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The gospel story for today is well known in church. It’s the story of the man who comes with great deference to ask Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers him by reminding him of what we now call the Ten Commandments: Don’t steal. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t covet. If you are willing to zoom way in to this story and enter it imaginatively with your mind’s eye, you can see this man. He is a good man. He says, “I have kept all these commandments since I was young.” Now we know no one is perfect.
Two weeks ago I was very blessed to be able to attend what was called a “Planetary Healing Retreat” at Liberty Community Church. Liberty is a predominantly African American church in North Minneapolis whose primary ministries revolve around healing from various kinds of trauma, including racism and sex trafficking. Recently, one of their co-pastors, Alika Galloway, felt the Spirit leading her to begin to expand their vision to include planetary healing.
At the recent House of Bishops Meeting Presiding Bishop Curry spoke of the Time of Covid, of the complicated emotions of loss and lament, anger and fear, pain and frustration. “We are living in a narthex moment, he said between the world we knew and whatever is being born,”
One of the most interesting things I learned at seminary in Hebrew class was the meaning of the word דֶ֣רל which translates ‘way, manner, road.’ But this is not ‘road’ in the sense of saying, “take 35W north.” It refers at a deeper level to following in the ways or path set forth by God. So then, after the death of Solomon, Israel split into a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern kingdom of Judah.
How many of you know what an “intervention” is? We are going to do something completely untraditional—I actually would love it if someone would answer the question. Out loud. Introverts, don’t worry, no one has to say anything if you don’t want to. So OK, what’s an intervention? What’s the goal of an intervention?
Several years ago, I was driving on the east coast. I had been in Washington, D.C., and was headed to North Carolina to visit my parents. I was on Interstate 95 in Virginia, a road surrounded on both sides by lush green trees and little farms. Along the way, I passed a caravan of five or six cars that grabbed my attention.
Some of you know that before I became a priest I was a spiritual director, and I should give you fair warning, this homily is almost entirely from that perspective—because as I studied the gospel reading from today, I felt so strongly invited in this direction. So let’s go.
The entire sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is about the bread which can feed God’s people. It starts off with the feeding of 5,000 hungry people (5,000 men, that is) who have come to hear Jesus teach them. The next day, when the crowd tracks him down, Jesus says that they are there not so much for to hear him, but to receive more miraculous bread. The word for this day is that they should believe in Jesus, free lunch or not. The crowds point out that they need some kind of sign from him in order to believe. What sort of sign are they looking for? Possibly more manna, such as Israel received in the wilderness? Or another one-off feeding of multitudes from someone’s lunch? Jesus says that the bread in the wilderness, and the bread the day before, are gifts from God. But the true gift from God, for this day, and for eternity, is Jesus himself. He will give his flesh for them to eat and his blood for them to drink, and they will never be hungry again. This proclamation creates a fire-storm of criticism. For Jews grounded in Torah this violates a fundamental law whichRead more
When Carly was in preschool, I had a friend in the neighborhood who had kids the same age, and so we’d sometimes get together for playdates when on days we were both at home with the kids. One day during a playdate I used the phrase “life-giving” to refer to something. And she told me that phrase really bugged her. She said “what do you mean life-giving? I’m already alive. I can’t be more alive. You’re either alive, or you’re dead.” And I had to laugh. I understood where she was coming from. In a certain way she is right.
This past week was the anniversary of my ordination, on the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen. Although my ordination date was probably a factor of scheduling, for me it was Holy intervention; the experience that I have had these 17 years to meditate each year with Mary Magdalen has been a blessing. Mary’s narrative history in both approved scripture and non-canonical, as we heard a portion of this morning, opens a door for us to reimagine our theological and spiritual history from a feminist point of view.
Is there any person you can think of with whom you would like to spend some time – time and quiet just to be with them? Perhaps they could teach you important things or connect with the places in you that are hurting or lonely. Or you might want to be known and recognized by someone important, whose presence would make you feel worthwhile.
My brother Steve and I are both preachers. I remember talking with him about today’s particularly strange and even gruesome gospel story, when John the Baptist is beheaded by King Herod at a dinner party. My brother said to me that as long as we all understand the Bible as just the ancient equivalent of Game of Thrones, we’ll be fine.
In his address to the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council two weeks ago, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry announced that we are preparing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in our church, in all the countries where we are located—in the United States and sixteen other nations in Europe and the Caribbean—to do “what we must do to save our souls from the evils of racism [and] the evils of supremacy of anybody over anybody else.” 
How many of you assemble those large picture puzzles, puzzles that come in the boxes with hundreds of pieces? You could spend hours trying to put them together. Raise your hand if you enjoy putting picture puzzles together. I see there are many of you. I don’t like picture puzzles. I don’t like being limited by this overall shape of the puzzle or having to fit the pieces into only one spot.
I’d like to begin today with a question for you. And by “you” I mean both all of you here in this room and all of you joining us via livestream or the recording later. In fact who is operating the camera? Can you spin it to the congregation and have everyone wave? We see you! We are glad you are with us! OK, now for the question. Look back over your life. Can you remember a time when even just for a moment, things were as they should be? Where something happened that really, at last, was truly right?
Enmegahbowh: a biographical sketch Slide 1 What surprised me most in reading the new biography of today’s hero is that he, too, was an immigrant. Enmegabowh was an Odawa, from north of Toronto. Like James Lloyd Breck and Henry Whipple, the great missionaries of Minnesota Territory, Enmegabowh was raised Christian. The Odawa made a life by trading widely in the great forests north of the St. Lawrence and west around the Great Lakes. They lived in rectangular houses made of lumber or logs, not the rounded-top wigwams or the cone-shaped tipis.
Today is the beginning of the longest liturgical season of the church year. We call it Ordinary Time. It begins after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday officially conclude Eastertide, and it goes until Advent begins again four weeks before Christmas. In a certain sense I guess Ordinary Time isn’t really a season at all—it’s the absence of a special season. It’s not Lent, or Advent, or Easter, or Epiphany. It’s business as usual.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the only church festival I can think of that celebrates a theological doctrine rather than an event in the life of Jesus and his disciples. And I might add it’s about the somewhat confusing, mysterious doctrine of our Christian belief that God is three persons in one being – not three gods, as it often seems to Jews and Muslims, but a single God of three persons, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.
Many of you have probably seen the musical Les Miserables, adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic novel. At the heart of the story is a man named Jean Valjean in France, who was convicted for stealing bread when he was hungry, and served many years in prison. He finally escapes when an earthquake shatters the prison.
Starting very early in the pandemic, I began to FaceTime or Zoom call with my parents every day. We talked fairly often before March of last year, but to connect every day over video was a substantial increase in how much we saw them. We have maintained this practice throughout the last 14 months, and it’s become a part of our daily routine. We chat and compare supper recipes, and our toddler often demands a grandparent performance of the Itsy-Bitsy Spider.
The other day I was surfing Facebook, which I occasionally do, and I came across this lovely video of a horse basically petting her human with her lips. This woman said she had gone out to the pasture just to spend some time with the horse, and the woman had been petting the horse’s chest, and all of a sudden, the horse used its big horsey lips to groom and rub the woman’s head and face, in a totally clear expression of love and mutual affection. It made me smile the hugest smile, and I put the video on my Facebook wall so you can go find it if you want to.
It seems to me that we are living at an inflection point in history. It is a kind of cosmic crossroads, a juncture where things could go in many different directions. It is a time when much that had been hidden has been made known, and stories that had been told and not believed are now being believed, and there has been a collective listening and yearning and waking up that makes things possible that had not previously been possible.
After the Chauvin verdict, can we have good shepherds? The story was powerful enough that 5,000 men signed up. Probably some women and children, too. Powerful enough that the police were called and Peter and John were arrested. They got a hearing the next morning, with another big crowd, and the charges were read: you two were telling lies yesterday, about somebody actually coming back from the dead. And you used some kind of black magic to heal this poor man’s legs.
Happy Third Sunday of Easter! Happy Earth Day! Happy gathering together in person! Today is the Third Sunday of the great 50 days of Eastertide. Did you know that Easter is a whole season and not just not a day? This is true for lots of reasons, but it’s mostly because the resurrection of Jesus turned so much upside down that it’s not possible to see it all in a day. As Mariann Budde said in her Easter sermon, “Resurrection is a process, not an event.”
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Today is a good day. It’s a good day for so many reasons. First and for us most important, this is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. This is the day that we celebrate that death is not ultimate. Violence and the crushing powers of empire do not have the last word. The love of God creates new life, always, every time. Today is about resurrection.
Greetings on this Maundy Thursday. I hope you have found a way to celebrate our agape meal this evening. Maybe you are with your family, maybe you are connecting virtually with others, or maybe you are physically on your own. But know, no matter where you are on this holy night, you are loved by and part of the body of Christ.
In today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus gives one of his most famous, and most difficult, teachings. He says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This is a challenging teaching, but it shows up in different versions six different times in the four gospels, always as part of Jesus preparing his disciples for what is coming—which is his pending arrest, trial, and death.
Once upon a time, a man named Moses told an Egyptian Pharaoh, my God says to tell you, let my people go. A cheeky thing to do, really. Pharaoh was a god. And all around him were statues of the other gods. Who is your god? Pharaoh asked, playing along with this fellow who had long ago been a member of the royal household. Moses’ answer was to turn his staff into a snake, a cool piece of magic. The Emperor nodded to his own magicians, who knew a similar trick. They did it, too.
If I were to ask you what kind of person you think Jesus of Nazareth was, I think most of us would say something about love. We know he was a healer. We know his primary teaching was about loving God, loving our neighbors. In fact in the Episcopal Church we distill millennia of Christian faith into seven spiritual practices that refer to in total as Jesus’ Way of Love. But the Jesus portrayed in today’s gospel may not appear that loving. In fact he kind of raises our eyebrows.
“This isn’t what I signed up for.” In today’s Gospel reading, this is basically what we hear Peter saying to Jesus. In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples of the fate that awaits him on the cross. Jesus informs them that he will have to go through great suffering. He describes the rejection he will face by some of the most respected and powerful people of the day. He predicts his death.
Today as I begin this homily, I’d like to invite you for a moment to become truly present. Whatever you are doing—whether you are sitting in your living room watching this with your family, or listening to this in podcast form while you are out walking your dog or driving somewhere, or reading this on the web, please do take a moment to stop, pause this video, if you are driving and you can spare just two extra minutes, find a place to pull over, and close your eyes, and breathe.
Today we enter into the church season of Lent, 40 days, until Easter, not counting Sundays. In the earliest church, it was a special time of preparation for those who wished to join the church by baptism. Before their baptism on a Holy Saturday, these catechumens could be present at worship services, but had to leave before the celebration of the Eucharist.
Excerpts From the last speech of The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, 3rd of April 1968. If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.” for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can theyRead more
I heard recently about a young man in his twenties who was dying of muscular dystrophy. He was an extraordinary person, very smart and funny. He was understandably very angry with God. When his uncle went to the hospital to visit, he asked if the young man would like the Bible to be read to him. The young man answered, “Sure, I like good fiction.”
At the heart of what we have called Christian faith is the notion of turning around. It’s the original meaning of the word “repentance,” that word so many people today dislike because they associate it with being guilt tripped for things that don’t matter while ignoring massive things that do. But our church’s name sake John the Baptist used the word a lot—it was his whole message. Apparently the Jewish folks who heard him liked this message because they flocked to him like thirsty people in the desert. The word repent was about change, and that was something they knew they needed.
Martin Luther King Jr carried out much of his ministry during the time I was in high school in Towson, Maryland and college at the University of Maryland. You might think that I would have been paying attention to the important events of that era, but I was pre-occupied with things like grades, courses and getting into medical school. Besides, I wasn’t black, nor were any of my friends.
When St. John’s called me to become its next Rector two years ago, I was so delighted and moved and daunted. I had been a priest for just two years, and an Episcopalian for only nine years. Luckily for me, St. John’s has often called first-time Rectors, including Mariann Budde and Susan Barnes.
This morning I give thanks to God for sending me three teachers, Fr. Richard Polakowski, Prof Wyatt MacGaffey, and Prof. Sandra Berwind. All of them severe taskmasters, the kind of teacher I am not. They taught me to write. They also had us learn a few poems that have helped me, over the years, make sense of my spiritual life.
Merry Christmas! Now, I want to let you in on a little secret. This service is pre-recorded. That means that today, the day I’m actually saying “Merry Christmas” to you, is not yet Christmas. It’s almost a week before. And today, the day I’m recording this, I have to say that this year, in 2020, I might be tempted to have a little bit of trepidation recording this so early. 2020 is the year that just keeps on giving.
This is the third week of Advent. Advent is the church’s new year, which is all about hopeful waiting. It’s that time when we allow ourselves to feel the full force of longing for the kingdom or reign of God—in which God’s Great Shalom is the order of the day, a holistic wellbeing for all people, and in which reconciliation between humans and God, and among humans, has finally happened.
Two years ago on this very Sunday, I preached about John the Baptist and Jesus growing up and neither one going into the family business. John’s father was a high priest in the temple and Jesus’ dad was a carpenter. Both of them tried it, John combing out his beard and dressing all in white; Jesus getting calluses and slivers. John was a city boy from the south, and Jesus a small-town boy from the north.
I can remember my experience of Advent during the time I was in Medical School. I was quite separated from church, or Advent or any other religious thing. Not to mention the fact that I was raised in what we might call a “low church” tradition, where Advent was pretty non-existent. It was all just ‘pre-Christmas’.
Last week out of the blue I got a phone call from a friend in high school whom I hadn’t spoken with since graduation from high school more than thirty years ago. I went to high school in Brussels, and this friend, Stefan, is an Austrian who now lives in Jamaica. After three decades I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he would be calling. As it turns out he was asking me for my opinion of what in the world was happening in the United States.
If you’ve spent any time hanging around a church, you have surely heard the parable of the talents. A lot of emphasis is place on the amount of money entrusted to the servants, so you may have heard it during a stewardship campaign, or other similar event. A talent was roughly equivalent to 20 years of wages for the average worker. So, if one had been entrusted with one talent, like the last of the servants, that was about one’s economic worth for a life-time. Five talents or even two was unimaginable wealth, and quite a responsibility.
As I write and record this, it is Saturday. Joe Biden has just been declared the President-elect of the United States, and Kamala Harris the first woman and first African American woman as Vice-President-elect. There are still recounts and legal challenges to be faced, and the all-important question of whether President Trump will step down if those challenges make clear that he has lost. Almost everyone has big feelings about this, myself included. It is still unclear what this is a referendum about in our nation as a whole, given how very close the electoral college votes have been, and how relatively close even the popular votes have been.
Today is the Feast of All Saints, one of the great feasts of the Christian liturgical year. We celebrate two kinds of saints: those ordinary Christians who did extraordinary things, like John the Baptist and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King; and our loved ones who have died, who are also saints because the New Testament word “saint” just means someone who follows Jesus.
These are pivotal times in history. Just how significant future generations will consider 2020 and its aftermath is yet to be seen. But we who are living through these times without benefit of a crystal ball can still see that the choices we make today will impact the future in significant and perhaps unforeseeable ways.