About Father Tim

Tim Schenck is an Episcopal priest, author, syndicated columnist, blogger, Lent Madness creator, and the rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts. He lives in the St. John's Rectory with his wife Bryna, two sons Benedict and Zachary, and their dog Delilah. When not tending to his congregation or spending time with his family, Father Tim can usually be found drinking coffee.

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 19, 2023 (Lent 4A)

So, if you’re a real student of the eucharistic lectionary — that three-year cycle of Sunday morning readings — and I’m sure that you are, you would know that last Sunday, this Sunday, and next Sunday give us the three longest gospel passages of the entire lexicon. (Well, besides the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday, but you get to sit through most of that). Last Sunday it was the woman at the well, today it’s the man born blind, and next week it’s the raising of Lazarus. All from John’s gospel. And all very, very long. Like, longer than the typical sermon long.

And these long passages in the last weeks before Palm Sunday and Holy Week signal that something is different. We’re preparing for something big and bold, something miraculous and holy. But in the meantime, we’re going long. 

But sometimes compelling stories just take a while to tell. It’s why the Cliffs Notes versions of books are never as satisfying as the real thing. Much is sacrificed on the altar of brevity. Unless you’re in middle school and you just don’t care enough to actually read through the entirety of Wuthering Heights. That’s totally hypothetical, by the way.

But this story about the man born blind is an engaging tale with a number of characters playing prominent roles. There’s the man himself and Jesus, of course, along with his disciples. But along the way we also meet his parents and a group of Pharisees. The story takes time to unfold and there are many layers to it.

And this particular very-long-passage involves a miracle story. Now, miracles are funny things. The danger is that we spend either too much time trying to explain the mechanics of them, while ignoring their overall significance. Or we spend too much time on metaphorical interpretations, while minimizing the truly miraculous. We can’t explain how this particular miracle of sight took place any more than we can explain how water turned into wine or how five loaves and two fish fed 5,000 people. That’s the thing about miracles: they defy human logic and explanation. And so rational, thinking Christians tend not to dwell upon them. ‘They’re fine for Sunday School lessons,’ we think, ‘but let’s just move on to something a bit more…tangible.’ This, of course, doesn’t do justice to the ministry of Jesus; nor does it leave open the possibility for the miraculous to touch our own lives. Our lack of faith, in other words, limits the power of God. Or at least attempts to.

What sets this story apart from other miraculous healings is that Jesus does something physical — he uses something other than his voice. And it even happens in two parts. The application of mud and spittle are followed by a wash in the pool of Siloam. So Jesus isn’t even present when the man’s sight is restored. His other healings take effect immediately with a simple word, a look, a touch, or a command: “Take up your mat and walk,” “Be opened,” “Go, your faith has made you well.” But the end result is the same. Someone is healed; a life is transformed.

But we also can’t ignore the metaphorical implications of this story. They are so prominent and such an integral part of this passage. Jesus has come into the world to give sight to the blind — quite literally in this story. But he has also come into the world to make God known to humanity. To open our eyes to see the hand of God at work in the world, and to offer salvation to those who have eyes to see. Our response is to either accept that which is set before us by Jesus, or close our eyes tightly like the Pharisees in this story and remain blinded by our own sinfulness.

And, of course, physical blindness, the inability to see with one’s eyes, has nothing to do with the blindness referred to by John. The Pharisees may have had 20/20 vision but they remain blind to the saving power of Jesus Christ. They turn a blind eye to Jesus. An action even more dramatically emphasized by the driving away of this formerly blind man. Out of sight, out of mind. 

So, blindness is not determined by physical sight but by the revelation of the works of God through the ministry of Jesus. And this point is made at the very beginning of this story. As the disciples come upon this blind beggar they ask Jesus whether this man or his parents sinned because he was born blind. Jesus tells them neither, that he was born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” The man is transformed from physical blindness into a person who can see, but the critical point for Jesus is his movement to spiritual sight. He now knows through personal experience, the saving power of Jesus Christ.

But it’s also worth pausing to examine the Pharisees’ initial question. Because there was an assumption in the ancient world that physical limitations or disabilities were the cause of sin. Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Our theology, thanks to Jesus, has moved beyond this limited perspective. But there’s still a nagging sense that someone who doesn’t meet the physical ideals of perfection is somehow weak or less than whole.

In my own case, you can’t help but notice that I have some palsy on the right side of my face. I don’t have a traditional “winning smile.” I recently heard speculation that it was the result of my time in the Army — that an unspecified accident was involved. And as much as I’d love a glamorous backstory, the reality is that I was simply born with some nerve damage on that side of my face. I rarely think about it, these days. And, frankly, when I was growing up, more people made fun of my last name than my mouth. 

When I was in my early 20s, a doctor told me that they could probably minimize the appearance through surgery. And I thought a lot about whether to pursue that. But in the end, I just thought this is part of who I am and how God created me, and decided not to do anything about it. Has it impacted me? Sure. It’s probably contributed to my rather dry sense of humor. But more importantly, I think it’s given me compassion for those who are different — physically or emotionally — than what’s held up as the Madison Avenue vision of perfection. The reality is that we are all flawed by virtue of our humanity, whether on the inside or the outside. And Jesus loves us anyway; Jesus loves you anyway. Thanks be to God.

The truth is that we all spend a lot of time in blindness. We’re blind to the suffering that surrounds us in our world and in our communities. We’re blind to the miraculous in our midst. We’re blind to the love of Jesus that pervades our lives. And blindness, like ignorance, can be bliss. It’s much easier to remain isolated and stay within our own carefully constructed worlds than it is to open our eyes to the pain and sin that surrounds us. 

Yet Jesus invites us to do just that. He invites us to open our eyes to the miracle of his presence in our everyday lives. To open our eyes to the opportunities to serve others in his name. And sometimes it takes a rather long story to help us see and experience the full power of his love.


Second Sunday in Lent (Year A)

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 5, 2023 (Lent 2A)

There was a big trend a number of years ago — starting in about the mid-1980s — towards so-called seeker services. The premise was that there were large groups of people who were curious about the Christian faith, but not fully committed to it. Perhaps they used to go to church but just didn’t feel like it was relevant to their lives, or maybe they hadn’t grown up with any religious tradition, but were seeking some sort of a connection with God.

Seeker services tried all sorts of different ways to draw people in. The thought being that the traditional liturgy and music of the church either didn’t resonate or was just too old-fashioned and boring to be relevant to today. No one could ever really agree about what would entice these seekers to come to church and get them to stay. But many of these services were full of contemporary music or praise bands, the clergy didn’t wear vestments or clerical collars, there were no vested choirs, the sermons — or talks, really — were informal and relied heavily on multimedia presentations. Now if this all sounds amazing to you, you might just be in the wrong place this morning.

But the prevailing wisdom was that unchurched people were turned off by tradition and formality, and so churches tried to create alternative worship experiences, with an emphasis on popular culture, coffee bars, and comfortable seats. Now, that part doesn’t sound bad.

But I think these efforts minimized the fact that, at heart, we are all seekers. Whether this is our first Sunday at church in many years, or we’ve been faithfully coming every Sunday for generations, not a single one of us has it all figured out; we are all seeking answers to life’s deepest questions. Jesus says, “Seek and ye shall find.” And that is a large part of our job as Christians. To keep seeking answers, to keep seeking Jesus. And I trust that that’s part of what draws us to this place. To stand at the intersection of ancient tradition and cultural relevance. And   together, to seek out the one who calls us each by name and and loves us unconditionally and with reckless abandon. 

This morning we encounter Nicodemus. Now, Nicodemus was quite clearly a seeker. He was intrigued by what he’d heard about Jesus and wanted to learn more. He was a seeker of the truth, a seeker of the meaning of life, a seeker of a deeper spiritual connection to God.

He also, very significantly, came to Jesus at night, by cover of darkness. As a leader in the Jewish community, Nicodemus wielded both religious and political power. He was a member of the establishment, a Pharisee, and it would have been rather scandalous for him to be seen with Jesus, this man who was upsetting the status quo and turning tradition on its head. People in Nicodemus’ circle were certainly talking about Jesus, and the talk was not positive. He was a threat to their authority, a loose cannon, someone who often broke religious norms in order to make God more readily known. All of that healing on the sabbath and eating with the wrong people — and not only that, he was popular! Crowds were drawn to him, people were listening to him, which undermined the Pharisees’ grip on religious authority and made people question the long-standing traditions of the religious elite. 

So, at one level it would have been easy for Nicodemus to just stay in his own world, certainly safer. He was a big shot, after all, with a lot to lose. But something was sparked deep in his soul when he first heard about Jesus. And he wanted to learn more. He didn’t want to necessarily risk his standing in his own community, but still, he was drawn to this new teacher. A new truth was emerging, and Nicodemus was seeking after it.

I think we can all relate to Nicodemus in the sense that we’re sometimes hesitant to fully commit, to fully give our lives over to Jesus Christ. Because we know if we do, it will lead to sacrifices. To fully be a disciple of Jesus, we need to give some things up — control, for one. “Thy will, not mine, be done.” Comfort, for another. Jesus so often calls us out of our respective comfort zones, out of our insular and safe worlds. He challenges our assumptions about the world and the people around us. But also the way we live and order our lives. Because to follow Jesus is to constantly be examining the priorities of our lives; it forces us to think about the ways in which we interact with other people. 

And, here’s the really hard part, we can’t make life all about us; rather it must be all about God. And that runs counter to so many of our instincts. So, while we crave control and comfort and continuity, Jesus calls us out of all that. To a place of deep connection with the divine, to a place of hope and meaning and love. And ultimately, that’s what we all, like Nicodemus, seek. That yearning is what makes us seekers. Seekers of Jesus. People who seek to follow Jesus. People who often stumble along the way or make a mess of things. But then the one who calls us each by name, invites us to keep seeking after him. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

You know, while we may not have a praise band or a giant video screen, I still like to think of what we do here as a seeker service of sorts. Not because we’re trying to use market research or consumer trends to figure out what people are looking for in a worship experience, but because we all remain seekers of a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. And this place, through architecture and music and liturgy, through the relationships we have with one another, this place helps orient us towards God. It captures the mystery of the divine presence in our lives, which is something that can never be contained or quantified. 

When I was a dashing young curate at Old St. Paul’s in downtown Baltimore — the ‘dashing’ part was a joke — we did start what was basically a seeker service. But in light of what was happening in mega churches around the country, we thought of it as something of an anti-seeker service. It was a short 30-minute service of ancient chant led by a small schola of singers, with candlelight, and just a hint of incense. There was very intentionally no sermon or collection.We called it Vespers and it basically followed the structure of a sung service of compline, the  church’s night prayers. We held it on Sunday evenings and advertised it in the local paper with the tagline “God’s Not Just a Morning Person.” I’m not sure if they’re still doing it, but it really resonated, especially with younger folks — students and people living downtown. I’m not sure what that might look like in this context, or if it makes any sense to try something like that, but Nicodemus at least got me wondering and pondering. So, who knows?

In the end, of course, Nicodemus leaves the cover of darkness to follow Jesus. He walks boldly into the light as he very publicly removes Jesus’ body from the cross and lays it in the tomb. He is no longer a secret follower of Jesus, but a true disciple. He remains a seeker, as we all do. He keeps seeking after Jesus, as we all do.

Ash Wednesday 2023

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on February 22, 2023 (Ash Wednesday)

I’m not a big fan of makeup mirrors. The only time I ever see myself in one is when I accidentally, and horrifyingly, glance over at one in a hotel bathroom. Now, I realize some of you are used to this view, but I’m not. And so it’s always rather jarring when I look up and come face-to-face with that magnified, hyper close-up image staring back at me. It’s shocking to see all of those blemishes in high definition, and I quickly avert my eyes.

In a sense, Ash Wednesday is a makeup mirror kind of day. Our entrance into the season of Lent compels us to take stock of our lives and gaze deeply into the intentions of our hearts. We can’t just take a superficial glance in the mirror, as we might check our hair in the hall mirror on our way out the door. Today requires a deeper look. 

And the reality is that it’s not always a pleasant view. We are sinful beings in need of repentance. That doesn’t necessarily make us bad people, it’s just a reality of the human condition. 

But one way we authentically look into the mirror, as the ash Wednesday liturgy starkly highlights, is by confessing our sins. We do this every Sunday, of course, as part of the General Confession. We look in the mirror and acknowledge those things we have done, and those things we have left undone. We say we’re sorry, we promise to do better, and we are absolved of our sins in the name of Jesus. And this cycle of confession, repentance, and the assurance of forgiveness should be, must be, a regular part of our spiritual lives. It both holds us accountable and reminds us of God’s loving mercy; of God’s joy for the one who repents and returns to the Lord. 

But today is a makeup mirror kind of day. And so we can’t just say the words and move on with the service which, if we’re honest, sometimes happens on Sunday mornings. As we prayed at the start of this service, we gather today to “lament our sins” and “acknowledge our wretchedness.” That’s hard language. But it does shake us out of the complacency of confession that often marks our words on Sunday morning. It helps to both pierce and open our hearts.

On Sundays one of the priests says, “Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.” We usually leave at least a few moments of silence before launching into the confession. “Most merciful God…” But if you’re really struggling with something you’ve done or left undone, those few moments aren’t really enough space in which to fully reflect and repent. Before you know it, we’ve confessed, been absolved, moved on the Peace, and suddenly someone’s trying to shake your hand while you’re still trying to acknowledge your wretchedness.

Ash Wednesday spreads this out. In many ways it’s an extended version of that brief silence between the bidding of the confession and the confession itself. And I encourage you to embrace it. To spend the time to lament and acknowledge that which stands between you and God. That’s what sin is, after all. It’s that which separates you from the love of God.

And God wants to remove any barriers, anything that keeps you at a distance. God wants you within reach, not at arm’s length. Which is why confessing our sins, removing those obstacles, brings us into deeper relationship with the risen Christ. And it’s precisely why I don’t think you can talk about sin without talking about love. 

That may sound counterintuitive. But Lent in general, and Ash Wednesday in particular, isn’t merely a time set aside to feel bad about ourselves. We may all be “miserable offenders” with “no health in us” as the old confession from the 1928 Prayer Book put it. But that’s not our full identity. We are beloved children of God who, out of shame or fear, fall away and turn away and run away from God’s deep and abiding love for us. In a word, we are human. And God loves us anyway. Deeply and unconditionally.

In a few moments, you will be invited, in the name of the Church, into the observance of a “holy Lent.” And I think it’s helpful to reflect upon what this means. And to remember that, popular misconceptions aside, we are not invited to keep a miserable Lent or a guilt-ridden Lent or a gloomy Lent or even a wretched Lent, but a holy Lent. And holy simply means “set apart for God.” You, in all your imperfections, have been set apart for God. Because God loves you. And in the same way, we are invited to set apart some time for God. Through prayer, worship, reading, whatever your particular Lenten devotion may be. Whatever allows you to set apart some time to spend with God.

As you enter into this holy season, I invite you to acknowledge not just your sinfulness, but God’s loving grace. These ashes aren’t just a reminder of your own mortality, but a sign of God’s abundant and abiding love for you. Remember that you are dust, yes, but remember also that you are God’s beloved child. That Jesus rejoices at your presence this day; forgives you when you humbly repent of your sinfulness; and seeks after you in goodness and mercy all the days of your life. 

I look forward to walking into the wilderness of Lent with all of you this year. May we emerge emboldened in our faith, and be drawn ever nearer to the heart of Jesus.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on February 19, 2023 (Last Epiphany)

Preachers often like to connect the appointed readings to a story in their own life. When it’s done well, this can help illuminate the text, give it some texture, and make it relevant to modern listeners. When it’s done poorly, the sermon becomes less about pointing everyone towards Jesus and more about pointing everyone towards the preacher. Which is decidedly not the point.

When it comes to the story of the Transfiguration, however, I got nothing. It’s hard to point to a time in my life where I had a similar experience to Peter, James, and John up on that mountaintop. The blinding light, the appearance of long-dead prophets, the booming voice from the heavens. On those rare occasions when I’ve hiked up a mountain, the only thing I ever encountered at the peak was a nice view and a Cliff Bar.

But while this dramatic and rather confusing story may not be entirely relatable to experiences in our own lives, it does hold some key lessons for us as followers of Jesus. It also brings to a close this season after the Epiphany, this season of light that began with a star hovering over the manger, and ends with the blinding light of the transfigured Jesus. Just as the incarnation of Jesus was revealed by the Star of Bethlehem, the resurrection of Jesus is foreshadowed by the transfiguration. And it sets us up to carry that light with us into the wilderness of Lent, as we make our preparations for Easter. But all of that is ahead of us. We have one more Sunday to belt out the Alleluias before silencing them for 40 days and 40 nights.

The point is, that when Jesus’ clothes turn dazzling white and his face shines like the sun, the disciples are given a glimpse of the resurrection right here on earth. They are privileged with a foretaste of the reign of Christ that is to come. And they receive that undeniable affirmation of Jesus’ identity when they hear God’s voice proclaim, “This is my Son, the Beloved. With him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

The Transfiguration is quite literally a mountaintop experience, a moment when a great truth is revealed. As bewildering and disorienting as it all is, it offers clarity about who Jesus is. And Jesus is not just a wise teacher or a nice guy or someone who likes to subvert the status quo. He is the son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. And that is the only explanation for what takes place on that holy mountain.

We actually get two mountaintop experiences this morning. In addition to Jesus’ journey with his most trusted disciples, we hear the story of Moses heading up to Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. And light continues to be a major theme here. Besides Jesus’ face shining like the sun and a bright cloud overshadowing them, in Exodus we hear that the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. In Scripture, seminal and life-changing events take place on mountaintops. 

But the true miracle of the mountain isn’t just what transpired and what was transfigured up on that holy hill. It’s also a mountaintop experience for you and me; we are spiritually transported up the mountain to take in the stunning vista of Christ’s resurrection glory. A glory foreshadowing the resurrection to Peter, James, and John, and a glory foretelling Jesus’ eventual return to us. And that’s an awful lot to take in. 

Yet the beauty of this moment for us is that it doesn’t require us to “do” anything. We can simply stand in awe and contemplate the mysteries of the divine. Sometimes that is enough. And in that sense, we do have relatable moments. When we walk on the beach in the morning and take in the sunrise, we have an opportunity to contemplate the mystery of God. When we spend time on a mountaintop or out on the water or in the memorial garden, we have an opportunity to contemplate the mystery of God. Mountaintops are all around us if we’re willing to see them.

So, the transfiguration is ultimately a symbol of hope. For the disciples, it was a form of encouragement. A recognition that while things would soon get dark — Jesus would be crucified, the disciples would be scattered — resurrection was coming.

And we need to hold onto hope in our own lives. When life is hard and we’re suffering, when the news is full of the latest mass shooting or the unfathomable destruction of a devastating earthquake, it’s helpful to fix our eyes on that mountaintop and take in the image of Jesus in all his glory. Sometimes that’s all we have to cling to. And it is enough. Jesus is enough. But when we’re still unsure, when we’re still uncertain, that voice from the heavens serves as a reminder: “Listen to him.” If you endure, if you hold onto hope, Jesus will draw you to himself and you will be not only embraced by his resurrection glory, but transformed through it. You will become a new creation, born of the spirit and sanctified by his presence.

And through this process of transformation, you can then embody what it means to live a transfigured life. You can be salt and light in the world. You can be illuminated by Christ’s presence in your life and shine forth with God’s love in the world around you. 

After all of the drama, we hear that the disciples were “overcome by fear.” Now, in our recent Sunday forum on Wisdom literature in the Bible, the concept of holy fear came up several times. There’s that line from Proverbs that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This doesn’t mean we’re supposed to tremble in fear at the thought of God. In this case, fear is best thought of or translated as “awe.” And to hear that Peter, James, and John were overcome by fear at the wonder and awe of God is right. But let’s be honest. They were also terrified. Jesus was glowing, they saw two long-dead prophets, and then that voice boomed out of the heavens. I don’t know about you, but I’d be cowering behind the nearest boulder.

So, it’s no wonder the disciples fell to the ground in fear. But what does Jesus do? He comes over to them, gently touches them, and says in a quiet voice, “Get up and do not be afraid.” What a touching, intimate, pastoral moment. After the sound and light show, Jesus’s compassion in the face of fear is so powerful. Human touch is powerful. 

I think about those dark days of the pandemic when human touch was eliminated from our common life. And how painful that was for so many of us. Not just the “huggers” among us, but the heartbreaking situations when families couldn’t gather to hold their loved ones at the end of life. Those final farewells said over Zoom, rather than with hands being held. Jesus reaches out and touches the terrified disciples. 

Allow Jesus to reach out and touch you. To place his hand upon your shoulder, gaze deeply into your eyes, and fill you with his peace. Jesus wants nothing more than to drive away the fear from your life. To love you unconditionally. To bring peace to your soul. To illuminate your heart with light and joy.

That’s the power of the transfiguration. That’s the joy of the journey. “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”

5th Sunday after Epiphany 2023

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on February 5, 2023 (Epiphany 5A)

One of the things I love to do around here is walk down South County Road at night and see The Breakers all lit up. Every night it’s beautifully illuminated and you can almost feel the spirit of Henry Flagler emanating from those two towers.

But then as I walk back towards Barton Avenue, I’m also keenly aware that the graceful and majestic Bethesda tower is shrouded in darkness. Not only is it not lit up, but unless you’re looking for it, you could easily pass right on by and not even notice it.

One of the things Jesus says in this morning’s gospel passage is, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket.” In other words, light is to be revealed, not concealed. The message of Jesus must be shared widely rather than kept hidden. It must see the light of day, rather than remain in the shadows.

Now, I’d love to see Bethesda all lit up at night. Not just because it would be dramatic, but because it would be tangible evidence that Bethesda stands as a beacon of hope and love for all the world to see. For that is what this place both is and aspires to be. To serve as a light in the darkness, to offer grace and compassion to a broken and hurting world, to inspire us all to love and serve the Lord.

But in order to fully make this happen, we need your help. No, I’m not trolling for a donor for for new exterior lighting. But, hold onto your wallets, because today is Stewardship Sunday, which means I’ll be talking about money.

There’s an old stewardship joke — and, believe me, stewardship jokes are a pretty niche thing — but the preacher gets up into the pulpit and he says, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the church has all the money it needs. It has enough to take care of our buildings, enough to fund our outreach ministries, enough to provide for excellent worship, enough to add some needed staff. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s it’s all in your pockets.”

Here at Bethesda, as in all Episcopal parishes, we hold an annual campaign that invites people to make a financial pledge to support the ongoing ministries of the parish in the coming year. This is how we keep the lights on and pay staff and maintain our buildings. It’s how we formulate our parish budget. Some of you have pledged for many years — and I’m grateful. Some of you are new to Bethesda and perhaps new to the whole concept of pledging at a church — and so this is an invitation. And some of you, perhaps, used to pledge but either got out of the habit or haven’t been here in a while — and I welcome you back.

But beyond the fact that the church needs financial resources to make a difference in the world, making a pledge — for whatever amount — is a statement of faith. It’s an articulation of your values. It’s a way of driving a stake into the ground and proclaiming that Bethesda matters to you. It’s a tangible declaration that you are an integral part of this vibrant community of faith. It’s an affirmation that you belong here, that you are inspired by what happens here, that this is your spiritual home. And so, I invite you to give generously this year.

You know, sometimes in church we don’t want the preacher to talk about money. But the reality is that Jesus talked about the right use of money more than any other single topic. He knew that we often have complicated relationships with money. When we turn it into an idol, it can have destructive consequences. When we recognize it as a gift from God, sharing our resources can bring us great joy and freedom. Money has the potential to unleash so much good in the world. But its pursuit can also destroy lives — both physically and spiritually. And so in church, it’s essential that we occasionally talk about money. Not just because the church needs it to function and thrive, but because we all have a need to give it away; to live with generous hearts.

Please know that I will always be transparent about the financial needs of this community. Obfuscation has no place here. This year’s budget is lean, and it’s not a sustainable model in the long term, not if we want to build the programs that will allow us to thrive as bearers of the gospel in this community and beyond. We were able to pull a few levers and draw on some untapped funds, but our collective giving needs to increase by a minimum of 20% in order to reach our full ministry potential. Our overall giving number is budgeted at $2.5 million this year. But it really needs to be closer to $3.5 million if we want to really light this church up, illuminate the hearts and minds of those who call Bethesda home, and reach out to those who have not yet found a home here.

As I mentioned at last week’s Annual Meeting, one of my initial observations in my first few months as your rector is that there are several hires we need to make in order to fully live into our potential. We need the right staffing to work with and support our lay leaders in several key areas. One of these is development and engagement, which is non-profit-ese for fundraising and keeping people connected. We need someone to engage with parishioners and build relationships and work with me and our Vestry to lay out a strategy for sustaining Bethesda in the long term. 

Another area is children’s ministry — we have some wonderful, committed families at Bethesda. But we need a vibrant program in order to draw in new families. I know that we often shrug our shoulders and talk about “demographics” when we bemoan the lack of families around here, but they’re out there. And they continue to move to this area. We need to invest in the human and programmatic resources to draw them here. 

One of the important points in reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is that it isn’t addressed to individuals. He’s not telling just you or me to be salt and light in the world. He’s speaking to a community. In the same way, the financial stewardship of this place doesn’t just fall on a few of us, but it is the responsibility of all of us. Collectively, as a community of faith, we can be salt and light in the world at all times. And collectively, we can use our resources to propel Bethesda into a vibrant and faithful future, to be a light in this community and beyond.

Thank you for generously supporting this place, even if that means stretching just a little bit. I get so excited thinking about all that we can accomplish together in Jesus’ name. And I hope you do too. May God bless us all in the year ahead.

Rector’s Annual Address

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 29, 2023 (Rector’s Annual Address)

Welcome to Annual Meeting Sunday. Frankly, sharing my Annual Report as I like to do in the context of the sermon, is a little bit awkward since I was only here for 12% of 2022. But I love the Annual Meeting, because it allows us to take stock of the year that is past, celebrate all the many and varied ministries that take place here, and look towards the future. And I have to say, the future at Bethesda is bright, it’s exciting, and along with all of you, I am so glad to be a part of it.

I have spent much of my first few months among you asking questions and listening and learning and building relationships. You can’t chart a course for the future without first getting to know ministries and people, without experiencing the traditions of a place, and discovering what draws people here and what keeps them here.

And let me first say and openly declare that I love Bethesda. This is a place teeming with faithful and passionate parishioners, a place with a talented and dedicated staff, a place where worship stands at the very heart of what we do, a place where Jesus is praised and followed, a place where apparently the rector skips.

So much of a rector’s role is simply setting a tone and helping to create a culture. What I hope to do in the coming years is to be part of a joyful community, one where people care about one another — even when they disagree, where people are committed to growing in their relationship with Jesus, where people want to both serve the church and serve those in need, a place where generosity is cultivated, a place where people are welcomed and loved. And I want to do this together, with each one of you.

But, since I’ve only been here for a short time, let me offer a few initial observations about life at this very special place, along with a few hopes. 

The first is that this is a place where Jesus is encountered. Through liturgy and music, through prayer and Bible study, through sacred space and holy grounds, through service to others, Jesus’ presence is revealed in so many ways around here. And my hope is that collectively we will go even deeper in the coming years. That our faith will broaden and deepen, that we will see and know and serve Jesus in new and creative ways. That we will embrace the values of the Beatitudes we heard this morning as people who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

This is also a place where people are welcomed. I’ve been so impressed by the Ambassador program and by the intentionality of making all who enter these doors feel and know that they are loved by God, not for what they do or who they are or what they’re worth, but simply because they are children of God. That is a rare thing indeed. But the warm welcome can’t be the end goal. We must all continually strive to draw people deeper into their faith. And so connecting people to ministries that create even more committed disciples of Jesus is a major part of our work together.

Related to this, I would love to see some areas of church life that incorporate more lay involvement and leadership. From communications to outreach to finance to education, there are so many gifted parishioners around here and more people should be drawn into the creative and life-giving ministries of this parish. This not only allows people to share their gifts in meaningful ways, it also deepens our connections to God and one another. So my hope is that we will find a healthy balance between staff and volunteer leadership, one that lifts up and empowers lay ministry and recognizes that all ministry is rooted in our baptismal covenant.

This is a place with deeply held and beloved traditions. I love the traditions at Bethesda. Take Boar’s Head. Yes, the spectacle of it all was amazing to behold — the music, the costumes, the plum pudding. But what really inspired me was the sheer number of people who participated in the show over what was a very full weekend. I loved the intergenerational community building and the sheer joy in pulling this all off. 

One of my mantras is “Never let the clergy get in the way of ministry.” And what I mean by that is I don’t have to be, nor should I be, nor could I possibly be, in the middle of everything that takes place here. I love it when people take up the mantle of ministry and simply make things happen. And that’s something else I loved about Boar’s Head — it could have been done without any clergy involvement at all. In reality, my only role was to not trip.

So, my hope is that we will lean into the strong traditions at Bethesda, while being open to creating new ones. Traditions that point firmly to God are worth holding onto and cherishing. The key is not allowing traditions to become idols in and of themselves, and that takes continued attention and discernment. 

This is a place of great generosity. People are generous with both their financial and spiritual gifts. And that is because they care deeply about this community. When people feel connected, they contribute. Our overall giving goal for 2023 is $2.5 million. In order to fully fund the ministry that takes place here and the staffing we need to add to support it, this should really be at $3 or 3.5 million. We’ll talk more about this next month, but as you discern your 2023 pledge, I encourage your continued generosity and commitment to Bethesda.

This is a place with an incredible asset in The Church Mouse. Beyond the over $500,000 it raises for our outreach ministries, it stands as an outpost of Bethesda in the community and offers meaningful volunteer opportunities for our parishioners. I would like to see this bond between parish and Mouse strengthened even more, so that everyone beyond our walls will know that it is a ministry of this church. To this end, we are pulling together an advisory committee to support staff and improve communications to the wider community.

This is a place that takes seriously its commitment to those in need. Through our outreach grants and several hands-on ministries, we are following the way of Jesus in serving the least of us. My hope is to put together a robust outreach committee to help lead us towards a more focused approach to serving others, and to provide even more opportunities to roll up our sleeves and do god works. As a parish we have a huge opportunity to make a significant difference in our wider community — the needs are great. And I wonder if we might channel some of our resources into a signature outreach effort, one that people will identify with Bethesda. But that will take some true discernment. 

My whole approach to ministry has always been about keeping one foot within the four walls of the church, and one foot beyond its walls. And so we have programs and educational opportunities that will deepen our faith as disciples of Jesus; we look to worship as the primary way that we gather; we maintain our buildings and grounds as sacred spaces that offer solace and inspiration. 

And then we move outward to live out our faith in the world. We serve others through outreach programs, we invite people to come and see and experience the ways we meet Jesus at Bethesda, and we hold up Bethesda’s mission of love, inclusion, and grace as a beacon of hope that our broken and divided world so desperately needs. Through technology, Bethesda has an opportunity and, I’d say, a responsibility, to make a significant impact upon our local community, but also the wider church and the nation, bringing the message of God’s love well beyond our walls. And that excites me.

When I was in middle school, my family moved from Baltimore to New York. We left a beautiful  church which we loved and, although it was hard to say goodbye, we looked forward to trying out some new parishes and finding a church home. We went to some of the biggest, most famous churches in the city — including the massive Cathedral of St. John the Divine. One Sunday we decided to at least try the tiny, nondescript Episcopal church in our neighborhood, with its red linoleum floors and electronic organ. 

But there was something about the young, new rector that brought us back the following week. And then we got to know the people. And suddenly my parents made up 2/6 of the choir and I started acolyting every week. What I learned through this experience is that a church, is not the building. No matter how grand or how humble, a church is not the physical brick and mortar, but the living, breathing, flawed, forgiven people who consider it their spiritual home. 

And ultimately, that’s what makes Bethesda so special. You make Bethesda so special. And it is a privilege to join each and every one of you on this journey of life and faith. I’m energized and inspired by what God is doing in this place, and I can’t wait to see what the Spirit has in store for us in the years ahead.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany (Year A)

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 15, 2023 (Epiphany 2A)

My first car was a used 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit. It was bright red with a five-speed manual transmission and black vinyl seats, which would get so hot in the summer, it was basically like sitting on top of an incinerator. Despite its obvious flaws — the dents, the way it ran — I was so proud of that car. I would wash it and lovingly detail it way beyond what it deserved. I mean, I would even scrub the tires. And nobody who owned a car in New York City scrubbed the tires. 

I remember when I first got the car, after spending way too many hours shining it up, I wanted everyone I knew to come out to the street to behold this automotive beauty. Family, friends, neighbors, girls (there were no girls), but I wanted everyone to come and see my pride and joy. 

In this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus invites some of the first potential disciples to “come and see.” Not out of a vain desire to be popular or because he had some shiny new object to show them, but because he wanted to transform their lives. He wanted them to come and see a life bathed in the Spirit, a way of living that offered freedom and joy, one that provided salvation and hope. He wanted them to come and see what it meant to live in loving relationship with the living God. Which certainly transcends my desire to impress people by the way I Armor All’ed the dashboard. 

But this brief interaction speaks to the invitational nature of our faith. Jesus doesn’t compel people to join his movement or even condemn them if they don’t. He simply invites them to come and see. He lovingly and gently encourages them to join him on the journey of life and faith. Just as he does for each one of us.

Here at Bethesda, as we seek to live into this invitational approach of our Lord, we have embraced a way of being church called Invite, Welcome, Connect. It’s a way to invite people to come and see all that takes place within these walls, to warmly welcome all who enter our space regardless of background or where they live or where they may be on their spiritual journey, and to connect people to programs and ministries that enable them to love and serve the Lord in this place. And it all starts with Jesus’ invitation to come and see. That’s the foundation upon which we build relationships with God and one another. We invite, we welcome, we connect.

But this invitational posture isn’t just an institutional responsibility. It’s incumbent upon each one of us to invite people to come and see what’s happening at Bethesda. It may be a friend or a neighbor or someone who used to come here, but I encourage you to invite others to come and see. Not because we simply want more people in our pews — which we do — or because we want more people to watch our livestream — which we do — but because we want people to come and see Jesus. To encounter the one who loves them unconditionally and will walk with them through all the joy and pain and laughter and tears that make up the human condition. We want them to come and see Jesus, because the peace that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ is not something to hoard, but to share.

After Jesus invites Andrew to come and see, Andrew then brings his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. “We have found the Messiah,” he tells him. Andrew’s immediate response is to share what he has seen with someone else — in this case his brother. And we’re called to do the exact same thing. To share our faith with someone else. Now, I know Episcopalians aren’t always great at inviting people to church. There’s some apocryphal statistic that says the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 21 years. And, I know some of you are thinking, ‘Phew! I don’t have to invite anyone for another 12 years.’ And some of you are thinking, ‘I’ve actually never invited someone to church.” But invitation is how the church grows; it’s how our faith is passed on; it’s how we share the love of Jesus with the world.

So, here’s a charge for you: invite someone to church. Think about who you might invite to come and sit with you. And if asking someone to join you for worship feels like a bridge too far, invite them to a lower threshold activity like the upcoming organ recital or a Men of Bethesda gathering or a St. Mary’s Guild lunch or just to join you on a walk of the church grounds. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an eight-hour service on Good Friday. Not that we offer one of those…

But I encourage you to think about ways of living into the invitational nature of our faith. Not just by extending invitations to others, but also recognizing that Jesus extends this invitation to you. Jesus wants you to come and see. Over and over again he invites you to come and see what the abundant life of faith brings to your very soul.

The thing is, Jesus wants us to lay aside the myriad distractions of our lives and to go deeper with him. Imagine Jesus reaching out, grabbing you by the arm, staring intently into your eyes, and saying, “Come and see.” This is an invitation not in the abstract or for someone else, but very clearly for you. In this moment, in whatever is going on in your life. Come and see Jesus. Again and again. Come and see Jesus.

Come and see Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture. Come and see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Come and see him as the Messiah, the anointed one of God who fills us with hope and fulfills all our expectations. Come and see him as the Savior of the world, the one who draws us into eternal life. Come and see him as the Son of God, who reveals and makes known the divine presence in our very midst. 

Come and see, and then accept his invitation to follow him. To live your life as a disciple of Jesus. It’s not always easy. It often puts you into conflict with the powers and principalities of this world. But following Jesus is the place where true freedom resides. The place where you can let go of the many demands and pulls of this world, so that you can faithfully and humbly and doggedly follow the way of Jesus, the way of love. Come and see. And experience first-hand the life-transforming power of faith in Jesus Christ.

Feast of the Holy Name

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 1, 2023 (Holy Name)

One of the greatest responsibilities a parent has is the naming of a child. I remember feeling the pressure when Bryna was pregnant with our first one. I felt that if I gave him or her — we waited to find out the sex — the wrong name it would prove disastrous. I didn’t want to be responsible for my child getting beat up on the playground because of his name. Or not getting a promotion because no one could possibly take him seriously. And of course, if we gave the child the perfect name, it would greatly increase the chances that he or she would grow up to be the President or at least a famous actor.

In the end we named our firstborn Andrew Benedict and we called him Ben. Andrew for my late father and Benedict for one of my favorite saints — plus we just liked the name. Initially we were going to call him Benedict Andrew, but I messed up too many times while he was in utero and called him Benedict Arnold. So we saddled him with his middle name being used as his first name. What can I say? Unlike Joseph, we didn’t have an angel show up and tell us what to name him.

I have naming on my mind this morning, because today is known as the Feast of the Holy Name. Every year on January first we hear the story of Jesus being named Jesus. The reason has nothing to do with the New Year or resolutions or even hangovers — there is, by the way, a special crown of righteousness reserved for those who show up to the 8 o’clock service on New Year’s Day. It’s the Feast of the Holy Name because under the Law of Moses, a child was named eight days after the birth. Now that’s not the only thing that happened to a male child eight days after his entrance into the world. As we heard in Luke’s gospel this morning, he was also circumcised. 

And for many years this day in the church calendar was called the Feast of the Circumcision. Fortunately the Episcopal Church decided to rebrand it and it has been the Feast of the Holy Name ever since the not-so-new-anymore 1979 Book of Common Prayer. 

So, about this name. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we heard an angel of the Lord appear to Joseph in a dream and say, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” That’s because the name “Jesus” derives from the Hebrew form of Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” And of course, that’s what Jesus does. He has come into the world to save us from sin and death. So when we talk about Jesus as our Savior, when we sing “Christ the Savior is born” on Christmas Eve, we are also paying homage to his name. The name, we just heard in the letter to the Philippians, “that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

That verse is why you’ll sometimes see me and other Christians bowing their heads slightly as a form of reverence when the name “Jesus” is uttered in liturgy. There is power in the name of Jesus. When we invoke his name in prayer — either in private or as the gathered community — we are boldly proclaiming that we believe the Son of God will save us. From fear, from isolation, from sin, from death. 

But invoking Jesus’ name doesn’t just happen when we pray. We also boldly proclaim Jesus’ name through our actions. When we visit the sick or show compassion to the lonely; when we feed the hungry or share our resources with those in need; when we comfort the bereaved or show kindness to a stranger. 

The name of Jesus is a powerful name. Which is perhaps why we call him so many things in addition to Jesus: Prince of Peace, Son of God, Lord, Messiah. He is all of these things. But whatever you call him and however you address him, say his name. Often and without ceasing. In prayer and action. In so doing, you will be drawn ever closer to the very heart of Jesus.

Christmas Day 2022

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on December 25, 2022 (Christmas Day)

You know, everybody told me it would be 80 degrees on Christmas. That I’d be swimming in the ocean after the last service on Christmas Day. But instead of that, I apparently have to worry about an iguana falling on my head. Actually, this being my very first Christmas in Florida, after serving a church in New England for the past 14 years, I have to say this is still lovely. I took the dogs for a walk on the beach this morning and, while it was a bit brisk, it was 15 degrees back in Boston. I checked. So, I am all in on this Florida Christmas thing. I’ll probably be stringing up lights on palm trees next year.

Many of us have, of course, celebrated Christmas in a variety of places over the years. Whether it’s a white Christmas or a hot Christmas, what doesn’t change is the timelessness of the Incarnation. God entering the world in human form transcends time and space, geography and weather. And the beautiful and poetic prologue to John’s gospel, which we hear this morning, speaks eloquently and decisively into this reality. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

And we quickly notice the parallel with the very first book of the Bible. Genesis also starts with the words, “In the beginning.” “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning was the Word.” So the birth of Jesus is indeed a beginning, as any birth is. And yet, Jesus as the incarnate Word of God, was also there from the beginning of all time and space.  At Christmas, we celebrate his birth in a manger in Bethlehem, but we also celebrate his existence as the Word of God long before the Son of God was born in a stable. 

Last night, we heard the birth narrative from Luke’s gospel — the words that form the basis of every Christmas pageant in the history of Christmas pageants. We had angels and shepherds and Mary and Jesus and the newborn child. And this morning we zoom out from the tight shot of the manger, to the wide view of God’s cosmic being. And in order to realize the fullness of God, we need both views; we need the big picture and the closeup.

It’s a reminder that God is both transcendent and at hand. We certainly experience the transcendent grandeur of God in this space — gothic revival architecture will do that every time. And the stunning music offered by our hard-working choir orients us heavenward. A parishioner told me recently that while all churches are “thin places,” places where heaven and earth seemingly come together, to him Bethesda is the thinnest place. And I know we all feel that this morning as we gather in this beautiful and sacred space. As we soak in the sights and smells and sounds of Christmas, the divine presence is palpable. 

Of course, the danger of exclusively focusing on the transcendent nature of God is that God can sometimes feel like a deity removed from our daily life and struggles. And so the birth of Jesus reminds us that God is also at hand, living and walking beside us. Or as John puts it, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 

On Christmas Day we recognize that there are times to revel in the soaring, mystical nature of God. And there are times to take comfort in the intimacy of divine love. We need both of these aspects of God in our lives, depending on the day and the moment. But when we accept God’s love, when we receive Jesus into our hearts, when we make room for the holy in our lives, suddenly our burdens are lifted, our brokenness is healed, our sins are forgiven, and our lives are enriched with hope and meaning. That’s why Christmas matters.

Now, if you’re anything like me, when you think about past Christmases it’s all rather a blur. A jumble of Christmas services and family dinners, a few gifts that I remember but most are forgotten. There’s the soundtrack of Christmas carols and the blinking of colored lights, tree trimming and a few favorite ornaments that come to mind. But in the end, the one constant, the thing that binds everything together is the Christmas story itself. The shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, the newborn king, the Word made flesh. And the fact that love came down on that very first Christmas Day. 

In the end, Christmas is an act of love. God loved the world so much that he sent us his Son to live and dwell among us. Think about that! And the fact that Jesus is still with us. In each and every moment of our lives. At times when we are acutely aware of his presence and also at times when he feels distant or far away. And it all unfolds “in the beginning.”

The Christmas story — this story of God’s love for the world, but also God’s love specifically for you — is our story. And so we tell it again; year after year we shout it from the mountaintops and tell it in the valleys. It is the story that illuminates our lives and fills us with hope. For Christ our Savior is born.

I am glad you are here this morning. Glad you are in this place to participate in the retelling of our sacred story. Glad you are here “in the beginning” to celebrate our Lord’s birth once again. May God bless you and your loved ones this season. And may you have a very merry Christmas.

Christmas Eve 2022

A Sermon from the Church of  

Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on December 24, 2022 (Christmas Eve)

When I was a young rector serving at a parish outside of New York City, we held an annual Christmas tree sale on the first two weekends of December. I always spent some time working at it for several reasons: it was a lot of fun — the camaraderie was great as we greeted people and tied trees onto the tops of cars; it raised some good money for the church — we always undercut the Methodists; and I got to use a chain saw. Parish ministry is many things but it affords few opportunities to lose a limb. 

While most people were incredibly gracious and families were filled with joy as they poured out of their mini-vans to select their tree, there were always several exceptions. Invariably a few people would come looking for “the perfect tree.” They would be incredibly insistent about this. As if their entire Christmas depended upon finding the perfect Douglass fir. 

And of course no tree was ever good enough. They’d spend an hour looking through every single tree on the lot, treating our volunteers like the hired help at a high-end boutique on Worth Avenue. “No, that one’s not right. Show me that one. Turn it around. This one’s too full; that one’s not full enough. Don’t you have anything that smells better?” And there was nothing you could do but grit your teeth and keep a smile plastered on your face as they tested the limits of Christian charity.

Sometimes they’d leave with a tree; sometimes they’d go away disappointed. But I was always saddened when I encountered this because these folks were truly seeking something, trying to fill a void in their lives that can only be satisfied by relationship with Jesus Christ. The irony, of course, was that they were standing 25 feet from a church a few weeks before Christmas. And yet they were blind to Jesus’ offer of perfect salvation. 

The reality is that the picture perfect Christmas doesn’t exist. Not when we try to achieve it through human means like the perfect tree, the perfect gift, the perfect dinner. And that’s okay. Because Jesus is most often met in the very messiness of our lives. In the imperfections and failures, in the foibles and flaws of the human condition. This is precisely why God entered the world amid the mud and muck of that stable in Bethlehem. God doesn’t ignore our shortcomings and weaknesses; God is present with us both in spite of and because of them. And that is the good news of Christmas. No matter what hardships or grief or pain we bring to the manger this night, Jesus opens his heart to us and loves us unconditionally.

In tonight’s familiar Christmas gospel from Luke, the Angel of the Lord tells the shepherds to “Fear not.” And these are words to ponder in your heart. Because the need for perfection, which we all pursue to some degree, is really fueled by fear. Fear of fully trusting God, fear of letting go of the control to which we so desperately cling, fear of failure, fear of death. But we’re not left to wallow in fear and darkness. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ banishes fear; it scatters the darkness from before our path; and it allows us to walk in the light of faith without fear. “Fear not,” says the Angel, “For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy.” Which doesn’t mean that life is always easy or perfect, but it does mean that God in Christ is with us at every step of the journey. And that is something in which to rejoice; that is something in which to cry out “Glory to God in the highest!”

After the Angel departs, the shepherds say to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.” In other words, they continue the journey. They set aside their fear of the unknown, they suspend their disbelief. And they continue to move ever closer to Jesus. Which is precisely what you are called upon to do this Christmas – to continue the journey of faith that has been set before you. To continue the journey towards Jesus. 

Now, we’re not asked to do this alone – there was more than one shepherd after all. But rather to walk in community. I invite you to take this journey with this particular community of faith. You won’t find perfection here — though this place looks and sounds pretty good tonight — but you will find a group of people seeking to serve Jesus as best they can. A group of people who know at their very core that they are loved by God, despite their imperfections. A group of people who want to share that love with everyone they encounter. And that’s the essence of the Christian faith; it’s what gives life meaning and purpose, which is something we all so desperately seek.

Perhaps we sanitize and sentimentalize Christmas with our hand-painted decorations neatly arranged throughout our homes. And we’re certainly good at ignoring the messiness of the stable. But it is to the brokenness of our lives that God entered the world in human form. God sent his only Son both because of and despite the fact that we are not perfect. That’s the Christmas miracle. If God wanted the “perfect” Christmas, Jesus would have been born in a palace, not a stable. He would have been born to a princess, not a poor, unwed teenage mother. But Christmas is about genuine relationship with the divine rather than superficial perfection. If that’s your goal, you’re better off buying a perfectly shaped fake tree at Target.

So, may you experience the perfection of Jesus Christ this night. May it envelop you and shine brightly upon you. And may you all have a very merry Christmas.