Making Room

A reflection for Proper 25, Year C

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Several years ago, I was invited to attend a conference at the very last minute.  I had just recently accepted a new position and knew that the rest of the people who would be attending were far more important, experienced, and well-known than I was.  But, since this national conference was happening here in Richmond and my colleague was coordinating it, I had a seat at this prestigious table.  So, on this particular morning, I found myself in the downstairs ballroom at The Jefferson, in a room filled with people I didn’t know.  I was feeling awkward, out of place, and my tendency toward introversion was NOT helping the situation.  I sat at a table where there were still several open chairs and occupied myself by reading through the conference program for the day.  I saw that right after lunch, the featured speaker was giving a talk on “vulnerability in professional life.”  I chuckled as I thought to myself: at least I know something about THAT.  In the midst of my self-absorbed thoughts of being out of place, out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman wearing jeans and a funky jacket (noticeably different than the crowd of dull-colored business suits) slowly descending the large, ornate staircase of the Jefferson.  She came halfway down, paused, looked around…then turned around and started to go back up the stairs.  Then she paused, came halfway down again, scanned the entire group and gathered herself together to walk down the stairs the rest of the way.  She started toward the first open seat she saw, which happened to be immediately to my left.  She whispered shyly, like I do when I’m nervous, “is anybody sitting here?” and I said, “You are!  Please join me!” rather relieved that someone other than me seemed to be feeling a little out of place.  It was only once we began talking that I realized that this nervous, seemingly out of place woman who came and sat next to me to share lunch was, in fact, the featured speaker that afternoon:  Brené Brown.

As it turns out, there had been a little glitch in communication.  It seemed that Brené had prepared for this speaking invitation assuming that she was speaking to a conference full of graduate STUDENTS, and not a room full of graduate program directors.  Her entire self-image shifted on that staircase as she…a famous scholar and public speaker about vulnerability…realized she was completely and utterly unprepared for and intimidated by this group. But, her humility (and she admitted to me, a prayer) brought her down the stairs instead of turning back around.  It was from that very real point of her own vulnerability that she found new meaning emerging in her own work that afternoon.  Her words and her presentation took on a whole new life.

In contrast to that transformative vulnerability, if there is one thing that I’ve seen way too much in recent weeks, it’s people who are full of themselves.  Whether politicians or publicists, it seems that we spend a great deal of time in this world listening to people talk a good game, find loopholes that benefit them, spin the situation to their advantage and tell their side of the story in a way that makes them come out looking shiny.  Exposing the truth of who really we, what we’ve actually done (or not done), and where our faults lie feels far too risky and dangerous…too vulnerable.  What quickly follows all of this inauthentic neediness is grasping to prove our worth in comparison with others.  So, what tends to happen is that the more we try to justify ourselves out of fear, the more we are tempted to put down others as less worthy so that in comparison, we look better.

I’ll let you draw your own inferences to people, politics, or situations who may resemble that scenario…

The parable Jesus relates places us in a similar scenario using ancient characters, but with these exact same themes we wrestle with in our contemporary lives.  It’s worth mentioning that today’s Gospel is attributed to Luke, the Evangelist and sharer of the Good News whose feast day we celebrated just a few days ago (October 18).  Luke’s desire…his call to discipleship…was to share and spread the good news of Jesus.  He was also educated…a Physician…and in Luke’s version of the Gospel we frequently hear emphasized the messages of hope and healing in Jesus’ life and ministry.  In today’s Gospel, I think of the way that Luke presents this parable of Jesus as a sort of “prescription” about the all-too-human temptation to justify ourselves, which is as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time.  When we understand these two characters a bit historically there is great healing in the way this Gospel lesson breaks open for us as relevant to our lives today..

Before we even get to the characters, though, this story has a definite setting.  We are in the Temple, and two men (as it would be men at that time) have come up to the temple to pray.  This isn’t a random act; it is an act of intention conducted in a space of worship central to the shared religious life of these two people. This lesson as Jesus tells it takes place in the Temple…God’s house…or for us, it would be the faithful gathered at the Church.  This story doesn’t take place on a street-corner, or a political debate stage, or a University classroom, or the ballroom of a fancy hotel, or even in the middle of Monroe Park.  It takes place in a holy space, involving two people who have been drawn into the house of God for the purpose of communing with God.  The Temple was a designated space of prayer and worship.

The first person we meet in the temple is a Pharisee.  We hear a lot of mixed messages about Pharisees in Jesus’ teachings, but what we know from history and the Jewish culture is that the Pharisees were religious leaders who were respected, committed, law-abiding members of the community who were set apart to meticulously study the Torah and follow the law. So, in the Gospel narrative, we hear this particular Pharisee describe…clearly and precisely…just how law-abiding and respected he is.  In all likelihood, his actions were good and true.  He might be a great person worthy of our admiration.  But in his prayer…his connection with God…he almost seems to be instructing God about how respected and worthy he is, presuming that perhaps even God hasn’t paid close enough attention to his obvious worthiness.  He gives in to human arrogance; he uses this overly-pious opportunity to “give thanks” that he is better than other, specific groups.   Not only is it groups, though.  Into this place of prayer and worship, the Pharisee declares himself better than a specific person…THIS tax-collector…another follower of God who is also present in that same holy space to pray.

Now, it’s helpful to know that the tax-collectors of ancient Rome are not like employees of the IRS today.  Tax collectors were responsible for collecting the tax that was owed to Rome within their jurisdiction.  But, whatever money they collected beyond that was theirs to keep.  Tax-collectors were shrewd, deceitful, and sometimes bullying in order to insure not only Caesar got what belonged to Caesar, but that they made a hefty profit in the process.  The tax collector was likely wealthy, distrusted, and even despised.  He may even not have been a nice guy.  But, in this parable we don’t hear him singing his own praises or trying to justify his actions.  We hear an entirely different prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

It could be tempting to read this parable and think about which of these characters we are most like and, with reverse irony, think of ourselves as better than the one who is self-righteous.  But, if we’re honest, it’s more likely that we see a bit of ourselves in each of these characters…each one of us has a bit of Pharisee and tax collector in the mix.  If we listen instead to the words…the prayers…of each of these two characters, we hear that there is something else happening altogether.  The words of the Pharisee are already full of himself; there is no room for the other, and no room for God.  This is a prayer justifying his own self-determined worthiness.  Does God need our worthiness?  Our piety?  Our money?   Is the kind of worth that we justify to defend our goodness even of importance in the economy of God?  The second character…the despised tax-collector…is praying in an entirely different way.  He has emptied himself of a sense of personal or wordly worthiness, and is asking instead to be filled with God’s mercy.

Where, in our moments of self-righteousness and justification or in our moment of falling short of the goodness we should show toward others, is there room for God’s mercy?  If we are convinced of our own worthiness, what do we have left to offer up to God’s grace?  But when we stand before the God who made us, acknowledging our vulnerability, we open ourselves to the possibility of divine mercy and grace.  The central question of this parable isn’t “who is the better person?” but “how do we make room for God?”

The answer Jesus gives is the healing prescription offered to us by Luke:  by making ourselves vulnerable, we can make room for the transforming and redeeming mercy and love that can be offered only from God.  “All who exult themselves shall be humbled; and all those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”  That is the stuff of transformation, of real soul-level change where we begin to see ourselves as part of the economy of God and the Body of Christ, instead of justifying our individual worth.  We come to understand that God is for US…all of us.  Not just for me, and certainly not more for me than for any other person.  God is with us, and for us, and only in God we are made whole.  Of the two characters, it is the tax-collector who goes home (in this translation) “justified” but this is a place where I turn to the ancient Greek for a better sense of the original context of that word.  In original translation, he goes down from the Temple to his home where he is δικαιόω (dikaioó), “shown to be righteous.”  The person who others once saw as despised now bears witness to the God-given righteousness with which he has been filled.

Being brought into right-alignment with the love and mercy of God requires us to make room.  And there is no place like this place…the Church…where we can open our hearts and make room for that transforming mercy and love.  As this parable begins, our story comes full circle today as well:  we come together in God’s house to pray.  As Jesus shows us through this parable, it is when we make room for God that we are able to receive that abundant mercy which transforms us and moves us to right alignment with God.  This is the humility through which we are exalted.  Together, we pray.  Together, we make room to open to God’s mercy.  And together, we leave healed, transformed, and whole…shown to be righteous, exalted even in the midst of our humble vulnerability through the transforming power of God’s mercy.


Homily prepared for Episcopal Campus Ministry “Port of Grace” Service, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA).  October 23, 2016

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Made Well

A Reflection for Proper 23, Year C

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


Every time I read one the stories of Jesus’ healing, it seems like I find another gem of truth that helps me understand a bit more what it truly means to be made well.  Today’s Gospel is no exception.  I’ve probably heard or read this story of Jesus’ life and ministry a dozen times (or more!) but this week, as I read and prayed and studied, I began to understand a bit more fully about these experiences of being well and learning to give thanks, as Luke presents it to us in his Gospel.  So, let’s walk together through that story and see what healing and hope is offered in this Gospel passage.

First of all, I had to lose some of my own baggage, since I remember this story being used as a manners lesson when I was growing up, as in “why it’s important to say thank you and not be ungrateful.”  I don’t disagree…that’s a really good way to live our lives.  But there is something more happening here that it could be very easy to overlook if we are only focusing on the outward manifestation of politeness, instead of something much more transformative.

We begin with Jesus traveling from village to village between Samaria and Galilee.  Now, you may recall from hearing some other stories like “The Good Samaritan” that in the culture of the times, Samaritans were not highly regarded.  Then, as now, those with power and influence in Jesus’ own cultural group had a tendency to put down other groups, dismissing them as less worthy, less “correct” in their religious beliefs and practices, less deserving.  Being labelled “a Samaritan” meant being judged not by the quality of one’s whole human being, but by the group to which one belonged.  We can bring this story into our own, every reality by replacing “Samaritan” with any group to which we feel we have been labelled and assigned, or when what we are is more important than who we are.  Today we might call this discrimination, and understand their social outcast status as oppression.  But, another group also had this distinction of being outcasts: those who experienced the skin condition referred to in the Bible as “Leprosy” which today we know and treat as a specific condition, Hanson’s disease.  But, without our modern diagnosis and treatment capabilities, it meant that people who experienced a disabling condition which caused their skin to be filled with sores and places of peeling away were made to be social outcasts in their suffering since they were placed outside the gates of the village, believed to be too contagious to live in society.  So, we begin to get a different picture of this village into which Jesus is walking:  outcast, oppressed people standing on the margins who call out to Jesus as he passes for “mercy” (ἐλεέω, “eleeó”) which is closer to our contemporary words for “pity” or “compassion.”  The social outcasts call out for pity, for compassion in whatever means of basic support Jesus can offer.

What Jesus offers them could sound dismissive, “Go and show yourself to the priests.”  But at that time, it wasn’t a physician that could pronounce a leper clean; it was the temple priests.  So, Jesus’ exhortation to those at the gate is to leave the state of sickness and pity, and go to the priests to be declared well.  He essentially responds to the request for pity, with an offering of wholeness.  One of the overlooked miracles in this story is that they heard his words as a promise; they believed; and they went.  The passage tells us that as they went, they were made clean.  What a transformation: those who were outcasts, suffering, calling out for pity were presented with the possibility of being whole.  They follow, they believe, and with each step of their journey they were made clean.  It wasn’t an instant cure, a perfect “fix.”  Like each one of us, they were invited to make a journey of seeing themselves transformed from a state of pity, to a state of wellness.  Each person healed took action.

The Gospel lesson shifts to one of these former lepers, the one who returns to Jesus.  Unlike those whose journey took them all the way to the temple priests to be declared well, one person sees himself as healed…transformed…by the action of healing compassion that Jesus has enacted.  His response is not to move toward those who could outwardly recognize and “declare”that healing to have taken place.  Instead, he turns back, toward the one who has offered healing and compassion.  We hear in Luke’s Gospel that he stopped to thank God in a loud voice, then humbled himself by lying prostrate at Jesus’ feet, recognizing Jesus to be that agent of divine compassion who had bestowed healing.  Jesus sees both the irony and the beauty of this act of faith by the one who experiences the most oppression, the double-jeopardy, the greatest sense of being an outcast.  What Jesus pronounces is a truth that speaks to us, even thousands of years later: Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.

The truth is that when we encounter God, we are already transformed.  We are already healed beyond that which human eyes can recognize.  If we are seeking approval of our healing from human hands, we know the places to go for that and we can go there.  But when we seek to be transformed by divine compassion, the response modeled by today’s Gospel is to turn toward God and give our thanks from the depths of our heart and soul.

One of the pearls of wisdom I uncovered from studying this text this week is that the greek word for “Giving Thanks” shown by the leper who is transformed, as he turns toward Jesus, is εὐχαριστέω, “eucharisteó.”  That might sound familiar…it is the same root as “Holy Eucharist” or as we sometimes rightly call it, “The Great Thanksgiving.”  The transformation offered through Jesus Christ offers to us the possibility of awareness of who we are, how we have been moved from pity to wellness, and how in the very act of humbly offering our thanks to the Almighty God we take in the depths of true transformation not only of body, but of mind and spirit as well.

Jesus says to the man, “Get up, and go on your way.  Your faith has made you well.” Receive the gift of those words in your own life today, as we pray for healing and give our thanks to God today.



Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Red Door Healing Service. Friday, October 7, 2016.

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Crossing the Chasm

A reflection for Proper 21, year C

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

There are so many chasms that divide us in this world.  At times, it seems like we are being pulled further and further apart from each other.  It can be very tempting to fall into the illusion that “once upon a time” there was a perfect world without injustice, where we all were one happy family.  Somehow, in our illusion of that imaginary used-to-be-perfect world, we think that others had it better “back then” than we do now.  In 2016, it seems that the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.  It seems that there are not just dividing lines but huge chasms between the “haves” and the “have nots” or perhaps between Democrats and Republicans, progressives and liberals, Black and White, men and women, young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor: the list of what divides us goes on, and on, and on.  In 2016, its easy for us to draw boxes around groups of which we are not a part and think of “them” as “the other” who are for some reason less worthy.  But, Jesus breaks that illusion of the Good Old Days by bringing us into a story from another time…and another realm…where those chasms are still real, and made visible.  In this parable Jesus paints a vivid picture of the chasms that divide us so that we can then be offered a glimpse into the possibility of another world.

Whenever we find ourselves on the outside of the box of privilege or labelled as someone else’s version of “the unworthy other,” we can relate profoundly to Lazarus, the poor man sitting outside the gate.  In fact, I think perhaps Jesus gives us the vivid detail of how horrible it feels to be the one who is outside the gate precisely because he himself knows how dehumanizing it can feel to be the one who is rejected: “And at [the rich man’s] gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.”  In contrast, Jesus also gives us a picture of the rich man: dressed in fine clothes, having the best of everything, eating sumptuous food every day.  We’d probably see that rich man today, looking back at us from the covers of entertainment magazines, glorifying the lifestyle of the rich and famous that so many people are trying to achieve.

But, to what end?

The picture that Jesus paints about the chasm that divides us was as familiar to that crowd 2,000 years ago as it is to us today.  Then, as it is now, there are are chasms that divide us in this world which seem unable to be crossed.  But the question Jesus holds out for his hearers…then and now…is whether there is a way to bridge that divide.

In Jesus’ parable, he tells us clearly how NOT to try to bridge the divide.  Specifically, we can’t expect that someone else can be commanded to do it for us.  Even in a tormented afterlife, the rich man doesn’t really “see” Lazarus.  He just assigns Lazarus to the same role, the same box he always has: a servant, someone to be sent to fetch a drop of water to cool his tongue.  The Rich Man tries to align himself with the all powerful Father, thinking that power and entitlement will save him.  But God, the divine protector that Jesus holds out in the image of Father Abraham says:

“Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

One might think that the rich man would have a moment of clarity at this point.  But, instead he once again fails to recognize the beloved child of Lazarus and continues to see him…as I might say, to “other him” as a servant who he thinks should leave his reward in heaven to come back to earth to save the rich man’s family.  Again, Father Abraham intervenes:

“Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

What stands out to me is the invitation to humility.  Crossing the chasm means that we think less about ourselves, and more about whoever is on the other side.  Crossing the chasm is to know, to listen, to take in the messages of the people and prophets of this world who bring a message of healing, hope, and reconciliation.  The chasm that is fixed between us exists because we persist in keeping some group as “the other” and assuming that we have some exclusivity with God to which that group is not entitled to.  Jesus paints a completely different picture:  all people have the same belovedness; the same prophets; the same stories; all of us are beloved and have the choice to recognize the belovedness in each other.  When we are blind to the belovedness of others, as God sees us, we are fixed only on the chasm that separates us.  When we embrace the humility of our common humanity, as Jesus does, we begin to glimpse his vision for a new world.

In his life and ministry, Jesus crosses that chasm of difference repeatedly.  That chasm is crossed at the moment of his birth, in the very moments of the incarnation of God becoming human and entering the world in the most humble of beginnings, in a manger…a feeding trough…amid animals, people, and without a place to call home.  Already in the stories of Jesus’ ministry that we’ve been sharing together over these past several weeks he eats with sinner and tax-collectors; he heals those who haven’t even the strength to ask; he invests in the lost sheep so that the community can be returned to fullness.  Jesus lives into a pattern of seeing the belovedness in every human being, and in his death and resurrection he crosses that chasm once and for all, joining all of us to be, together, the Body of Christ in the world.

How do we cross the chasms we encounter in our lives?  We choose to see and recognize that we are all named, and loved, and beloved.  Jesus extends himself as a bridge, creating community to all of us…ALL OF US without exception.  There are no chasms in the boundless love of God.  And there are no chasms when we join as one in Christ, recognizing the belovedness of each other as members together in the Body of Christ.

Closing Prayer: (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.


Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Red Door Service

(Friday, September 23 2016)

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Choose Wisely

A Reflection for Proper 20, Year C

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

A very good friend of mine is going blind.  I have known this for some time; in fact, I’ve known it for as long as I have known her.  But this week, she wrote an incredibly moving blog post where she openly talked about what it is like slowly but steadily losing her sight. The reality of her vision loss has become more poignant to her in recent weeks, ever since she realized that it is no longer safe for her to drive her car.  She made a choice to learn how to take the bus, to trust strangers to help her navigate the system’s unpredictability and route changes and how to manage stops and transfers that rely heavily on sight.  My dear friend, Ruth, is a brilliant and heartfelt writer.  She also works as a parish administrator at a local church, a church where I served for many years.  Most importantly, she is a friend and a group leader and trusted confidant to countless people that she encounters every day on the phone, over email, or walking into the office.  She knows, seemingly intuitively, when laughter will diffuse a strained situation or when to offer tissues or a hug to someone who simply needs to be heard.  She loves everyone, because she chooses to see God’s love reflected in them.  She is not only a person who is going blind, but one who sees…truly sees…more than anyone else I know.

I read Ruth’s blog post this week during time I had set aside to prepare today’s reflection.  I had been sitting with, studying, and praying over this week’s Gospel lesson, opening my heart to how this parable of Jesus…which is puzzling, in many ways…breaks open to share Good News with us this week.  But, my mind couldn’t settle on a direction for my reflection.  You could say I took a break, or perhaps more accurately, I leaned into the nudge of the Holy Spirit that I felt when I saw that Ruth had written a blog post.  I read her words, and I began to feel tears of love and joy in my own eyes as I saw her own beautiful spirit reflected in the words and stories she had dictated to her computer so that others could read them.  The words that she wrote are what opened my own eyes to this week’s Gospel in a new way.  She said:

“If there is one lesson I can teach people from this process that seems to become a new normal each day, it is this: there is a greater purpose in this life than the things that keep us busy in our minds each day. There is a greater purpose in this life than the things that keep us distracted in our minds everyday. There is a greater purpose in the effects of our lives on this world.”

You see, Ruth has been given the gift of seeing clearly in ways that have nothing to do with her eyes.  She could choose to be angry, bitter, worried, preoccupied with trying to find ways to “get by” or to disclose from those she loves how she really feels, or what she is experiencing.  But, she makes a different, wiser choice.  She places her confidence in the greater purpose of living for the common good, of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the world, instead of trying to grasp for and protect what is her own.  She tells beautiful stories in her blog post of the people who recently took the time to help her .  She recognizes and thanks them by name because through them she experiences the kindness of strangers in whom she sees…truly and clearly sees…God. I know Ruth, so I have to believe that the life of every person she encounters is equally transformed by her, as she allows the love of Jesus Christ to be present through her in the everyday ups and downs of this journey of life.  I know our friendship has transformed me, as the love of God flows through her.

In the Gospel text we read today, Jesus offers up a parable about choosing wisely.  He tells a story about living life in selfish shrewdness to try to be sure we get what we believe should be ours, or living life for the greater good where we share in God’s abundance.  We all know people and circumstances where taking care of ourselves, “taking what is rightfully ours” or cutting corners to the truth to turn a profit seem like reasonable actions in a dishonest world.  And perhaps at face value they are.  The wealth and power we acquire through dishonesty may feel good…really good…for a short while.  But, the advantages we gain through stepping on others to get ahead doesn’t fill the gaping hole in our souls which is searching for something more real, more meaningful, and more lasting.  That is a God-shaped hole that there is only one way to fill: by our earnest desire to open to God and experience the unconditional love and grace that can only come from One who is greater than we are, and greater than the situations that seem to define us.

What Jesus knows is what my friend Ruth knows, too: the wise choice is opening to the possibilities of how our lives can be used for God, rather than taking a path of selfish greed, or pride, or self-pity.   Sometimes we are treated unfairly; sometimes the situations in life in which we find ourselves truly aren’t fair, or equitable, or right.  Jesus knows this, profoundly.  Jesus recognizes that when we are confronted with this very real unfairness in the world, we have a choice.  We can manipulate the situation in every way we know how to try to get ahead.  That path is chosen by those who are rich and poor alike.  Serving wealth is a great temptation at all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.  We might even succeed in our deceptions; we might even get ahead, and earn street cred for being shrewd.  But, that path does nothing for the greater good.

Jesus offers up an alternative to being enslaved to this pattern of seeking wealth while turning a blind eye to the world, to the value and belovedness of the people who surround us.  Jesus offers us an entirely different route of serving God, where we realize that inequity exists, we understand that life isn’t fair, we speak our truth without deception and we still know that we are beloved of God and we are a part of God’s beloved community with others whose lives touch our own.  Living into that God-shaped reality means that the love which fills us connects us to others and allows our lives to be lived out in that heavenly, abundant love echoing into the world where people least expect it.  Love can be the active force that changes people, changes policies, changes systems that are enslaved to dishonesty and fear.  Loving as we are loved is an active choice.  God’s active relationship with God’s people emerges through love.  When we serve the God of Love there is, as my friend Ruth says, a greater purpose in the effects of our lives on this world.  That wise choice…the choice of who we serve…makes all the difference.

Choose wisely.  Choose love.  Choose God.

Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Red Door Service (Friday, September 16, 2016)


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A Reflection for Proper 19, Year C

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

When I was working as a grief counselor, I had a poem hanging on my wall that was written by a grieving parent whose child had died.  It was a beautiful poem in many ways, but the reason why I liked it so much was because of the last line:  “Life can be the same after a trinket is lost, but never the same after the loss of a treasure.”  I shared those words with the grieving people who would sit with me, pouring out their hearts and stories.   Well meaning people would tell them to “move on” or worse, to “get over it.”  They knew this was impossible, but they didn’t want to remain stuck in the overwhelming pain of their grief, either.  Often they would share so much depth of love and detail with me that I could imagine their beloved right there in our midst.  It was clear to me how the lives of my clients had been changed forever by the relationship that they shared.  It was also apparent to me that the magnitude of their loss in those moments of intense grieving had to do with the immense amount of love that they shared.  Over time, our counseling sessions would shift from the intensity of loss itself, to the realization that love continued on even in the midst of loss.  After several years of offering support to the grieving, I began realizing deep in my own soul that the real work of grief is to re-discover the love that is still there, a hidden treasure in the midst of the pain. I began to reclaim the hidden lessons of love that stemmed from my own losses, too.  Most importantly, I began to understand the source of that deep, abiding love as God.

Love is too precious to be lost, even in death.

In our Gospel lesson this week, Jesus takes up this same role of counselor with those he is teaching.  The people who have drawn near to him, we are told, were those that society really didn’t want much to do with:  sinners, outcasts, tax-collectors.  The church leaders of the time…those with more power and authority…are also there in his midst, grumbling and complaining.  They are skeptical of the company that Jesus is keeping, making assumptions about the value and worth of those human beings and what that means for Jesus’ own merit.  But, to all of these people who are gathered around him:  the sinners, the outcasts, and even the self-righteous complainers….Jesus offers up these two parables.  These two stories are gifts that help us see more clearly and know more fully about the vastness of God’s love for God’s people.

In the first parable, Jesus uses a metaphor of sheep to show us how God shepherds us, finds us, and carries us even when have wondered off.  Now, it helps here if we know a little something about sheep.  Sheep are gregarious, social animals that are hard-wired to follow the leader and stick together.  Every one of their instincts tells them to follow the herd and keep their safety in numbers.  A lost sheep cannot cry out for help and they are not accustomed to feeling alone or vulnerable.  In fact, a sheep that is separated from its flock often becomes so fearful and anxious and out-of-sorts that it will lie down paralyzed with fear, making itself even more vulnerable to prey.  The sheep has no natural ability to save itself.  So, here we have a shepherd with a flock of 100 who notices that one sheep is missing.  The shepherd knows that sheep can do nothing to save itself.  But, the shepherd also knows that the 99 remaining sheep are a protective community for each other.  The piece in this parable that we sometimes miss is that the Good Shepherd is not abandoning the 99 to retrieve one.  The shepherd is entrusting the flock to protect each other while the one missing sheep is sought out and returned.  Once returned, the community is at its fullness again.

What does that say to us about how Jesus, our Good Shepherd, bestows love on us as individuals, and as beloved community?  I’ll let you think on that for a moment.

In the next parable, we have a woman looking for a lost coin.  We don’t know much about this woman, but we do know that a tenth of all the money she had has gone missing.  That lack of money that we were depending on is a feeling most of us can relate to.  And so, she searches…she lights up the dark corners; she sweeps out the cobwebs that get in the way of seeing her treasure.  She puts all her energy into finding that last coin.  I love what happens next, though.  When she finds the coin, she doesn’t horde it away so that she will never lose it again.  She calls her friends and neighbors and invites them to celebrate with her.  Because of that outward expression of her inward joy, she extends joy to the whole community.

In both of these parables, joy is found when full community is restored.  In both of these parables, it is God who searches, who finds, who loves, who restores. We celebrate the love that remains, the precious treasure of divine love and grace that makes us, as the whole of God’s church, so much greater than any of us are alone.

God sees the precious treasure in each one of you, and God rejoices in the precious treasure that is ALL OF US…the Church, the people of God.  There is no corner too dark that God’s light cannot enlighten us.  There are no cobwebs so thick that they cannot be brushed away to reveal the treasure God sees in us.  Even death cannot separate us from the transforming love of God.  Today, we are reminded that there is no fear or loneliness that can stand in the way of God’s profound desire to carry us back into community.  And this community…God’s beloved community…rejoices whenever you are here.

Take a few moments today to let that love sink in, exactly where you are.  God will find you there.


[Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Friday September 9 2016 (Red Door Service)]


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Where the journey leads

A Reflection for Proper 18, Year C

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”


Many of us plan and mark the time in our lives with a calendar. At any given time in the Episcopal Church, there are actually three calendars operating at once. There is the standard calendar of events where we keep a rhythm of what happens when: Holy Eucharist on Sundays, our Red Door lunch and prayer service here on Fridays, various parish events in between. Then, there is something we call the “liturgical calendar” in which we walk through the cycle of preparing for and celebrating Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension and living out the life of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the season following. But, all the while this standard time and liturgical time is happening, there is also a calendar in motion that helps us remember the lives and ministries of the ordinary yet extraordinary people whose lives as saints, martyrs, and disciples offer us wisdom, insight, and examples of discipleship. This calendar of saints (or what we officially call a “sanctoral” calendar) reminds us of the Great Cloud of Witnesses who have lived with the depths of their souls into their lives of faith. They are those whose stories we look to for the lessons about how to live deeply, authentically, and boldly as disciples and followers of Christ. They are the role-models who do exactly what Jesus describes in this Gospel: they emerge from the interested but distant crowd to walk the walk with Jesus Christ as his disciples.

Today, I want to tell you the story of a disciple who we recently celebrated on that calendar of saints. This story begins in 1939, when Jonathan Daniels was born in New Hampshire. Jonathan was a regular guy, the oldest of two children whose father was a Physician. After high school, he moved south and attended Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia. He was kind of a misfit there at first, but eventually earned the deep respect of his colleagues. He wrestled with the pull in his soul toward ministry, something that had been with him since high school. After he graduated from VMI, he continued to postpone that sense of call and began formal studies in English literature. In the spring of 1962, following the death of his father and while attending Easter services at the Church of the Advent in Boston, he described himself as experiencing a renewal of God’s grace and felt a deepening call to study for priesthood. He began attending the Episcopal  Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the fall of 1963, expecting to graduate in the spring of 1966. In March 1965, as Jonathan was entering the final year of his studies, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reached out to seminary students and others to join him in Selma, Alabama, for a march to the state capital in Montgomery demonstrating support for his civil rights program.  Jonathan received that invitation, and felt compelled to join this struggle for justice.  His family begged him not to go. He went anyhow.

He and others left on Thursday for Selma, intending to stay only that weekend; but he and a friend missed the bus back. During those extra hours, they thought about what it must feel like for the people who lived in Selma to watch people come and go; they decided to stay on for whatever was in store, asking for that whole term off away from their seminary studies to devote to civil rights work. Now, none of the stories I read talked about how Jonathan’s professors viewed that decision, but speaking as a faculty member I think its fair to guess that it’s very likely there were some dissenters among his mentors, in spite of his good intentions. He stayed anyhow. His time in the South was spent integrating churches, often walking with people…and especially youth…Sunday after Sunday to insure that whether they were Black or white, they had a safe journey and were given a place in God’s church. Even in Church, people scowled and resisted integration. He walked, sat, prayed and worshipped with his friends and neighbors anyhow.

Jonathan’s diaries and writings show that these actions of justice, mercy, Christian love and radical hospitality deepened his call to discipleship, “…I lost my fear when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God…With black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which fulfills and “ends” all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably ONE.”

That entry was written just a few days before Jonathan, escorting several high school youth between school and church, was approached by a man with shotgun who threatened one of the girls he was escorting. Jonathan pushed her out of the way, stepping into the line of fire. He died from that shotgun blast in Alabama on August 20, 1965.

The Episcopal Church regards Jonathan Myrick Daniels as one of our “Great Cloud of Witnesses”…the saints, martyrs, servants of God who give us real stories and living witnesses of the kind of discipleship that Jesus speaks of.   The reason why I’m sharing his story today is not to tell a tale of how his life ended. My appreciation for Jonathan…the way in which I am inspired by him…has to do with the way he lived out the journey of his life as he followed the calling deeply into his vocation. When I read his diaries, I hear someone who is being continually changed by prayer. He kept living more deeply into his convictions; he kept listening to the yearning for justice; he said yes to experiences that led him to prayerful, committed action within a community experiencing oppression. Jonathan’s life was changed not because of one decision on one day, but because of his repeated decisions to remain in prayer; to stay in community; to allow mercy and justice to overcome fear; to advocate with people with whom he shared dignity and respect because he saw Christ in them. His life is a witness in its living, and his death was not an end but a testament to mercy and justice that continues to inspire us today. In giving up his own time, his own comfort, his own community, his own self-preservation and self-importance…in giving up all that he had, mercy and justice and life prevailed. In this story…even in his death…life was opened up for that young woman, Ruby Sales, whose life was spared. Ruby herself has herself become a world-changing civil rights advocate, tireless in her struggle to continue the work of mercy and justice. When we are disciples, the picture is always larger than we are.

When I think about Jonathan Daniels, I am able to hear Jesus’ words about discipleship in today’s Gospel. This Gospel doesn’t paint a rose-colored picture of being a disciple; it speaks of what we give up and how deeply our “yes” must resound. It also reminds us that being a disciple is a journey which will unfold, and may have a far greater impact than we realize. We don’t know when the kind word we offer or the prayer we extend touches a life, and changes it. We don’t know how others will respond to us. Like Jonathan, we don’t know how the story ends and how our story may be told and retold in years to come. But, we do know that our lives can all have a place in the living out of the Christian story. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to step with him into the unknown, placing our hand with his on the same cross that he himself carries. Just as Jonathan began to lose his fear, we begin to lose ours. It isn’t because everything is going to be ok all of the time. It is because everything we do, every step we walk, every situation we encounter is in community with those who have gone before us, and with Jesus Christ himself who has taken on the road of the cross so that we never, ever need to walk that path alone.

In today’s text, Jesus speaks openly of possessions because he realizes that something will always posses us: the pressures of family, the fear of the unknown, our quest for self-preservation, the drive for prosperity or to do what the world tells us that we ought to do. Jesus gives us a challenge today: to wholeheartedly follow our call to be the disciples who walk the road of this Christian life together with him. He reminds us that when we begin to let go of what we cling to, we learn to experience the love of Christ more and more. It can seem like discipleship costs us everything. But as ordinary, extraordinary disciples like Jonathan show us…the world is changed when we let go of what we have so that Christ can work through us, transforming us and through us, transforming this world that is so deeply in need of mercy, justice, hope, and love.

In giving ourselves, wholly…in Christ, we are made whole.

Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Friday September 2, 2016 (Red Door Healing Service)


Icon of Jonathan Myrick Daniels by Mark Friesland









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Eating with Jesus

A reflection for Proper 17, Year C:

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

It seems like we spend a lot of time in the Gospels eating with Jesus.  Eating at wedding banquets, eating at friends’ homes, eating with multitudes of people, breaking bread with close friends.  Of course, there is a lot that happens in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, ministry, life, death, and resurrection that we encounter in the Bible, and we tell those stories across the liturgical year.  The more I reflect on how often food appears in those stories along with Jesus, the more I realize that these stories of feasting, eating, and dining with Jesus are at the core of my faith.  There is awe in the divine mystery of Jesus Christ, God-made-human.  But, there is also something incredibly beautiful about Jesus, the divine-yet-human being who understands the nature of what we need…food for sustenance of body, and relationship for sustenance of soul.  If Jesus is someone that I can eat with, Jesus is someone that I can relate to.  If Jesus conveys stories through the sharing of food and fellowship at the table, then I am someone who wants to listen and be fed.  So, when Jesus invites me to eat with him, I am drawn to say an enthusiastic “yes.”  That, in a few sentences, is the pattern that has drawn me deeper and deeper into the relationship with Jesus that is the basis of my Christian life.

I’ve realized while reflecting on this Gospel that we read today that eating with Jesus is probably the perfect metaphor for our lives of faith.

Jesus, as a devout and faithful teacher, offers up stories and parables which invite his hearers to live deeply into the two great commandments that were central to his Jewish faith and life:  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  These core values…the Shema…frame his life and ministry.  When I think about those words, I realize that my own upbringing instilled something that at its core is a branch of this sacred value.  It was spoken and lived out by my Grandmother:  when you love people, you feed them.  She was the matriarch of a farming family, and fed everyone from farm hands to her own flesh and blood with food cooked with love.  Sometimes that food was abundant, and sometimes she made due with whatever was available.  But, always, you were fed because you were loved.  Favorite meals on birthdays, family gatherings with spreads of comfort food, Thanksgiving banquets that would stretch across multiple rooms of my Gramma’s farmhouse, containing contributions from multiple family members cooked and baked with love and care.  We feed our families, we make sure our children have food…even special food…and sometimes we even go without food ourselves in order to make that happen.  When people we love are sick, we feed them.  When people are hurting and grieving, we feed them.  When we are happy and celebratory, we throw parties and invite people to share our joys with us.  The food and faces may change with culture, geography, what we love to eat and what is available to us.  But, rather universally, when we love people we feed them.  When we are fed, we come to know that we are loved.

And so, it becomes a deeply loving gift when we are invited to eat with Jesus.

First, Jesus teaches his fellow dinner companions what it really means to be a guest.  Jesus himself is being watched, and he is watching people clamor and climb to be seated nearest the person of power.  In the cultural setting of a meal such as this, this would literally mean watching people trying to be the center of attention.  The guests of honor reclined in the center of the room, with those who wanted to be seen and heard crowding into that central space.  Jesus is drawing our attention not just to where we find our place at the table, but to how we feel occupying those spaces.  If we are only looking to be at the center of attention so that we can share in another’s power, we don’t even pay attention to who is with us, or who we crawl over in the process. We stop seeing those on the margins.  We stop making relationships .   When the guest in Jesus’ parable is demoted from that self-appointed place of power and feels disgrace, that feeling comes from being set apart, from feeling apart from community.  Jesus offers up a different perspective:  joining first with those who are on the outside builds community among those with whom we are gathered at the table.  Jesus points out that even when we are invited closer, it isn’t just about us if we are living in community.  We are honored in the presence of all who are with us because they rise with us.  Jesus as guest reminds us that it isn’t the position where we start out or where we strive to be, but instead it is seeing ourselves as a part of the table…the community…that makes all the difference.  When one of those humble guests is honored, all of the guests are exalted.  I think of Jesus, the guest, reminding us that he didn’t choose to enter this world amid wealth and power.  His incarnate beginnings were humble, and it is in his exultation through death and resurrection that all of us….ALL of US…are brought closer to God.

In the second part of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his host…and us…a lesson about intention.  Do we do what we do so that we’ll get something in return?  Or do we do what we do, because we genuinely care about feeding and loving our community?  Jesus the host doesn’t create an exclusive guest list of those who give the church the most money or who have the highest social standing.  Jesus invites us to his table…those of us who will come as we are…wearing all the flaws and challenges and marks of our humanity.  We are the guests.  Jesus the host knows that this beloved community of authentic, flawed, real people is where the real joy lies.  Jesus, our host, rejoices when we are restored.  Jesus, our host, delights to feed us without expecting that we can ever reciprocate.  Jesus, our host, embodies that same sacred value as my Grandmother: when you love people, you feed them.  There is a delight in offering all of what we have to feed those we love.  There is deep gratitude in being lovingly fed.  In the abundance of the banquet Jesus hosts for us, all are fed.  All are nourished.  All are welcome.

Yes, I think eating with Jesus is probably the best metaphor for our active lives of faith.

Everyone here today is being invited to eat with Jesus, and Jesus is here to eat with us as a guest. Jesus is here in community, with us as we pray together and eat together. Jesus is here, with those you will sit with at lunch, and those you break bread with, and Jesus who eats with you here continues to show his love through your words and actions toward those you will encounter as you leave. Jesus is in the hands and hearts of those who are back in the kitchen finishing up their cooking preparations right now; it is Jesus who holds the hands that serve and supports the hands that receive. Jesus is present in the scrubbing of the pots, the washing of the dishes, the vacuuming of the floor, and the wiping the tables. Jesus is here with us knowing the humility of this human life…knowing about poverty, about oppression, about being beaten, about feeling abandoned and betrayed. Jesus is here as our host, offering us his stories of hope, of resurrection, of the humble being exalted, of a kingdom that is both of this world and beyond it. If you come back on Sunday for Holy Eucharist, which you are all welcome to do, Jesus is host for that sacred feast, too.  Jesus is host, and Jesus is guest in all these ways that he holds out for us to feed on today…because we are the community of Jesus. Feed on that in your hearts as we break bread together today. Jesus, the host, invites you. Jesus, the guest, dines with you. In Christ’s own humility, and in his rising up, we also are exalted.

[Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church:  A Service for Healing, Friday August 26, 2016]


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healing, before we ask

Meditation for Proper 16, Year C


Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Eighteen years is a long time.  It’s longer than my daughter has been alive.  It’s longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve lived in Richmond, longer than I have been an Episcopalian.

When I first read this passage from Luke’s Gospel, I began to think about what was happening in my own life, 18 years ago, just so that I could understand a bit more about this woman who Jesus sees.  To save anyone else from having to do the math, let me just mention that eighteen years ago was 1998.  I had to pause and think about that…1998 was a long time ago, and a whole different time in my life.

In 1998, I was living in Buffalo and feeling pretty trapped.  I found myself living alone, having just ended a relationship that wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t sure how long I could stay where I was currently living, and I definitely wasn’t sure where I would go if I left. I was working several part-time jobs trying to make ends meet.  I knew I wanted to do some things with my life that just didn’t seem possible or realistic at that time: go back to school, find something that gave me joy, make healthy new friendships and relationships.

At some point that year, it occurred to me that I always enjoyed art when I was younger.  Art seemed to be an affordable and much needed hobby…paper, pencils, maybe some paints.  This, I thought, was within my grasp…I just needed some structure or perhaps a class to get me started.  I browsed through the newspaper and found an art class that seemed affordable…only $15, as I recall.  I called for a slot in the class, and heard an answering machine message that said the class was cancelled.  Dejected, I felt like giving up but left a return name and number in case there was another class.  Several days later, my phone rang.  It was the teacher of that art class, who apologized for having to cancel the class.  She invited me to her studio for a free lesson since she felt badly to have cancelled.  So, I went a few days later thinking at least I had nothing to lose.

Her studio was a tiny, open space above a car mechanic shop, which is where she worked as a part-time receptionist.  I learned that afternoon above the auto garage that my art teacher, Betty, had taken up art late in life while she was the caregiver for her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease.  She was wonderfully gifted, and a patient teacher who helped me see the beauty in the world around me, a beauty I had been unable to see myself.  It just so happens that my job at that time was as a bereavement counselor, and my prior work was as the social worker for an Alzheimer’s unit of a skilled nursing facility.  Betty and I clearly had gifts to share with each other.  For several years we met, and sketched, and talked, and cried, and healed together every Sunday afternoon.

Eighteen years is a very long time.  But even across those years, Betty and I are still friends.  She’s written a book about her caregiving to help other caregivers.  I’ve integrated art as a regular part of my life, in fact just returning from time as the Chaplain to our diocesan art camp.  Healing sometimes comes to us before we ask.  And often, it comes to us through the hands and hearts that see us as already as healed and whole, before we even see that in ourselves.

In the Gospel of Luke we meet, through Jesus’ eyes, another woman who is hurting.  This woman has been bent over for eighteen years.  We’re told she was unable to stand up straight.  So, her view probably never reached the horizon line, let alone ascend upward to the heavens.

Eighteen years is a very, very long time to only see the ground beneath your feet.

This story of healing in the ministry of Jesus is different than others.  Here, we don’t have someone coming to Jesus and asking for healing, or even reaching out in faith to touch the hem of his garment.  In this story, we have Jesus teaching…preaching…gathered in the holy space of the temple.  He is the One who sees this woman perhaps, because of her limited vision, before she can even see him.  And the first thing Jesus does is call to her to come near, to tell her she is free of her ailment.  The second thing Jesus does is touch her.  He lays his hands on her, making a human and divine connection in which healing resides.  What we know from the story Luke tells us is that at that point this woman stands up, and gives thanks to God. At that moment, health and healing are hers again.  The colors of the sky, the trees, the far off horizon, the eyes of those near her…the eyes of Jesus, who has lavished healing upon her…these are hers to see again.  It isn’t just her body that is healed but also her spirit; when hope returns and healing fills her, her response is to stand up and give thanks to God.

What Jesus knows, and what this woman knows…and what those in the story who criticize him for healing on the Sabbath do not seem to know…is that healing is not about work.  Healing is about freedom.  Healing invites us to see ourselves in our divine potential, rather than our human limits.  Healing is extended to us in the form of hope, relationship, divine touch through human hands.  Healing invites us to share in God’s vision of ourselves in that moment where we realize there is so much more to see as our eyes are opened and our vision is expanded beyond our present circumstance and to a view of the holy within us, and around us.

Today, we are invited to hope and healing.  We don’t have to be in a place to name what is ailing us.  We don’t even have to have the courage and confidence to ask for healing.  We are invited to be open to the possibility of living in the hope of who we are, how God sees us, and through the eyes of people who see that divine image reflected in us.  Healing and hope come in the form of those we may least expect: art teachers, social workers, hands that reach out to offer love and support.  I believe that hope and healing are present in this world, in our lives, in this place and this time that we are together.

No matter how many years we have been afflicted, in Christ there is hope and healing, even before we ask.

[prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, A Public Service of Healing:  August 19, 2016]


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I’ve been thinking about “saints” a great deal this week, and saints have been finding me.  Although I only get to the West Coast a few times a year, my great joy is worshipping surrounded by the dancing saints of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  I was talking about St. Gregory’s recently with some of the volunteers at my field education parish with whom I was cooking and serving lunch for those in need of a home-cooked, sustaining meal.  Whenever we feed those who hunger, we ourselves are fed.  That kind of deep, soul nourishment happens at St. Gregory’s, and at my home parish food pantry, and at my field ed parish’s feeding ministry and so many other settings where we feed with love and abundance.  I never, ever leave ministries like this without having been nourished deeply.

I am realizing that the vastness of my understanding of the “Communion of Saints” has been forever altered by my experiences with feeding and being fed.  It is visceral at St. Gregory of Nyssa.  Their worship space is designed for liturgy and feeding…by that, I mean both ecclesial and literal translations of the word.  The same altar around which people gather for Holy Eucharist on Sunday, people gather and glean bountiful amounts of produce and groceries at food pantry on Fridays.  I’ve been fed (literally and sacramentally) in both spaces, with dancing saints all around me.  It is the saints on earth and the saints above joined together that help me feel my place among the ordinary extraordinary, fed by the depth of connection among us all.  This connection with the saints is not about our goodness, but our openness to the working of Divine Presence through us, exactly as we are.


The presence of saints in our lives is visceral in other places and spaces, too.  I was enthralled earlier this week at an exhibit of Kehinde Wiley’s artwork at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.  In the exhibition, he has reappropriated historical (predominantly European) art with portraits of African American men and women living into the richness of their own personhood.  I kept walking through the exhibit, seeing more and more depth and nuance of people’s true selves reflecting archetypical strengths time after time, painting after painting.  These works of art evoke a depth of expression beyond the subject and situation.  Not surprisingly, his collection of “saints and icons” was most inspiring for me.  Some stained glass works, some iconography, other paintings.  All incredible.  Just a quick peek at a few of these amazing images in Wiley’s New Republic:

IMG_2823 IMG_2820 (1)

I hold all these images of saints as a part of my journey: traditional, contemporary, sacred art, modern interpretation.  I tire of hearing news stories that contain verbiage like, “he was no saint…”  What if, instead of judging worthiness, we actually opened to seeing the saints reflected in each other?  We hold this false idea of “being a saint” as self-determining a level of human perfection, rather than as a conduit for divine love and mercy to flow through and dance among us.  When we are emptied to the possibility of divine purpose flowing through our veins and connecting us with each other, we are like those dancing saints where art, music, the poetry of divine mercy and justice flow like water.

I am blessed to be in the presence of saints in this life, connecting me with the Source of all that is life giving.  I am resting, this night, in the small points of light each encounter brings to my path.

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Closing Up

Today, we close an amazing week of camp. Campers have changed and grown, and I have too.

Here is the Gospel text (from the Common for Artists and Writers) and my homily from closing worship for campers and their families.

Gospel: John 21:15-17,24-25

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Imagine Jesus and Simon Peter, having just eaten a breakfast fit for ShrineMont: French toast, bacon, fresh fruit…you know what I’m talking about! These two were close, tighter than tight having spent time hiking, journeying and boating together, working side by side, talking and laughing, and, the way friends do, sometimes even crying, and consoling each other. This Gospel is like listening to a heart-to-heart feeling check. This particular Gospel gives us a sneak peek into the close conversation of Jesus and Simon Peter, his dear friend and disciple. Yes, the same Simon Peter who tried to walk on water the way our worship team acted out earlier this week. When I listen in to Jesus and Simon Peter, it reminds me of some of the conversations I’ve heard this week. Jesus asks His friend and disciple a question that many of us wonder about our friends, too: “Do you love me, for real?” Simon Peter responds back: “Of course, Jesus…you KNOW that…I love you, and I’ve got your back!” But I don’t think Jesus is giving Simon Peter a friendship test. He asks this question three times, not because he doesn’t believe Simon Peter. This friendship is deep and real. Instead, Jesus is letting his friend know something incredibly important: the most important thing that Simon Peter can do to show his love for Jesus is to share that love with others. Or, in the words of Jesus: “feed my sheep.”

This week, we’ve been forming friendships, connecting with God through our senses, feeding our bodies and our souls, and pausing with intention to consider the lilies. The art that has emerged from this week is spectacular, and I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than taking in the creative expressions that I have watched emerge from each of you, or learning from the depths of love and care shown among counselors and campers as we have grown deeper in relationship with each other, and in relationship with God. Art camp has been a masterpiece, and everyone here has been changed by that artistry. Pause, look around, take it in: consider the lilies in the faces, the expressions, the art that surrounds you.

But, don’t stop there. Jesus’ request to his friend Simon Peter is true for us, too. We have been fed in mind, body, and spirit here on this mountain. I will not go home the same as I was when I came here, and neither will you. You have made new friends, discovered your inner artistry in new forms and expressions, connected with God in new and deeper ways. These are also the ways in which we know Christ, who holds us and enfolds us and shows himself to us through our love for each other, when we take time to stop and look and listen…and even smell and taste…the many ways that God makes God’s self known to us. We are changed and transformed by that love. Like Simon Peter, our friend Jesus who knows that are hearts are filled with love, tells us exactly what we need to do next: Jesus asks us to show the depths of this transforming, inspiring love to all of God’s people…to the whole world around us. Share your stories of art camp. Pray for a friend. Ask someone you care about to do a feeling check with you. Make prayer flags. Give your art to the world. Let the music of Shrinemont….songs and nature…be what resonates in your ears and fills your days with song.

Today’s Gospel ends with a glimpse into that beautiful, transformed world: “there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The real beauty is that we continue to live out Jesus’ love and teaching by being the eyes, and ears, and hands and feet of Christ in the world. We are the Body of Christ, transformed so that we can transform the world and continue to fill it with stories and actions of Jesus’ love. So go forth, spreading that love wherever you go. Share your art, connect with God, show love…be the lilies of the field that make this world beautiful as the love bestowed on us feeds the world, leaving brushstrokes of beauty wherever we go.


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