Be Our Light in the Darkness: A Sermon for Candlemas (and Groundhog’s Day)

Year C, The Presentation of our Lord, 3 February 2019
Luke 2:22-40
Trinity Church on the Green


“Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.”

This is now my second winter season with you here at Trinity. nd I realized something back in December, that some would say is utterly obvious: it gets quite dark here in the winter in New England!

But yes, this was an Ah-HA moment for me, and it explains why every day since the solstice, beginning around 4:00 in the afternoon, I have the strong urge to go home, crawl under the covers and eat snacks. I find the early winter dark more tiring than ever before in my life. I imagine this is so, because up until moving here to New Haven, I always lived within or just outside of New York City limits. I realized while visiting at my mom’s house back at Christmas, that there is so much light pollution in the New York Metropolitan Area, that it truly never gets darkest dark, not even in the outer boroughs.

Now, darkness can be wonderful. I am a theatre person, I love a dark theatre! One of the greatest joys of being a stage manager is getting to call or even execute the final lighting cue of a show, which is usually a blackout, causing everything to plunge into darkness for a brief moment. And darkness in warmer weather has an inviting appeal: a dark beach invites a bonfire, with s’mores, or to view the stars in dark country skies. But darkness in the northeast winter has a different feel – it can tire us out, and drag us along, even living in such a relatively well lit city as New Haven. I’ve thought about what it must have been like to be living in a world before heat and electricity: the winter must have been such a difficult and scary time for so many. With maybe only the light of a candle, Christians would pray evening and night prayers, with the hope that God would protect them throughout the night. They would recite the words I began with, the Nunc Dimitis, or Song of Simeon – that Jesus is the light to enlighten all nations.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, which is also known as Candlemas. It is observed 40 days after Christmas, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple. The words of the Prophet Malachi in our first reading are fulfilled: “Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me; And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1) These two poor parents present their firstborn son, along with their humble sacrifice of two turtledoves, or perhaps, two pigeons.

In the darkness of winter, The Feast of the Presentation is another feast of light in Epiphany, celebrating as the Prophet Simeon proclaims, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The actual feast day was yesterday, and it is not a coincidence that it is the same day as Groundhog’s Day! In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Inspired by Simeon’s words in our Gospel passage, by the 11th century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. Candles would be lit, and processions would form through darkened churches as the Song of Simeon would be sung. At Christ Church here in New Haven, they also observed Candlemas with a bonfire, burning all the Christmas Greens. For many Christians, Candlemas marks the actual end of the Christmas season, which means that one indeed may leave their Christmas lights and decorations up until February 2nd if they so wish!

Candlemas is also halfway from the Winter Solstice to the Spring Equinox, and it became linked to weather predictions about the end of winter, quite possibly because of an old English poem, that goes like this:

If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Groundhog’s Day is actually adapted from the observance of Candlemas, or The Feast of the Presentation. The Pennsylvania Dutch, who were from German speaking parts of Europe, would have been familiar with the Lutheran Church’s observance of Candlemas. The Germans also had a tradition of marking Candlemas as “Badger Day:” if the weather on Candlemas was sunny, and a badger emerged to see a shadow, it predicted the prolonging of winter. Once in America, the Pennsylvania Dutch changed out the badger for the groundhog, and thus started that tradition.

I think it is worth noting that there are other feasts of light at the beginning of February. Imbolc, a traditional Celtic Festival, is celebrated on February 1st. It marks the beginning of spring, and has been Christianized as the Feast of St. Brigid. I imagine there are probably also other feasts and regional customs of looking toward the light of spring at this time of the year, that you may know of from your own communal or ancestral traditions.

So, today we celebrate Jesus as the light of the world: a light to enlighten our cold, winter darkness. Following the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple, and have a holy encounter with Simeon and Anna. Both Simeon and Anna have lived long and likely tough lives, waiting and waiting and waiting to see the Messiah. Both Simeon and Anna get to see and profess and praise the greatness of this young child, Jesus. But not only does Simeon profess that he has seen his salvation, but he also tells Mary that her share would include a sorrow pierced heart. Pope John Paul II likened Simeon’s words to Mary as a second Annunciation, “for they tell her of the actual… situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow.” While this announcement on the one hand confirms her faith in the accomplishment of God’s promises of salvation, it also reveals to her the suffering and sorrow that is to come. (1)  If the Feast of the Presentation is the end of the Christmas Season, it is because suddenly, things start to get real: it will be Lent and Good Friday before we know it. Jesus’ ministry and journey to the cross is beginning.

So, if the winter is bogging us down, I invite us all to light a candle this week. Watch the flickering of the flame. Feel the warmth of the light. As followers of Jesus, we are to reflect and refract the light of Christ so that others may absorb is rays. May we find ways to care for those who are especially cold, undomiciled, and feeling forgotten or sick this winter. May we all renew our commitment to bringing the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ to everyone we meet, as it is for all of us, and for all God’s people.


1 Ellen von Hubyn –


The Magnificat: Yes, Mary Knew!

Year C, Advent 4
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, 23 December 2018
Trinity Church on the Green

T’is the season for Christmas music playing everywhere. Our song for today is Mary’s song: the Magnificat. Alas, we will likely will only hear it at church today, we will not hear it on the radio, sandwiched between “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Baby it’s Cold Outside.”

In fact, if one were to hear a song concerning  Mary on the radio at Christmas time, it would likely be that song “Mary Did you Know?” It is a sweet little song, one that has been recorded by many country and pop artists, and the acapella arrangement by Pentatonix is especially popular right now. The third verse goes like this:

“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.”

(say it with me!) Aww. It is such a lovely song.

And – I must admit: I took great delight when I discovered that someone had come up with alternate lyrics, and shared them on the internet. It goes like this:

“Yes, Mary knew, that her baby boy would one day rule the nations.
Yes, Mary knew, that her baby boy was Lord of all creation.
Yes, she knew! Read Luke 1, you fool, she sang about it then.
It helps, if when you’re reading, you listen to the WOMEN!” (1)

Point taken: we are to listen to this woman, Mary. We are to listen to her and consider the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise. Mary’s song of Joy. Mary’s song of complicated feelings. Mary’s song that showed she was a willing participant in God’s plan to redeem the world.

I will admit that I have had a complicated, life-long relationship with Mary. As a young Catholic girl, I wore a Miraculous Medal, I prayed the Rosary, and I attended Our Lady of Victory Church. And yet, the only Mary I seemed to know was the one created by men in power to keep us women in check: Mary, the ultimate goody two-shoes, the too good to be true selfless mother. Mary, who is miraculously conceived by her parents Anne and Joachim, and born without Original Sin; Mary, whose chastity and perpetual virginity was overly emphasized to us as young girls as a model for living lives of sexual abstinence and self denial. Mary, the Mother of God – the Theotokos, or God-bearer. Mary, the Mater Dolorosa, or Mother of Sorrows. Mary, the great intercessor between us and Jesus. What great responsibility she has! And what GREAT burden.

It wasn’t until I was already an adult that I could begin to see a different picture of Mary. I had grown cynical of the Mary who had been used by male leaders  in the Church as a way to oppress women – preaching that women should model themselves after Mary, especially her humility, obedience, and subservience. Instead, I began to see Mary as one who sided with oppressed peoples, as she identifies herself as “lowly” in the Magnificat. (2) Mary, the unwed mother, who Joseph would have abandoned had an angel not intervened. Mary, who despite all the unknowns, said to the Angel Gabriel,  ‘Here am I…let it be with me according to your word.’ Mary, who had to give birth to Jesus in an unknown place, without her own mother or kinswomen there to help. Mary, who became a refugee, to protect her son.  Mary, who had to look after a sometimes smug, young Jesus. Mary, who was likely widowed, and who then had to see her son suffer and die. Suddenly, I no longer saw Mary as a perfect, beautiful image – crowned in robes of blue and white. No, suddenly I began to see Mary as a marginalized woman who had to endure a really tough life and vocation with grit, dedication, and extreme faith. That was the Mary I could get behind. That was the Mary I could befriend.

Mary’s song, Mary’s sermon, is one of liberation: personal and social, moral and economic. It is a manifesto, a revolutionary proclamation of conflict and victory. It praises God’s liberating actions: in the transformed social order, all is reversed. For Mary, it is also personal: God has taken direct interest in her. God has called her.

This scene comes just after Mary has consented to the Angel Gabriel. Mary runs off to her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is pregnant by a miracle, so surely she will understand how crazy this all is! Mary went with haste, to fall into the arms of a friend and confidante. And Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth knows – she identifies Mary as the “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth is a prophet in this sense: she knows Mary is bearing Jesus. (Isn’t it great to have those types of friends? You don’t even have to tell them – they just somehow know?! Everyone should have a friend like that!)

Elizabeth’s prophecy and blessing is Mary’s cue to sing bravely and boldly. Mary sings of the world being turned upside down: of hierarchies subverted, the mighty brought down. Two marginalized, pregnant women together proclaim the future, and the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. It is kind of odd that Mary sings, no? It is subversive: Mary, who seems amazed at what has happened, sings of God as savior. Mary reminds us, in our Advent waiting, that we cannot look to any other power for salvation from the chaos we are in. Neither technology, education, social progress, or legislation will deliver us. Only God can save us.

Today, Mary sings of hope, and she invites us to sing with her. She invites us to hope with her.  Mary’s words of praise speak of God’s redeeming work not as future but as already having been fulfilled. Such is the confidence of faith. And on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we wait in expectation of what is to come. We wait in faith, knowing that God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. We wait for the coming of Christmas, and we wait for the promise that God will somehow, someday make all things right.

May our souls magnify the Lord! May our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!


1 Credit to Megan Westra @mwestramke; slightly paraphrased to remove the potentially offensive word “freaking.”
2 Wilson, Brittany E. “Mary and Her Interpreters,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, pages 512-516.


Christ the King, and Hamilton

Year B, Proper 28, Track 2, 25 November 2018
John 18:33-37
Trinity Church on the Green

While reflecting upon kings and kingdoms this week, I was directed to the song sung by King George to the colonists in the hit show Hamilton. The song, entitled, “You’ll be Back,” contains the following refrain:

“Oceans rise, empires fall,
We have seen each other through it all.
And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!” (1)

Today we celebrate a different kind of king and kingdom. Today we celebrate Christ the King.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that this Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to our liturgical year. It was first instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a response to growing secularism and nationalism. Makes sense, yes?

In between the end of the first World War, an end we commemorated just a few weeks ago here at Trinity, and the start of the second World War – as Mussolini and Stalin and Hitler were rising to power. Pius XI believed that it was the increasing denial of Christ as king and redeemer throughout much of Europe that was leading to the rise of these dictatorships. This feast day has been observed in our Episcopal Church on the last Sunday before Advent only since 1970. As the last Sunday of the Church year, Christ the King Sunday is a conclusion to our annual liturgical journey through the life of Jesus and the message of his Gospel. This Feast points to Advent -the start of the new church year, and the season of preparation for the coming of Christ again at Christmas, and for Christ’s second coming into the world. And lest we soften our continuing apocalyptic theme, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden does not:  today, they observe what they call “The Sunday of Doom.” Isn’t that something?  A day of judgment, and of destiny. Advent then follows with an  emphasis on hope and expectation, the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God amid the darkness of a sinful world. (2)

The rise of secularism and nationalism continues today. One can wonder if this Feast Day has changed anything. It can also make us pause and think about what we mean when we pray “thy kingdom come” each week. Who is Jesus the Christ to us? What is Jesus’ kingdom?

I for one am not always 100% comfortable with calling Jesus a king – the kings of our history have often failed us. The monarchs of our times have mostly been power hungry, hoarding wealth, while persecuting and occupying other peoples, especially indigenous peoples. Many of the world’s current leaders do not act like they are following Jesus. Kings, Presidents, prime ministers – whatever we may call them – isn’t Jesus better than that – more than that? How do we follow Jesus as our ultimate leader when so many other leaders attempt to lead us astray?

In our Gospel today, we have a scene from Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, and he doesn’t get a direct answer. Jesus replies saying, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus is not like any other king. Jesus’ kingdom is not like any other kingdom – it is not of this world. It is an upside down topsy turvy kingdom compared to the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus’ kingdom could be said to be a spiritual kingdom – one that does not depend on strength, might, power, or wealth, but one that depends on love. Forgiveness. Redemption. Peace. Jesus’ mock coronation comes soon after our passage today: when the soldiers weave a crown of thorns for him, dress him in purple, and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” while striking Jesus on the face. In the other 3 synoptic gospels, when Jesus is asked, “are you a king,” his answer is always, “You say so.” Perhaps Jesus also knew how complicated that title is – how much baggage it carries.

Jesus’ kingdom – Jesus’ nation  – Jesus’ community – is not a political one, but a theological one. Jesus and his followers belong to the truth. What makes Jesus the king is not political feat or might, but because Jesus comes from God, and testifies to the truth.

One biblical scholar (3) writes that one of the greatest challenges for Americans reading the Gospels is to understand the difference between the our modern day  emphasis on the individual, and the emphasis in Jesus’ time on the community. In Jesus’ world, a person did not think of oneself as an individual who acts alone, but one who is always part of a community – one who is “ever aware of the expectations of others,” and who knows oneself through the group. One had to be group-embedded, group-oriented, and collective to survive. Therefore, Jesus’ kingdom is not about one personality. The reign of God is bigger than any one individual, even Jesus himself. (4) For us to belong to the kingdom, or community of Jesus, we too have to be community minded. We have to look beyond our own selves and our own needs, and be mindful of the needs of others. We have to live our lives as servants of Christ the King – striving for justice for all. We cannot count on any other kings, presidents, or magistrates – we cannot sit back and wait for the world to change. It is through our active service to others that Jesus’ kingdom can begin to break through. Jesus is relying on us to partner with him to bring the truth into this broken world. Jesus’ kingdom is therefore not a domain, but a way of being in this world.

Remember how the Swedish church calls today the Sunday of Doom? The Day of Doom is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is the day of Doom. As we enter into Advent, let us remember that we are both living in the last days of a broken world, and the beginning moments of a world that has been redeemed and restored. Thy kingdom come – may it be so.



1 “You’ll be Back,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in Hamilton.
3 See Bruce J. Malina’s quote in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4.
4 See Rodger Y. Nishioka in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4.


Consider the Tongue!

Year B, Proper 19, Track 2, 16 September 2018
Isaiah 50:4-9a, James 3:1-12, Mark 8: 27-38
Trinity on the Green, New Haven, CT

When was the last time you considered your tongue?

Perhaps if you recently bit it, or burnt it, or if you are one of the good ones who actually listen to your dentist and scrape or brush your tongue each day. Or, if you’ve recently had a dripping ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Perhaps someone even moved you to stick your tongue out at them recently – a move that might be considered rude and childish.

We may not always think about our tongues, yet the tongue is an amazing gift from God, for it is with our human tongues that we have the capability of language. And all of our readings today focus on the power of language: the power to bless, the power to curse. The power to affirm, and the power to rebuke. The power to build up, and the power to destroy.

The Servant of the Lord speaking in our reading from Isaiah proclaims, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”

This passage is from one of the Servant Songs, – it is poetry as originally written in Hebrew. The unnamed Servant is a Servant of Yahweh, who speaks in the midst of a nation blaming God. This servant seeks to be the teacher saying, NO – only God can save us. The servant is urging the people to pay attention, and to listen to him: that the Lord God is the only one who can help and protect them.  It is in the trenches of anger and chaos that this Servant finds a vocation – to be a spokesperson for God. To sustain the weary with a word.

In our reading from the Letter of James, we hear: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness….

As it is September, a month when we typically honor and celebrate students and educators, it may sound odd for James to say, “not many of you should become teachers.” Why are teachers being so judged? Well, he doesn’t just mean school teachers or professors – he truly means all of us. All of us are teachers, and all of us are taught when it comes to living lives of faith. It is whenever authority is invested in any of us, that we have to be careful.

And James goes on to write: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Wow. James has clearly considered his own tongue!

The tongue as a fire. The tongue as full of deadly poison. I am sure that many of us can think of times when words have hurt us so deeply, and times when we have used our own words to hurt others. The old adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is absolutely false – words hurt, and words can kill. Jesus knew that – in the Gospel of Matthew he calls out the people who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from God – telling the crowds that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” What we speak our of our own mouths can defile us, and greatly harm others.

In our Gospel passage this morning, again, speaking and language matter. Mark gives a scene some considerable time after Jesus and his disciples have begun their ministry and relationship together. Jesus asks them, “who do people say that I am?” What’s the word on the street? What are people saying? People have clearly been talking about Jesus, as the disciples tell him, “well, some say John the Baptist, others say you’re Elijah, or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus moves to the more important question: “Who do YOU say that I am?”

And dear, blessed Peter answers: “You are the Messiah.”  For once, Peter seems to get it right.

But then, Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him, and then tells them that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected and killed, and then three days later rise again.” And Peter, after getting it so right, gets it so wrong. Peter doesn’t want to hear this – he does not want to hear about a suffering messiah. One can wonder if he even heard Jesus through to the part about rising again after three days? So, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. But Jesus then rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Who do we say Jesus is?

Truly – what do we say? How do we say it? How do we show it? How do we use our tongues and our words to profess our faith upon leaving this church, and going out into the world? What do we say and how do we act to show God’s love for this broken world out in our city?

We are all teachers – we show by word and example what we believe and what we are about. And each of us contains fire: a small fire that can set a forest ablaze. A small fire that can be used for good – for warmth, for power, for purification – or for bad: choking smoke, smothering flames, and destruction.

I invite us to consider our tongues – to consider how we speak. Do we speak up for ourselves and for others? Do we know when to remain silent, when it is someone else’s turn to speak? Can we act as spokespeople for God? Yes, we can. Can we sustain the weary with a word? Yes we can.

Can we deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus? Jesus is not asking us to seek out suffering, or to suffer needlessly. But he asks us to suffer the consequences of following him.

We possess the power to both bless and curse. Let us try to be more mindful and seek to bless – to profess our faith in Jesus. We are not to bless and praise and worship God, and then curse another human being, who is made in God’s image. Let us bless each other. Let us be spokespeople for God in a time and place that is as in need of good news as Jesus’ time and the Servant’s time – if not more. Let us use our words to sustain the weary. Let us mind our tongues.



The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, and the Healing of the Hemorrhaging Woman

Year B, Proper 8, Track 2, 1 July 2018
Mark 5:21-43
Trinity on the Green

I LOVE today’s Gospel passage.  I am so glad this passage is here for us today. It is utterly timely. The stories of Jesus raising a little girl from the dead, and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman come at a time when the health and safety of children in this country – especially children at our borders – may be on our minds and hearts. These stories come at a time when the reproductive health of women may be on our minds and hearts.

I love these two stories, because they make us deal with the pain, mess, grit, and sorrow of life – with the hope that healing and restoration are possible. Jesus assures us in these troubled times: “Do not fear, only believe.”

I remember first hearing the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, as a little girl myself. Growing up in a patriarchal church, that seemed to value men and boys over women and girls, this story gave me hope that we little girls did matter. That Jesus truly loved the little children, so much so that he would bring this little girl back to life.

And I remember first hearing the story of the woman suffering with hemorrhages when I was a teenager. I too was suffering the same. I, like the woman, and so many other women, had endured much under many physicians, but was no better. I, like many women, had been told of an uncertain future: hemorrhage, pain, infertility, other unsightly and taboo signs and symptoms.

I, like this woman in the Gospel, and like so many other women, felt isolated, alone, strange, and scared. In a time JUST before WebMD and online health forums, hearing this Gospel assured me that at least I wasn’t alone. And that if this woman had the initiative to seek healing, that I could, too. I hope that this Gospel may have the same effect for others present today who may be suffering and feeling isolated: please know that you are NOT alone.

This unnamed woman would have had a hard life. Think about it: one couldn’t buy sanitary products at CVS in first century Judea. There weren’t laundry machines, either. But far worse than that, she would have been considered ritually unclean. She would have been a social outcast. She would have had to live in isolation, separated from her family, friends, and village. When people saw her coming, they would have veered the other way, because if she dared to even brush by them lightly, they too would have become unclean! She likely had not had physical contact with anyone in all those years. Think about that – what would it be like to not hug someone for 12 years!? That makes her all the more courageous to push through the crowd. That makes her all the more courageous to reach out and touch Jesus. And Jesus’ reaction shows love and compassion: she falls at his feet in fear and trembling, but he does not call her “unclean.” He calls her “daughter” – a daughter every bit as precious as Jairus’ daughter. Jesus praises her faith and her initiative – her faith has made her well. And not only is she physically well, she is restored to her community – to her friends, and to her family. She is no longer unclean. She is no longer an outcast.

Meanwhile, this healing of the woman has interrupted one of the leaders of the synagogue’s plea to Jesus to come and lay hands on his little daughter who is at the point of death, so much so that Jairus is told that his daughter is now dead. One can only imagine his desperation, and hope that Jesus could have gotten there in time, but now – the worst news a parent can hear. She has already died – his messengers tell him that he should go home to grieve, and not trouble the teacher any longer. Jesus overhears, and urges Jairus, as he did the woman, “do not fear, only believe.”

When Jesus arrives at the house of the leader, there is chaos and commotion: people are “weeping and wailing,” as rightly they should. Jesus admonishes them: “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” If I had been there, I probably would have laughed at him, too. Rightfully so, Jesus kicks the mourners out, and he allows only the girl’s mother, father, and his three disciples to go with him to the little girl’s room. It is important to note here that the little girl would now, like the hemorrhaging woman, be ritually unclean, as she was dead. But Jesus touches her anyway – he takes the child’s hand, and in his native Aramaic,  commands her, “Talitha cum… little girl, get up!” And immediately, she rises and walks. She is twelve years old, having lived as long as the hemorrhaging woman has suffered. Everyone is amazed. Jesus orders them to tell no one, but word will surely spread.

Jesus shows all those present that death is not the final answer, and that the healing power of God is stronger than death. Jesus even shows further compassion for the little girl by telling them to give her something to eat – to further care for her.

In both of these stories, an act of touch restores both women to new life. Both the woman and the little girl  were derived of all power, but Jesus showed them compassion, and deemed them worthy of his attention

These two miracle stories may also bother us: no doubt, there have been times in all our lives when we have sought healing for ourselves or a loved one, and not seemingly received it. When we have prayed for miracle cures – especially for babies and children – and they have not come. We all know that not all prayers are answered as we pray them. As a priest, I wish all the time that I could heal people – as in cure them. That I could somehow harness Jesus’ healing power, walk out onto the Green, and have people just touch my stole and have their health and livelihood restored to fullness. Yeah, as if. I can’t do that.

We cannot offer instant cures: but we can offer healing. There is a difference. What I can try to do – what all of us as a church can do – is seek to offer healing to people by restoring them to community. By offering them an alternative to isolation – by offering them an alternative to feeling like outcasts. By inviting them to the feast we offer here each Sunday – by inviting them to know that they are so loved by God, and that God is with them in their struggles. By praying for our needs and the needs of others, we engage in a deeper relationship with God, and one with each other: one that can ultimately change us. Here, we are not defined by our ailments, or our problems: we are all God’s beloved children.

Our work as the church is to accompany each other through the ups and downs of life  – to see Jesus in each of us and everyone. Jesus reminds us today to not fear, but believe, and to follow his example: to show compassion for children – all children, especially those who have been separated from their parents. To show compassion for all who are outcasted and isolated – those we might think of as “unclean.”  And to maybe, just maybe – raise up what was thought to be dead.



Giving Up Control

Year B, Proper 4, Track 2, 3 June 2018
Mark 2:23-3:6
Trinity on the Green, New Haven, CT

Who here likes to be in control? Be honest.

Likely all of us.

Who here would consider themselves to be, at least sometimes, a “control freak?” By control freak, I mean “a person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others and to take command of a particular situation.”

Yes, I raise my hand. One of the many things I have been reflecting on in my first year of serving here at Trinity on the Green, is how and when I can tend to be a bit of a control freak. One of those ways is around liturgy. Now, I come by it honest! I was trained at the General Theological Seminary after all, and there we were carefully taught to be very precise and particular: that the Book of Common Prayer is our script, we are to follow it word for word and always follow the rubrics! Every gesture and movement should be exact in timing, and rich in meaning. We should sing beautifully, preach powerfully (yet succinctly), walk in step, in height order, crossing ourselves exactly this way, stand, kneel, bow, and kneel again, and end the service exactly on time.

I exaggerate only slightly.

It’s certainly understandable that many clergy and lay leaders in our Episcopal Church, as well as in the greater church, like having control over worship. After all, beautiful, life changing worship is what so many churches are known for, and it’s what people think we church professionals are working towards all other 6 days of the week. Sunday worship is at the center of our common life, it is what most people come to church for, and most want it to have a certain “feel” – a certain quality. It can be easy to view our worship service- whether it be Morning Prayer, or the Eucharist – as more like a production. A show. A show that should go off without a hitch, like a Broadway musical.  We standing up here in the front perform for those in the audience to watch and listen.

Well, no. That’s not what worship is. While I do believe worship incorporates holy performances – like preaching and singing – worship it is not a show. Pope Francis said exactly that in print recently: he told a group of gathered faithful that the mass is not a show. So, what is it? It is a communal celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. What we are doing here is a communal celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, and every person in the room plays a part in that celebration.

In my first year here at Trinity, I have been reminded again and again that I have to give up my desired control over liturgy. For starters, it’s never about me. And truly, because –  I can’t control it!  In part, because we all play a role. I’ve come to learn that we never know when someone in the room might interrupt. When someone might suddenly ask for prayer aloud, laugh or sing when it might not seem appropriate so to do, or even approach the altar. One can view these interruptions as just that – annoying disruptions to our otherwise beautiful liturgy – or, we can view them as moments of grace: people responding to what they feel and see and need – responding to the stories of Jesus, responding to hospitality and love extended, which in turn causes them to reach out to receive healing from Jesus – interrupting our status quo to remind us why we are truly here, and to remind us that if Jesus himself showed up, he just might disrupt us, too!

In our Gospel from Mark today, Jesus and his followers have already offended the religious authorities: Jesus has shown an indifference to fasting, and he has been hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is already getting attention for his new teaching – with authority!1 Now, the disciples aren’t behaving on the Sabbath. They are walking through the grainfield plucking the heads of the grain. And then, Jesus himself doesn’t behave either, because he heals the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. Remember, for Jesus and his disciples as Jewish people, the Sabbath is a day of rest and worship. No work is to be done.  This causes conflict with the religious authorities, who correctly perceive that this Jesus is proclaiming a new understanding of who God is – that God is not confined to rules made by people. Jesus is also proclaiming himself to be the son of man – the lord of the sabbath!

Jesus does not deny or reject the significance of the Sabbath, as I would expect him to not deny or reject our gathering for worship on Sunday. But, he does remind us of what such holy times are meant for the people of God – that they are made for God’s people, not the other way around. That our gathering for worship is not intended to be a strenuous observance of rules and rubrics – instead, it is to be a joyful gathering to worship God. If we understand Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the day that we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, week after week, how do we welcome Jesus into our gathering? How do we create space for Jesus to touch us and heal us in unexpected ways? How do we see Jesus in each other? We are not to throw out the rules or the rubrics – we do need some – and we are not to lessen the quality of our services. But, I know I need to give up the desire for control, and instead, leave space for the Holy Spirit enter in to inspire and disrupt us -and  to remind us that we do not create God with our rules and restrictions. God created and is creating us with an inclusive love beyond our human comprehension.

Jesus teaches that our time of holy rest and worship should remind us that we all belong to God. We do not belong to our work, or to money, or to systems of power. We belong to God, and we belong to each other.  And we as Christians are called to engage and celebrate the goodness of God, and the new creation brought by Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

So, how can we make our time of worship life giving and healing to those who gather here? How can we, on these summer Sundays at Trinity, promote the joy and freedom of the resurrection to all who gather? Could Jesus be challenging our own time-honored practices and traditions?


First, we need to loosen our grip – we have to give up our control, and trust that God’s got this. And God’s got us. Thanks be to God.



1 Mark 1:27


Gone Too Soon: Ascension Day, and Mother Mitties

Elise Ashley Hanley
Feast of the Ascension
Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53, 13 May 2018
Trinity on the Green

It doesn’t feel right to preach this morning, without first mentioning that our Episcopal Church suffered a significant loss this past week. The Rev. Dr. Mitties McDonald DeChamplain died on Tuesday, the 8th of May.

Mitties, who would always introduce herself by saying that her name “rhymes with kitties,” was my preaching professor – and she taught and formed me, and countless other Episcopal priests and deacons during her time as homiletics professor at the General Theological Seminary. While I only had one semester with her, I was greatly formed by her. I preached some awful sermons in her class, and she never sugar coated her feedback. But she helped us find our own voices. She always told us to “preach from our gut,” and to “preach with abandon!”

She challenged us to preach extemporaneously, giving each of us a sealed envelope with a Scripture passage in it – once we opened the envelope, we had 2 minutes to get our act together to preach a five minute homily. It was truly terrifying.

She loved theatre, and once said, “A pulpit, is a kind of stage, and preaching is a sacred performance.” She reminded us young preachers that preaching is never to be a solo act – it is never to be about us. Instead, ultimately, what we are doing here, right now,  should be a three way conversation – between the preacher, the listener, and the Holy Spirit! She reminded us that if we ever hurt someone through our preaching, that perhaps it could be an opportunity for transformation – for both the listener, and the preacher – after all, even Jesus occasionally hurt people with  his preaching! And finally, perhaps the best piece of guidance she gave: “If you see people falling asleep, they needed a nap!”

Besides being a professor of homiletics, and a parish priest, Mitties also served as a volunteer chaplain at the temporary mortuary at Ground Zero after September 11th. She blessed remains that were found, and she offered her loving, calm, non-anxious presence to countless first responders and rescue workers. To me, she will remain a wonderful example of the priest I strive  to be – but more than that, the Christian I strive to be. I thank you for joining me today in prayer today for her, and for all the many students and friends who mourn her.

The past few weeks, there have been various other deaths that I know have affected members of our community. Of course, death and loss happen all the time, but some weeks, they seem to occur in greater frequency and gravity.  A young child that we have been praying for as a parish, finally succumbed to her illness this week. A young man was killed in an accident. I kept hearing in my head that song, “Gone too Soon,” most notably recorded by Michael Jackson.

“Like A Comet, Blazing ‘Cross The Evening Sky – Gone Too Soon…Like A Rainbow Fading In The Twinkling Of An Eye…Gone Too Soon”

Far too often, when someone we love dies, they are indeed gone too soon, whether they are newborn or 110 years old. Sometimes, we can feel as if our own lives are speeding along too fast – in the blink of an eye, years have passed, we are older, our children have grown, technology has changed and confounded us – where did it go?

On this Feast of the Ascension, I am struck that Jesus, after dying and rising from the dead, is seemingly gone too soon.  After his extreme suffering and death, after rising from the dead, one might have thought he’d stick around for a while. If I were one of his disciples, having endured all of that trauma, I would have wanted Jesus around for at least another ten years! Ok, I might have settled for 5 years, but – come on! I would have clung to Jesus in fear of losing him again.

Instead, Jesus only sticks around for 40 days according to Acts- and only 1 day according to the Gospel of Luke! Gone too soon!

Jesus must have understood what it’s like to be on borrowed time. He uses his limited time to show up and teach. He commissions the disciples: he opens their minds to the Scriptures. AH! They finally understand! It finally all makes sense. And just as it all makes sense…. He leaves them! And he gives them work to do. Jesus delegates his work to them, instructing them to proclaim the Good News to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem. But they can’t do it quite yet – first – they must wait. They must go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come and clothe them with power. Now, we know that Pentecost is next week, but what did the disciples know? And then, there are no tearful goodbyes or hugs – Jesus blesses them, and is carried up to heaven.  Jesus goes, as he has promised, to prepare a place for them in heaven, and a place for all of us. And Jesus leaves them with his blessing.

Couldn’t Jesus have stayed around? Couldn’t Jesus have become President and CEO of the burgeoning Church? He doesn’t.  Instead, it is his leaving that authorizes the Church to begin. He gives space for others to lead – like a parent leaving the family business to the kids when they’ve done what they can, and it’s time for new energy.  The disciples are challenged to turn their focus from Jesus to the world. Jesus must leave, so that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, may come. Jesus is not actually leaving too soon, but likely right on time. Like they say, “go when the going is good.”

Amazingly, the disciples do not grieve. They worship Jesus. They return to the temple and they praise God. And there, they wait and pray.

On this Feast of the Ascension, may we wait and pray for Pentecost. Let’s wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to make us anew – to give us guidance and direction as to how to be the Church, on how to be witnesses of the Good News of Jesus in this day and age, in this world where we are ever closer together, yet further apart. Be assured that Jesus has not abandoned us – instead, Jesus has ascended to our Creator God, to prepare a place for all of us. Jesus lives among us through the power of the Holy Spirit, charging us, like the disciples to be his hands and feet in the world. Let us go out into the world with his blessing.



Good Friday Homily, 2018

Elise Ashley Hanley
Good Friday – Solemn Liturgy, 30 March 2018
The Passion according to St. John
Trinity on the Green

One piece of advice for life that my parents repeatedly taught me is this: Always go to the funeral. When someone you know dies, always go to the funeral.

Clearly, I am preaching to the choir, for you are all here tonight! You could have gone home on this dreary, rainy, gray Good Friday – put your feet up, and ordered a pizza. Instead, you have shown up – you have come to this holy space to observe the passion – the death – of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We have all come to stand at the foot of the cross: to pray, to sing, and to mourn.

Always go to the funeral.

I followed my parents’ advice begrudgingly. We lived 3 blocks from Dalton’s, the local funeral home, and my mom seemed to always be making me go with her to someone’s wake. It was always awkward. I never knew what to say, and I was usually ignored as a kid, anyway. On the walk home, we’d usually detour through the funeral home’s parking lot. Often times, my mom would find and pluck from the ground a flower that had somehow fallen from a funeral spray – then she’d take it home, and put it in water. I personally found it a most uncomfortable reminder of death.

So I didn’t truly the lesson. Until, that is, the tables were turned. Then everything changed. My father died of pancreatic cancer when I was eight years old. Most of the many faces who came to call on us at that very same funeral home are now a blur in my mind, but one image remains crystal clear in my memory: at the end of my father’s funeral mass, as I processed out behind his coffin, with everyone singing “On Eagle’s Wings…”, I looked up and saw my entire third grade class and teacher there. I can still see the somber, serious, and scared faces of those little children – now grown, my age, but still little children in my memory. It meant so much to me. It still means so much to me. They had shown up. Their presence at my time of grief meant to much.

And we all know – as good as this advice for life may be, we also know that there are times when we just can’t go to the funeral: when the distance is too far, when the airfare is too expensive – or when we know that our presence wouldn’t be welcome.  Or, those times when our grief is so overpowering, it paralyzes us.

The disciples of Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die a horrible, torturous death. They think all is lost. They worry that they are next. Can you imagine their fear, their pain, their anxiety? Their only saviour – their beloved Jesus – dead upon the cross. Imagine them, huddled together, trembling and stunned. Many, if not all of us, have been there – we’ve experienced such loss. Tonight, we join them in their grief and pain.

At one of my previous parishes, there was a woman who would always come to the Good Friday service, and loudly weep throughout. The first time I witnessed this, I honestly felt awkward, and just wanted to try to console her. The next year, she honestly annoyed me – I was preaching, and trying to keep my homily together in my head, and her weeping was throwing off my focus. It was by the third year, that I realized – she got it right. She understood. She didn’t skip ahead to Easter! And she wasn’t worried about the technicalities of a church service.  She was able to truly be present – to be IN Jesus’ story – to be in the moment, and truly grieving Jesus’ death.

My friends, I invite you to consider her example – I invite you tonight into a funerary space. I invite us to drop all pretense, and to be a part of the story. I invite us to feel – even to weep. To grieve the losses that still sting our own hearts. To rage over the injustices that occur in this world, that have occurred to us. And we do it together. Offer a shoulder, or a hand, or a Kleenex to someone around you – offer grace, and offer love. For we have shown up to do this sacred work, and we have shown up for each other’s sake. You have shown up for me, and I have shown up for you.

Let us take our fear, anger, sadness, hope, and love to the cross – – and let us remain there.


Ash Wednesday, and the FDNY Fire Academy

Elise Ashley Hanley
Ash Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Mark 1:21-28
Trinity on the Green

I have one brother named Tom. While we are not that close in age (he is 7 years younger than me) – nor are we that close in height (he is six foot 4)…we have luckily always been close as friends – perhaps due to that age difference, or just to an upbringing that demanded we look out for each other.

I am very proud of the fact that my brother Tom is now a probationary New York City firefighter – also known as a probie.

(I like to think that maybe I had some good influence on him, as I used to force him to watch the TV show Rescue 911 with me back when we were kids). 

We both have had long journeys to achieve our vocations, and we have both supported each other through the thick and the thin. Tom is currently half-way through the FDNY’s Fire Academy, a truly grueling 18 week paramilitary program, that has required him to train hard in the cold, the snow, and in the ash.

It is a story he told me of an experience in the Fire Academy, that made me reflect on what we are doing here on Ash Wednesday.

On a freezing cold and windy day back in late December, Tom and his fellow probies had to go into a training fire without an air mask and cylinder. Without any Oxygen. Basically, they had to experience smoke inhalation. Tom has repeatedly told me that it has been the hardest thing they’ve had to do. He said he felt like he might die for a solid minute. The instructors were burning wood and hay. He said that he could barely see the person standing next to him, the air was that thick. The room was filled with ash and smoke.

The instructors were monitoring the air, however. They truly weren’t out to kill anyone! They told the probies that there was enough oxygen in the room for them to survive – they were not going to die. But the exercise required trust – not only of the instructors, but of each other. The instructors were trying to teach the probie firefighters how smoke layers – that there is always more breathable air towards the floor. (that’s why we are advised to drop and crawl in the event of a fire and smoke) And for added anxiety, the probies were required to answer quiz questions while they were struggling to breathe: one would have to stand up into the thicker smoke to answer the question, and if they got it wrong, everyone would have to stand until they got it right.

Torture? Maybe. Insane? Maybe.

The instructors acknowledged how painful an exercise it was, but that they had to do it. It would have been irresponsible of them to let Tom and his colleagues graduate without taking “a feed of smoke.” They were trying to make them think under pressure, in irritating smoke and heat. They were also trying to ready them for when they just might be in a fire without adequate air. They wanted to ready them to face something terrible, so that when they finally face a fire that is out of their control, they will better know how to respond. They likely won’t panic as much, if at all, because they have been through it before. When we rehearse for a bad situation, we are better prepared to face it when it occurs.

Today, we too are rehearsing. We too are being prepared. When ash is placed on our foreheads with the words, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we are reminded that we will all die. Every single one of us. We too are being readied to face difficult situations and circumstances. We are reminded that are bodies are temporary, and our earthly lives are fleeting.

We ready ourselves during Lent for Jesus’ death and resurrection. We follow the example of Jesus, who rehearsed and readied himself for his own ministry, suffering, and death by 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert.

So, let us catch our breath.

Let us prepare to follow Jesus to the cross. Remember that we are dust, but God makes beautiful things out of that dust. Our Christian hope is that we too can share eternal life with Jesus when our earthly lives come to an end.

It is time to rehearse and prepare again and again for when that time comes.

Are you ready?


Jesus is the Authority, and He Authorizes Us!

Elise Ashley Hanley
4 Epiphany, Year B, 28 January 2018
Mark 1:21-28
Trinity on the Green

“Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority…”1

And in case we missed it –  we hear again just 5 lines later:

“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!’2

One of the many, many challenges of living in our current times, can be knowing who or what to treat and trust as authority – for the sake of this sermon, I am speaking primarily about the news, or what might be considered by some as “fake news,” or by others as “propaganda,” coming at us from all and various sides. Fake news is, of course, nothing new – but it seems different in our time.

I am really speaking of the cacophony of voices we hear, especially if we spend time on the internet, especially on social media, or on cable news. These days, it seems anyone can get their message out – we can each have our own soapbox! – and that can be great. Almost anyone, including non-humans – cats, dogs, and hippos  – all God’s creatures can have their own blog, website, Twitter or Facebook account, a platform where they can say just about ANYTHING. Thank God for free speech… and free meows? Free barks? I’m not sure what sound hippos make…

Truly, I am for free speech – there are so many good things about being able to say almost anything, but we all know that the good comes with the awful. It is quite problematic when we hear speech that harms and wounds or even kills: especially when other people regard those voices as their authority.

So, who has authority these days? Who teaches with authority? Who do we uphold as our authority?

What kind of authority figures have we had in our lives? What convinced us of their authority?  Was it just because we were told they were so that we HAD to respect them? Or was it a parent, a teacher, a religious leader, a favorite newscaster, or even a politician, who seemed better or more knowledgeable, or more trustworthy?  What was it about them that was striking, or different, or refreshing? Perhaps some of us have always been wary of authority? Perhaps burned by trusting authority figures, or mistreated, that we don’t trust anyone. How are we authority figures in our lives? In our families, or in our jobs? How have we tried to earn our authority? How have we used it, or misused it?

I often double check authority, especially on the internet. I’ve always prided myself on being a fact checker. I try to not always take everything I see or read at face value, and to be curious. I have long been a user of – you may be too. Snopes prides itself on being “the definitive fact-checking and Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.” They have been one of my go-to internet authority checkers. Lately, I find myself using it multiple times a day.  Being a citizen on the internet these days can be really tiring, and often upsetting. While I try to follow the advice “NEVER read the comments,” on posts or articles, sometimes I do, and sometimes they are fine, but it seems all the more often that I see people being unnecessarily malicious to one another. Many people want to prove that they are an authority – that they know the way, or that their opinion or life experience is the only way: that they are not open to developing, or learning from others that are different from them.

Over this weekend, I saw two of my Episcopal clergy colleagues rip each other to pieces on Facebook. These are two women priests who I highly respect! Or, rather, I did. Their shouting match back and forth on what started as a posted opinion about Ash Wednesday was ultimately over their own perceived sense of authority, and was ultimately, I felt, rather shameful.

So, again I ask: amidst the cacophony of so many voices, whom can we trust?

We gathered here may disagree about many things. And that is ok! Disagreement, real live conversation and debate are healthy, and I would encourage we all participate! But I hope we can all agree on one authority figure.


Our Gospel today reminds us repeatedly that Jesus is the authority. He was then, and he is now. Those in attendance at the synagogue recognized it in Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus must have been a pretty great preacher. He must have had incredible communication skills. Jesus first shows his authority by the way he speaks, by the way he teaches and preaches. He must have seemed radical and new, because he astounded the people in his hearing. And the unclean spirit knows Jesus, and knows Jesus’ authority. The unclean spirit recognizes Jesus as the Holy One of God. The unclean spirit knows that Jesus is there to destroy evil, which he then does.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus ultimately shows his authority by what he DOES. In our passage today, Jesus performs his first miracle of healing in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus silences the unclean spirit before it can say anything else, and he orders it out of the man. If the folks at the synagogue weren’t already impressed by Jesus, now they must have been really wowed.  Jesus commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him.

Ultimately, Jesus sees a man who is suffering greatly, in need of his help. Jesus speaks a healing word, and it shakes everything up. It causes the evil spirit to come out of the convulsing man. Jesus heals this man, and then continues to go on and heal many others. And the news about Jesus begins to spread around Galilee.

So, Jesus has the authority! The power of Jesus, the power of God, will ultimately conquer even death! And yet, Jesus doesn’t go on and on about how great he is. He doesn’t use his authority to obtain wealth, or fame, or prestige. He uses it to serve others. He uses it to help others. As he says to the disciples later in the Gospel of Mark, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Ultimately, Jesus has come to bring about God’s kingdom, God’s community – Jesus has come to heal and to save – and to transform all who encounter him.

Jesus is our authority, he also authorizes us to follow his example of servant leadership. Jesus authorizes us to follow him – to teach and preach about his works of love and grace. Jesus also authorizes us to continue to love and to heal in his name – to work for justice and peace in our world. To rebuke evil when we encounter it, to resist it in all forms – even to trample it!

So, my friends: (let it not get to our heads, but) we are all authorized! How will this community continue to love and heal in the name of Jesus? How will each of us be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world?


1  Mark 1:22
2 Mark 1:27
Mark 10:45