Sunday, July 30, 2017

Prayer 1647: the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Birds find their homes in the branches.... (Matthew 13:31-33)

God of All Mercy, we gather before You in joy and gratitude,
drawn before your altars to sing your praises.
May we make our hearts fertile fields
to produce abundant love and healing for the world.
May we receive your gospel, Lord,
and plant it deep within us
to reconcile with all of creation
and live into your dream for us.
May we seek to serve You, Blessed Jesus,
as faithful witnesses and healers in the kingdom of heaven.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
unite us as one body,
filled with grace,
remembering always our redemption.
Pour out your blessing upon us, O Creator,
and uphold and bless those whose hope is in You.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Little Things Mean a Lot: Sermon for Proper 12, Year A

Parables are amazing. They can be as short as a sentence, or as long as a short story. The ones we have from the gospels are hundreds of years old, and yet they still fascinate us and frustrate us in equal measure.

Jesus’s parables are a tantalizing mix of familiar and strange, “old and new,” as he reminds us at the end of today’s gospel. Parables paradoxically are meant to help us understand by first puzzling the heck out of us. As a former middle and high school teacher, I admire the boldness of Jesus’s teaching style, and I also sympathize when his students complain that they don’t understand, as we heard in last week’s gospel. He even includes what we in the teaching profession call a “comprehension check” there at the end: “Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks. When they lie and say yes, he rewards them by ending with yet ANOTHER paradoxical statement for his disciples to wrestle with.

One of the biggest issues we face with hearing these parables now is that we live in a different context than that inhabited by Jesus and his disciples. Gardening is now an avocation, a hobby for most, rather than a necessity. The same holds true for baking or fishing. That’s why it’s important to remember that every act of reading, every act of learning, is an act of interpretation. Jesus’s use of parables reminds us that scripture cannot be studied in a literal manner, because the parables themselves are not meant to be taken literally but instead to open us up by shaking our preconceived notions up and turning them upside down.

One of my favorite Anglican theologians is Sallie McFague. She begins her book on parables with this statement: “The purpose of theology is to make it possible for the gospel to be heard in our time.”
The purpose
Of theology
Is to make it possible
For the gospel
To be heard In OUR time.
And she says this as the first sentence of a book on parables. Thank God.

I think that is about as perfect a sentence as I have ever seen from a theologian, especially since theologians as a profession are often not inclined to try to make anything they say easy to hear or understand. Remember, the Apostle Paul was a theologian, as well as being a missionary and apostle, and his sentences aren’t exactly what I’d call “light reading.” So here we have another interesting juxtaposition: parables SEEM simple, but aren’t, and theology often LOOKS difficult, but it shouldn’t be. God is complex enough, without making explaining God impossibly dense. And here’s the rub—as Christians, we are all called to be theologians, to study and interpret God for the life of the world. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Our faith only has meaning if we turn it outward, for the good of others.

In the end, these parables and theology share the same purpose: to help us understand more about God. Elsewhere in her book, Sallie McFague points out that, as God Incarnate, Jesus is God’s own parable. Jesus seems to be a simple carpenter living in the middle of nowhere, and yet as our risen savior, he is alive with us today, and means far more than we can understand in our own lifetimes. Jesus’s meaning is as infinite and at the same time as intimate as God’s love for us, because Jesus IS God.

It’s a lot to take in, I know. It’s similar to how you feel when you see some amazing natural wonder or work of art: there is too much to take in all at once—it’s impossible. So either your eye darts here and there, or you focus on one tiny rectangle of the panorama to the exclusion of everything else. The enormity of the grace and mercy of God is similarly vast. It’s probably wise to try to break that huge truth down into little snapshots, or we’d get overwhelmed.

We get six little snapshots to puzzle over in this week’s gospel alone, and that’s after the Parable of the Sower two weeks ago, and the Parable of the Weeds in the Field last week. So what can we say about what these parables today have in common?

Well, if I was going to give these a common title, it might be this: “Little Things Mean a Lot.” We see tiny seeds become big plants, and little birds being given a home in that plant. We see little grains of yeast making a feast’s worth of bread. We see a tiny pearl being something valued far beyond its size. We see a small net thrown into the vast sea and delivering a bounty, both good and bad. Over and over, we are told, “The kingdom of heaven is like” one of these things. I’m going to concentrate on just one of these, the mustard seed, so we won’t be here all day. You’re welcome.

So what is the kingdom of heaven, a phrase used particularly by the author of Matthew? The kingdom of heaven has to do with the reign of God, and in particular, with the transformation that we set out to work toward when we declare ourselves as members of what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls “the Jesus Movement.” Specifically, Jesus is talking about the response of the world to his teachings in these parables. The kingdom of heaven grows when the Word of God is welcomed, received, nurtured in the hearts of people just like you and me who do the incredible thing of committing to make way for God to rule our lives. Talk about counter-cultural, especially in this day and age of self-help, even sometimes self-worship.

Hearing the brief parable of the mustard seed, Jesus’s listeners had to be confused. A couple of mustard seeds could take over your garden. It grew like a weed, and if you’ve been listening for the last two weeks, weeds are not considered to be good things, whether in the time Jesus was teaching or now. A mustard seed is so small, a gardener could probably completely forget where she planted it (this happens to me all the time with bulbs, especially)—until the shrub begins to appear weeks later. (Teaching is often like that, too. The lessons we present are not always the lessons received, and sometimes that plant won’t flourish until after the student has left the school altogether. Patience is required—and often, getting out of the way to give the plant room to grow in the student’s understanding.) But later, this seed produces enough to provide a home for dozens of birds. In addition, mustard was used as medicine from ancient times—it was believed to help with digestion and in fighting the common cold, among other things. Thus mustard plants, while perhaps not the prettiest thing to look at, nonetheless furnish good things in abundance. 

 The mustard seed also reminds us about grace. The birds find their refuge in the branches of this new tree, sprung up through God’s goodness, just as we find our refuge within the kingdom of heaven ourselves, as theologian Amy-Jill Levine reminds us in her book about the parables of Jesus. We do nothing to earn this—God’s love and care is there for us through no merit of our own, but simply as a result of God’s abundant grace and mercy. This free gift of grace and mercy, borne out of God’s love for us, is important to think about in a world in which we too often try to reduce everything to that which can be bought or sold. 

 God offers us refuge and a home because of love—nothing more, and nothing less. And so we are called do for others. God offers that refuge and home not for our sake, but for us to be strengthened to minister and witness to God’s love in the world. Abundantly. 

Against every impulse of the world we live in, where we are taught to be afraid, to fear scarcity, to feel small, insignificant, and overwhelmed, until the doubt beats like the tattoo of our hearts racing through fear, or resentment, or pain. Actually, put that way, those are the same fears that confronted Jesus’s listeners. In the face of those fears, God calls them AND us to come to be fully ourselves, to fulfill the dream God has for us to be fully alive, through being conduits or channels for God’s abundant love, grace, and comfort. 

 As Christians, we are called to have faith in little things, because from little things, great blessings grow.

So it has been with the gospel throughout time. How do we return to Sallie McFague’s challenge, to make it possible for the world to hear anew the gospel in light of the challenges of our own time? In Jesus’s lifetime, only a few dozen people, perhaps less, took in his message and stuck with it all the way through the crucifixion and beyond to the resurrection. Yet here we are. Called together as Christ’s body, the Church to translate and proclaim and embody God’s love for everyone. 

 The “church” as we know it did not exist in Jesus’s lifetime—not even close. The church as we knew it in our lifetime, won’t continue the same as it has been in our memory. That’s why the metaphor of the mustard pant is also enlightening to us. Living plants grow, and subside, season to season, year to year. With patience and care, they grow again, becoming something new. 

The growth of plants --or the church-- can’t be rushed. This small bit of seed—Jesus’s radical, transforming message on how to live fully into our God-given humanity as children of God, was mostly ignored if not scorned when he was teaching it—and yet becomes a plant thousands of times its original size. 

 The Church—and that means US, not buildings or hierarchies, but you and me together as Christ’s very body in the world—at its best and by its true purpose--offers a home to the weary, the oppressed, the hurting, the seeking, as well as to the comfortable who search for meaning. It offers its branches to the world so that all may be strengthened and transformed through the hope that is Christ Jesus.

Just like the mustard plant, we are at our glory when we are a blessing for others, by our very nature as the Church, no matter what that looks like. Jesus teaches us how to grow and flourish just like that mustard plant—and if we are the good soil, we learn how to really live, and really love and be loved so that Christ’s gospel spreads its branches wide like a net. And by that love we are healed, individually, and as a community.

Preached July 29 at the 5:05 at St. Martin's-Ellisville, MO and July 30 at Grace- Louisiana, MO.

Prayer 1645: On the feast day of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany.

Almighty God,
we ask that you bless our endeavors today.

Let us be awakened by your love,
and brought to new life through Christ our Lord.
Beloved Jesus, You call us into new life:
may we hear and respond with wonder and joy.
Give us Martha hands
and Mary hearts,
seeking to serve you
and be guided by your Word and Wisdom.
Unite within us
knowledge and action,
for we know that work without learning
and learning without work
gain nothing.
Let us proclaim your glory
in words and actions this day:
make us your hands in the world.
Untangle us from the bonds
that hold us in pain and despair,
and give us power to walk into the light of Jesus.

Extend your sheltering love
over those for whom we pray this day.

(adaptation of 441)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Prayer 1644: for Reconciliation

A pair of gorgeous blossoms from Strophanthus preussii, Medusa-Flower, at the National Gardens.

Blessed be You, God of the Universe,
who has formed us and loved us from time immemorial.
You know every bird in the sky,
and every living thing on the earth:
your mercy and compassion sustain us all.

Lord, let us hear your call to unity
and give thanks for our common life;
let us reconcile and heal our broken communities.
Guide us into a love of wisdom
that we may be led into peace and justice.

Holy One, accept the prayers of your people
as we seek fuller knowledge of your truth.
Led by Love Incarnate, our Savior Jesus,
may we be forces of healing and hope for all.
Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with goodness,
and extend the blessing of peace over all for whom we pray.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Prayer 1643: Jesus quiets the storm

Ships in a Storm on the Dutch Coast, Andreas Achenbach

Most Merciful God,
may our prayers rise on the scent of jasmine
as we praise and bless your love in our lives.
The curtain of the night parts
and you spread a new day before us:
Lord, hear our prayer.

In beholding afresh the wonders of creation,
let us see with new eyes and hearts, O Christ.
In taking up the work you have given us,
let us be guided to do your will, O Christ.
In turning from sin and self-centeredness,
let us atone for our wrongs, and reconcile, O Christ.

When tumults rage and threaten to swamp us,
let us remember that you do not bring them, O God:
Your hand holds us fast,
and commands the waves to cease-
may we never forget You are with us within the storm.

Merciful One, make your face shine upon us this day,
and upon those whom we now name.


Mark 4:35-41

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Prayer 1642: Casting wide our nets

St. Peter at the doors of the visitor's entrance at the Washington National Cathedral, with his net slung over his shoulder.

Eternal God, we open the doors of our hearts:
enter into our lives this day, and make us whole.
Reconcile us to You, and one another
 that we amend our lives
and repair our relationships.

Let the radiance of God's glory
shine forth from our countenance
and testify to God's unending mercy.
May we embody
the compassionate, healing love of Christ,
living as true disciples and companions in the Way.
Teach us to cast wide our nets,
drawing all to you in freedom, justice, and peace.

Draw near, O God, to the broken-hearted:
give your angels charge over those wait upon You.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Prayer 1641: In conversation with Psalm 52

Sparrows rejoice in a stream in the National Gardens.

As the sun rises into the sky
on the songs of sparrows,
let me think on God, and praise God's Name.

Blessings upon you, Eternal One:
You are my rock,
my refuge to keep me safe above the raging storm.
Even when the heat of turmoil and trial swirls about me,
You, O God, are cooling water,
and my ever-present help.
You dry my anxious tears,
and comfort the mourning;
I find my home in your tender embrace.

Your love, O Savior, forever will I sing,
and I will sing to You even in the darkest hour.
You refresh my soul, Lord Christ,
and knit my tattered heart together again.
You draw to me the solace of friendship,
the prayers of friends to lift me up and ease my burdens.

May I stand upright before You, O Holy One,
and this day grow deeper in charity, faith, and hope.
Turn the eyes of my heart outward, O God,
that I may sing anew your grace in your community.
Blessed Jesus, take us by the hand,
and grant your blessing upon those we remember before you.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Prayer 1640: The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

Washington National Cathedral.

O God, creation is shot through with your beauty,
and the round earth joins in praise of your Holy Name!
Surely the Lord is in this place:
let us worship God with all our hearts!

Holy One, you have searched us out and known us:
your love is our shade and our strength.
May we walk in your truth, Lord Christ,
and our hearts rise on the wings of morning.
May we reflect your healing love into the world,
that our kindness shine like the sun at midday.
May your right hand lead us in charity and holiness,
that we may serve You and each other with joy.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
bless and preserve us, O God,
and all those for whom we pray.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Prayer, day 1639: For God's blessing

Passion flower at the National Garden.
Almighty One,
Incarnate Love,
we lift our hearts to You in thanksgiving:
hear our prayer. 

May God bless us at our rising,
that we may dedicate this day
to the praise and glory of God's kingdom. 
May God bless us in our meditations,
that we may seek wisdom, compassion,
and unity with God and each other. 
May God bless us in our travels,
that our steps may take us toward reason, justice, and peace
through the power of the Spirit. 
May God bless us in our struggles,
that we may be strengthened and renewed
to persevere in the face of trial. 
May God bless us in our relationships,
that we may love and care for each other
and embody lovingkindness to all. 
May God bless us at day's end
with the peace of Christ,
which surpasses all understanding. 

Holy One, let your light of compassion and comfort
envelop these, your beloveds, for whom we pray.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Prayer, day 1638: at home in God

The fountain in the Contemplative Court lies at the end of the historical exhibits at the National Museum of African American History.

O Loving One,
may we make our home in You today,
and love You with our whole heart.
May we open our arms to embrace
the amazing gifts of your creation.

May we be guided by the light of compassion,
walk the path of wisdom,
and dance to the song of justice.
May we rest upon your breast like a child
when we are in need of comfort or ease of mind.

May we listen more than we speak,
learn more than we profess to know,
and give more than we take.
May we make ourselves a family of those we meet,
and always celebrate the chance to love and be loved.

We ask your blessing upon these beloveds,
whose needs we lift up to You,
especially those we now name.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Prayer, Day 1637: We belong to God

A rainbow cast against the floor and walls of the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

O God, You have given us our breath:
it is right that we use it to sing and glorify your ever-present Love.
May our thankfulness to You resound with each beat of our hearts. 

You are the center of our being:
may we make our hearts a fit dwelling place for your Spirit.
You have called us to truly love one another:
may we shrug off the coils of envy and resentment that choke us.
May we unlearn all that anger has taught us,
that hope and generosity may take root in our souls. 

May your peace calm all our fears,
as rain is soaked up by a dry and thirsty land.
May we turn our eyes from the mountains and valleys in our path
to the glorious light of your mercy and truth.
O Shepherd, protect us from the wolves that prowl among us:
may we hear, know, and trust your promises. 

Now, O Eternal One, accept the prayers of your people for each need which has been offered in love.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Prayer 1636

Sunrise while traveling.

Almighty God,
our times are in your hand,
and we rise today upheld by your love:
hear our prayers and praises, we humbly pray.

Strengthen us in your goodness and mercy, Holy One,
that we may see anew the unity and beauty of your creation.
Gather our restless hearts within your care, Lord Christ,
and help us to lean into your embrace in faithful trust.
Teach us to walk in charity and gentleness,
that we may honor the dignity of all whom we meet.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
make us worthy testimony to your grace, O God,
and your healing ways.
Extend the hand of blessing
over all we remember before You, Lord,
as we offer our prayers for these beloveds.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Prayer, day 1635

Come, let us sit in silence before our Creator,
whose love is everlasting!

Most Merciful One, may we honor You in all we do this day. May we repent of our headstrong ways, O God, for we choose the crooked paths and rocky shoals even as You call to us to You.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we may be inspired bearers of your message of love and peace. Strengthen the hands of healers and helpers, that those who suffer may be brought to wholeness and relief.

Pour out your peace like a balm on the weary of heart, and comfort the anxious and fearful who call upon You. Remember your children as they call upon your Holy Name.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Prayer 1634: grace and reconciliation


O Lord, You have brought us safely through the night:
may we waken the dawn with our praise.
Let us lift up our souls to God,
for You hold us under the shadow of your wing,
in your everlasting mercy.

Forgive us our sins, O God,
we humbly pray,
and help us to repair relationships we have damaged.
May we embody God's grace and compassion
that we ourselves have received.

May we be advocates of justice,
healers and reconcilers,
living in imitation of Christ.
Holy One, guide us in paths of faithfulness this day,
and grant your peace to those we now name.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Prayer 1633: for the Suxth Sunday After Pentecost

A contemplative space at the Episcopal Youth Event's chapel.

Blessed are you, O God and Creator of all,
who calls us before your altars for worship and praise!

You renew the face of the earth:
renew also our hearts, Lord,
that they be fertile fields for your truth to be planted.
Grant us wisdom and discernment,
that we may study your law with delight,
and serve others through your gospel.
Help us to amend our ways,
that we are led in all things
by compassion and humility
for your glory, Lord Christ.

Send your Spirit over us and within us,
O Holy One,
and grant your peace to those we now remember.


Matthew 13: 1-23

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Prayer 1632: Joining Creation's Song

A contemplative space set aside in the chapel area at the Episcopal Youth Event this week in Edmond, Oklahoma.

God of Unchanging Truth,
we rise in hope,
glad for your watch over us
through the shades of night.

Tune our ears to hear the song of praise
raised by all creation,
the mountains, hills, and streams singing, "Alleluia!"
Direct us and guide us in all that we do, O Spirit,
that we may work with healing hands and hearts in the world.
Lead us out in joy that we may return in peace, O Lord
 living our lives to your honor and glory.

Gather us into your keeping at day's end,
Loving Savior,
that we may be eased into your peace and comfort.
With a mother's care, Lord Christ,
watch over all whose cry is to you.

inspired by Isaiah 55:10-13

Friday, July 14, 2017

Prayer 1631: at the close of EYE17

The Missouri delegation (minus one) after the closing Eucharist of EYE17,
on the stage in front of an Episcopal flag that flew at Standing Rock.

Lord God, who creates and sustains the world,
we rise and center ourselves in You in gratitude.
We praise your ongoing creation, Lord,
in the world and in ourselves,
amazed by your love in our lives.

Thank you for your abundant grace
in drawing us together in community,
bound together through love of God.
Let us continue on the pilgrim road
walking gently upon the earth
and alongside each other in peace.

Send us out, Merciful One,
afire with the Holy Spirit,
to proclaim your truth with joy,
living into your dream of peace for us.

Let us now depart filled with Christ's light
carried forward by manifold mercies
safely to arrive at home.
Extend the awning of your compassion
over all whose hope is in You,
especially those we now name.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Prayer 1630: Witnessing the power of peace

Last night we had a candlelight Vespers service and vigil on the grounds of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Holy One, abide with us
and within our hearts
as we seek You and praise your saving power.

Lord, on holy ground we have witnessed
how You work in the hearts
of healers and helpers
to work your peace in the world.
Make us instruments of that peace,
that we can sow healing and hope
in a world too often divided and hurting.
Empower us through your Spirit
to joyfully work for reconciliation, 
in the name of Christ, our Savior.

Bless and keep us, we humbly pray,
and draw us to You, O God, in all we do.
Lord Jesus, soothe the suffering whose cry is to You,
and grant your peace to all whom we now name.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Prayer 1629: On Oklahoma Day

The contingent from the Diocese of Missouri at EYE17.

Almighty God,
you have brought us safely through the night
and we rise to give you thanks.

Turn our pilgrim feet toward the path of peace,
and draw us together in unity with all creation.
Turn our pilgrim hearts to sing your grace
and embody your truth and love in the world.

Help us to see with new eyes
the wonder of your creation
in the world and each other.

Extend the shade of your right hand
over all who are bowed down by mourning or loss,
we humbly pray.
Shield and comfort those
who are in danger, sorrow or pain,
and grant them your peace beyond measure.
Lord Christ, we turn to You in hope,
and ask your blessing upon all for whom we pray.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Prayer 1628: Opening Day of EYE17

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches at the Opening Eucharist
of the Episcopal Youth Even 2017, held in Edmond, OK.

Blessed are You, O God of All Creation!
Let us join our voices in one song of praise and thanksgiving!

Holy Spirit, You give life to all that grows:
let our hearts be drawn to You on the Path to Peace.

Unite us with each other with one pupose:
to do justice, and love mercy,
and walk humbly beside You always.

Preserve us from sin, we humbly pray,
and help to reconcile and forgive as we hope to be forgiven.

Grant your peace to all who call upon You, Lord Christ,
and especially on those for whom we pray.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Prayer 1627

We travel to the Episcopal Youth Event today!

Arise, shine! May we travel a pilgrim's road today!
All-loving One, gather your children to You,
within a mother's tender embrace hold us fast.
We turn to You, O God,
as we seek to be peace-makers,
walking in love with you and each other.
Keep watch over those who are weary,
or for those who suffer in any way.

Still our souls to rest in You,
Our Creator, Our Guide, Our Shield.
Merciful One, reconcile us to You and one another;
and bless and keep those for whom we pray.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Prayer 1626: the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Today I return to preside at my home parish, Holy Communion in University City, which has raised me up and supported me through the long journey toward ordination. Thanks be to God for this community of the faithful!

Draw near, beloveds, to worship God in the assembly,
to offer God our thanks and praise with one voice.

O God, gather us, your children,
under the shadow of your wing;
keep us as the apple of your eye.

Watch over all who seek your Way, Lord Jesus,
walking in fellowship, wisdom, and grace.
Come, Holy Spirit,
lead us in Paths of Peace
that we may walk in justice and friendship with all.

May we grow in holiness and love,
bound together in mutual respect and kindness.
At day's end, may we rest in your care,
having borne your truth into the world in joy.

Merciful One, reconcile us to You
and one another;
and bless and keep those for whom we pray.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Prayer, day 1625: to the Eternal Lover of Our Souls

Lily blooms at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

God is our companion and savior:
let us raise our hearts
to the Eternal Lover of Our Souls.
We thank You, Lord Christ,
for preserving us and keeping us as your own:
your love is everlasting!

Adorn the brows of the joyful and the redeemed
with a crown of laughter, O Holy One,
as they offer their praise and gratitude.
Strengthen the faltering hearts
of those who worry or wait,
that they may be filled with your grace and compassion.

Send forth your Spirit
to illumine our minds with holy love for all creation,
that we may joyfully place our shoulders to the wheel of restoration.

Bind up the wounds
of those whose cry comes to You, O God,
rising like a tide,
whose hope is in You alone.
Shine the light of your countenance upon those we now name.