On being where you are…

Friends,

When I walked into my office this morning I glanced over at the calendar I keep next to my desk. And it’s still on May. I’m one of those people who keeps up with the months of the calendar. I turn other people’s calendars. It’s a thing for me.

And I haven’t turned mine since May.

I used to be super diligent about email. I hated having any unread messages in my inbox. But that broke early in the pandemic. My gmail now has well over a thousand unread messages. I tell myself their all spam, but they’re not. That’s why I’m so adamant that if you need me to read an email, send it to the St. Paul’s email because there’s no promise I will see it otherwise.

It feels like over the course of the last few years, but definitely the last few months, I’m being stripped down to the essence of who I am. What’s left is a burning ember in the middle. The refiners fire having stripped away all of the extra.

With that in mind, I admit that I stand very humbly before you all today, without a “sermon.”

I had high hopes of preaching on there’s a Balm in Gilead this week. 

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the holy spirit
Revives my soul again.

If you cannot sing like the angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all. 

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.
 

When I saw the reading from Jeremiah I knew we’d be singing there’s a Balm in Gilead. And I thought this sermon would write itself.

Instead, as I listened to Nina Simone sing There’s a Balm in Gilead, I sat next to my Mom’s hospital bed, once again. Rather than finding one cohesive thought thread, I had only fragments come to mind.

I wrote down those fragments, hoping I could weave them together. And weave them into our creation care theme of the week, which is Act. Act, as you might have guessed, is my favorite theme of basically any theme.

I preach a bit of Act in just about every sermon I preach.

But this week, through the exhaustion and roller coaster of emotions that come from accompanying a dearly loved one through a long-term illness that requires fighting, hospitals, and uncertainty, I couldn’t find a thread.

So. Thinking about this week and my threads, I remembered an interaction with someone.

A few years and 2 shoulders ago a parishioner at St. Andrew’s Marblehead, where I served before joining you all, looked at me a week before I was going on leave for surgery and said that he had no idea I was in pain by looking at me.

That really stuck with me. And I realized that by allowing myself to go forward like nothing is wrong did a disservice to me and to everyone I encounter. I was modeling not great behavior. By not sharing my truth I lead others to believe that life isn’t so hard for me. That pain was manageable. That mental health comes easily. That life is an easy float.

That day when the parishioner told me he had no idea I was in pain by looking at me, I could not lift my arm without a stabbing pain that made me want to cry.

Before this last surgery, I was in so much pain that it was a struggle not to vomit for most of the 10 days leading up to surgery.

And today, I stand before you absolutely lost as a human. I can’t lead you forward in faith this week. So instead, I’m stand here attempting to lead everyone with permission to be where you are.

I came across a poem, that was read by Rev. Margaret Billet Jones, who will be leading a Creation Care retreat for Massachusetts on October 1st, which everyone should sign up for. Margaret read this at a retreat for the Diocese of Rhode Island. I imagine it will be part of what she does for DioMass on the 1st.

It’s called Heart Prayer, by Elizabeth Cunningham, from her book Small Bird.

You can only pray what’s in your heart

so if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

if your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

pray the rage, the murder
and the mourning

pray your heart into the great quiet hands
that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

This week, I invite everyone to take a look at where your heart is. What’s on your heart?

On this welcome back Sunday, rather than giving each other a platitude in response to how are you, what if we answer honestly?

I’ll start. Today, I’m tired. I’m scared, and in the process of anticipatory grief. And I feel impotent as I’m watching my Mom fight for her life. I want to fight this for her but I can’t. Though, if she has what they think she might have, it’s genetic, so I might have the chance. And that concern lingers as well.

But I’m also here. Because you all are also a priority. And while I don’t have a beautifully knit together sermon to bring to you today, I’m here.

Each of us is carrying a heavy burden. The thing about community, about a good, strong community of faith, is that your burdens are welcome here. Even the leader’s.

From wherever you have come, with whatever you bring, you are welcome here.

That’s the balm offered in Gilead. At least the iteration we can offer in our little green church.

Let’s offer it to one another.

Amen

Creation Care through the lens of: Prayer

“Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

 

         These words were our opening Collect today. A collect, for anyone who has ever wondered, is a specific type of prayer, one whose purpose is to gather and set the intentions of a community coming together in prayer. It has a standard structure, and they are used throughout the Anglican worshiping community.

         This particular Collect was created by looking at the Gospel reading and, like most collects, is attempting to set a tone for the service.

         And our particular service today, as set by both the Diocese of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts, is one designed to look at Creation Care through prayer.

         Prayer, though, is a complicated thing to define or explain, really.

         So I tried to begin where any good Millennial-ish priest would: on the internet. And found that the Episcopal Church defines prayer as:

 

“The experience of corporate or individual nearness with God, through words, acts, or silence. Any act or activity offered to God in a spirit of dedication may be prayerful. This nearness may take the form of addressing God, as in prayers of petition, praise, and thanksgiving; or the form of listening, as in contemplative and meditative prayer. Both forms assume a relationship between God and the one who prays. Prayer is the opening of the direct relationship between God and humanity.”

         In summary, prayer is anything designed to eliminate the space between humans and God. It is through our words, our actions, and the setting and following through of our intentions that we pray, and that allow us to become closer to God. Not merely when we bow our heads and talk to God. Anything that eliminates the space between humans and God is, or can be, prayer.

It is an increase in that space between humans and God, a separation between us and the Divine, that I define as sin. I believe Thomas Aquinas said this first, but honestly I’m not certain.

         Who said it matters less than the point: prayer is our number one defense against sin and our response to it! Because, prayer is designed to lessen the space between us and God. Prayer is our answer to sin, be it our separation, or any willful separations others have caused.

         Prayer, I believe, is an ideal place to start to approach any complex issue, because, in part, it invites God into the conversation. We can begin to approach and address the separation between humans and God by opening ourselves to God.

I think, often, we approach prayer as an individual and intellectual exercise. We say prayers on behalf of ourselves or others. Expecting a response from God, but not often following our words with actions.

This is also true when we offer prayers in response to global crises or something that is clearly a problem, but not something that we are responsible for. We pray for a solution to magically appear, without doing anything to be part of the solution.

This is especially true when we see things like wars in other nations, or, the ramifications of climate change.

We, as individuals, we did not cause climate change. And we, as individuals, will not solve climate change.

But, and I cannot say this lightly enough, it is pointless for us to pray for things to be different, for a solution to climate change and it’s ramifications to be found, and for us as individuals to do nothing.

It’s hopes and prayers in response to problems, rather than prayer, action, change.

Now, in order to tie prayer into climate change, we have to further discuss sin, and the ways in which individual sin leads to corporate sin. Because the actions of one, or two, or a few, can most certainly lead to entire communities and populations to become separate from God in one way or another.

         At the most recent General Convention, the House of Bishops released a statement on climate change. The middle section of the statement reads, in part:

 

“This ancient pattern of separation and sin is ours today. We crave and hoard what we do not need. We take and grasp what does not belong to us. We burden and dominate what was meant to be free. As a result, the planet and our most vulnerable neighbors suffer. This flows from our failure as human beings to live as the people made in image of God, bearing the sacred responsibility entrusted to us.

 

Climate change and environmental degradation are manifestations of our turning away from God. The effects of this willful separation from God resonate across our collective lives: All areas of justice are either worsened or made better depending on the health of the planet. A changing climate and degraded environment worsen conflict, forces human migration, and causes food insecurity. These related crises increase the rate of violence, cause more natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and deepen the wounds of those already suffering from racism. People living in poverty are plunged further into poverty by the deteriorating condition of the planet.”

 

         We, again, are not the reason there is climate change. But, we, every single one of us, benefit from the intentional, sinful, actions that defiled this planet, and lead to the prosperity of the United States.

         I would like to illustrate what the House of Bishops wrote with a discussion of the Syrian Civil War.

         I think most of us know that in 2011, a civil war began in Syria. This civil war resulted in nearly 7 million Syrians leaving their nation as refugees over the last decade, and another nearly 7 million people being displaced within Syria.

         The commonly understood reason for the civil war was political unrest. But that’s not the whole story.

         The surface level of media coverage tells us that the civil war started in 2011 after a violent government lead crackdown on protests lead primarily by younger people as part of the movement known as Arab Spring.

         But if we look a little bit deeper, read a few more scholarly articles, a deeper cause for the uprising emerges: water.

         A little background: in 1970 the Assad family took control of Syrian government.

         Very quickly they began to use and abuse access to water in the semi-arid nation, as a tool to gain political favor and hold on to power. A resource given freely by the earth, held ransom. They built hydropower

dams and granted access to water for agriculture to their allies and supporters.

         In 2010, when Syria found itself enmeshed in Arab Spring, 40% of the country’s population was dependent on agriculture, which was responsible for using 90% of the country’s water. This was intentional.

         But the reason Syria was ripe for the unrest of Arab Spring and the brutal war it caused, was the record setting 5-year drought that began in 2006. This drought is a direct consequence of climate change, of the climate change brought on by western nations developing and hoarding wealth.

         The water simply stopped falling from the sky in 2006. Irrigation systems ran dry. And Turkey, also greatly impacted by the drought, dammed the Euphrates River. This alone cut Syria’s access to water by 40%.

         There was no food. There was no work. In the Eastern half of the country, 85% of livestock died. Crop yields declined, depending on if they were based on irrigation or rainfall, from 25% to 85%.

         People were starving. Without hope. Scared.

         And so the first refugee crisis began, with people leaving their rural and village homes for what are referred to as shanty towns on the outskirts of the major cities. Homes and farms that had been in their families for generations, were abandoned.

         A government that built it’s political capital on access to water found itself vulnerable because there was no water. And rather than finding

solutions to the lack of water, the Syrian government responded with brutal force to the protests of starving people. Civil war began as a response to the brutality.

         The ramifications from the fighting are still being felt. Fighting blamed on political unrest, without acknowledging the unrest was caused by limited access to water from both climate change and intentional actions.

         I chose to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis because I think it shows a lot of different levels of abusing the earth and her resources. Willful sin. And it’s ramifications.

         It all started because of climate change. Because of a record setting, deadly, 5-year drought. Climate change that Syria did not cause; western nations caused it. Corporate greed in western nations caused and continues to cause, climate change, we know that. There are the undeniable effects and implications of climate change like this drought.

         But there is also hoarding of resources, and using the resources of the earth, that are free, to gain wealth and power. Both of which are almost always accumulated because of a willful separation from God that causes great harm to achieve individual desires.

         Hoarding and controlling that which the earth gives for free causes the individual who is hoarding to be separate from God, and also causes entire communities to feel separate from God. The individual is putting themself in the place of God, and is causing entire groups of people to wonder why God has caused such a tragedy. They then feel separate from God and act accordingly.

         But it is humans, not God, causing climate change, hoarding resources, and limiting access. And then deciding not to change in response. To act out of fear and hoard more.

         Layers, upon layers, upon layers, of sin, of separation from God. Alienation. Hurt. Wondering why God has caused, and then why God doesn’t end, the hurt, the fear, the pain.

         And then, war. A war blamed on idealistic youth, when in reality it was caused by access to a basic necessity of life: water, and the food it yields.

         A need so basic to the continuation of human life, that people literally leave all they have because if they stay in their homes, they will die. But if they leave, there is a glimmer of hope that they might have any sort of life. Not a better life. But they’ll be alive.

         This story plays out over and over and over in different ways, all over the world; it’s why there are at least 21.5 mil climate refugees around the world. A number that will grow to an estimated 1.2 billion people by 2050. Less than 30 years from now 1.2 billion people will be climate refugees.

         Climate change in wreaking havoc in California, where entire swaths of the state burn each summer. Nestle, in the midst of the drying of groundwater and huge forest fires, rather than rethinking where they source their water, are running entire forests of groundwater dry. Which dries out the entire forest, making it ripe for a fire. Furthering the destruction and implications caused by the fires in the interest of their bottom line.

         We’re not immune from climate change on this coast either. Every part of Massachusetts is in a drought. 94% of the state are in a severe drought, but not us. In our portion of Massachusetts we have an extreme drought. The Charles river is reduced to mud in many places! Farmers can’t rely on the sky to produce rain, so they are paying more and more for water, which means we pay more and more for food.

         Not a big deal for most of us. Inconvenient, but not a big deal.

         Higher food costs will literally kill some of our neighbors, who already struggle to afford food, rent, and utilities in and around Boston.

         How are we responding to this increase in cost? Are we hoarding and holding? Are we adjusting our spending patterns?

         “Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

         These words, this prayer that we offer, they don’t just mean that we need to sell everything we own and live in poverty. But these words do invite us to consider deeply if we need all of the indulgent things we accumulate. And to consider if how we behave, how we spend, where we invest our money, if those actions reflect our values as Christians.

Prayer, praying, is an invitation for us to deeply consider the ramifications of our actions, and, when the ramifications of our actions don’t align with our values, prayer invites, encourages, and supports us to change.

         Climate change, creation care, green justice, whatever you want to call it, is a very low hanging fruit for us to consider how our individual and community actions impact our neighbors around the world. Because we can see it! The science is there. And the science is real.

         Most everyone here invests in the stock market, including us as church. Do we invest in fossil fuels, either directly or indirectly? Do we invest in green energy? In companies that are doing more than giving lip service to investing and following through on protecting our planet?

         Who are we voting for? Are they taking the call to protect the planet seriously? Are we holding our elected officials accountable to hold the corporations responsible for climate change accountable for their actions?

Are we buying products from companies that are taking responsibility for how they impact our planet? Are we attempting to buy groceries from local suppliers? Could we fly less, drive less, and invest in offsetting our carbon footprints?

         We as a community need to consider offsetting our individual and our community carbon footprint. Y’all took a big step by getting a green certified furnace! And there are other ways. Even having the conversation about what to do, and how, that’s prayer.

         Let’s prayerfully consider the fact that our stock portfolio as a church went up so much during 2020 and 2021, while so many were struggling to survive. Did we stop to think about that? Consider where that wealth came from? About who was hurt so that we could accumulate it?

         Or do we brush it off because now, much of that money is gone? And what does that mean for our little green church?

         Let’s have the conversations. Remembering that the conversations can be prayerful, can draw us nearer to God. And that God is calling us to action, which will also draw us closer to God.

         So let’s pray on it. And then, let’s prayerfully act.

         Let’s act in big ways and small. Remembering that our words, our actions, our contemplations, are all prayer.

         And it is through prayer that we will close the chasm that climate change has caused between humans and God.

         This is our cross to bear. Period. We as individuals didn’t cause climate change, but we are not immune in this nation from making it worse, and for not holding those who could do something about it accountable.

         There will be no one after us to fix this if we don’t.

         That’s not a rhetorical statement. There will be no one after us to fix this if we don’t.

         Prayer; our words and our actions bringing us into alignment with God.

         We must fix the willful separation from God that climate change, and the destruction of the earth, have caused.

         “Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.”

 

Amen.

What would Jesus do? Speak up, & speak out.

Ok. Real quick. Show of hands: who could tell me where in the Bible we find the book of Sirach?

         It’s one of my favorite books in all of Scripture. Not one that is commonly taught nor that pops up in the lectionary very often. It’s a great book, with lots of distillation of teachings from other prophets, psalms, and stories. Highly recommend everyone check it out.

         I think Sirach is an example of a thing we sometimes do with Scripture: we speed past a lot of things, focusing on the well known parts. But often times the things we glance right by are the things that we should sit and spend the most time with. Just from the readings today:

         The rage of Jeremiah.

         The hidden gem that is Sirach.

         Talk of a wedding banquet that requires knowledge of a societal structure that makes exactly zero sense today but that actually shows what kind of man Jesus was, and the essence of his teachings.

We as Christians have this tendency to skip past things as being outdated, irrelevant, or show a side of God that we don’t agree with.

Or, and this happens all of the time but we never talk about it, we skip past places where our adult understanding of the world doesn’t mesh with what we were taught about the meaning of something when we were in Sunday School.

So for example, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is the angry prophet. Mad. Presenting a vengeful God. Punishing for sins and transgressions. Jeremiah is used to justify a lot of punishment based on quote on quote “sinful” behavior.

But look at this list of what is a transgression.

Leaving God; putting individual interest over communal interests and the following of God; accumulating earthly things for the purpose of accumulating them; raping and defiling the earth; hoarding earth’s resources; defiling God’s name; and claiming the authority of God while doing all these things. Forsaking God, and the hubris of thinking we can do better than God.

God has every right to be angry about this.

Nowhere on this list is there anything about who you love, consensual nor premarital sex, abortion, being gay, divorce. 

Abandoning God. Putting ourselves in the place of God. Defiling the earth and her resources. 

Those are the transgressions. Those are the sins. 

Anything that makes it seem as though you are more important than God, or the earth, or any other human. Because we are all equal to God.

It is society who tells us that some of us are more valuable than others. And we pick up those lessons. We treat others accordingly and expect them to treat us accordingly as well. We are white, middle to upper class Americans, well educated, living in and around one of the wealthiest communities in the country.

Society tells us that we are among the best of the best and deserve to be treated as such.

Perhaps some are having a reaction to the idea that society says that some, that we, are better than others. Perhaps some among us don’t see the problem with that. But it is a problem, and we all behave as though we, or some, are better and some others are less. Whether we want believe we do or not.

We have to actively try to reprogram to behave differently.

That is what Jeremiah is getting at, I think. God is laying out, essentially, an argument in a lawsuit. Here is how I have tried to care for you, here is the agreement I thought we were making, here is how you have aggrieved me.  

You have replaced me, God says, with the worship of false gods and of things.

Because, God doesn’t say, but I will, because it’s easier and more immediately gratifying.

And we are still doing the same thing.

“The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.”

Keep reading Sirach, you’ll see that God will make right what is wrong.

And I have to tell you, we can sit on our liberal “morally superior” high ground as long as we want, looking down at conservatives, southerners, blue collar workers, under educated folks, immigrants, people who refuse to use a blinker, for me, I would also add police officers. It’s anyone we call and “other” or “them” and distinguish ourselves from. 

We can sit up here on what we claim to be the moral high ground, and we are doing exactly what God is warning us not to do.

This is something I have to remind myself of ALL THE TIME. I’m no better than anyone else. Even when I think I am. Even when they are mean to me. Even when someone others me and tries to take away my rights as a human and citizen.

The answer, to what to do about this, I believe, awaits in the Gospel.

The answer is obvious and clear. But it is anything but simple.

Restructuring of societal order to one based on relationship rather than hierarchy.

That is what God calls us to do. That’s the solution.

This goes by other names, loving our neighbors as ourselves is an obvious one.

And it really is at the heart of this Gospel story. 

There are several wedding stories in the tales of Jesus and his parables. And also several interactions with Pharisees. 

In this particular story, I’d like to start with the Pharisees and come back to the wedding story. Because, often, the Pharisees are depicted as the bad guys. The ones who come after Jesus, and ultimately have him murdered. The ruling elites. And that’s true.

But, there are also several stories of interactions with Pharisees that are positive, filled with genuine inquisitive conversation and attempts at learning on both sides. 

Here, Jesus is going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees for dinner with other Pharisees.

Jesus wasn’t shunning them and they weren’t shunning him. They were breaking bread together. Sharing conversation and learning. Building relationship.

And Jesus watched them, and saw how even the most educated, religious elites, were behaving according to societal standards.

And Jesus being Jesus, he said something.

Just a quick aside, I love that Jesus says something. Because, he is modeling the behavior necessary to bring about change. Change only happens when issues are brought to light; change only happens when those in positions of authority speak up to others in positions of authority.

Here, Jesus is saying something to a room full of Pharisees. In modern life, the closest equivalent I have is that those of us with white skin need to speak up to others with white skin. Especially white men need to speak to other white men. 

Privileged people will only listen to those they consider an equal or above them. It’s a carry-over from the hierarchy that is being described in the wedding banquet in the story.

When we see something, we need to say something, or else nothing will ever change. We need to do this all the time, though it is a lot easier when we are in relationship with someone.

Jesus uses the societal structure he wants to change to his advantage in order to try to bring about major change in his society. He’s not just talking to a void. He’s talking to people who are “equals” or who look up to him, to encourage them to be different.

Jesus does this all the time. And I truly love it.

And he’s doing it at this dinner.

Jesus watches the Pharisees compete for the best seats.

Now, in the ancient world there was, very much, and ordering of society. The most important people sat closest to the host, and the host sat closest to the kitchen. So, the closer you were to the host meant the better your dinner would be.

Often, by the time the food offerings got to the lower tables, the meat and other preferred items would be gone.

Meaning the poorer people, the ones who had meat the least often, and who probably needed it the most, usually didn’t get much, if any.

There was honor in being seated at the high tables, and also practicality.

Jesus is saying, don’t assume you deserve the most honor. Let the host decide that. And, if you are the host, don’t just invite fancy people. Invite the people who need the meal the most. Don’t pay attention to the “honor” put on certain people and certain activities that society says is so valuable. Look to what God honors and finds valuable.

What’s most valuable to God is relationship and carrying for other people. 

Stop assuming you are, or are among, the most important people in the room. Stop assuming you are better than anyone else. That’s what Jesus is saying. Stop behaving in a hierarchical way and start building relationships.

I play fantasy football. Not for money, just because I like football and the community of my league. I also like winning. But, I also like seeing other people succeed. And despite my love of winning, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a lot more fun for everyone if we all are competitive. It takes nothing away from me for someone else to also have a competitive team. My team is exactly the same. My team’s performance is not in anyway impacted by the performance of someone else’s team.

So, when asked, I’ll make suggestions. I’ve drafted for other people in my league. When I have too many good players at one position, rather than hoarding them, I’ll propose a trade to someone who has a need.

Because, it’s a lot more fun for everyone to not be terrible.

I think life is the same way.

When we have enough, why hoard more? Why not share with others so that their lives are a little bit easier, a little bit more enjoyable.

We’re starting a series on Creation Care in conjunction with the Diocese beginning next week. And one of the areas where the greatest disparity exists between humans is in how we feel the effects of climate change.

And I don’t only mean how the effects are felt in the United States verses in rural Africa. The effects of climate change are vastly different between Newton and Dorchester.

Our lives here are vastly different than those of people 10 miles away and 10,000 miles away. That is a product of intentional decisions that were made based on the idea that some people are more valuable than others.

That idea is totally antithetical to what God, and God via Jesus, teach us.

“Leaving God; putting individual interest over communal interests and the following of God; accumulating earthly things for the purpose of accumulating them; raping and defiling the earth; hoarding earth’s resources; defiling God’s name; and claiming the authority of God while doing all these things. Forsaking God, and the hubris of thinking we can do better than God.”

That’s my list from the beginning of the sermon summarizing why God was upset in Jeremiah.

Can we really sit here and think those were things that were happening a few thousand years ago but not today?

Every single one of those things is still happening.

Why are we still waiting for someone else to fix it? Why do we not say something? Do something? Change…

Amen

Healing, trauma, and Sabbath

Hi. It’s been a minute. Good to be back. When you’re out on disability you aren’t allowed to do any work related things or else you’ll lose the disability benefits. So I couldn’t do things like check my email. When I finally checked on Wednesday morning and I had 35 unread messages. 

         I thought to myself, that’s a lot less than I expected!

         And right as that thought was ending, another 200 emails came through. And I thought, “ahh.” I’m slowly working through them. But as many of you know, emails and my version of ADHD are not friends, so it is taking a while. Please send it again if you haven’t heard from me on something. I missed it.

         I tried to share with you all, but again, I couldn’t check my email so I don’t know the effort was successful, about why I needed to take an additional week of recovery.

         The reason, in short, was nothing personal. But that I was, I am, struggling with processing trauma.  

I was prepared for the physical trauma of surgery, though I have never experienced a pain like what I experienced in the days following after this surgery.

         I was somewhat prepared for what I would need to do to recovery mentally from the trauma of major orthopedic surgery in terms of managing my ADHD and supporting my mental health.

         But I was not in any way prepared for the emotional trauma that was unleashed upon me from having 7 surgeries and more than 20 years of physical pain. All of that came crashing down on me like I had been dunked in a dunk tank. Catching me completely off guard, and leaving me completely surrounded and struggling to come up for air. 

         It took a lot of intentional effort and help, but after a little more than 4 weeks, I was beginning to feel human again. I remember, it was a Wednesday. I talked with my therapist and surgeon, and they both agreed I was doing much better and was well enough to consider coming back to work at the end of the week.

         And as I finished my visit with my doctor, my Mom was sent to the hospital by her primary care provider. At first, it seemed like a minor procedure would get her right. But 20 hours after going to the doctor, I found myself on an airplane praying for a miracle, and that if a miracle wasn’t available, that I would make it to her in time to say goodbye.

Mom got her miracle. It took a very tense week in the hospital and a very complex surgery by a remarkable surgeon who was presented her case and thought it looked interesting, but she’s home now and continues to recover.

         Being next to her through this was, hands down, the most difficult thing I have ever done. I was, I am, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. I’ve woken up several nights in a row uncertain of where I am, walking through in my head what the walls look like to figure out where I am; if I’m safe.

         It will take time to recover. But, I’ll do the work. I’ll be ok. And I’ll be present with y’all to the best of my abilities while I do, and I’ll be honest about what those abilities are. That’s what any leader should do, but especially what a spiritual leader should do.

         Today though I would like to use my story to talk about mental health in general a little.

         Because, in the midst of all this I had a very strange experience that has stuck with me, and I would like to share it with you all.

         I really want to have some major theological breakthrough to share. But I don’t. Life is short, tomorrow isn’t a guaranty. We all know that. Most of us have had experiences that taught us that lesson, making it more than just words.

         No. My experience revolves around a smell.

         I imagine that most of us have a smell that takes us back to another moment in time, and experience, or place. An apple pie cooking taking us to our grandmother’s kitchen. The smell of chicken noodle soup offering comfort when we’re sick.

         For me, there’s a certain smell that kind of surrounds me when I wake up from surgery. It’s from the plastic tubing they use in hospitals to intubate. But it’s not just a taste. It’s a smell. It’s all over my face, my hands; in my hair.

         It’s a smell that reminds me of pain. That I’ve just had a difficult surgery, that I don’t feel good, and I’m about to have a difficult few days, weeks, or months of recovery. The smell lingers for a few days, suddenly finding me and taking my breath away.

         I was just getting beyond this smell for myself, when I begged my way in to see my Mom in the recovery area after her surgery last week. I bent down to kiss her head, filled with a love and gratitude I can’t even express that she had somehow survived. 

         And I was met with that smell. My Mom, one of the two most important people to me on this entire planet, was afflicted with the same smell, the same pain, the same illness, that covered me and had made my life so hard for the previous month and so many months before.

         Triggers, my partner Amy reminded me, come in lots of different forms. And the worst thing about them is that we don’t always know when they will strike.

         I, many of us with traumatic experiences in our lives, we set ourselves up to avoid our triggers, or to at least have an internal shock absorber for when they come. But sometimes, they sneak up on us, while we’re looking the other way.

         This is where therapy and prioritizing our mental health comes in.

         Which is hard.

         I, personally, don’t like it. At all. It’s messy and sloppy and requires such vulnerability to honor and heal our mental health.

         I felt like I was letting you all down for needing an additional 10 days to be able to come back to work. I hated looking into the dark corners of my trauma to unpack them, find places of forgiveness, and heal. And I hated sitting by my Mother’s hospital bed, feeling helpless, scared, exhausted and overwhelmed. 

         I don’t like talking about it now. But it’s important. It’s important to own our truth, and to tell our stories.

         And, it’s important because there’s this stigma around mental health. Or even needing help at all. And I have no idea who decided it was a good idea to put a taboo on talking about mental health, but they were a fool.

         It was probably someone like the leader of the synagogue in this Gospel reading. Chastising Jesus for healing someone in need on the Sabbath. 

         I think, it’s easy to look at this reading and think that Jesus was anti-Sabbath. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus regularly took the time he needed to rest, to revive himself, and remain fully able to engage in his ministry.

         Jesus was at work that day in the synagogue, as were the unnamed leaders of the synagogue. And he probably rested after.

         As a theological point, I vehemently disagree with the idea that Satan had anything to do with a person being in pain. While Satan certainly wreaks havoc on the world, I personally disagree with the idea that pain from an ailment is caused by Satan. I think assigning blame to Satan is along the same logical path as saying everything happens for a reason.

         It takes away the human element of blame. It’s a lot easier to blame Satan, or to assign divine meaning to tragedy, because these ideas help us feel better about why a tragedy strikes. The randomness of life and repercussions of decisions is often remarkably unsatisfying.

         My shoulder required 7 surgeries because of a strange series of events, all based on human decision making, only one of which was my fault, and a doctor who didn’t take an extra minute to be curious and investigate something unexplainable 20 years ago.

         My Mom was sick because she’s a bit stubborn and ignored some troubling, but gradual, signs until it was nearly too late. Neither God nor Satan caused my Mom to be sick, just as God didn’t cause any of the series of human decisions that lead to my shoulder needing to be replaced, twice.

         Neither God nor Satan caused the woman to be sick in the reading.

         But when given the opportunity, Jesus healed her. It didn’t matter what she had or had not done in her life; nor did it matter that it was on the day that other people called the Sabbath. It wasn’t Jesus’s sabbath; he was at work!

         And Jesus made sure to take sabbath; he’s mentioned as going to meditate and pray pretty frequently in Scripture. 

         It’s a balance. And Jesus is modeling that balance.

We have to take the time we need, and it’s ok to work when we need to work. It’s ok to take the time we need because, we can only care for others with what we have in the tank. If we don’t recharge, rest, replenish, we won’t have anything left to give.

         Take your sabbath.

         Get help when you need it. Take someone up on the offer to help if you need help. Take time when time is what you need. Take a break, take a breath. Eat, drink, go to a concert.

         It’s ok to be human. Being human means that sometimes things are hard. And hard things are hard.

         Sometimes I think this world would be a much better place if we just admitted sometimes that things are hard and we need help. Wouldn’t it be great it we honored our humanity and that of others as well?

         I thank you all for honoring my time, my boundaries, and my healing needs.

         I am happy to be back, and excited to hear about all the mischief you got up to while I was in the early days of healing.

Amen

Uniqueness and the Parable of the Good Samaritan

There’s a genuinely interesting quirk in most preachers. For the most part we all feel the need to find a fresh take, or a new angle, on preaching the most well known parables. It’s like somehow, we believe that we will find the right interpretation. Or the right takeaway. Or will be able to preach a sermon so fresh and innovative, it will change the world.

         I openly admit that I tend to fall into this trap. What’s the point of standing up and saying something if you don’t have something worthwhile to say?

         This, “must say something profound,” preacher quirk means that for the most part, on Good Samaritan Sunday, there are a lot of really stressed-out preachers, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it differently than they did last time, or the time before that, or the time before that…

         But not me. I was so busy this week that I didn’t even get a chance to look at the text closely until Friday. I saw it Tuesday when I made the bulletin so I was vaguely aware it was Good Samaritan Sunday, but I didn’t get to sit with and reflect on it until Friday.

         Instead of deep sermon prep, I did a lot of priestly and administrative work. One of my favorite parts of priestly work, is that I got to have conversations with y’all, and I got to speak with several people this week.

         And there were a couple of common threads that carried throughout those conversations. And quite honestly, because of those threads, I’d already decided what I was going to preach on. So I would really like to thank everyone I spoke with this week for helping me avoid the stress of “how can I possibly preach a different Good Samaritan sermon?”

         The threads that I would like to talk about today have a lot to do with my understanding of God, and of what it means to be a Protestant.

         My favorite part of being a Protestant is, by far, that I get to have an individual relationship with God. No one, no Pope, no priest, gets to dictate my relationship with God. They can help, but not dictate. 

         This is also, for me, a key difference between being a mainline protestant and a conservative evangelical. It’s what ultimately drove me out of the Evangelical Church – I couldn’t ask questions. I just had to believe what was written in Scripture without question, and, without context or understanding of the original language they were written in. In the end, that didn’t work for me.

         Having an individual relationship with God sounds awesome, at least to me. It’s like, God has their choice of humans to hangout with, and God chooses to be with me!

         And that’s true. But, also, it means I have to do the work to develop this relationship.

         I have to figure out boundaries, and lean into growing edges. We, God and I, have to work together on setting the goals of our relationship, and every now and then we have to check in to make sure the relationship is still working.

         Over time, and with a lot of intentional effort in prayer and practice on both ends, God and I have developed a pretty great thing.

         However, unlike any sermon I could have come up with on the Good Samaritan, this relationship is uniquely ours. It’s unique between God and I.

         What works for God and I probably wouldn’t work, or certainly wouldn’t work as well, for you or anyone else.

         This occurred to me this week in discussing scripture, when I pointed out that Jesus never gives the same answer for what someone needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus never gives the same answer for what to do to follow Him!

         Sometimes it’s drop your net and come. Sometimes it’s have me over to dinner then come. Sometimes it’s come now, don’t say goodbye to your family, don’t bury your parents, don’t close up your affairs. Sometimes it’s sell everything you own and come.

         And sometimes it’s, society has shunned you, but I don’t, you’re good, be your rich, poor, disabled, a tax collector, a woman, a Roman, or a Samaritan.

         The answer and expectations are never the same. 

         Mary sat at Jesus’s feet while Martha served, and both were loved and accepted as followers, called to do different things. And they were sisters!

         And the work each person is called upon to do is never the same. 

         That there’s a difference for each in what will work best for our relationships with God makes it really difficult to be a pastor. There is no one path. There is no one way. Even within the Way of Jesus, there isn’t one path.

         There’s no silver bullet to a good relationship with God. There are somethings that work for most people in finding that path, prayer, contemplation, service, going to church. But there’s not one recipe for relationship.

         The same is true for the church and church growth. There are some best practices, but at the end of the day, each church is different.

         And, the only way to actually grow is for at least most of the members of the community to be engaged in developing their individual relationships with God.

         Of course, there’s a caveat. 

         The caveat is that Jesus does give us one teaching that we are to hold in our hearts as we engage in the work of being Christian. And that is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

         In this story we know that the obvious question of “who is my neighbor” has been an issue since the very beginning. I’m just going to throw something out there though: let’s just assume that everyone is your neighbor. It’s just easier. 

         What is a lot harder is the “as yourself” part of that sentence.

         Because, you can only love your neighbor as yourself if you love yourself.

         This means, we need to care for ourselves. Loving God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all out strength, and with all our minds, is part of loving ourselves.

         Because, as Christians, loving God and being in a healthy relationship with God is part of loving ourselves.

         If it seems a little bit circular, it is. But, while it looks like a circle on the outside, it’s really more like a labyrinth. And our goal, at any given point, is just to take the next step. There’s no set point we’re going to, we just have to know where we are, and take the next step as it comes.

         What, I wonder, is calling to your heart? What are the things, the moments, the experiences that really make you feel good? What are the things, the moments, the experiences that make you uncomfortable and also help you to grow as a person? Are there things you don’t want to look at, but know that you should?

         For me, I don’t like looking at my own blind spots in terms of my own privilege, and the expectations of societal norms. I get defensive when something slips from my mouth that doesn’t reflect my beliefs, but still lives inside of me. 

         I was reminded this week of the term “implicit bias”, which is complicated, but the dictionary summaries it as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized.”

         I don’t like looking at the things that I don’t even know are there. Or that I thought I had delt with, and still pop up from time to time.

         But, in my relationship with God, and I imagine this would be true for a lot of us, I can’t just skip past the things I don’t want to deal with to get to the things I do want to deal with.

         Do you think the Samaritan wanted to stop and care for the injured man in this parable? He didn’t. He was going somewhere. He certainly didn’t plan on spending the equivalent of 2 days wages on a stranger. 

         It was a lot easier to walk by, to not be bothered with something they didn’t want to be bothered with, like the priest, like the Levite. They didn’t have to stop. They didn’t have to deal with the problem, so they didn’t. Society didn’t punish them for walking by. Religion didn’t punish them for walking by.

         In fact, society and religion were the excuses to walk by. To not deal with the obvious problem. To not meet the need of the person dying in the streets.

         I could, at this point, pivot this conversation very easily into racism, and the ways that we, and the church, are avoiding the realities of our neighbors of color. But that’s my path. And it’s where I am on my path.

         Today is about you, and your paths.

         And the absolute fact is that it is time for everyone, especially everyone here, to find their own path. To find their own path KNOWING that we cannot avoid the places we want to avoid. 

         I’m sorry that there isn’t one specific answer for each of us and for everything.

         But I have to honestly wonder, why are we avoiding the things we don’t want to deal with? What are we afraid of?

         Does it really allow us to grow in our faith if we only do the things we like doing?

Amen

What matters most? 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Have you ever, because I certainly have, been reading the Epistles and thought to yourself “wow. Paul sure talks about circumcision a lot.”

         We clearly have one of those places today in the letter to the Galatians, and while this is not going to be a sermon on penises (peni?), I am going to use the discussion of circumcision to illustrate an early point.

         And that is, to remind everyone, that life 2,000+ years ago was remarkably different than it is today.

         Things that mattered 2,000 years ago, don’t really matter today. We can tell what several of those issues were 2,000 years ago because of how much time is spent discussing them in Scripture.

         And 2,000 years ago, circumcision was an issue!

         Because, the more elite men would exercise, totally naked, outside, together. The gymnasium was also a social club, where A LOT of business got done. It was the equivalent of playing golf or meeting for lunch at the country club today.

         The thing about being totally naked meant that everyone could see, well, everything. There was a cultural hierarchy, with Romans at the top, then the elite Jewish men, then the business men, and then everyone else. But there was a big gap in that hierarchy between Roman and Jewish elites.

         And if you were circumcised or not was a dead giveaway on if you were Jewish or Roman.

         Men went so far as to create prosthetic foreskins to cover up being Jewish at the gymnasium, because it gave them more power and influence in that society.

         This is already a societal issue when Jesus comes along, and then early Christianity adds another issue to the mix: can anyone be a follower of Christ, or is it limited to Jewish people? And, is circumcision required of Christ’s followers?

         This was a huge issue at the time. What is required to be a Christian? To participate in Christian rituals?

         Paul believed firmly that anyone could be Christian, and planted his churches accordingly. But it seems as though in Galatia someone has followed behind him and is convincing the early Galatian Christian men that they need to be circumcised to be true followers of Christ. 

         What Paul is saying in this letter is that it is unnecessary to be circumcised because it is a meaningless sign that is available to anyone with a penis, but what matters most to God are actions.

         The thing about actions is that they are harder to see than physical markings.

         Paul knows this. Which is why he is so adamant that Christians be known by our love; that we be known by our actions, not our words or markings.

         Because our words and markings are meaningless without actions!

         Circumcision, to Paul, is a meaningless distraction from doing the work of Christ.

         And if Paul were to summarize the things he doesn’t like into one sentence (which, I admit, is difficult), it would be, I think “don’t get distracted!”

         That was the root of our entire Lenten path, not being distracted.

         That work continues on.

         There’s an interesting balance that’s at play within the letter to the Galatians. We have to remember that we are reading only one half of a conversation. We don’t know what the Galatians have asked about that Paul is responding to.

What we have throughout much of the letter is Paul is teaching, clarifying, and reteaching. Paul is clarifying and establishing what today we would call his theology of Christianity.

         And in the midst of the theological teachings there are interspersed sections of “how do we live daily life as Christians?”

         This balance is interesting to me, because it’s a fine line that preachers have to walk today as well. It’s a lot more fun to talk about our theologies. We can dig our teeth in and really have fun with meaty theological things. Most of which causes eyes to glaze over after about 3 minutes.

         Though it’s a lot less fun, as preachers we must also include discussions how to live out our faith day-to-day. I think it’s a bit of a fault that the mainline Protestant churches talk about theology as much as we do, even though it’s more fun as preachers, because, it doesn’t help us figure out how to be Christians in this world.

         One thing the Evangelical churches do really well is tell people how to live. They teach these rules as being how to live out their faith daily. People are taught an easier version of Christianity, one with very clear rules and guidance on how to vote, live, volunteer, even where to eat, what to wear, who to marry and how to raise children.

         And it’s popular. We can’t deny that. It seems that being told exactly how to live out this complicated faith is appealing to some folks.

         A lot of mainline Protestant churches take the approach of talking more about theology generally, teaching historical context and exegeting, or drawing 

meaning from the Scripture. And this is great, but often lacking in the day-to-day teachings.

         My approach tends to be a bit in the middle, because I’m a recovering evangelical. I trust that y’all are capable of making an informed decision if you simply have enough information. And I trust that you all are making those informed decisions. So not standing up here and saying “this is exactly how you must live your life” but offerings “here is what Jesus said, here is what it meant; how can we live into it? Here is how I do it…”

         As we, the Parish of St. Paul, intentionally enter a period of growth, I ask us all to consider, how could we explain what it means to be an Episcopalian? What does it look like for an Episcopalian to live out their faith? What would we say to someone who walks into our doors for the first time about who we are, and why they should consider joining us?

         How do we live our faith on a day-to-day basis? How do we do this as a community, how do we do this as individuals?

         Can we answer those questions?

         If we can’t, we need to figure out answers. Because it is “how do I live out my faith in this modern world” that has driven people to church for the last 2,000 years.

         Today, we don’t talk as much about circumcision as the earliest Christians. But we have pressing things to talk about. I invite each of us to consider what those things are that matter the most to us. Please.

         And then, let’s talk about them. Let’s be in this together. Let’s have questions, some of which we can answer and some of which we cannot.

         Let’s engage with our faith, struggle with our faith, the same way they did 2,000 years ago. Let’s act like Jesus is really sending us, US, out into the world to do the work.

         My friends, what is the work we are being sent to do?

Amen

Anger, grief, and a burning rage: my right to choose sermon.

As I sat on Friday morning, reading the news out of my beloved Washington, DC, the expected and yet still heartbreaking and disillusioning news that in many parts of this country I no longer have autonomy over my person, I was overcome with anger. 

         I reflected over this anger quite a lot over the next few hours, and I came to the realization that this anger came, in part, because it was a denial of my full personhood. I’m a 40-year-old raging lesbian with no interest in bearing children, I am highly unlikely to ever need to choose if I will bring a life into this world.

         But to be denied the ability to make that choice… that felt to me like an absolute denial of my personhood. Which is, I should say, the official stance of the Episcopal Church on Abortion and the right to choose. A child-bearing person should have full access to reproductive health care, which includes the right to choose, because it is an “integral part of a [child-bearing person’s] struggle to assert their dignity and worth as human beings.”

         When I realized this, I understood better where my anger was coming from.

         And to be clear, this was not some run of the mill, “how dare you cut me off in traffic” type of anger. This is the type of anger where I go completely silent. Where everything goes into slow motion. Suddenly I’m 8 feet tall, can breathe fire, and have the strength of Hercules. It is a white, hot, burning rage.

         A burning rage that made me want to riot. To take to the streets and destroy anything in front of me; to tear apart the Supreme Court marble slab by marble slab. With no care about whom or what was harmed in the process.

         The type of rage that allowed me to better understand the MLK quote: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

         It was the first time in my life that I have wanted to riot. To tear down the streets and all that are in them. The first time in my life that I was willing to do whatever it took to be heard, to demand change, to assert my full personhood. Maybe y’all feel something similar?

         Well we are not alone. Every friend I checked in with, every child-bearing person I saw posting on Facebook, everyone was at some level between completely heartbroken and “let’s go.” 

         I openly admit to everyone that I was, that I am, having a difficult time turning my rage into a sermon.

         At some point I checked in with a good friend, seminary graduate, and soon-to-be therapist, Aubrey Freely. Aubrey was just as mad as me. But they are also a bit more calm of a human in general than I am. And Aubrey helped me reframe, calm down, and recognize that I needed to change course. Not because my anger was unjustified, because they were angry too.

 

         Instead, Aubrey pointed out that we need to be the change, rather than being people who will tear down the walls of government and justice, a la the January 6th insurrection; we need to remember to walk in the way of God, even when it is hard and we don’t want to, and we need to remind others as well. We need to remind ourselves and others that it is easy to give in to the urge to harm others when they harm or deny us. But that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Jesus tells us this exactly in the Gospel, and Paul does too in the Epistle.

         Using the sage advice Aubrey offered me I decided to go back and consider more of the context of the MLK quote about a riot being the language of the unheard. It is from the speech, The Other America, given at Stanford University to students, and was sandwiched between speeches discussing the war in Vietnam. For some context, Dr. King says:

“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the [black person] to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the [Black] poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

As a White woman for whom the status quo normally works just fine, it is with great care and intention that I read and discuss Dr. King’s words. I don’t wish to use his words that were aimed at discussing poverty and race to discuss my feelings at losing the right to choose in some states. I am still a remarkably privileged person.

We, in this room, are remarkably privileged people.

And I want to name, clearly, and loudly that the people who will be most impacted, by far, by overturning Roe v. Wade are poor black women. 

It is a huge privilege for me that, although I have taken to the streets in protest, that I have advocated and stood in solidarity with my siblings of color, I did so out of respect and appreciation of their struggle. Even in marches for my own right to marry, I was marching with cool intent and purpose. Not demanding and so mad I would tear things apart with my hands.

Friday was the first time I would have rioted.

And I do not carry anything close to the burden of what my siblings of color carry every day in this country. The burden of being, and being treated as, a second-class citizen, as a pawn in a game, as a thing incapable of making their own decisions or being a fully realized human being without the assistance of another…

None of us know that burden.

With this in mind I started thinking about the people who fought for decades for the legalization of abortion in the first place. 

Quickly thereafter I started thinking about Marcia P. Johnson, the black, transwoman who lead the Stonewall riots. I started thinking about Stonewall and beginning of the Pride celebrations that are happening throughout June.

I thought about my own first protest, the National Equality March in October 2009, where I was spit on and condemned to hell by an angry man with a sign promoting Christian values.

I thought about the way I felt in the summer of 2020, when I protested against racial injustice on the Boston Common. When we were pinned in by fencing on 3 sides; surrounded by tanks – literal tanks and national guard soldiers in full tactical gear with weapons of war trained on the crowd; hundreds of police officers many with AR-14’s who were often slapping their bully sticks against their hands or thighs and leering at us. 

I thought about the January 6th insurrection. The anger on those faces. The hatred. The absurdity of carrying a confederate flag through the halls of Congress. And I realized that what I felt was closer to what the rioters felt on January 6th, than what my siblings of color feel on a daily basis. I don’t like what my government has done and so I wish to throw a temper tantrum, for which there will be no real repercussions.

I can claim my own high and mighty ground and laurels, but in reality, I’m closer to the people I condemn than the folks I claim to be supporting.

Perhaps I’m not alone in finding it more satisfying to lash out than to take a breath and figure out how to walk in love through the difficult places.

Perhaps I’m also not alone to wanting to be different. To react in love, rather than rage.

I’ve been working on it for a while; I’ll keep working on it. Long ago I set my intention to be an ally of my siblings of color. This means doing things I don’t want to do. This means having conversations about things I am deeply ashamed of, including acknowledging that I am closer in my reaction to the January 6th

insurrectionists that I am to my siblings of color crying out to be heard; to be acknowledged. Because I’m not unheard. I’m ignored and set aside. But heard.

To change is an unwavering dedication for me, and it is unwavering dedication that is the best translation I can think of for “set your face towards.”

At first glance, to set your face towards equality sounds like a merely choosing a direction, like we are looking at the options on our moral GPS and saying “ah, yes, that’s the way with the least traffic, I’ll go that way!”

But to set your face means that you will encounter any and all traffic, any and all reroutes, and will continue towards your goal.

It means, that when I am tempted, truly and genuinely tempted, to command fire to come down from heaven and consume someone who has harmed me, or who has made me legally less of a person, I must instead, rebuke myself, and continue forward towards every human being treated as a full and complete person.

This also means that I must also on occasion rebuke others. 

And for me in particular, I must learn to rebuke others in a way that promotes conversation and growth, rather than belittling and beating someone into intellectual submission.

Because, as Paul so graciously reminds us in this section from Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

These fruits though, they don’t just grow strong of their own accord. Just like any other seed we plant, it takes effort!!!! We must nurture and tend the plants, water, feed, check for diseases, it takes effort and work to help them grow. And we have to put in the effort even when it is hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t have to. 

Elisha knew that it would be difficult to carry on the work of Elijah. He knew it would be so difficult that Elisha requested a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

In order to upend the status quo, I wonder, what do we each need a double portion of?

Because, y’all, we can’t just pray and wait for things to change. MLK warns against this type of thinking, and most of us have rolled our eyes at the politicians who offered “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting, while taking money from the NRA and blocking all attempts to bring about common sense gun regulations.

We can’t be the same. We can’t get so angry that we lash out, and we can’t sit back and want things to change without doing anything.

I was reminded this week of a quote by early Massachusetts politician John Winthrop, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Ronald Reagan turned this quote into a justification for American Exceptionalism and trickle down economics, but that’s not Winthrop meant. Winthrop actually meant to be openly and overtly models of Christian Charity. To be a people who cared for one another, and in particular that those in the Massachusetts Bay Colony would not suffer in poverty.

         And I offer to everyone today: how can we be as a city upon a hill? What would we do, who would we be, if all eyes were upon us?

         What would be different? How would we be different?

Would we still cling tightly to being polite? Offering thoughts and prayers, but doing no work. Giving in to basic desires like anger, idolatry, jealousy?

         Will we stand up for the full personhood of our neighbors as ourselves? And how? Because we have to stop deluding ourselves into thinking we can’t do anything. We can do something.

         Let’s go.

Amen

Pentecost 2022 – 3 legged stools and the Holy Spirit

Every single time I read this chapter of Acts I think the same thing. And. I must admit that I would like what I think to be some version of being swept up by the Holy Spirit, affirmed in my belief and calling! But no. Every time I read Acts 2 I think to myself: clearly, Peter has never been to a NASCAR race, because people definitely get very drunk by 9:30 on Sunday mornings. Actually, by like 7:30. But I digress.

         Happy Pentecost!

Aside from thinking back to my experience at the Richmond International Speedway, when I looked at the readings that we have on this Pentecost, I was struck by the emphasis being placed on words. 

What we say, what we hear, what we mean, all of this is lifted up on this Pentecost, mixed with Jesus talking about the experience of being with him, witnessing his miracles first hand. And in thinking about words and experience in preparation for a church service, I started thinking about the Anglican Three-Legged Stool. Are y’all familiar?

Even if everyone had raised their hand, I was going to explain this because I can. If you are a note taker, go right ahead. 

In 1581, as the Church of England was beginning to really take shape, Richard Hooker was ordained a priest. He would go on to become a very influential theologian, but not until the 1800’s, when his work was pushed into prominence.

Richard Hooker, did not like Puritans, and was also not overly fond of Roman Catholics. Hooker was also a staunch defender of Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabethan Settlement, which laid out the ground work for the Church of England and Anglicanism as we know it today.

Hooker is credited with developing two ideas, neither of which did he really create, but his writings were used in their development: the via media – or the middle way; and the Anglican 3-legged stool.

The via media today means that we Anglicans like to take the middle ground whenever possible; that we compromise, often to a fault. But back then, the idea was to find the golden middle between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism. Aristotle developed the via media, and Hooker used Aristotle’s idea to say the Church of England was a place of truth and courage between the weaknesses of Catholicism and Puritanism. It was an intentional place to be, the via media, a place where God was, in between the repressive extremes of Catholicism and Puritanism.

Today, the via media means we don’t pick sides. I disagree, vehemently, with this interpretation of the via media; for examples of my disagreement, please see my sermon on the stories we tell from last month. But my primary reason for disagreeing with the modern application of the via media is that it cuts out all its teeth. It takes this idea, of standing up for what is right in the middle of a raging storm, of being courageous in the face of extremes and more powerful religions. Today’s version of the via media takes the courageous and intentional efforts to be with God, and replaces them with moderation, and not making anyone angry.

From courage, to passive assent, or silence, in the face of extremism.

The 3-legged-stool, on the other hand, is not something Hooker mentioned, at all, actually. He did use the metaphor of a rope being braided with Scripture, reason, and tradition. The rope lead to the 3-legged-stool, of Scripture, reason, and tradition, which emerged in the modern era.

But reason and tradition have important distinctions between the 16th century and today. I’d like to thank Margaret for reminding me about the different understanding of tradition in the 16th century and today. Because, in Catholicism, tradition was understood to mean that beliefs and practices of religion, the understanding and expression of Christianity, hadn’t changed over the course of time. We of course know this isn’t true, and they knew it wasn’t true in the 1500’s. But, it was a powerful tool for controlling people. It still is.

Traditional values, and traditional norms are still used as the basis for biblical literalism, as well as various forms of repression.

Tradition as it was meant by Hooker and in the Elizabethan Settlement was to be the expression of worship, which was grounded in the practices handed down from Catholicism. Worship should be consistent and not change much from church to church over time or geography.

When we think of reason today, we tend to think of using our own brain and experience to figure things out and come up with answers. But what Hooker meant was reason is a gift from God, the gift of revelation, to be used to interpret and discern what God intends from the world around us. Reason made it possible to receive the teachings of God, and to bring to light what God intended.

Hooker didn’t want us to use reason to make our own decisions. God told us what to think through what Hooker called reason.

That is the basis for the braided rope Hooke spoke of, which became the 3-legged stool. Traditional and consistent expression of worship, combining with reason to determine what God wants and intends. And both wrapping around the central cord that is Scripture, which must be relied on heavily to determine how we worship and to discern what God wants and intends. Scripture was by far the most important to Hooker.

It became a 3-legged-stool in the 1900’s, and the prevalence of Scripture was relegated to being equal in importance to tradition and reason, with reason being now how we make decisions.

And I have to tell you, if I had to point to one place where the decline of church may have started, certainly in the Episcopal Church, it was when we stopped putting an influence on the importance of Scripture.

When we stopped talking about the radicalness of the Gospel, to quote Margaret. When we started watering down the Gospel to fit with our lives today, rather than working hard to receive the teachings of God, and being open to the changes that truly receiving God bring about.

Marianne Budde, the Bishop of DC, the very first time I saw her speak, before I had even started seminary addressed the 3-legged stool and said “my reason doesn’t have to be free from my intellect.” What has happened over time, that Marianne was getting at, is that we have been taught that we must simply accept and move on. Even when what we are being told is so obviously wrong.

         In this modern age, we have the ability to look at history and see the evolutions and changes. Even to see when so many hurtful traditions started. We can see that these are man-made practices, designed to suppress and repress. For example: the prohibition on ordaining women. Or how marriage has evolved from a contractual relationship to one based on love. The sudden emergence of the word “homosexual” in the 1900’s and its application to a word used in Scripture that meant “don’t be a sexual predator who uses young boys.”

It seems to me that we should use our intellect to be able to separate ourselves from what society says we want, from what our cultures have taught us, in order to be able to reason out what it is that God wants and intends. Relying heavily on the Gospel to know how to do so, and being supported within our church community to do the work.

And our best guide for this journey, our strongest advocate and supporter, is the Holy Spirit.

         And in all honestly, we need the Holy Spirit because it is hard to separate out what society wants from what God intends.

         And it has been hard the entire time there has been a Christianity.

         It is so hard that God sent the Holy Spirit, adorned like a tongue of fire, to anoint the original disciples, and fill them with a burning strength to do the work that God called them today.

         And then, because separating out what society and culture wants from what God wants continues to be so hard God leaves the Holy Spirit, our divine Advocate, with us all the time, to this day. 

         And when the Holy Spirit rests upon you, at least when it rested upon me, everything changed. I could see the world differently; the cracks, the flaws, the oppression, and repression; the way humans continue to put themselves in place of God – I see it now. And when I see these things, I am filled with a burning passion to make it be different.

         As I wrote these words this week, I found myself wondering over, and over, and over: do you all, the lovely people I’ve been appointed to spiritual lead, do you want to know what this is like? Do we, as the Parish of St. Paul’s, actually want to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

         Are we ready to know and interact with the Holy Spirit?

         Are we bold enough to know where the Spirit is leading us, and then to go there?

         Are we willing to be lead, or are we refusing to go where the Spirit is leading us because she is urging us towards places we don’t want to go?

         I think we tend to imagine the Holy Spirit as a gentle breeze, showing up softly, to let us know God is there. A still small voice that emerges in the silence. And sometimes she is.

         But what we have in Scripture today is that the Spirit comes as a violent wind, a force of nature demanding to be felt, and brought tongues of fire to mark that the Spirit is in action.

         On this Pentecost, we remember the day that those tongues of fire touched and embolden the disciples, people who were still terrified of being executed just weeks after Jesus was brutally murdered. And those tongues of fire emboldened the disciples to go out and start spreading the message of Christ.

         Even though they were scared. Even though it was counter cultural. Even though the message they brought was so radical it lead to Christ’s brutal murder, and knowing that it would likely lead them to a similar fate.

         The Spirit brings great power and courage, and a promise of peace, a courageous place of presence with God in the midst of the extremes of life. But not peace in an earthly sense, peace, Jesus tells us, as God intends peace. Not peace in the sense of being polite to the point of not picking sides, or not doing anything potentially offensive. Peace, meaning the undeniable presence of God, and that earth reflects God’s kindom.

         And so I ask again, do we want to know what it’s like to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do we want to know what it’s like to interact with the Spirit?

         Are we bold enough to listen to the Spirit and go where the Spirit leads us?

I would like everyone to genuinely consider this: as an individual, do you want to be present with the Holy Spirit? Because, it’s a big commitment. When you are truly able to be present with the Spirit, it changes you, and how you view and interact with the world. 

Suddenly you’ll start to see how pieces come together. You’ll begin to be able to see how culture and societies assert themselves as God. How people seeking power misuse God in order to control and suppress. Things that you may have been blind to before, you’ll see.

And then, being filled by the Holy Spirit, when you see these things, you will understand what it means to be blessed and propelled forward by a tongue of fire.

You’ll understand, you’ll discern, you’ll see that God is not some gentle grandpa sitting in the sky waiting to hand you a butterscotch candy in the afterlife. 

You’ll see that God is a creative and loving force, who guides her children towards tearing down the structures and systems that put themselves in the place of God, and to replace them with the love and peace of God.

And. When we know the Spirit, are filled with her and guided towards the will of God, we understand that love isn’t a polite thing that we get to enjoy. We understand that love is the creative driving force of change. Love is what underlies everything, unites all, and bridges gaps of all kinds.

         When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we will know, without a doubt, that God is not a polite middle ground. God does not want us to avoid picking sides just to maintain the appearance of peace, certainly not when there is clearly a way of living out the commands of Christ. The commands to love your God with all your might, with all your will, with all your love, with all your intellect. And to love your neighbor as yourself.

         It is time to reclaim our God, using the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. It is time to make hard decisions. To take a stand. To make it known where we stand. And that in the middle of the extremes of so many, we stand, ready to bring about the kindom of God and to be God’s love in this world.

         This week, I invite everyone to consider if we are actually ready and willing to see the world as God does, and to align our lives to what God wants, rather than what we want.

         Are you, are we, ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit? To be so filled with God that what we speak, how we speak, how we interact to the world to be so different, so radically countercultural, that people genuinely wonder if we are drunk at 9:30 in the morning?

         Because that’s what Pentecost is. That’s what the Spirit brings. That’s what the disciples were filled with that morning in Jerusalem. And they were so filled with the Spirit that they were carried to the far ends of the world, speaking a new and different language everywhere they went. Being God to everyone they met, speaking truth to power, bringing the opportunity to know God in the midst of the storms of life.

         Are we willing to be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit?

 

Amen

The Stories We Tell: Abortion and the 23rd Psalm

         I love the 23rd Psalm. They went from a pretty poem to words I could feel in my soul the night I read it by my aunt’s bedside moments after she died in 2000. I’ve read it to several people from their bedsides, and also at several funerals. I’ve even preached on it a few times.

         It resonates deeply with so many of us, I think, because we have so many deeply held memories around these words. And, I think it tells a story, and it tells the story in the way we want the story to be true. It tells the story of our faith in the way we want it to be.

         We want life to be great, to flow easily, to have enough of everything to make it through the difficult times, and for our faith never to waiver.

         We like it when the story makes it seem like God is in control, handling all the things, navigating the troubled waters for us.

         But that way of reading it takes away our agency; our role within navigating the troubled waters. Our role in creating the troubled waters.

         The 23rd Psalm is, for me, the story we tell as Christians, even though the 23rd Psalm was written long before there was a Jesus. It’s the story we want to be true, or a snippet of the story that is true, rather than the entire story of what it means to be a person of faith. Leaving out the details of what it takes to get beside those still waters, of how difficult it is to get into, be in, and get out of the valley of the shadow of death; of what it means to need to have your faith be revived.

         I ruminate, quite a lot, actually, on the stories we tell, and the way the stories we tell show a carefully curated story to the world. But that the carefully curated story isn’t always the real story.

         In the story of my family, for example, a family that arrived in the “new world” in the 1600’s, there are things we don’t talk about. A lot of things, really. We don’t talk about family fortunes made and lost, nor the reality that at some, or several points, we “owned” enslaved people. We don’t talk about the way previous generations have impacted who we are today, and how we continue to live in the paths cut by the most recent generations.

         It’s because my family has a great hurt caused from a great shame. My family has carried this shame for nearly a century, and today is the day I am going to share that shame, and attempt to reframe, reshape, maybe even set free, my family’s story.

         Because, we must name the evil in order to defeat it.

         The evil I call out today is that the stories we tell trap us. They trap us within their walls and force us to keep living into the lies they create. Even when we know they are lies.

         This week, the evil that has dictated my family’s story for nearly a century, the dark shame we have hidden for 90 years, was thrust abruptly and starkly into the spotlight.

         This story, the turning point in my family’s narrative, is really just a brief moment in time. A moment that happened somewhere between 1930 and 1935, when my Grandmother was 12.

         The story, the moment, that defined my Grandmother’s life, and deeply impacts my family to this day; the story as it was told to me was that my great-grandmother died in her mid 30’s following open heart surgery. That my grandmother was right outside the door as her mother died, begging, sobbing, and unable to go in to see her as she bled out; held back by the nuns carrying for my great-grandmother, Behne.

         My Grandmother told me this story when I was 12, and it was clearly still painful for her. I had questions, but I didn’t ask them. A picture was painted in my head, and I accepted it.

         My Mother was told that Behne died following an appendectomy. I don’t know exactly when she found out the truth from my Grandmother. But at some point, from the depths of the alcoholism where my Grandmother unsuccessfully sought refuge for several decades, my Mom learned the truth of what happened to Behne. And 3 or 4 years ago she told me that my great-grandmother didn’t die in heart surgery in her mid 30’s. Behne bled out in the moments after having had an illegal abortion.

         My great-grandfather, a man who’s first name I didn’t even know until Thursday, was an abusive, often absent, alcoholic who, during the great depression, drank nearly everything he earned, leaving my great grandmother to fend for herself and her 3 young children. At some point, when my grandmother was 12, Behne got pregnant.

         For reasons that must have been impossibly difficult to navigate in the context of the great depression and 1930’s Richmond, Virginia; reasons that must have been agonizing to come to terms with, my great-grandmother knew she couldn’t have that child.

         Knowing and weighing all of the factors, Behne knew she must end her pregnancy, and as a result, lost her life.

         Everything since has been impacted by that moment. That’s the real story of my family.

         I think it’s important to say that it’s not just my great-grandmother’s story I carry with me, 90 years later. I carry my great-grandmothers blood in my veins; I carry her DNA in my DNA. I carry her trauma in my heart and mind. And on Monday night, I cried her tears. I cried my Grandmother’s tears. I cried my Mom’s tears. I cried my tears.

         My story, my family’s story, would be remarkably different if my great-grandmother had been able to safely get an abortion.

         She made a choice, an agonizingly difficult choice, a choice that it was not her right to make at that point. But she made the best choice that she could in the circumstances she was in.

         She was poor. Alone. Abandoned. With 3 children, the oldest, my grandmother, was 12.

         Choices have consequences. And those consequences are felt for generations. They become the DNA of a family, or an institution, or a society.

         The still waters of the 23rd Psalm, the waters we convince ourselves we are walking next to, we don’t look at them. If we did, we would see how troubled those waters are. We would see the ripples, the waves, the storm clouds building over them.

         We would see that there is no banquet prepared in this life unless we prepare it; no one is anointed as God’s own unless we do the anointing. God doesn’t promise us to keep the waters calm.

         God promises to walk with us in the storm.

         I’d thought today that I would read to you a letter written to my unborn children, about why I decided not to bring them into the world; it seemed right for a Mother’s Day sermon less than a week after discovering that the reproductive right’s of childbearing people in this nation are about to be stripped, again. But the planet is dying, and every day our society becomes closer to the dystopian fiction of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” so there are a lot of reasons that don’t have to do with my great-grandmothers’ abortion for why I don’t want to bring a life into this world.

         Instead, today, I would like to remind everyone that there is often a difference between the stories we tell, even the stories we tell ourselves, and the truth. And until we acknowledge the truth and bring it to light, we will not be able to see the way those moments of time, be them yesterday or hundreds of years ago, we will not be able to see the way those moments dictate where and who we are today.

         The trauma carried by my family, the trauma my grandmother endured as her mother lay dying a closed door away, and how that impacted every moment for the rest of her life, I assure you, named aloud or not, that trauma impacts the definition of who I am and the decisions I make today.

         When we read the 23rd Psalm and say, hey! Everything is great! Look at how God has gotten us through this; everything is great and calm; when we read the 23rd Psalm that way we make it seem like everything is fine, history is fine, we don’t have to do anything to make things be more or less fine. We don’t have to acknowledge mistakes of the past in order to allow ourselves to move beyond the limitations those mistakes place on us.

         We leave out the realities of how awful and traumatic it is to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or darkness, which is the more literal translation.

         When we tell stories this way, it allows for the legal reasoning used to overturn Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, the same legal standard for overturning segregation, and treating people of color as 2/3rds of a human, telling stories in one particular way allows us to use that same reasoning to say that impregnated people should not have the right to decide what happens to them and their bodies simply because they are pregnant.

         Justice Alito can honestly write sentences like “[u]ntil the later part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None.” He can write those words because the story as it was passed down to him is that there was no support for the right to reproductive choice.

         But there was. And there is. He just doesn’t have to look at it because it wasn’t true for him that there was support, that there is support, for the constitutional right to make decisions for our own bodies.

         Just because it is convenient to ignore the truth, doesn’t mean we should ignore the truth. In fact, we must NOT ignore the truth, especially when it is convenient.

         If we ignore the truth, we make it seem like this valley we are walking in has been lovely and great the entire time. Forgetting that we had to hike down a mountain to get there. That the wind HOWLS through a valley, the weather is unpredictable, and we have to hike up a mountain in order to get out.

         In my family, not naming, owning, nor dealing with the realities of the trauma of my great-grandmother’s death and what her death did to my grandmother, left in its wake a multi-generation tidal wave of alcohol and substance abuse, of failed marriages often to abusive and neglectful people, or of not marrying at all, and of waiting until very late in life to have children, if they are had at all.

         That’s the valley of the shadow of death that we are still walking through, because of the preventable death of a woman who was given no choice.

         We stand in a moment in time, where some among us are shouting to be heard. They are begging to have the realities of their life, which are the logical and reasonable consequences of decisions that were made long ago, they are crying out just to have these things be acknowledged as true. The voices of our neighbors who have been pushed to the margins, our neighbors of color, our queer neighbors, our indigenous neighbors, our poor neighbors, our disabled neighbors; their voices are ringing out, and still, usually, being ignored. Because it is easy and convenient to ignore them.

         The Episcopal Church has a long history of ignoring the voices it doesn’t want to hear; and of not choosing sides even when there was clearly a way of following what Jesus taught, or not. We didn’t choose a side on slavery, saying it was a political issue not an issue of faith, even though Christianity was used as a justification for enslaving other humans. We didn’t choose a side in segregation, saying it was also a political issue rather than an issue of faith, even though Christianity was used to justify segregation.

         The Episcopal church is even walking a fine line on abortion, saying that health care, including reproductive health care, is an integral part of asserting worth as a human being, but not outright saying childbearing people have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies.

         Today I wish to remind everyone that silence is not neutrality. Silence is assent to the loudest voice. Silence is a betrayal to the very people we think we are helping by being silent. The status quo does not need to be preserved at the expense of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed.

         By not choosing a side we can tell the story in the Episcopal Church that we managed to stay united in the Civil War. But that’s not the truth; the church splintered, right along the Mason Dixon line. By telling the story that we didn’t choose sides in segregation means we as a denomination can look beyond the balconies constructed in so many churches by the enslaved, to ensure they were segregated from the White people, so that we didn’t have to see or interact with them.

         The truth is, we can tell the story however we like, or, we can look at the truth. We can own the truth. We can see and admit how that truth impacts us and our neighbors to this day.

         The 23rd Psalm is a story, in and of itself. But my friends, we cannot ignore that something happened, even in this Psalm, that left the writer feeling as though their soul needed to be revived. That the author walked through the valley of the shadow of death. That evil surrounded and pressed in on them from all sides.

         The time to be polite, to politely listen, sit back, and not choose sides, that time is over. It is time to tell the real story of who we are, and how we got to where we are. As individuals, as families, as a church, as a nation, as a faith.

         Only then, only when the truth echoes as loudly as my grandmother’s screams as her mother lay dying a closed door away, only then, can we be set free, and can we set others free.

         Truth hurts. But we can no longer deny what is true in favor of what is comfortable.

Amen

The Path to Resurrection: Easter, 2022

         The part of the sermon writing experience that is the hardest for me, and it has always been this way, is the introduction. Because for my preaching style, the introduction is the thread that weaves through the entire sermon; it sets the tone for everything. Once I have an introduction, writing the rest of the sermon usually flows pretty easily.

But, sadly for me, there is no writing the rest of the sermon until I have the introduction in mind. And trying to write an entire message without an introduction usually produces a meandering journey through my thoughts, rather than a thought provoking intentional look at a theme.

Some weeks, grabbing an introduction feels like catching rain drops in my hands: harder than it sounds, and gone just as quickly as it arrived.

Sometimes, I have one of those weeks during Holy Week. And let me assure you, that’s so fun!

The problem this week wasn’t so much the lack of a strong introduction, which, as you can tell, I still lack. The problem was that one line of text just kept leaping off the page at me, over and over and over.

This line was so prominent to me that I haven’t been able to see past it.

All I could see was this one line, and then, like a tree diagram, I could see all of these different paths and potential things to talk about, because it is a great sentence. It’s just that none of those things are an introduction.

This week, the line “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” has been on repeat in my head.

A more literal translation from the Greek is “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

I translate it into modern language as, why are you seeking what is among what was?

It’s a good line. Very to the point. With just a hint of snark from the angels when they suggested it’s silly to seek Jesus among the dead, while he’s alive and headed to Galilee. It was such a good line that it was all I could see.

Every year during Holy Week clergy gather together to renew our ordination vows. This year when we gathered at the Cathedral on Tuesday, I realized that I haven’t been to church in like 3 years.

If there are any Christmas and Easter folks here who maybe feel badly about only going to church twice a year, please hear this: the priest hasn’t been to church as a parishioner in 3 years. So, you’re good.

And sure, I go to church most weeks, but I’m up here, working, doing things. It’s work. I like my work, but this is my job. I hadn’t been to church, to sit, listen, sing, pray, to just be, since 2019.

And I have to tell you all, I forgot how to church.

We were joined by a Lutheran Bishop and he co-presided over communion. Apparently, the Lutherans have a slightly different practice with the breaking of the bread, and he broke it early in the Eucharistic prayer. And I gasped, loudly, people turned around to look at me.

I had to take a bio-break in the middle of service because I can no longer sit still for 90 minutes.

I had no idea what to do during the passing of the peace. I was so confused.

I somehow ended up in the wrong line, and at one point on the opposite side of the church from where I started, during communion.

I sat next to a priest friend, Isaac, and he very kindly helped me play off the very loud gasp, and look around with me when we very correctly remembered the places to stand up and sit down, but were the only ones.

There are parts of how to sit in church that over the last 3 years have just sort of died within me. Those parts, I think, that died, those are the parts that maybe didn’t mean as much to me. Those parts mean a lot to a lot of people, but I guess the decorum and expected behaviors, I lost those in the long break.

What survived this time are the parts that are deeply meaningful to me. Communal prayer, community, communion itself, and a deeply interesting and thought provoking sermon.

Bishop Gates preached a lovely sermon on the tendency in church to “put things back where we found them” and how we should maybe reconsider this, as we return to life post-pandemic.

I think his idea of considering what needs to come back, and what doesn’t, I think the Bishop’s question is a very important one to ponder, and it tied in directly to what was already on my mind. This line, said by the angels, why do you seek the living among the dead?

Said another way, how are we embracing the world as it is today, rather than as it was 2 years ago?

The world has changed since 2020. A lot. Early on in the pandemic we all remembered the childhood lesson of the importance of washing our hands, and now. After a few weeks of social distancing, many of us remembered the importance of being able to hug the people we love. And, I think we all learned the valuable lesson of why we shouldn’t wait until the last roll to restock on toilet paper.

We also learned that zoom, while it isn’t the same as being together, it’s not so bad, and allows us to feel connected while being physically apart. For me personally, the idea of church meetings that happen after 5 pm in the church, died, and has been happily replaced by zoom meetings instead.

For a great many of us with white skin, we witnessed, perhaps for the first time, the violence continually being perpetrated against our siblings of color, with the death of George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey, and Breonna Taylor in the summer of 2020. Our naivety at how the world works, and that just because the world works for us one way, doesn’t mean it works that way for everyone, that naivety died in front of a store in Minneapolis, or on the side of a street in suburban Georgia.

Throughout Lent we’ve been on an intentional journey, considering the various different paths that we are on, collectively and as a community. Today, we find ourselves on the path to resurrection.

And the path to resurrection begins when something dies. It’s often very startling, to find ourselves on the path to resurrection, trying to bring forth something new and beautiful or meaningful from our grief and despair.

When the unnamed women arrived at the tomb in the early morning hours of what would soon be known as Easter Sunday, they discovered an empty tomb where Christ’s body was supposed to be. The confronted with two angels the women very quickly realized they were squarely on the path to resurrection.

They expected to encounter death and sadness, because the path they had been on for years with Jesus had ended with his gruesome murder. The path they had been on took them through many different places, to see many different people. Most of whom cheered, and some of whom chased them out of town.

The path they had walked following Christ had turned sharply when it arrived in Jerusalem. Where there was betrayal by a friend. Violence. Grief. Hopelessness. And then surprise. Confusion. Terror. There was remembering, elation, then rejection by their closest colleagues.

Soon there would be reunion, joy, celebration, redemption.

It is from the pit of their grief, the most raw and heartbroken, disillusioned and confused that most of the disciples would ever be. It is from that place of utter uncertainty, that Christ is reborn, and they see with their own eyes who he really is. That all of the outward parts didn’t matter. What matters is the message and the love of God for creation that God would take on a human body, live a life, die a violent death, for us.

As a society, we are in a similar place to the disciples as we emerge a bit from out pandemic induced isolation. And I find myself curious about what life will look like next year. What will die, what will grow in its place, what will go back to where it was before?

Church, as a whole, not just our little green church, church is facing a similar question right now. Who are we, and who will we be going forward?

After sitting empty and mostly unused for a long time, life is slowly returning to our sanctuaries. Coffee hours are slowly resuming. Communion is being offered again. We’re even having an egg hunt today!

As I was considering the line, why do you seek the living among the dead, and holding that next to my own experience of forgetting how to just “be” in church, I found myself considering a very difficult question. And it’s a question that I would like all of us to ponder; not right this very second, because I’m talking and I like being the center of attention. But later, please, everyone, consider: why do we come to church?

Why are we at church, right now?

I don’t mean this to be a negative question, truly. Because, all of us are here. So I know there’s a reason and I bet it’s a good one.

But why are we here?

I would like everyone to consider this, whether you are here every week, or once a year.

I’ve heard from a few people that they come to St. Paul’s because of the community. And we do community very well around here. This is a church of people who just flat out cares for each other. And it is a beautiful thing.

But community, even loving community, that can happen anywhere. Why here? Why part of a faith community?

I imagine there are seekers and those who question. Some who appreciate the tradition; some of us who want to learn or to be challenged. For many generations people went to church because of a sense of obligation to something ineffable or to something as concrete as family. Church also offers an opportunity to connect with members of other generations; I imagine there are even some folks who go to church because they want to make sure they get in to heaven.

I pondered this question for myself as well. Why did I decide as a young adult that it was important for me go to church?

I think, for me, the answer was that I was seeking. I was seeking a connection to God and to myself. I was seeking to figure out how to follow God. I did not expect following God to lead me to the priesthood. Quite honestly, if I had known, I might not have done it. This can be a tough gig.

I was seeking God. Seeking wholeness, health, peace, justice, hope, mercy, liberation, forgiveness, redemption, myself.

         I think I’m still seeking most of those things. And, those are the things that were shared with me from within the St. Paul’s community about what we’re all journeying to as well.

         These are the things that I believe are what really matters at the heart of life and of church. The things that give our lives meaning, and give our faith grounding and purpose.

         These are the things that will survive the parts of the church that are dying. These are the things that will survive in a post pandemic world that looks similar and different to the world before.

         These are the things, love, hope, mercy, justice, peace, belonging, wholeness, liberation, forgiveness, redemption, these are the things that Christ taught us. Those are the words that echoed through the disciples as they found the tomb empty, and as they tried to decide what to do next.

         Friends, today is Easter. Whether you believe in a bodily resurrection or not, today marks the anniversary of something amazing happening. Something that forever changed the lives of a few individuals, and those few individuals would go on to change the world.

         Those few individuals spreading a message of a man who offered them belonging and purpose are why all of us are here today.

         We are at an inflection point in our society, in the world, and in the church. These issues are bigger than ourselves, but also, we have to start thinking about who we are as a community, and who we want to be going forward.

         I think, honestly, that starts with each of us considering why we go to church. And then, why do we go to this church?

         There are more things for us to consider, but that’s enough for today, I think.

         The really bad part about not having a solid introduction is that I don’t have something to circle back to so you all can be impressed at how well I tied everything neatly back together.

         But maybe that’s the point right now. We’re figuring it out. We’re all seeking the living among the dead, or the dead among the living, or we aren’t sure what’s dead and what’s alive.

         So maybe it’s time we all take a deep breath, and just be grateful that we get to be here today, together, for whatever reason.

         Let us seek what gives us life; what helps us live. Let’s seek what gives us purpose and belonging. Let’s seek to love, as Christ taught us.

Amen