Wouldn’t you know it?
On the morning of Easter service, our MEVO camera just wouldn’t cooperate. I must’ve reset it 3-4 times and finally gave up with 5 minutes to go before our liturgy started.

Then, about an hour after liturgy ended, I went to see what was up with the MEVO only to discover that it finally decided to work again. Like, what the heck? I could almost hear my mom’s voice in Korean saying, “It was the devil”…

It was a beautiful and full day (3 baptisms!!!). And I wanted to keep the updating streak going by simply uploading my Easter sermon’s manuscript (updated to match blogging rather than preaching), using John 20:1-18 as our text:

Easter and Christmas Eve sermons are two of the most difficult sermons to preach.
They’re such familiar stories. The challenge is, how can the preacher find a new way to tell the story to not only keep it fresh for the long time church-goers but also for the preacher themselves? The other challenge is — how can you engage the folks who were dragged this morning (mostly) against their wishes to be at church with the family?

As I was going over the resurrection stories in the Gospel, I couldn’t let go of Luke’s version.
He has the angels saying to the women: why do you look for the living among the dead?

I think we humans have a tendency to hang around tombs.
I don’t mean physical, literal tombs — like hanging around the cemetery. I mean, if that’s your thing, there’s no judgment here.

But like metaphorical tombs — places, things, people, and/or eras that no longer produce growth or life.

What are the tombs that you find yourself lingering around? (*inspired by Emily Scott’s For All Who Hunger)

Perhaps it’s the tomb of perfection. You can’t move forward because everything has to be perfect. You don’t want to take the next step forward until all is in perfect order.
Or maybe for you, it’s a bygone era — the nostalgic years that you’re so wrapped in that you can’t see today or tomorrow. The wearing-a-football-letterman’s-jacket-at-the-age-of-55-and-still-talking-about-the-state-championship-you-could’ve-won-if-only-the-coach-listened-to-you syndrome. I mean, we churches know what it’s like to dwell in a bygone era…
Is the tomb you’re lingering around people or relationships?

For me — the tomb I keep linger around (since 2019) is the tomb of “success.”
Success can mean different things to different people/group/organizations, but generally… it comes down to more.
More business. More customers. More money. The more you have, the more successful you appear.
We worship at the altar of more.
And you’d think that the church, having an actual altar, would know exactly what to worship — but we are not immune to the altar of more.

What signifies a successful church? Well, it’s B2P2: Butts in Pews; Bucks in Plates.
The more people you have, the more successful the church is.
The more people you have, the more money you can bring; the more money you can bring, the more buildings you can build; the more buildings you can build, the more people you can bring.

Easter of 2023 is our second Easter together.
The church planting journey has been… interesting. Here’s the thing that no one talks about church planting — and I mean, no one has talked about it. All the books I’ve read; all the workshops I’ve took; all the conversations I’ve had with other planters — no one mentioned until I read Emily Scott’s book For All Who Hunger. No one talks about the humiliation that comes with the journey of church planting.
Even though you try your best not to, sometimes you can’t help take things personally.
It’s like throwing a birthday party every week without knowing who — if anyone — would come (paraphrased from For All Who Hunger).
You keep telling yourself: It’s not about me
But in the early stages, it kinda is about you because you’re the only bridge between your neighborhood and God’s vision for your church.
In the early stages, numbers are important. Success is in how many people gathered at your events.
But truthfully, numbers are important in all stages of the church, right?

And I want to be completely transparent with you: I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen to us when 2025 rolls around. The lease of this building is up on 12/31/2024 and the diocese has to make a decision.
Will they renew the lease? Will they find us a new space — which is what I’m kinda praying for? Or will they say “it’s been a good run” and transition us to the end of our time together?

I honestly can’t say I know for sure what’s going to happen.
I also want to make it very clear: the diocese has said nothing about this yet and what I’m about to say next is all from my head and my thoughts:
What’s the surest way to keep going beyond 2025? B2P2, right? Again, the diocese has never said anything about this.
But it wouldn’t hurt right?
It wouldn’t hurt to have a packed house week in and week out and make them see just how much we’ve outgrown this space right? And what kind of institution would end a project that’s bursting at its seams?

So you (meaning me) starts chasing after the numbers. Let’s go. Let’s get 80-90 ASA (average Sunday attendance) by the end of 2024.
But chasing numbers has — at least for me — detrimental effects.
First, it really does make it about me. At the end of the day, I’d want the diocese to reward my church (me) for all the work that we’ve (Ive) engaged in with a new lease on communal life. I mean: look at us (me)!

The other detrimental effect:
About a week ago, I had a busy, busy week.
On Thursday was our inaugural Bishop’s visit; then on Friday was the Korean American Story’s Roar Story Slam, and then Palm Sunday. I was all anxious about the story slam so I needed to get as much work out of the way so that I have some breathing space come the weekend.
That Wednesday was our clericus gathering (a gathering of priests in our geographical area) and it was at a church in Nassau Bay. Near that church is a small coffee shop. So I decided that as soon as I dropped N off at school, I’d drive to that coffee shop, get all the work I could get done before the clericus meeting. I also figured, since I was 30 minutes away from my neighborhood, there was less of a chance of bumping into someone I know and getting lost in conversation.

I arrived at the coffee shop and it was packed — no available tables. But there were some swing chairs available, so I sat in one of those. I was getting my stuff out of my bag when a young woman sits in the swing chair next to me and asks,
“How do you like those shoes?”
I was wearing my Doc Martens. “Oh, these? They’re comfortable now, but it took a little time to break them in and stuff.”
”Oh okay. I was really thinking about getting a pair of Doc Martens. I just got a new job and I felt that the best way to celebrate was get me a pair of Doc Martens.”

The way she ended that sentence I knew the next thing I had to say was “what’s the new job” but I so didn’t want to. I had so much crap to do. But I didn’t want to be rude because I had my collar on.

“Oh, what’s the new job? Where do you work?”

“I got a new job at Sephora and I’m really glad I did because my previous job was a mess and toxic. I really wasn’t happy or thriving.” (Obviously, all the details have been changed)

Oh no, there’s no way out of this is there… “Oh, I’m glad you got out — but where did you work before Sephora?”

“I was a hostess at Cheesecake Factory. I mean, I don’t want to talk about about the restaurant — it just… wasn’t for me. Oh, by the way, my name is Katie. What’s yours? And are you really a priest?”

“My name is Joseph and yes — but not a Catholic priest. But an Episcopalian.”

“Oh cool. But yea, I’m super nervous about my shift today, because it’s the last day of my orientation and… I don’t know.”

And the conversation kept going.
There was no real lull in the conversation where I could find a way to end it.
However, my phone rang.
And I actually had to take it.
I apologize and she said, “Oh it works out because I have to head out for my shift.”

She said something and then left and I gave her the true and tried, “It was really nice meeting you!”
After the phone call, I saw that I had to head over to the clericus.
I had been talking to Katie for 2 hours. TWO. HOURS.
I. Was. So. Upset.
I was annoyed. I was irritated. I was just… UGH. And I couldn’t shake off the stormy cloud that gathered over my head. I didn’t get a single piece of work done. I didn’t reply to a single email. I lost my morning and now because it put me in a funk, I was gonna lose my day.

When it was time to wake up my wife to go to work (she works the night shifts, and she usually gets up around 750p), I still was in the funk of the morning that was lost.
As she was getting ready, I’m venting my annoyance about the morning when it hit me.
I knew where the source of my ire was coming from.

It was because I couldn’t count her in some way; I couldn’t quantify her as a metric.
She made it clear she wasn’t a Christian — nothing against us, but not for her — so she was never coming to my church.
And she lived in a neighborhood 30 minutes away, so I’d never have a change to build a rapport with her (btw, I always forget it’s spelled RAPPORT. I always try to spell it like repoire and then have to google it…).
I mean, if she lived in the vicinity of my neighborhood, there was a chance that I’d keep bumping in to her.

I was upset that I couldn’t at least count her in some metric for my morning that was lost.
And that’s a horrible way to look at people and at life — to try to quantify them for a measure of success. To look at them as a statistic. To look at them as a means to an end.
I’ve always thought dehumanizing people was done in a egregious way
But I learned that I dehumanized Katie because I was only looking at her as a statistic — so much so I completely missed out on the last thing she said to me. I mean, I automated responded to her with a “thank you and it was so nice meeting you.”

What she said to me was,
“I’m neuro-divergent and I have to work on my social skills. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and help me work on my socializing skills.”

And really… what life blossoms from the altar of success?
Nothing lasting, really.
What comes from the altar of success is a desire for more. And not in the healthiest and wholest of ways, either.

Mary’s Easter sermon is I have seen the Lord — which I feel is a far more powerful declaration than Christ is risen!
I started reflecting on her words and asked myself, where have I seen the Lord?

And it’s in you.
Before when people asked me “tell me about your church” I’d give them concepts, ideas, visions about who we desire to be.
Now, I tell people stories of you; about us.
Stories of how a couple bought pairs of shoes for a bunch of boys living in a group home; how we rallied together to help pay off Pearland ISD students’s lunch debt; the wonderful and beautiful ‘chaos’ of kids during the liturgy and how they add their own words, voices, and opinions to the liturgy; and so many more.

I’ve seen the Lord in here and in you.
You are the living proof of the Resurrection (from All Who Hunger).
You consistently, constantly, continually remind of what church is.
You show me the importance and joy of community.
You remind me what it means to live as people of love in the middle of a city that disagrees on what “all” means.
You remind me that it’s not success/metrics that we are after but love.

And it’s always love that brings us back from the edges of tombs.
And it’s your love that brings me back from the edge of the tomb of success to remind me what really, really matters: not numbers, but love.

And so I ask you: Where have you seen the Lord? What is your story? Who will you tell?
Because we have a powerful story to tell. Stories intertwined with hope and love that surpasses even the chasm of death.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury on Easter of ‘04 preached about the death squads in countries like Argentina and El Salvador and how Christians in those countries developed a profound way to celebrate their faith, hope, and resistance. At the liturgy, someone would read out the names of those killed or those who’ve “disappeared” and for each name, someone from the church would cry out PRESENTE or here.

“When the assembly is gathered before God, the lost are indeed presente; when we pray during the eucharist ‘with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’, we say presente for all those the world (including us) would forget and God remembers.”
With angels and archangels and:
With those who’ve passed from COVID; cancer; or other forms of illness

With those who’ve felt that they no way out from their pain or struggles but to leave the world behind on their own terms;

With those whose lives were cut too short from Covenant School in Nashville; Robb Elementary in Ulvade; Oxford High School in Michigan; Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA; Santa Fe High, here in nearby Santa Fe; Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland FL; Marysville Pitchuck High in Maryland; Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut; Redlake High in MN; Columbine High in Colorado and many many too many more;

With those whose sin was only the color of their skin;

With the Queer and Trans siblings whom people would rather kill than at the bare minimum tolerate;

“And with Christ our Lord by whose death our sinful forgetfulness and lukewarm love can be forgiven and kindled to life, who leaves no human soul in anonymity and oblivion, but gives to all the dignity of a name and a presence. He is risen; he is not here; he is present everywhere and to all.”
Therefore, all is not lost for He is risen. He is presente.


Thanks for tuning in.
A quick word from our sponsors before we say goodbye — I know. What a tacky way to end this post. But hey, I have books to sell, and I didn’t really promote it during Lent because that felt far more tackier than what I’m feeling now.
But you can get my book When the Saints Go Flying In on Amazon.

Thanks for all your love and support and I’m sure there are grammatical and spelling errors littered throughout the post. I’m okay with it and I hope you are too.


One thought on “EASTER 2023: PRESENTE

  1. What a beautiful message, and the Easter message sounds awesome too – my pastor asked what we are still weeping for…. I did a post on it, but that’s a different story. Sometimes, we do lose perspective, and to see it in a new light is magical. It’s learning to be present in the moments that we all still need to do.

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