we beseech thee to hear us, good Lord. (BCP 1979, page 151)

Let us pray:

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Rector’s Address: “The Dream” by Wesley Frensdorff – Conversion of St. Paul (tr.) – January 27, 2013


This address was given on Sunday, January 27, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector. The day was celebrated as the Patronal Feast of the parish by translating the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul from January 25 to this, the closest following Sunday. Rather than preach on the propers of the day (Epiphany 3) or of the translated feast, Fr. Funston offered this assessment of the parish and how well it meets the vision of The Dream, a prophetic piece of prose written more than thirty years ago by the late Wesley Frensdorff, one-time bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada.

(Lessons for the Conversion of St. Paul according to the practice of the Episcopal Church: Acts 26:9-21; Psalm 67; Galatians 1:11-24; and Matthew 10:16-22. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)


Fr. Funston assisted at the Communion Table by children of St. Paul's ParishMore than thirty years ago, a bishop named Wesley Frensdorff set out his vision for the church in a piece of writing he title simply The Dream. Wes Frensdorff was a good friend to Evelyn and to me. He was her parish priest when she was a child, and her boss when she was the director of the Diocese of Nevada’s summer camp. He officiated at our wedding, and is the person who spoke for God and hounded me into eventually becoming a clergyman. As my Rector’s Report, I’d like to share his dream with you, adding my own brief comments as to how I see this church meeting his vision.

Bishop Frensdorff begins . . .

Let us dream of a church . . .
in which all members know surely and simply God’s great love, and each is certain that in the divine heart we are all known by name.
in which Jesus is very Word, our window into the Father’s heart; the sign of God’s hope and his design for all humankind.
in which the Spirit is not a party symbol, but wind and fire in everyone; gracing the church with a kaleidoscope of gifts and constant renewal for all.

I think that is the sort of church we at St. Paul’s Parish are, a congregation which knows God and God’s Son and in which everyone’s gifts and ministries are welcomed, empowered, and celebrated. We have just received written and oral reports on the many and varied ways in which those gifts and ministries are embodied in our parish.

The bishop continues . . .

A church in which . . .
worship is lively and fun as well as reverent and holy; and we might be moved to dance and laugh; to be solemn, cry or beat the breast.
people know how to pray and enjoy it – frequently and regularly, privately and corporately, in silence and in word and song.
the Eucharist is the center of life and servanthood the center of mission: the servant Lord truly known in the breaking of the bread, with service flowing from worship, and everyone understanding why worship is called a service.

I believe we are such a congregation. We have affirmed often that we are a Eucharisticly-centered parish, a prayerful people, and a place of service. We have an active parish prayer chain; we have groups which meet weekly to read spiritual writings or study the Holy Scriptures (and I wish there were more of those); we have just instituted a new chapter of the Order of the Daughters of the King, whose ministry is one of intentional prayer. This is a parish with an active corporate and individual prayer life.

Let us dream of a church . . .
in which the sacraments, free from captivity by a professional elite, are available in every congregation regardless of size, culture, location, or budget.
in which every congregation is free to call forth from its midst priests and deacons, sure in the knowledge that training and support services are available to back them up.
in which the Word is sacrament too, as dynamically present as bread and wine; members, not dependent on professionals, know what’s what and who’s who in the Bible, and all sheep share in the shepherding.
in which discipline is a means not to self-justification but to discipleship, and law is known to be a good servant but a poor master.

I believe we are or are becoming such a congregation. We are a parish in which leadership of worship is shared, in which many study the Holy Scriptures (though I wish more would do so), and in which the discipline of the Christian life is a matter of trust and grace. This is a parish in which the “sheep share in the shepherding;” in addition to our Lay Eucharistic Visitors, we have many in our congregation who’s personal ministry is keeping in touch with those they may not see in church, those whom they know to be in need of a friendly visit, those who may not speak up when they are lonely. It is a delight to be the priest in a place where many share the pastoral service which is the ministry of the priesthood of all believers.

A church . . .
affirming life over death as much as life after death, unafraid of change, able to recognize God’s hand in the revolutions, affirming the beauty of diversity, abhorring the imprisonment of uniformity, as concerned about love in all relationships as it is about chastity, and affirming the personal in all expressions of sexuality;
denying the separation between secular and sacred, world and church, since it is the world Christ came to and died for.

I believe we are such a congregation. We are a parish which welcomes all regardless of race, origin, or sexuality; we are a parish in a tradition which boldly proclaims that creation is good and which seeks to husband and enhance that goodness.

A church . . .
without the answers, but asking the right questions; holding law and grace, freedom and authority, faith and works together in tension, by the Holy Spirit, pointing to the glorious mystery who is God.
so deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.

I believe we are such a congregation. St. Paul’s Parish is a household which welcomes the seeker, the questioner, the curious, and the new, offering not easy, black-and-white answers, but responses and exploration in a community of questioners.

Let us dream of a church . . .
with a radically renewed concept and practice of ministry, and a primitive understanding of the ordained offices.
where there is no clerical status and no classes of Christians, but all together know themselves to be part of the laos – the holy people of God.
a ministering community rather than a community gathered around a minister.
where ordained people, professional or not, employed or not, are present for the sake of ordering and signing the church’s life and mission, not as signs of authority or dependency, nor of spiritual or intellectual superiority, but with Pauline patterns of “ministry supporting church” instead of the common pattern of “church supporting ministry.”
where bishops are signs and animators of the church’s unity, catholicity, and apostolic mission, priests are signs and animators of her Eucharistic life and the sacramental presence of her Great High Priest, and deacons are signs and animators – living reminders – of the church’s servanthood as the body of Christ who came as, and is, the servant slave of all God’s beloved children.

I hope we are becoming such a congregation in such a diocese. We have affirmed and celebrated today the ministry of many of God’s people through the activities and outreach of this parish. I look forward to a time when there may be one or more additional priests to animate (as Bishop Frensdorff put it) our Eucharistic life, when there may be one or more deacons to animate our life of service and servanthood, but whether we have those or not, we are now a community which, nourished on Christ’s Body and Blood, is corporately and individually reaching out in service to our community. The Free Farmers’ Market is our largest and most active corporate outreach ministry; but we have many members who are active in public service as hospital and hospice volunteers, as board members of charities, as tutors, and in a variety of other ways. Their public service is a testament to the Christian witness of this church to which they belong.

Let us dream of a church . . .
so salty and so yeasty that it really would be missed if no longer around; where there is wild sowing of seeds and much rejoicing when they take root, but little concern for success, comparative statistics, growth or even survival.
a church so evangelical that its worship, its quality of caring, its eagerness to reach out to those in need cannot be contained.

I believe we are becoming such a congregation. At a recent meeting of leadership in this parish, one of our people said, “I’m looking forward to failing!” What he meant was that he looks forward to us going out into the community around us with (as the bishop says) “little concern for success,” simply going out and getting something done, spreading the Gospel without worrying about the final outcome, which is always and ever in God’s hands.

A church . . .
in which every congregation is in a process of becoming free – autonomous – self-reliant – interdependent, none has special status: the distinction between parish and mission gone.
where each congregation is in mission and each Christian, gifted for ministry; a crew on a freighter, not passengers on a luxury liner.
of peacemakers and healers abhorring violence in all forms (maybe even football), as concerned with societal healing as with individual healing; with justice as with freedom, prophetically confronting the root causes of social, political, and economic ills.
which is a community: an open, caring, sharing household of faith where all find embrace, acceptance. and affirmation.
a community: under judgment, seeking to live with its own proclamation, therefore, truly loving what the Lord commands and desiring his promise.

I believe this is what we meant when we declared, as a congregation, that St. Paul’s Parish’s reason for being is “to set hearts on fire for Jesus” and that our mission is “to advance the Kingdom of God through liturgical worship, spiritual education, personal growth, and service to others.”

And finally, let us dream of a people
called to recognize all the absurdities in ourselves and in one another, including the absurdity that is Love,
serious about the call and the mission but not, very much, about ourselves,
who, in the company of our Clown Redeemer can dance and sing and laugh and cry in worship, in ministry, and even in conflict.
[Frensdorff was a great lover of clowns who often used the clown as a metaphor or illustration in his preaching about Jesus.]

I recently read an essay entitled Why Does God Need the Church? by Ragan Sutterfield, an Episcopalian who lives in Arkansas. Sutterfield’s answer is that God needs the church “to be God’s real presence in the world . . . a radical and amazing call for a group of people.” But, he wrote, “we need to realize . . . that the buildings, the ecclesial bodies, the liturgies, the hierarchies, the bishops, the priests, the laity, the budgets, etc, etc, etc, are only valuable as parts of the church in so far as they are fulfilling the mission of God. And . . . God’s mission is not nice services for nice people in nice buildings.” (Emphasis added.)

Sutterfield, I think, is echoing Bishop Frensdorff’s vision. In doing so, Sutterfield, proposed two new ways to think of our church congregations. First, as “icon” – an icon, he says, is an image that sparks the imagination to move beyond the image and see God. The question we must ask ourselves is “Are we such a community? Looking at us, visiting us, worshiping with us, being served by us, and serving with us, are others moved beyond us to see God?” I believe that we are such a community and I hope that others see through us in that way.

Sutterfield’s second new image of the church is as a “dojo.” A dojo, as you probably know, is “a practice community within martial arts – it is the place where adherents to a specific form come together to learn how to be better practitioners, both from each other and from recognized masters of the form.” It is, simply put, the place and community where people come to get better at what they do. In the church-as-dojo, the congregation becomes the place where we come together to work at becoming more Christ-like. The church becomes a place where we come not to sing some nice songs and hear an occasionally good sermon, but a community with which we gather to explore the faith with one another, recognizing that some among us are more practiced than we may be, challenging each other and learning from one another how better to practice the way of Jesus.

Sutterfield concludes with a vision not too much different from Bishop Frensdorff’s:

Imagine a church where, after a few months of regularly attending, you are able to recognize that you are less angry than you used to be. Imagine a church that shows you how to forgive the person who hurt you most profoundly. Imagine a church that measures your love of God as Dorothy Day did hers, by how much you love the person you love least. Imagine a church that loves you for who you are, away from all of the facades of the self, and teaches you how to love.

I believe that St. Paul’s Parish is and is constantly becoming such a place and such a community. The reports we have received today, the leadership our vestry and officers provide, the ministries of all of our members, all demonstrate that that is so, and for that I am grateful to each of you and to God.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everliving God,
ruler of all things in heaven and earth,
hear our prayers for this parish family.
Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent.
Grant us all things necessary for our common life,
and bring us all to be of one heart and mind
within your holy Church;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Will you turn to the prayers page of the Annual Journal and join me in the “Disturb us, Lord” prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake which our Inviting the Future Committee adopted as the guiding prayer for our capital project. After the prayer, we’ll sing I Have Decided to Follow Jesus (which is on the back cover of the Journal) and stand adjourned.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when, with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life. Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. Amen.

A Toy Telephone – Sermon for Christmas 1, Year C – December 30, 2012


This sermon was preached on Sunday, December 30, 2012, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Revised Common Lectionary, Christmas 1, Year C: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7; and John 1:1-18. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)


Baby Girl with To Phone“No matter how big and bad you are . . . when a two-year-old hands you a toy telephone, you answer it.” That piece of wisdom showed up on my Facebook newsfeed recently and I will return to it in a moment, but first I want to share some more Christmas poetry with you.

Many of you may know the work of the late Madeleine L’Engle, the author who died in 2007. She was best known for her young-adult series called “The Time Quartet”: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.

She was also a first-rate theologian and a poet. Her poem about the Nativity of Christ, First Coming, is among my favorites:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

The first lines of that last verse speak to me most clearly: “We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice.” Those lines speak to me of our Gospel lesson today, which is the prolog of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John’s prologue is also the Gospel lesson, shorter by four verses, for the Eucharist on Christmas morning. It is for me a much more meaningful Gospel of the Incarnation than Luke’s sweet story of innkeepers, shepherds, angels, and the virgin birth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (v. 1) These words speak to me of a God who communicates and through communication creates, redeems, and saves. It reminds us of the story of creation in Genesis: “God said . . . .” God spoke the creative word and everything came into being. Through the prophets and in the birth of Jesus, God spoke the redeeming word and guaranteed our salvation. When another speaks we must respond, as L’Engle wrote, “We cannot wait till the world is sane;” we must raise our voices.

On the Calendar of Saints, we remembered John as apostle and gospel writer on Thursday; his feast day is December 27. In the Daily Office readings for his commemoration we heard from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.
(Isaiah 44:6-8, NRSV)

Isaiah’s prophecy in the reading for John’s feastcay, underscores John’s Gospel. Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, demands communication from other gods who would seek to supplant the Almighty: “Let them proclaim . . . let them declare . . . who has announced? . . . let them tell.” And God reminds us that God is a communicator: “Have I not told you from of old and declared it?” Our God is a God who communicates, who is in relationship with his people, who comes among them to speak and to listen. The other gods are nothing but mute idols.

Or, at least, in Isaiah’s time, they were. Have you watched any TV the past few days? There are as many advertisements now as there were before Christmas. They are sprinkled among “new” stories of post-Christmas sales, politics, and “the fiscal cliff”. They come every 13 minutes as we watch programs and movies in which brand-name consumer goods are strategically placed on the set or used by the characters. The gods of greed and consumption are communicating most loudly; the objects of modern worship are promoting themselves wantonly.

But are they listening? Do these gods hear the cries of the poor and homeless? Do these idols listen to the moans of the hungry and the sick? Do these objects demanding our devotion pay heed to the needs of those who have no resources, who cannot pay homage in their temples of commerce?

These are gods for whom communication is one-way. They tell of themselves and they expect their worshipers to come . . . come and buy, come and consume, come and be consumed. But they do not listen. They do not listen anymore than the idols of the nations against which Isaiah prophesied. Only one God listens. Only God the Word who became incarnate in that Baby celebrated in Luke’s sweet story . . . only the God who communicates, who “became flesh and lived among us” . . . only the God who communicates, who is still speaking, listens to us. The God who communicates wants to listen to us, wants to hear from us; God would love to hear from us!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God spoke the redeeming word and guaranteed our salvation, and we must respond. The God who communicates is calling. The Baby in the manger is a two-year old handing us a telephone . . . . and when a two-year old hands you a telephone, you answer it! You cannot wait till the world is sane! Answer the phone and “Rejoice! Rejoice!”


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Peaceable Thing? – From the Daily Office – July 20, 2012

Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 12:9-18 – July 20, 2012)

I once served under a bishop who used a slightly edited version of this text as his final blessing at the conclusion of a eucharist, adding “and may the blessing of God Almighty (etc.)” to Paul’s admonitions. Whenever he would recite these words, my mind would stumble over that last sentence: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Doesn’t it always depend on us? Isn’t that the point of the gospel mandate, to live peaceably with all even when they don’t want to? Isn’t that what “turn the other cheek” and “give even your cloak” and “go the extra” (Matt. 5:39-41) mile are all about? It is always in our power to do the peaceable thing.

As I read this lesson and contemplate its meaning and find this minor disagreement with Paul, I am also mindful of last night’s dreadful events in Aurora, Colorado, another mass killing. At last report, 14 killed and 50 or more injured by a gunman at a movie theatre.

On our parish’s Facebook page this morning, I posted the same picture I am attaching here, together with this prayer which I edited out of the New Zealand Prayer Book:

O Lord, we commend those killed and injured in the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, into your loving care. Enfold them in the arms of your mercy. Bless those who died in their dying and in their rising again in you. Be with those who are injured and give wisdom and skill to those who care for them. Bless those whose hearts are filled with sadness, that they too may know the hope of resurrection; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

How is it possible to bless and not curse the killer? How is it possible to “live in harmony” in this instant? I confess that I do not know and that the lawyer part of me, the litigator, wants to see him hanged from the gallows as soon as possible. But the Christian part of me reads this lesson and struggles not to be on the side of repaying evil with evil. The best I can do is to pray for the victims and, as for the shooter, offer the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” That’s the best I can do. I hope that it will suffice as the peaceable thing today.


Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Attend How You Listen – From the Sanctoral Lectionary – July 14, 2012

Jesus said:

No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.

(From the Sanctoral Lectionary – Samson Occom – Luke 8:16-18 – July 14, 2012)

(Note: A departure from this blog’s norm, today’s meditation is not from the Daily Office Lectionary, but is based on the readings for the commemoration of the Rev. Samson Occum found on the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar today.)

More than thirty years of studying scripture and today is the first time I really paid attention to the fact that “to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” is a dependent clause! Its meaning must be understood as deriving from the admonition to “pay attention to how you listen”! The entire sentence follows a remark about hidden things being disclosed, secrets coming to light, and facts becoming known. This is not a statement about position, possessions, wealth, or power; this is a statement about communication, understanding, and confusion. More specifically, it is a warning to be aware of the filters through which we hear and understand what we receive from others.

A few days ago I received an email from a colleague. It began, “I’ve been thinking about you.” It’s always nice to receive notes saying that, but this one continued with an inquiry whether I ever took steps to improve what my correspondent called my “leadership competencies.” That didn’t feel so nice. It felt like criticism; it stung. Shortly thereafter, this same colleague forwarded an essay from a blog on leadership with no introduction other than to say, “I follow this blog.” I read the essay and my defensive internal barricades went up: “Is my colleague saying that my leadership isn’t up to snuff, that I don’t measure up to this so-called expert’s standards?”

I could have fired off a quick rebuttal, a flip and uptight reaction, and (believe me) I was tempted! But I have been trying to be more mindful of the fact that I cannot really know the motive, the underlying thought processes, or even the meaning of anyone who sends me a short one-liner electronic communication! I found this to be especially true following (and sending) “tweets” during the recent Episcopal Church General Convention. Limited to 140 characters, tweets are notoriously lacking in emotional content, although some people at the Convention did show remarkable ability to communicate snarkiness and sarcasm in their Twitter feeds! Still . . . I knew better than to respond immediately. I did try to pay attention to how I “listened” to my colleague’s emails, to understand that the criticism I “heard” may not have been “spoken”.

If I had responded immediately (and negatively, as it would have been), that would have been the end of our communication, I’m sure. My confusion about my colleague’s intentions would have deprived me of any further learning: from the one (me) who had little, even what I did have would have been taken. This reading is paired with a brief bit from the Book of Sirach which begins, “Happy is the person who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently.” I’m not sure about the “happy” part of that text . . . but I do know that by taking a few minutes to meditate on how I was “hearing” my colleague’s email and by reasoning intelligently rather than reacting emotionally, I kept open for the present what has generally been (and I hope will continue to be) a pleasant and productive communication.


Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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