Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon on the Meaning of Baptism

Sermon Preached by Hawley Todd, TSSF, at Grace Episcopal Church, on the third Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2012, in anticipation of baptisms the following Sunday.

Welcome to Grace Church!

Are you excited? Can you hardly wait? One of the most wonderful days of the year is almost upon us.

I expect that you think I mean Christmas. Well that is one of the most Holy days of the year. It is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ into the world.

Yet what I am excited about is next Sunday. It is the most important day in the lives of several of our sisters and brothers. It is the day of their baptism--the day of their birth into Christ.

Of all the sacraments in the church, Baptism is the most important. It is the greatest healing service of all. It is the day we are marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever and receive the Holy Spirit. It is a day we are born anew. And we all get to participate! We all get to renew our lives in Christ!

So as we prepare this week for the baptismal service next Sunday, let’s take a few moments to reflect upon our lives. To facilitate that process, let me ask you a few questions.

What passage from Scripture grabs you the most? What passage resonates with your soul? Or let me put it another way. If God was calling to you from Scripture, what passage would He be using?

When I was a young man in my 20’s and 30’s, it was Micah 6:8. It goes like this:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

For the past several decades it has been the passage from Philippians we read today (Philippians 4:4-7):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So take a few moments. What Scripture or Scriptures come to your heart and mind?

Take those words with you. Chew on them. Meditate upon them. Let them soak into the deepest parts of your being.

Let me ask you a different question about Scripture. With what person or character in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament do you most resonate? Think about your life and think about the characters you know in Scripture. Who are you like? Who resonates with you?

I am a little embarrassed to say that I most resonate with Elijah. And especially with a story about Elijah that I expect most of you have never noticed.

Elijah had just had the biggest “God Moment” of his life. He had been in a contest with the prophets of Baal and God had worked mightily through him on Mt Carmel. And what does Elijah do? He gets scared and runs off into the desert to escape Jezebel and the hornet’s nest that he had stirred up. He collapses in the desert and asks God to just let it all end. Yet God feeds him and tells him to get up and get on with God’s work. I am sad to tell you but I totally relate to Elijah.

So who is it that resonates with you? John the Baptist? Elizabeth? Isaac? Jacob? Esau? Ruth? Jezebel? Peter? Paul? The rich young man? Saul? Hagar? With whom do you connect?

Okay, let me ask you a different question.

When our culture looks at the Christian Church does it see and encounter John the Baptist or Jesus of Nazareth?

Or how about Grace Episcopal Church in College Hill – does it reflect John or Jesus?

Look at our reading from Scripture.

Luke 3:7-18
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Some of what John says reminds me very much of Jesus. They are both concerned with caring for others and living authentic lives. Yet John seems to have an angry edge to him. Even more profound though is the comparison John made between himself and Jesus.

John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And next week, we will have a baptismal service. It incorporates the baptism of John with water for the forgiveness of sins but it is so much more.

One of my absolute favorite passages in the Book of Common Prayer is in the Baptism Service. It is the Baptismal Examination on pp. 302 – 303

Please find a Prayer Book and turn to page 302. Let’s read it together. I will read the questions and I want you to read the answers.

Question     Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer        I renounce them.

Question     Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer        I renounce them.

Question     Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer        I renounce them.

Question     Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer        I do.

Question     Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer        I do.

Question     Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Answer       I do.

Baptism is about making a choice. And the choice is between all the things that bring us death and Jesus Christ who brings us life. We know Him first as our savior--as the one who rescues us and heals us. And over time we learn to put our whole trust in his love and grace--and that is an ongoing process as we grown deeper and deeper into relationship with Jesus as a living presence in our daily lives. And finally our hearts and minds are so filled with his love and grace that we desire to follow and obey Him as not only our Savior but our Lord and God.

And lest we think the baptismal service is just about those being baptized, we all re-affirm our Baptismal Covenant.

Turn to page 304. I want you to read this part with me. I will be the celebrant and you will be the people. We will start with the question that is the second from the bottom of the page.

Celebrant      Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant     Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People          I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People          I will, with God’s help.

As we reach the culmination of the whole service, the candidates are washed and made anew in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

And then on page 308, the Bishop says to each newly baptized:

“N, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

Jesus baptizes us with fire and the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit being active in our lives and ministries that reveals, manifests, incarnates the presence of Jesus.

Irenaeus said that Jesus became who we are so that we could become what he is. That is what Baptism is all about and that is what Christmas is all about--Receiving the Holy Spirit and being born anew to life in Christ Jesus. And that is what all of our sacraments are about. Being restored in Christ and being renewed in His love.

So when you come for prayers today, open your hearts and minds to receive the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sermon at Grace Church Healing Service November 18, 2012

By Hawley Todd, TSSF


Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

"This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,"

he also adds,

"I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs."

Sermon: Great Expectations: Faith

Welcome again to Grace Church for our Celebration of Wholeness and Healing.

Who is Jesus? More specifically, who is your Jesus? And more importantly what do you expect of Him? As followers of Jesus, we are in some kind of a relationship with Him, so what do you expect? What do you anticipate He will do? Will He participate in your life in any way here on earth? Do you have any expectations for the life to come? Is your Jesus real? Does He exist still today? Or was He simply a great moral teacher who lived 2000 years ago and was a good example of what it means to be a human?

Who is Jesus? Your answers really do matter. They are of ultimate significance.

Our reading from Hebrews tells us something about who Jesus is. He is seated at the right hand of God. He is our Great High Priest and he has offered a sacrifice once and for all to wash us clean of our sins.

And in Mark Jesus warns us saying that many will come in His name saying that they are He and that we need to be careful not to be led astray.

Scripture and Tradition tell us many other things about who Jesus is and what we might be able to expect of him. Yet in your beliefs and in your experience, who is your Jesus? And while we're at it, Who is God? Who is the Holy Spirit?

Maybe here is a simpler question: What is Faith? After all, faith is an important topic for Christians and followers of Jesus. Jesus often says to a healed person – “your faith has made you well.”

So what is faith? The word faith has been used in many ways. There is faith which refers to the teaching of our traditions. But the faith that Jesus is referring to is an inner disposition of our hearts and minds. It is a stance we take in relationship to God. At its core faith is what the word Trust means in the common language of our day.

Years ago one of my teachers explained to me that to have faith is to open one’s heart and mind to whatever one has faith in. I like that explanation of faith. To have faith in Jesus is to be open to and trusting in Jesus.

So if we are open and trusting in Jesus, what are our expectations of Him? I expect him to show up. I expect Him to heal, touch, and bless each one of us. Both my reading of the tradition and my life experiences lead me to those expectations.

On Wednesday night, we looked at a very difficult scripture which is found in all three synoptic Gospels.

The key point was in Matt 13:58 where it says of Jesus in his hometown “And He did not do many deeds there, because of their unbelief.”

My sermon last Wednesday evening focused on what Science calls the “Nocebo Effect.” 

The nocebo effect is more or less the opposite of the placebo effect..

The placebo effect says that our expectations that good things will come from inert substances like a sugar pill often bring positive benefits to a patient. 

Medical researchers studying the Nocebo effect have shown that our negative expectations of a treatment program can influence the outcome in non-beneficial ways. Let me give you two quick examples.

In one test, researchers told a group that they were testing the effects of a drug to see if it had any analgesic effects at all or whether it was just totally ineffective. In reality, it was a proven pain killer. Yet many of the patients reported it has not effect at all.

In another test conducted in Italy, two groups of test patients were recruited for a lactose intolerance test. One group was lactose intolerant and the other group was not. They were told that they would be given a lactose pill to see its effects on the gastro-intestinal system. In reality they were given glucose which has no impact at all on the digestive system. Yet 44% of the lactose group and 26% of the non-lactose intolerant group reported digestive problems as a result of the pill.

Our expectations can be very powerful. In the first example, lack of belief got in the way of a powerful pain killer doing its job. In the second example, an expectation that problems might occur helped to bring those issues about in patients’ lives.

So what is our faith, our trust in Jesus, our openness to receiving the Grace and gifts He has for us today? When you come to receive healing prayer today, come with an open heart expecting the fullness of all good things God has in His heart for you.

I would like to close with a prayer that Paul prayed for the community in Ephesus

…I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sermon on Grace Value: Treat Every Person as a Child of God

Delivered by Hawley Todd TSSF at the Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on July 15, 2012.

This morning the homily will be on Grace Church’s Values and in particular focus on treating each person as a child of God.

First of all I would like you to read Grace’s values with me. However with one slight change.

Preface each one with saying “I, your name, will ....”

I ____ will ...

  • Treat every person as a child of God.
  • Grow and awaken continually to God's presence in our lives.
  • Be guided always by honesty and integrity.
  • Be nourished by people of every cultural background.
  • Honor everyone's age, race, economic situation, sexual orientation, family configuration and religious approach.
  • Serve God by sharing with those in need and by working actively for social justice.

What does "I will treat every person as a child of God" mean to you? What might that mean to God? And how does that impact our life as the body of Christ – as Grace Church?

I would like to start with where we are in our individual lives.

I can’t speak for you so I will share with you a little of where I am. I would truly love to see each person I meet as a child of God. Yet to be honest (which is another of our values) I fall short of doing that. Given my personal history, there are some people I look upon with mistrust and in some cases for good reason. There are people we naturally are attracted to and others that seem to push our buttons and rub us the wrong way. There are some folks we truly enjoy being with and others who require patience. Yet regardless of our personal inclinations and reactions to another, the Grace Values call us individually and corporately to treat each person as a Child of God. That is our goal. That is our primary value.

Yet given the fact that most of us are not fully there, how to we live into our values? We are making an excellent start by raising them up and explicitly discussing them. And at least for myself, it helps for me to look at where I am and be honest.

One of the spiritual practices that helps me the most is to ask God to transform my heart and mind into the heart and mind of the Lord’s. “Dear God take my thoughts and feelings and transform them into your thoughts and feelings so that I may truly be present with each person I met as you would have me be.”

The passage from Ephesians in this morning's reading says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ

God destined us for adoption as his children. We – each one of us – is a child of God. We did not earn it. We did not buy a stairway to heaven. We did not choose God. God chose us! God chose you - specifically you - to be God’s child!

I personally find it to be extraordinary Good News that we are adopted as God’s children. As I was growing up, I assumed that parental love was strongest for biological children. Yet having done youth ministry and worked with families for many years, I came to realize that way too often there is a disconnect between being a biological parent and being a real parent who loves, cares for and nurtures a child. In fact, both of my children, Tina and Josh, are adopted. It took years of blood, sweat, and tears for Barbara and I to bring them into our lives. Adoption is a conscious choice that requires work and effort on the part of a parent. It doesn’t come easy and is never a mistake. I absolutely love and adore my children!

When God says that I am God’s adopted child, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God wants me as God’s child. I know that there is a clear intention on God’s part that I am part of the family. And here is the critical point. Not only did God choose me and you, but God chooses each and every one of us!

We are all part of God’s family and God wants us truly to treat one another as brothers and sisters. We are precious in God’s sight. We are family. No wonder Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves!

What does all this mean to us corporately as Grace Church? It means that we treat everyone who walks through our doors as loved by God and not only the ones who come here. Everyone is to be treated as a child of God. No wonder our values speak of "Honoring everyone's age, race, economic situation, sexual orientation, family configuration and religious approach." How could we do less?

No wonder our values say "Serve God by sharing with those in need and by working actively for social justice." We are caring for our brothers and sister when we do so! That seems like a given to me!!!!!!

All of our values grow out of the first one. And they all give flesh and bones to the commandments of Jesus: To love the Lord our God with all our heart mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves!

As we seek healing today, may we seek to allow God to remove anything in our lives that keeps us from being the persons God created us to be – persons who honor and treasure one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I would like to close today by having us re-affirm our commitment to living the Grace Church values. At the beginning we said them individually. Let us close by saying them corporately.

Please join me in praying the values by saying “We the family of Grace Church will…” before each line.

  • Treat every person as a child of God.
  • Grow and awaken continually to God's presence in our lives.
  • Be guided always by honesty and integrity.
  • Be nourished by people of every cultural background.
  • Honor everyone's age, race, economic situation, sexual orientation, family configuration and religious approach.
  • Serve God by sharing with those in need and by working actively for social justice.


This morning's reading is Ephesians 1:3-14
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight
1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Common Ministry at Grace Church after Three Years

In 2009, Grace Church was invited to participate in the first series of Common Ministry workshops conducted by the Diocese of Southern Ohio. As a status check three years into the program, the Diocese asked Grace Church to answer some questions. Grace Church’s answers follow:

1. Question: What do you consider the most important accomplishment coming out of the Common Ministry work?

Answer: The members of Grace moved from a concept of having a priest in charge who was responsible for everything to a concept of shared ministry where everyone shares responsibility for all that goes in the parish.

2. Question: What ministries have been strengthened or begun in response to the work?


- Grace clarified its values and mission.

- Grace created a Common Ministry Task Force which participated in the Diocesan Common Ministry program, organized several congregational CM workshops, did a health assessment, established priorities, and got them instilled in the various committees & teams before disbanding.

- Grace created a Mission & Formation Team with specific teams to handle: Newcomer Ministry, Pastoral Care, Worship, Outreach, and Christian Formation.

- Grace created a functioning Executive Committee which meets weekly.

-In reality all of our ministries have been strengthened because of the recognition that we are a priesthood of all believers.

-In particular the healing ministry has been strengthened.

3. Question: What connections to other organizations have been established to further the Common Ministry goals and initiatives?


- Grace has worked with Episcopal Healing Ministries to create new and innovative healing services to reach out seekers and to those alienated from organized religion. The second Wednesday service draws a variety of healers and seekers from all over Greater Cincinnati. Once a month, we have a more formal Healing Service at our 10 am worship time.

- Grace hosts Education for Ministry and typically has participants from various Episcopal parishes and other denominations.

- Grace is a member of the local Ministerium (organization of local ministers) and through them, hosts the community Good Friday service.

- Grace is a member of Christ’s Community in College Hill and contributes regularly to the food pantry.

- Grace participates in the community IHN program, and contributes our share to hosting homeless families.

-Grace attends monthly College Hill Summit meetings of community leaders, to stay plugged into the community and to offer our support when we can.

-Grace and Life Renewal Fellowship Church are together offering monthly free community dinners beginning in July 2012.

-Grace has come to understand that our facility is a great asset and is finding other organizations to use it that support our mission. Examples:

The Rainbow Band practices weekly (supports our inclusiveness values and our healing emphasis)

Yoga classes meet several times a week (healing).

Life Renewal Fellowship worships weekly (outreach).

NA meets weekly (outreach and healing).

Parolees come monthly to get community service credit, involving as many Grace People a we have parolees most months (inclusiveness and healing).

We offer our parking lot as overflow space for the neighboring College Hill Recreation Center (outreach).

Ballet Classes for girls 3 – 12 meet weekly (community support)

4. Question: What measures for assessing growth and accomplishment of outcomes were developed?


- Every team of the Mission and Formation Team has had specific goals for each year and developed plans to chart growth and achievement of those goals.

- Grace has had regular parish meetings to reflect upon the process.

5. Question: Who is responsible for this evaluation? If an initial evaluation has been done, please share the results.


- The mission council has responsibility for this evaluation, which was assigned to a co-chair of the Mission and Formation Team, Hawley Todd TSSF, to get input from the members of Grace Church to compile this report.

- Final form was approved by the Executive Committee.

6. Question: What is the future of Common Ministry in your congregation?


- Grace is committed to Common Ministry as the life blood of all that Grace does.

- Grace prefers the term “shared ministry” because it more fully captures our vision.

June, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grace Healing Service Sermon: New Creation


Preached by Hawley Todd TSSF on 6/17/12.

Scriptures (see below for text).

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

Mark 4:26-34

Many sayings are attributed to great people.

And I have heard it said that Mark Twain once commented about Holy Scripture that what bothered him most about scripture were not all the many things he did not understand. What bothered him were the ones he did.

I think I may be glad that I am not one of the disciples to whom Jesus explained everything in private. I have enough trouble trying to apply what I do understand to my life!

However, for this morning, I want to look at the last verse from 2 Corinthians.

5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

What a glorious concept!

What a wonderful promise!

To be made new in Christ!!!!!!

What in the world might that mean to any of us?????????

I don’t pretend to fully understand what it might mean to be made NEW in Christ.

However I will share with you a few observations from having worked with people for the past 40 years or so.

The single greatest issue that most people face is the fact that deep down inside most people do not love themselves – they do not feel worthy of love – and have never experienced total and absolute acceptance for who they truly are.

You may be the exception to what I am saying. And praise God that you are!

However in my work doing spiritual direction and healing ministry, what I encounter in person after person is a deep desire for love and acceptance.

That applies to the rich, powerful, and successful as much as it does to the normal Joe in the street or Jane in the pew.

There is an underlying theme of – if people only knew what I was really like, no one would like me.

Now it gets masked in numerous ways in our time and culture. We have all types of “holics” – workaholics, alcoholics, sexaholics, needaholics, holier than thou-aholics.

Yet deep within us all – there is a hole in our souls – a chink missing in our hearts.

We know we are incomplete and that something is missing. Yet we search and long for what that might be. We go from activity to activity – group to group searching for what might make us whole.

And all that time, what we are frantically searching for, is knocking on the doors of our heart and mind.

The wholeness and healing that we all so desperately need is the Love of God.

I am not talking about an intellectual concept or a dogma of the church.

Preachers can give a 1000 sermons on God’s love and it may not make a particle of difference in one’s life.

Intellectual understanding and assent is not enough.

What I am talking about is becoming a NEW CREATION in CHRIST.

- Experiencing in the depths of our being the absolute and unconditional love and acceptance of God.

- Experiencing it in our bones – the very marrow of our being.

- Allowing that love to permeate one’s being.

RENEWING us in God’s love

RESTORING us in God’s image.

Truly making us whole and one in Christ Jesus.

A new creation!!!!!!!!!

And here is the catch – where I will not speak to you in parables.

We are constantly in the process of being made NEW in Christ.

It is not a one shot deal.

It is not a matter of being saved or giving one’s life to Christ on Nov 1, 1975.

It is a moment by moment process

A decision by decision choice of being constantly made new in Jesus

And here is the good news!

It is real.

God does make us New – the old does pass away.

The anguish, sorrow, and agony can be washed away.

Being made anew in Christ is not an insurance policy to protect us from life and all that life may entail. Yet it is a life preserver that enables us to move on and become the persons we were created to be. – Authentic and real.

Scriptures appointed for the day:

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
5:6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord --
5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
5:8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
5:9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.
5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.
5:13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
5:14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
5:15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Mark 4:26-34
4:26 He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
4:30 He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?
4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;
4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Why Hold a Healing Service?

Preached 4/29/12 at Grace Church by Hawley Todd, TSSF.

Scripture readings for the day

Acts 4:5-12
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, wth Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

1 John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

John 10:11-18
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. Th hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

The Sermon

If you are new to Grace church, you may wonder why we have a Celebration of Wholeness and Healing as our primary service on a Sunday Morning. After all, most liturgical churches have Holy Eucharist/Communion as the principle worship service on Sundays. And we are in keeping with that tradition most Sundays of the month. And many Protestant Churches have services where the preaching of the Word of God is the central focus. Yet once a month, we have this service.

So why does Grace have a healing service on Sunday mornings? I will give you two answers to that question but first let me put it into context. I am the Executive Director for Episcopal Healing Ministries and as part of my job, I help priests and parishes establish healing ministries. Priests and folks interested in healing seek my advice and counsel because they want to put Jesus’ teachings into action.

My first task is to listen and get to know the parish. What are its values? How do people relate to God? What are the preferred modes of worship?

And then I work with a parish to develop healing ministries and services that are authentic to the life of the parish.

For instance, at Grace we have two different healing services.

The one this morning is taken from the Irish Book of Common Prayer and is a traditional Anglican service. It follows a clearly delineated litany & structure and is done in a reverent & dignified manner. It is geared to the norms and sensibilities of traditional Episcopalians.

Our Wednesday evening Celebration of Wholeness and Healing is quite different. It is geared to seekers and individuals who are wary of organized religion. While reverence and worship of God are still paramount, I work to create an atmosphere that welcomes and honors individuals from many spiritual traditions.

Our number one core value at Grace Church is to welcome everyone and treat each person as a child of God. Look at the front of the bulletin for our values! We welcome everyone and honor their unique expressions of who they are. Moreover, value #5 says: “Honor everyone’s age, race, economic situation, sexual orientation, family configuration and religious approach.

So having two different kinds of healing service makes perfect sense at Grace. Grace is an inclusive parish and our services reflect who we are and what we value!

I counsel each parish to pay attention to how God is being worshipped and made manifest in its midst.

For instance, St Tim’s in Anderson wanted me to recreate our Wednesday night service there. I said: “no, we need to find a form that is authentic to St Tim’s.” And they did just that and have a wonderful contemplative healing service.

None of this though answers the question of “why have a healing service on Sunday morning?”

One can begin to answer the question by studying the Gospels and seeing what Jesus did. How did he spend his time? Read any Gospel and you will be struck by the fact that Jesus spent his time healing and teaching. That is what he did.

There are 72 accounts of healing in the 4 Gospels. Depending on how you understand healing, between 1/5 to 1/3 of the Gospels are specifically concerned with Jesus healing. And it wasn’t just Jesus who spent his time and effort healing. What did he instruct his disciples to do? Luke 9:2 is specific – Jesus tells the 12 to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. In the 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus expands the commission to the 70. In Mark 16, he expands the commission to any believer.

Look at our readings for today. John tells us to love in truth and action. He tells us that if we love God, we will work to meet the needs of others. There are many ways to meet the needs of others. Healing applies to whatever is amiss in our physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual lives. And the hallmark of it all is love.

We believe in the name of Jesus. We know the reality of the risen Christ – the Jesus who is here with us today – the Jesus who abides in us. And we ask and pray in the power of the Holy Spirit for one another to move more fully and deeply into relationship with God.

Look at the 4th chapter of Acts. What had Peter and John done to get themselves arrested? Were they holding a dignified Anglican service? Actually they were proclaiming the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. And they were doing what Jesus had taught them to do. They had the audacity to be involved in the healing work of Jesus and actually put Luke 9:2 into word and deed.

Why have a healing service on Sunday morning? The answer is quite simple. We are doing what Jesus taught us by word and the example of his life. We are being obedient to his command to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God.

The question is not so much why have a service that is explicitly dedicated to healing on Sunday morning but why should such a question even arise in the first place? Are we so removed from the heart of Holy Communion that we have forgotten that it is fundamentally a healing service? We celebrate with a healing service once a month so that we may do what Jesus spent his life doing. Healing!

We also do it to remind ourselves that all sacraments are healing services!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jesus IS

Sermon preached by Hawley Todd, TSSF, at Grace Church's Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on April 11, 2012

Scripture: Easter Opening Acclamation

Celebrant: Alleluia, Christ is risen
People: The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia

Grace church explicitly welcomes all to our worship services.

We welcome.

Welcoming is not to be confused with tolerating. We embrace each person as a precious beloved child of God - A manifestation of divine love and goodness. As part of our Grace Church Values, We welcome all faiths and approaches to God. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, a member of a non-defined group or faith, YOU are welcome here. And you are HONORED here.

Last month, I discussed the concept of having a chosen deity or manifestation/incarnation. At the end of my homily, we had a prayer exercise where each of us was filled with our chosen manifestation of God or God as we know the Divine Great Spirit. As I have shared before - Mine is Jesus.

What I want to talk with you about tonight is the resurrection. Christians of many denominations celebrated the resurrection at Easter, this past Sunday. I don't pretend to understand the resurrection. And I want to be clear that I am not speaking tonight as a professional representative of a particular brand of the Christian faith. I am speaking as an individual who has struggled with religions and doctrines for many decades.

I did not grow up in any faith tradition. Yet as a child I experienced the Divine and many aspects of the spiritual planes of existence. I quite simply had no conceptual system in which to make sense of those experiences. And in the midst of all that, I experienced a reality that totally transformed everything. That reality was what or who I now know to be the resurrected Jesus.

Sadly when I tried to make sense of what was happening in my life and consciousness with priests and ministers of various Christian denominations, I found no help at all. The help I did receive was from the writings of Christian saints and mystics and later from living, spiritual teachers in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In the Book of Revelation, it says that Jesus is, was, and is to come.

If the resurrection of Jesus means anything at all, it means that Jesus is alive.

Remember for today’s the scripture reading, I used the opening Easter Acclamation.

Celebrant: Alleluia, Christ is risen.
People: The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia

I would much rather say

Alleluia, Christ is here.
Alleluia, Christ is now.
Alleluia, Christ is alive

Last Friday, on the day often called Good Friday, I prayed a lot about what the resurrection means. Any number of thoughts and insights arose in my consciousness.

First of all, I became aware that most people who follow and/or admire Jesus tend to assign primary significance to one of 3 aspects of Jesus.

  • They focus on the incarnation/life of Jesus
  • They see Good Friday – the death on the cross – as the linchpin for everything
  • Or like myself, the resurrection of Jesus – a Jesus who lives in the here is now – is the key component.

And whichever is most important will have overwhelming significance in all aspects of our lives.

I don’t understand Jesus. I don’t understand any of the religions of the World, even though I taught World Religions at McMaster University. What I do know though is that the resurrection shatters the ideas that life is limited to this physical realm and is finite.

While Christian tradition insists on a “bodily resurrection” of Jesus, the transformed/resurrected Jesus is different than most embodied human beings I know. He may eat fish like those of us who chose to eat fish. Yet how many of us, don’t bother to open the door but simply walk through it, for example?  Let’s just say that the resurrection is beyond our ability to define and limit; and hence we cannot put God in a neat, tidy, controllable box. Whatever the resurrection may mean, it clearly demonstrates that death is not the final end point of all existence.

I have often thought of birth and death as transition points – the time demarcations where we enter and leave human existence as a separate incarnate human being. As I sat in prayer on Good Friday, I thought of death not so much as a door or a long hall or tunnel, but death as a hub or an airport terminal. As I continued to sit in prayer and ask Jesus what his resurrection means, my mind got quieter and quieter. Eventually I reached a space/ a place where all I heard was two words.

Jesus is

And then simply presence – divine presence – divine being

Jesus is

The question is not what does the resurrection mean or any other spoken question that has a cognitive answer.

Rather Easter is an Invitation

Easter is an invitation from all being/God/the Great Spirit to encounter and experience the one known as Jesus here tonight. Let go of anything others have taught you about who Jesus the Christ is, was, or is to be. Let go of anything I may have taught you! Rather be open to experiencing the Risen Jesus tonight.

I am not asking you to change or be anything other than who you are. You can still remain a Baptist or a Pagan or a Reformed Jew or a Reike Master or any other spiritual designation you desire to apply to yourself. Groups and designations are not critical to me. I simply invite you to encounter the one I know as Jesus. As our prayer tonight, as we move into our time of healing, I would like you to breathe in the presence of Christ – of Jesus. Breathe in Jesus with each inhalation; breathe out whatever keeps you from being real and authentic.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stumbling Blocks

Notes for a sermon preached by Hawley Todd at Grace Church at the Celebration of Wholeness and Healing, Sunday, March 11, 2012

From the Epistle: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Open with prayer – Especially seeking God’s guidance

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” and most often we Christians demand both!

We want signs and wonders. We want God to prove himself/herself – to perform the miracles we want for today and to make everything safe and secure and comfortable in our lives.

We want wisdom and knowledge and understanding. We want to know and comprehend life and we would rather do without mystery and paradox.

We want to know God! And sadly for many of us, the commandment to love God gets replaced with our need to know God – but that is another sermon for another day!

The crucifixion of Jesus has been a major problem for those of us who follow and love Jesus since the moment it happened. How could the all good, all powerful Creator God allow such a horrible thing to happen to Jesus? Or even more close to home, how can the all good, all powerful God permit (or God forbid – cause) all the horror and pain and suffering that makes up our lives and world to occur? If we are honest, this problem called Theodicy is the biggest issue that the Christian Religion has to face.

But let’s stick with Jesus and Good Friday for starters.

The apostle Paul did not have a systematic theology and neither did the early Christians around him. They struggled to make sense of how the Messiah could die such a horrid death. And Paul used metaphors from his day and time to make sense of it.

  • It could be like a court of law where one is justified
  • It could be like freeing a captive by paying a ransom
  • It could be like the sacrificial system where an animal was killed to expiate one’s sins.

And Christianity fell headlong into the Greek trap of trying to have answers and make sense of it all.

For the first 1000 years, the dominant worldview around Good Friday was that Jesus paid the price for our sins. What we call atonement. Yet the critical piece in all of this is that a battle between good and evil rages for our souls. The price was paid to free us from evil.

And then a good Englishman named Anselm came along in the 11th century and changed everything. The price was not paid to the devil to free us but paid to make us right with God the Father. I really do not like this version and understanding of Christian thought and frankly find it appalling. Yet for so many today, that is just what is taught and hence their view of God.

Luckily, Peter Abelard responded with yet another understanding of Good Friday. Abelard said that Anselm missed the boat. The death of Jesus was not about Jesus having to satisfy the wrath of God the Father at all. In fact, Jesus died on the cross for the exact opposite reason. Jesus died for us to show how much God loves us and the extravagant ends God would go to prove his love!

But what about suffering? What about tornadoes? What about all the other horrible things that happen?

The Buddha had it right. – Sarvam Dukkham – suffering is inherent in all life.

Christianity in its core story has it right – Our God and savior died on a cross. Suffering is real. Pain and agony are part of life.

However to focus on just the cross is to miss the other critical half of the Christian message – the resurrection.

Why does Christianity exist?  It is not because we can explain in our wisdom the profound mysteries of Good Friday.

Rather, Christianity exists because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. The whole point of the story is that Jesus rose – that Jesus is alive – that Jesus is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow. And for us here today at a healing service, that is essential.

Suffering is real and our pain is real. Being a Christian does not create a big bubble around us to protect us from all sickness, disease and death. What it does do - and what God offers us - is that God will never abandon us, even when we identify with Jesus on the cross and feel forsaken for the moment.

And Christianity offers us resurrection – new and continued life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Both in this life and the next!

Personally, I do not believe Jesus needed to die on the cross to save us. Yet he did. We live in a fallen world where people have free will and do things that grieve the heart of God. Good Friday was what Leslie Weatherhead would call the Circumstantial Will of God. God works for good in all things. Yet God respects our free will and hence “bad things” do happen. And God works in those circumstances. Yes even Jesus suffered and died on a cross. And somehow God made even that work for good.

But here is the critical piece for us here today. God wants each of us to move more fully into health and wholeness. That was how God created us to be. And even more importantly, the resurrected Jesus is here with us. Yes even in our pain and sorrow – helping us to weather the storms and move to become the people we were created to be – whole in body, mind, emotions, spirit and soul.

Let us pray!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Grace Church and Me

Written by Carol Lyon.

clip_image002In 1972 my husband and I began searching for a church in our community. A block from our house was Grace Episcopal Church. One Sunday morning we decided to check it out. As we opened the front wooden door, I was surprised the light level was low even though the lights were on and some light came through the stained glass windows that surrounded the nave. Straight ahead was a wooden reredos over the altar featuring symbols of the four Gospels from the New Testament. Ken and I walked to a back pew. We knelt down. In that moment I felt the Mystery or Presence of God in that place.

We both felt drawn to this church. Not only was the building beautiful but the liturgy captivated us. It allowed us time to reflect as well as address core issues of living.

We were impressed with the theological freedom. As one poster advertising for the Episcopal Church says: “He died to take away your sin, not your mind.” We weren’t given cheap easy answers to great theological questions, such as why do bad things happen to good people, how can someone dying on a cross 2000 years ago take away my sin, and who is Jesus really? Rather we were given opportunities to seek these answers ourselves. We learned from theologians past and present through retreats, study courses and the Bible. This isn’t to say the Episcopal Church doesn’t espouse beliefs--it does. But it not only allows but encourages people to search these beliefs and come to our own conclusions.

clip_image004Grace church accepted me as I am not just in an intellectual way. She has put up with my faults, not the least of which is being controlling and opinionated. She used my gifts, organizing and getting things done. She has become my second family. And like most families we have had our quarrels and ups and downs but through it all I have felt God's love through Grace church members.

And perhaps this acceptance, not just of me, but all who come through our door, is why we now have such a diversity of parishioners. We have immigrants and native born Americans, gay and straight people, white and black and young and old. We all know and care for each other. I believe we become an example of God’s Kingdom on earth.

While we may be a smaller congregation than in the 50’s as my friend says “we’re better now."

I am baffled why every one doesn’t belong to Grace church. We offer a spiritual home where all are welcome and a healing space in a broken world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

History of Clergy at Grace Church

Richard Thomas Kerfoot, Rector

1866 – 1870

Alfred F. Blake, Rector 1870 – 1875
Francis Key Brooke, Rector 1875 – 1877
John Hugh Ely, Rector 1878 – 1906
George M. Clickner, Rector 1906 – 1928
Arthur Carl Lichtenberger, Rector 1928 – 1933
Kelly Brent Woodruff, Rector 1933 – 1940
David Ritchie Thornberry, Rector 1940 – 1952
LeRoy D. Hall, Rector 1953 – 1966
A. Raymond Betts, Rector 1966 – 1983
John Speaks (Priest in Charge) 1983 - 1984
William C. Riker, Rector 1984 – 1989
Anne Warrington Wilson (Interim) 1989 – 1990
Wayland E. Melton, Rector 1990 – 1996
Stephen A. Bondurant (Interim) 1996 – 1997
Reid Farrell (Priest in Charge) 1997 – 1999
Stephen A. Bondurant, Rector 1999 – 2006
David Howard (Supply) 2006
John Bower (Interim) 2006-2007
Ernestein C. Flemister, Vicar 2007-2009
John Bower, David Howard, Bob Hufford, Supply 2009-present

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Christmas Story

The outline of a sermon preached at the Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on Wednesday evening, January 11, 2012, by Hawley Todd, TSSF. 

The Reading

The Hour of the Unexpected

She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity, convinced every word was revelation –

She said they were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat. And they went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked and the baby was inside the lady.

They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass (hee hee) but the three Rich Men found them because a star lited the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep, but not feed them.

Then the baby was borned, and do you know who he was? Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.

The baby was God!

And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa, and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

-John Shea


She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity, convinced every word was revelation.

I have been studying healing and the various ways learned folks teach about it for over 40 years.

Do you know how old all us learned teachers are?

We are about 5. Sure of the facts. And we repeat them for our students with slow solemnity. And most of us are convinced the words we speak are revelation and truth. If we haven’t received them from some sacred scripture or some inspired teacher, we got our teachings from our spirit guides or ascended masters or God directly.

There is immense wisdom in much of what I have learned and been taught by others. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how certain we all can be that our way is the truth.

I prefer to look at all the different healing modalities and religions as languages. We learn a language so that we can communicate with others who speak that language. We use our language and words to help us make sense of the world around us and give structure to what we experience. Languages are the vessels in which we hold life.

Yet there are other ways we communicate with each other. We are can communicate by a smile or a gesture. We can touch or share in other ways. Yet even those ways are often processed in our consciousness through our chosen language.

So why do I share this with you tonight?

Years ago I had a very wise mentor in healing. While her normal mode of instruction/discipleship was to teach a concise, orthodox Christian understanding of Christ’s healing ministry, she gave me a very different path to follow. Perhaps she knew I was skeptical of all folks who claimed to know the truth. Or maybe she knew that after teaching World religions for five years in a university setting, I might approach things differently. Who knows?

Yet the counsel I received was to study with as many different “healers” as I could find. Sit with what they taught. Take it into my heart and see what resonated with the Holy Spirit within me. And do what seemed to be what God was leading me to do.

People are forever asking me questions about healing and how to do it right. So here is my Epiphany advice.

Be your authentic Self. Work on becoming the person you were created to be. Don’t worry about how others are doing it or the paths they follow. Follow your path. And at least somewhere in the early stages of formation, choose a path and stick to it.

Two of my other primary teachers were a Hindu saint named Baba and a Tibetan Buddhist Tulku known as the 16th Karmapa.

Both of them impressed upon me that it did not matter what tradition I choose--I just needed to choose and practice one. Then, after practicing it and perfecting it for 20 years or so, then branch out. So I did that and worked exclusively in Christian healing for about a quarter century.

I now hold all systems very loosely and at times envy the certitude of the five year old who knows the truth and is sure of the facts.

And as you follow your path, make self-care a priority.