I have been meditating this week on the Book of Job; God keeps placing Job, his story and challenges in front of me. Considering the pandemic, our anger and frustration with many of our leaders, the joy of learning of individual acts of heroism, our deep call to understand, our yearning to be helpful to each other, and our challenges to connect in new unpracticed methods and techniques.
In the text we just heard, Pharaoh ratchets up his cruelty to the Hebrew slaves by making them gather their own straw for bricks. This part of the story of Exodus points to a basic human reality that psychologists have identified: having power makes us less empathetic, and less compassionate, to those without power. Unless we intentionally work to counter that dynamic, having power makes us less empathetic.
Almost everything about today’s gospel text from John is not only well-known, but has also been reduced to one-dimensional slogans in popular culture. Let’s begin with the phrase “born again,” which you’ll notice does not actually occur in today’s translation of the text, but which is another way to translate what in our text says “born from above.” What do you think of when you hear the phrase “born again”? Some of us associate that phrase exclusively with evangelical Christianity, or with the politically religious right, or with the belief that the Christian life is best expressed by a personal and emotional moment in time in which one experiences a conversion.
Today is the beginning of lent. Some of you undoubtedly grew up knowing all about lent, and others I’m sure didn’t. Traditionally, people fast, engage in acts that are meant to interrupt selfishness or being curved in on ourselves, and engage more consistently in prayer. Nowadays It’s common to “give something up” for lent like chocolate or wine or social media. But here at St. John’s, we are going straight to the heart of the matter. We are going to explore the spiritual practice we call “turn.” Turn is about a change in direction. It’s about recognizing where we are headed is not working, and that we get to choose a different way, with God’s help.
Ash Wednesday was not incorporated into our worship until about the 6th century it is a day of the prophets we might say…. Repent, repent and return, or in the language of the way of love, Turn. Turn, pray, worship and Go. One of my favorite quotes from Bonhoeffer is ‘anyone who does not cry out for the Jews has no right to sing pious chants in church’. Matthew, Joel, Isaiah and the other prophets focus on this same message to the spiritual community of their time. The Hebrew people certainly believed they were on the right path that they were following the will of God, faithful in the practice, and they were quite certain that this what God wanted. They attend services frequently, followed their lectionary, prayed out load, and make a fuss about the good works that they had done so that everyone can see them.
The young princess went every day down to the Nile to bathe. She had ladies-in-waiting with her, carrying her robe and towels, ready to comb her hair and rub her skin with perfumed oils. The basket caught her eye among the papyrus reeds, and she had one of her attendants go get it. The basket had been waterproofed with pitch, and they heard a baby’s cries from inside. So carefully they pulled the lid off. It’s a boy, someone exclaimed, as if witnessing a birth. This is one of the slave children. The Hebrew boys my father is having killed. And just like the midwives in last week’s story, filled with compassion instead of hate or fear or obedience to her father’s murderous decree, Pharaoh’s daughter gave no thought to “otherizing”.
Recently I was listening to Krista Tippet’s On Being Podcast. She was interviewing journalist Ezra Klein, who has written a book called Why We’re Polarized. In this podcast, they talk about how today’s political tumult is bigger than this moment in time. They talk about how it didn’t happen to us; rather, Republicans and Democrats alike walked into it, which might mean that we, together, can also walk out of it. Mr. Klein said that in the past, Democrat didn’t necessarily mean liberal and Republican didn’t necessarily mean conservative; for example, a greater proportion of Republicans voted to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Democrats did. But, he said, the way people define themselves is changing, and now differences in religion, geography, ethnicity and the conservative-liberal divide line up by political party in a way they never used to. The Republican party is increasingly responding to the interests and needs of white, rural, conservative, and evangelical Christian people, and the Democratic party is increasingly responding to the needs of urban, less religious, liberal, people of different ethnicities. The story we are telling ourselves about who we are has really changed. And according to Klein, this kind of identity, becauseRead more
How often have you asked yourselves recently the question, “What in the world should I do?” Perhaps some of you have been asking yourself how to make your way through the increasing noise and turmoil in our nation’s political landscape. Should you post that article on Facebook or not? Should you date that person or not? What is the best way to address the urgent issues around climate change or immigrants in detention? Should you go to that march or shouldn’t you? Should you downsize or stay in your current house? Should you say something to your dad about his drinking or shouldn’t you? Should you try to reach out across the political divide? How do we determine the answer to difficult questions about what to do?
Both Simeon and Anna were very old. Like some of us, for whom church is a second family, they practically lived in that famous Temple. Anna had her spot inside the court of the women, while Simeon was the man to see when you had a first-born son and his mother. The Second Temple was a very grand place. It stood atop Mount Zion, which had been lowered, and the sides built up with gigantic stones. You can see them today. Up on top there was room for eleven football fields. Mary, Joseph, and their forty-day old baby would have climb up one of the stairways leading to one of the gates.
As you will hopefully remember, I and a team from St. John’s did a bunch of focus groups here at St John’s this fall. I know you’ve probably been wondering what happened with them. I’m here to tell you. In those focus groups we asked you things like this: “What do you find most inspiring or nourishing here at St. John’s?” and “What are you most hungry for?” and “What keeps you up at night?” Over and over again, in lots of different ways, the team heard some themes. We heard that you are hungry to share more with each other about your lives and about faith, but you don’t know how to talk about it. We heard that you are hungry to learn more about the tradition—many of us aren’t very familiar with the Episcopal Church or with scripture in a way that makes a difference to us, and we’d like to be. We heard that you really want to make a difference in the world, but you need more ways to connect what we are doing here on Sunday and what you do in your daily lives Monday through Saturday.
Consider for a moment, what would it take for you to turn to Jesus and see, to dwell deeply into the secret questions, fears and frustrations of your heart. He asks simply what are we looking for? What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to turn, learn, worship, pray, bless and to be sent into a broken world? The way of love, the invitation Jesus presented his disciples was with risk: the risk of leaving their families, their occupations, whatever comfort they had. He offered them a new identity, a transformed way of being, one that was not tied to their privilege, language, homeland, color of their skin or their class.
I’m going to ask you all a question, and I want you to answer it only within yourself. When have you experienced most fully being loved? Let me ask you another question. When have you experienced most fully loving? I’m guessing all of you had some mix of poignant joy and grief, sadness and fulfillment, the knowledge that human love in all its beauty and complication is a messy powerful thing. There is the love a child receives from parents. That love is imperfect. Some kids know they are loved and wanted; they never doubt it. Some kids experience that their parents really did not want them, and they carry that grief within them forever. Some people have had the love of their lives; the truly fortunate ones get to be committed to the love of their lives for a long time.
Today we are celebrating one of the seven greatest feasts of the church year, which is the Epiphany. Technically the Epiphany happens tomorrow – the conclusion of twelve days of Christmas. On the Epiphany, we celebrate the magi from the East arriving in Bethlehem to greet the Christ child. This feast means many things. The word Epiphany itself means revelation, a light revealing the true nature of things. Jesus is said to be the light that reveals the nature of God and God’s love for the world, which always shows up from underneath, from a position of nonviolence and vulnerability and grace.
The world around us has moved on from the Christmas feasting and celebration, to cleaning up crumpled wrapping paper, consoling children for already broken toys, and beyond that to post-Christmas sales and returns. Within the church we aren’t nearly done with Christmas itself which has 12 days; we’re only up to day 8. We’re just always out of step, it seems.
Merry Christmas! Wherever you come from, however many times you’ve been here or not been here, whether you know everyone in the room or no one, I’d like to invite everyone here to take a very deep breath. I don’t know what situation you came from this morning. I don’t know where you will go when you leave here today. But for right now, let’s become very present to this moment in time.
Merry Christmas! Hey, even though it is completely respectful and appropriate when you are out and about to say “Happy Holidays” to everyone you meet, knowing that not everyone celebrates this particular holiday, here in church you can actually say the word Christmas, and so I say again to you, Merry Christmas! We are here to celebrate. We are here to remember an ancient story. Even though the story of Christmas is beautiful, and comforting, and traditional, we are not here to remember it for those reasons.
Jesus, son of Mary of Nazareth, was born when Augustus was Emperor of Rome. In Israel. A Roman Province. Much later, people would give great titles to him. But Jesus was nothing like Augustus, the adopted son of the great Julius Caesar. Under his leadership, the Roman Empire took over the whole Mediterranean world, from Palestine on the edge of the Arabian desert to Spain on the edge of the world. He ordered roads built all over the Empire, and relays of couriers who would run from post to post with messages which now took days, not weeks.
There are some people in this world who are cut from a different cloth. These are people who seem driven by an inner vision that guides what they do and for which they are willing to sacrifice a lot. I saw an article in the Star Tribune recently about a man named Colin O’Brady, who was the first person to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported. He has climbed the seven highest mountains on the seven continents. And this past Friday, he and five other men began an attempt to row, in a rowboat, across the Drake Passage, which is one of the most treacherous water crossings in the world.
I once read something on the national Episcopal Church website that I have not since been able to find when I looked for it, but I swear it was there at one point. It was a sort of Q & A about Episcopal beliefs. One of the questions posed was this: Do Episcopalians believe in being born again? And the answer was: yes, we do. We are born again, and again, and again. I liked that. I don’t know if any of you are even familiar with that phrase – “born again.” I grew up with it in a different denomination, and in that context, being “born again” meant that you had to have a moment in time when you decided to invite Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior. It was understood as the moment in time when you went from the status of being an “unbeliever” to being “saved.” But Episcopalians in general don’t think in quite such either / or terms.
When Lisa recently rearranged the preaching schedule and asked if I would preach Advent 1 rather than Advent 4, without hesitation I agreed. To be honest I glanced at the lectionary and read the Isaiah passage, which we heard this morning, and thought that would be a great reading for this homily. Then, later, I read the Gospel from Matthew and thought what have I gotten myself into. So, Thanks Lisa… I think.
Today is the grande finale of the liturgical year. It is the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday before next week when Advent starts again, Advent which is the church’s new year. This Sunday, traditionally, is called Christ the King Sunday. It imagines a world in which the reign of God permeates everything, in which the Beloved Community is everywhere. And yet the gospel text from today depicts a scene in which the Beloved Community seems to be the furthest thing from reality. It depicts Jesus dying a torturous death between two other criminals.
At the Brown Bag Eucharist on Tuesdays we read and discuss the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday. We go around the circle, each of us reading one sentence. This week the scripture from Matthew was so short that there wasn’t even one sentence for each of us. But let’s hear it now as we heard it on Tuesday.
There is a Jesuit priest named Father Gregory Boyle who has lived and done ministry in South Central Los Angeles for more than thirty years. When he started his ministry there, his neighborhood had the highest concentration of gang-related activity in the country. After a while Father Boyle founded an organization called Homeboy Industries, which seeks to help formerly incarcerated men and women get job training, housing assistance, tattoo removal, and whatever other support they need. He says that they work with the people no one else wants to work with. Why does he do this?
Blessed are you poor, driving a twenty year-old gray Chevy, dented and scratched. The reign of God is yours. And woe to you who are rich, taking delivery of a fully-equipped Acura, for you have already received your comfort. Blessed are you who hunger now, ashamed that your kid now qualifies for free lunch and comes home on Fridays with food-shelf groceries that someone quietly put in his locker. And woe to you who are satisfied, pushing back from the table and thinking about how nice it will be to have leftovers for breakfast.
For a long time, I have been steeped in the culture and values of recovery. Although I myself am not an addict, my life has been intimately impacted by addiction in many ways. My husband Jeff is very open about the fact that he has been sober and in recovery for over 30 years, and for many years he has also been an addiction counselor. Before I married Jeff I dated other addicts. Some of my best friends are alcoholics, and others in my extended family have struggled with substance abuse. Addiction, and recovery from addiction, is in the air I breathe and the ocean I swim in. And so as I’ve learned over time, since addiction is a family disease, and a disease of the mind, I have discovered I also need recovery. The paradox of recovery is that to begin to recover, you have to admit you can’t make that happen yourself—either in your own life or in the life of another.
I want to thank Wendy and Chad for the wonderful prelude, Kate Wolf’s Give yourself to love. When I was in college in the late 60’s in the Bay Area, Kate was a frequent performer at local coffee houses and pubs. I heard her several times at the Cotati Inn. This song I believe speaks directly to our Way of Love practice; if you do not know the song, I hope you add it to your library. When Bishop Prior chose this song for our recent convention and a blog of his, we shared our appreciation of her work. As I suspect Kate knew well, if it isn’t about Love, it is not about God.
How many of you were aware that President Trump came to the Twin Cities this week? How many of you had feelings about that? How many of you think that the feelings you had about it are probably fairly close to what most of the people around you were feeling? How many of you think your feelings were different than most of the folks around you? How many of you are sick of hearing about President Trump? How many of you think we don’t talk about what is going on in our country enough? How many of you had stuff going on in your personal life that took more of your attention and energy than the political scene in our nation and in our city? How many of you think there are other issues going on in our city and country and world that aren’t getting enough attention because of how much the country is polarizing around politics? How many of you think the country polarizing around politics is urgent and must be addressed? How many of you would like to preach under these conditions?
Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. He is perhaps one of our best known and least known saints. We associate him with the blessing of our pets and with statues of him in gardens, usually with a bird on his hand. Ivy and I, in fact, have such a statue in our front yard. We’ve learned that when the ground is saturated with waters, Francis may lean to one side or the other. Since we live in Linden Hills, we try to keep the lean to the left.
In case any of you haven’t yet gotten the memo, we actually do have a theme as a community this fall: we are exploring the seven practices of the Way of Love, which are: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest. We are doing this through sermons, adult forums, and blog posts published on our website under the new “Way of Love” page. Each Sunday in the bulletin, you’ll find a question related to the day’s practice that I’m asking you to ponder, respond to, and either tear off your answer and put it in the offering plate, or email me your answer later. Then we collect your answers and put them up on the Way of Love bulletin boards in the parish hall. Last Monday Bishop Mariann Budde came to St. John’s to speak about her new book, called Receiving Jesus: The Way of Love, which is about her personal experience and understanding of these seven practices.
St. John’s former Rector, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington D.C., was at St. John’s to speak about her new book Receiving Jesus: The Way of Love. In her book, she describes how we can experience a “loving, personal relationship with God” through the seven practices of Christian faith. Click on the “podcast” link to here the conversation. Note: The conversation is approximately a half an hour in length.
Jesus said all this to his friends so they could have joy. Complete joy. His friends are like branches and he’s like the vine. The vine is strong and woody, growing up from deep roots, sending all the lifegiving energy from the soil up into the branches. The branches that are not pruned off “abide.” The pruned ones fall to the ground and dry up. God the farmer rakes them up and bundles them off for kindling..
Today marks the beginning of a particular journey I’m inviting the people of St John’s to consider making together. In a certain sense that’s overstating things, because some of you have already been journeying together in many ways, some of you for a long time, and I’m still the new kid on the block. The particular journey I’m inviting us to make together is an exploration of the Christian spiritual path through seven spiritual practices that we can learn about and engage as a community. We can refer to these seven spiritual practices collectively as steps on “the Way of Love” that was inaugurated by Jesus of Nazareth 2000 years ago.
Our reading from Proverbs this morning is blissfully short. “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; For it is better to be told, “Come up here” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” Most of the book of Proverbs consists of little sayings like this,
I want to thank all of you for gathering here today. We are celebrating the life of Fu Li Kalter, and we’ve just had the privilege to hear about her life from some of those who knew her and loved her best. My name is Lisa Wiens Heinsohn, and I am the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where I’ve been the past ten months. I am heartbroken that I did not have the chance to meet or get to know Fu Li or offer her love and compassion and care. The reason I am here is that Fu Li, in what sounds like her full throttle, force-of-nature style, researched many different faith traditions and ended up picking St. John’s, and the Episcopal faith, as her spiritual home.
Have you ever been bound by Satan? Okay, so that’s not a question you expect to hear at St John’s. Let me ask it another way: Have you ever been caught up in a force that is stronger than you? A force that keeps you from being who God wants you to be? I have. I’d be more likely to call it ‘perfectionism’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘shame’ than ‘Satan.’ But in a way, it doesn’t really matter what I call it. The effect is that I’m bound, trapped, stuck.
If I were to ask you, where do you come from? I’m guessing most of you would answer by saying the name of the place you spent the majority of your childhood. I grew up in Southern California, but now I’ve been in Minnesota so long that I feel like I’m from Minnesota. The question, “Where do you come from,” can be tricky. If you asked Representative Ilhan Omar where she was from, even though one of the most important things about her right now is that she represents our district in Minnesota, we might be tempted to focus on the fact that she was born in Somalia. So it’s not as simple as it seems.
We live in an era of great fear, worries surrounding us most of the time. We worry about local problems, world conflicts, a critical environment. It doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s some person or group, able to wind you up to a pitch of doomsday anxiety. We may try to have some control – by turning off the radio, or spending our time with those who agree with us. None of these strategies actually work, because there’s more anxiety floating free in the world than our protective steps can soak up. Where are we to turn?
My name is the Rev. Marcus Halley. I have the wonderful honor of not only serving as the Rector of the Episcopal church immediately north of here – Saint Paul’s – but also of serving you as your ECMN Missioner for Evangelism. Thank to your Rector for her kind invitation to share with you all this morning. For many, Evangelism is either a new word, a scary word, or both, so let me begin by telling you what it means by first telling you what it is not. Evangelism is not standing on the street corner, screaming loudly through a bullhorn, at random passersby, warning them to prepare for the apocalypse. That’s a caricature. It is also not forcing our beliefs on others or demeaning others who do not share our beliefs. That’s colonialism.
How many of you have ever had a life dream that just has not materialized? Let me put it a different way. How many of you have deeply desired something, with all your being, and it never happened? I suspect most of us have experienced something like this. Dreaming and desiring come out of the human capacity for imagination. I don’t know if animals can imagine things, though I do know they dream based on what my cats’ paws do when they are sleeping. But people can imagine things that have not yet existed.
Last week I missed, but later listened to, one of the greatest sermons I’ve ever heard, by the Rev. Dr. Heidi Joos. If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to go to the St John’s website and read it or listen to it. Heidi spoke about the strange world we live in right now—a world of such contrasts they make your head spin. On the one hand, we have families with children pouring across our southern borders, in flight for their lives, being imprisoned for what is not a crime, which is to present oneself at the border as a refugee petitioning for amnesty under international and American law.
This past Thursday, the Fourth of July, I woke up in a very strange country. Of course, for some time it’s been hard not to wake up in a strange country, (with the exception of a recent weekend in Toronto). The news was telling me, on the one hand, that thousands of immigrants seeking asylum are being held like cattle in fenced pens, with poor or little food, no way to keep warm at night, no soap or showers or medical care. The children have been separated from their families and are struggling to care for each other, the older for the younger, some in quarters so crowded that they can’t even lie down, since their beds were removed to make more room.
Today is the Feast day for the Nativity of St John the Baptist, who is the patron saint of this church. So it’s the day we talk about him, and therefore also about who we are, where we come from, what our purpose is. Now you all know that I’ve only been with you, getting to know you, since this past October. But I’ve already seen that the people of St. John’s love to hold the old and the new together. We love tradition and we love to innovate. We care about being on the forward edge of the way of Jesus, leaning into the future. St John’s was one of the first Episcopal churches in Minnesota to embrace LGBTQ folks, and among the first to hire a female rector.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Perhaps many of you know that the church has something called the liturgical year – there are seasons in the life of the church, and each season means something. It begins with Advent, then we have Epiphany, and Lent, and Easter. Easter ends with Pentecost, the next week is this week, Trinity Sunday, and after that we have six months of what we call Ordinary Time – though I’ve never understood what could possibly be ordinary about time after Pentecost. Anyway, Trinity Sunday in some sense is the grande finale of the liturgical year. But why? Why doesn’t it end with Pentecost? Pentecost is about God setting the disciples on fire with love and the capacity to speak about God’s healing power in many other languages, the capacity to transform the world. But Pentecost ISN’T the peak of the liturgical year: Trinity Sunday is. What in the world IS the Trinity?
Our denomination, the Episcopal Church, has what we call a Presiding Bishop. How many of you know who he currently is? Our Presiding Bishop is Michael Curry, the one who preached at the royal wedding a year ago. As anyone who saw that homily knows, he is a wonderful preacher. When I was in seminary I had the great good fortune to hear him preach at a conference called Rethinking Evangelism. I know the word evangelism makes a lots of us twitch. And Rev. Curry said as much in his sermon. His opening line was this: “If you want to strike terror into the heart of any Episcopalian, tell them they have to witness.”
Last week before the ten o’clock service, after Richard Long had announced that it was the Sixth Sunday of Easter, I heard a little voice exclaim, “It’s Easter! Yay!” Now the owner of the little voice was not rejoicing because Easter is a season, not just a single day. I’m pretty sure he was hoping for some more chocolate bunnies. But I was happy for the reminder, and tried to notice what was Easterish: happy songs and readings with happy endings.
I’d like to open this homily by asking you two questions. How many of you love to solve problems? There is something so very satisfying about seeing something that is broken that you can fix. My brother Steve is a do-it-yourself technology fixer—he loves to figure out why your smartphone has suddenly stopped syncing with your email and stuff like that. I love to solve problems. In fact I’ve noticed I often seem to believe I’m better at solving other peoples’ problems than I am at solving my own. There are all sorts of problems in the world and I think there is something innate in human DNA that wants to make things whole.
When I was in law school in the nineties I lived in Manhattan on the West Side, in a tiny studio apartment on the 9th floor of a building at the corner of 102nd Street and Broadway. I could hear and feel the vibrations of the subway in my apartment on the 9th floor, and everything that was going on in the street below me. I had always lived in urban areas, but nothing had prepared me for the sheer volume of life in New York. But eventually I got used to it.
As I understand it, some subsets of the Christian church focus pretty extensively on sin and guilt. How many of you grew up in that kind of religious environment? Now I’m going to ask a risky question, and I hope you’ll be honest: how many of you have experienced the Episcopal church in that way? I grew up with a version of Christian faith where I was taught that God loved us overwhelmingly, but that at the same time, my personal sins were so bad that Jesus had to die the death that I myself deserved in order for God’s sense of justice to be satisfied. Now, as a child I did once steal another child’s toy bottle, and In first grade I also once slapped a little friend on the face when I was really mad. I felt badly about both these things for a long time, and in fairness they were not OK.
Well, it’s the Sunday after Easter and the church isn’t as crowded as it was a week ago; some of the flowers are a bit droopy, and the Altar Guild has collected and stored the bells we rang with our hallelujahs. The question of the day is ‘now what?’; or for some ‘so what?’. This morning’s Gospel lesson is a response to those questions. It is the same reading we hear every year on this Sunday, often referred to, somewhat unfairly, as the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’.