Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Prayer, day 3005




Our praises rise before you,
O God Most High;
Our prayers rise unto You,
O Redeemer, Our Lord Jesus Christ;
Our fears we lay before you,
O Holy and Eternal Abba, Father and Mother.
Our hopes we breathe in from your Eternal Love,
O Savior;
Our resilience we draw from you,
Abiding Holy Spirit,
who lifts us and prepares us for our work in your kingdom today.
O Creator,
we turn into your embrace for solace and strength,
and lay before you those needs for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Prayer 3004



O Blessed Hope,
Maker and Molder of All That Is,
we praise you and worship you,
the Foundation of Our Lives
and Fountain of Mercies.

Guide us, O God,
to the path of life abundant,
built on the foundation of justice and mercy
that we are enjoined to defend and seek.

Lead us into deeper faithfulness,
that we may walk in integrity and wisdom
as bearers of the name and gospel of Christ.

You are the Maker of Peace,
and Supporter of the Fallen:
send a spirit of healing and hope
to be the comfort of those who call upon you,
and the relief of those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Prayer, day 3003- The Third Sunday in Easter



Holy God, Almighty Creator and Redeemer,
we raise our gratfeul hearts to You
as we are blessed to gather as your people.

We give you thanks, Lord Christ,
for your loving embrace of us
through doubts and unbelief,
holding us within the light of your presence 
as we seek You
even as you are among us.

Help us to recognize you, Beloved Jesus,
in every person among us who is hungry,
who is homeless, who is outcast,
whom we may have thought was lost to us forever.

Still our hearts and minds, O Savior,
to center ourselves within your wisdom and truth,
and then carry the testimony of your grace
into the darkest corners of our lives.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
anoint us to your service beyond any walls,
and pour out your tender care and comfort
upon all whose needs we now remember.

Amen.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Prayer 3002



Holy One of Blessing,
bend near your people as they pray
and cast their praises at your feet.

Keep us within the bounds of your mercy,
and enclose us within the wisdom of your truth,
O Shepherd of Our Souls
for we are prone to wander afar
and to turn from your light and guidance.

Help us to grow strong within your ways
and walk a straight path of justice and compassion
following in the steps of our Savior
in service to his gospel of love.

Spirit of the Living Truth,
whose kindness upholds us always,
grant your peace to those who seek you,
and your comfort to all those who call out in hope.

Amen.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Prayer 3001



We lift our spirits to You,
O Author of Peace and Hope,
that you may inscribe onto our hearts your wisdom
and receive our praise and wonder.

Set your seal upon our souls,
O Searcher of the Heart,
and purify us of all pettiness and penury,
that we may welcome each other as kindred
no matter our differences.
Let us never reject the unknown ones we encounter,
lest we turn you away from our welcome, O Blessed Savior.
Give us the will to amend our lives,
that we may bring honor upon you
through our discipleship and our love.

Sanctify and guide the hands and minds
of all healers and caretakers
that they may bring those suffering illness
to wholeness and restored health,
and relieve the anxiety of those who watch and wait.

O Comforter,
accept our prayers and petitions,
our rejoicings and our gratitude,
as we lift before you the cares and concerns
of those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Prayer of the Dog in Time of Pandemic: Speaking to the Soul, April 15, 2021



O Loving Creator, I bow before your generous gifts:
a warm house and comfortable sofas,
food for my belly and cool water to drink,
and days unending with those I love.

My sigh of peace
as I lay my head
on the feet of those I love
or in the lap
of those who stroke my brow
and rub my ears
is my prayer to You, O Guardian of Life.

May I help share your comfort
with those in need of respite
as a sign of your grace.

May tasty scraps fall plenteously
from the tables of your abundance, O God.

Make me ever joyful and merciful
even if children pull my tail.
Help me be ever watchful
that I may protect my home
as you have protected me, O Steadfast One.

Help me to offer my fur
to absorb the tears of those who mourn,
and look deeply into the eyes of the anxious
that they may see your light within them.

In the morning
in the noonday
in the evening
may I ever rest in your presence,
and be grateful for the smallest delight
with a generous heart and steadfast faith.

Place your soothing hand, O Master,
upon all who look to You in hope.

Amen.

This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, April 15, 2021.

Prayer 3000



Eternal, Holy Creator,
we center ourselves in your grace
with songs of praise and rejoicing.
You formed the world
and all that is in it
from love and goodness:
receive our prayers,
O Searcher of Our Souls.

Gate of God,
Blessed Savior,
dawn within our hearts
with a blaze of hope and glory
that we may proclaim your gospel with overflowing spirits.
Fountain of Blessing,
well up within us
that we may bloom with your beauty
and join hands with each other
in obedience to your command of love.

Spirit of Promise, Spirit of Truth,
Light of Our Hearts,
extend the shelter of your protection
over all whose hope is in God,
Our Peace, and Our Shield.
Grant the gift of ease and aid
to all who call upon You,
O Blessed Trinity, One God, as we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Story We Missed: Sermon for Easter 2B



Every year we hear this gospel on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Maybe it’s because, just like the apostles, we have a hard time believing in the stories of the resurrection, even though we shouted “alleluias” with joy just a week ago. Another possible reason for the choice of this gospel every year might be that this pericope spans the night of Easter Sunday itself
and then skips ahead exactly one week later, just as we contemplate this story exactly one week after Easter Sunday.

Our reading today ends with a statement that there were many other signs and wonders that Jesus did, but that THIS story was chosen to aid us in our belief. One wonders at the idea that this story is meant to help us believe. Surely some of those other stories would have been more inspiring, more persuasive.

I personally, as a mother, hope that one of the stories omitted was Jesus returning to see his mother, calling her “Imma,” which means “Mama” rather than “Attha” which means “woman,” as we heard from the cross in John’s gospel. I believe this because I believe Jesus loved and adored his mother, despite what some of the gospel writers depict. 

Jesus is his mother's son. Read the Magnificat, and you know where Jesus got the courage to overturn those tables in the Temple. Consider a 14- or 15-year old girl embedded in a culture that made her a pawn or possession, having the audacity to consider and say yes to God despite what it could potentially cost her, and you see where Jesus gets the courage and resolution and passion for his earthly ministry.

I pray that this meeting took place also because I also think of one of the last images in popular art of Mary with Jesus: that of the Pieta—whose name means “Pity,” or “Compassion.” After my mom took my brother and myself to Rome when I was seven, one of the things she carried back all through that journey was a smaller, about 8 inch high copy of the Pieta, a sculpture by Michelangelo that we had seen in the Vatican. It was made out of marble, too-- and so it was NOT light.

In this statue, Michaelangelo depicted the crucified Jesus sprawled across his grieving mother’s lap. I think of the Pieta, and I think that Jesus would have gone to his mother and given her a personal chance for that image to not be the last image she had of her beloved first born. I think Jesus would have wanted to bring his mother’s broken heart to healing, because healing was the core of who he was and is. He would have wanted to show her his scars too, as a sign of his ongoing life, rather than leaving her with the image of his death.

I picture the risen Christ appearing before his mother in her house full of mourners just as he appears to these disciples in their locked room. Because if he did, he would hear her call him not Jesus which is the Greek form of his name. No, Mary would breathlessly cry out his true name of “Yeshua,” which means “Salvation” in Aramaic.

It is always important for us to remember that everything we read in scripture is not just translation, but it is often a translation of a translation of a translation in the New Testament especially, going backwards from English to Biblical Greek to possibly Hebrew and then Aramaic, the milk-language of Jesus and his followers.

I picture this scene as one of the regrettably omitted stories from John’s gospel because the word “salvation” is another word that has gotten twisted about in our modern religious language just a bit. Too many people hear that word and think that all it means is about what happens after we die, and two divergent tracks then appear, so that “salvation” becomes a kind of fork in the road.

The first track is that people are told salvation is about the afterlife. And they think of all those images of hellfire and brimstone and eternal torture for those condemned, images that even show up on Saturday Night Live--and what is more secular than Saturday Night Live, when you think about it? They think of those images, and even behind the cartoonish quality in popular culture they get scared, and then they turn this whole “following Jesus” thing from a relationship to a transaction, as we Americans are particularly prone to do.

We love transactions for the neatness of them. We especially love to get a “bargain.” And so, soon, salvation becomes a bargain with God, to see what the lowest price to get ourselves some of this “heaven” thing: 
“Do I just have to say I believe in you, God?” 
“Do I just have to get baptized?” 
“How about if I confine you to Sunday and go to church? Is that enough?” 

And we make these bargains in our relationships all the time, hoping to insulate ourselves from paying a cost too high to keep ourselves comfortable and keep our lives with its familiar shapes and concerns—most of which have nothing to do with God, or with how we spend our lives on Earth each and every day, clinging to our old ways and often our old hurt and old scars. And so for Christians, then Jesus becomes a kind of agent, like a real estate agent or insurance agent, who helps us make the deal with God. If we believe in him, he helps us out. Quid pro quo. This for that. Neat.

The other track we get when some of us hear the word “salvation” is for those of us who have a hard time imagining for certain what happens to us after we die, and so we lose interest. This is probably a broader swath of the population than we might think, especially for those of us brought up under some kind of Christian faith that used transactional theology because transactions are the bedrock of too many of our relationships. But there are people who do not spend their time wondering about what happens after we die. That’s off in the future, and they’re just surviving day to day. Or they’re trying to make THIS world a better place, not just for themselves but for everybody, and the concept of “salvation” as it is packaged just doesn’t seem to apply.

But let me suggest that the story we hear today is all about salvation—but salvation as Jesus insistently framed it. Throughout Jesus’s ministry and teaching, salvation isn’t about heaven or hell when we die, but about the way God can and DOES work in our lives. 

Salvation is about trusting in that power as a LIVED reality. It’s about leaning into that power right now, in the present moment and every moment of our lives, to let love heal us, broaden our perspective from the miserly and the afraid to the brave and empowered. 

The salvation that Jesus embodies, from his very name outward, is 
about healing, 
about reconciliation, 
and about awakening the divine spark within each and every one of us.
Salvation begins now, so that we too can carry on Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation as the very best, most joyful way to live our lives and to help heal the broken places in both ourselves and in the world around us.

And so, as our gospel still hasn’t moved us from the evening of Resurrection Day, and as we are just starting out in the early days yet of the Easter season that lasts 50 days, I hope we can think of Jesus tenderly caring for all of those he loves, including with his mother among his disciples. I hope we can proclaim his as seeking to heal the wounds all of us carry so that we can feel empowered to themselves engage in healing, in reconciling, in true salvation which builds bridges rather than divides. To love others enough to ever widen the circle of those who have been saved from emptiness, despair, fear, and hopelessness—all the things those disciples are feeling in that room when Jesus suddenly appears in the midst of them and breathes his peace all over them again. Because THAT is a true salvation.

Because here’s another thing about Easter: Easter can be extremely hard for some people. Easter talks about things that are unbelievable, for one. But going deeper, even if most of what you see is goofy Easter bunnies and debates over whether Peeps are actually “food” or instead sugary Styrofoam, good only for creating diaramas, 
church is often at the center of Easter. Easter is notoriously one of two times every year when a lot of people who never go to church during the year drag out a pastel colored shirt and some slacks and a sport jacket, or a gauzy dress and if you are a lady from certain parts of the country a jaunty hat, and go to church. Some can’t bring themselves to do even this. A lot of people, in fact.

And for too many of these people, there is a reason why feeling that pull to cross the threshhold of a church is painful. The Big C, institutional Church, fallible and made up of fallible human beings as it is, has hurt them. It has told them that Christianity is about judging others and demanding sacrifices of their essential natures that those same judgmental ones would never even consider in their own lives. It’s a Christianity that looks for scapegoats while completely missing the irony that Jesus himself served exactly as that in the politics between the common people and the power of empire.

It’s a false Christianity, that tries to justify hating certain people into repentance-- like that ever works! It's behind a bill brought up in Arkansas recently that sought to give medical professionals who identify as Christian the right to refuse to treat people if they suspect they are LGBTQ—all in the name of the same Jesus we see today inviting people to see his wounds as signs of his realness. Or there are people who have been shamed for questioning, for doubting, like that’s a bad thing—just like poor old Thomas there, who gets that damning “Doubting” adjective permanently glued in front of his name forever, even though what he experiences is SO common and relatable.

Going back to church for those who have been hurt and marginalized by this kind of Christianity is more like returning to the scene of a crime than getting your spiritual batteries recharged. And those of us who identify ourselves as actively Christian thus are presented with our first chance to ourselves take part in the salvation of Jesus which bring healing and reconciliation. And we don’t even have to do it by glomming onto every stranger that walks through our doors, especially at Easter.

We don’t have to do this work by starting at trying to scare people into belief-- and by that I mean a bargain with God so that they can avoid “hell.” We do this by revealing salvation as a life moving toward healing even for those who feel like they have no hope of being loved for who they are. We can start by actually SEEING everyone the same way that Jesus did—as beloved. Beloved as we all are and not excluded due to some checklist created by fearful people. Beloved even as we all are, even as we find our ways out of various wildernesses like addiction, racism, homophobia, taking advantage of others, or misogyny.

Jesus showed his own scars to his believers after resurrection because our scars are the signs that we all bear of what has shaped us, for good or for ill. We are all known by our scars—and with what we do with them. Do we use them as excuses to hurt others and leave scars of our own as we pass by? Or do we see them as signs that we have persevered and have healed? After Jesus shows his scars as a sign that the cross did not have the last word with him, Jesus commissions his followers—including you and me, even those of us who have to cross our fingers behind our backs at a lot of the claims made in the Creed to go out and continue his work.

Yeshua, whose name means Salvation, is here, right now, showing us his scars and commissioning his followers to go out and offer healing and reconciliation to those they encounter by proclaiming God’s power in the lives of everyone. 

As disciples, we are called to spread the good news of healing and restoring hope--not by condemning people for their alleged sinfulness, but by embracing them just as God embraces us through our best times and our worst times. And here is where the layers of human translation have to be peeled back again, because many scholars point out that the earliest text specifically reads, “Of whomever you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven to them; whomever you hold fast [or embrace], they are held fast.’ We engage in the work of salvation when we hold fast to the people we meet, scars and all, and share God’s love that we have been given with them. That means we don’t do Jesus’s work by telling people they are irretrievably broken and rejected, as too many people hear in the mouths of preachers and spokespersons for the institutional Church.

Salvation is Jesus’s message and ministry, his “good news” that never gets stale. But it is not a transaction for us as individuals, but a transformation for us into a community of faith and generous, loving engagement with all of those around us.

We can with honesty and hope share our scars with those around us too—share our scars, and the healing grace we have received from God in our own specific lives. It begins by sharing the story too many have missed. It begins by unlocking the locked doors we hide behind, and wearing our scars as a sign of our healing, of our solidarity with Jesus in his work of transformation and hope. Known by our scars, proclaiming life beyond them-- that's the missing story so many need.

Amen.

Preached at the 10:30 am online Eucharist at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in time of pandemic, April 11, 2021.

Readings:


Attributions:
I am deeply indebted to The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor for her article, "Easter Preaching and the Lost Language of Salvation," from the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2002, pp. 18-25.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Holy Mackerel: Speaking to the Soul, April 8, 2021



Luke 24:36b-48

I’m away on a retreat to recharge after the busy-ness of the last month. There was a lot of stress involved in trying to manage in person and simultaneously broadcast worship for the first time in a year. That’s why I have some sympathy for the disciples and their jumpiness when I read today’s gospel reading for Easter Thursday from Luke 24. It depicts Jesus suddenly popping up among the disciples like a jack-in-the-box in one of his post-resurrection appearances. And of course, they react with fear and trembling. They think they are seeing a ghost.

Let’s face it: “ghost” or “hallucination” or maybe “dream”—those would probably be the go-tos for most of us if we suddenly saw someone beloved to us appear after we were certain had died, depending upon how skeptical one is. Jesus speaks to them in that beloved, remembered voice. He offers his hands and feet for seeing and touching.

To prove he is a real person, he asks them for something to eat, and they offer him a piece of fish, which he then consumes in their presence, probably while they are still standing with the jaws dropped. But his eating in front of them proves he is actually alive in this body, not wearing it like a costume draped over his spiritual being. And the disciples need that—but even more, they need the grace and forgiveness that is made present by Jesus sharing a table with them again—the place where so much of his gospel of radical forgiveness and inclusion was enacted.

This story comes immediately on the heels of the Emmaus story, where once again Jesus joining his beloveds for a meal is where they come to really recognize him as their beloved Teacher and Savior. It is good for us to remember that the Last Supper wasn’t really the last time Jesus would sit at table with his beloveds. Yet, just like us, the disciples have a lot easier time accepting the crucified body of their savior than the resurrected one. Yet it is vitally important that we see that those-post-resurrection meals serve the purpose of reminding their participants and ourselves as observers of Jesus’s absolute solidarity with us as the Incarnated One who is also the Resurrected One. And by sitting down in fellowship with his disciples and eating with them, Jesus is demonstrating true grace, as he speaks to them lovingly while many of them probably are still carrying the shame of their desertion on Good Friday.

Believe it or not, there is a huge body of speculation over the last two millennia focusing on why Jesus would eat. There are debates about why he ate fish in this incident, and how the fish was digested (yep) if Jesus had no need to eat any more. There’s sympathy for the poor fish who has been caught, killed, and eaten even as Jesus is a symbol of death being defeated.

Holy mackerel. Talk about wading out into deep waters.

Jesus eats with his disciples after the Resurrection to reassure them and to once again declare his steadfast fellowship with them, regardless of their doubts, their despair, and their previous weaknesses. There is nothing fishy about this, either. Jesus continues to be Jesus even after his Passion, death, and resurrection—for the disciples, and for us. That humble piece of fish becomes part of Jesus’s body as a testimony to the power of God to vanquish even the power of death.

These post-Resurrection meals are especially about healing, reminding us all that every time we gather together in the Eucharist, we are joining together in the declaration of community despite physical distance or difference. We are also sharing the table with Jesus, who is both host and guest, just as the Emmaus story reminds us. We proclaim that Jesus is not just Risen, but Alive. Right now. He is not merely the historical figure depicted in the Bible, but living and breathing and bringing the experience of humanity into the Holy Trinity, into the very heart of God.

Jesus once again comes to the disciples where they are, loves them and seeks to bring them peace. As he attempts to set their hearts at rest, he also turns their minds from the past to the future, commissioning them—and us-- to be witnesses to the power of the healing, radically inclusive gospel of Christ. All with asking us for something simple—like a piece of fish—to remind us that he with us—always.


This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on Easter Thursday, April 8, 2021.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Our Part of the Story: Sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter Day, 2021



The story has no end.

Most scholars believe that this is the original ending of Mark. After all those “and immediatelies” that we hear as Mark tells his story like a person in a hurry. We come to this: a non-ending ending., Oh, there are some verses that appear After this if you sere to open your Bibles, but they’re in brackets—and contain extra material. The earliest manuscripts of Mark do not include them, and so scholars distrust their authenticity.

The story has no end.

The women go to anoint a body that has already been dead for over 36 hours, hastily buried before the sun set and the Passover sabbath began, as recounted at the end of the Good Friday gospel—The body had simply been wrapped in linen and put in the tomb, with Mary Magdalene and the Mary Mother of Joses watching. The women must be incredibly numbed with grief—their errand isn’t going to do much good, and no one has thought about the practical matter of who is going to roll away the very large stone at the door of the tomb. But they still love and want to serve Jesus.

Once they arrive at daybreak at the tomb, however, not only do they find the stone rolled back and Jesus's body missing, but they find an angelic messenger waiting for them expectantly. The fact that he is seated, which was the posture of a leader or teacher, and moreover is seated on the right side, the side of prominence and strength, and wearing white are both signs of his authority in the ancient Mediterranean culture of Mark’s community. And Mark agrees with the other gospels that it was women who discovered the empty tomb—which legally is problematic, since women were not accepted as reliable witnesses in that culture.

The messenger tells them to go tell the disciples that Jesus is headed back to Galilee, the place where his public ministry began. They must go there if they want to see Jesus themselves.

We've been focusing over the last few days upon Jesus’s suffering, Suffering that is specifically demonstrated in his betrayal, arrest, beating, abandonment by his male followers, crucifixion, and death. Now however we see the vindication of Jesus's mission, and his confidence that all that he was going through would be to fulfill God's plan of salvation. At Jesus’s death in Mark’s telling, the first person to proclaim his true status as the son of God had been a centurion, foreshadowing the spread of the gospel beyond the people of Judea. All the gospels agree that all the male disciples of Jesus have run away before he breathes his last; only women were left, watching from a distance: in Mark this includes Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, and who had remained with him all the way from Galilee. It is these same three women who arrive at the tomb in the early morning hours to continue to “care for Jesus’s needs” (Mark 15:40-41), as we were reminded twice in the last week.

Yet those women do have one thing in common with their male counterparts: since they are going to anoint a BODY, it is clear that they didn’t take Jesus’s claim that he would be resurrected seriously, either.

It is notable that already we see a sign of forgiveness even here in these brief verses. We all remember Peter, the first disciples to be called when he was known as Simon, steadfastly denying Jesus three times. And yet he is the one who is to be told, according to the angelic messenger’s instructions. In being the first, he will have the task of telling the others and maintaining his preeminent place among the apostles despite his wavering loyalty to Jesus during the Passion.

Yet despite the angelic reassurances, the women are absolutely still alarmed by the angelic visitor and the mystery of the missing body. Obviously, they eventually DO tell the apostles and other disciples, but not on Mark’s original stage. The last words it does leave us with is “for they were afraid.”

But this story has no ending. Instead, the women, just like us, are left in the in-between time that we proclaim together every time we have Eucharist. “Christ has died…” Yes. “Christ is risen…” Yes, again. “Christ will come again….” That will have to wait, just as we too are waiting for such a wondrous event.

These verses lead us to consider what it means to live in the interim, which is exactly where we are called to live. This very week, as we have told and retold the story of our Savior’s death by suffocation on the cross, we have watched again and again highlights of a trial 2000 years later in which another man had the breath crushed out of his body on an American street for nine minutes and 28 seconds. Don’t ever try to tell yourself that the gospel doesn’t have something to say to us in our time.

But it often doesn’t get as dramatic as that. Even before the advent of all the alluring technology that is designed to seize our attention with a vise-like grip, we have a natural tendency to live our lives in a walking dream. Too often, we may be trapped in the past, or we spend our lives planning for a future that may or may not arrive. Where we are and what we are doing right now slips by unnoticed while we are either remembering or planning. And yet, the wisest teacher all agree that the only thing we really have is NOW.

And the problem is that NOW is often unsatisfying, and even frustrating, as we have learned in the last 15 months especially. When we are in an unpleasant place, we want that unpleasantness and uncertainty in particular to be over immediately. And maybe this ending itself is a great example of that—maybe Mark had every intention of finishing the story satisfactorily—because after all, the meaning of “gospel” is “good News,” and you can hardly end good news with the only characters left on the stage cowering in fear and afraid to move.

And the easiest thing to have right now in this time of pandemic is grief: grief at the things we have lost, grief at the people dead and maimed because of this pandemic, grief at the ongoing violence in our streets committed out of hopelessness, and in some people’s telling of it, out of justifying claims of fear.

Those women went to the tomb to grieve. Yet I am convinced that, because we are sitting here today, they eventually let go of that and reached out for something infinitely more precious and infinitely harder to reach for. I am convinced they left eventually with a faint flickering candle of hope burning in their hearts and souls.

This story as we receive it has no end, and no sense of closure.

But perhaps it is meant to lead us to take up our own task: one of DIS-closure. Maybe the point here is that it is up to us now. It is up to us to go and tell who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us. Resurrection can’t be hurried.

We are those women, confused, afraid, grieving, uncomprehending. And that’s the way many of us react to the tragedies of life. That’s only natural. Yet even here we get the hint of a resolution: when we feel lost, or afraid, go back to the beginning. Go back again to Galilee and meet Jesus anew.

This gospel IS good news for us 2000 years later, awash in a world in which being a disciples is often scorned and mocked just as it was then. We’ve come full circle. Yet these eight brief verses have three messages to impart to us:

1) Even Jesus closest friends and supporters could not wrap their heads around God’s power, and if they couldn’t then perhaps we can forgive ourselves our own doubts and faltering, our own fears and awe.

2) If there have been places where the gospel has not been shared in our own lives and in the lives of those around us—and we know there are—then we have an opportunity to take up this holy work. Joy shared is joy multiplied.

3) Failure is a necessary part of any practice, and failure only becomes a roadblock if we allow it to become an immovable object in our lives. Even in our deepest failures, there is always forgiveness from God—and encouragement to take up our work again, with joy and gladness.

Because it is not Mark’s last words that matter. It is the assurance that is given even there in the empty tomb that we can clutch to our hearts as we navigate the pain, the uncertainty, and the trials of life: Don’t be alarmed. Jesus is ahead of you, clearing the path and preparing the way for you just like the good shepherd that he is, just as he promised you repeatedly. His word is good. He is with you. And with me. Nothing can separate us from our Savior. Because he is here—in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. Always.

He is risen—and we want to be risen too. Rowan Williams reminds us that “to speak of the resurrection of Jesus is to speak of one’s own humanity as healed, renewed, and restored, recentered in God.”

Just like those women, we stand uncertain and disoriented, but we have the promise of God, who is always faithful. God calls us to take hold of the radical, unsettling power of Easter. we need to believe in the power of resurrection—and take up our place within its realization. This pandemic has offered us a chance to not return to the things that aren’t working, but to live into our call as disciples of Jesus and turn aside from the ethical compromises we make in the name of expediency or hopelessness, We need to leave the tomb of our grief and set out in hope, in trust, in joy! As Sister Joan Chittister reminds us, “It is for us to put on the mind of God that it will take to bring the goodness of God to the evil in the world we see around us. It is up to us to bring resurrection out of suffering, to bring creativity to what is yet undeveloped.”

We are responsible for speaking into the silence. We can and will write the ending of the story. We are truly Jesus’s hands and feet and heart in the world. As we recommit ourselves to our baptismal covenant, we need to believe in the power of taking those values seriously-- —that’s how we finish the story. As we love and guide and care for this newest Christian, and all the ones in our care, that’s how we help finish the story. Because the story is one of new life in God. He is Risen!! Alleluia!

Amen.



A version of this sermon was preached at the Great Vigil of Easter on April 3, 2021 at 8 pm., and at the main Easter Day service on April 4 at 10:30 am as well as at our Outdoor Resurrection Day Eucharist at 12:30 pm at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:




Numbers and Nothingness: Speaking to the Soul, March 4, 2021





We have been watching the rising numbers of vaccinations and the falling numbers of COVID infections in our county with just a small glimmer of hopefulness. We are coming upon nearly the one-year anniversary of when we were suddenly shut down completely from having in-person worship—our last, sparsely attended Eucharist last year was March 15. As that anniversary approaches, I must confess to a feeling of weariness.

Last year, after that crazy Lent and Holy Week, it seemed as though Lent never ended. Some of my churchy friends and I joked that the entirety of 2020 was “the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented.” Little did we know that a year later so little would have changed, and yet so much had. We knew people who got sick, and some of them have yet to fully recover. We knew some who succumbed. Those beloveds were not numbers, either.

The images of candles lit on the steps of the White House and along the reflecting pool of the National Mall testify to the toll and try to help us truly “see” how staggering the losses have been and continue to be. And then on Feb 22, the US posted the grim milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths—20% of the world’s total in a country with supposedly the greatest medical system and only 4% of the world’s population. Unfortunately, we now have learned that in a battle between medicine and the hubris and denial of community spirit in some of us, medicine in some cases hasn’t stood a chance.

The numbers are looking better, but I hate that phrase. They are NOT numbers. They are people—people who have gotten sick with this terrible illness, and had to be hospitalized. They are also people who have managed to avail themselves of the vaccine—which is quite an accomplishment in my state, where the vaccine distribution has been far from precise. In each case, I pray every day for the people that the numbers represent. And finally, this week, I am able to travel to my home state and get the first round of vaccine into my 92-year-old mother’s arm. There’s a real person behind that number for me—a precious person who has had a hard year since her stroke in May.

I am always trying to remind myself of the counter-cultural way Christians are called to look at the world: honoring the divine within creation and within each other in a culture that loves to denigrate, to mock, to dehumanize. As the sixth chapter of the book of the prophet Micah urged us, we are called to “walk humbly with our God” in a culture that hands power to people who never confess any flaws at all, much less the need to confess.

And this Lent has been driving that home to me too. Many of us share my weariness. After this long Lenten season, it can seem overwhelming to adopt the right spirit of penitence and confession. Perhaps, though, we can confess the hubris that has driven us to this point and undoubtedly prolonged the most severe waves of this pandemic.

It is important to be honest about the ways that this pandemic has allowed us to turn inward, to ignore relationships when we cocooned in our homes. Some of us certainly have lost sight of our obligations to others around us, whether friend or stranger. Encouraged by cruelty emanating from the top of society’s pinnacle (the one time it seems “trickle-down” anything has actually worked), some have turned on others with a ferocity that is heart-breaking. We remember those early days when people hoarded toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and milk to the point that grocery stores in our area had to introduce hours for the elder members of our community so that they would not be left with nothing in the mad scramble.

Some of us let friendships wither in our attempt to cope by taking up new hobbies. When confronted with the choice of Netflix-bingeing or picking up the phone or iPad for a call or a FaceTime chat, we chose the anesthetizing soothe of a new TV series. Or it may be something else: we have become short-tempered with our loved ones because we have been unable to have any time to ourselves.

We have been under strain, of course. And there have also been moments of beauty and compassion, of course. But the need for confession and penitence is not about self-abasement, but about opening ourselves to God and to each other after our actions may have harmed relationships—relationships that have become even more precious as we have been forced into isolation. We have to get right the proportion of care we give to others in relation to ourselves.

In his poem, “Having Confessed,” the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) speaks of the humility the penitent feels. Yet it is also at that moment that we can go the most awry. He includes this beautiful observation:

“ …We must not anticipate
Or awaken for a moment. God cannot catch us
Unless we stay in the unconscious room
Of our hearts. We must be nothing,
Nothing that God may make us something.”


As Kavanagh points out, confession is a beautiful, necessary thing in the spiritual life—a need, rather than an indulgence. But we have to take care when we confess that we do not confess just in order to be “shriven” or “forgiven” by God. We confess and empty ourselves of our self-involvement for those few precious moments so that God can enter in. We must be brave enough to become “nothing, that God may make us something.”

There have been times when many of us have treated others as less-than in our own anxiety and fear of scarcity. Perhaps we bewail these manifold sins. Perhaps we have been so busy that we haven’t stopped to reflect, which is a precious gift of confession and penitence without slipping into solipsism. But we err if we either shun confession, or allow it to make us wallow in misery—in both cases, we continue to close ourself off from God and from others, whether through pride or through shame. It is thus that we have gotten it backwards, and confession helps us to reverse the poles of our existence so that our compass points again to Christ, our true North. As Kavanagh noted, “God must be allowed to surprise us.”

May we not treat those around us as either numbers, or as nothing. May we remember that we ourselves are neither mere number nor nothing to God, who lovingly calls us to return to love and community, again and again. May we thus press forward in treasuring the gifts Lent offers in mindfully calling us back to right-relationship with each other and with creation.


This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, March 4, 2021.

Friday, April 2, 2021

In the Garden: Sermon for Good Friday, 2021



Every year when I was a high school teacher, I used to love to teach my students about the 1960s, and that usually was happening right about this time every year. One of the things I shared with them was the Joni Mitchell song about Woodstock. You know that one, right? Here’s how the song’s chorus goes:

“We are stardust, we are golden,
we are caught in the devil’s bargain,
and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”(1)

Countless writers and musicians have talked about our longing to get back to that garden in the beginning, where we were innocent.

Our story today in the gospel of John begins in a garden. And the mention of that garden is meant to remind us of the garden that Joni sang about. The author of the gospel of John is writing a new version of the creation story.

In the beginning, God placed us in a garden, but eventually, we forgot who we were-- and whose we were. All we had to do was trust in God, who even walked with us each day in the cool of the evening. God gave us freedom, because love can only be given in freedom, and God loved us and all of creation.

Once, we walked in a garden with God, and it wasn’t enough for us. We thought God was trying to box us in, and we responded with suspicion, which led to rebellion. Distrust leads us to be cut off from the love that offers itself to us freely, because we are afraid it will take something from us. It leads to wanting to hurt others-- and sometimes even those who are close to us—before they hurt us.

We disobeyed, and in our freedom, we turned from confidence to fear and, and then shame- shamed for our naked fear, when we had never been given any reason to doubt.

And on that day, God came looking for us. But we hid ourselves- even though we had begun hiding the second we listened to that intruder in the dust cajole us into uncertainty and suspicion. And later, we told ourselves that God had put us out of the garden, when in truth we had turned our backs on home. And we continued to hide from God throughout the centuries, unable to return to full obedience, unable to empty ourselves of all our stubbornness and pride.

At the beginning of our gospel for Good Friday, the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is in a garden too. But Jesus, the bridge between humanity and God, is not hiding. This time, the forces of the world come looking for a rebel and a blasphemer. They are looking for someone who they believe has committed the sins of Adam: rebellion, and claiming to be God. The sins we’ve all been committing throughout time.

Yet Jesus, who is a new Adam, is not hiding from anyone. Instead, he boldly walks out to those looking to seize him. Instead of rebellion, Jesus acts out of perfect obedience, love, and unity with God. Instead of Adam choosing sin in opposition to love, this new Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, chooses to act in love in opposition to sin.

Once again, God knows his love will be met with rejection. This Adam is truly God’s son. Once again, we find the one who wants to give us everything, and we react with doubt, rejection, and fear. Jesus plainly tells us who he is, using the same name that came to Moses out of the burning bush. Those who come to that garden are seeking a rebel; but instead they find God in the shape of Jesus. Yet we still refuse to recognize God as God. Instead WE rebel. WE want to be in charge.

We want to be gods. That’s the REAL original sin. And it is as prevalent today as it was millennia ago, as we deny science, and deny community and deny that we care about anyone other than ourselves. We have elevated ourselves and made our feelings of grievance our gods. And it is exactly that tendency that puts Jesus on the cross.

Jesus turns our first story of a garden on its head. Jesus will go willingly from that garden, into the place where we all face trials, and place himself in the hands of evil so that he may show that the love of God always wins out over fear and sin.

On the way to the cross, and on the cross itself, Jesus shows us the way of Isaiah 41:10 – words of promise and comfort that we need today more than ever as the pandemic continues into its second year, and as some of us still refuse to acknowledge the claims our neighbors make upon us to act out of charity rather than arrogance in doing what we can, even something as small as wearing a mask. Isaiah 41:10 says this:

“Do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, and I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

“Do not be afraid, for I am your God.” God loves us enough to be ours even when we are not willing to submit to belonging to God.

“Do not fear, for I am with you,” God whispers to his beloved Son as he suffocates on the cross through our own fault. Our sin—our doubt, our disbelief, our suspicion, our fear—has put Jesus on that cross. Yet God is there with Jesus, bending down as human freedom plays itself out, even to the point of putting Jesus on a cross to suffer and die.

“Do not fear, for I am with you,” Jesus whispers to us even as we seize him and condemn him to suffer for our own fear and sinfulness.

Like our brethren the Jews, we Christians are a remembering people. We remember each time we worship, each time we read scripture, and we remember each time we share communion together, remembering this moment, when Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. That’s why our liturgy has us sing, “We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” Today, on Good Friday, we remember Jesus’s death. Death for the sake of us all. And we await his coming in glory.

With a quiet “it is finished,” the old creation, which we had misshaped through sin and fear in that first garden, is ended.

But what happens on the cross is not just an ending, but also a beginning. There is a new creation that is
begun on that cross, a new world for all of us who look upon it. We are born anew through what happens on that cross.

Our story begins in a garden, and our story ends in a garden, or so we think. The last image we see this Good Friday is another garden, redolent with the scent of jasmine, and hyssop, and more faintly, frankincense and myrrh. Jesus’s body is put into another garden—a garden with a tomb, but from this tomb, death is going to be defeated. Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it bears no fruit. The power of sin is going to be, and is, vanquished. Death will itself be, and is, destroyed.

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.

God
Has
Not
Brought
Us
This
Far
To
Abandon
Us
Now
At
The
Grave.

Let a new creation spring up in our hearts, even as we watch and wait for our Savior.


Amen.

Preached at the noon Good Friday service online at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, on April 2, 2021.

Readings:

Notes:
1) Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock," from Ladies of the Canyon, 1970.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Broken Open: Sermon for Maundy Thursday


When I was a child, our neighbors across the street, Veta and Myron, were a retired school principal and a retired school counselor. They were generous with their time—inviting us over to play on the swing set they still had up even though their son was long grown and gone. In a rarity for Tulsa, their home sat atop a cellar, and there our neighbor had a collection of rocks, semi-precious stones, and fossils. There were dozens of rose rocks, the State Rock of Oklahoma. He told me about the great inland sea that had once covered the central part of North America, and showed me rocks he had brought back from trips all over the continent. It didn’t take long until I was hooked, and I spent hours over there learning.

One day, he handed me a mud-colored gray-brown orb. It was perfectly round, and surprisingly light—about the size of a croquet ball. I thought it was pretty cool. Then he handed me a hammer. I was confused when he told me to put the rock on the work bench and hit it. But eventually I realized he was serious and did as I was told, not too hard. After a couple of whacks, the thing cracked, and he gave one more expert tap and the orb cracked open. Inside there was a glowing array of light lavender colored crystals. He told me it was a geode. He then let me take my treasure home. I wondered that something so drab and nondescript could be so beautiful when it was broken open.

Tonight, we ourselves are invited to be broken open to the beauty and pathos of these next three days. Our service tonight begins what's known as the Triduum, the great three days leading up to Easter Sunday. In the early church, the Maundy Thursday service always began after sundown, just as Passover begins after sundown right around this time. It is traditional for Christians to meet for a simple meal, engaging foot washing to as a sign of their servant hood just as Jesus set an example in the common gospel reading from the book of John, and then have Holy Communion one last time until the Great Vigil. At the end of the Monday Thursday service, it is customary to read Psalm 22, that great Psalm of lamentation whose first verse was quoted by Jesus upon the cross, while all decoration in the church is removed as the lights grow dimmer and dimmer. The maundy Thursday service traditionally ends with a simple washing of the altar and it's an extinguishing of the Tabernacle light and utter darkness.

Tomorrow then, we will hear again the Passion narrative, and we will also be led through the stations of the Cross. But tonight, we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist to us.

In his book Being Christian, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams focuses first upon the Eucharist as being about hospitality and welcome. Doctor Williams points out that stories of Jesus hosting friends and being hosted by the most unlikely people abound in the gospels:

“…Jesus is not only someone who exercises hospitality; He draws out hospitality from others. By his welcome he makes other people capable of welcoming. And that wonderful alternation in the gospels between Jesus giving hospitality and receiving hospitality shows us something absolutely essential about the Eucharist. We are the guests of Jesus. We are there because he asks us, and because he wants our company. At the same time we are set free to invite Jesus into our lives and literally to receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist…. This giving and receiving of welcome … is the actual visible way in which [Jesus] engages in remaking a community. Who are the real people of God now? The ones who accept Jesus invitation…. The meals that Jesus shares in his ministry are the way in which he begins to re-create a community, to lay the foundations for rethinking what the words ‘the people of God’ mean.”

It cannot be emphasized enough that in the ancient world the sharing of a meal was fraught with symbolic meaning. Sharing a meal together conveyed status, obligation, and patronage. Meals demonstrated who was out, and who was in, and were governed by rules about cleanliness, attire, and seating order, much like you see in movies about 18th century and 19th century England like Downton Abbey. In welcoming people to his table, and in the people came along with him when he sat down at someone else’s table, Jesus continually shocked the sensibilities of proper citizens. when you stop and think about it, meals are centerpieces of Jesus's teachings in the gospel -- it's amazing how often food is involved near one of his discourses.

Jesus takes and blesses the bread before the meal itself has really started—he takes it and urges that it be broken and shared among those who sit with him at table for the meal. That bread cannot be shared unless it is broken. It cannot be used for eating the rest of the food. It must be broken in the same way that dawn must be broken.

Jesus is preparing them for that day when his body will be broken—both his own human body, strong and young and resilient, and the body of his followers who, except for the women, will scatter and run for cover in literally what is just a few hours’ time. And once that body will break, there we will be reminded that as much as we talk about the presence of God, we also talk about God’s absence—symbolically. I don’t mean that God is ever really apart from us. But for all that we want to claim that God is in control of everything—especially when things go bad, when the test results come back positive and the diagnosis is sobering, when the loved one departs and the relationship ends, when the wheels on the rain-slick road scrabble and whine as they try to maintain their grip on the road—there are also plenty of times when life throws us upon our own resources and we are expected to use what we have learned from Jesus to decide for ourselves which road we are going to take. Freedom is intrinsic to the human life, and sometimes, that leads to joy and sometimes that leads to pain.

As the great Christian writer Henri Nouwen once noted, “The great temptation of the ministry is to celebrate only the presence of the Lord while forgetting his absence … As we become aware of his absence we discover his presence, and as we realized that he left us we also come to know that he did not leave us alone.
” Justo Gonzalez notes that Jesus tells parables sometimes depicting God’s absence, often about stewardship, such as the Parable of the Tenants or the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. These Gonzalez calls “Parables of Absence” because they are meant to provoke us to consider what we will do with our freedom when our discipleship will cost us something—either money, or the chance for revenge or he effort it takes to love someone rather than ignore them and push them away from us, denying their shared humanity with us so that we may stay safely immune from the demand of community that is at the heart of Jesus’s Gospel.

The main elements of the eucharist are bread, wine, and water. We ourselves bring forward the bread and the wine. The water reminds us of our baptism, in a way, and it comes from the earth. It is given in nature, and we are called to protect it and make sure it is available for all. But the bread and wine point to human contribution to this sacred mystery. Baptismal water points toward the grace of God, given as a free gift; but the bread and the wine Remind us of the stewardship that we were all called to share. God gives us wheat and grapes, but human labor turns them into bread and wine. And so God gives and we give and together we share in helping to bring about the Kingdom of God. Being a Christian calls us to break open ourselves and share in ways that threaten to remake the world. It’s a perilous calling we hear—one that will cost Jesus his very life. At least for a while.

This is our second Holy Week under pandemic. In this time of separation, isolation, and distancing that still continues, we are reminded more than ever that Jesus inaugurated the Eucharist as a sign and symbol of the importance of unity and community. As many of us have had to fast from Eucharist for much of this year, it is more important now than ever to commemorate the giving of the Holy Communion to us for our strengthening as one fellowship in Christ. And God knows many of us are weary of the precautions that are required to starve this pandemic of victims. But now is not the time to surrender our efforts to keep each other safe, and remembering the gift of communion can help renew our resolve to put the welfare of those around us among our own vanity and self-centeredness..

And so, as we consider on this night the demands of community upon ourselves, the very real obligation toward each other and even toward imperfect people that we do not know who are nonetheless fellow children of God, as we are called to focus our eyes at the passing crowd and see in each face a specific beloved of God and therefore a person whose well-being is our concern because they sit right here next to us at the table, as we sit here at this universal table, we are being called upon to see how we would react once theory becomes reality. Are we going to move from sitting back on our couches and enjoying the feast to taking off our outer garments and putting on an apron and serving everyone? Are we going to kneel down and wash and care for the calloused, scarred, marred, imperfect feet of strangers as the humble servants we are called to be?

Tonight, we remember that Jesus gathers us just as he did those apostles on that night long ago, and offers us the Peace of God, not for our own comfort only, but so that we can share and embody that Peace and Grace to those around us. Tonight we remember that Jesus showed us that the heart of love is service—humble, tender, and compassionate. Jesus shows us in word and action how to live the best life we can have. Tonight Jesus shows that only in breaking ourselves open can we be then filled with eternal life and love.

From this good earth, and the work of human hands we come as both guest and host, we offer and awe receive until we are reminded that it is all one--- giving and receiving, loving and being loved, living and making a difference in the world around us. We are drawn here around one table.

This is sacrament: a making holy of ourselves regardless of place, rank or time. And tonight we will be called to remember the grace of the sacrament of Holy Communion that we received as a gift of Jesus even before his Passion, death, and resurrection. We were given this gift for our benefit, and for the benefit and service of the entire world—no exceptions.

May we also be broken open, like that bread, and used to bless the world.

Amen.

Preached at the 8 pm Maundy Thursday service online and limited in person in time of coronavirus restriction.

Readings:


The Feast of the Everlasting Mercy: Speaking to the Soul, April 1, 2021




Maundy Thursday

We have entered the second pandemic Holy Week. Tonight we will embrace the sacred mysteries of the Triduum. This year, knowing a bit better what to expect, I felt we could not manage the Maundy Thursday foot washing, so are instead turning to the alternative gospel provided in the Book of Common Prayer: Luke 22:14-30. This passage focuses on the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

During this continuing time of isolation, we are reminded more than ever that Jesus inaugurated the Eucharist as a sign of unity and community. So many of us have had to fast from Eucharist for this past year, making it even more important to commemorate the gift of the Holy Communion as a means of strengthening fellowship in Christ. And God knows, many of us are weary of the precautions that are required to starve this pandemic of vicitms, but now is not the time to surrender our efforts to keep each other safe. Perhaps a reminder of the gift of communion will help renew our flagging resolve.

Communion is a radical act to remake the social order, and to draw us together toward each other and toward God without respect to ANY differences. We are reminded of this in the gospel passage, when, amazingly, a disagreement breaks out among the disciples right after they have participated in this sacred fellowship with Christ. Jesus says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”

This is sacrament: a making holy of ourselves regardless of place, rank or time. And tonight we will be called to remember the grace of the sacrament of Holy Communion that we received as a gift of Jesus even before his Passion, death, and resurrection. We were given this gift for our benefit, and for the benefit and service of the entire world—no exceptions.

What we see in the scene from Luke is that Jesus shared with his apostles the meal, and the bread and the wine—and at first all the disciples can think about is who if the greatest and most powerful among them. Likewise, in 1st Corinthians, the same letter in which Paul describes the Eucharist, Paul is forces to chastise the church there for attempting to use the agape meal and the Eucharist as ways to “Lord it over each other.” The Eucharist is meant to bring us into one body and instill us with one spirit- the spirit of fellowship and redemption. Thus, on Maundy Thursday, we—together, as a community of faithful seekers– memorialize the gift of the Eucharist, and the gift of self-denying servanthood to others that provides the entryway into the Three Days.

The Maundy Thursday liturgy moves us from a celebration of servanthood to, as in the conversion scene in John Masefield’s great poem of redemption and repentance, “The Everlasting Mercy.” Written in 1911, the poem begins by bluntly depicting its main character and narrator Saul Kane as a drunk, a cheat, a liar, a person who used people without conscience, and it did it so forthrightly that some critics called the poem “filth.” Yet even as Saul Kane loathes himself and those around him, he experiences a conversion that reorients him from selfish debauchery to wonder, awe, and gratitude at the love and presence of Christ in his life. He sees Christian symbolism in a simple gate to a field, the furrows. He feels clearly the presence of Christ alongside himself and everyone, even the farmer named Callow trudging dutifully behind his team of horses pulling the plow. The poem ends with a plea to Jesus to plow his heart as thoroughly as Callow and his team are preparing the fallow field. Saul kneels in the mud, his heart open to God, and entreats Jesus to making him a fertile field in God’s kingdom:

O Christ who holds the open gate,

O Christ who drives the furrow straight,

O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter

Of holy white birds flying after,

Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,

And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,

The young green corn divinely springing,

The young green corn forever singing;

And when the field is fresh and fair

Thy bless├Ęd feet shall glitter there,

And we will walk the weeded field,

And tell the holden harvests’s yield,

The corn that makes the holy bread

By which the soul of man is fed,

The holy bread, the food unpriced,

Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

— John Masefield, from “The Everlasting Mercy”

Saul is converted from an angry misanthrope to a transformative certainty of his interconnectedness with all his fellow-townspeople, many of whom he once held in contempt, as well as with creation as a whole.

As we gather together on Maundy Thursday, even if virtually, may we too see our lives as blessing, as reflected in our relationship with each other and with God through the mediation of the gospel of love Jesus brings to us. Awed and grateful, may we take and present the gifts of bread and wine, gifts that, as the liturgy reminds us, “earth has formed and human hands have made.” May we think of the young green wheat singing in the field, gathered and made into the tangible proof of Christ’s everlasting mercy as it is blessed and shared from the altar. As it is made into the stuff of redemption and reconciliation, may we too become the servants of Christ’s gospel. And may we join in the song of gratitude. Together.

Thus encouraged and fed, may we seek to serve each other, especially in this time of pandemic, as the highest use of our precious lives, embodying Christ’s love for the life of our neighbors.



This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Mgic of Love: Speaking to the Soul, March 29, 2021



I loved the Harry Potter books, despite my being an adult when they were published. I was teaching middle school at the time, and I had young children. I got to see the books through their eyes, and it was lovely. We would actually talk about the word play in the books, and kids didn’t stop to think how nerdy it might be to talk about the influence of foreign languages on the names and spells, or on the etymology and mythology and puns behind the words.

We all want to believe in magic. Even adults. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to solve problems with just a thought or a wave of a stick or a few syllables. If they rhyme, all the better!

Yes, we may congratulate ourselves on our modernity, but really, superstition is still a huge influencer of human behavior. We want talismans, charms, or potions, magic pills that melt fat away. We look for the four-leaf clover. We may carry a rabbit’s foot or avoid certain colors of M & Ms. Black cats, broken mirrors, spilled salt, stepping on the baseline between home plate and first or on the cracks in the sidewalk? Here comes trouble.

The Bible mentions that pharaoh had magicians who could match Moses trick for trick when he was demanding freedom for the Hebrew children—at least until it came to the plagues of the gnats and the boils. But one of the verses we will heard recently as a Gospel reading has become a kind of talisman in the popular understanding: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

I would guess that John 3:16 is one of the most quoted verses in all of scripture. It is also an important link between other readings as we finish our walk through Lent. God’s gift of Jesus to the world as God’s son draws those who see Jesus’s light to a life with God by believing —only through faith (vv. 16-17). Yet the verse misused becomes a type of false talisman— something people worship instead of treating as a link to God’s love.

One of my personal, petty frustrations about how this verse can be misleadingly applied is seen in the ways that John 3:16 pops-up on television. There it is, held up on a large placard in the end zone. Often there is a hip, ALWAYS male, tattooed, preacher intoning that, if you feel lost, all you have to do is pray something similar to the sentiment in John 3:16, and you shall be saved—just like that. Presumably you can then go about your business having checked-off the box to keep your soul from hell, the implication being that nothing else is required. A formula is NOT enough.

John 3:16 is not a magic trick to be used to evade responsibility for one’s shortcomings, nor is it a “get-out-of-hell-free” card. There is no magic formula that helps one evade the consequences of actions that lead a person astray—something all of us have done. Our wrongdoings should rightly elicit remorse and a determination to change behavior for both our own sake and that of those around us. Fear of hell or damnation ought not be elevated to the sole role in the lifelong conversation between God and our souls.

God loved the world—and everyone in it—so much that God withheld nothing from us in seeking to help us live the most fully human lives we could live. Not even God’s own son. We are not called to summon Jesus like a wish-fulfilling genie. We are called to follow him and walk in his ways. All in the name of love.

Love—self-emptying, other-affirming, self-sacrificing love– IS the most powerful magic in the universe, as even the Harry Potter books pointed out. And the most potent magic of love is found in the fact that we ALL are borne up by the grace of it, and be changed forever by that self-giving, no-holds back love that Jesus offers.


This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on March 29, 2021.