Reflections on Mary

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA (virtual worship in the time of pandemic)

Scripture Readings Referenced:

Luke 1:26-38

Canticle 15

For the record, I want to say that I’d like Dorothy White and the good people of St. Mark’s to gather for a womanist bible study on the scripture text every time I’m scheduled to preach!  On Wednesday evening, the thoughts and ideas that flowed out from the group that gathered was a balm for my end-of-semester tired and weary soul.  If you weren’t able to be there, I commend it to you for a listen.  We were focusing in that conversation on the characters of Mary and Elizabeth, who are central to the scripture texts we read on this fourth Sunday of Advent.  We came away with a renewed conviction that these two expectant mothers…one in her age, and one in her youth…were necessary for each other.  And I was reminded of how necessary we are to each other as well, as the Word of God in Holy Scripture breaks open for us in our lives, in our questions, and in our holy conversations.  So, this morning, I invite us into relationship with this Gospel text.  I want us to spend some holy time with holy Mary.

I read an article this week in which feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson said, “as a result of the Reformation disputes, Catholics developed a severe case of fixation on Mary, and Protestants developed a severe case of amnesia.”  Now, as a faithful Episcopalian of the Anglican “via media” (the “middle way”) I think it’s fitting for us all to journey together into today’s Gospel lesson, no matter on which side of that polarity we may find ourselves.  I’d like to offer three reflections about this story that I hope can open our hearts and prepare us to receive the Christ child with wonder and joy.

First Reflection: with apologies to lyricist Mark Lowry and a star-studded host of musical performers who have crooned the question, “Mary did you know?” I have to assert that Yes, Mary did know.  Mary as presented to us in Luke’s Gospel may be a young woman, but she is a fully aware, engaged and active participant in this unfolding of God’s plan.  For any of you who have…or once had…a young woman in her teens living in your household, let me remind you that what they may lack in life experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is often based on the giving of one’s word: promises of friendship, of time, of love, of relationship, of trust.  In today’s story, the conversation related to us takes place between young Mary and the heavenly visitor Gabriel.  But, I want to note that this portion of the narrative we read today immediately follows the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist.  Zechariah, John’s father, also receives a visit from Gabriel and is described as “terrified and overwhelmed by fear” and ultimately, responds to the angelic message with skepticism about its validity due to the age of both he, and his wife Elizabeth.  Suspicion and skepticism, the hallmarks of adulthood…and as a result, Zechariah’s adult voice is taken away until the birth of his son.  But it is a different story with Mary, when she is visited by Gabriel.  Mary pays attention, wonders, listens, and takes the risk to act on the information given to her about God’s choice and invitation for her to participate in this unfolding of salvation history.  Mary hears God’s promise and takes God at God’s word.  This trusting participation comes at a cost to Mary; it may compromise her social standing, her relationships and her own sense of identity.  But she has also heard the word of God revealed to her, and she believed what she heard even without certainty.  Faced with a heavenly messenger and a mind-blowing message, Mary says with a willing heart that both consents and assents to God’s invitation: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.  Yes, Mary knew.

Second Reflection:  Mary is a preacher of the good news.  She may have been young, and she may have been socially on the bottom rung, but this woman preached from the depths of her heart.  Having said her holy “yes” and being filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary literally embodies and nurtures the Good News of God’s inbreaking into the world. Like the pregnant young woman she is, she grows more deeply into awareness of herself in relation to the child forming within her day by day. I can close my eyes and imagine Mary, so filled with the Spirit of God, that she cannot contain the glow.  The ancient hymn we read today, which we have come to know as the Magnificat, emanates from Mary in response to Elizabeth, who acknowledges her as one filled to overflowing with the grace of God.  Mary is filled, pregnant with the holy and now growing in her lived awareness of God’s fortune-reversing, liberating justice that comforts the afflicted, frees the imprisoned, feeds the hungry, and lavishes abundance on those who have nothing.  This song that her spirit sings is the song of God’s love and humanity’s liberation through God’s intervention.  This proclamation pours forth from Mary, who has herself been marginalized by society and yet is lifted up by God.  Her joyous praise is not tied up with earthly prosperity, but is abundant with heavenly promise.  And oh, does she preach!  You have mercy on those who fear you from generation to generation; You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit, Casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Mary, preaching as a prophet of the poor and marginalized of this world represents hope renewed.  Mary, who we have come to call theotokos, the God-bearer, bears the Goods News not only in her womb, but through her fully embodied proclamation of the loving, liberating and life-giving God.  She even preached that before Bishop Michael Curry preached it, and I don’t think he’d argue with that one bit!

My third and final reflection: Mary helps us see and know that when we participate with our whole selves, the main actor in this story, and in our lives, is always God.  Mary knows this truth from the first greeting: Greetings, favored one: the Lord is with you.  This is the heart of the story, my friends.  Mary recognizes the presence of God with her, in her, and through her.  She is not irrelevant or passive.  Mary is the one God chooses as the first face of the incarnation, who shows us the joy of wholly embodied trust in God’s sustaining providence.  As John the Baptist proclaims the unfolding of the ministry of Jesus, Mary proclaims the incarnate reality that God has, and is, and will continue to be the one who enacts love in the world of God’s own creation.  This story is all about Mary AND it never ceases to be about God.  God is the source, the action, and the Word made flesh.  It is through Mary’s willing embrace of this call placed upon her life that we are able to see God’s action on behalf of all of us reflected in her.  This doesn’t diminish Mary; this magnifies the visibility of her faithfulness, her trust, and her steadfast witness to God-with-us.

So, you’ve heard my reflections.  Now, I offer some questions for us to ponder in these remaining Advent days: How is God inviting us to know the truth of God’s presence in our lives, and in this world?  How is God proclaiming the Good News through us, in our words and in our actions?  How do our lives reflect God’s action in the world?  

The gift within these questions is the mystery and the miracle of Christmas.  Jesus comes to this world anew through us, as we live in this world as the hands and feet of Christ. This world still craves and yearns to know and experience that love.  We need Christmas.  The world needs Christmas.  And this gift of the incarnation that is Christmas is lived out in the unfolding of our lives, in response to the call that God has placed on us.

So, in these final Advent days, as you bake the cookies and wrap the gifts, hold these truths and ponder them in your heart.  Mary knew.  Mary preached.  Mary magnified the inbreaking of God for the liberation of God’s people.  And we, like Mary, are invited to hear, to trust, and to respond to that transforming and divine love in our own lives, too.

Come, Lord Jesus.


Icon of Mary, Theotokos
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Seeing the Face of Christ

Last Sunday of Pentecost, Year A (Christ the King)
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church: Virtual Worship in a Time of Pandemic
November 22, 2020

Lectionary Texts:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Listen to Sermon Recording

Sometimes Christ the King looks like a short, hunched-over woman with wildly cut hair, sipping sweet tea with lemon, savoring the last bite of cake while mumbling and singing to herself. 

Perhaps I should explain a bit more…

In the Fall of 1989, I began the first of many internships that would be a part of my preparation to be a practicing social worker.  I had just transferred between schools and so, I was a little late to the registration process.  And as sometimes happens, I didn’t get my first pick of placements.  I didn’t even get my second or third pick.  It seemed to me that the powers that be had gotten things completely mixed up: I planned to be an administrator and community organizer so I was hoping for a high power, influential internship that would land me a great, lucrative…well, as lucrative as social work can be…post-graduation job.  Instead, I learned that I would be placed in a community board and care home which offered long-term shelter to deinstitutionalized adults with mental health challenges who had spent most of their lives in the local psychiatric hospital.  This shelter, a transitional housing facility operated by the YWCA, sprang into being when deinstutionalization was a political cost-saving measure, not a humanitarian best practice.  People were released from inpatient care without community living skills. There were no safe spaces for people with long-term psychiatric disabilities to live and homelessness became visible: a chronic and deadly problem in the harsh, Buffalo winters.  The old boarding house-turned-transitional shelter had peeling paint and dirty old carpets and very minimal staffing.  My first day on the job I thought: I don’t know if I can do this.  But, I heard a voice in my soul saying, “People live here; You can work here.”  That became my motto.

After a few weeks of required training and shadowing staff and volunteers through support groups and recreational outings, I was given a choice.  I could continue to work scheduled hours with these group activities as part of the staff team, or become an individual support volunteer with some of the more challenging residents and work my own hours.  My supervisor hinted that they had plenty of students helping with the groups, but what they really needed were people who were willing to spend that quality 1:1 time with people who weren’t able or willing to be a part of group activities.  I had classes, and worked another paid job and really craved the freedom of setting my own hours. I heard my lips saying yes while my brain was shouting  “No, what are you doing!”  But my yes had been said, and that meant I was now on my own.  Very quickly, I was handed a name and room number.  “Your job,” said my supervisor, “is to get Ruthie engaged.  She used to go out all the time, but she hasn’t left her room in weeks, except when we tell her she has to bathe.”  Great, I thought, a very promising first client.  As I headed down the hall toward the residential corridor, she added, “Oh, and don’t take it personally if she swears at you!” 

My first visit with Ruthie lasted exactly 10 seconds.  I knocked on her door.  She uttered several non-sermon-appropriate words followed by “Go Away!” 

I lingered by her door long enough to tell her my name, that I was a social work intern, and that I could come back to visit her again another day.  I heard her shuffling toward the door which gave me hope, and then I heard her promptly lock it.  She yelled, “Go away!” then in a quieter voice mumbled what sounded to me like, “come back a different day.”  And so, I did.  The next visit was largely the same, and the visit after that.  After a few more tries and frankly, as I was about to give up and ask for a different client, I knocked on her door and announced myself one more time and heard her shuffling around inside.  This time, Ruthie cracked her door open and looked me up and down.  “Come back tomorrow” she said, “Bring fifty cents and we’ll have coffee.” 

The next day I came back with a few quarters in my pocket.  Fifty cents meant I had to dip into my laundry money; my own budget was very stretched in those meager days of student living.  When I knocked this time, she shuffled to the door and opened it.  A tiny, bent over woman emerged, this time wearing a coat and two hats tied onto her head with a scarf.  “We’lll go now” she said, “I’ll show you.” 

Against my better judgement, I followed her down the hallway, through the main living area and past the front desk.  I looked up at the receptionist with eyes that probably looked like a deer in headlights.  She was admittedly surprised to see us but waved us through, asking me to sign the register book with the time we were leaving and where we were going.  “Coffee” said Ruthie.  “We are going for coffee.”  I had no idea how much learning I was in for.

What I was in for was week after week of walking with Ruthie through the back streets of downtown Buffalo, hearing about the people who used to live there: her Russian immigrant family, her neighbors, the unheard history of a city I thought I knew.  She knew every place to get a cheap cup of coffee to warm her tired hands.  She would mutter and curse and tell me about growing up during the Great Depression, about her best memories and her worst ones, too.  I grew fond of her stories, even though she often repeated herself.  Her life had been a very, very hard one.  She knew first hand about poverty, grief and feeling cast-out.  I began to marvel that she trusted me…a stranger she barely knew…with the wealth of her stories.  She taught me more about listening and being present than any textbook could ever convey.

A few weeks later, during one of our walks, Ruthie told me the next day was her birthday.  “I wish I could have a cake” she said, “a white cake, with white icing.”  She paused.  “And sweet tea, with lemon.  Very sweet.  With sugar.  But not too much lemon.” 

I managed to scrounge up enough money that night to buy a cake mix, white frosting, two lemons, and some birthday candles.  With what I had in my apartment, I made a two-tier round cake and frosted it.  I brewed tea and added much more sugar than I thought should be in it, and sliced up lemons to float in it for flavor.  I also found a sweater in my closet that I didn’t wear all that much but that I thought she would like, and I wrapped it up. 

I showed up the next day, and found Ruthie sitting in the lounge.  She was wearing all her usual attire, topped by a birthday crown from a local fast-food restaurant.  “Free coffee today” she said, with a mischievous smile.  Of course.  Then she saw the cake, and the tea, and the present.  “My Birthday?!” she exclaimed.  And I said, “Yes, Ruthie, it’s your day!”

Recluse Ruthie stood up and shuffled around, gathering up all her friends in the lounge and scooting everyone to the sun porch.  She was singing, “It’s my party; come to my party!”  In the hour that followed, I watched her move from a reclusive outcast to the beloved guest at the center of this birthday feast.  

“I myself will search for my sheep” says the Lord God. “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered…they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture.  I will feed them with justice.”   Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

It can be so easy for us to assume we know the difference between the sheep and the goats.  Of course, we want to think of ourselves as the sheep of the Good Shepherd, so it’s natural to look around and see God in faces of those who are familiar to us.  But what about the unfamiliar, reclusive, muttering and swearing, triple-hat wearing people whose stories force us to see the familiar through different eyes?  What about the times when seeking and serving Christ in the other brings us into full awareness of all that we would rather ignore about this world in which we live: poverty, mental illness, addiction, confinement.  Like me, the skeptical student, we become blinded to joy which lies hidden in unlikely places and hardened by all the faces in this world that make us afraid, or don’t look like we expect them to. 

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

But when did we see you, Lord?

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “  Matthew 25:31-46

The Good News we need to hear today isn’t a pat on the back for our good works.  No, my friends.  The Good News is that this Realm of Christ about which we read is also right here, and right now.  Christ the King and our Good Shepherd feeds us, clothes us, nurtures us, sustains us.  We recognize our residence in this realm of divine generosity when we reach out to do the same to those in this world who come to us hungry, thirsty, wounded, and vulnerable. 

I am reminded that every time there has been a knock on the door to my heart and I have said, “Go Away” our Good Shepherd has returned with patience and persistence, until I have been ready to crack open the door.  I am reminded that I am the one who has been fed at the unexpected banquet of mercy and grace, sometimes in ways so ridiculously simple and beautiful that they have transformed the ordinary into a divine banquet.  I realize that every time I think I’m helping someone else, it is at that moment that I am able to see all that has been lavished upon me and upon each and every one of us by God who loves us beyond all measure of  understanding.

We are all sheep in the pasture of the Good Shepherd, and citizens in the Realm of God. The taste of that heavenly banquet is not just a fabled story or an afterlife dream.  It can taste like warm coffee on a cold day, or birthday cake joyfully shared in community. We are invited, constantly, to become God’s hands and feet in the world so that in our openness to serving others with love and without judgement, we can come to see and know and experience a taste of the abundance of God’s realm. We see and experience that in our love and service to our neighbors and each other.  It is in those faces…every single one of them…that God is revealed.

Perhaps that’s why each and every time that I close my eyes to pray with this Gospel, it is Ruthie’s face that I see.

“I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”  Ephesians 1:15-23

So yes: sometimes Christ the King looks like a short, hunched-over women with wildly cut hair, sipping sweet tea with lemon, savoring the last morsels of birthday cake while mumbling and singing to herself, “It’s my party…come to my party.”

Be known to us, Lord Jesus, as we meet you in each and every face that we see.


Icon: Sophia, Wisdom of God
(Photo by Sarah Kye Price of icon on display at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco CA)
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Love God, Love Your Neighbor

Homily for Proper 25, Year A preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA (virtual worship in a time of pandemic)


Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

It was a sweltering hot July Sunday in Texas when I boarded the bus with other Episcopalians to pray and proclaim our public witness at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.  This caravan of attendees of the 2018 General Convention in Austin was an amalgamation of delegates, bishops, clergy and lay people representing multiple dioceses, provinces and affiliations within The Episcopal Church.  Sunday was the only day during the 14 day stretch of General Convention without scheduled business; since I was attending as a member of the press it meant it was the only day off I had.  I debated just sleeping in.  But this event of public witness had been weighing on my heart.

If you asked me before that day, I would have acknowledged my general concern regarding mass detention of immigrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States.  Until that point, the experience of immigrant detainees was distant, political and something I heard plenty of opinion about on social media but it was honestly not something that had been front and center in my own life.  I remember being stirred when I read about the prayer vigil at Hutto and my heart felt deeply moved by the invitation.  I decided, like hundreds of other people, that this would be my Sunday act of worship.  We gathered to pray together outside the Austin convention center that morning, then we boarded a string of busses and headed to Hutto. 

Our gathering place was a public park next to the massive, concrete edifice that was the detention center.  Hutto was the destination for hundreds of immigrant women detained at the US-Mexico border, many of whom were immediately separated from their children.  Numerous abuses had been reported and substantiated to have occurred there.  As we drew near, the general chatter of the bus shifted to quiet, prayerful silence.  That silence continued as we stepped off the bus, into the park where we were allowed by permit to gather for prayer and worship.  One of the first things I watched was a priest walk with intention to the wire fence separating park and private prison grounds and drop to her knees in prayer.  

Most of the group was gathering around a portable stage where some musicians began playing and singing uplifting music in Spanish, loudly enough to carry the refrain towards the several hundred women under confinement.  People carried signs, and held hands, and prayed.  Something prompted a smaller group of us to begin walking toward the detention center itself, along a slice of public property.  There were plentiful guards watching by the invisible line in the grass separating “park” from “prison” to see if our toes were getting too close.  We stopped at a place where we were informed that any further steps would be trespassing.  It put us close enough to the facility to be able to see long, thin slits of windows.  I paused between two trees, intuitively forming my hands in the shape of a heart, a sign I use to signal love to my own child.  It was then that I saw that in that tiny slit of a window that there were women’s faces, and hands holding up signs, “Oren por nosotros” (pray for us) and “Gracias.”  We began to chant, “Nosotras te vemos”; “We see you!” 

In that space, a tiny place between two trees not even large enough to produce shade from the beating Texas sun, I moved from a state of intellectual awareness about the plight of these women and into a state of deep and profound love, conversing across human barriers of space, language, and freedom with my sisters in Christ.  I could see with the eyes of my heart and feel with the depth of God’s own belovedness the yearning and desire of these women to be seen and known and loved.  I saw a woman in that window making the same heart that mine was.  Whether it was in response to me, or of her own motivation I will never know.  But I did know, instantly and intuitively, that she also had made that heart to her children.  I prayed with all my strength for their safety and reunification. That moment of drawing near and seeing redefined for me what it means to be siblings in Christ.

I don’t remember if I was in that space for 5 minutes or 15…but guards began to descend upon us and tell us we had to go back to the park with our group.  We walked back together in silence, still praying, still loving. Changed.

When we rejoined the vigil, our presiding bishop Michael Curry was offering a message, from the same passage from Matthew that we read today.  In that message, he said these words:

“We come in love.  I would submit that the teaching of Jesus to love God and love our neighbor is at the core and heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  And we must be people who reclaim Christianity that looks something like Jesus.  And Jesus said, Love God and love your neighbor, so we come in love.”

Yes, we come in love.  In this Gospel lesson, Jesus not only silences those who test him, but he aligns the great laws of his Jewish faith and life: the shema which is the first and greatest commandment: you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength.  This is coupled with another great law: love your neighbor as yourself.  What Jesus does in liken these two great commandments to each other is to bring these laws into relationship: parallel showings of divine love.  When we love God with our whole selves, we experience the love of God transforming us.  We come to know that we are beloved, and we radiate that love.  Likewise, when we draw near to our neighbors…when we truly see them…we see God’s belovedness in them and our neighbors see and recognize that belovedness in us, too.  It becomes inseparable.  As Bishop Curry often says: love God; love your neighbor; love yourself.

When we begin to love God wholly, we will be moved into places where love is the most needed.  I’m not convinced that in this passage Jesus is asking us to engage in some sort of intellectual exercise where we try to force ourselves to imagine loving the seemingly unlovable people in this world.  Sometimes, we hold this statement of Jesus up as a sort of challenge, a sort of “who do you love on a scale of Mister Rogers to Hitler” kind of game.  But, I don’t believe that is what Jesus is really saying in his choice to unite these two great laws.  Jesus is saying that if we love God with our whole heart, and allow ourselves to experience that transforming love in return, then it will be just like that in our own lives: the profundity of that love will draw us into relationships of love with our neighbors. Those God-inspired relationships will also transform us to feel more deeply, to step out of our zones of comfort, to find ourselves compelled to the kind of deep, merciful caring that means we will begin to truly transform the world through love.  It is God who loves us and invites us into a relationship of deep and profound love in return.  Love God with all your heart and you will never be the same.

Loving God and feeling that love in return will mean that we are compelled to draw near, not to avoid.  We will want to know our neighbors and siblings in Christ, not to write people off or intellectualize who is worthy or do what my social work training calls, “othering” where we put up a false wall thinking we are somehow different or better than others who differ from us.  We may be compelled to stand out in the hot sun to meet strangers distantly imprisoned in a concrete slab because there will be a transformative moment when love will pierce time and space and language and find us.  We may be compelled to have conversations we didn’t imagine ourselves having, with people we didn’t imagine ourselves speaking with.  We may recognize that the seemingly random people we encounter in our lives, in our community, at our food pantry, or in other serendipitous encounters might not be by chance after all.  People become opportunities to see and know God.  Our hearts soften, and we open ourselves to see humanness and belovedness.  It is in that humanizing that we will be neighbors in the realm of God.  These neighbors of ours at the margins of this world are loved and beloved by God just as we are loved and beloved by God.  Whether people are ravaged by the changes and chances of this world: poverty, illness, greed, hatred, indifference, malice…they are still at their core capable and worthy of love.  God is the one who loves.  God is the one who loves even those who are the hardest for us to love.  It isn’t a contest; it is an invitation.  We are invited and compelled to participate in this sharing of God’s love for us, and for others.  That is what likens loving our neighbor to loving our God: both reveal to us the profound imprint of divine love.

That moment of heart-shaped love experienced beneath the sweltering Texas sun made a permanent imprint on my soul.  I believe with all my heart that is how God intends for it to be.  That love continues to compel me to act, to proclaim, to stand up for justice, to write, to share this story, to love more deeply and courageously.  

I can’t tell you exactly how God will compel you when you open yourself to love, but I can tell you one thing: it will happen.  And I can promise you: love will transform you.  

Thanks be to God!

Note: to read my reflections from General Convention’s Center Aisle Blog at the time of my participation in this prayer vigil and public witness, refer to We See You.

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Water in the Wilderness

Homily for Proper 21, Year A

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA)

Virtual Worship in a Time of Pandemic

Lectionary Readings:

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

I went through a phase in my childhood, like a lot of children do, where I was fascinated with magic tricks. You know the kind I mean…the secret slight-of-hand things that you can do with coins disappearing in glasses of water by knowing the right way to hold things just out of audience sight, or the “pull the scarf out of your sleeve” trick with some hidden knowledge of what was hiding behind seemingly nothing. I’m sure that loving family audiences feigned their amazement after watching me sneaking around practicing these tricks for hours, reveling in my secret knowledge.

There is a sense of delight that comes along with the surprise of seeing something appear out of nothing. Pulling a rabbit from a hat delights us, but I’m not sure it changes us. We’re often still skeptics at heart, and when our surprise subsides, we just work a little harder to figure out what the trick might be that the magician knows that we do not.

If we read it superficially, our first lesson today might seem like magic. The story involves Moses wielding some sort of a magic wand, appeasing an angry, thirsty crowd who have spent far more time in the wilderness than makes them comfortable. This story has all the set up components of a great magic trick as the people look to Moses to do the impossible: make water appear out of nothing. Our skeptical minds might even wonder if Moses knew some trick or some secret source where water was plentiful. But Moses isn’t a trickster or a magician. What we know from these Exodus stories is one constant: Moses is a person of God.

If we understand that fundamental fact about who Moses is, it shifts the pivotal point of the whole story. Like the fire of the burning bush, we are drawn to the sight of water pouring forth from nowhere. But Moses recognized God in the fire and Moses recognizes God in the wilderness. So the real pivot point of this story is when Moses turns to God as his friend and confidant and asks “what should I do with this people?”

That question is everything. Think about it. Moses is in this with the people. He had been wandering through the wilderness with the people he was leading, all of them exhausted and thirsty. People were looking to him for leadership, “to do something” and alleviate the suffering of their present condition…a condition which he was also experiencing. Whether compassionate or dismissive, his response to the people could have been “Yep, times are hard and in case you didn’t notice, I’m rather thirsty myself!.” Alternatively, Moses could have gotten pulled into the existential angst against God right along with them. We could imagine a perfectly justifiable anger in this story if Moses raised his fist heavenward and said, “why are you trying to kill us?”

Instead, Moses turns to God as a trusted friend and confidante, seeking advice. Moses had followed where God had led him, and Moses turned toward God who had been guiding him and caring for him his entire life. So in this dry spell, Moses moves, again, to the holy ground of God’s presence. Just as Moses drew near to God in a burning bush, he again draws near to God in the thirsty desert. Moses chooses to recognize holy ground in the gap between faith and fear, which is where God is. Moses asks God what he can do to participate in God’s plan of salvation for God’s people.

God always hears the cries of God’s people. What God provided wasn’t only water needed for bodily hydration, but providential sustenance for the people’s spiritual thirst. God’s instruction to Moses invited Moses’ participation: he walked the people through an embodied remembering of God’s constant, divine providence on this journey with them…from the parting of the Nile to the calling together of the tribal elders to the visible presence of God to mark the way forward. God instructed Moses to engage in a public action, made possible by a God of love reaching to beloved people to provide what they need and, through engaging their collective memory, to be made known to them again. The beauty and depth of this story is found in a loving God who recognizes physical and spiritual thirst, and responds abundantly.

I think this might be exactly the story that we need for this present moment of our collective lives. We’ve been in our present pandemic wilderness for a long time. We may find ourselves spiritually thirsty and psychologically exhausted, too. What we thought was going to be a few weeks has become six months, and we’re realizing that the vision of a promised land might still be too far off for us to see. We wrestle with the reality that it might not look like we imagined that it would. Add to that the personal precarity of the journey, the burning fires of injustice, the heat and exhaustion of doing all the things. All the things. We are exhausted. We are wandering. We are thirsty.

We may find ourselves in this story relating to the crowds, looking for a leader who can be a source of inspiration and hope, listening to us and responding to our demands of what we need to survive. Or, we may relate to Moses, where people are turning to us for guidance and asking us to be the face of faith for them, even when we also are in the wilderness..

Either way, our spiritual thirst is showing. And either way, God sees us.

It is fitting today that we who gather…who are walking through the wilderness of this world in which we live…should be reminded of the great gift of our salvation, lavished upon us by a loving God throughout history. Today’s Epistle beautifully recalls our salvation history, providing us a hymn of encouragement that Paul was employing to help those whose spiritual thirst was creating division among their community. By focusing our attention on our common life in Christ, we can return to the center of who we are as the Body of Christ, the church now in the world. Like Moses, Paul was also standing in the gap between fear and faith, recounting a history of salvation grounded in kenosis, the great emptying of God’s own self, all for the love of God’s own people. Christ, incarnate, who was born into this world through this great emptying came to God’s people to live and serve not as a mighty ruler but in poverty and at the margins of this world, serving with those who were outcast, like the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus spoke of in today’s Gospel lesson.

These lessons are a cold, cool sip of water responding to our spiritual thirst. Like the Israelites wandering in the desert, we begin to see again the ways in which God’s greatness and providence transform us, and the world. We remember that we have been lovingly embraced by God whose answer to our prayers isn’t a slight of hand or a magic trick to keep us placated and amused, but a God whose answer to prayer is to lavish upon us powerful and persistent reminders of divine love and grace even when we are thirsty, lost and afraid.

Six months into this pandemic journey, it occurs to me that it is especially when we are thirsty and lost and afraid that God’s presence is revealed to us in new ways. We are reminded of God’s care for us when we see those who are leading vulnerably and with courage to respond to the needs of the world, standing in the gap between faith and fear. Or, we may find ourselves asking God, “how do I help these people?” and discover that we ourselves are being asked to be the face of faith for another. God loves us, and God entrusts us with the ability to be the face of faith for each other. That’s what it means to share the journey, and to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, especially when we are lost and thirsty and crave the reminder that God is in our midst.

I want to tell you all a story about my own reviving spring of water. Some of you may have seen the St. Phoebe School liturgy that I shared on our facebook page with you all, Holding Space for Hope. That project has been a labor of love since June, when the deacons-in-formation and I met and I asked them to think together about what the needs of the world were that they were hearing…which is something that Deacons learn to do…and to work together with me to create a liturgy for the church that would help those needs be heard. Over the summer, they reached out to people and deliberately spoke with those whose views and perspectives were often marginalized or silenced. They asked one question: what does hope look like for you?

At first, they were dismayed and lost because so many people initially said, “I don’t have any hope.” But, they went on asking. And some people began to form words, or send pictures. Some people sang songs, and sent in their stories. One of the St. Phoebe School class said to me, about a month into the wandering wilderness of this project, “I’m pretty sure its not even about the video we’re making anymore. I’ve changed so much from hearing and holding the stories…and I realize that is what God needed me to do.”

They learned, and they did go on and make the video. Actually, God’s Providence intervened in the midst of a time of my own thirsty moment because I had encouraged them to do all these things not knowing how we were going to pull them together and knowing that I had no digital video experience. An opportunity came along, though, in the form of a reminder from a church foundation that had sponsored me in the past. I reached out to them and received a small grant to support our work and hire a professional digital editor. So, bolstered and affirmed by that cool drink of water we moved forward. We all filmed our individual pieces of the liturgy, and handed over our images and stories and quotes in trust to someone who saw hope in what we were doing. Along the way, we brought in a musically gifted collaborator who was so moved by the project that she reached out to several others who joined in with their musical gifts. Like streams of water, our ideas and words and hopes began to flow together. That’s how God works, in the power and presence of community and relationship. The gifts of each person came together in a final liturgy that made hope overflow in me when I saw it. Each time I watch it, I am reminded over and over again of God’s abundant hope, love and grace..

I’ll share the Holding Space for Hope liturgy link with you all again along with my sermon. Set aside 40 minutes to watch it during a moment when you feel thirsty and tired in spirit. There’s an outpouring of love and grace in words, images, music and stories which will revive and restore your spirit, of that I am certain. That’s how God works through us, again and again. It isn’t magic. It is love. God’s divine, transforming Love in which we are invited to participate fully and completely..

Follow along and participate at this link:

At points in this story of “Holding Space for Hope”…just like in our lives…I have felt myself among the tired and thirsty crowd, and I have been like Moses standing in the gap of faith and fear and asking God, “what do I do with these people?” Like the flowing waters of a babbling brook, I have heard the response echoing back to me in the language of serendipity, abundance and grace. What I can tell you is this: God hears us. God loves us. God provides for us as has been the story from ages and ages past and will be in ages yet to come. If you take away nothing else today, take away that message for your tired and thirsty souls. God hears you, God loves you, and God will meet you exactly where you, inviting you to participate in God’s vision for this world.

May the rushing waters of hope pour out upon you today, and bring rivers of peace to your tired and thirsty souls.


Rome – Roma (Italy),
Commodilla Catacombs – Catacombe di Commodilla.

“Moses draws water from the rock”.

Wallpainting, early Christian (4th Century)
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Holding Space for Hope: A Liturgy of Hope and Healing

Join me and the St. Phoebe School for Deacons in Holding Space for Hope

Virtual Chapel of St. Phoebe

Holding Space for Hope

A Liturgy of Hope and Healing for [extra]Ordinary Time

Visit our Facebook Page for Live Stream Premiere:

Welcome and Opening to Hope:

Welcome to Holding Space for Hope, a liturgy of hope and healing offered to the people of our Dioceses and the world by the St. Phoebe School for Deacons. All summer, we have been reaching out to deeply listen to the reflections, stories, and hopes of a diverse array of God’s people in this world. Woven into this liturgy are the voices and prayers offered up by God’s people through videos, images and quotes from those who have graciously offered their visions of hope in a world where it is so desperately needed. In this liturgy, we center our visions of Hope in the words and experiences of people whose voices we don’t always hear at the forefront of our Episcopal worship…

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Fires and Faith

Homily for Proper 17, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Virtual Worship in the Time of Pandemic)
Richmond, VA

Track 1 Lessons:

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

There have been so many fires this week.  My friends in California have been struggling to breathe in air heavy-laden with smoke and ash.  This is fire season, and they are making the best of it from a lifetime of learning.  But in a pandemic, evacuation is exceedingly more difficult.  A friend wondered on social media which mask, one to keep the smoke out, or one to keep the coronavirus at bay, would be the safer way to move through the day.

There are fires of risk and fear.  My week has been wrapped in the emotional baggage wrought by this viral pandemic on the lives of students and faculty on a college campus.  Plans made on paper suddenly ignite when exposed to real world flames.  Whether higher education or K-12, it feels like every decision…even ones we agonize over and spend months preparing for…are quickly engulfed by flames of personal choice and public health.

And then there are the fires of injustice, flames of which are ripping through communities and this nation after yet another young, black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back while walking away from police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Every act of state sanctioned violence and the continued blatant disregard for black lives fan the flames of this fire and further exposes how widespread and devastating it has become. To quote Michael Paul Williams in the Richmond Times-Dispatch yesterday, “To be Black in America today is to be traumatized by a steady stream of videos showing Black people being killed or otherwise abused by law enforcement on camera.”  There are protests in the streets and walkouts from the NBA.  Each time yet another manifestation of this injustice flares up, the outcry is like a fist raised to the heavens crying out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

There are so many fires burning in this world in which we live.  So today I wonder if we, like Moses, can allow ourselves not to flee these fires, but to see them, and draw near.

As our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures opens today, we encounter Moses in his early adulthood.  Quick recap:  Moses was born of an enslaved Israelite family and saved from forced male infanticide by being put into a basket in the river; with the intervention of a few wise family members and midwives he was raised by the daughter of Pharaoh with close ties to his birth family. Moses, as a hot-headed youth, went to observe his own people toiling in the fields and killed an Egyptian who was beating enslaved Hebrew people, just like him. Knowing his own life was now in danger, Moses fled Egypt.  He was still a fugitive in Midian when he encountered the daughters of the priestly family who were attacked by shepherds while drawing water from the well.  He fought them off, was spoken highly of by the daughters and was subsequently welcomed into the family through marriage. Meanwhile, Moses’ own people were still enslaved in Egypt and their ruling captor, Pharaoh, had just died.  Immediately before the lesson we read today, God’s enslaved people were crying out.  Holy Scriptures tell us: God heard their groaning, remembered the covenant of belovedness, looked upon them and took notice.

All that is the context in which we enter today’s lesson.  Moses…former captive, vigilante and fugitive…was going about a much calmer and stable livelihood now: herding cattle for his new father-in-law the Priest of Midian.  Moses moved with the flock beyond their usual grazing wilderness, toward the Mountain of God.  While on this journey, he noticed a bush caught on fire.  Moses…with his eyes still set toward the holy…saw this clearly for what it was: Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When God saw that Moses had taken notice, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

This is a really remarkable story. So often we hear this story referred to as Moses encountering the burning bush.  But I think it’s fairer to say: Moses approaches the burning bush and encounters God.  I mean, it isn’t as if Moses is distracted by the fire.  Moses has seen fires. He is drawn to this fire while nearing the Mountain of God and he is aware of God’s presence from the first glimpse.  Moses is prepared to stand on this holy ground and say: Here I am.

As the story unfolds, we are reminded that these divine actions of seeing, drawing near and responding to the holy are revealed to Moses who is uniquely prepared to experience them.  God speaks to Moses from the heart of the flames, conveying love for the people of Israel:  I have observed their misery…I have heard their cries…I have known their suffering and I have come to deliver them.  God reminds Moses that he isn’t being sent to free his people from bondage alone; Moses is going with God, who was, and is, and will always be the great I AM.

God’s presence in a bush wasn’t a ploy to get Moses’ attention: Moses had already been paying attention.  In that holy moment, on that holy ground: God made God’s self known, even in the midst of what typically consumes and destroys.

Likewise, God is made manifest in the fires of our lives, making the very ground on which we live and work and serve and promote justice with God’s help holy ground.

This is what Jesus is trying so hard to teach his disciples.  The portion of Matthew’s Gospel which we’ve been reading across these recent Sundays is all about people recognizing God in the person of Jesus.  In last week’s lesson, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  The revelation from the mouth of Simon Peter was definitive:  You are the Messiah, the Son of God!  Jesus proclaims his name as Peter from that moment onward, the rock on whom the church will be built.  Peter, Petros, the rock.

But in this week’s portion of the Gospel lesson, Jesus further reveals himself to his disciples by describing the injustice that will indeed surround him, like a fire:  there will be the flames of suffering and death but he will not be destroyed, or consumed.  It is too much for Peter to hear about the pain and death of Jesus, who is both friend and Messiah.  He pulls Jesus aside and says “Forbid it Lord, that it should ever happen to you!”

What Peter sees as destructive fire, Jesus presents as a holy necessity; the fire that burns, but does not consume.  Jesus speaks to Peter from the flames of Peter’s own human fear: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I can viscerally feel how Peter must have felt in that moment, engulfed by the flames of his emotion: first in imagining the suffering of his friend, and then in this stern rebuke.  Here he was, named as the Rock.  He was trying to support Jesus…isn’t that what rocks do?

When Peter saw the harsh flames of injustice, he became afraid.  Like the tentative steps on the water, the human fear of drowning or dying was too distracting for Peter to see the unwavering presence of God.  So behind the seemingly reassuring words he uttered to Jesus, there was a dismissiveness of the divine, a rejection of suffering and mortality, a futile attempt to douse the fire.  We do this, too:  we personalize issues which are larger than we are, we try to smooth things over and tamp down the flames so we can prevent damage to those we love. But we can be so caught up in the flames that we fail to notice that God is present.

Jesus…fully God and yet still fully human is present for Peter and for his disciples and for all of us, too.  Jesus sees our misery, hears our cries, knows our sufferings, and comes to deliver us.  In biblical narratives, that delivery isn’t always on our terms, but is always in the loving hands of a loving God who remains with us and shows us what to do.

God was present with Moses and on the whole journey of the Israelites through the wilderness and into the promised land.  Jesus reminds his disciples that God will be with them, all along the journey of their discipleship, too: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

And God is present with us, too.  Even and perhaps especially now when the fires of this world are ravaging us.  We’re given some powerful images, words and stories this week for navigating these times in which we find ourselves.  Setting our minds on human things is destroying us…the fires of hatred, injustice, and fear have plenty of fuel on which to be fed.  But God is present with us in these flames.  God sees us, and hears us and responds.

God has said I AM through the life, death and resurrection of God’s own self, through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to be afraid.  We don’t need to rely on our own merits, throwing thimbles full of water at giant flames and inevitably becoming overwhelmed.  We have the opportunity to align with the One who is not consumed, to take off our shoes and bare our souls in recognition that we are on the holy ground to which God calls us.

Our Baptism into Christ aligns us with God’s eternal self.  God says, I AM.  Our response, “here I am” is an act of faith, and a radical act of commitment to that which is eternal.  And, like a gift, God helps us imagine the eternal actions of solidarity to which we are called, nestled among our readings today in the Epistle:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Live peaceably with all; do not avenge yourself; give food and water to your enemies; do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Yes, the fires are burning, but God…I AM…is with us and will show us what to do.

This is holy ground, my friends.

How will we respond?

We know how:

Here, I am.


burning bush

David Holleman, Revelation: The Burning Bush, stained glass with epoxy edge gluing mounted on plate glass. Dedicated in the 1960s in memory of Sarah Rosen, Harry Fishman, and Anna and Louis Kurtzman, Temple Beth El, Quincy, MA. Now in the collection of the Cincinnati Skirball Museum of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
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Fight, Flight or Feast

Homily for Proper 13, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Richmond, Virginia
August 2, 2020: Virtual Worship in a Time of Pandemic

Lectionary Readings:

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

As the days stretch into weeks, and the weeks stretch into months of our physical distancing, it’s right and good that we start talking about our mental health, in addition to our physical health.  This time has been stressful…and distressing…for a lot of people.  Many of us are wrestling right now.  So perhaps during this particular time and place, we relate to Jacob like never before.  We may wrestle all night long with worries, with fears, with “what if” scenarios or “when will it end?” questions.  Sometimes we don’t even know what, or who, we are wrestling.  Sometimes God shows up for us right in the middle of that, reminding us who we are, and sometimes these struggles change us in permanent ways.  The lesson of Jacob’s divine wrestling match reminds us that walking away with a limp can be a reminder of our strength, not a sign of weakness.

This week’s lessons convey a lot of wrestling, as well as a lot of walking away.  They also reveal a lot of stress. Scientists who study stress remind us that our human bodies physically respond to stressful situations.  Stress activates our adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine, which moves throughout our entire body almost immediately, impacting every part of our system.  Stress activates what has commonly been called the “Fight or Flight” mechanism, where seemingly beyond our conscious control we are overwhelmed with the compulsion to either wrestle or run from the immediacy of the dangers that our bodies instinctually perceive.

I’m going to admit, I’m a “flight” responder.  There have been several times in my life when I have experienced deep pain or tragic grief.  In those moments, my only thought has been to run away and be entirely by myself.  It isn’t that I don’t love or care for those around me at those moments…it is as if my body is acting of its own accord, compelled to flee.  In those solitary moments, emotions spill out of me in all kinds of crazy ways. And often, I pray…or at least, I recognize what I’m doing as prayer.  Through my ugly shouts and tears during those times of flight, I have come to know that our God of mercy hears me.  Once I reach the other side of that acute stress response, I often find that something has been deeply moved in me, and I have a new sense of clarity about what I need to do.

Maybe you wrestle, like Jacob.  Maybe you flee, like me.  Either way, these responses are how we operate as human beings.  And either way, God sees us.

So, with that acknowledgement of our humanness, let’s revisit today’s Gospel lesson.  We need to start just a bit earlier, though, because this week’s lectionary really doesn’t give us the whole story.  Right before today’s lesson of the feeding of the 5,000, we are told a tragic story of injustice inflicted by the Roman Empire.  Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great, whose mercilessness we hear about in the story of Jesus’ birth) had imprisoned Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  John had prophetically spoken out against Herod’s relationship with Herodias, who was his own brother Phillip’s wife.  At a court-sponsored banquet, Herodias’ daughter…Herod’s step-daughter…dances for him.  He becomes enamored with her and promises her anything she asks for.  Herodias prompts her daughter to ask for a gruesome gift: the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  This is an act of pure spite and retribution.  And as things go in the powerful empires of this world, Herod grants her request.  John the Baptist is summarily beheaded and his head is delivered by court servants on a platter to the girl, at the banquet.

It’s a horrible, graphic murder based in treachery, lust, greed, and power.  That banquet was everything evil and despicable about the empires of power and greed in this world.  Just before we enter today’s appointed portion of the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are the ones who go and claim John’s body and bury him.  And then, they deliver this news to Jesus.

Our lectionary reading begins in mid-sentence, which depicts Jesus’ action as if he were going off on retreat.  It sounds very serene to go off in a boat by oneself.  But I think there’s a really important lesson for us hearing this Gospel lesson in its full context, the way that the Gospel writer tells it.  When we do that, we hear the whole story differently, picking up from the moment that the disciples bury John the Baptist and deliver the message of his brutal death at the hands of empire to their friend: “When Jesus himself heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a quiet place.  And having heard of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”

In this week’s Gospel, we have an image of a human, hurting Jesus whose bodily response to a brutal and unjust death, I might suggest, was to flee as far away as he could.  If we truly believe in the full humanity of Jesus, along with his full divinity, we can feel the weight and the power of this tragic and unjust death on his person.  We can feel his human, cellular response to the overwhelming grief overtaking him, compelling him to withdraw to a quiet place by himself.

Let’s pause for a moment and honor the sacred and holy space of Jesus’ deep, human grief.

I think it’s important that we recognize that we are currently living in a world where other cousins, siblings, mothers, fathers and friends are painfully and deeply grieving and responding to death from a rampant and ravaging pandemic, as well as from unjust deaths at the hands of the authorities and servants of the empire.  In response, they might be fleeing, or they might be fighting.  Either way, people in our lives and communities are immersed in and overcome by the pain and grief of injustice and death.  And maybe we are, too.  This is a holy, hurting space that Jesus deeply understands.

Maybe, alone in that boat, Jesus wept.  Maybe he cried or shouted his lament to his heavenly Father.  We don’t know what Jesus…fully human and fully divine…experienced in his solitude.  But we do know that people who cared about him and who heard about this painful grief and unjust murder started gathering, marching, and supporting.  They set out on foot, not even caring if they packed their lunch.  They went together, like we still do, to collectively mourn and keep vigil in solidarity.  They came in the thousands.  They were, we are told, a great crowd.

This is what we do when we grieve injustice and those who speak out against it.  In Galilee.  In Minneapolis.  In Portland.  In Louisville.  In Atlanta.  In Richmond.

As Jesus moved through his anguish and came to shore, he met the crowd who had come to support him.  He saw them.  He had compassion on them, we are told in our translation.  In the Greek, that word is one of my favorites: ἐσπλαγχνίσθη (esplanchnisthē) which is used only a few times in specific contexts: when Jesus chooses to heal a person who has been blind since birth, when Jesus heals a young woman whom others say has died; and in the parable we know as the Good Samaritan, when a priest and a Levite pass on by on the other side, while the outcast Samaritan goes over to the man in the ditch, sees him and feels ἐσπλαγχνίσθη.  You see, this isn’t a general sense of compassion.  This is deep compassion and mercy sourced in the pain of grief and human empathy which transforms us to action:  I see youI will respond.

Jesus’ well-meaning disciples probably suspected the large crowd might be overwhelming, so they offered to send them off to get something to eat.  But Jesus saw them.  So, Jesus says No.  In fact, he does more than that.  He invites his closest friends to step aside from their own misgivings about the crowd and step into the depth of his enormous compassion.  Jesus extends a transformative invitation: care for these people, “You give them something to eat.”

The disciples are confused and concerned.  But Jesus, having moved deeply into his own grief and now moving back toward them, is moved again with mercy and compassion.  He takes whatever they have to offer which happens to be five loaves of bread, and two fish.  He looked toward heaven and in a sequence of actions that mirror those we have patterned our Christian life around for generations to come, he took, blessed, broke, and shared that offering with all who gathered there.  Actually, he did one better.  He collected his closest friends who had also carried the weight of that grief with him and charged them to give the gift of God’s abundance to the tired, hungry, weary crowd who were sitting in the depths of collective grief.  Holy Service.  Jesus offered his friends transformation through actions of service grounded in faith.

This story, my friends, is about so much more than an abundance of food.  A platter of death and injustice served by the empire was now replaced with baskets of abundance lavishly revealing God’s grace, delivered by the hands of God’s servants.  This story has everything to do with God’s transformative healing and grace in this broken and grieving world.

So this week, I want to invite you to sit with our lessons in your own quiet places.

  • Where is the stress of this time and the pain of injustice hitting you the hardest?
  • In what ways are you fighting, or fleeing?
  • Where has God touched you, even if that place has caused you to limp a little?
  • What is Jesus holding out for you to serve to the crowds who are hurting?

Maybe reach out to a friend or a neighbor this week and ask them one of these questions and share your own response.  Just listen. We may find that Jesus is feeding us more abundantly than we realized, and we may find in our sharing that there is even more left over than we thought we had in the first place. We may feel like we have only crumbs and virtual Zoom boxes of church right now, but we are beloved and Jesus sees us.  God is in these gifts.  God gives us words on which to feast on during our own time apart.   God gives us community and a relationship of prayer to transform us.  And transformed, God gives us the honor and responsibility of sharing the abundance of God’s grace…of being the Body of Christ…to a hungry, hurting world.

It is not just a miracle.  It is OUR miracle.


loaves fishes tile

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No Neutral (Thanks be to God)

Homily for Proper 9, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Richmond, VA
(Virtual Worship during a Time of Pandemic)

Epistle Lesson: Romans 7:15-25a
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

This summer, I’ve been reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi.  One of the things I love most about this book is that Kendi uses the power of language to move his readers…notably, people like me who desire not to be racists…progressively into deeper and more challenging topics by pairing contrasting definitions, which he then illustrates through poignant, personal reflections. Here’s his starting place:

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist.”

He goes on to state: there is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’  After this declaration, he proceeds to share a vulnerable story revealing a time when his own internalized racism was proudly put on public display.  In retelling that narrative, Kendi displays what he learned and lays out his own life as a parable of the struggle for racial equity in a world filled with structural injustice, so insidious that it seeps into even those directly impacted by the forces of oppression.

I can’t help thinking about Kendi’s book when I consider today’s Epistle; St. Paul is also asserting that there is no neutral position between “sin” and “God.”  Even our best efforts to do what is right and good take us to places where we find ourselves doing the very things we hate. In fact, I think that if the Apostle Paul were writing an Epistle to the Church of the United States of America rather than an Epistle to the Romans, he might very well use a similar cadence to deliver us some challenging exhortations that mighty be particularly pertinent to ponder on this Sunday of the Independence Day holiday weekend, in the midst of our renewed awareness of the ongoing struggle for racial justice. Maybe we could imagine that Epistle something like this:

To the Church in the United States of America, a nation founded under God with “liberty and justice for all” who 244 years after its founding is still struggling under the burdens of racism and white supremacy: How is it that we do not understand our own actions? How is it that time and time again, we do not do the things that we want to do by our baptismal vows: to love each other as Christ loved us, to seek and serve Christ in all people, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But instead, we do the very things we hate: we fall back into patterns that reinforce the way things always have been; or avoid directly confronting racism when we hear it or see it. We want to do what is right and good, but we get pulled into patterns of silence, or indifference. We distance ourselves from a painful history of racism and its present day consequences: economic and social inequality; persistent health disparities; poverty; underfunded school systems and racialized school suspensions, mass incarceration, racial profiling and police violence. We don’t strive to align ourselves with these things. But even when we try with our best human efforts, we become entangled in the sin of racism that still defines the context of this nation in which we live. Who will rescue the Body of Christ from this body of death?

The Epistle answers that question, and we will get there, too. But, I’ve learned from Kendi’s style that one way to invite deeper learning is to pause the lesson and engage in vulnerable self-reflection. So today I am pausing mid-homily to offer a parable of sorts from my own life about this place where there is no neutral: the vulnerable intersection of sin and grace.

The year was 1990, and I was about to start my junior year as a social work major at Buffalo State College. That summer, I started a part-time job as an activities assistant at a skilled nursing facility, the Episcopal Church Home. I wasn’t an Episcopalian then, incidentally, but that’s a story for another time. My job was to plan activities both inside and beyond the facility walls to enhance the quality of life of our residents. In addition to bingo and crafts, I had to learn to drive the facility’s wheelchair van…a big, boxy, vehicle…nothing like my own little car. My driving instructor was the Director of Facilities, whose name was Eugene, Gene for short. Gene was a quiet, dry-humored man several decades older and almost two feet taller than I was. He would shake his head and chuckle when I had to slide the seat way up to reach the pedals and adjust all the mirrors to my height for our lessons. The bus was brand new, and I was one of the first people he was training to drive it. Gene was a long-time employee…and the only Black manager in that predominantly white facility. He had stories and advice he dispensed to me from his years coming up through the ranks, and our driving lessons taught me a whole lot, from an entirely different vantage point than my own.

The first time I took the bus out on my own, I was incredibly nervous. Things were going well until we arrived at the destination, and I realized that I was going to have to back the bus into the one remaining space. Gene had taught me well, and I managed to maneuver the big bus into the tiny space. Unbeknownst to me, there was a metal gate adjacent to that parking space which was closed when I backed in but was part-way open when it was time to leave. I pulled out of the spot to head home and immediately heard the horrifying sound of metal scraping metal. The bumper had gotten caught on the edge of the gate and pulled away from the bus.

Panic overtook me. New bus, new driver, young and inexperienced. I got everyone back home safely and put the bus in the parking lot. We didn’t have cell phones, so I wrote a note to my supervisor and filled out an incident report. I knew I wouldn’t be in the next day, so in that letter I begged my boss’ help: “Please calm the savages until I’m back on Tuesday to defend myself!” were the words that I wrote.

Monday came and went…no news felt like good news…and on Tuesday I went into work. On my desk, I saw the incident report returned to me with a note on it that said, “Come and see me when you get in. Gene.” My heart was pounding all the way to his office. I knocked on the door and he looked up from his desk. His demeanor was serious. He motioned me in and invited me to sit, then got up and closed the door behind us. I immediately started in on my nervous explanation about the bus, and the gate, and how it was a total accident. He shook his head: “I don’t care about the bus” he said. I stopped my excuse-filled chattering. He went on: “The reason why I asked to see you was because I read your report, and the note along with it. And what I want to ask you is this: what have I ever done to make you think of me as a ‘savage’?”

My face flushed, and I could feel myself suddenly confronted by my insulting, racist assumptions and language that I had paid no attention to, whatsoever. After some silence, Gene continued:

“Sarah, I know you well enough to know that you probably didn’t think about what you wrote, but I wanted to talk to you, so you and I could have a conversation about what it feels like to be a Black man who gets called a “savage” by a young, white woman.”

Sitting in that chair, I felt the weight of racism that was all around me, and within me. I couldn’t escape it. I apologized. I told him it wasn’t true, of course, and that I hadn’t meant it that way. But I knew that he already knew that. And I knew that wasn’t the point of the conversation.

Gene gave me an incredible gift that day. He didn’t let me off the hook. He saw me caught up in racism beyond my conscious awareness. He invited me into conversation based on relationship, not power. Gene taught me much more than how to drive a bus. He taught me how to be an anti-racist, to recognize power lines of difference, and to confront injustice directly, with respect. I hadn’t respected him with my assumptions or my thoughtless slur, but he respected me as a friend and colleague who had the capacity to learn and grow. It took me a while to really learn that lesson, I’ll be honest. My embarrassment, my worry, and my self-consciousness were still in the way for quite some time. But I did learn. And I am still learning. Eventually, I was able to thank Gene for the gift of relationship and the opportunity to learn that he gave me that day, for which I’m still grateful.

In this time and place in which we find ourselves, I have not one doubt that each and every one of us wants to align with God’s goodness and desires to be on the side of love and beloved community, rather than sin and racism. That’s why reading today’s Epistle is hard, just like sitting with the pain I’d caused Gene was hard, and just like reading Ibram Kendi’s book is hard, because it means we have to confront the fact that we do not always do what we strive to do. Intentionally or not…we fall into patterns that perpetuate the sin of racism over and over again. White supremacy is the reality on which our country was founded every bit as much as the well-intentioned ideals of liberty and justice for all. We know full well that all didn’t really apply to all people….just all white, land-owning men. Our founding fathers fell short. And when we fall short, we may find ourselves getting defensive, making excuses, drifting into the not-really-existent neutral ground of good intention, quickly jumping in to assert that “I’m not a racist” or “I’m not a sinner.” There comes a time when we have to recognize that we get caught up in structures of sin, like racism, that are larger than we are. There is no neutral. But we can choose the gift of grace that God has freely given us even as we sit in our awareness and our discomfort: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is the deeper learning.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus offers us a way to move forward. Jesus is not giving us an easy pass, a free ride, or an excuse to rely on the labor of others. Jesus is giving us a yoke that is attached to a Gospel message where the poor, the meek, the hungry, the grieving, and the persecuted are given the blessings of resurrection. Jesus is inviting us to be yoked onto the team, doing the work together to till the soil, learn the way and together plant the seeds of hope which bring forth the realm of God: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

That’s right: learn from me.

Jesus isn’t talking about resting in what Dietrich Bonhoffer called cheap grace, being forgiven and let off the hook for any consequences. Jesus’ life was lived in costly grace, the ushering in of the reign of Christ in which we are invited to learn how to participate, yoked to the One who gave up life and living that we might know grace and salvation. Jesus invites us to be yoked to transforming love, to understand what it means to be gentle and humble in the way in which the pattern of the life of Christ teaches us to be. The ease that we find in striding along with Jesus our savior is the experience of grace. It is, in fact, that which takes us from the limp neutrality of being temporarily pardoned “non-sinners” and into daily work which is anti-sin, anti-racist and therefore truly and rightly, of God.

Now, at last, we are able to hear the deep truth of this Gospel lesson. The work and the learning are ours to do, but the Grace is God’s to give.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”



Another World is Possible

Photo taken in Marcus-David Peters Circle, reclaimed community sacred space around the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, VA

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Imago Dei

Homily for Trinity Sunday Year A
St Mark’s Episcopal Church
Richmond, Virginia
(Virtual Worship in the Time of Pandemic)

Lectionary Readings:


I don’t understand…

I’m hearing that phrase a lot these days. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. Here are a few real-life examples: “I understand the protests, but I just don’t understand all the violence”; “I don’t understand why people won’t wear a mask”; “I don’t understand why we’re still struggling over civil rights after all these years”; “I don’t understand why we can’t re-open…” ; “I don’t understand what the big deal is over the statues”; “I don’t understand why the color of my skin makes me a target for the police”; “I don’t understand why I’m invisible unless I’m angry”; “I don’t understand why all this is happening…”

The list goes on.

So here we are, on Trinity Sunday, gathering virtually together at a time where there is so much that we don’t understand. We might not even understand why there needs to be a special day on the liturgical calendar designated to focus on a heady, theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity. But like so many things we do as community, perhaps we can walk together into this cloud of unknowing, holding open the possibility that God gives us gifts when we gather to worship God together. On this day as we read, mark and inwardly digest the scriptures and the prayers that form us and feed us in our common worship, my prayer is that the gift we will receive is deeper understanding.

I was talking with a friend and academic colleague this week about what happens when we reach our limits of understanding. She shared with me a story of one of her mentors…sort of a legend in the field kind of person…who taught his students about what to do when they got stuck in a dense reading or hit something that was difficult to comprehend. What most often happens, he explained, is that people stop and skim ahead to see if whatever it is they are trying to get somehow makes better sense or is illuminated in the next few sentences. The temptation to skip on ahead is powerful but — it turns out — isn’t really helpful to learning. He went on to suggest that what we really need to do when we come across something we don’t understand isn’t to go forward, but to go back. Go back what you thought you knew and get a better grasp of it, to more fully understand what was leading up to that point…build a more solid foundation and study it more deeply until you’re ready to take in the new information.

It’s some good advice, and not just for graduate school.

So, let’s go back. In this week where our human understanding fails us, it’s interesting that our readings take us back to the beginning. As I have read and re-read this creation narrative during this tumultuous week, there was one resounding phrase that I heard over and over again. Did you hear it this morning, too? And God saw that it was good.

Let’s just pause there, before going forward. Do we really understand that? Do we truly understand that we…us…all people who on earth do dwell are created in the image and likeness of God? We say it, sometimes. But do we really understand ourselves and each other as Imago Dei: images of a beloved God?

If we can’t understand that…and I tend to think based on the way we treat each other we don’t fully understand that…then maybe instead of plunging ahead into stories which try to explain the fallenness and depravity of the human condition…or our own tendency to place certain groups more easily within our understanding of God’s belovedness than others…then we need to stop and go back even further. Maybe we need to revisit God’s vision for creation before the breath of God moved across the waters. Maybe we need to re-engage the idea that all of God’s creation emanates from God’s Self.

What does our scripture and theology teach us about the nature of God’s Self?

God’s Self is revealed to us in human history through relationship. Our lectionary readings give us some good examples. From the very beginning God is in relationship with creation, giving life and reflecting on its goodness. Those into whom God breathes life and provides for share the responsibility for the care and keeping of God’s creation. Our reading from Genesis reveals the reciprocity and relationship which are built into all of creation from the very beginning.

In our second reading Paul, having spent the better part of two epistles engaging in conflict management with the power-grabbing leaders of churches in Corinth who were falling apart at the seams closes with a reminder of who God is: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Paul reminds the church that God’s nature is not revealed in three separate, competing entities…God in these three manifestations is One and so we must also be one.

In the Gospel, Jesus’ own disciples…witnesses to the resurrection…are still filled with both fear and doubt, struggling to understand. And Jesus met them in that very place, where the profound knowledge of God in the person of Christ was revealed in their worship right there in the midst of their fear and doubt. That’s right…something we can totally relate to: worship in the midst of fear and doubt. This is the context in which the Great Commission is given: go into the world, even in the midst of your fear and doubt, and invite others into this divine relationship.

You see, when we go back and revisit these narratives we begin to see a common thread: the inherent and eternal goodness of the divine relationship…what we call the Holy Trinity…as the source of creation, reconciliation, and rebirth in our own lives.

Our understanding of the Holy Trinity doesn’t need to be an abstract lesson in spatial relations, filled with charts and graphics and semi-heretical metaphors. Our understanding of the Holy Trinity is an invitation extended by God who is relationship. There is a moving reciprocity, a divine dance of creating, redeeming, sustaining goodness from which God speaks creation…yes, including the creation of humanity…of us. We are made in the image and likeness of God. And God saw that it was good.

So, how does all this help us in our own dilemmas of understanding what’s happening right now, in this world in which we live?

You see, it matters that we have a God of relationship, the eternal “Singular They” of the Holy Trinity. The questions of understanding that we offer up…to God and to each other…are wholly different if they are asked in relationship, rather than as a rhetorical device that demands a singular, authoritarian truth or a dead end to our learning.

Imagine “I don’t understand” not as a stopping point, but as an invitation into deeper relationship: with history, with people different than we are, with our own well hidden biases and sensibilities about how the world should be. “I don’t understand” can be a statement that separates us and allows us to skip over the hard parts, or it can be an opportunity to go back and go deeper into a relationship of truly transforming knowledge, with God’s help.

The relationship that God holds out to us in the form of the Holy Trinity is an example of mutuality and reciprocity, of giving and receiving the creating, sustaining, restoring nature of God’s Self Love and God’s Love for God’s people. That relationship is also possible among the products of God’s creation…that which God created and saw as good. Our relationship with God involves deep, foundational understanding of that creating, redeeming, sustaining love.

Can we open our hearts and minds to hear new perspectives? God Creates.

Can we love in the presence of fear and doubt? Christ Redeems.

Can we move toward justice when structures seem immovable? Spirit Transforms.

So, I invite us today into deeper understanding. Don’t skip over the hard parts. Avoid the temptation to rush ahead to words of comfort and peace without first struggling with the hard work of repentance and reconciliation. Move into the fullness of the creating, redeeming, sustaining nature of God’s love for God’s people and be willing to enact this same mystery in reaching out beyond your zones of comfort and familiarity.

No Justice.  No Peace.

If we want to do the hard work of racial justice and break down the barriers that divide us by gender, sexual orientation, poverty, education, class, ability, age, ideology…then we are going to have to go back to God’s vision of creation as good, and recognize that to see someone or some group otherwise is to stand apart from the intention of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. When our understanding is colluded by systems of oppression, we have to break down the outrageous nature of oppression, not hide in the shadow of not knowing. The only way we can do that is to go back to God’s vision, and seek out that goodness in the world that God has created, and to go forth into the world with that vision to live out the Great Commission even when we are surrounded on all sides by fear and doubt. The only way to do this work…truly do this work… is to revisit what we really mean when we say we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And we can’t even do that last part until we truly understand the depths of belovedness extended to us and all people as created in the image and likeness of God.

Seek to understand. Go back to learn and relearn when things get hard. Go forth boldly to proclaim the creating, reconciling, sustaining love of God for all of God’s people. And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen

No Justice No Peace

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I am the way

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Virtual Worship

Lectionary Readings for May 10

A few weeks ago, on the first Sunday after Easter, I came to the defense of our friend the apostle Thomas who, based on the way I read the story, has been too easily characterized as a doubter, when what is really at the heart of the story is Thomas’ deep desire to have the full experience of the risen Christ.  Now, even though we don’t plan our preaching rotation around the content of the lessons, I am more than delighted that Thomas features prominently in today’s Gospel lesson as well.

Today, the lectionary takes us back in time to this earlier exchange between Thomas and Jesus, which occurs in John’s account while Jesus is beginning to prepare his disciples for the time when he will not be with them physically.  We enter this reading while Jesus is reassuring them, based on the depth of their own faith and the nature of their relationship: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me!”  Jesus goes on to reassure them that even if he isn’t there, and even if they are physically separated and they cannot see him that his love for them will remain.  He tells them that not only will his love remain, but he will be going to prepare a place for them, where they will be near to each other again.

This scene is one of love, and these words are words of comfort.  They have remained so…in fact, they are the words of comfort we still cling to, and that many of us hold fast to in the depths of our own grief when read as they often are in our funeral liturgy.  I think it’s relevant and important to point out that Jesus isn’t teaching, or preaching, to his disciples in this encounter.  Jesus is reassuring them: you know the way to the place where I am going.

You know the way.

Jesus is speaking these words to the heart of his friends; his temporal and spiritual companions who have literally journeyed with him, making the physical trek around the countryside and battling the winds and waves of the sea of Galilee throughout his ministry.  These are the people with whom he has shared and taught and invited into an ever-building depth of understanding the deep truth about God’s reign.  I imagine Jesus looking around the room, meeting eyes with each one of his disciples with the kind of compassion and love that one has when seeing friends of the heart for whom you want to offer comfort and reassurance.

But Thomas…oh, my friend Thomas…he doesn’t just nod his head and go along with it.  I’m sure he heard it, and maybe even was moved by it.  Thomas, the authentic voice of our human questions, has the vulnerable courage to speak his heart and mind back to his friend Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

I believe the question Thomas asked was from his heart.  The words that Jesus speaks back to him are so profound, they have formed the basis for sermons, reflections, theological discussions and debates which have spanned centuries: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Then, as now, Jesus meets the earnest questions of our heart with revelations of profound truth.

What I invite us to think about today is the depth of these words that Jesus offers to Thomas, and to his disciples.  I invite you to think about it like a movie.  This scene playing out like a foreshadowing of the exchange between Jesus and Thomas on that first Sunday after Easter.

In this passage, Jesus who is in physical form like we expect any person to be, speaks reassuringly to his friends and followers about his eternal and divine nature: I am the way, and the truth and the life. Or perhaps we could hear it:   I am the journey, and the discovery, and the essence of being alive.

Compare that with the last Thomas story we broke open together: post-resurrection Jesus, in his eternal and divine nature, appears through closed doors and speaks reassuringly to his friends and followers of the physical reality of his presence with them: Peace be with you.  Touch my side.  See my hands.  Know me.  Do not doubt, but believe.

Both of these exchanges between Jesus and Thomas, surrounded by the disciples, are so authentically human.  It takes Thomas’ honesty and Jesus’ steadfast love together to help the disciples and those of us who hear these stories now understand how deeply and poignantly Jesus wants us to know both his immanence and his transcendence.

Jesus is right here with us; Jesus is the source of all that is.  To know Jesus is to know God.  To know the creation is to know the Creator.

In these Eastertide days where we are still learning to open our hearts to the joy and belief of the risen Christ, we like Thomas crave reminders of the immanence and transcendence of the one whose identity we claim as our spiritual home.  If the path we walk towards the divine is the way Jesus walked, then we are invited into the fullness of that journey which is with and in the risen Christ.  If we seek truth through all the means of our senses, our intellect, our spiritual and artistic natures then we are seeking the Source of all Truth who we know in the risen Christ.  If we live each breath and each step of this life with intention and appreciation, those moments of ordinary and sublime spendor we experience are life in the risen Christ.

The immanent presence of Christ in our lives helps us to know our transcendent identity as members of the household of God.

Building on Dorothy’s beautiful reminder last week:  the illustrations we are given about who Jesus is are not intended to shut others out, but to open up our understanding of the abundant and all-encompassing love of Christ.  Jesus the Good Shepherd isn’t tending a gate that pens us in, but calling our names to nurture, love, and protect us.  Jesus the way, the truth and the life isn’t an exclusive destination to a singular truth intended only for specific lives.  The way, and the truth and the life of Christ lead us to know our Creator who loves us into being.  We will know the way by our longing for God’s presence, and we will be encouraged by the voice who calls us to remember that, like a homing beacon in our hearts, we already know where we are going.  The totality of Jesus’ life and ministry is a lesson in just how much we are all created, loved, nurtured and cared for by God, starting with the very least of this world.

This week, I invite you to pay attention to where Christ is present for you.  Where and when do you have an immanent encounter on your journey with Christ?  What do see or hear or taste or touch or smell that leads you to recognize your Creator?  What moments of this earthly life touch your spirit?

I’m going to close my reflection today with a poem.  I’ve shared this with a few of you on a retreat at Roslyn but want to share it in a different context today.  This poem, “Briefly it Enters and Briefly Speaks” is written by Jane Kenyon.  She illustrates so beautifully the immanent moments of our lives where God’s transcendence is made known.  Or, as our Gospel suggests, where the way and the truth and the life are revealed in the simple moments of knowing.  I’ll post the link to the poem with my sermon.  Be aware of those moments where God breaks into your ordinary this week.  Share one, maybe with a parish friend and companion on the journey, or in our parish Facebook group, or in a note or email.  Embrace them.  Let them embrace you. When you have a moment when you worry, or doubt the way, or stumble: go back and read these moments of recognition we can share with each other.  See God being made known in them, reminding us that we know the way home because it is God calling us there. Remember that you are not alone; that we are never alone.  We are family in the household of God.

And God…the way and the truth and the life…is with us, always.

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks
by Jane Kenyon

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

To access this poem:

Easter 5

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