05 June 2012


(my letter to the Cathedral Parish of St. Philip, 4 June 2012)

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thank you to so many people who were at church this past Sunday, and to so many others who have written, mostly to say they support me, and also to ask the simple question, “How are you doing?” I offered myself for election as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta this past Saturday, and I was not elected. A good man, my friend Rob Wright, was elected; and I pray the best for him. In fact, we all pray for him in the days ahead, and for Bishop Neil Alexander, who remains Bishop of Atlanta until October.

The Diocese of Atlanta takes a breather now, after the scurrying about and the election itself a few days ago, June 2, 2012. God willing, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis during July 3-13, will give formal consent to Rob’s election; and Rob will begin to make the transition from being rector of St. Paul’s Church, Atlanta, to being Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta. Plans will gradually develop; and, on Saturday, October 13, 2012, the grand ordination service will take place, again, at the Cathedral of St. Philip.

This past Sunday, Trinity Sunday, you heard me answer the question, “How are you?” But my answer bears repeating: I am actually quite happy, even excited. I feel, in a way, that I have gotten my life back. I was certainly willing to be Bishop of Atlanta, and willing to forge a new life in that role. But I am quite happy to live back into my present role and to renew my life as Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip. It is truly one of the great vocations in the Church, and it is definitely a lot of fun.

So, I have gotten a lot of things back. I was willing to give them up, but God has returned them to me, perhaps consecrated again, in a special and renewing way. I am blessed by that; I am truly blessed.

Please read, or listen to, the sermon I delivered on Trinity Sunday (see here), where I described my life in Christ as having being blown by the wind of the Holy Spirit. I hope to have been carried on the wings of the wind in my life, and—so far—that has been wonderful for me. The wind invited me to offer my candidacy, and now the wind has blown me back home again; I am home, with people I love and with a community I love.

I posted the same sermon on my blog (see here). But I have also posted the sermon I delivered on May 20, 2012, titled “Barsabbas and Matthias: The Patron Saints of Elections” (see here). That sermon, about “leadership as loss,” was very important for me as I prayed my way through this election process. I will certainly develop that theme in the days and years ahead.

Finally, once again: Thank you. Thank you again. Thanks for holding me in prayer, and thanks for checking in with me. Thank you for letting me be born again with you. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it. But you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of Spirit.” Let’s be born again together! (Or as Harry Chapin sang in “All My Life’s A Circle:” Our love is like a circle, let’s go around one more time.) God bless you!

04 June 2012


(a sermon for TRINITY SUNDAY, 3 June 2012)
John 3:1-17

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it;
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

It’s about the wind. My life has always been about the wind.

In Coweta County, I grew up at the top of a large hill, totally exposed to the west. Every evening, I could watch the sun set over the broad pastures below and distant trees on the horizon. In the summertime, I saw huge clouds roll in with the wind, bringing storms week after week.

That wind cooled us in the summertime. In fact, my parents never had air conditioning in our home while we were growing up. For some odd reason, they installed air conditioning only later, after the four of us children had left home! So, until then, in the summer, the wind cooled us just fine.

In the winter, however, that wind was cold. Exposed to the elements, our house always froze in that winter wind, and then the car would not start either.

But I flew kites from that home on the hill. I made model rockets, from the Estes company. I launched those rockets at an angle into the west, so that the wind would then deposit them right back to where I had launched them. Back to home base.

It was when I was a teen-ager that I learned this passage from the Gospel of John, chapter three, where Jesus compares the journey of being born again, to the wind.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it;
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The instant I heard those words, I knew what he was talking about.

I was eager to be born of the spirit when I was in high school, because I wanted to be blowing in the wind, like so many others my age, singing and playing Bob Dylan, “Blowing in the Wind.” That song was not teaching me anything; it was just declaring something poetically that I already knew was true.

I learned that both the Hebrew and the Greek words for wind are the same words for spirit. Ruach and pneuma. Wind and spirit. We sang beautiful songs of the wind in those days:

“Wind, wind, blow on me,
Wind, wind, set me free.
Wind, wind, Jesus sent,
The blessed Holy Spirit.”

My favorite psalm became Psalm 104, a psalm in praise of creation. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” begins Psalm 104, and it continues, “you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers” (Psalm 104:3-4).

My life in Christ has been a life of being blown with the wind. I don’t mean random meandering. But I mean listening for the wind in the trees, and in the hills, being willing to go where others might not want me to go. The wind of the Holy Spirit has blown me to some wonderful places.

It blew me out to California for school. I met the Holy Spirit lots of times out there. The wind blew me up to the Northeast, and I met the Holy Spirit there, too.

The wind has blown me home, too. The wind has blown me back to Georgia several times. From the northeast, the wind blew me to my first church, St. Jude’s Church, in Smyrna. The wind blew me to South Carolina and then back to Cumming, Georgia. Lo and behold, the wind blew me to South Carolina a second time, and then the wind blew me to this church, the Cathedral of St. Philip, back home to Georgia again.

And here, I have stayed for quite a while – thirteen years. Here at the Cathedral of St. Philip, we have sailed with some very favorable winds together, and I thank you for those excursions, those missions, really. They have been excellent. We have also faced some ferocious storms, haven’t we? But I thank God for those stormy times, too.

The wind of the Holy Spirit is not always gentle. It blows where it wills, and you cannot always tell where it is going. Sometimes, that wind has blown us toward new things that were ahead of their time; those things were difficult, but they were also refreshing.

It was the wind that prompted me this past year to offer my name as a candidate for bishop of Atlanta. I knew it would not be easy. Bishop’s elections are highly charged, and they draw on perspectives and experiences that are difficult to analyze.

But I had to run, because I think God wanted me to offer a new kind of vision for the episcopate these days. The Christian Church needs bishops who like to preach and deliver the gospel to new places. The Church does not need more top-down hierarchy. The Church needs leaders who know how to “ride on the wings of the wind.”

That wind has to be the Holy Spirit.

I am glad I ran for bishop. I hope the offering of myself, and whatever gifts I have, were good for the diocese, and for the general church discussion about our future. It was good for me, helping me to understand my role and my identity in this church.

I hope my running for bishop was good for you, too, this parish, the Cathedral of St. Philip. I was not elected, which is okay. A good person was elected. But I hope that my running has been an example to all of us, about what it means to take risks. We have done some great things here, but God would not have us stand still.

God always sends wind. It is our eternal challenge to catch that wind, to ride that wind. So, I hope that my running for bishop was an example of what it means to take a risk, to be willing to leave the safe harbor and venture out into the wind. I liked it!

Last year, on this very day, Trinity Sunday, I preached about relationship. I reviewed all the ways I have discussed the doctrine of Trinity here, but I ended up by talking about Trinity as “relationship.” Because God lives in relationship – “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – we are meant to live in relationship, too.  If we are made in the image of God, then we are meant to live in the same kind of Trinitarian loving relationship that God lives in.

But these relationships, in which we are meant to live, have to always be moving. They are like atoms. In an atom, with nucleus, protons, and electrons, those particles are always swirling about each other -- committed and drawn to each other, yes, but also swirling delightfully around each other and into time and space.

Our holy relationships are meant to be born of that wind, the holy wind, the Holy Spirit of God. I look forward to our next wind together. We are supposed to be born of the Spirit together!

You know, when it comes to literal sailing, I am not a very good sailor. It is very hard for me to sail against the wind. It forces me to tack one way, and then the other. Sometimes, I feel like I am losing wind.

But I do trust the wind. Because, even though the wind always takes me far away, the wind also brings me home again. The wind has taken me to some distant places, but the wind – I mean, the Spirit—the Spirit always blows me home again, too.

The answer is blowing in the wind. And the wind has always carried me home, the place of holy relationships.

I thank God that, today, I am home. Home with people I love. Home in a community I love. And, home, where I can be born again! Home, after all, is where you can be born again, over and over again.

So I am glad to be home today. Excited actually! I am glad, and hopeful, to be born again, with you.

Let’s do it again! Let’s be born again, from above, for the sake of the kingdom of God. It does not mean that things will always be easy. The wind might blow us away, for a time, again.

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it;
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

But the wind also blows us home. Yes, when it is of the Spirit, the wind blows us home again.

Thank you. I love the wind, and I love being home. I love you.



(a sermon for 20 May 2012)

“They proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,… and Matthias.
 Then they prayed,… and they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias,
and he was added to the eleven apostles.”
Acts 1:23, 26

If Garrison Keillor were beginning this sermon right now, he might say, “It has not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.”

As many of you know, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta has been hosting an exhausting series of evening meetings this week, a week called “Walkabout Week.”

On June 2, in two weeks, the diocese will convene for the special election of a new bishop for the diocese. Six candidates have been formally offered for election, and they are six very fine people. I say that a bit modestly, for, as you know, I am one of those six candidates.

As a way for parishioners and delegates to get to know the candidates, all six candidates came together this past week. We spent each night in the same hotel in downtown Atlanta, and we spent each day visiting a different part of the diocese.

On Monday, we were at Camp Mikell, way up in northeast Georgia, in Toccoa. On Tuesday, we were here at the Cathedral and at the diocesan offices. On Wednesday, we were at the delightful Church of the Holy Comforter, in east Atlanta. On Thursday, we were at Emmaus House, and on Friday, we were at Church of the Holy Cross, in Decatur.

The evenings were far more grueling. The main feature of Walkabout Week is a series of evening question and answer sessions. For three and half hours each night, always in a different church of the diocese, the candidates walked from room to room to room and answered open questions from visitors and delegates.

Many of you from the Cathedral were there, and I thank you so much for supporting this process. We were in Gainesville on Monday night, at St. Luke’s Atlanta on Tuesday night, in Macon on Wednesday night, in Roswell on Thursday night, and in Rome on Friday night.

Each night, faithful members of the Diocese of Atlanta asked us questions. Many questions were excellent. People asked us about our vision for the diocese, about our prayer lives, about our strengths and weaknesses, about all sorts of things. Some of the questions were also bizarre, and I don’t want to repeat them! We had to be prepared for anything.

It reminded me, a bit, of standing in the receiving line after each service here at the Cathedral. When many of you come up to me, and to the other priests, after the service, we have no idea what you are going to say. Sometimes it is, “nice sermon!” but other times you are commenting on something which is the furthest thing from our minds. We have to think fast! (But you always say something good!)

All in all, this was grueling week, and the six candidates –plus our spouses—are exhausted. In fact, the spouses may have suffered the most. They had to listen to the same answers in 28 different sessions! It is an exhausting process.  

Maybe the best question I received was this: “Do you know any better way to choose a bishop?” My answer was, “Yes, put all six candidates in the same room, and have them decide who among them should be the bishop!”

But this is our process. This is the process that the Episcopal Church uses these days to seek, discern, and elect a new bishop of the church.

It was not like this a generation ago, and it probably will not be like this in the next generation. Every generation, and every area of the church, every region and diocese and country, has its own process.

In many of the Anglican churches across the world, new bishops are chosen by the existing bishops. It is the bishops only who get together and decide among themselves who the next bishop of an area or diocese will be. They choose who will join them in the House of Bishops. In the Church of England, bishops are also appointed, but by special commissions, including the state officials; and it is ultimately the Queen who issues the call.

In The Episcopal Church, here in the United States, the procedure involves a much more democratic process, much like the secular political process of the United States. Laypeople and clergy elect and choose new bishops.

In today’s first lesson, from the book of The Acts of the Apostles, we read of still another model: the earliest record of choosing apostolic leaders in the Christian Church. In this passage, the apostles are gathered in Jerusalem seeking to do the right thing for the continuation of their identity and ministry. For them, the primary need was clear. They needed a twelfth member of the apostolic ministry. They needed twelve apostles.

Jesus, it seems, had made sure the number was twelve. At least that is the record of a couple of the gospel evangelists. The gospels are a bit unclear as to the exact names of the twelve; the actual names differ in the gospels. But no matter.

According to Luke, the writer of Acts, the apostles needed a twelfth. So, first they chose the finalists. They chose two nominees from among all the people who had been with them from the beginning, nominees who would be authentic witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. They nominated Barsabbas and Matthias.

They prayed. Then, they simply chose lots.

This morning, I want to salute those two men, who were willing to let their names go forward in the search process: Barsabbas and Matthias. For me, these two saints are the patron saints of elections.

Like all nominees, they were willing to be public with their possibility. Each one knew, I am sure, that he might not be chosen. But they were honored. More importantly, they were willing to be vulnerable, to be exposed, to be critiqued and analyzed.

This is the key feature of public nomination; they were willing to be vulnerable. That is what the six candidates for election in the Diocese of Atlanta are doing. We are willing to be public, willing to make an offering of ourselves for the greater common good. That means sacrificing some privacy, letting people comment on us, letting people ask us all sorts of questions.

In fact, it means sacrificing a lot of privacy. We know that people are saying all sorts of things about us. Some of it is accurate and true and good. Some of it is downright inaccurate and misleading and even pernicious. But that is the way of human curiosity, human speculation, and it is certainly the way of human politics.

The six of us, the six candidates, and our spouses, all spent considerable time together this past week, and I think I can say that we enjoyed each other. We like each other! God has worked in each of us to bring us to this point, and we share lots of things in common. It has been fun for us to be priests in the Episcopal Church.

Maybe the most important thing we share, even though we never said this exactly, is a willingness to lose. We share a willingness to lose.

People who offer themselves for election always know that there is a distinct possibility that we will lose the election. I believe that is an important offering to the church. The offering of loss. The offering that, yes, I might lose. And that will be okay.

For me, Barsabbas and Matthias, those first two nominees for apostolic leadership in the church, are the patron saints of elections. I suppose that they both knew they might not be chosen. But they let their names stand, anyway.

And the name of Barsabbas was not chosen. He, then, might be called the patron saint of losers. According to the record of history, he lost. Alas, this is the only time in the New Testament that his name is even mentioned. There is a small legend about what might have happened to him, but nothing of any substance. He lost, and nothing more is heard about him.

I salute Barsabbas this morning, about whom we know nothing more than that he lost the election. He is the patron saint of losers.

But, here’s the thing. What about the winner, the man whose name was chosen? What about Matthias, whose name was chosen, by lot, who became the twelfth apostle? Is he, therefore, to be remembered as the patron saint of winners?

Well, it turns out that, alas, this is the only time in the New Testament that his name is even mentioned, too! With him, too, there is a small legend about what might have happened to him, but nothing of any substance. He actually won, and yet nothing more is heard about him.

Barsabbas lost, and nothing more is heard about him. Matthias won, and nothing more is heard about him, either. Whether they won or lost, nothing more was heard about them. They began an apostolic succession, but their lives were not remembered. Maybe, apostolic leadership is not about being remembered individually.

And it’s not just apostolic leadership, but leadership of any kind. I salute all those who offer themselves for service, whether it is in the church, or elsewhere for the common good. You who run for election anywhere, you who want to be leaders, you who sacrifice your privacy for the greater good anywhere. Your willingness to lose is, actually, a good example to all of us. To follow in the steps of the apostles is to be willing to lose yourself. To be willing to lose is the best form of Christian leadership. Christian leadership is being willing to lose.

Apostolic leadership, then, witnesses to something beyond individual identity, beyond individual pride, beyond whether one wins or loses. Apostolic succession is about witnessing to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a pattern of life that guides the Christian Church from generation to generation.

Finally, in Christ, there are no winners or losers. There is only the Body of Christ, with its many faithful members.  The words of the blessed apostle Paul are the words of a true leader: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so, then, whether we live or whether we die; we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14.7-8).