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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. But it wasn’t magic, Peter told the court. That beggar, he thought we were going to give him money, but we don’t have any. But we do have something else that’s more precious. So I took his hand and told him he could stand up. I didn’t know it would happen, but the Master told us it could, if we would just say his name. Peter went on, there isn’t any other name that does it. It’s not black magic. I don’t know how it works, but he told us it would. Say his name. So we do.
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.
We celebrate today the feast day of Saint Luke. Luke was a gentile, from Antioch, educated, Greek speaking, and it is said that he was a physician. He probably was one of Paul’s cohort missionaries in the early witness of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
A few summers ago, my husband Jeff, daughter Carly and I took a long road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We went to visit the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass, the highest elevation visitor center in the park, at almost 12,000 feet above the tree line. I was driving up to that spot, and we were on the outside lane of a narrow two-lane mountain road. At first this was fine. But eventually, we emerged above the tree line, and there were no guardrails, no shoulders, and no trees or brush at the side of the road. There was the white line marking the edge of the lane, and then within 12 inches of that line was a sheer drop of at least a thousand feet.
This is the thirtieth week since we have met in person as a St. John’s community, and after all this time, even in this cold, I am so glad to see you in person together again. And let’s take a moment to pause and remember all those who can’t be here physically now. Some of them may be watching this over the Vimeo livestream or on a recording later. In this pause, we are gathered together with you. In Christ, you are here, and we are there.
In today’s Gospel lesson, it is clear that The Kingdom of Heaven needs to be unionized. Otherwise how can its practice of work and wages be brought into line with modern business principles? If you work more hours, you earn more money, rise in pay level and in company position. It’s what we expect. But it is not the system at work in this parable of Jesus.
When I was a child I lived in Ventura County in southern California. There was this wonderful park in Ventura in the foothills of the mountains, called Arroyo Verde. In the forested part of the park there was a wood fort to play in. We played what we called Cowboys and Indians in that fort. The cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were the bad guys. In that game we picked up the racist, destructive and hurtful way to tell the story of American history. Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, really?
Good morning, everyone. My name is Elizabeth Lienesch, and you may or may know me. I’m the new seminary intern at St. John’s. I’m a student at Luther Seminary and I’ll be part of the St. John’s community for the next two years. It’s been wonderful to meet many of you over Zoom or at backyard gatherings this summer, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of you over the next months.
Last week my family and I went to the North Shore. We were staying high up in the Lutsen Mountains, but from our room we could see that hundreds of feet down, deep in the trees, was a river rushing over the rocks that you could hear from our room. When we drove down to the shore of Lake Superior, we also heard the crashing of the waves in a lake so vast it acts like an ocean.
How often in your life have you felt as if you belonged? Belonging is tricky. My daughter is in middle school and there is a certain kind of middle school fashion—certain kids who are identified by having hydroflasks, and wearing crop tops, and making certain sounds and having a particular nickname. My daughter doesn’t feel like she belongs to that group.
Wednesday morning I woke up, as usual, like most of you, wearing White skin. I didn’t notice it, however, until around ten-thirty, when I was taking a break from writing this, pulling weeds. I heard some sirens. I prayed briefly for whoever was in trouble. It’s my habit. I also prayed that it wasn’t a Black person, for whom sirens are often a sign that things are going to get worse.
The very first thing I did my first year in college was participate in a wilderness program in which myself and 21 other 18 year olds, plus a few seniors and some other adults, backpacked for three weeks in the Uinta Mountains in Utah. For three weeks we didn’t see a sign of humanity except each other and the very slight trails we were on.
In the past several months during this pandemic, our St. John’s community has had countless incredibly rich, prayerful conversations over Zoom. Even though I know we’re all heartily sick of Zoom, it has afforded us a peculiar kind of intimacy that I have come to treasure. Several times, I have heard Doug Mensing say something that has pierced me to the quick.
Throughout history there have been people who have called the world to repentance and to transformation. Such people are often greatly revered after they are dead, and are perhaps not quite as popular when they are speaking their truth or during their lifetimes. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is greatly beloved of the church nowadays. At the time he was killed, however, 75% of Americans disapproved of him.
In the name of God, nailed to the cross because of our sins. Amen. This is the place where George Floyd was murdered. And this is Martin Gugino, a gentle giant of a man, 75 years old, white of skin and white of hair, approached the armed death squad in Buffalo. He said something to them before they shoved him stumbling backward onto the concrete. They didn’t arrest him, handcuff him, or crush his neck by taking a knee. They left him there, bleeding from his ear. Two members of the squad were suspended.
St. John’s has a long-standing relationship with Liberty Community Church, which is a predominantly African American church in North Minneapolis. Their primary mission is The Healing Space, which provides support and healing to those who have experienced sex trafficking. Last Saturday, May 30, their Pastor Alika Galloway called me to say that she had gotten intel that white supremacists were intending to burn down black churches in Minneapolis.