Monthly Archive for March, 2011

Lent 3 March 27, 2011

Exodus 17:1-7                                                                     

John 4:5-42                                                                            

Once there lived a great master of the Zen tradition of Buddhism. He was called, as was the practice with such masters, by the name of the village in which he lived, Joshu. In this village there was by legend a great stone bridge, the greatest in all of China. Now this master lived to the age of 120 and was renowned as a teacher. Monks travelled from all over to meet and train with him.

Once, late in his life, perhaps after 70 years of honing his knowledge and skill, a young monk came to meet him: The young monk said, “I have long heard of the great stone bridge of Joshu, but now I am here and I don’t see the stone bridge, I see only a single-log bridge.” The young monk was thinking, you see,  that he had heard all his life of this great spiritual master Joshu, and here he had come this long way and found only a frail old man.

Joshu looked at the young man and replied, “You don’t see the stone bridge; you see only a single-log bridge.” The young monk repeated, “What is the great stone bridge of Joshu?” And Joshu answered, “Horses cross, donkeys cross.”

Zen Buddhism is full of such stories, the point of which is to shake loose people’s ways of thinking, their ways of looking at life, so that they may achieve spiritual insight. There is a legend that Jesus and the Buddha met, and while historically there is certainly nothing to that, the Jesus we meet in St. John’s gospel can remind us of Zen stories like that of the great stone bridge of Joshu. The story of Nicodemus that we heard last week: Jesus talking about being “born from above.” The story this morning of the Samaritan woman at the well: Jesus offering her living water. These are like Zen stories, offered to shake us loose so that we may attain deeper spiritual insight. Continue reading ‘Lent 3 March 27, 2011’

Rule of Life — Sample Worksheet

Outline for a Rule of Life Chapter

Title of Chapter: Friendship


What do you see in Scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic that provides some light or guidance?


Friendship resides in the heart of God. The Trinity is a friendship. The Father’s gift of the Son is his act of befriending us. Jesus’s sacrifice is the supreme  friendship. The Church is a communion of friendship. Sin is the rejecting or breaking of friendship.


What do you see in yourself and your life at present regarding this topic (an honest inventory of where you are now)?


I am shy and tend of have relationships which are not really friendships – work or client relationships. I have been hurt sometimes by friendships without proper boundaries.


What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?


I would like an array of real friendships, with people of various ages, men and women, where I could accept and be accepted without needing to “perform” or please.


What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself in this area (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?


I will deliberately reach out to potential friends – invitations to dinner, closer connections with old friends. I will need to set aside time each week to cultivate friends – without work agendas. I will be careful with relationships that seek something beyond friendship from me  or with people who complain too much or are unduly negative.


What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?


I ask God to free me of self-consciousness that holds me back from friendship. To help me first of all to be a true friend to myself – a subject for reflection in daily prayer.

Rule of Life — chapter worksheet form

Outline for a Rule of Life Chapter

Title of Chapter: _______________________

What do you see in Scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic that provides some light or guidance?

What do you see in yourself and your life at present regarding this topic (an honest inventory of where you are now)?

What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?

What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself in this area (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?

What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?

Lenten Series: A Personal “Rule of Life” — Week 2

Living with a Rule of Life

In monastic communities, the community typically gathers each morning in what is called the Chapter Room of the monastery or convent, and the abbot or superior reads a chapter from the community’s rule — working through the whole rule, day by day. The monks or nuns then reflect together on how they are living their rule, what needs to be changed in their lives to do so better, their thoughts and feelings about the rule. With a personal rule of life, you too can take a chapter a day (or one for the whole week), checking in as it were on how you are doing living with it.

Beginning to Draft a Rule

Last week we ended our session by asking everyone to think of all the areas of their lives that would be candidates of gaining clearer focus and better direction. Each such area becomes the title of a chapter in your rule of life: e.g. Money, Work, Prayer (Inner Life), Family, Recreation, Computer Time, Exercise, Health, Service, Worship. These areas will vary from person to person. It’s probably better to start work on a few chapters, adding to them as you go along. Work on one may suggest others you want to add.

The next step, after you have your list of a few areas, to prepare an outline page for each one (see handout). The parts of this outline are:

  1. Sources of guidance: what do you see in Scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic?
  2. What do you see in yourself regarding this topic (and “honest inventory”)?
  3. What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?
  4. What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?
  5. What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?

As you work with your chapters, others may suggest themselves. Keep each chapter simple. For instance, if you are writing a chapter on friendship and see that you need to make time for friendship, that may lead you to write a chapter on time (or stewardship of time). Or it may lead you to see that you need a chapter on your marriage or your family.

Here is a link to a worksheet for drafting a chapter. Here is a link to a sample of how such a worksheet is filled out.

About  “Sources of Guidance”

For Anglicans, authority is a matter of working with Scripture (the Bible), tradition (Church teachings and practice through the ages), and reason (our intelligence, experience and modern developments in knowledge). All of these may be sources of guidance for you in writing your chapter. You will want to set forth very simply how you see these as authorities or guides for your life.

About “an Honest Inventory”

This is about where you start in your growth. Your rule will be no better than your honesty with yourself on where you are now in an area and why you are there – what traps you there, what are your problems getting “free”? This may lead you to seek the sacrament of Reconciliation or to counseling: it helps to confess honestly to another person (one trained and authorized).

 About Hope

Your goals can best be expressed in terms of hopes. Hope is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and love). It has to do with the direction of our lives. (Biblical images: Abram in today’s OT reading.) We’ll come back to hope in the next session of this series.

 About “Encouragements”

In using each chapter of your rule, you will want some fairly practical guidelines and supports to help you bring your life into conformity with your hopes for it. For instance, if you hope to avoid unnecessary spending, your “encouragements” section of the money chapter might commit you to a weekly inventory of just where your money has gone. If you are dealing with addiction, you might commit to attending a certain number of 12-step meetings each week. In other words, this section will have some practical, fairly measurable means to help and encourage you in keeping your rule and working towards your hopes.

Assistance from God

A very important part of living out a rule is asking God for assistance. This will become a central focus of your prayer life. In this section of the rule, you will be asking for the help and support you need — not just in a general way, but rather specifically: “I will pray daily to the Lord to keep me from the temptation of . . . .” “I will take an honest inventory and confess to God each night before I go to bed the ways in which I have failed to live in obedience to this chapter.”

Lent 2 March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a                                                                  

John 3:1-17                                                                            

Yesterday I was back in Illinois to preach at the funeral of a lady named Elizabeth Carpenter, who died at the age of 98. Liz was the last of the founding members of St. Charles’ Episcopal Church. That I be the preacher for her funeral was one of the things she requested. It was a significant request, because Liz Carpenter had a difficult time accepting me as her new rector. You see, I came on the heels of the beloved Fr. Ludtke, founding rector of the St. Charles’ parish, who had served it for 33 years and then retired. There was one interim Sunday and then I arrived: my first parish. I was the new guy, full of seminary learnings, and I liked to make changes. Fr. Ludtke was the old guy, who had liked things to stay the same.

But Liz was a serious Christian. She believed in that Benedictine vow of stability which we talked about last week in the adult forum. This was her church and she was going nowhere. So she’d come to my office, sit herself down, produce a list from her purse, and we’d go through it item by item: why did I change this, why did I change that? And what happened was that Liz Carpenter learned to accept change, indeed to change herself. The present rector of St. Charles’ told me a story. A few weeks before she died, Liz was in church, sitting in her wheelchair at coffee hour. She was looking around at the coffee hour crowd and she said to Fr. Nesbit, “I don’t know all these people any more.” And then, after a pause, she added, “But I guess that’s a good thing.” A good thing for her church to grow and change. Continue reading ‘Lent 2 March 20, 2011’

Lent 1 March 13, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                                                      

Romans 5:12-19                                                                  

Matthew 4:1-11

I’ve told the story before, but it’s worth repeating. A rich man came to see me in the church I served back in St. Charles, Illinois, about a wedding for his daughter. They were nominal members of the more fashionable parish in the next town down the river, but they never attended church so the priest there had refused to do the wedding. Would I? The father would “make it worth my while.” What did my church need?

Well, I thought to myself: think boldly here, John. So, looking out the window of my study to the vacant expanse of lawn we owned, I said, “Well, we very much need to expand our education wing.” My visitor made a choking sound, so I quickly laughed said that I was only kidding; we’d be glad to do his daughter’s wedding and he could make whatever contribution he felt called to out of gratitude.

Needless to say, my relations with that man were never very good. He got my back up; I got his. We were operating, you see, out of completely different paradigms. He came from a successful corporate career, the world of commerce and power, where I offer something to you if you will do something in return. I will build you a ship (this had been this rich man’s most recent business) if you pay me so many hundreds of millions of dollars. The Church, however, operates (or is supposed to operate!) differently. For example, each Sunday we offer you a wonderful breakfast, a beautiful worship service, a helpful (we hope) message for your week, and the Body and Blood of Christ. And it’s entirely up to you what you do in response – moneywise or anything-wise. It’s all free gift. Continue reading ‘Lent 1 March 13, 2011’

Lenten Series: A Personal “Rule of Life” – Week I

Introduction: Lives Out of Control

We started our discussion with the question: how many of us have the feeling, some or all of the time, that our lives are “out of control”? That life is slipping by and leaving us unsatisfied? That our time, energies, money are going to meet other’s demands, demands upon us, leaving us with never enough? Continue reading ‘Lenten Series: A Personal “Rule of Life” – Week I’

Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011

2 Corinthians 5:20b-21, 6:1-10                                       

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                                                          

I’ve stuck in your bulletins this evening a copy of a little cartoon that Bishop Walmsley gave me on Sunday. It’s entitled, “The Rector responds to concern that Lent is a downer.” A priest is marking the cross of ashes on a kneeling parishioner’s forehead – as we will do in just a few minutes. She recites the words that I will recite, “Remember that you are dust,” but then she adds, “but a very high quality sort of dust.”

 This is funny, of course, because it points exactly to what Ash Wednesday reminds us of: we are dust and to dust we shall return, but not a higher or better or different kind of dust from any other dust. Just dust. That’s the point. Dust like all dust; dust like all matter. Continue reading ‘Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011’

Last Epiphany March 6, 2011

2 Peter 1:16-21                                                                   

Matthew 17:1-9                                                                    

I don’t know about you, but as I go along through life there are little things people say to me or little things that happen – almost incidentally at the time – that I come back to again and again, that are so much more important than all the hours I spent in school or all my attempts to learn big truths.

One afternoon back when I was in seminary – this was in rural Wisconsin, country a lot like here – I was out on a walk with an old man who was a visiting teacher. He happened to be the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, but that isn’t really important to the story. It was mud season, which they have in Wisconsin like we have here. We were walking along this muddy road, looking up at the willow trees that were beginning to turn gold and some migrating geese honking their way north, and the beautiful spring sky. And all of a sudden, old Bishop Ramsay stumbled in a muddy spot, catching hold of my arm before he fell.

“This is a lesson, John,” he said. “In life you have to keep your eyes on the sky, but your feet in the dirt.” He was actually talking about life in the Church, but it’s true about all life: eyes on the sky, feet in the dirt. To live a happy and productive life, we need vision, goals, dreams, a horizon, hopes. But we also need to keep our feet on the ground, in the mud and the dust. Life is a lot of plodding along, one foot in front of another. Continue reading ‘Last Epiphany March 6, 2011’