Maundy Thursday: Pointing to Love

Year C, Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Trinity Church on the Green

Tonight is one of the most holy nights of our church year. Maundy Thursday is the start of the Triduum, the three days of Christ’s passion. Tonight is holy, because we as the family of faith gather together at the table to remember Jesus, and how he modeled to us to love. Tonight, we remember the one whom we, like the disciples in John’s Gospel have dearly loved, and are about to lose to death.

And in the midst of this solemnity,  we wash each other’s feet. How odd, awkward, and delightful. Where else can one get the chance to wash a stranger’s feet (I mean, for no pay)? This is truly one of those unique church experiences that you can’t find this anywhere else. Tonight, we also gather to also share stories, share a meal, love one another, and bid farewell to our dear friend, as the disciples did so many years ago.

It is so interesting that in our Gospel passage, John’s telling of the Last Supper, there is no mention of Jesus instituting the Last Supper into the ritual practice that we now know as the Eucharist. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels all record Jesus taking bread and wine, and asking the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” But John has a different take: instead, Jesus takes off his robe, ties a towel around himself, and washes the disciples’ feet. It would not have been so strange if Jesus were one of the household servants. But Jesus is their teacher, and their lord. What did the disciples  say? Was there awkward laughter? Did they all fall silent? Was Peter the only one who resisted, or just the one who was eventually remembered as doing so? Peter being Peter objects Jesus’ actions, but then when Jesus convinces Peter it is necessary, Peter goes overboard, asking Jesus to also wash his hands and his head. When Jesus is finished, he puts his robe back on, and joins them back at the table. Were they dumbfounded? Jesus has to ask them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” No one answers, so Jesus says, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

One of the moments in which I felt my strongest sense of call to the priesthood was on one Maundy Thursday. I had just returned to church – I hadn’t been in a good while. And there I was, and there was to be foot washing. I immediately felt anxious – I think many people do around foot washing. Do my feet smell, how is my pedicure, will I be judged? Will I judge others? Will I have to touch someone’s gross, ugly feet? That night, at that church, the priests and the deacon did all the foot washing. One of the priests was quite old – almost 90 – and even he took off his stole, and stooped down to wash the feet of person after person. He did it with love, gentleness, and with humor. It was such a pristine, beautiful church, and the foot washing caused a BIG mess – there was water everywhere, used towels everywhere. There was intimacy, friendship, and laughter, as solemn music was sung.  And so, I got my feet washed, too. And I realized then that I could and would wash others’ feet again.

The harder learning along the way was to also allow others to wash my feet. Many of us who are called into ministry and other human service vocations can go so far overboard serving others that we never allow for others to care for us. We can get so caught up in the details, that we lose sight of Jesus’ command to love each other – which starts with first loving our own selves, and allowing ourselves to BE loved.

Tonight, I encourage the perfectionists and over-functioners among us to take a deep breath, and take off our socks. Through the waters of baptism, we have all been called into Jesus’ ministry of caring for and restoring a broken world. We are also all in need of the ongoing cleansing forgiveness of God, and the bathing of our weary feet, if we are to have the strength and compassion to continue God’s work in the world.

Tonight, may we realize that all the stories, all of Jesus’ miracles, all of Jesus’ preaching, teaching and feeding: it all points to the New Commandment: LOVE. Tonight’s foot washing points to love. In fact, all that we do here at Trinity really points to to that one, great thing!

The Eucharists we share,

the beautiful music we sing, the programs and potlucks and soup kitchen dinners,

the concerts, dramas, and pageants,

the grants we give away,

the learning we share as children and adults,

the ways we greet and welcome and usher each other,

the  flowers, Easter egg hunts, funerals, weddings, baptisms, sheep, llamas and even a donkey – all that we do and share here in so many variety of ways…. it ultimately points to LOVE. Just as we humans have different love languages, the church has different love languages. And ultimately, all that we do is to point to LOVE. A love beyond measure. I love we cannot fully comprehend.

Tonight, may we encounter Jesus and his love as we bathe and care for each other. Tonight, may we recommit to the New Commandment, that we love our own selves and one another, just as Jesus loves us. May we share that love in all that we do. By this we will be known as Jesus’ disciples, if we have love for one another.



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.



Advent: The Gift of Doom!?

Advent 1, Year C
Luke 21:25-36

Preached on Sunday, 29 November 2015 at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy

Happy First Sunday of Advent! Today is the beginning of a new church year. And all beginnings are also endings – and today our Gospel seems to focus on an ending, or really, the end.

For Advent, I am leading a book study here at the church on Tuesday evenings. The title of it is, “Advent: The Gift of New Hope!” That sounds nice and cheery and Christmasy, right? It’s the title of the book we are using. In light of recent world events, and in light of today’s readings, I wish I could rename it. I’d like to rename it to, “Advent: The Coming of Doom!” Though I suppose that no one would attend if I called it that.

So, I am joking – somewhat. Yet what if this Christmas – Christmas 2015 – was going to actually going to change our lives? What if it were to rock the world in an unexpected way, either negatively or positively? We talk about how Christmas changed the world 2000 years ago – by Jesus being born, becoming incarnate, and coming to live among us – and we talk about how it “changes the world” each year, but in a sort of soft, figurative way. Christmas is more like an observed memorial of an event that changed the world once. Nothing much seems to change now. So, what if Christmas were to radically change everything? What if we were to wake up on December 25th and find nothing as we knew it? How would we live our everyday lives until then if we knew that Christmas would indeed be the coming of doom? Or – if Christmas were to be the coming of something better than we could ever imagine?

And what are we to make of Jesus telling us in the gospel today of the eschaton, a fancy word for the End Times? And why must we hear this gospel on the First Sunday of Advent? Why must we be disturbed by the idea of doom?

I will always remember the first time I was aware of and scared by the idea of the end of the world facilitated by God.  A friend of mine invited me to go to her youth group on a Friday night. Her church was a Baptist Church out in Queens. That night, they made us watch the movie called A Thief In the Night. This film, which came out in the early 1970s, is all about a young woman named Patty who considers herself a Christian, but who “hasn’t truly accepted Jesus,” and does not heed the warnings from her friends and families to do so. So, she then has a dream in which the Rapture has occurred, and all of her family and friends have disappeared. Patty then realizes that she and all those “left behind” are to face the Great Tribulation and the Antichrist: the end times.  A scary, fascist government system is set up, and they go about trying to chase and capture Patty. In the final scenes of the movie she is running away, being chased by military forces and helicopters, and then – she falls to her death. I was terrified as I watched this, unable to understand how a good and loving God would allow this. And as we were watching, in the final moment of great tension and fear, just as Patty is cornered…. some kids outside the church began throwing rocks at the windows and pounding on the doors of the church building. In complete terror, I jumped out of my seat and began running and screaming, “they’re here to get us! They’re here to get us!” I was full of panic and anxiety.

In Luke’s telling, Jesus is telling of us signs that sound like what we already have going on: we had that red, blood moon this fall, global warming is causing the seas to rise. And there is great distress among our nations. Yet I am not suggesting that we need to panic. I repeat: do not panic! If we read this text carefully, we may instead find a message of encouragement and hope. Really.

Often, when things have been bad for a group of persecuted people, as Jesus’ followers certainly were, they have hoped for a day of reckoning – a day of judgment. A day that will bring about justice for those who have suffered. Jesus’ followers would have been looking for this day. Throughout the Bible, starting at creation, people have looked to God to create order out of chaos, and have maintained an expectation of God bringing about a new age of being that will bring justice.

Therefore, Jesus is not foretelling of an end time that is all about terrifying death and destruction, like what I saw in that movie. Instead, this end time will be about God bringing an end to sin and injustice – ultimately, a very good thing. It will not be a time of terror, but a time for redemption. Just as we begin a new church year and end an old one – the end of time will also be the beginning of something new and better: the coming of God’s Kingdom. And we do not know when it will happen. Jesus doesn’t tell us an exact date. Instead, we are to prepare, and be alert.

This Advent, we prepare for Christmas, but we also prepare for the second coming of Christ into our lives. How can we prepare, besides the usual ways of decorating, baking, buying and wrapping?

Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree – he says to look at the fig trees and all trees, as soon as you see them sprout leaves, you know it is summer. Likewise, if we pay attention, we will know when the Kingdom of God is near. Last weekend, I was in Atlanta, and the fall foliage was amazing: I saw many trees with beautiful red and bright yellow leaves. I was aware of how amazing it is that the trees’ leaves are most beautiful when the leaves are dying – an end time for the trees. And a tree gaining or losing its leaves is a most ordinary thing – yet it can also be amazing and beautiful. Do we notice? Do we notice other such ordinary, everyday things in our lives that may not be as beautiful? Things that actually may be ugly or painful? Jesus tells us to pay attention.

Jesus calls us to “remain alert.” Not in the scary way that the MTA tells us to remain alert, or the way the movie A Thief in the Night tells us to – but to be alert in a prayerful and hopeful way. We are not to let our hearts get weighted down with worry, or drunkenness, or dissipation – that means we shouldn’t be overspending our money or our resources! What if we were to take this seriously and not overspend this Advent?

While we live in a world in which anything can happen, including acts of terror and other pain, we are not to live in panic or anxiety, but we are to live knowing that while the heavens and the earth may pass away, the word of God –  the Promise and the Hope of God – will never pass away.

As Christians, Jesus calls us to not focus solely on the here and now. We must think ahead, and we must think through all things to their completion. If we trust in God, we can trust that God is a God of hope. We know and love Jesus – we follow Jesus – and we wait for Jesus to return. May Advent be a time for us to prepare for Jesus’ return: for the rejoicing of eternal salvation and life through him.  May we actually prepare for the coming of doom, which is really the coming of hope.