25 December 2013


(A Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2013, at The Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta)

All who heard it were amazed…
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
(Luke 2:18-19)

I love being amazed!

Thank you, thanks to each of you, for amazing me. On this holy night, when we dress up our lives with glitter and gold, and when we dress up our families with love and bling, I thank you. I thank you for your amazement tonight.

We are filling up this holy cathedral with amazement --with majestic music and overflowing flowers and wondrous words. We are filling up Atlanta and the world, and the television airwaves, with amazement. Glory! I love it.

Mary, the young girl, Mary, witnessed all this amazement. She saw the odd animals around her. She saw the grimy shepherds arrive in their pick-up trucks. She heard the strange religious clairvoyants, with their crystals and incense, knock on the door, in their odd amazement.

She had been amazed herself. It was around nine months ago, that Mary had been surprised by an angel – or maybe it was a dream, or a revelation. An angel had said, “Greetings, favored one! Hail, Mary, full of grace! You will have a child!”  Mary was amazed, astounded, and she asked how in the world this could be. The messenger said simply, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

It was then that Mary responded with those famous words from a John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Beatles, song. Mary said, “Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be to me, according to your word.”

But it takes time. It takes time to let it be. The incarnation of the Word takes time. During nine months of waiting, lots of other amazing things happened. Mary shared amazement with her cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph, her betrothed, was amazed by his own dream.

During these last months of waiting, Mary has learned something. She has learned not simply to be amazed. Mary has learned to ponder, to contemplate. Mary has learned to pray.

It’s easy to be amazed. And it’s great fun to be amazed! We crave amazement all the time. We change channels on our television sets every five minutes, looking for the next amazing scene, the next outrageous segment. We can’t wait! We can’t wait to see the five most amazing sports plays from yesterday. We want our movies to be action adventures and amazing love stories. And we are so impatient, so quick, to be distracted by the latest outrage and drama of the day.

As usual, it has been a productive year for amazing outrage and drama. Impatient wars and impatient violence have piled up across the world; citizens have shot one another, and governments have bombed their own citizens. Our national politics almost paralyzed us with the daily drama of government shutdown. We were amazed by the National Security Agency, who knows when we are sleeping and knows when we’re awake – who knows when we’ve bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake! When the new government health care web site failed, why didn’t we just get the National Security Agency to do the computer work?

Personally, amazing new children and grand children have been born. Other children have left for amazing colleges or gotten married in amazing services. Sadly, amazing friends got sick this year. Amazing people we love have died. The Atlanta Braves teased us with amazement, but then offered us traditional agony; the Atlanta Falcons amazed us with a colossal collapse of expectations.

Unfortunately, our obsession with quick amazement –our inability to wait – has also done us wrong sometimes. Consider the events of this past year in which our newscasters were so intent on delivering breaking news that they delivered the wrong news. At least one newscaster lost her job that way. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart made fun of the breaking news phrase, “initial conclusions.”

Consider how many e-mails we received from so-called friends who surely must have pressed the “Send” key more quickly than they should have. Consider the hundreds of cars on Peachtree Road who were so amazingly close to the car in front of them, that they ran into them at the slightest pause. Consider, ponder, how many times you spoke so quickly and then had to spend an hour making up for the mistake. We can’t wait!

It’s easy to be quickly amazed, and oh, too easy, to share that amazement so quickly that it is wrong. Breaking news is not always reliable news. Breaking news is often the wrong news.

Tonight, I hope we can be amazed like the shepherds, but I hope even more that we ponder like Mary. Pondering takes time. Mary knows – like many a woman amazed at the joy of new life – Mary knows that pondering takes months. Sometimes years.

Not every event needs immediate amazement. The young child can wait a few years before she plays the star in the pageant. When your seven-year old asks you where babies come from, you can wait a few years before delivering the most direct answer.

If we are ever going to realize God in this world, we –like Mary – will have to wait and ponder.

And we will invite our companions to ponder with us. Remember: an angel appeared to Mary’s companion, too, Joseph, who had to have been completely dumbfounded by the situation. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel to Joseph. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Do not be afraid to commit yourself to the one you love. Believe. Believe in the dreams of the person you love. Believe in the dreams of the person you love.

And Joseph did believe. Together, the stable belief of Mary and Joseph began to grow something that would change the world.

When we ponder things, we let them lie still for a bit, before we let ourselves act on them. We consider their weight. Sometimes, the events before us seem weighty indeed, heavy enough to sink us. Tonight, there may be a situation in your life –a weight or worry—that threatens to sink you. Let it be. Let it go.

There is a heavier element inside you that will not sink you. It will anchor you, fix you, to the steady presence of God. Love is that element inside each of us, that gold glory, which waits for true rest and true peace.

Love is the solid and stable truth growing inside us, which we realize when we take the time to ponder. When we take the time to contemplate is when we truly realize God.

What is Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation? Christmas, the Incarnation, is the realization of God. In the incarnation, God intentionally ponders, God weighs himself down. God gets real! God fixes himself down to earth, down to the earth full of the anxieties and burdens of our humanity.

But God is not exhausted by that burden. God loves our burdens, just as God loved the burden that Mary carried for nine months. God loves our burdens. It may just be that humanity anchors God, too. Our human nature is proof that God loves. Humanity teaches us that God loves.

Yes, in the nine months between amazement and birth, Mary learned to ponder. She learned to pray. It takes time.

There is a special gift that God has given us tonight. It is not simply a child, though we say that a lot. Well, there is no literal child here tonight; there is the tremendous memory of a child, yes, but no literal child here tonight. What God has given us tonight is something else; God has given us time.

Time, I believe, is God’s great gift to us tonight, especially to those of us who think we have so little of it that we have to act quickly all the time. It is because we think we have so little time that we try to be amazed all the time.

“Take your time!” God says. In fact, God says, “Take my time. Take my time. I have plenty of it.” God has given us time tonight.

We have time. The good and true things in life take time. Children take nine months. (Maybe the precocious ones come early.) New businesses, new ideas, take time. New wisdom and new truth rarely blossom into the world without months, even years, of preparation.

“Take your time,” says God. “Take my time,” says God, “I have plenty of it for you.” Ponder the wondrous love of this day, and carry that weight. Carry that weight, a long time. It is a weight of glory, amazing glory. Let it be. Let it be to us according to God’s word.


The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip

13 October 2013


The naming of the Nobel Prize for physics is always cool. But it is especially cool this year, because the winners were involved in the conceptualization and discovery of the Higgs Boson, a particle so tantalizing and theoretically necessary that it came to be called the “God Particle.” Congratulations to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, winners of 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics!

The Higgs Boson, a sub-atomic particle, was theorized many years ago as the particle which allows other particles to have mass. (Higgs and Englert were the first to document its possible existence, way back in the 1960’s.) I make no claim to know theoretical physics, but the Higgs Boson is apparently the reason other particles in our universe cohere together instead of simply flying off in a hundred million different tiny directions (okay: many more than a hundred million).  If your physics knowledge is as shallow as mine, you might enjoy the short and delightful explanation in this video: “The Higgs Boson Explained.”

But I was going to talk about God. Since it was theorized so long before its actual detection (detection came in July of 2012, at the Large Hadron Collider), the Higgs Boson came to be called the “God Particle.” It was the reason every other particle had mass. It was the reason every other particle came to be created; it was, and maybe is, the “God Particle.”

Well, I like that name: the “God Particle.” Yes, God is someone I talk about a lot. God is someone I have theorized about, though I have sure had a hard time detecting God sometimes. Yes, God is someone I have spent a large part of my life trying to discover. My understanding is that many, many other people have been trying to discover God, too!

It used to be that we thought the “atom” was the smallest indivisible particle of the universe. Over two thousand years ago, the very word was formed from “-a,” meaning “not,” and “temno,” meaning “cut.” An “atom” is uncuttable, indivisible. As recently as the nineteenth century, we considered the “atom” the smallest indivisible part of creation.

But we’ve come a long way in a hundred years. We human beings have discovered that atoms consist of protons and electrons and neutrons, and then they consist of leptons and quarks and muons and charms and stranges and who knows what else. And it goes on and on. I am convinced that it goes on and on. I want our discovery to go on and on. The world is a better place when we make scientific theories and discoveries and confirmations.

However, I have another hypothesis for what we might truly call the “God Particle.” I discovered an energy long ago, which I believe is responsible for life and growth and energy at all levels of existence. It goes by many names, but I have come to call it the “Christ Particle.” And it is not restricted to Christians (Raimundo Pannikar writes about The Unknown Christ of Hinduism.).

It is the Christ Particle which creates life and makes things hold together. From primal elements, creation is formed; the Christ is the power of that creation. From dismal misery, love explodes; the Christ is that power of love. Even in times of destruction and betrayal, the Christ brings forgiveness and reconciliation. That power is massive and incredible. It is also the Christ energy which inspires learning and discovery!

The Christ Particle will never be measured by our technology and machines. It is undiscoverable by empirical or scientific means. I have nothing against science. We need empiricism and science; in fact, we need more of it! But science will never discover this particular God Particle. This Christ Particle is what we are looking for, the energy point of creation. It is why other particles attract to each other. One might even claim that the true Christ particle is the opposite of entropy. It is the energy particle, the ultimate force that loves us together.

Yes, it is the smallest particle in the universe. But, it is also the largest. It is the most mysterious, and it is right before us every day. Blessings to all who seek the seemingly impenetrable secrets of the universe; I am pulling for you, and you will go on and on! But blessings, too, to who all who seek the mystery of Christ, who is the image of God, and in whom all things hold together. “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through Christ and for Christ. Christ himself is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

Sam Candler

(This article was originally published by Sam Candler at Episcopal Cafe, 12 October 2013. Thank you!)

12 October 2013


(a sermon from 6 October 2013, observing the Feast of St. Francis, at the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta, Georgia)

Genesis 2:18-24
Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know who said it first: God or Grace Slick.

Grace Slick was the lead singer for the old rock band, Jefferson Airplane.

God was the being who created the world. I hope you all remember the story. God said “Let there be light.” There was light, and God said it was good. God said, “Let there be night and day,” and there was. God said it was good. God said, “Let there be animals and living creatures,” and there were. God said it was good.

There was so much that was pronounced “Good” back in that primal time. In fact, everything was pronounced “Good.” As we observe the Feast of St. Francis today, part of our celebration of creation is remembering the sheer goodness of all of God’s creation. Creation is good!

That was all in Genesis, chapter one. But in Genesis, chapter two, an odd thing is said. There is something mentioned that is “Not Good.” Very specifically, God looked at the creation of the first human and said this, “It is not good.” “It is not good.” What was God talking about?

“It is not good, “ God said, “…for the human being to be alone.”  (Genesis 2:18)

It is not good for the human being to be alone. The man needs a companion. I think maybe God had already created Grace Slick, and she was singing that driving song of the 1960’s, “Somebody to Love.”

When the truth is found, to be lies,
And all the joy within you dies,
Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love,
You better find somebody to love.

Since then, all sorts of people have sung something like that, haven’t they? Queen sings about somebody to love. Freddie Mercury needs somebody to love. Justin Bieber sings about needing somebody to love. Glee sings about somebody to love. We all sing about it. Wouldn’t you love somebody to love? Yes, we would. Most of us would.

Because we were created for love. Companionship is designed and built into the human condition. God said, “It is not good for the human being to be alone.” We were created for relationship. We were created for somebody to love.

As we bless these animals today, as we honor them by bringing them to church, one of the things we do is acknowledge that they are companions. They give us somebody to love. They give us relationship. And, indeed, we receive some sort of affection back. I believe they enjoy us. (Look at them! See how happy they look today!)

But there is another feature to our animal blessing today. We are not simply blessing animals individually. We are also acknowledging the right relationship that all of us are supposed to live in, here on this earth.

Francis of Assisi, the great saint, taught us these things. He seems to have been fully in relationship with God’s creation, all of it. His life of humble service to all, and especially to the poor, was a dramatic example of being in right relationship with God and with God’s creation.

This means that Francis was not simply a man who was nice to his dog, or who let a cat run free on the kitchen table. Francis created broad community, in relationship not simply with animals, but also with people, with the poor, and with the world itself. Francis loved even brother sun and sister moon. Francis loved even sister death.

A few years ago, Peter Brown and friends wrote a book titled, Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy. In that book, they developed the old Quaker term of “bearing witness.” For Quakers, that term means living life in a way that reflects fundamental truth. Bearing witness means getting relationships right. That book expands the phrase “right relationship,” however, so that it means right relationship with the entire earth. They urge us to live in right relationship, not just with other people, and not just with other people we love, but with the entire world, with all of God’s creation.

It is a high and mighty calling! Today, we create a glimpse of what that calling could mean. There will be glitches today, maybe a few growls, and maybe a few frightened children – and adults!

But, if all goes well, we see something grand today. We see men and women, girls and boys, living in right relationship with animals. We see human beings living with other creatures that we might otherwise be tempted to fear, or to dominate, or even to abuse.

These dogs and other pets are upsetting our tidiness and comfort a bit today. They bark at inopportune times, and they pull us toward places we would rather not go. They change our schedules. We change our lives for them.

Well, that’s what relationships do. They change us. In right relationships, we learn to bend and change. We learn to give up something of ourselves so that we can be something better. Indeed, we learn to give up something of ourselves so that the world can be a better place.

Today, we acknowledge that we were created for this. We were created for companionship, for relationship. We were created to love somebody. And we were created for somebody to love.

Somebody wants to love you today! Let them! Take their yoke upon you and learn from them. Yes, those words were the words of Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” But they are the words of anyone who wants our love, too, and the words of anyone who wants to love us.

“Take their yoke upon you and learn from them.” That is what relationship is. Ultimately, that yoke is easy, and that burden is light. These pets know that. Somebody wants to love you today! These animals want to love you. That person next to you wants to love you. The God who created all of us, the God who is here today, wants to love you!

Yes, that love will change us, for sure. You, and I, will be changed by the love of God. We will become part of God’s continuing creation, a creation of right relationship.


The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler
Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip

17 September 2013


Sometimes, it’s simply worth acknowledging great words written by someone else. I reprint here, a few paragraphs written by Alec Russell, from a much longer article about Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s an outstanding piece from The Financial Times Magazine on September 13, 2013.

Desmond Tutu would have been a brilliant stand-up comic. Within moments of arriving at his foundation’s offices, sporting his customary black ­workman’s cap, he is teasing his staff, his visitors and most exuberantly, of course, himself. “You are toooo close,” he tells a charity photographer, ­shooing away his lens. “Makes my nose grow big.” When I ask after his right foot, which is in a cast, I think for a moment he has misheard. “She is very beautiful ... ” Long pause. “The girl who I fell for ... ” He chuckles, as does his audience, irrepressibly, even his staff who have surely heard this before. “Tendonitis,” he adds. “Teenage-itis,” says an aide.

[Tutu’s daughter] Mpho, 49, an ordained priest, is an obvious keeper of her father’s flame. She had the peripatetic childhood of all four of Tutu’s children. …Mpho is less voluble than her father – how could she not be? But they interrupt and tease each other at will as any loving father and daughter might do. When they laugh together, they crackle with the force of a high-veld storm – not least when I recount the decline and fall of our local Anglican church in west London, exhibit A in my contention to them that their church is in deep trouble in the west.

It was a grand Victorian church built to accommodate hundreds, I explain. Twelve years ago when one of our sons was christened there the congregation was barely a dozen strong. Now it is closed. “Is that the effect you had?” jokes the Arch. He urges his fellow Anglican clerics not to panic over suggestions that Britain is becoming a post-Christian society and their church is in long-term decline.

“Of course we [the Anglican Church] want to sell our product [and have full congregations] but in another way we ought to say ultimately it doesn’t matter that our churches are empty. We have to find a way of communicating with those who say they find churches offputting. That doesn’t make them any less members of God’s family … How you actually get fulfilment as a human being isn’t when you rough everyone up and clobber them [for not attending church, for example]. It’s when you follow the example of the Lord, longing for the best for the other.” We shouldn’t be too selective, he adds. There really are churches where people are “well fed spiritually”. Then, characteristically, he changes tack, a trick he deployed so often in his searing sermons of the past. The trouble is, he concedes, tele-evangelists are filling a need.

“I’ve looked at our television here and you feel really sorry for what they [evangelical congregations] are fed. There’s a young pastor in Soweto I think. They must have two or three thousand people at a service every Sunday … but it’s real …”

“Drivel,” says Mpho.

“I was going to say bull…” He just stops. More laughter.

And my exhibit B, the success in the west of Richard Dawkins’ paean to atheism, his bestselling book, The God Delusion? Tutu is warming up now and delivers a confident riposte – though again, and typically, not what one might expect from a priest.

“God doesn’t want us being childish. God may want us to be childlike but not childish. We’ve been given intellectual gifts. We should go and question things we think are dubious intellectually. God is not sitting on edge that someone is going to find out eventually that the area of God’s control is shrinking. It’s not. God is not on edge. God says, ‘Bah!’ God is thrilled that we’ve been discovering all kinds of things. When you look at what science has discovered, God says, ‘Yay. There they go. That’s what I would like them to know.’”

As a cleric, Tutu has always defied rigid categorisation – if not flouted convention. At the height of the repression in the mid-1980s he embodied ­“liberation theology”. He ignored those superiors who thought he overstepped the mark. For him politics and religion were of a piece and had to be, in light of apartheid’s injustices. He also easily bridged the sometimes awkward gap between ­western and African traditions and thinking. John Allen, who was Tutu’s spokesman for more than a decade, wrote in an authorised biography that Tutu liked to contrast the western with the African idea of what it means to be human by setting Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” against the southern African tradition of ubuntu, which loosely means “a person is a person through other people”. Tutu thinks the west “has a tendency to separate the secular and sacred”, Allen tells me, “that it is very good at analysing and dissecting but not so good at integrating and pulling it all together.”

Again, if anyone wants a fine introduction to the person and character of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, read Alec Russell’s article, from The Financial Times Magazine, September 13, 2013!

21 August 2013


Antoinette Tuff belongs in some sort of hall of fame. Her faith and intellect -- honest and forthright, brave and sincere -- essentially disarm a man of violence.

Here is one of the most outstanding interviews I have ever seen, from WSB-TV.

28 July 2013


Friday would be my last day with “#Ghanapilgrim13,” the pilgrimage to Ghana sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development. I would visit the notorious Cape Coast Castle, then St. Nicholas Seminary in Cape Coast, and then get in a car for the Accra airport. It had been a long week, long but also holy, and immensely gratifying.

Though Cape Coast was similar to Elmina, the dramatic effect of being there was not diminished. We visited squalid dungeons again, many more of them at Cape Coast than at Elmina. We heard the wrenching stories. We also saw the memorial of the first African to be ordained in the Church of England, Philip Quaque (1741-1816). At Cape Coast Castle, we were guided by a man who was as capable as our guide at Elmina Castle. We saw there a recent plaque, commemorating the visit of President and Mrs. Barak Obama in 2009.

Much of my reaction and reflection at Cape Coast was similar to me reflection at Elmina. Rather than repeat those words, I refer you to yesterday’s notes (see my 25 July entry here).

As I said yesterday, and at Elmina itself, one must be careful with words at these sacred places. Words simply fail to contain the horror, and the evil, and the sheer ignorance of what transpired at those two castles. Again, however, I must declare that I found the places holy. This is a pilgrimage for me, and I am seeking the Holy. Indeed, I am seeking God. I cannot describe how God was at Elmina and Cape Coast. Except that God was present in the witnesses and martyrs there. God was present in the suffering. Again, as I said yesterday: if God is not present in suffering, then God is not present anywhere. God is there, in the memories of suffering at Elmina and Cape Coast Castles.

From Cape Coast Castle, we drove a short distance to St. Nicholas Seminary at Cape Coast, the Anglican seminary for Ghana. Established in 1975, it is the only active seminary of the Anglican Church in the Province of West Africa. I was delighted to be there, and even more delighted to see my old friend, the dean, the Very Reverend Victor Atta-Baffoe. What a gracious and delightful man he is.

We pilgrims shared Eucharist together, in the chapel of St. Nicholas Seminary, with its beautiful crucifix above the altar. The Reverend Gay Jennings celebrated, and she invited us to share brief reflections in lieu of any formal sermon. Most of us did, expressing appreciation and gratitude to Ghana, to our hosts, to our leaders, and, indeed, to one another.

From the seminary, our group split up. For me, it was the end of my time with these fellow pilgrims. Alex Baumgarten, Bill Miller, and I were scheduled to fly from Accra on Friday night, while the rest would fly back on Saturday. They took a leisurely lunch back at the Elmina hotel, while Alex, Bill, and I got in a car for the three hour drive back to the Accra Airport. Trusting our wonderful driver, Emmanuel, we made it in plenty of time.

Then, when I landed back in Atlanta, via JFK in New York and via the Accra airport, my pilgrimage was over. In just under 24 hours, I traveled successfully from the crowded roads of Ghana to the crowded streets of Atlanta.

In conclusion, I give thanks for this Ghana pilgrimage. I thank Gay Jennings for the invitation, I thank Rob Radtke and the excellent staff at Episcopal Relief and Development for their guidance, and I thank Bishop Jacob Ayeebo and the ADDRO staff for their happy and beautiful hospitality. I especially thank my fellow pilgrims; what a holy and responsible group! I found God in the souls of my fellow pilgrims to Ghana.

Finally, I thank the people of Ghana.  Thank you for letting me come into your homes, ride on your roads, sense your ministries, and hear your needs. Thank you, too, for letting me enter something of your history. I will remember your joy and your pain, your generosity and your need.

Bishop Jacob prayed several times in his own language during our time there. Of course, I could not tell what he was saying literally, though I felt it spiritually. He did seem to use one word repeatedly, a word that sounded like “berakah.” I asked him later what it meant, because it sounded much like the Hebrew word, “berakah.” He said it meant thanksgiving, just as I suspected, and just as the Hebrew means. Blessing and thanksgiving.

Yes. The people of Ghana have blessed me. The experience of Ghana has blessed me. They have blessed me with thanksgiving and with joy. I hope, now, to bless them. I hope to turn their blessing of me into a blessing to others. Berakah. Thank you. May God bless Ghana, and may God bless us.