We will know Him when He comes.

Year A, Third Sunday of Advent
15 December 2019
Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon preached at Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, CT

Thou shalt know Him when he comes
not by any din of drums,
Nor his manners nor his airs,
nor by anything he wears.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
not by his crown or by his gown,
But his coming known shall be
by the holy harmony which his coming makes in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes. (1)

I heard this lovely text set to music last Sunday evening at The Yale University Chaplaincy’s Service of Lessons and Carols at Battell Chapel. As I reflected on it, and on today’s Gospel, I wondered if I could rest assured that I would know Jesus when he comes again.  Would I recognize Jesus? Would I be too busy and distracted to notice?

I had this fear as a child, you see. I knew from going to church that “Christ will come again!” Somehow, when I was young, it got planted into my brain that Christ could come back at any minute. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and with 2000/Y2K coming, the end of the millennium had many on alert: remember that old saying, “Jesus is coming, look busy!” And I wondered, how will we know exactly? Will the trumpet really sound, and the dead be raised? Or, will it be like the rapture where supposedly some will suddenly disappear and others be left behind? (Terrifying!) Would there be increasing wars and violence beforehand? Would there be some great sign? I found it all quite scary, and worried that Jesus would indeed come in my lifetime, but I might not recognize him, or believe it was him. I will admit I may have lost at least one night’s sleep over this childhood anxiety.

Would we know Jesus when he comes? What if Jesus again comes as a refugee child? As a person of colour born into poverty, in a country dominated by a foreign power?  What if when He comes again He is not he, but she or they? What if Jesus comes as humbly and quietly as the first time?

I find it reassuring therefore that John the Baptist wasn’t so sure about Jesus’ identity either – he had to ask if Jesus was the “one who is to come.” Last Thursday evening, we discussed our Gospel passage for today at our Young Adult Bible Study. I was grateful for the discussion, as those attending had much better insights on this passage than I. First of all, we have to remember that at this point in Matthew’s Gospel, John has already baptized Jesus! And at his baptism, the Spirit of God descended like a dove and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ That must have been more than a hint for John. Yet John is still unsure – after all, John has wound up in prison.  Things are not looking good for him. No wonder he might be asking this question. One can wonder if his question comes from true curiosity, or from disappointment. Or from fear that what God has promised has not yet come to be, and that John’s very life is now at stake.

So, John has heard about Jesus and his works by word of mouth in prison, and he sends his disciples to go find Jesus to ask him this question. My young adult peers also agreed at this point in the passage that Jesus is a little, for lack of a better word, snarky in his response! The disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus if he is the messiah, and Jesus doesn’t reply with a simple yes or no answer, instead he answers them indirectly. He riddles them back, saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus is not very pastoral towards John and his followers, but he is theologically correct! His answer enlarges the scope of the question.

How did John receive that response? If it were I, I might think, ‘well, great for those who were blind and lame and sick with leprosy and dead and poor – great that Jesus is there, but I’m still in prison!”

I think that many of us might be asking variations of John’s question. “Is this it? Is it you, Jesus? Are you here with me? Is this going to be what helps me? Are you really coming back?” We spend our lives waiting for the next right thing, for the markers of life and success that we hope and pray for. Is this the job I will retire from? Is this the person I will marry and build a life with? Is this the treatment that will cure my illness? Will this be the year I find safe housing? Will God help others in my life obtain the things they need and desire? What burning question is on your heart this morning? What are you waiting for? Sometimes the answers we need don’t seem to come, or don’t come soon enough. We trust that God is with us in our discernment, yet only hindsight is 20/20. We, like John the Baptist, need reassurance.  As we wait for Jesus at Advent, we all wait for many other things that we need and desire. We live in a season of anticipation, and yet our imaginations about God and God’s possibilities can be limited. We too need reassurance, like John, that yes, it will be ok, that we will be ok. Many of us might be stuck in figurative, if not actual, prisons like John. Even those of us with the strongest faith, when the going gets tough, may feel trapped, and wonder, “is Jesus really the real thing? Is Jesus really coming back? Is our religion real and worth doing at all? Is Christmas just a fanciful tale, ultimately worthless and impotent against the powers of evil in the world?”

It’s always reassuring when someone else asks the question that we are all thinking – so thank goodness, John the Baptist has asked it for us today. Perhaps, despite knowing what he knew, as John heard in prison about what Jesus was doing, Jesus didn’t fit his idea of a messiah. Jesus didn’t fit his idea of a saviour.

Jesus answers John by not answering – he basically tells John and all of us that we must decide on our own if Jesus is for real – we have to look at his actions, look at what he did and has done -look at his miracles –  look at the evidence. What do you see?

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” is the question at the heart of Advent, as we live into this season of anticipation, waiting, hoping, and longing. In our longing, we must hold onto hope – that God is in the business of keeping God’s promises. We can look to the faithful ones who have known Jesus and walked with him – the prophets of old and of now; those we love and look up to in this parish community and in our families, and we can draw inspiration and strength from them. May they help provide the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah – that we need Jesus, and only Jesus can save us.

The Prophet Isaiah says in our reading today: “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’ … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

The theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is joy – may we feel joy today, as we anticipate and prepare for joy being born in the world, even as we are mindful of all the places in our lives, and in those of others, where there seems to be little joy. May we be reassured today that Jesus is for real! That Jesus is coming. That doesn’t make life a cakewalk for any of us – we will all still have ups and downs. But may we be reassured that Jesus always walks the way with us. And as we pray and hope and long and wait, we know Jesus now – and we will know him when he comes.


(1) – Text is attributed to “Anonymous,” but many composers have set it to music – see the settings by Mark Sirett, Joel Raney, Hal Hopson, etc., among others.


May We Endure in Hope…

Year C, Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28
20 October 2019
Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Sermon preached at Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, CT.

The lectionary today presents two clear choices for a preacher.

The first way is tempting, and perfectly valid –  to preach just on our collect. It’s a great one after all!  “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…” Much can certainly be said about how we are to fully engage with Scripture over the course of each of our lifetimes. It’s a beautiful collect. It could be a beautiful sermon, perhaps even tied up at the end with a nice bow. This road is certainly the scenic route.

The other way a preacher may go is a more winding and frightening road: to address Jesus foretelling coming destruction, disaster, persecution, and murder. The Gospel today is strikingly harsh as it talks about the coming of the end times, a theme that we pick up as we approach the beginning of the Advent season in just 2 weeks. This is not beautiful. There is no way to tie it up with a bow. I’ll admit I struggled with how to even end such a sermon. Let’s travel down this road together.

I was thinking about our Gospel this week, in light of a book I have been reading. One of the many wonderful things about being your priest is that you are a well read community, and you love to share books with me. I have a pile of such books that has grown quite high on my nightstand – I was being loaned and gifted more books than I was reading, marking, learning, or inwardly digesting. (The end time for the towering stack of books was near…)  I was away last weekend, traveling to a dear friend’s wedding,  and so I decided it was time to get at least one started, if not finished,  on my train trip.

I picked up the book Five Days at Memorial, written by investigative reporter and physician Sheri Fink. In it, Dr. Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the beginning,  hospital workers arrive at Memorial to staff it through the storm, and they also bring family members and even pets – it was common that they would all weather out the storm in the supposed fortress of the hospital – they had weathered other hurricanes and tropical storms there before. And they weathered the actual storm just fine, but then the levees failed and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, the heat climbed, and the exhausted caregivers had to choose, amid the chaos, to designate which patients would be last for rescue.

Months later, a doctor and two nurses were criminally accused of injecting some of those patients with life-ending drugs. The book, which I have barely been able to put down, brings the reader into a site of panic and chaos. It focuses on questions of actions and ethics: how is healthcare rationed? Which patients should be prioritized, the healthiest or the sickest? Can health professionals ever be excused for hastening death? Additionally, the book shows how we all can make questionable decisions when we fear our lives are at stake. Fear of mobs and riots after the storm led to hospital workers arming themselves. False rumors, such as the city supposedly being under martial law, led some hospital workers to believe that they had been ordered by the military to hasten patients’ deaths. As the system unraveled, all pretenses were dropped, and social and racial biases influenced critical decisions.

I haven’t finished the book, so I will not spoil it, but the author shows how ill-prepared the hospital and the city were for such a large-scale disaster. That can lead us to reflect: how prepared are we for such disaster? As climate change leads to more super storms, the portents Jesus warned of are almost bound to happen more often. And yet, as I read of the latest school shooting this week in Santa Clarita, California, I was struck by how so many teachers and students were prepared in the sense that they knew how to hide, how to be quiet, how to barricade doors and windows. How terrifying, and how unfair. Because somehow the greater system is not better prepared to prevent such disaster from happening in the first place.

From the comfort of my reader’s chair, it is easy for me to blame folks represented in the book as having made bad and unethical decisions. But what if I were there – exhausted, with heat stroke, trying to serve others whose lives depended on me in a system and city that had completely shut down? I kept thinking to myself, where was God in that disaster? Where is God in any disaster? How do we keep this endurance that Jesus speaks of when it seems like our world is indeed ending?

Every generation in history has thought its time was the end time – our time is no different than the time of Jesus and his disciples.  When they visit the temple in Jerusalem, the disciples were likely astounded by its beauty. It had been recently renovated by Herod, and it may have been the largest man-made building in the region or in the world at  that time. The temple was impressive, beautiful and adorned, and the center of Jewish life in Jerusalem. Nothing would ever happen to it, right?


Jesus says “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Instead, Jesus correctly predicts the destruction of the temple that would occur about 35 years later. But that won’t be it – “…the end will not follow immediately.” There will be more – much more.

There has been much more. Wars and insurrections, great earthquakes, famines and plagues have occurred throughout every era. And we still live in scary, unknown times.

The Gospel writer Luke was able to write some decades later after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the destruction of the temple, so he had the benefit of some hindsight. But he also wished to encourage the faithfulness of his contemporaries – to reassure them that Jesus made possible an end to suffering and death. And yet, suffering and death have continued, and many have questioned when Jesus will return – will God’s people ever be safe from all harm?

Jesus warns of persecution, of being brought to trial – of families betraying each other. That all will be hated because of Jesus’ name and some will be put to death… imposters will come and try to trick the faithful, wars and conflicts will rage on, and natural disasters will bring great suffering. Jesus tells the disciples the end times will eventually come, but that not everything will happen at once. Jesus also says something odd:  “this will give you an opportunity to testify.” Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that their testimony cannot be canned or rehearsed, that Jesus himself will provide them with the wisdom they need in the moment. Jesus will give them the words they need. And even through all of this, Jesus assures them that “not a hair of your head will perish.” How can this be?

Testimony, in a religious or faithful sense, is usually given in praise of God for good times, healing, rescue and salvation. How are we to testify in times of suffering and destruction? Jesus promises to give us words. The words that come from the one who is The Word have endured the destruction of the temple, the fall of the Roman Empire, and all horrific events since.

Jesus doesn’t promise us tomorrow, but he does promise us forever: that by our endurance we gain our souls. That our salvation lies in God’s hands, yet our endurance requires patience and work. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, we are not to be idle busybodies. Instead, Paul warns “do not be weary in doing what is right.” Or, as we are told by the prophet Malachi, “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” In times of crisis, we are to find Christ present amidst our troubles. We are to make Christ-minded decisions, out of love and care for those around us, and not out of fear for our own lives. We are not to follow false prophets.

We are to live in hope. It is when we lose that hope that we lose our souls. It is when we keep that hope that we gain our souls.

The great work that is always before us as Christians and as God’s church on earth is to spread this hope, even in the scariest and most uncertain times, trusting that somehow God will give us what we need in each moment. We must shore ourselves up with rest and prayer, keeping our hearts open to God’s word, not living in anxiety but in confidence that it will be enough.

May we endure in hope.


The Faith We Have is Enough

Year C, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, 6 October 2019
Luke 17:5-10
Trinity Church on the Green

I will admit from the get-go that today’s Gospel makes me uneasy.

First, there’s the mustard seed. We all know this one, right? The tiny mustard seed, that’s only 1 or 2 millimeters in size, that can grow into a large and unruly bush. Tiny efforts can produce big results. Watch out, that almost sounds like a prosperity gospel pitch!  Jesus seems to promise the disciples that by having a teeny, tiny, mustard seed sized bit of faith, that magic and miracles can happen. One’s best guess is that Jesus gestured to the mulberry tree as it just happened to be the closest prop at the time – and Jesus, in the moment, dreamt up a random, unlikely scenario, that it could be uprooted and planted in the sea. Somehow, I doubt any of us here have ever done our landscaping by our faith alone. Yet we all know this maxim, and perhaps some of us have even had it used against us.  I recall that, during our last move,  I cleaned out a container of mustard seeds from our kitchen spice cabinet – not because I ever use mustard seeds in recipes, mind you, but because I had been to countless retreats and other churchy events where the theme was “Just have faith the size of a mustard seed!” I had been given such a mustard seed each time, so I had accumulated many, many mustard seeds – I’m not sure my faith increased – my mustard seeds did, and alas, they eventually went in the trash bin.

Ok, ok. Luke’s Jesus is not being literal, or talking about magic, we know that he is speaking through metaphor.

But then, Jesus goes on to admonish the disciples, while talking about problematic slave and master dynamics. I find this part of the passage especially jarring, and I can only imagine how it sounds to people of color to hear it suggested that the disciples, and we in turn, should see ourselves as “worthless slaves.” You will note that “slaves” is what is printed in your bulletin, but Deacon Kyle and I decided he would substitute “servants” in his proclamation of the Gospel, especially as the original word can be translated either way.  As we live in a country in which the aftereffects of a dehumanizing and deadly system of slavery are still experienced by far too many, we must use great care – one could easily hear this and experience it as a tipping point.

So what is the good news in this passage? What is Jesus really teaching us about faith?

At the very least, Jesus is saying that faith can’t be quantified. He seems to think that the disciples’ request for him to increase their faith is misguided. Jesus answers not about quantity, but about sufficiency: he affirms the power of faith.

Jesus then introduces the problematic second metaphor: that of a slave who works without expectation of special treatment. Again, one can hear this in a most negative way, that an obedient disciple must do as they’re told, and that they are worthless. This borders on spiritual abuse.

One helpful note is that other translations of this passage don’t use “worthless.” The word used instead gets  translated into “unworthy,” which is a little better. In fact, we use “unworthy” to describe ourselves in our liturgy as we come before God’s table each week.

As problematic and difficult as it is to hear Jesus speak about the slave and the master, Jesus is describing a real work relationship that existed in the context of his society and time. Let’s instead use a work relationship from our context. Do any of us deserve congratulations for merely showing up at our jobs? Should we be rewarded for doing the bare minimum of what is expected of us? Jesus seems to say no. The relationship between the slave and the master in Jesus’ time was expected to be of mutual accountability and expectation, the way it should be between any one of us and our employer or employee. We do our jobs, we get our tasks done, and we receive our paycheck in return. We don’t get a party or a ticker tape parade simply for showing up to work Monday to Friday. Similarly at home, we probably don’t get rewarded or even thanked each time we do the laundry, or the dishes, or our homework. The same goes for faith: we are to serve Jesus with no expectation of a reward. In fact, it might seem that the more we work for God, the more work we will get! The work of faith often includes many thankless tasks.

And faith is action! In Hebrew, faith is a verb. The Hebrew word for faith is a verb, therefore it is an action word. In English, it’s a noun: one has faith. In Hebrew, one DOES faith. One LIVES OUT faith. To understand faith in this way then is to understand it as a way of life. We are to serve God out of a sense of duty and delight. To question whether one has enough faith is missing the mark. Instead, what each of us has is enough, even if it only seems like a tiny, measly, mustard seed sized bit. Jesus tells us that by serving God, by living out our faith, we will find our faith strengthened. The good news is that faith can now be understood as cheerful, hopeful, trusting, strong even in weakness – not because of the believer, but because of the God we believe in. Whether we can feel it ourselves or not, Jesus’ message to us today is “You already have the faith you need. Now go live it!” Faith, Jesus tells us, is  a matter of duty within relationship. Faith, Jesus tells us, is not something that we can do alone. Faith, Jesus tells us, is lived out in interactions between two or more people.

There is a wonderful quote of  G.K. Chesterton: “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Living a life of faith is doing so not seeking glory, thanks, or praise. Instead, living a life of faith is always an act of great love. Even by serving in the most simple and mundane ways, we show great love. Our Christian journey is to learn not to expect to be thanked but to give ourselves away for others, doing acts of faith and love in obedience to God.

So, the faith we have is enough. How will we live it out this week?



Hold Fast to the Things that will Endure.

Year C, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, 22 September 2019
Luke 16:1-13
Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, CT

“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

I’ve repeated today’s collect, the Prayer of the Day, assigned by the Prayer Book, because it stops me in my tracks every year. This is one of my favorite collects, as it never fails to speak to me. Every year, around this time, something in my life, or in the life of my community, is actively passing away, and I am anxious about it. Maybe it’s the season: the start of fall is so beautiful with leaves changing beautiful colors, and yet – that change of color is their active death. With so many people marching for climate change last Friday, we fear our earth as we know it is passing away. Here in our parish community, we have beloved friends among us who are passing away. This collect is so appropriate for whenever life seems uncertain – and goodness knows, that can be every day.  A cynic may say, “if you’re not anxious, you’re not paying attention.” Yet, we as Christians are called to try to not be anxious – to love things heavenly – to hold fast to those things that shall endure. If you too feel anxious about earthly things, then I invite you to take your bulletin home with you, cut this collect out, and put it where you can see it. Put it on your computer monitor, or on the refrigerator, or in your wallet, somewhere you will see it and pray it this week. I will join you in so doing.

Our Gospel reading today also has something to say about holding fast to the things that will endure. The Parable of the Dishonest Steward or manager  is a complicated parable of Jesus – I will admit I needed to read it over and over and over again before I had any idea of what I could or would say about it. It’s a difficult and confusing text. Apparently, Martin Luther once said of preaching passages such as these, “Sometimes you have to squeeze the Biblical text until it leaks the Gospel.” Such is the case today.

The Parable of the dishonest manager poses significant theological challenges, especially when it seems to tell us to imitate the unrighteous behaviour of the manager: the master surprisingly commends him. The text then takes a turn in the last 3 verses, where the command to renounce the dishonest practices of the manager cancels out the previous command to be like him. And the final moral of the story in our last line is what may all the more stand out to us: one cannot serve God and wealth.

We are reading through this portion of the Gospel of Luke that consists of back to back parables. Last week we had the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Coin. The very next passage is The Parable of the Prodigal Son, one of my favorites – I’m not sure why the lectionary skips over it, and I’m kind of annoyed it does! Next is today’s Parable of the Dishonest Manager, which does show some parallels to the Parable of the Prodigal Son that precedes it. Both parables feature a subordinate character (the son or the manager) who squanders the goods of the superior character (the father, or the rich man). There are some key differences, however: the manager, unlike the son, does not repent and change his bad behaviour. The rich man, unlike the father, does not forgive the squandering (he still fires the manager), And then, he does commend the manager’s shrewdness. The story of the Prodigal Son wraps up a little more morally definitive than the story of the dishonest manager, which leaves us to wonder whether any of the characters in the latter story should be commended, let alone imitated.

By way of a brief recap: after being fired for squandering his boss’ money, the unnamed manager goes on to squander more. One way of hearing the story is that the manager diffuses his master’s investment portfolio in order to protect his own future, and to secure a home for himself. He trusts in wealth to protect his own uncertain future. By giving the debtors small breaks, he seeks not to free them of their debts, but instead he indebts them to himself. In his self promotion, he situates himself as a benefactor to whom a return of gratitude is owed.

And lest we assume his master condemn him, he instead praises the manager for his actions! And then the greater surprise, Jesus seems to also praise the manager, and commends his hearers  to imitate him. What gives, Jesus?! What is Jesus asking us to imitate?

One commentator notes a clue in verse 9, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” The word that is translated as “homes” is skenas, which usually translates as “tents.” Perhaps Jesus does not promise stable homes, with possessions and security. Instead, he promises tents, the unstable shelter of wanderers, refugees, pilgrims, and many of our undomiciled neighbors here in New Haven – all of whose mobility requires the giving up of material goods.

Perhaps Jesus is calling us to dissipate wealth, to even give recklessly, but to give up the notion that our gifting will indebt others to us. Even more so, to give up the illusion that wealth gives us security and stability. Instead, God calls us to free ourselves to be on the move, to be at the ready to serve.

Alternately, perhaps the manager is more of a Robin Hood character than we think. By reducing the debts, the manager is dismantling the master’s system of gaining wealth. Perhaps he was reducing the debts by excluding the interest – interest is expressly forbidden in Jewish Law, by the way. So, maybe the manager was acting righteously as well as shrewdly?

And maybe there is something else for us here to learn. Maybe there have been times when we have acted like the manager, in times of crisis and uncertainty. Maybe we can see the character of the manager in ourselves.

In praising the manager, Jesus is not praising his dishonesty, but praising his creativity and shrewdness. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…” We are called to be faithful whether we deal in little things or vast resources. Whether we are as shrewd as the dishonest manager depends on whether we use our material goods, great and small, to help others in need. Or as the great preacher and teacher of preachers Fred Craddock captures it:

“Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”



Jesus and Chosen Family

Year C, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 8 September 2019
Luke 14:25-33
Parish Picnic Sunday at Lighthouse Point Park
Trinity Church on the Green

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

I want to tell you about my friend Andrew.
I want to tell you about my friend Andrew, because we will pray for him later on in the service. He is on the parish prayer list, under the departed.

I want to tell you about my friend Andrew, because I will have to unfortunately leave the Parish Picnic a little early in order to drive down to Long Island to attend his Memorial Service this afternoon.

I want to tell you about my friend Andrew, because he taught me about the Gospel, and about what it means to have and be chosen family on the journey to follow Jesus.

I met Andrew the summer after seventh grade. When I first met him, he was wearing those super wide legged pants that were really in for a brief moment in the 90s. Those super wide legged pants were also made of silver lame. Yes, one could rightly call Andrew flamboyant. I thought he was stylish, and beautiful. When I first met him, he had just gotten out of hospital. He had been really sick from depression. He was feeling a lot better, though. As my young, naive pre-teen self, I remember thinking to myself: “Hmm, I’m not supposed to be friends with someone like this.” The stigma and biases that had been worked into me by my upbringing, my community, even my church, lay thick. And thank God, I somehow made a different choice.

Andrew and I became best friends. We did a lot of theatre together. We were both in a really bad community theatre production of Bye Bye Birdie the summer after ninth grade. Andrew was really talented, he played Conrad Birdie, the lead and title role. (I was just in the chorus) At that time, all the girls loved him – looking back, all the boys did, too. The final performance of that production was a Sunday matinee. While my mom was driving me there, we were in a car accident, so I didn’t get to be in that final show.  She and I went to the hospital by ambulance, but we were both thankfully just bruised and shaken up. When I got home that night, there was only one message on the ol’ answering machine. Andrew had called – he was worried about me, it wasn’t like me to not be there for the final show and cast party. He was the only one who checked on me, not a single so-called responsible adult. But Andrew noticed – Andrew cared.

We continued to do theatre in high school. We would also go hang out in  diners and coffee shops, laugh, smoke too many cigarettes and listen to music. We liked to think we were way more cosmopolitan and avant garde than we actually were. I introduced him to all of my friends, and all of my friends loved him, too.

I was Catholic, and Andrew was United Church of Christ. We used to talk about Jesus and how to be a good Christian. One summer, Andrew went on a mission trip with his church youth group to rural Appalachia. They provided day care for a bunch of kids in a poverty stricken area. Andrew adored those kids, and they all adored him. One of his regular tasks was to read books to the kids, which he did with passion and using different voices. He was always theatrical. He also realized what privilege he had, and as a result he always asked tough questions, and tried to use his privilege to serve others.

Andrew was also my first gay friend. He was the first friend to come out to me. He initially came out as bisexual – I think he didn’t want to disappoint all the girls who were in love with him. And then he came out as gay. I was relieved that he felt he could trust me, even though I already knew.

He always looked out for me, and I tried to look out for him, because a lot of the guys in our high school were cruel to him. I would try to deflect, protect, and drag him away when I could. I offered my shoulder for him to cry on. He always did the same for me.

He decided to go off to a private boarding school for the last 2 years of high school, to get away from his abusers and bullies. We kept up as penpals, and would talk for hours on the phone.

After graduating from high school, he went off to college in California, but would visit me in NYC. By then, he was growing seemingly wilder and riskier in some of his behaviours, and I was, for better or worse, still very much a goody two-shoes.

We started to grow apart. It was shortly after September 11th, 2001 that we had a fight on the phone. I couldn’t tell you now what it was about, but we never spoke again. For so many years, I’d look for him – in crowds, around town, and online. I hoped he’d join Facebook. He never did.

I knew he suffered from depression. I feared he also suffered from addiction. So, I was not completely surprised to hear the news last month of his unexpected and untimely death. Yet I was still completely devastated.

I posted a tribute to him on Facebook. I then got more messages than  I could count. Friends, acquaintances, and old classmates from high school wrote to remember Andrew well. They remembered him as kind and giving. One friend with a physical  disability told me how he used to protect her in their high school history class from a kid who bullied them both. That’s just who he was.

Andrew was the first friend to ever teach me about the notion of Chosen Family – a common notion for those of us who are LGBTQ and also others who have faced rejection from biological family. In a sense,  Andrew already had chosen family: he had been adopted as a baby, and his parents fiercely loved him for who he was. He became my chosen family – we became family to each other, at least until we could no longer be. He could be difficult to love at times, but he was always there for me through some of the toughest times of my adolescent life.  One of my clearest memories is of us both in pain, and just sitting together for hours, not saying a word. I learned from that what I use most often in my life and ministry ever since: show up, shut up, stay.  So often as a priest, I can’t solve the problems at hand. I often can’t even say anything helpful. But I can be there.

Andrew taught me how to be Chosen Family, and that is what I believe Jesus is talking about in the Gospel today.  His words are startling, even shocking. Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” What does Jesus really mean?

In Luke’s Gospel, the notion of family is shaken up, and reconfigured. It is reconfigured by our journey of faith. Earlier in Luke, Jesus redefines family as not those with whom we share bloodlines, but as those who “hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21) Being a disciple of Jesus therefore forces us to move beyond comfortable ties to forge new relationships among those commonly committed to Christ, who become NEW family. And for those who NEVER HAD comfortable family ties to begin with, this new family becomes all the more important. Jesus forces us to associate with and love those who are different from us: those who look different, think and feel differently,  love differently, speak differently, etc. And we are changed by doing so, for the better.

Yet ultimately, love hurts. Loving and following Jesus comes with a price. Discipleship comes with a cost. I’m not about to say that we here at Trinity are one big happy family. We have our system issues, and relational issues like any other group or community. We are not perfect by any stretch. And yet we are continually called to keep showing up.  We are called to keep  trying to love and care and include and learn from each other. We are called to repent and forgive each other, again and again. We are called to give up those things that possess us, in order to be there for each other, in good times and bad, at baptisms and at funerals. We gather together today for our Parish Picnic, as we prepare to launch into yet another program year. All of us have our own worries, fears, health concerns, both good and difficult things to anticipate this year. And together, we hold all of it. We pray together, and put it all in God’s hands. We show up for each other, because that is what chosen family does. To be in this so called chosen family, one doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to behave the way your mother insisted, or achieve the notoriety or success that your father enforced. We each get to be our imperfect yet still lovable selves. We just have to show up, and to keep choosing Jesus. We need to keep choosing to be church together. And if we do, we will all be transformed in unexpected ways.

Blessed Andrew and all the saints, pray for us who are still on our earthly journey.



I Have a Question! Summer Sermon Series #1

Year C, Pentecost, 7 July 2019
“I Have A Question! What Happens When We Die?”
Trinity Church on the Green

We begin a six week Summer Sermon Series today called “I have a question!” I solicited questions from you, our congregation and community, and you asked! You asked some great questions. Over the next few weeks, I and 5 other guest preachers will aim to answer those questions in our sermons. We will also try to answer some of your questions in the classroom – at adult education immediately following the 10:00 service downstairs in the library, beginning next Sunday. So buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride, and I hope it will be illuminating and helpful.

Today’s question may be the ultimate question: it is a question that brings and keeps many of us coming back to church. Today’s question is, “what happens when we die?”

I’m sure that many of you have seen the film Monty Python’s Meaning of Life? One of the best and final scenes has Death pay a visit, literally.  The stylized Grim Reaper complete with his scythe comes and knocks on the door of a simple little house in the British countryside. The owner opens the door, Death gets invited in, and in a very funny scene, those gathered for cocktails and dinner do what so many of us do when it comes to encountering death. We try to ignore it – we put it off – we try to distract ourselves – we try to talk small talk around it –we use humour –  we question it – we bargain with death. After trying to get Death to have a drink and join the party, Death reveals that they are all indeed now dead due to botulism from the salmon mousse –  yes, even, somehow the guest who never ate the salmon mousse – and then Death goes on to take them to a very, very silly version of paradise.

What happens when we die? I don’t think it’s quite what the Pythons imagined. Yet, neither I know the exact details – no one does. BUT – Jesus has reassured us that death is not the end. Jesus’ whole mission was to conquer death – our belief as Christians is that Jesus overcame death, and opened the way to eternal life. What do we mean by this technical language?  By eternal life, we mean a new existence: one in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other. Something better than we have here – something better than we can ask or imagine. And our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. That is what we are promised: we are promised this better existence, united with God and all those we love and see no more.

These days as more causes of death result from chronic conditions, people are living AND dying longer. Despite this, our culture is one that is saturated in messages of cure, restoration and recovery. It is important that we as the Church respond to this. Throughout its history, the Church and the Gospel have offered comfort and hope when its people have faced death. We’ve gotten a whole lot wrong, but I’d like to think that our beliefs and rituals around death and dying have helped some if not many. I believe that if the church does NOTHING else, it must attend to the needs of the dying and those who grieve.

There are many Scripture passages we could look to – so many, that we could be here all day and into the week, but my FAVORITE passage to look to for an answer to today’s question is from John’s Gospel, chapter 14, verses 1-7. It is the passage I typically choose to read and preach on at funerals:

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This has also been translated as “My Father’s house has many rooms.” or “My Father’s House has MORE than enough room.” Or, “In my Father’s House there are many mansions.” (who doesn’t want their own mansion?)

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled!” Jesus is not just saying, “try not to be sad.” Jesus is telling his disciples then in preparation for his death and now to us living in these frightening times to stand firm in the face of death, especially when it looks like evil and death will get the upper hand. Jesus is saying, “be strong. Be strong. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jewish traditions identified the “Father’s House” with a heavenly dwelling place. Jesus may not exactly be promising us our own mansions in heaven – our own luxury suites with hot tubs and room service. Rather, Jesus is speaking of the mutual indwelling of God and Jesus – a relationship of wondrous love that is inclusive to all of us. A promise that by Jesus returning to God, we too may return to God and be reunited and reconciled, inhabiting one’s “place” in God’s home.

Thomas says, “we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” I hear ya, Thomas! Every time we face death, it is upsetting and unsettling. Each time we suffer a loss, we experience it in a fresh way – we don’t know the exact way we will grieve someone we love. Yet, Jesus assures us that we know the way. By knowing Jesus, we can find our way forward. By knowing Jesus, we know the way to God.

The follow up question will no doubt be: but what about Heaven and Hell? And yes, we Episcopalians do technically believe in hell. Hell is eternal death in our rejection of God. Hell is maybe not so much a place but a condition: one can certainly experience hell on earth. And what about heaven? Heaven is eternal life in our enjoyment of God. And what about Purgatory? The concept of Purgatory can be traced back to patristic times as a temporary, intermediate state between heaven and hell. As developed in the Roman Catholic Church, purgatory is a state or place of hope and anticipation, where sins are forgiven and any last minute punishment is carried out. The Articles of Religion, which you can find in the back of your Prayer Book, and which were established by the Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the early Episcopal Church in 1801 deem that Purgatory is a “Romish Doctrine” that is “grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God,” and is therefore of no official merit in our Catechism and Book of Common Prayer. One can believe in Purgatory, however, and some of us do: many Anglicans believe in a continuing process of growth and development after death – that is why we pray for those who have died. I both love and hate the idea of having to make peace with all the people I did not like someday in Purgatory – of having to reconcile with everyone I ever even got cross with before being allowed to go on to Heaven.

Whatever exactly happens to us after we die, our souls are in God’s hands. I don’t think there will be pearly gates, but I also don’t think there will be fire and brimstone. Jesus depicts God the Father as a Prodigal God – an extravagant God who runs to greet us, who wants to throw us a feast when we return home. We are all God’s kids – and God is a loving parent who wants all of God’s kids home for the holiday.

As people of faith, it begins with us. We cannot be in denial of death, and we cannot trust purely in science or medicine. As part of the Christian story, we are first and last creatures of God. While we are individuals, we must remember that we are dependent and interdependent of each other – and one day we will die. We may think we are our own, but life is a precious and fragile gift.  Sometimes we tend to revel in a youth culture of easy cures, and we claim our individualism in every area of life – socially, economically, politically and religiously. Sometimes our individualism expresses itself in selfishness: we always want and expect more: more life, more time, more care, more medication, more from caregivers. It is when we decide that we know better than God, when we go our own way that we sin. We can certainly hope in miracles, but we sometimes hope to the point of insisting that the God who loves each of us and is powerful can therefore rearrange the entire created world in order to delay the dying of each of God’s creatures. Unfortunately, we will not always be satisfied with the outcome. I do believe in miracles as I’ve seen them happen, and I know that prayer is powerful. But part of our journey is learning to align our lives to walk in faith, trusting in God, though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death and we may not be able to see the other side.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “those who live with Christ die daily to their own will…in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ.” The Gospel message and the Christian story of dying in faith can therefore unfold and provide for each of us a firm foundation on which to face life’s final task.

Let us Pray:

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us safe lodgings, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.



Pride Evensong 2019

Pride Evensong 2019, 16 June 2019
John 13: 31-35
Trinity Church on the Green

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


The hymn we just sang, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” is one of my absolute favorites, and I made a special request for it tonight. The text was in the 1850s. There are several musical settings of the text, but the one we sang tonight is my favorite. The hymn tune, which is called St. Helena, was composed much more recently – in 1978, by organist and sacred music composer Calvin Hampton. I love his music so very much – go home and look up his setting of the Nicene Creed on Youtube – there is a depth of feeling in his music that always moves my soul. Calvin Hampton was the organist and choirmaster at Calvary Episcopal Church in Manhattan for 20 years. His settings of the Episcopal liturgy are also used in Catholic churches, and his choral works are both innovative and challenging. He was incredibly gifted. He was also a gay man who died far too young of AIDS at age 45 in 1984. Before his death he was named by one church music expert as “the greatest living composer of hymn tunes.”

So much of our music and liturgy, so much of our tradition, so much of our Episcopal identity has been created and brought forth by our LGBTQ siblings. Tonight, we gather to remember and to give thanks; to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots later this month, from which sprung forth the start of the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBTQ civil rights in the United States. We remember and pray for the many lives who have been lost: to AIDS, to suicide, to lack of medical care and support, and those lost to sheer hatred and violence.

We also gather tonight to celebrate! We have come far as a society, and we have come far as a church. Trinity, I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you for hosting the events of this week: our art show, the showing of the film Stonewall Uprising on Thursday night. Yesterday, 6 of us from Trinity marched in the LGBTQ Pride March in Middletown, Connecticut. We were small, but we were mighty, and we proudly carried the Trinity Church banner. Someone came up to me and asked if our church, if any church could really welcome and accept them. And I was able to tell them that they are welcome here.

We have stretched beyond our comfort zone this week – our radical welcome committee and others have prepared the way, and we were ready. May we keep stretching – may we keep trying new things on. May we keep ourselves open to the Holy Spirit to show us  the way.

And why? Why do we have to make ourselves potentially uncomfortable? Why do we have to keep stretching and developing? Because we are trying to follow Jesus’ commandment: to love one another, just as Jesus loves us. Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We follow Jesus, who welcomed all – especially those who had likely given up hope on ever being welcomed and included.  Jesus, who touched those that were considered untouchable. Jesus, who sat and ate with sinners of all sorts. Jesus, who taught us that it will not be in the brutality of violence that our world will be saved, but rather in showing kindness to our neighbor, in standing up against injustice, in returning hate with love. (2)

I’d like to share with you a portion of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement for Pride month, honoring LGBTQ Episcopalians. He puts it so well. He writes:

“In my years of ministry, I have personally seen and been blessed by countless LGBTQ sisters, brothers and siblings. Dear friends, the church has in like manner been blessed by you. Together with many others you are faithful followers of Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love. You have helped the church to be truly catholic, universal, a house of prayer for all people. You have helped the church to truly be a reflection of the beloved community of God. You have helped the church to authentically be a branch of the Jesus movement in our time.

“Your ministries to and with this church are innumerable. I could speak of how you often lead our vestries, and other leadership bodies in the church. I could speak of how many of you organize our liturgies of worship, lift our voices in song, manage church funds, teach and form our children as followers of Jesus, lead congregations, ministries and dioceses. But through it all and above it all, you faithfully follow Jesus and his way of love. And in so doing you help the church, not to build a bigger church for church’s sake, but to build a better world for God’s sake.”

Friends, “there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good. There is mercy with the savior, there is healing in his blood.”

Thanks be to God for that mercy, kindness and justice. We promise to show the same to others.

Now, let us go forth to love and be loved. Happy Pride.

1 Credit to the Rev. LeeAnn Watkins – from her Eucharistic Prayer – https://saintmarysepiscopal.org/lgbtq-pride-liturgy/



Year C, Pentecost, 9 June 2019
Acts 2:1-21
Trinity Church on the Green


A Blessing for Pentecost Day

This is the blessing we cannot speak by ourselves.
This is the blessing we cannot summon by our own devices,
cannot shape to our own purposes, cannot bend to our own will.
This is the blessing that comes when we leave behind our aloneness,
when we gather together, when we turn toward one another.
This is the blessing that blazes among us when we speak the words strange to our ears,when we finally listen into the chaos, when we breathe together
at last.  (1) 

Happy Pentecost. Today is often called the birthday of the church. It’s a day when we all can wear red, the color of the Holy Spirit, the color of fire. It is a day where in some churches, our reading from Acts gets read in many different languages all at once – to reenact the chaos that must have taken place back so many years ago.

The word itself – Pentecost – is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter.

We left off last week with the disciples watching Jesus ascend last week. There they were, left behind by Jesus, trying to figure out what to do next. And then, suddenly, a violent wind comes rushing through. Tongues as of fire rest on each of their heads, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They are given the sudden ability to speak in other languages. As a friend of mine sums it all up, “apparently it was such a scene that some onlookers thought the disciples were drunk, at 9 am. This is how the church comes into being. What a story!”

Ultimately, today is the Feast of the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the comforter, the disrupter! I invite you today to reflect on what or who exactly the Holy Spirit is to you?

I will admit that for much of my life, I was a little confused by the Holy Spirit – or the Holy Ghost, if you will. The Father and the Son I could imagine. But the Holy Spirit? I was less clear.

In our Episcopal tradition, Holy Spirit, as the  Third Person of the Trinity, is believed to be God at work in the world and in the church even now. The Holy Spirit was revealed in the Old Covenant as the giver of life and the One who spoke through the prophets. The Holy Spirit is revealed through the New Covenant as “the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.” We recognize the presence of the Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors and with all of creation.”

In our church, we call upon the Holy Spirit when one is ordained a deacon, priest or bishop. We also always call upon the Holy Spirit as part of the Eucharistic Prayer (a moment known as the Epiclesis) – here the Holy Spirit enables the prayers of the people to make bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit can therefore descend and change people and things – the Holy Spirit can disrupt our business as usual.

Have you ever been able to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit? In prayer, or worship or song? In a holy space, or in a crowd of people?

The Holy Spirit is often translated/thought of as “Breath” of God (from the Hebrew Ruach). In this sense the Spirit is the creating and sustaining breath or wind of God. The Holy Spirit is the active, living, moving part of God – indeed, the Wisdom of God.  Some also like to think of the Holy Spirit as the feminine element of an often masculinized Trinity: the feminine Sophia.

So, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and they began speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. And the crowd gathered is “bewildered,” “amazed and astonished.” I once read where someone suggests that maybe the disciples weren’t actually suddenly able to speak languages they had never spoken before, but that the Holy Spirit made it so that everyone’s ears were opened in a way that all could understand each other despite the difference in languages. Wouldn’t it be great if that happened now? Even though most of us here speak English, we don’t always understand each other – what if we could all hear each other for exactly what we are trying to say and mean – wouldn’t that be great?

Pentecost is the inbreaking of God’s purpose for all of humanity. Pentecost brings together all humanity in understanding, despite differences. In the month of June, as we commemorate Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this week, we need Pentecost – we need understanding despite differences. Not everyone there on that day was convinced that a good thing was happening – some, in their amazement, thought that the disciples were drunk! Peter had to stand up and say, “no, we’re not drunk – we are the living fulfillment of the promise of God.”

We don’t get to hear the part that follows this passage: that 3000 get baptized that day, inspired and formed by the Holy Spirit chaos. The Holy Spirit blew through a house in which once strangers stood, now formed into a community by its fiery love. On this Pentecost Day, may we sense the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and in our community. In our culture of individuality, may the Holy Spirit unite us together in loving community, to be the community of God, and the Body of Christ in the world.


1 Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons


Get up, Peter, Kill and Eat!

Year C, Easter 5, 19 May 2019
Acts 11:1-18
Trinity Church on the Green

While there are many great lines in our sacred Scriptures, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” has got to be one of the best.

(I’m so glad God has never asked that of me, I’m a vegetarian, it would not have gone well…)

In this Easter season, we get to hear the stories of the newborn church in the Acts of the Apostles. Stories of a church that is truly just learning to crawl and talk, still figuring out its identity and going through some awkward stages and growing pains. The Acts of the Apostles is a unique book in our canon: it is not a letter, nor is it a Gospel. Acts tells the history of the early church.

The first generation of Christians faced a serious question:  NOW WHAT? Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer present on earth in bodily form, where is the risen Christ to be found? According to the Book of Acts, the primary way that the risen Christ continues to be alive and present is in the community that Jesus formed, the Body of Christ, the Church. And we will continue to hear the wild and crazy adventures of Peter and Paul and the other early believers in the Acts of the Apostles, in place of an Old Testament reading, throughout the rest of the Easter season.

Our story today from the Acts of the Apostles always takes me back to when I got to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is common for Joppa to be one of the first stops on the bus tours after a Holy Land Pilgrimage tour group lands in Tel Aviv. It was so for our group – we landed at 6 am in Tel Aviv, got our luggage and a cup of coffee, and were off on the bus already being talked at by our guide by 8 am, headed to Joppa. I was jet lagged and exhausted, but I clearly remember going to Joppa, or as it is now known, Jaffa. It is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast with palm trees and open air markets, along with a large Catholic Church dedicated to St. Peter. If you travel to Joppa, you can see the house that was supposedly Simon the tanner’s.

Last week, our story from the Acts of the Apostles was of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead – that happened in Joppa. Peter then stayed in Joppa for a while in the home of Simon the tanner. Prior to this, Peter had also healed a bedridden, paralyzed man named Aeneas, and as a result, all the residents of the town “turned to the Lord.” So, Peter is working miracles, and gathering followers of Jesus left and right, but so far, they have only been fellow Jewish people.

So, Peter is staying at the home of Simon the Tanner. And Peter goes up onto the roof to pray. Perhaps he has been fasting. Either way, he becomes really hungry, and falls into a trance where he sees a large sheet coming down from heaven. In it were all kinds of four footed creatures, and reptiles, and birds of the air.

Let’s imagine what’s in that sheet: I found one hilarious  image that had an elephant, an ostrich, a hippo, an alligator, a snake, and a giraffe in the sheet, among other critters. (I should save it for future bulletin cover art) What do all of these animals have in common?

Peter hears that voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” And Peter says, “I can’t, it’s not kosher!”  Ok, he actually says:

“By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” All of these critters are considered unclean by Jewish Law.

The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

This happened three times, because it seems that Peter always needs to hear things three times,  and the sheet was suddenly taken back up to heaven. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter has to think about this.

As he does, 3 messengers having sent by Cornelius the Centurion arrive looking for Peter. Peter is still baffled by his vision, but the Spirit says to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter goes down, identifies himself, and asks what they want of him. They answer, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ 23So Peter lets them stay for the night, and then goes with them the next day to go to the home of Cornelius.

Cornelius, by the way, in case you’ve forgotten, is a Roman Centurion, and therefore a Gentile.

Peter arrives at the home of Cornelius, and Cornelius falls at Peter’s feet to worship him. Peter says, “no, no, I’m just a mortal and… what do you want of me?” Peter finds that Cornelius has invited a whole crowd to listen to Peter in his home. Peter tells him, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean…‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter preaches the Gospel to the gathered Gentiles, and the Holy Spirit falls upon them. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter are astounded. And Peter has them all baptized.

Our passage today picks up with Peter returning to Jerusalem, probably feeling pretty excited about this major happening, this mass baptism… and what do the church leaders do? They criticize Peter.  They call him on the carpet for breaking the rules. Peter had accepted the hospitality of the “uncircumcised,” and had eaten with them.  Lest we forget that a similar charge was leveled against Jesus for eating alongside sinners. And so, Peter tells them the WHOLE story. And Peter concludes by saying, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” This silences them.  The leaders in Jerusalem realize this isn’t Peter’s initiative, but rather, God working through Peter. They are convinced. And then they praise God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Big change in the life of the church.

We have seen other big changes in the life of the church since, no? The church has continued to see in terms of “clean” and “unclean,” or “us” and “them” throughout its history. The church has viewed peoples of different race, class, ethnic origins, sexual orientations, and gender expressions as being “unclean,” as not being worthy of a seat at the table. We’ve made some progress, but we’re still not quite fully there. We must always think back to Peter’s question: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  “Who was I that I could hinder God.” Peter has an astonishing insight in that question. If God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus not to condemn the world but to save it, who are we to try to limit the mission of God to redeem ALL of humanity? Any time we exclude someone from full participation in the redemptive work of God, Peter’s question should trouble us. It should trouble the church. What if the church had not accepted the Gentiles, and had remained a sect within Judaism? Where would we be today? Peter was convinced that God did not intend to exclude anyone from God’s beloved community. May we all be so convinced also.

At a time when our world seems more divided than ever, we are all called to be like Peter. God enables ordinary people like Peter and like all of us to bear witness to the Gospel. We are called to listen to each other and to discern where God’s spirit is leading us. We are reminded that controversy needs to be addressed, not avoided, and conflict needs to be transformed, not ignored. May we trust the Spirit, and keep finding ways to include, not exclude, to keep widening the circle, to keep lengthening and broadening the table so that all may have a place.



2nd Sunday of Easter – Believing Thomas

Year C, Second Sunday of Easter, 28 April 2019
Annual Poetry Sunday
John 20:19-31
Trinity Church on the Green

In honor of Poetry Sunday, I begin with a poem by Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite, which  he wrote in honor of Thomas:

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.” (1) 

Poor Thomas. He gets such a bad rap, year after year.  “Doubting Thomas” we call him.  But thank God for Thomas. I feel he represents me.  I’d like us to start calling him “Believing Thomas” instead. Ultimately, he believed! Malcolm Guite suggests we call him “honest Thomas, courageous Thomas, even Tenacious Thomas!”

Earlier in John’s Gospel, when Jesus says to the disciples  “…And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas honestly replies, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” TO which Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Thomas is not usually remembered for asking this important question, yielding a most important response from Jesus. Instead, he is remembered for doubting.

After all, was it his fault that he got left out of the initial gathering with the other guys? That he wasn’t there when Jesus showed up the first time?

Haven’t we all been “that person” – the one who is out of the loop – or not in on the joke. You couldn’t make it to the party, and you missed the big announcement, the big reveal. Or you missed someone special like Jesus showing up? And when your friends told you about it, you were like, “mmm, I’m not sure I can believe that.”

We’ve all been there, no? And isn’t that the point?

Our Lenten sermon series was on trauma and grace. I’ve continued to think about trauma and grace through Holy Week, and into the Easter season. I’ve thought a great deal about the traumatic part of it – how all the friends and followers of Jesus must have been utterly TRAUMATIZED. With a capital “T.” I really feel like we underplay it: there’s little talk of feelings in the stories of the Crucifixion and resurrection. But Jesus’ friends and family must have felt trauma – they must have been in shock. To have seen Jesus killed – to lose their beloved friend – to suddenly have their entire world and all sense of hope collapse around them. To literally watch him suffer and die a horrible, painful death. They must have felt so helpless. They must have felt horror. And then, they must have felt such fear for their own lives. Add grief on top of that.  How rough it must have been for them.

Somehow, I doubt many of them got much sleep those three days. John tells us that the doors of the house were locked – that the disciples were hiding in fear. They were likely sleep deprived. They were anxious and afraid. They probably weren’t eating much. Those of us who have been in  this state of mind and body know how disorienting it can be. When you’re running on adrenaline, barely able to think or see straight. To then suddenly see Jesus? Well, no wonder some would think they were seeing a ghost. No wonder someone like Thomas might would have thought they were hallucinating.

And lest it be all on Thomas. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28, Jesus appears to the disciples, and “they worshipped him, but some doubted.” In Luke’s telling of the resurrection, chapter 24, the women find the stone rolled away, and are told by the two men in dazzling clothes, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…”And these women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James run and tell the eleven and all the rest!

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Instead, Peter takes off and runs to the tomb. He has to see it with his own eyes. Peter doubts, yet doesn’t wind up getting dubbed “Doubting Peter.” Later on, in Luke’s telling, Jesus appears among them and says “Peace be with you,” much like he does in John’s Gospel. And it then says that “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Jesus has to say to them,  ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’  Jesus invites them to touch him, and then asks for something to eat.

So, Jesus shows up among his traumatized disciples, and they ALL doubt. They have to touch him to believe that it’s him. They have to witness him eating broiled fish to believe he’s not a ghost.

Thomas wanted to touch his wounds. Would you?

Thomas ultimately believes, and receives grace. Jesus came just for him. Jesus came and did not admonish him, but invited Thomas to touch his wounds and believe. And Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”

The traumatic state of our world and our lives can cause us to fear and to doubt. To doubt our institutions, leaders, the media. To doubt those around us, our colleagues, our friends, our family. We can doubt our own selves, our own sense of self worth as beloved children of God in a world that is fast, furious, and unforgiving. When bad things happen all around us, we can begin to doubt our faith.  Our invitation is to not give up, but keep asking for more.  Like Thomas, may we have the courage to say what others are thinking, and to ask for what we need. May we ask for God’s grace again and again when we need it the most, and to show that grace to each other. We cannot touch the actual wounds of Jesus, but we can care for each others’ wounds, and through each other we can see the risen Lord! Through the love and care of community, we can be reminded that we matter – that we matter to God, and that we are all most worthy of God’s love and grace, even if we doubt.  We come together to worship because worship affects us – it can transform our doubts.

Wherever we are in our faith journeys, may Thomas inspire us to not doubt but believe, and to declare before Jesus, “My Lord, and my God!”


1 https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/thank-god-for-doubting-thomas-2/