Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Prayer, day 2284: In lamentation of the attack on Chabad in Poway

In memory of Lori Kaye, left, who gave her life to shield her rabbi in the shooting at Chabad in Poway, CA on Friday.
She was laid to rest yesterday.

Most Merciful God,
we thank you for bringing us together this day:
anoint us with the power of your Spirit,
and fill us with your light,
that we may do the work you have given us to do
and walk in wisdom and grace.

Lord, strengthen us to persevere in faith and love,
led by your gospel to be resolute and unyielding
in resisting the forces of evil, terror, and carnage.

Almighty One,
make us bold to reclaim our power
to shape our communities
by the precepts of peace,
and virtue.

Led by your Word, O Creator,
let us work together for the common good,
creating the Beloved Community you have called us to be,
where all enjoy the blessings
of ease, contentment, and security.

Blessed Savior,
draw within your merciful embrace
all who weep and grieve this day,
and grant your healing to those
whose bodies, minds, or spirits have been wounded by violence.

Holy One,
stretch forth your hand that we may take it,
and draw within your protection all those for whom we pray.


Aricle commemorating Lori Kaye can be found here: https://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/4366652/jewish/Remembering-Lori-Kaye-60-Who-Thought-of-Others-Before-Herself.htm .

Monday, April 29, 2019

Prayer 2283: inspired by 1 John 1:1-10

(inspired by 1 John 1)
Holy God, Light Eternal,
You drive away the darkness that overhangs us
and gather us within your radiant love:
we praise You and bless You, Amen.

Make us a holy fellowship, Lord Christ,
one that seeks out the lost and the hurting
and welcomes all into the circle of light and life,
following your example.

Make us bearers of your light and mercy,
and joyful witnesses of the power of resurrection,
O Creator and Sustainer.

Holy One, we place before you
all those whose peace and well-being has been shattered
by violence and persecution.

Keep watch with those
who worry or weep or mourn, Holy Lord,
and send your angels to minister to those for whom we pray.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Seeing Resurrection: Sermon for Easter 2C

He looked and saw not what was, but what could be.

How different would our story of “Doubting Thomas” be if that was what we could say about him? And about us--- because, let’s face it. We are ALL doubting Thomases.

But many of us only see what we want to see—it’s a defense mechanism, I guess. Some of us only see what affects us, in the short term, right now. And that’s a problem, and a danger, especially when that leads us into doing things that in the long run will hurt us. At least Thomas dropped his resistance to belief when presented with physical evidence of Jesus’s resurrection, and let’s face it, some among us aren’t even that flexible in today’s society.

But thank God, we have examples of people who, actually, like Jesus, call us to see beyond the short term, to see beyond the boundaries of our own concerns, to believe that change for the better is not only possible but begins with us, even in the humblest of actions and attitudes.

Jadav Payeng of India’ s Assam region is an example of someone who has the ability to see what ISN’T there, but could be. As a young man, Jadav, a member of the Mishing tribe and the son of a buffalo trader, lived near a sandbar island in the middle of the Brahmaputra River that had been separated by erosion from the mainland.

It was a desert so sandy and hot that snakes died there from the scorching heat. That’s when Jadav saw in those dead snakes a shared potential fate, and decided to do something about it. When he looked at the barren sandbar, he perceived a warning from the deforestation of his region—deforestation that he realized had led to the erosion that created his island, and threatened not just himself and his tribespeople and the animals upon which they depended but threatened everyone.

But further, when he looked at that sandbar, he perceived what it could be: a beautiful forest, a habitat for animals and humans that would help preserve his people’s way of life and help those downstream along the river.

And so, in 1979, he began planting trees on his barren island, inspired and taught by a visiting scientist who taught him in his youth about trees. Every day, for nearly 40 years, even when people derided him as crazy, he has arisen before dawn to be able to plant trees in addition to supporting his family, starting with bamboo trees and then expanding to larger varieties. The forest he has created that bears his nickname, Molai, now covers over 1300 acres, and he plans to plant 4,000 more acres.

What once was a barren, scorched landscape of sand now is home to monkeys, butterflies, birds, tigers, deer, and even a herd of elephants. The man who once was considered crazy is now respected and hailed as a conservationist and visionary and showered with honors(1), much as Wangari Maathai was for her reforestation work in the Green Belt Movement she founded in Kenya that won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

One person, seeing not what IS but what can be, is a force of incredible power.

Our gospel is a reminder to us about the human need to see for ourselves, and I think poor Thomas gets shamed unfairly. I’ve always found the story of Thomas to be comforting. If even one of the apostles refused to believe without seeing, then perhaps we all can be forgiven for our occasional doubts. Thomas is like one of us post-Enlightenment types. We are all like Thomas, if we are really honest with ourselves. We all want proof. The author of John knows this, and this story is meant to encourage Christians from John’s time until now: those who have not seen, but take the leap of faith anyway.

Let’s keep in mind that the action in this passage takes place still on Easter Sunday and the Sunday afterward. In the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is the one who finds the empty tomb and then herself sees the risen Christ, whom at first she mistakes for a gardener-- perhaps like Jadav. She has already run back and told the apostles about what she had seen and experienced, and yet—notice, the apostles aren’t out looking for Jesus. Instead, they are hiding in a room with the doors shut tight, afraid that they are going to be arrested and thrown into prison—or worse—by the Jewish authorities. Could it be that Jesus’s missing corpse leads them to believe that the danger now is actually great for them?

But in choosing to act out of fear rather than love and hope, they lock themselves away from proclaiming the good news. Because they have not seen Jesus, they do not join Mary Magdalene in rejoicing. So let’s give poor Thomas a break, okay? He is no different than any of the other disciples—he’s just brave enough to say it out loud: unless I see for myself the marks on Jesus’s body from the cross and the spear, I won’t believe. No, not just that, I want to touch those wounds too.

The Resurrection story is a fantastic story—unbelievable, even. It’s no wonder people wanted and still want proof. Unfortunately, we live in a time when even proof is not enough for some people. That makes proclaiming faith in the risen Christ even harder. And when you add in that a large part of the Christian world keeps attempting to make God into a magical combination of Santa Claus and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—well, you can see the difficulty. We expect God to magically solve our own problems so we won’t have to.

But what happens when we humans, created in God’s own image with memory, reason, skill, choose to deny our own agency (and conveniently our own responsibility) in times of trouble or crisis—especially when those crises are CAUSED by us--rather than live into our call to use the gifts God has given us to act against evil, hopelessness, cruelty, deforestation, or other impending disasters? We help sow the seeds of real disbelief—not just doubt—in God’s existence before those who do not know anything of God but what we claim about God.

That’s another locked room, though. A locked room that will not protect us from the fears that we all struggle against—the fear of isolation, the fear of rejection, the fear of loss.

We have a different challenge from those apostles, living after Jesus’s ascension as we do. Our challenge is one of perception: to perceive the face of Christ and the imprint of God all around us, even in the faces of those who are vastly different from us.

What if we looked and saw not what IS, but what could be?

What if we looked and saw what is—and realized that we are empowered by our Creator with abundant gifts—including the gift of the Holy Spirit-- to act, and act with courage and love, when we see pain or suffering or wrongdoing?

What if we saw what COULD BE, and CAN be, if we look through the eyes of resurrection, with resurrection sight?

What if we took it seriously—that the risen Jesus is all around us, in the faces of our loved ones but even more in the face of the stranger, in the face of the person looking for acceptance and community, in the faces of children who are hungry although living in one of the richest countries in the world or who are trying to receive asylum there.

As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins noted, “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” And he weeps and waits and mourns with us in ten thousand more, it sometimes seems—especially as we hear news yesterday of another attack on a synagogue. But our risen Savior knows our fears and our suffering, our joys and our triumphs because he is one of us still, waiting to be recognized, calling us to the discipleship we claim as members of his Body, the Church.

Jesus’s call to each of us who believe in him is one of Resurrection and the rejection of death and suffering as having the last word—but that is too often exactly how our world is organized. Jesus’s call to each of us IS to look and see what CAN BE. To perceive with those hearts we’ve been given, for the love of God, and the love of others.

When Jesus encounters us in the rooms in which we’ve locked ourselves out of fears, he offers his peace—a peace as broad and deep as the sky above us. But Jesus also calls us to act out of that peace in the name of justice and love-in-action. Our willingness to perceive beyond what just our eyes can see—to perceive with our hearts, to perceive with the light of hope to illumine what COULD be even when we can’t see clearly with our physical sight—is to me the story for all of us who have been and will continue to be in Thomas’s shoes at many points in our lives.

May we have the courage to unlock the doors that lock out the world out of fear. May we open the doors to those around us, in the name of the risen One whom we still experience as the love that animates our lives. May we proclaim our faith in the sure hope of the Resurrection, seeing what CAN BE, and can never die, through faith.

Alleluia! Amen.

Preached at the 505 on April 27 and the 8:00 and 10:15 services at St. Martin's Episcopal Church Ellisville.

John 20:19-31

(1) Julie McCarthy, "A Lifetime of Planting Trees on a Remote River Island: Meet India's Forest Man," broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition, December 26, 2017, at https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/12/26/572421590/hed-take-his-own-life-before-killing-a-tree-meet-india-s-forest-man

Prayer, day 2282: Second Sunday in Easter

Most Merciful God,
Creator, Redeemer, Life-giving One,
we gather around your altar
to give you thanks and praise,
living into a life shaped by Communion.

Break in past the locked doors of our hearts, O Savior,
and pour out your peace and grace
which surpasses understanding, we pray.

Help us to practice what we proclaim
while fed and gathered around your altar:
remembering our own forgiveness and healing,
fill us with zeal to be your Body in the world,
giving ourselves for the reconciliation of all. 

Empower us by the Holy Spirit
to breathe forgiveness, healing and mercy into the world,
to remember and embody your abundant love for all
as testimony of your risen life within us. 

Held fast within your embrace,
we place within your safe-keeping
all those who wait, or weep, or wander,
and ask your blessing upon those we now name.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Prayer, day 2281

Most Merciful God,
we thank You for your loving kindness,
for giving your angels charge over us
to keep watch as we rested during the night.

As the rising sun gilds the eastern horizon,
burnish our hearts, O Savior,
and set them ablaze,
that we may shine forth with your love
and testify to your manifold blessings.

Teach us to walk in compassion and humility, Blessed Redeemer,
that we may embody your healing presence in the world.
Strengthen our intention to serve You, Lord Christ,
that we may love each other as you love us,
overflowing with the radiance of your peace.

Spirit of the Living God,
make us instruments of peace and healing,
that we may testify to God’s grace and mercy with joy.
Place the seal of your blessing over all who call upon You,
O Lord, our Advocate and Friend,
as we bring the cares and prayers of our hearts before You.


Friday, April 26, 2019

Prayer 2280

Most Holy God,
who has upheld us by your hand
throughout our resting and our waking,
we offer our praises and prayers to You,
trusting in your goodness and tender love.

Our hearts sing with joy
amidst the susurus of pine
and the basso chorus of oak and maple boughs
resounding upon the warming breeze;
all things have their origin in You, O God,
and they are sustained by your delight.

Give us the empathy to see your face
in every face we encounter, Lord Christ,
and the courage to love each other
as you entreated us to do.

Strengthen us in a spirit of wisdom and charity,
that we may walk in integrity and holiness
wherever our paths take us this day.
Draw us into your embrace, Blessed Jesus,
and bestow your peace and relief
to those whose hope rests in You.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Prayer, day 2279

Holy One,
we offer You our thanks and praise
as we rise from our beds to do your work today.
We thank You
for making us a part of your glorious creation,
for the splendor of earth and sky. 

We thank you
for the grace of a new bloom
where yesterday there was only green:
may we rejoice in the beauty that we too often rush past,
slow down and mark your goodness to us
in all things. 

We thank You
for the people we will meet this day, Lord Jesus,
and pray that we will be a blessing to them.
May our love and action
be a testimony of your eternal truth and lovingkindness
in all things. 

Merciful God,
You know our joys and concerns:
bless and hallow all those whom lift up to You
as we pray.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Prayer 2278

Almighty God,
your hand has upheld us
through the watches of the night:
we lift up our hearts in gratitude and praise!

Bring us to unity,
founded on true justice,
that we may testify to your presence
within our hearts and minds,
Blessed Jesus.

Refresh and restore our spirits, O Holy One,
and bring us to live joyfully
our resurrected life in You, Lord Christ.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
strengthen us in mercy and lovingkindness,
O Creator and Redeemer,
and grant your peace and ease to those for whom we pray.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Prayer 2277

Most Holy God, we praise you,
and place our hearts within your care.
Let us rise and bless our God,
who upholds us and protects us,
full of compassion and mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ,
arise in our hearts and fill us with joy,
that we may live out a resurrection faith in the world.
Let us sing out our awe and wonder
for the healing work you have done in our lives,
for the honor of living out your gospel in the world!

Spirit of the Living God,
kindle within us a spirit of lovingkindness,
that we may witness to the life-giving love of the Trinity.
Holy One, bend near
to hear the whispered prayers and praises we offer You,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Prayer, day 2276: A Prayer For Earth Day Week

Creator of the Universe,
who is making Heaven and Earth,
let all that lives tell out your glory.

Rocks and hills,
ocean depths and craggy peaks,
the wind that caresses them,
all join to sing out your Holy Name.

You planted your holy song, O Lord,
in laughing brook and rambling river
fed by rain before time.

Murmuring grass and field of wheat
whisper "Alleluia!"
as the beauty of the Lord passes by.

Thunder and rain,
summer sun and shadow
work together with soil and seed
to prepare a table in the wilderness by your will.

The works of your Hand, O Mighty One,
testify to your steadfast kindness and mercy:
You crown all you see as good.

Forgive us for our trespasses against each other,
and against the Earth, our mother,
for seeking to hoard her riches
and denying her integrity.

May we walk gently upon this Earth
that bears us like a chariot through space,
upheld by your wondrous Love.
May we care for all creation,
being dedicated and blessed by You,
called to serve its renewal and guard its unity.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
she that moved over the waters of creation,
renew and recreate in us
a reverence for the Earth and all her inhabitants.

Lord Christ, center us in your wisdom,
and pour out your healing
over all we remember before You.


(This was also published on April 24, 2019, at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul.)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Rolling Back the Stone: Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter and Resurrection Day

The women remained faithful and devoted.

Even beyond that terrible moment on Calvary, when the curtain was torn in two, when deep darkness lay heavy on the land, when those last words had been uttered by that beloved voice into the oppressive air: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Yet the women remained faithful and devoted.

Even when apostles ran away and lied and hid to save their own necks, the women remained faithful and devoted.

Even when others melted away into the blackest of nights to wonder what was going to happen next, the women remained faithful and devoted. 

That same darkness washed over their broken hearts—washed over them, but did not remain. He was still their beloved Lord and Savior, the one for whom they had left everything behind.

Jesus had been hastily buried, because the Sabbath was beginning. It was a tradition to revisit the grave in three days’ time—this was to make sure that the deceased really WAS deceased. Luke’s gospel does not mention that Jesus was wrapped with spices but simply that it was wrapped in linen. “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee” had watched where Joseph of Arimathea had placed the body, and then gone home to prepare the spices, but they had to wait until the Sabbath was over to return to anoint Jesus’ body as it should have been.

They find the stone rolled away, and two angels awaiting them. Jesus has already risen, even before the sun’s dawning glow has guided the feet of these faithful women. They bring their perfumes and spices, a kind of re-echoing of the palms that were scattered in his path on his way into Jerusalem—was it just days before? The great Anglican poet George Herbert, in his poem “Easter,” imagines the scene thus:

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee. (1)

No, they do not find Jesus. Instead the two angels tell the women that Jesus has risen, as he said he would. They then run to tell the Eleven, who did not believe them. Peter takes it upon himself to go and see for himself, and when he gets to the tomb, all he sees is the grave-sheet. Amazed and perplexed. Those words are used in our translation today to describe the reactions that the women and Peter had upon seeing the heavy stone rolled away at the entrance and then seeing the empty tomb.

The women arrive to find the stone rolled away—and immediately believe what the angels tell them. Further, their wonder and amazement quickly gives way to understanding now, at last, what Jesus had been saying about his death and resurrection. But notice that when the women, in their joy, tell the remaining eleven apostles, they are not believed—they are thought to be telling “an idle tale.” The stone of despair and disbelief still lies tightly sealed in place against the disciples’ hearts and minds.

And we know that powerful cynicism and refusal to believe, too. It’s the touchstone of our time. “Doubt” is too mild a word for it—it’s a determination to put aside any possibility of wonder and miracle in this tired old world. Too often we maintain a blasé posture to the world—we keep our defenses up and let life wash over us. We’ve rolled a protective stone against our hearts and that stone blocks our experience of pain and loss—but also our sense of grace and wonder—and, yes—amazement.

But God is calling us to opening our hearts and our lives to true life and freedom, calling upon us and challenging us to be brave enough to roll back that stone. These last three days especially have led us to this moment. As Maundy Thursday calls us to be vulnerable together, to love each other not just at the polite boundaries of acquaintanceship but in all the messy places as one body. As Good Friday lead us to sit with the dead and mourn for as long as we need to. As Holy Saturday to this point has left us with a profound silence, as still as an indrawn breath that is held. So now, tonight, the stones against our hearts beg to be rolled back so that we may drain off the darkness and heartache we carry as we encounter that empty tomb.

The emptiness of that tomb is a reason for joy. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams notes, our world is “a place of loss and a place where men and women strive not to be trapped in that loss.” But he also notes that “the world is a place of incipient conversion, in its restlessness and in its struggle for a truth and a home, for justice, restoration, fulfillment” (2). It is our job as the Church in the world to live out that conversion and draw others to that conversion by the beauty of our fellowship, our compassion, our healing hands doing the reconciling, loving work of Christ in the world.

This is the bright morning we are called to not just rest securely upon but to act upon the promise of eternal life, right now, grounded in eternal love, right now. That empty tomb also is God’s call to us to action—and that action is ever, insistently, love. Love not just as a fleeting fancy but as a way of life. Love that is a joyful choice and rebuke of the ways of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness that embues so much of our world today. Love that is necessary for eternal life, and indeed, as the resurrection promises us, we can live a life shaped by resurrection right now, and can have eternal life not off in the distant future but now. By dedicating ourselves to love as Jesus commanded us to do, over and over again. As Bishop Jake Owensby states in his book, A Resurrection Shaped Life

 [Jesus] passed through death to eternal life. And that is the pattern we follow when we emulate Christ. We die to a narrow life that we have known and rise to a new and wider life (3)

 It is this kind of fullness and hope that takes hold of us when we encounter that same empty tomb this morning with wonder and amazement—wonder and amazement that we are made new persons in Christ, in all our diversity and difference unified by being children of God, wondrously made in God’s image. We are awakened to a reverence for each other and creation, called to cast off our divisions as decisively as Jesus cast off the burial shroud and walked out into the life. This is the night when darkness has been put to flight, and sin and death are washed away.

Resurrection is new life-- not just the old life given back, but a life transformed. A life based on mercy, a life that empties itself out for love—only to find that it rushes back in, as strong and as resolute as the tide.

Easter reminds us that the universe is changed forever. It’s the day we are challenged to do the one thing that truly scares many of us: to embrace the mystery of God’s love for all of us—wonderful and beyond our knowing, as we heard a few moments ago. By faith, we have come this far, tottering like toddlers on the feet of hope—and God has not brought us this far to abandon us now at the grave.

We live in a world in which cynicism, faithlessness, and self-centeredness have been raised to art forms. We tell ourselves that this is the way of the world. But as Christians, we are repeatedly reminded that these kinds of things are dead leaves that prevent us from the dream of God for our lives. Placing our faith in those dead leaves prevents us from making room in our hearts for the welling up of the love of Christ within us, that leads to true peace, contentment, and joy. We are called not just to witness, but to LIVE Resurrection, right now. As an act of faith, and an act of being.  

Jesus—risen, living, one of us—calls us to rededicate ourselves to a Resurrection Faith-- a faith that responds to God’s grace by seeking to living out the love of Christ into the world. A faith that drops the mask of cynicism that we often adopt to protect our fragile, broken hearts. One that calls us instead to open ourselves up to the joy of life that rises like dawn from the deepest darkness that we allow to settle over our souls.

We worship a living Savior—one who endured all-- all for the sake of love, love that makes us God’s children too. That love leads us to resurrect our faith in ourselves, and in others, to be more perfect, more loving, more compassionate.

A Resurrection Faith is one that calls us not to just love God out of fear of the terrible punishment we think we deserve for our manifold sins, but calls us to love God through living out the Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

A Resurrection Faith calls us to the work of building up rather than tearing down. A Resurrection Faith raises us all from the dead, and calls us to be alive in each moment and in each other.

A Resurrection Faith calls us to be, not just profess.

A Resurrection Faith that calls us to lose our faith in the dead leaves of fear to which we cling, so that we stretch toward the light of Christ, knowing that the spring of faith is inside us, waiting to rise.

I am convinced that the world is hungry for this message: that Christ is Risen, and is alive within us and in the world today. I am also convinced that the world is hungry for this message because too often the Church has done a terrible job embodying this message in our words and action, both individually and as an institution. How many people have hoped that the Church would show them the way of justice and salvation, the way of love and grace, and instead been hurt by the Church instead, been declared condemned rather than redeemed, made to feel shameful, irretrievably broken?

That is not why we are here. That’s not what the Jesus Movement is about. We are here, instead, as Christians, wracked at times with doubt and questions as we are, to make real in the world what we profess every Sunday, even if sometimes we have to do it with our fingers crossed behind our backs. 

We are not called to be perfect. No, God has brought us here to love more fully, to pronounce our kinship with all creation. To lift people up that we encounter by our words and our conversations and our listening and our being alongside those in joy and in pain and oppression, to cast aside the calculus of winners and losers, to bring healing and reconciliation into an aching world, just as Jesus did. In this way, we all remain faithful and devoted, just as those women were. This is the night we take hold of the promise of resurrection within us, say yes and alleluia to the power and fulfillment of resurrection within us, and live shaped by that force within each of us.



A version of this sermon was preached at the Great Vigil of Easter on April 20, and then the version above was preached on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.

1) George Herbert, "Easter."
2) Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, loc. 798 (kindle edition)
3) Jake Ownsby, A Resurrection Shaped Life: Dying and Rising on Planet Earth, 104.

Prayer, day 2275: Resurrection Day (Easter Sunday)

Spring up, O Heart, from your slumber;
behold the Risen Light of Christ!
Let us raise our praises to Our Redeemer,
who has shattered the chains of death forever!

Risen Christ, unbind the shroud around our hearts,
that we may rise with You into new life,
bound only by the law of love and service.
Just as you commissioned Mary Magdalene
to proclaim your resurrection,
may we shout the story of salvation and sing songs of joy
telling the glad news to the ends of the Earth.

Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You have opened the gates of everlasting life before us:
draw into your embrace all those for whom we pray.


Photo: Easter Sunday 10:15 service at St. Martin's.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Prayer, day 2274

Almighty God, we wait in the darkness
before the dawn of your Son,
remembering and blessing him, now and forever.

In stillness the earth pauses,
and awaits the resurrection:
hear our prayers, O Comforter. 

We turn our faces toward hope,
awaiting the coming of the third day:
we know You share our sorrows and pain. 

Help us renounce the evils that chain us, O Lord:

roll away the stone of our hearts, we pray. 

Lord Christ, you prayed forgiveness for your enemies

even upon the cross:
help us so renounce vengeance and strife.

Bless those for whom we pray, O Merciful One,
and pour your comfort like a balm over them.