Thursday, January 31, 2019

Prayer 2195

Almighty God,
you pierce the darkness within us
and make us glad:
let us arise to sing a song of praise to You.
Take us by the hand today, O Lord,
and guide us in the ways of peace.
Let no word leave our lips
but that which sings of your mercy and lovingkindness.
Weave your love
into the fabric of our souls,
that we be knit together as a holy people.
Inspire us to place our selves in your service,
that we burn brightly
as a beacon of justice and reconciliation.
Soothe us in body, mind, and spirit,
that we may always remember your great goodness.
Hear our thanksgivings and our petitions
for our brothers and sisters,
and bend near to all who call upon You.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Prayer, day 2194

Creator God,
we marvel at your wonders all around us.
This day is your gift to us:
guide our path through each hour,
that we may testify to your mercy and lovingkindness
and bear your love into the world.

Come, Precious Lord, Reconciler and Friend,
place your hand of wisdom upon us.
Let the works of our hands
be always works of our hearts,
that we may praise and glorify You with all we are.

Come, Fairest Jesus,
place your hand of compassion among us,
that we may forgive as we have been forgiven,
that we may honor your image in each other
and truly walk in unity, kinship, and love.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and place your hand of healing upon us,
especially all whose cares we place before you.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Prayer 2193: Learning from Nature, Walking with Jesus

Blessed are you, O Creating God,
who is making the Earth and the heavens;
who has made for us countless wonders
and placed them within our care.

Come, let us turn to the Way of Love,
and proclaim the beauty of holiness and compassion
by walking in the healing path of Jesus.
Let us take up our sacred obligations
to love each other and love our God,
walking gently upon the Earth
and in harmony with all its inhabitants.

May we work for God's glory
with the industry of the honeybee
and the diligence of the monarch tending their blooms;
the joyfulness of the lark
singing her praise to the sky;
and the endurance of the eagle,
whose wings never tire.

Spirit of the Living God,
enflame our hearts and inform our minds:
let your blessing rest upon us
and upon all for whom we pray.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Prayer 2192: Giving As We Have Been Given

Come, Holy One,
shine the light of your truth
into the depths of our hearts,
that we may be cleansed of all fear and anger,
and seek to walk in your integrity.

Lord Jesus, we know your abundant grace and mercy:
let us bear those gifts into the world,
and live out your lovingkindness in all we do.
We abide under the refuge of your wings, O God:
may we ever remember
your seeking us and rescuing us
from the famine in our hearts and souls.
Therefore, let us walk in love:
in kinship with the hurting and the seeking,
in compassion upon the slumbering Earth,
in the sure faith of renewal and hope.
As we have received
from the loving hand of our Savior,
so we ourselves are called to give,
embodying your abundance and compassion.

And now, O Merciful One,
extend the hand of blessing and peace
over all those for whom we pray,
as we ask in Jesus's name.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

One Body: Sermon and Priest's Annual Report, Third Sunday after Epiphany C

Back in the 1960s, a visionary Canadian philosophy professor named Jean Vanier founded a series of ground-breaking communities known as L’Arche. He created a model where the able bodied as well as the differently abled lived together in community. Although he started out himself as wanting to “help” those with intellectual or physical disabilities, the L’Arche model developed to embrace simply “being with” and “being friends with” those whose abilities are “different than.”

As the years passed, Vanier’s model had spread around the world, even here to St. Louis, and attracted all sorts of people to live and work across the usual dividers of ability and disability. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen spent the last years of his life pastoring a L’Arche community.

As Vanier noted, “There are three activities that are absolutely vital in the creation of community. The first is eating together around a common table. The second is praying together. And the third is celebrating together.”(1)  And I was thinking about the fact that we are lucky enough to get to do all three of these things together today. I give thanks to God for this special time to get together, to gather, pray, and celebrate our common life together as the beloved people of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

If you ask people what their favorite passage from the Apostle Paul is, I would bet that many people would say “The one about love...” or “The one always read at weddings…”, referring to the familiar section from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the one that begins, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” It then goes on to describe love both positively—what love is—and negatively—what love is not. 

It’s a beautiful passage, and images and phrases from it have been used in secular songs by Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill, the rapper Macklemore, which shocked me, and Joni Mitchell which did NOT shock me. And while most people associate the love spoken of here as romantic love, originally it was about a much less discussed but perhaps more difficult love to practice: the kind, empathetic, self-giving love that binds a community together. It’s perhaps one of the most endangered kinds of love in our divided world today.

In our epistle reading today, we hear the majority of the verses that come before that famous meditation on love. And I think it’s important to remember that the reading we will hear this week help set the stage for Paul’s famous prose poem on love. It did not surprise me when I also learned that this passage from 1 Corinthians is one of the foundational texts in the theology that support the L’Arche movement.

In last week’s epistle, we heard a listing of the spiritual gifts: prophecy, teaching, healing, and so on. This week’s reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a builds upon that idea, framing a long meditation on respect for each member of the community for the role they play, whether great or small, in our common life together. Paul reminds us that respect and mutual appreciation is the foundation for all real love in community. And this is an important, precious reminder for us here today. We are here despite all the divisive, cynical, angry forces in the world and sometimes in our own community that have tried to drive us apart. The Church in Corinth at the time of the writing of Paul’s letter suffered from internal divisions, with some people attempting to introduce exclusion into the community, self-segregating themselves based on wealth and class within the church, and the news of this discrimination broke Paul’s heart.

It’s easy for us to focus on what separates us, and sometimes, we let those differences become points of contention, even anger. This certainly happens in churches, as it happened in Corinth. Sometimes people divide themselves based on wealth and class. Sometimes people divide themselves into those who are “holier-than-thou” and those who are obviously looked down on as “sinners.” Sometimes, even in church, folks expect others to behave for their own comfort, regardless of their difficulty in doing that, rather than accept them for who they are. All of that was going on in Corinth—and the poison of gossip, besides.

Paul knew it’s easy to love people who are just like ourselves. The challenge is to love people who are different from us, and to nonetheless love and appreciate them for who they are despite our differences. Sometimes the seemingly smallest contribution can make the most difference—just ask anyone who has forgotten to put in the right amount of yeast while making bread.

At the time Paul wrote these verses, the idea of the community expressed through the metaphor of the body was common-place, particularly in Greek philosophy. However, there the metaphor was used to urge people to, as we now say, “stay in their lane.” It was used to convince those of humble station how lucky and blessed they were to serve the needs of the wealthy and powerful. Paul takes that interpretation and completely subverts it. On the contrary, states Paul, the weakest and humblest and least presentable are the ones that are absolutely indispensable. Everyone wants to think they’re the brain or the heart. But without the foot, that brain would be unable to move. And in our modern scientific mindset, we know that the smallest part of the body can undermine or strengthen the entire system. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone with a malfunctioning pancreas or appendix, or suffering from an infected tooth.

This assurance of our unity, our being for each other that is at the heart of the Christian life of transformation and grace, are important words to remember, as we come together as members of this body, which is part of the greater body of the Church Universal, which is part of the greater body of Christ’s Body in the world.

And so, here in this liturgy of Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” in which we remember and re-member Christ’s healing ministry in the world for the sake of the world, I want to have us take stock of just where we have come from for these not-quite six months that we have worked alongside each other with me officially serving as your priest. I hope to draw your attention to the energy and the ministry and witness that radiate from this place out into people’s lives both here within the community of St. Martin’s and more importantly beyond its doors as we live into our calling and proclamation as disciples. And while it may seen like I have been talking forever, I promise that, unlike in our reading from Nehemiah, I am not going to have you stand in the hot sun while the entire Torah and Talmud is read aloud.

Priest’s Report
It hardly seems possible that I have been with you all now as your priest-in-charge for nearly 6 months. My family, especially my husband Bill and I, remain so deeply grateful for your enthusiastic and gracious welcome, for your myriad kindnesses, and for your eager assistance and partnership as we turn our faces eagerly toward the future.

New Beginnings
In the middle of August, we were joined by the Rev. Sally Weaver as priest associate, after Sally retired from St. Francis Church in Eureka. She joined an incredible staff that has been so welcoming and supportive to both me and all the members of St. Martin’s, led by parish administrator Janet Theiss, assistant to the clergy Wendy Sain, Communications guru Jill Gould, and our maintenance maestros of Kirt Beckman, Tom Warrington, and man-on-the-spot Facilities Chair Lincoln Drake. I cannot even begin to express my debt to these fine people and their skills, creativity, and enthusiasm. We’ve had so much positive energy developing in expanding our welcome and programming for families and youth in the community.

  • First, thanks to the vision, diligence, and creativity of Sherry Algren, we have a reinvigorated Sunday School program, led by a team of 10 volunteer teachers; highlights this year included the Breakfast with St. Nicholas, the wonderful handmade ornaments for the special Children’s Christmas Tree, children’s games and activities for the Fall Festival, and a fabulous Christmas Pageant. Special thanks to Jr. Warden Kay Fletcher, who has been diligent in her presence in the undercroft during Sunday school and in making sure the vestry is trained in Safeguarding God’s Children.
  • Our Everybody’s Story Children’s Library, which is enthusiastically used by children on Sundays and throughout the week, is such a beautiful ministry under the passionate leadership of Mary Edmondson, dedicated to the goal of making sure that everybody’s stories, in all their diversity, are told and celebrated. I would like to see us reorganize and develop a section of our library as an adult equivalent of that, with up-to date, meaningful resources on matters of race, history, and culture from a social justice perspective.
  • We welcomed a new Christian in baptism on September 23, and more baptisms are going to be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
  • In late September, we restarted the nursery with two professional staff who are trained in Safeguarding God’s Children, the Episcopal Church’s child-abuse prevention program. Along with the soft space for families in our worship space, we provide four options on Sunday morning for families with children, and we are seeing increased interest and attendance from families with children.
  • In a very exciting development, in November, we were presented with the opportunity to sponsor Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 601 under the leadership of Ralph Trieschmann, and we are thrilled that the older Scouts are now making their home here at St. Martin’s.

Annual Giving Campaign: Courageous Generosity
We have started a new era in stewardship here at St. Martin’s. We had great success in this year’s annual giving campaign. Under the dedicated, determined leadership of Stephen Brunkhorst and the steadfast assistance of his wife Maggi and our 25 trail bosses, as well as assistance by Janet, Wendy, and Jill, we had a very successful campaign. The results thus far tell a tale of faithful reinvigoration here at St. Martin’s. Here are some facts I want to share with you from the accumulating data (***UPDATED AS OF JANUARY 28):

  • Our goal was $300,000. We thus far have received pledges in the amount of $319,188. This was 106% of our goal, and is the highest amount pledged since 2016.
  • 128 households have pledged thus far, an increase of 22 households from last year.
  • 70% of our available pledging units thus far have participated, the highest percentage in at least five years, and a substantial increase over participation levels over the last four years.
  • 61% of our pledges thus far committed to an increase in pledge from last year.
  • 6% of our pledges were from new members from last year.

Let me be clear: we still have a deficit going forward. This is not a new issue, unfortunately. However, we reduced last year’s deficit by 66%. The end of deficit spending is so close, we can almost taste it. But this was a resounding success on so many levels, and I am so proud of all of you for bravely joining your hearts and your treasures to the support of our holy work in this place.

As we move forward, it is my clear intention to lead us to not only kill that deficit, but to be able to restore funding in the budget for critical parts of our mission, such as outreach, mission, and evangelism, and to grow the music program, as well as set the stage for a capital campaign to maintain and improve our physical plant, among other things. It is my desire to make sure our budget clearly represents our spending and our priorities in a transparent way, and to allow for growth of our witness as disciples of Jesus.

We Lift Our Hearts to the Lord: Liturgy and Worship
Our worship together has been joyful and revelatory, supported by an outstanding choir under the direction of Denise Marsh, my wonderful Sunday sexton Kirt Beckmann, and an incredible altar guild led by Ruth Minster and Diane Metzger. We have a wonderful rotation of readers and eucharistic ministers managed by Gail Schneider. We make sure members and visitors alike are welcomed through the efforts of our ushers, led by Mary Jane Drake, our greeters, and my fantastic assistant Wendy Sain, who helps get our nursery workers organized and also staffs the welcome desk on Sunday mornings in addition to her work during the week. I remain profoundly grateful to my beloved friend the Rev. Emily Hillquist-Davis for her enduring liturgical spirit and legacy in creating the 505.

  • Almost every week, with the exception of the interference of Winter Storm Gia and special events like today’s annual meeting and upcoming episcopal visitation, we worship through three very beautiful, contemplative, and expressive celebrations of the Eucharist every week embracing a range of liturgical expression that is outstanding, supported by a devoted, aesthetically gifted altar guild led by Ruth Minster and Diane Metzger.
  • We do not let snow stop us, either. On January 13, due to a foot of snow in St. Louis, we held morning prayer online via Facebook Live, reaching over 6,500 people, 3800 views in full or in part, and 361 engagements. We had 50 people praying with us when we were live, and the video was also viewed by dozens of people since then, including visitors. Seven of us shared the video, for which I am very grateful. That’s modern evangelism!
  • We are blessed with a fabulous music program offering a variety of musical expressions supporting worship, led by our choir under the outstanding creativity and drive of Denise Marsh, who beautifully incorporates music and hymns from a broad array of sources and genres. A highlight of the music program this year was the addition of new hymnals from the African American and spiritual tradition, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, thanks to the grant-writing skills of Doug Edmondson and the help and support of the Social Justice Committee.
  • Our observation of the Feast of St. Francis was joyful and filled with gratitude for our animal companions; we blessed over twenty-five animals, including the memory of several who have passed away, as well as a few animals of the stuffed variety.
  • Our Christmas services were filled with joy and expectation, as we had a lively, moving Christmas pageant at 5 pm; a joyful festive Eucharist at 8 pm complete with guest musicians and the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus; and a soothing, contemplative service on Christmas Day.

Gathering and Growing: Programs and Formation
In terms of programming, we have had a very busy autumn and winter.

  • We had a wonderful Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival. Through the efforts of our diligent volunteers including Leader John Alden, scheduler Mary Richardson, Linda Huheey, and so many stalwart volunteers, we not only raised funds for youth group and for a mission parish on the Navajo Nation, as well as helped to ensure employment opportunities for indigenous people. We also engaged in outreach with the people who came to the Pumpkin Patch, including joining with one woman in prayer for her hospitalized grandchild.
  • Many of us had a wonderful time at the Garden Committee Trivia Night in October, under the able leadership of John Lange and our MC Mike Kelly. A great time was had by all, and the garden has plans for expansion.
We have a variety of affinity groups who meet for prayer and fellowship, including Men’s group who are also fantastic pancake makers at the St. Nick’s breakfast, Lunch Bunch led by Mary Pomeroy, Chair Exercises led by Linda Huheey, and more.

As disciples we have grown deeper in our spirituality, our care of each other, and formation.
  • In addition to our revived Sunday School, we have a variety of formation activities for adults, including our steadfast Adult Christian Education leadership of Terri Garbo and Bev Weaver; Bible studies led by John Lange and Mary Richardson; and an Advent book study led by our priest associate the Rev. Sally Weaver-- all signs of a vibrant interest in deepening our faith, our spirituality, and our quest for seeking God’s wisdom.
  • In preparation of Bishop Smith’s visit, we have an Inquirer’s class ongoing which will present 12 people to the bishop to be confirmed or received, and we will also celebrate a baptism from a new family.
  • St. Martin’s is a praying community, with three different intercessory prayer groups under the leadership of Virginia Noel, Linda Huheey, and Daryl Norman, and healing prayer during communion in the chapel area, led by Bev Weaver and others.
  • We also have a faithful, compassionate team of Eucharistic Visitors caring for those who are unable to get to church, ably scheduled by Gail Schneider, as well as the wonderful Take Them a Meal ministry led by Sandy Baranowski and Mary Pomeroy.

Being Church for the Life of the World: Communications, Witness, and Evangelism
As a community, St. Martin’s seeks to bear the light of Christ into the world in a variety of ways.

  • We have an active, dedicated communications team, led by Jill Gould and assisted by Wendy Sain, that manages our wonderful website, worship bulletins, newsletters, and social media accounts, all of which are a vital, visible part of proclaiming our witness to the world. This year we revived our twitter presence and inaugurated an Instagram account as part of our evangelism and outreach.
  • We witness in our west county community to embodying our gospel values on issues of social justice, with an amazing Social Justice committee, which will continue under the leadership of Mary Drastal and Gail Schneider as we bid farewell to Kurt Greenbaum, working diligently on outreach and education both internally and outside our walls.
  • We have a thriving monthly Eucharist with our members and friends at the Fountains, and this community of faith remains dear to our heart. I am also extremely grateful to Mike Kelly for picking up three people who have joined St. Martin’s from Gambrill Gardens but lacked transportation.
  • We have an incredibly abundant garden ministry, led by John Lange and others, that produces hundreds of pounds of donated fresh produce over three seasons of growing;
  • The garden is one part of the work done by our fantastic outreach committee, led by Dana Griggs, empowering creative expressions of our witness to the wider world even beyond the borders of the US. Through the efforts of this committee, we have raised money for hurricane relief, supported Circle of Concern with food donations, school supplies, and a scholarship program; the Peace Meal led by Larry Cornelius, and the United Thank Offering led by Jeanne King.
  • The heart of our physical presence is a welcoming, beautiful physical space that hosts numerous community groups and diocesan leadership teams and events. In September, we provided hospitality for a bereaved family and hosted the funeral of their loved one. Last week, Tom Allen stayed up late on Friday and got up early on Sunday to help welcome over 100 youth and their chaperones from the Diocese of West Tennessee so that they were able to have a wonderful excursion to Hidden Valley. 

Looking Forward
It’s been an amazing journey, our first six months together. Look at how far we have come! I am so blessed that the Holy Spirit brought us together, aided and abetted by a stellar Vestry, led by Sr. Warden Tom Allen, Jr. Warden Kay Fletcher, Treasurer Bob Ecker, Clerk Michael Kovach, and Susan Carpenter, Elin Cogan- Adewunmi, John Alden, Page Andersen, Ruby Downs, Loretta Go, John Lange, and Reuben Rigel. And I look forward to working with our new vestry members as we continue to look toward the future of St, Martin’s with open hearts and lifting hope.

There is so much energy and spirit here at St. Martin’s. We have some wonderful times ahead of us. I am particularly looking forward to the upcoming Syrian Dinner in March, and the election of the next bishop of Missouri next November at Diocesan Convention. I would like to see many of us attend the leadership conference in March at Grace Kirkwood on inviting, welcoming, and connecting visitors and prospective new members. I would like to see us develop a vibrant acolyte ministry, which we have made a start on. I would like to see us all commit to invite our friends and those we meet to come worship with us, to be very intentional about not just welcoming people but generously opening ourselves in love, so that they can see themselves here as being at home, in being valued and appreciate for who they are, just as Paul was urging the Corinthians as well.

I am profoundly grateful to be here amongst you, as your priest. I am so grateful for the skilled and faithful leadership my dear friend Father Al Jewson embodied and modeled during the interim period among you. And of course, I am so grateful to be walking alongside you, continuing in our shared ministry into the future, as we grow and proclaim our faithful witness as members of the Episcopal branch of the Way of Love.

As Paul’s words today remind us, there is no membership in the body without also, by our very nature, participation in the body. I thank you all for all your participation in the various ministries that are generated from this community, for embodying and bringing to life Christ’s mission as a visible presence in the world that desperately needs it—in welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry and loving each other, despite our differences, through thick and thin. May we all joyfully continue to live into our mutual witness here at St. Martin’s, and bear the light of Christ into the world from St. Martin’s into our daily lives. The world needs us.


Preached at the 9:00 am single service and annual meeting at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

(1)  Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, p. 37

Prayer 2191: for Annual Meeting Sunday

O Gracious God, we are your people, and we ask that you guide us this day to do your will. Make of us a priestly people, dedicated to the ministry you have called each of us to do. 

Give us wisdom and love in equal measure, that we may know how, as well as why, we are to follow your path. 

Let us clasp hands around your altar as one people, dedicated to the shared vision of building your kingdom. Let us go forth then to be your disciples, nourished by the love that draws us together. 

Let us tend the sick, the sorrowing, the weak, and the lost in your Name, with joy in our labors and praise on our lips.

O Loving Savior, You are with us always: send, we pray, a special blessing upon those we now name. 


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Prayer, day 2190

Eternal One,
who is making the heavens and the earth,
who watches over all that dwells therein,
we draw our hearts open before You,
and center ourselves within your presence,
upheld by your Spirit of Love.

The marvels of creation,
the works of your loving hand within our lives,
remind us of your unfailing love for all that is, O God,
and we sing out your praise with joy.

Merciful God, give us a mustard-seed faith,
that spreads its branches out
for the benefit of your little ones,
that welcomes and shades and shelters
all who turn to us for refuge.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
awaken within us a spirit of charity and faithfulness,
that we may walk beside you, O Savior, in integrity.

Let us sink our roots deeply into your gospel, Lord Christ,
to be strengthened to embody your compassion and healing,
as testimony to your truth
that love and reconciliation are why we are here.

Almighty Redeemer,
extend the hand of blessing and relief over all who seek you,
and grant your peace and reassurance
to those for whom we pray, O Lover of Souls.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Prayer, day 2189

Most Merciful God,
we thank you for the gift of this new day.

Let us spend this day in joyful service
to the coming of your kingdom on earth:
may we make your will for justice and true peace our own.
Remembering how often we ourselves have been forgiven,
let us be forgiving and loving in all our ways,
reconciling and healing in the name of Jesus,
and welcoming all in his name.

Holy One, sanctify us and strengthen us today,
to courageously witness to your generous gospel of love,
that all may have life and have it abundantly.
We also ask your blessing and comfort
upon all who are in anxiety, distress, or pain,
especially those whose needs we lift before You.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Prayer, day 2188

O God, Shepherd of Our Souls,
you love us and watch over us with a never-sleeping eye,
and your hand holds us fast.
You have set your angels over us to encompass us all,
interceding for us before your throne:
deliver us, we pray, in our troubles and trials,
and forgive us our manifold offenses.
All we like sheep have gone astray:
yet when we wander from your paths,
You seek us out and find us, O Holy One,
rejoicing at redemption and turning away from wrath.
Teach us to likewise seek the lost,
to serve the outcast,
to be merciful and forgiving in all our ways,
to the glory of your name.
Help us turn from evil and do good,
help us to seek peace and pursue it in word and deed,
remembering your justice is ever grounded in mercy and love.
For you sent your Son into world
in the name of salvation, not condemnation,
and we as your disciples are called to do likewise,
testifying to and embodying your great mercy and love.
Remembering your faithfulness in always hearing us,
in being alongside us whether lost or found,
we ask your blessing upon all those cry out to You,
O Spirit of Reconciliation and Healing,
especially those whose needs we now lift before You
as we pray.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Prayer 2187

My prayer rises in the morning light,
as I offer my first thoughts to you, O God:
your protecting hand has been my mantle
through the depths of night,
and I have rested beneath your watchful eye.
Give us a thirst for your justice, O God,
abounding in mercy and faithfulness,
that we may be your reconciling people in the world.
Sow your wisdom within our souls, O Lord of Life,
that we may grow deep in holiness and empathy,
perceiving the unity within creation.
Gather the offered prayers we raise
within the brimming bowl of your mercy, O Christ:
and pour out the oil of blessing, we humbly pray,
upon those whose needs we lay at your feet.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Prayer, day 2186

O God of Grace, You are our salvation:
may our eyes behold your light
and illumine our hearts with Love.
Your Love, O God, is a soothing balm:
the merciful gift of Love
sets us on solid rock when we flounder.
Let us place before You the hurts that burden us:
your Love heals us and sets us free.
Let us place before You the aches and pains of weary hearts:
your Love heals us and releases us to joy.
Let us place before You our woundedness
and fly free of its pull:
your Love heals us and reminds us to love each other.
Let us place before You the fears
that hold us back from loving others:
your Love heals us and makes us whole.
Let us place before You our failure
to see You in each other:
your Love heals us and calls us to be loving in all things.
May our silences and our words,
our actions and our thoughts,
our hands and our hearts
be instruments of your love today.
May your love rest upon all who cry to You,
O God of Tenderness,
especially those whom we now name.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Prayer, day 2185: In Honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Almighty God,
You send us prophets and martyrs to awaken us to your demand
that we purge ourselves of injustice, oppression, and hatred:
we remember before You today our beloved brother,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Strengthen us to work for economic justice, O God,
remembering the 47 million of our fellow citizens
who live below the poverty line,
fifty years after Dr. King's death.

Almighty One, may Earth and heaven ring
with songs of justice and brotherhood,
and may we bring to reality the dream of collaboration and equality for all,
renouncing racism, fear, and hatred.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit,
may we become a resurrection people,
bringing to life the Beloved Community
in which all are seen as precious in your sight,
and therefore in ours, Lord Christ.

May we seek always to support and encourage each other
in the work of your justice and peace, O Lord,
that the Spirit guide all our steps.
United by your promises of mercy, 
bless and keep us this day, Lord Christ,
and bless those for whom we pray.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Abundant Now: Sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Epiphany C

My mother is a church- hopper. I would imagine that in her life she has been a member of probably 30– some churches, in at least eight denominations with a couple of non-denominational ones thrown in just for fun. I am not exaggerating. As a child, I and my siblings then experienced and joined with her until we got old enough to make our own choices. I have attended, in my lifetime, as I recall, United Methodist, non-denominational charismatic, Church of Christ, Free Will Baptist, Free Methodist, Church of Christ again, non-denominational again, Southern Baptist, and, finally, I formally became an Episcopalian at age 17, thanks be to God and also with y’all.

And then, I’ve been a member of three and a half Episcopal churches in my time as a layperson: St Luke’s in Tulsa, where I was confirmed; then St. Timothy’s in Creve Coeur; then Holy Communion in U City, where I was lifted up for ordination.

During my seminary training I served at Good Shepherd in Town and Country, and after my ordination I did supply work in eight different parishes in this diocese --including this one-- while assisting for a year at Christ Church Cathedral, which makes nine.

At various times our family has visited three other parishes in this diocese: one where not one single person said hello to us and we heard someone mutter about our college-student attire; one where the people behind me insisted that I send my child out of worship with a bunch of people she didn’t know even though she was making not a single sound, and kept insisting until we almost left; 

and one where people were friendly at the peace, but at coffee hour they all huddled in circles that were as impenetrable to a newcomer as the conversations in the country dance scenes in Pride and Prejudice

The time I spent at each one of these parishes and congregations was varied. Sometimes, as a child, I was forced to go to churches that made me uncomfortable with their theology or customs—yes even as a child, I thought a LOT about theologies that sought to silence groups of people, and by “thought a lot about” I mean “resented the hell about,” since I was a member of at least one of those groups attempting to be silenced.

Yet, and only in retrospect, because we are meaning making people by nature, looking back I can see various benefits I received from each one of these places. I learned a LOT about scripture in the fundamentalist places, and about how scripture can be used-- or misused. I learned that I don’t like a lot of shouting or other surprising behavior in the charismatic places, which is great if you do, though. I learned from its supposed lack how much I love liturgy, how it opens up spaces for worship rather than being restrictive or limiting.

 I learned about being told I was “less-than” simply by accident of birth and how much I am not by nature the kind of person who takes that kind of malarkey well, whether I’m the intended target or not. I learned a master's course about how to not do hospitality well; how it felt being told that there wasn’t as much grace for me as there were for some others.

That’s why the failure of hospitality that Jesus encounters while he and his mother are guests at a wedding jumps out at me every time I read our passage from John today. I have always found it fascinating that this miracle, which only occurs in John’s gospel, is the first of the seven signs in that gospel. It’s rather a small miracle, after all.

Hospitality back then was a much bigger deal than it is nowadays. The notions of hospitality in the culture of first century Palestine often required people to take in strangers into their own homes, and to give those same strangers whatever they requested, even if that meant that the host had to do without.

When you read carefully, probably the only people who knew that a miracle had taken place at all were Jesus, his mother Mary, a handful of servants whose arms were probably aching from toting perhaps 180 gallons of water around, and some of his newly-called disciples. The people hosting the wedding apparently had no idea what happened. And yet, if the wine had actually run out, especially in that culture, it would have brought shame down upon the hosts. After all, wine was a symbol of the blessing of God, of the abundance of God’s gifts. It was also a matter of practicality, being safer to drink than water at that time.

So Jesus’s mother notices that the wine was running out, and she knows her son can do something about it. Even though Jesus initially resists, Mary acts as though she knows all along that he will do as she asks. Just like many of us, Jesus has one of “those” mothers—the kind who believe their children can do anything, and don’t mind getting behind their kids and pushing a bit.

We also can tell that Jesus might get away with calling his mother “woman”---which I would recommend against especially if you have a mother like mine--but in the end, he does what his mother wants. It’s a surprisingly human portrayal of Jesus, especially for John’s gospel. And in the end, the wedding feast is saved, because they have more than enough wine for another three days of celebration—the equivalent of a thousand modern bottles of wine, and not just any wine, but the good stuff. The Chateau Lafite 1869, in fact.

And here’s where our gospel speaks to our time today. We live in a time in which cries of “There’s not enough!” pervade nearly every single second of our lives. We live in a consumer society, one that only functions if people are led to believe that the way to happiness is through how much they can accumulate. “He who dies with the most toys, wins” say the bumper stickers. And so people toil away, so that they can spend, so that maybe they cannot feel the emptiness inside that is the foundational cause of our discontent to begin with.

But then it goes deeper. Society tells too many of us that we ourselves are "not enough." Not skinny enough. Not smart enough. Not tech-savvy enough. Not pretty enough. Not young enough. Not old enough. Not talented enough. Not rich enough.

And that extends outward. We are told that there is not enough to go around. We have to ruthlessly, zealously guard what little we have, because the scarcity mindset that runs our culture has convinced us that there is never enough.

But that’s where the miracle is. Jesus comes to us in our common struggles, and assures us that, no, there IS enough. Here at this table, we participate in the banquet table of God, where there is always enough, and more besides. Where the best stuff is just as available at the end as it was in the beginning.

Just as Jesus turns water into wine, Jesus works within ordinary people, like you and me, because he knows we have the potential to be transformed by his gospel into the good stuff- the best- by God’s transforming love and call to each of us. The first step is being willing to admit that the time of transformation is now.

Now, at first, even Jesus questions whether it was yet time to reveal the wonders of God’s abundance. But his mother, who isn’t just some pale waxwork figure but a woman who has risked and loved and raised Jesus for thirty years by this time, knows better.

And so John’s gospel symbolically reminds us of the mystery of God’s abundant love. If you pay attention, here in this story, the entire arc of salvation is encapsulated. What were the very first words we heard this morning? We heard that the wedding feast is on its third day. We’ve heard those words “on the third day” before, right? Remember, Jesus is crucified and buried, but on the third day he rises again to new life as the Christ. On that third day, the sheer mind-boggling abundance of God’s kingdom, of God’s love for us that holds nothing back, is revealed for the entire universe to see.

On the third day of the wedding, Jesus’s glory is revealed for at least a handful of witnesses, despite his protestations that his “hour” has not yet come. Just like all of us, Jesus knows that the revelation of his glory will bring about change, and he first protests that the time has not yet come.

Change is hard. We often cling to what we know, even if it’s not very good, really, because at least it’s KNOWN and reliable. We unfortunately grasp the not so great because it’s here than let go and open out hands and our hearts to be able to grab something better. It’s easier for us to resist changing ourselves, too, for the same reasons.

I am reminded of that tendency to resist recognizing the time and need for change in all of us, when considering that, just a couple of days ago, one of the great prophets of the 20th century, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have turned 90 years old, were he still alive. And a large part of Dr. King’s prophetic work was in recognizing the time, and pushing for change. Of insisting that there was more than enough for everyone.

At the heart of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August of 1863, he spoke stirringly about the urgency of now, when it came to changing our acceptance of injustice, and America’s obligation by its own founding principles to ensure abundant freedom and justice for everyone, no matter what their race or religion or origin.

At the time he spoke, civil rights legislation had finally been proposed by the Kennedy Administration seeking to guarantee civil rights and voting rights to African Americans, rights which were routinely denied. As he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, recalling that exactly 100 years previously in 1863 Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in Confederate territory, he proclaimed this:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

And here we are, 55 years later, with much of the dream he then described still partially unfulfilled, with too much resistance against the proclamation of welcome and embrace to all, no matter what their race or nationality, with too much resistance to trusting in the abundance of generosity and compassion as we are called to practice it, especially as followers of Jesus.

Dr. King, as a profound disciple and witness of Jesus’s values of justice, especially for the oppressed, knew that there was enough good wine for all to share. He knew that the life of witness to Jesus is a life in which we try to emulate God’s abundant table here on earth. He knew that was so when he proclaimed, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” 

And we have a table like that, right here, but we have to carry that same sense of welcome and abundance out into the world. He spoke of the abundance of God’s grace pushing through even the civic life of this country, and every country that struggles against the poisons of racism and discrimination. He knew that the result of inviting everyone to the banquet would be a true and lasting peace in which America as an ideal ascended to ever greater glory.

Jesus’s first miracle at Cana is a proclamation of the importance of fellowship, of hospitality, of brotherhood—the same dream that Dr. King spoke so vibrantly of over a half a century ago. It is a call to proclaim God’s presence in our lives by holding nothing back. May we all be inspired to embody Jesus’s abundant healing, abundant reconciliation, abundant grace in our own lives as well. 

It’s time.

The hour is now.


Preached at the 505 on January 19, and at 8:00 and 10:15 am on January 20, 2019 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.

John 2:1-12

Links/ Citations:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," August 28, 1963.