Keep It Holy

When Lisa and I were members of Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta, we heard a wonderful story about their renovation several years ago. The church building there is quite old, having had its first worship service in 1860.  When they began the work, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a beautiful Roman Catholic Church next door, invited them there to use that space to worship and pray.

The Roman Church tucked the Presbyterians between two other services, letting them use the entire space for their own.  It was an incredible embodiment of hospitality and grace. One day, the Presbyterians decided to have Communion. Now, they didn’t have it every Sunday like we and the Romans do, and they wanted to mark the year in a special way.  As soon as they were finished, the Presbyterians wanted to make sure they left the space immaculate (keeping with the name, right? Hahaha). They had used a whole loaf of bread for Communion, which we often did still when we were members there.

Someone slipped back into a storage room and grabbed a small Dust Buster. They rushed back, plugged it in, and began vacuuming up all the excess crumbs that had fallen on the floor around the altar and in front of the chancel. At that moment, someone from the Roman staff came in to discover the Presbyterians—innocently—cleaning up the space as a way to honor their hosts (haha..funny, right?). Rather than initially being grateful for their mindfulness around honoring the space, the Romans were aghast.

You see, they walked in to see the Presbyterians sucking up the Body of Christ into the Dust Buster!

Needless to say, it was a perfect opportunity for a wonderful ecumenical conversation on the difference in a Reformed theology of Communion and a Roman Catholic theology of Transubstantiation! What do we do when the way we understand things ought to be clashes with what we might need to do?

“There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Jesus has bumped up against an age-old tension in religious practice: how to maintain the rituals, the traditions, the ethos of one’s religious practice and also understand that grace cannot be contained. How to recognize those moments when we are called to pay close attention to the things we do, the way we act, the things we believe and hold dear, even, and wonder about what it means when we are challenged to maybe step outside of the “norm” in order to have a more expansive experience of God’s love.

Here was this woman who had struggled for eighteen years, stooped over and unable to enjoy life. And, Jesus walks into the synagogue on that Sabbath day.  As he sees her he calls her over and heals her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” You are free! You have freedom! You are released!

Yet Jesus broke the rules, you see. Jesus didn’t place the strict Sabbath code against any kind of work above the existential dilemma of this child of God. He didn’t give the woman his office hours and ask her to come back once the sun had gone down. He didn’t give her his card and ask her to make an appointment when the clinic was open. He did what needed to be done at that moment.

“There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day,” the leaders tell Jesus and the woman.

And Jesus didn’t even try to be polite. “You’re telling me that you can untie your donkey on the Sabbath and take it to get water but I can’t touch and heal this woman who has struggled for eighteen years to find freedom?”

It is an age-old tension that we all experience in our religious practice. Everyone experiences this gravity of “this is how we do things.” Or, “this is the dignified way to do things.” Or, “We don’t do that because that’s not who we are.”

You know the root of the word Religion is ligio, as in ligament. It refers to a set of practices and prayers, traditions and customs, patterns of belief that bind together the pieces of our lives, like the way ligaments tie and bind together bones, enabling us to walk and journey through our lives. It’s a beautiful image.

But what do we do when the binding gets a little too tight? What do we do when, rather than having a thread of prayers and practices that give us life and empower us to grow closer to God’s dream for our lives, we have a rope that binds our hands and feet, preventing us from reaching out to help those who are in need or walking to where we are called to show Christ’s love?

What Jesus bumped into—and what we all bump into—is that space where the holy honoring of the richness of a religious tradition slides over to the rigid maintenance of only the outward forms, resulting in traditionalism. This is what St. Paul wrote about all the time: it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles but what comes out, the tension between law and grace, and so on.

The truth is that everyone experiences this. Every single person in every single religious tradition.

I remember going to my favorite Thai place in Smyrna when  I was at St. Benedict’s and talking to the owner who was Thai Buddhist. We were talking about the richness of interfaith dialogue, and I mentioned to him that I had just seen the Dalai Lama when he was in town. He smirked and said, “He’s not even really even Buddhist. He eats meat sometimes.”

“Well, have you told him that he’s not Buddhist?” I asked.

And I had remembered reading about how Tibetan Buddhists do eat meat occasionally, to keep their strength up when they are ill and living in the harsh conditions of their homeland.

I can’t help but hear St. Paul’s voice echoing through the room when I think of that encounter… “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles but what comes out.”

Maybe what we’re called to do—maybe what Jesus is always inviting us to see—is that we can reflect more deeply on how our religious practices are supposed to lead us to a deeper experience of God’s grace in our lives—and how we’re called to embody that compassion and grace in the world around us. Maybe Jesus is asking us, “Is it enough that you do what you feel you’re supposed to do as a good religious person, as a Christian, as an Episcopalian, and you don’t see how your religious practice calls you to embody God’s love in the world?”  “Are you willing and able to risk upsetting the way things have been?”

I look around here at Grace and see this willingness, and it makes my heart swell. Each day I see folks when they come by to visit—and I visit with folks as I walk around town—who “get it.”  You are a community who “gets it.” You are a community who sees the connection between how we pray on Sunday and at other times and how we are called to live in this world. You see a direct line between the way the smell of incense focuses your attention, the way the choir’s voices stirs your hearts, the way walking up the aisle to taste a bit of bread and a sip of wine reminds you of Christ’s love, and the way walking over and shaking the hand a someone new during the peace leads directly to the embodiment of love in the world around us.  Our practice changes us for the better when we put one foot in front of another and step out and reach out…

So, as we share in this time of wondering and praying, of listening and visioning, looking for how the Spirit is guiding us in our bicentennial season, I wonder…where are we being led? How are we being led? How are we being invited to risk even more? Where are our resistances? What are our fears and concerns? What do we value?

Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
Proper 16, Year C
Jeremiah 1:4-10; St. Luke 13:10-17
August 21, 2016

This Week's News

Next Week’s News: August 21-27

Following are some highlighted events and news for the upcoming week. For full news and events please refer to your e-vangelist email each Friday morning! (learn how to subscribe if you don’t receive the e-vangelist)

Bicentennial Survey Due Sunday

What are the five things you value most as a member of the Christian community of Grace Episcopal Church? As we begin our bicentennial vision work, it is important that you make your voice heard! All adult parishioners, and youth in grades 6 and above, are invited to respond to the bicentennial survey by Sunday, August 21 if you have not already done so.

A Special Blessing and Commissioning for the Staff

I hope you’ll plan on coming this Sunday, August 21, as we celebrate the staff of Grace Church at the 10:45 service. I am so grateful for the incredible group of folks on my staff, a dedicated team of people who pour their hearts and minds into all aspects of the parish’s life. As we continue to explore ways to encourage the vocation of every member of the community, I want to take the opportunity to hold up this amazing team as we give thanks to God for their ministries!
~ Fr. Stuart

DOK Discernment Class

A Daughters of the King discernment class will begin Sunday, August 21 at 12:15 PM in the conference room. All women interested in learning more about DOK are invited to attend.

20s & 30s Young Adult News

August 21: Young Adult Brunch – Meet in the Greeting Area after the 10:45 AM service.

SAGES Ice Cream & Sangria Social

Friday, August 19 is the deadline to sign up to attend the SAGES Sangria and Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, August 24 at 3:00 PM in the parish hall. Sign up at the information station or call the parish office at 770-536-0126 if you’d like to attend.


The acronym SAGES (Socially Active Grace Episcopal Seniors) represents all Grace Seniors (60 to forever) who are looking to be socially active in the company of other Grace seniors. Come learn more on August 24.

Wednesday Night Dinner

Come eat dinner together at Grace on Wednesday nights! This fall, the meal begins at 5:30 PM. Special classes and conversations will occasionally be offered following the meal and committees and ministry groups are also encouraged to schedule meetings and conversations beginning at 6:30 PM. (coordinate space with Jennifer)

On August 24 following the meal, Fr. Stuart will reveal the word cloud created with responses received to the bicentennial survey. Take the survey (if you haven’t already done so) to have your response included! Come see what our community values most about Grace Church.

Meal reservations for August 24 are due no later than noon on Monday, August 22. Sign up online, at the information station, or call the church office. The cost for the meal is $10 for adults, $5 for youth in 6th-12th grades, and free for kids up to 5th grade. If you make a reservation and do not attend, you will still be asked to pay for your meal. Thank you for understanding.


  • Regular: Fried Chicken, Mac and Cheese, Southern Style Green Beans, Salad with Ranch and Balsamic, Pound Cake with Assorted Toppings
  • Vegetarian: Spinach Quiche
  • Child: 1/2 portion regular or PB&J sandwich, cookies

A nursery (age 4 and under) and childcare (PreK-5th grade) is being offered on a trial basis on Wednesday nights until September 7 from 5:00-9:00 PM. Reservations are necessary and should be made on the same form as meal reservations.

Youth Retreat is Here!

Our youth will head up to Camp Mikell on Friday, August 26 for a weekend of fun, games, prayer, and great food. They will return to Grace at the 10:45 AM service on Sunday, August 28. Please keep the group and their leaders in your prayers while they are away!

Youth in grades 6-12 who would like to attend but are not yet registered should contact Alan ASAP!


2015 Youth Retreat

Foyers Deadline

Friday, August 26 is the deadline to join a fall/winter Foyer group! Foyer groups are a collection of small groups of adults who get together in one another’s homes for dinner. This a great opportunity for fellowship and all are welcome. We especially encourage newcomers to sign up! If you are interested in joining, please sign up online or at the information station.