12 September 2016


“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:4, 8)

What a bunch of losers.

Do any of you remember the 2006 movie, “Little Miss Sunshine”? It’s a black comedy, and often a rude and vulgar one; but it sounds some deep chords of truth about our human condition.

Little Miss Sunshine is a little girl named Olive, who, according to glossy Hollywood standards, is not a particularly attractive or even a particularly talented little girl. But she is determined to enter and to win a beauty pageant in California. The family has little money, and they are so wildly dysfunctional that no one can be left home alone; so they make the 800-mile to California crammed into an old Volkswagen van. Along the way, everything goes wrong.

Olive’s goofy father, Richard, is an aspiring motivational coach. For him, everything is positive, and he drives that point hard to the young Olive. At one point, little Olive is in tears, talking to her grandfather. “Grandpa?” she asks. “Yeah,” he replies. “I don’t wanna be a loser.” The grandpa replies, “You’re not a loser. Where’d you get the idea you’re a loser?” And then Olive breaks down in tears. “Because,” she says, “Daddy hates losers.”

Daddy hates losers.

Whether we are talented or not, beautiful or not, accomplished or not, most of us have heard those sad lines before. Daddy hates losers. Mommy hates losers. Our coach hates losers. Our world hates losers. Whatever you do, whatever you are, don’t be a loser!

During the recent Olympics in Brazil, there were eight sprinters lined up across eight lanes. Seven of them always lost. Seven of the best athletes in the world were losers. There are thirty major league baseball teams this year, but only one will win the World Series Twenty-nine of those teams will be losers.

There is no question, that when the United States was attacked on 9/11, fifteen years ago today, we lost something. We felt like losers. When a United States soldier is captured and held prisoner, I imagine he felt like a loser.

Daddy hates losers. What an insidious and poisonous statement! Because every single one of us has been a loser. Don’t let ignorant leaders and stupid pundits lie to you. Every single one of us has lost something, at some time, in life. Every single one of us is loser.

The parables of Jesus that we have just heard this morning, from the Gospel of Luke, chapter fifteen, are all about losing things. One time a shepherd with a hundred sheep lost one of them. A woman with ten silver coins lost one of them. A prodigal man with two sons lost one of them. What a bunch of losers.

There are lots of reasons I admire the parables of Jesus. Today, these parables remind us that the life of a normal human being involves losing things. There is no shame in such a condition. There is no shame. We lose things in life. We lose people in life. We are losers. It is part of the Christian life to realize loss, and it is part of the Christian discipline to acknowledge loss.

Loss. Jesus gets along much better in his ministry with those who have recognized loss in their lives. He eats with sinners and tax collectors. He seeks out those who have lost position in life, those who have lost status, those who have lost.

In the Bible, the people who grumble about Jesus –for instance, the Pharisees and scribes—are generally those who are thought to have achieved all they wanted. They have not had to lose anything. They are not losers. Yes, the only people around Jesus who are not losers are the scribes and the Pharisees.

In fact, the way I read these parables, it looks like Jesus does not simply associate with losers. It looks like Jesus, in fact, is a loser. It looks like God, God himself, God herself, is also a loser.

I remember one of the plaintive songs sung by the old rock band, “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer,” a song that seems to have been sung against God, blaming God. They sang,

Do you believe
God makes you breathe?
Why did he lose
Six million Jews?

It’s not just us who lose things. God loses people, too.

At the height of one of his more obnoxious stages in life, Ted Turner made headlines by claiming that Christianity is a religion for losers. The less obnoxious people around him later persuaded him to retract that statement, and he did. But he shouldn’t have, because he was right. Christianity is for losers.

Christianity is for losers, because God is for losers. It is one of the most important things we have to learn about God. God is for losers. It doesn’t matter how much you have, or think you have; if you don’t know what you have lost, then you are not ready for God.

A shepherd had a hundred sheep. He wasn’t poor. He had a lot of sheep. But he was concerned about the lost one. A woman had ten drachma. She wasn’t poor. She had lots of money. But she lost a tenth of it. A man had two sons, and he wasn’t poor. He had a son ready to inherit and lots of wealth. But he lost a son.

These parables of Jesus teach that all of us lose things. We lose things, and we lose people. It is sad. It is embarrassing. It makes us feel less than perfect.  We get sick. We even die. It makes us feel less than perfect. It makes us feel like a loser.

And we are. But if we do not know how to lose, then we do not know how to rejoice either. Only those who know how to lose know also how to richly rejoice.

It may be that the older we get in life, the more things we lose. If so, then finding things is also a part of life, and a part of the Christian life. It is why we sing, “I once was lost, but now am found!”

The shepherd found his lost sheep. The woman found her silver coin. The father in the parable of the prodigal son lost a younger son, lost his property, and then it looks like he may have lost an older son. But he gets them back. And he gets them back with a grace that defies explanation.

I am a loser today. And so are you. However, no matter where we are lost today, no matter what we have lost, God is seeking us out. Not to reprimand or admonish us. There is no shame in being a loser. God is seeking us out, like the shepherd, like the woman, like the prodigal father, because God is for losers. Because God loves. Because God wants to rejoice with us.

Yes, Jesus talked a lot about losing things. And, then, even he was lost. But in Christ, lost things are found. In Christ, those who lose even their life, find it.


(This was the sermon preached by Sam Candler on the morning of September 11, 2016. That afternoon, he offered an Evensong meditation of remembrance, for the 15th anniversary of 9/11. It can be found here, on the Cathedral of St. Philip web site.)

04 July 2016


(An Invocation delivered by the Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip, for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia, 4 July 2016)

Blessings, Blessings, Blessings! From all over America, from all over the world, we gather this day for the blessings of running and rejoicing.

Most of us are runners, but some of us are not. Some of us are believers in God, but some of us are not. We are wheelchairs, we are walkers, we are runners, we are elite, we are not-so-elite, we are ordinary, and we are extraordinary.

But, today, we are One. We are One today, believers in the Peachtree Road Race, and its ability to gather all sorts and conditions of humanity in blessing America on this Fourth of July.

Blessings to Muslims: Asalamu Aleikum!
Blessings to Jews. Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu!
Blessings to Christians: Christ bless you! Benedicite Deus!
To Hindus, to Buddhists, to atheists, to agnostics!
God blesses each and every one of us.  Dios les bendiga!

May this Peachtree Road Race be safe and fun, may it be challenging and relaxing. May today be a holiday, a holy day, of blessing and grace, of vigor and energy!

In the Name of God, and in all the Names of God, the God above us and the God beside us, the God at the starting line and the God at the finish line, we bless each other.

We are One today, united in energy and peace, hope and freedom. In the running of the Peachtree Road Race today, in Atlanta, God bless all of America.


The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler

07 April 2016


My Easter continues whenever I discover new expressions of the encounter of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb of Jesus. Most of you know the story of how she visited the empty tomb and wept, because the body of Jesus was not there. Standing there, however, was a man who looked like the gardener; and she asked him whether or not he had taken away the body of Jesus. When the man said, simply, “Mary,” she knew immediately that the unknown man was Jesus. She had mistaken him for the gardener (John 20:11-18).

I have enjoyed, over the years in previous classes and sermons, using so many artistic representations of that beautiful event. But, this past Sunday, I discovered still another way to interpret that famous Bible story! Below is a reproduction of “Saint Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre,” by the 16th century artist, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo.

In his daily meditation for 4 April 2016, the modern Franciscan Richard Rohr (a mystic and a hero!) speaks about how each of us seeks reality in Christ; yet, what the true risen Christ really shows us is our true self, a truth that is already deep inside us. Says Rohr, “This is the new self that can say with Paul, "I live no longer, not 'I' but it is Christ now living in me" (Galatians 2:20).” Rohr concludes, “In the truest sense, I am that which I am seeking.”

Here, in this 16th century painting, the artist Savoldo has expressed that instant, that moment, when Mary Magdalene looks straight at Jesus and realizes who he is. But, in the painting, she is looking at …us! The viewers! You and me! Christ is in us! Christ in us, the hope of glory. May the risen Christ be in you today. May the risen Christ be you!

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, "Saint Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre," (16th Century) (from The Getty Center)

30 March 2016



27 March 2016 -- Easter Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!

Have any of you ever been in a tunnel?

Two weeks ago, I was trekking through several tunnels. I was with a group of you, fifteen Cathedral parishioners, on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel and Jerusalem. A special feature of this year’s pilgrimage was tunnels. We walked in a lot of tunnels, tunnels that had served as water supplies, escape routes, and attack routes – but also tunnels that were modern archaeologicial digs.

We walked through walls of sheer rock, and along long stretches of limestone, deep in the underground of Jerusalem, below bedrock in some places. We walked through some tunnels that had been hewn out by hand tools of the Canaanites. Other tunnels were constructed by Hezekiah and various Hebrew kings. Still others were the result of archaeology, present explorations into our past.

Our footing was precarious and uncertain. We stumbled along rocky ridges and unexpected slopes. Often the rock beneath our feet was wet, always slippery, and sometimes full of water puddles. Underground, we rarely knew exactly where we were. We could not hear the world above us, and our tunnels made unexpected turns and dives.

I am telling you all this, I am describing those rocky tunnels to you on Easter morning, because being in those tunnels felt like being in a rocky tomb. Walking deep in those Jerusalem tunnels felt like I was walking in a tomb. The walls were tight and dark, and I had no idea where I was.

I wonder if Jesus felt like that, when he was in a tomb, when he was in a tomb for three days. In Jerusalem, we visited some actual tombs, and some reproductions of tombs, and though they differed from each other, most were simply rocky caves, carved from the Israel limestone. All were dark and rocky. One rock may have been the actual rock where Jesus rested his head for three days.

Except I don’t think Jesus lay still for those three days he was in the tomb. I think he was walking. He was on pilgrimage, seeking and searching and exploring just like I was when I was in Israel two weeks ago.

There were fifteen of us on that pilgrimage, walking those tunnels, and I never heard anyone say they were afraid. That amazed me, because one of us was four years old, and another was seven; and whatever our ages were, we had every reason to be afraid. But there was something about our companionship that kept us unafraid. And there was certainly something about our guide – a modern day Virgil! A Beatrice!—who kept us brave and curious, not scared and hesitant.

There are some of us here this morning – Easter morning! – there are some of us here this morning who are walking in similar tunnels. Perhaps you are in the middle of life’s journey and in a forest dark, and perhaps you have lost that straight way. Maybe your life seems dark and the way is incredibly narrow – tight—and you don’t know where you are going.

The rocky tunnel you are in may feel like a tomb. Maybe you didn’t intentionally choose the tunnel you are in, but rather you fell in unexpectedly. Maybe you did choose the tunnel you are in, but you can’t figure out why you did. Maybe the rocky tomb you are in today is one that was created long ago, or maybe it was only recently discovered.

Whatever the case, that kind of rocky tunnel can feel like death. One definition of “death” is feeling like you have nowhere to go, feeling as if the earth itself has closed in around you. Death is feeling like there is no more path, no more freedom, no more light, nowhere else to go.

Today, Easter, is the opposite of that. Today, Easter, is the opposite of death. Today, Easter, is a day to remember an amazing thing about the tomb. The tomb of Jesus is not the end. It NOT the end of the path, NOT the end of freedom, NOT the the end of light. The tomb of Jesus is not a rock barrier. The tomb is a tunnel.

The tomb is a tunnel! In Jerusalem two weeks ago, what felt to me like a tomb was really a tunnel! Yes, it had some scary qualities. It felt claustrophobic and dark. But it was going somewhere. I, and my fellow pilgrims, were traveling!

I think Jesus had companions in the tomb. There’s no record of that, except that we read elsewhere in the Bible that Jesus –in his death—visited the souls of the dead (1 Peter 4). That is how we get our image that Jesus descended into hell, into the place of the dead. There, he provided saving companionship to those who thought their way had ended, to those who thought the rocky walls meant the end.

No, says Jesus, there is a way out. There is always a way out. The tomb is not the end! The tomb is a tunnel! There is always a way out, a way through the darkness and rock.

Two weeks ago, when I finally found the way out, when I emerged from that ancient Jerusalem tunnel, I was surprised. I had no idea where I was! First of all, because the sunlight was so bright, I couldn’t see anything at all. Then, when my eyes did adjust to the light, I could not recognize what I did see. I knew I was in the holy city of Jerusalem, but where?

So it is when God leads any of us out of the tunnels of our lives. Most of the time, we do not expect, we can not expect, where we will be when we get out. Even if we have been praying hard to escape the tunnels of our lives, praying hard to escape the tomb, we have no idea what this new life of resurrection will look like.

Often, when we do emerge from the tunnels of our lives, we don’t recognize the holy land that we are standing on. We emerge in the holy city, but we don’t know it.

But that is exactly why we call the resurrection something new! It was not the old life that Jesus was resurrected to; it was an entirely new life. It is not the old life we are resurrected to, it is an entirely new life! Many of us mistakenly want resurrection to the old life. We think resurrection magically restores all of the nostalgic great times and places of our memories.

If we are merely looking for the old to be restored in our lives, we will be disappointed. We will miss the true resurrection. That is why Mary, dear Mary Magdalene, who probably knew Jesus as well as any of the other apostles, dear Mary does not recognize the resurrected Jesus at first. She was expecting a resurrection of the old.

When Jesus was resurrected, he was new. The land around him was new. And Jesus made new the people around him, too. This morning, when we emerge from this church, when we walk out into the world celebrating resurrection, God wants to raise us to something new; God wants us to live into something new.

Can we do that? Our tunnels do not lead back to the way we came in. The tunnels of our lives will always, always, lead us to another place entirely, a new place, a place that we might not recognize at first.

The tomb is tunnel! Death is a tunnel! To walk the way of Jesus means that we do not, we cannot, avoid death. We don’t walk around death, or over death. The way of Jesus is down and through death, through that tunnel first, and only then out the other side. On that other side, there awaits us a place that we might not recognize at first; but that’s okay.

At that other side, God shows us liberating light, open space, bright glory. We call that other side – the other end of the tunnel – we call it Easter!

Happy Easter, fellow pilgrims, all of us who have walked with Jesus through the tunnels of life. Happy Easter!  “Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” And we are risen, too.


10 February 2016


Last weekend, on the Saturday before Lent, I was quite cold. I was down in the beautiful winter woods of middle Georgia where I grew up. I was also in the pastures there, on our old farm, helping my brother. Over the past year, those rolling pastures have grown up with things we don’t like. There are briars and small sweet gum trees. Oh, my Lord! The bane of sweet gum trees in the South!

Lots of invasive species have spring up in those pastures, but lots of the good grass species have also grown too high. They simply needed to be cut back. But we didn’t cut those things back last Saturday. We burned them. My brother, and my father, and my son – all of us together – spent the day burning the pastures and woods.

It’s always a bit risky, even dangerous, to set an intentional fire. Don’t worry; my brother had called the forestry service to notify them of the burn! And my brother knows what he is doing. We were doing something most every tender of pastures and woods has done over the centuries. Native Americans burned that same land at one time, providing clear browsing areas for deer and other forms of nourishment.

In burning, we were getting rid of invasive species, and we were also preparing the soil for the growth of new things. Pastures need clearing. Woods need their undergrowth burned away from time to time. Afterwards, the ash is messy – it makes your boots black when you walk there afterwards—but the ash is also healthy. The ground is nourished and fertilized by that ash.

So the fire burns, yes, but it also nourishes. And, on a cold Saturday in the winter time, the fire also warms us. Dangerous as it was, we tried to stand as close to the fire as possible, so close that ashes were landing on our feet.

At its best, the confession of sin is a lot like burning pastures. When we confess our sins – daily, or weekly, or annually, like on Ash Wednesday – we are clearing the land in order for something else to grow. The confession of sin is a good and fertilizing thing, especially if we understand sin to be whatever hinders the growth of God’s presence in our lives.

Confessing sin means letting go of it, burning it away, getting rid of whatever it is in our lives that is hindering new growth. That is how I propose a definition of sin in our time: whatever it is that hinders new growth in our lives.

God wants to grow things in our lives. God wants to grow new things in our lives! But the old growth is often in the way. That old growth might be some invasive species that has come into our life over time. But that old growth might also be perfectly good plants, good things that simply need to be pruned and cut back and allowed to flourish again in fresh ways.

Ash Wednesday, then, is a day to burn something away. Lent is a season to burn things away. These late winter days, cold and gray, are excellent days in which to build a fire. Yes, the fire can be risky and dangerous. Sometimes it burns too close and hurts us. But it also burns away those things that hinder us from the newness of God.

On Ash Wednesday, many Christians mark their foreheads with ashes. Some Christians wear the ashes all day, while some quietly wipe the ashes away during the day. It doesn’t matter how long we wear them. The point is that, even for a moment, those ashes are signs that we have burned something away.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday are reminders that we are making room for God. We are clearing the pasture of our soul for new growth. Whether you are at church today or not, and whether you are a Christian or not –wherever and whoever you are – I hope you are creating space for God. I hope you are walking on good ground, humble ground that has known fire and ash, ground that is fertile and ready for new life. Don’t be afraid of fire and ashes. They are the signs of new life growing within you.