The Epiphany: On Stargazing, and Resisting

Year A, The Feast of the Epiphany 2020
Matthew 2:1-12
Sermon preached at Trinity on the Green, New Haven
*with special thanks to the boys of the Choir of Men and Boys for their active participation in this sermon!

My father-in-law has taken up the hobby of astronomy in recent years – the hobby of stargazing. Having always been the one in the family to go to bed early, he now stays up late into the night to get the best and clearest view of the stars.  The rest of the family finds this astounding. He showed us his newest and most impressive telescope when we visited back in October. He takes great joy and delight in it all, and it has caused me to slow down and occasionally notice the night skies with a renewed sense of joy and delight. 

The wise men “observed his star at its rising.” I asked my father-in-law, who is a very thoughtful person of faith, if his hobby of stargazing had any impact on his thoughts on the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate today, the Feast of the Wise Men visiting young Jesus and his mother. I asked him this, especially considering the star that the wise men followed. He in turn sent me a link to a forum of amateur astronomers, who were also arguing this question: what was this Star of Bethlehem? (1) A popular theory is that the star was really a planetary conjunction – where 2 or more planets line up closely together in the sky. Or maybe it was a comet. Or perhaps, although unlikely, the star of Bethlehem was a supernova – a supernova being when a large star basically explodes. Interestingly, whatever it was, an unprecedented amount of astronomical activity happened in the 5 year period from the years 7 BCE to 2 BCE and has been documented, with nova, comets, eclipses, and a host of rare conjunctions. Maybe that’s  just a coincidence?

Of course, there were cynics on the forum, who said the star had to be fiction, and then another who said it had to be “miracle, a miracle seen only by the shepherds and the Magi–and by definition, miracles are not natural phenomena. One does not need an astronomical event. Just go with the story.  Were it an actual astronomical event, seen by anybody, the king’s astrologers would have noted it, and it would not have been a surprise to the king requiring the killing of the two-years-and-under innocents.”

Fair point. 

I hadn’t truly appreciated until now that the Bible makes good mention of space related phenomena. The early books of the Bible tell of the importance of stars. The Book of Amos says, Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: The LORD is his name:” In the Book of Job, reference is made to 3 constellations of stars – the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades. In the Book of Genesis, the LORD tells childless Abram that his descendants shall be as many as the uncountable stars. The psalms also make many mentions of the stars, the Morning Star, the sun and the moon. And we draw on all of that in our own Eucharistic Prayer C, commonly referred to as “the Star Wars Prayer,” one that never seems to get prayed at Trinity – the one that celebrates “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,and this fragile earth, our island home.”

The celestial bodies, and in particular the stars have long held meaning for the people of God, as this one star does for the Wise Men. 

My father-in-law and I agree that neither of us actually feel the need to determine the science behind that star of Bethlehem – the star that guided the Wise Men. The importance of the event, marked by this star, is the broadening of the story of God beyond Israel to all nations – with the ancient-world view that events in the heavens reflect earthly happenings. The true importance of this feast is that Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles – to all nations – all people – even and including us. 

There are many theories on who the Wise Men were – They may have been magicians, or Zorastrians. They may have been Court priests, serving the rulers of Persia, in what is present-day Iran (a country that has been in the news this week). Or, like my father-in-law, they may have simply been stargazers. As star-studiers, they may have interpreted the heavens, and told leaders of their meaning. As such, they could pay a heavy price if their message was not what their rulers wanted.

And as much as we have grown accustomed to “We Three Kings,” there is only mention of three gifts, not three individuals. And the names Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar is an Armenian tradition: they are not listed in our Biblical account.

Whoever they were exactly they were likely quite learned. And they were seekers. They were risk takers. They wanted to see and experience God. The line I love the most in our Gospel story today is that when the Wise Men saw that the star had stopped, when they had found Jesus, “they were overwhelmed with joy.” 

It is also important to recall that the Wise Men went home by another road. They resisted King Herod. They trusted the warning in their dreams. I often wonder if they eventually got caught and were punished. It is always fitting in our times and as Christians to ask ourselves what or who might we need to resist. What or who might we need to say a loud and solid “no” to.  Some things may be obvious: I hope we will all resist anti-semitism, at all times but especially in the wake of a slew of recent anti-semitic attacks, to stand up with and for our Jewish kin in the wake of these attacks. We must say no to war, to demand that our leaders work for peace and justice in our world. And as we remember the slaughter of the innocents in the season of Christmas, the killing of all boys aged 2 years old and younger and under by King Herod, the passage that comes immediately following our story today, we must resist separation of families at our border, and the keeping of children in conditions that are resulting in trauma, disease and death. In this season of Epiphany, there are likely many things and people to which we must say NO. 

And to what and who do we need to say YES? What star do we need to follow in this new year to journey closer to Jesus? 

If you are one to take on a New Year’s Resolution, I hope you may also consider an Epiphany resolution – nothing restrictive. No high standards to live up to, no pounds to lose, or habits to break. Instead, what is one thing to take on that could lead you even closer to Jesus? Can each of us try one thing that has the potential to lead us to be overwhelmed with the joy of Jesus, like the Wise Men experienced?

In this new year, may we strengthen ourselves and each other in our mission to learn, grow, serve, and love each other.  May we try to be as wise, discerning, and generous as the Wise Men. May we find time to gaze at the stars, to appreciate their beauty, and to thank the God who made them. At the heart of the story of the Epiphany is that the Wise Men found Jesus, and were overcome with joy. At the heart of the story of the Epiphany is that we have also found Jesus – and with that sense of joy, may we cling to the hope that a better world is possible. 


(1) – See:

Giving Up Control

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

Who here likes to be in control? Be honest.

Likely all of us.

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

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

I exaggerate only slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



1 Mark 1:27


Gone Too Soon: Ascension Day, and Mother Mitties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Good Friday Homily, 2018

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

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

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

Always go to the funeral.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ash Wednesday, and the FDNY Fire Academy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torture? Maybe. Insane? Maybe.

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

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

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

So, let us catch our breath.

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

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

Are you ready?


Jesus is the Authority, and He Authorizes Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


1  Mark 1:22
2 Mark 1:27
Mark 10:45


The Magi in Peru

Elise Ashley Hanley
The Feast of the Epiphany, transferred
7 January 2018
Matthew 1:1-12
Trinity on the Green

As some of you may know, my spouse, Chris and I have just returned from a journey to Peru. Our reason for going was for the celebration the marriage of his only sibling. His sister moved to Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, 3 years ago, and last May, she married a Peruvian man in a civil ceremony- one whom no one in the family nor in her group of friends had yet met, until last week.

Going on this journey, I often thought of the Magi, or the Wise Ones. I did question just how wise we were being – we were to be traveling for many hours immediately after Christmas, already exhausted and both ill with sinus infections. We were also traveling to Cusco during its off-season – the rainy season – and yes, that is an accurate description. Cusco is also over 11,000 feet above sea level, and many people suffer from altitude sickness for their first few days there. We were arriving less than 24 hours before the wedding celebration. Was any of this wise?

It didn’t matter, for we had to go, we so wanted to go. We so wanted to be present for the wedding celebration, to meet her new husband and his family. To see where she was living, more than 3000 miles away from us. To try to understand what about the city, its culture, and people had lured her away and kept her there. And like the Wise Ones, we wanted to show up – and pay homage, show our respect and love, with gifts. And, after all, as a bonus, we’d get to go to Machu Picchu – the ancient, Incan citadel located high in the Andes – how could two we resist?

Like the Wise Ones, we also wanted revelation. Neither of us had been to South America before. We wanted to understand people and cultures and ideas that were different.  We wanted to understand Chris’ sister’s choice, to move so far away from family and friends. And, if nothing else, perhaps we too could have a high spiritual moment, high up in the Andes. We were excited, in this season of Christmastide, to meet God in new and different people and places.

As it turns out, altitude sickness is real – we both almost fainted just off the plane!  Another effect of the altitude was that we were exhausted for days. But like the Wise Ones, we had taken a chance. Like the Wise Ones, we sought guidance along the way – often because our Spanish was so limited.  And ultimately, we also relied, like the Wise Ones, on what we could sense and discern for our travel, for our lives and relationships, and for what our future choices might be.

Who were the Magi? Traditionally, one of three answers has been given.

  1. They may have been magicians, or Zorastrians, who practiced divination or enchantment.
  2. They may have been Court priests, serving the rulers of Persia, in what is present-day Iran. At least one scholar argues that as such, they may have been part of a rebellion that attempted to end the rule of cruel and arbitrary rulers, which would give their presence in this story overtones of subversion and change. Salt to taste.
  3. Or – they were astrologers – star gazers and star studiers – who interpreted the heavens, and told leaders of their meaning. As such, they could pay a heavy price if their message was not what their rulers wanted.1

As much as we have grown accustomed to “We Three Kings,” no number is mentioned. And the names Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India, is an Armenian tradition: they are not listed in our Biblical account.

Whoever they were exactly they were likely quite learned. And they were seekers. They were risk takers. And they wanted to see and experience God in Jesus.

The Wise Ones likely lived a disciplined life of study to know and understand the coming of the messiah. Our text does not specify the number of them, nor their gender identity. Their traveling party could have been quite large and diverse – I’d like to imagine it was so. They traveled quite a long distance, and they brought costly and symbolic gifts that would have been standard to offer a king: gold to represent Christ’s majesty, frankincense as perfume, and myrrh, an anointing oil used in the preparation for burial, foreshadowing his premature death. I imagine the arrival of these ornamented, well-to-do out-of-towners in Bethlehem, coming to learn about some poor, local kid, may have been as exciting and questionable as our arrival as wealthy and fussy white American tourists in a developing country.

As it is the New Year, it is a common time for resolutions, a time to examine our lives and make decisions about how we may want to change or grow.

What star are we following? What different star might each of us need to follow this year? What will help all of us to ultimately journey to Jesus? Now is a good time to become disciplined and discerning like those Wise Ones – to find a new practice or habit and try it. Maybe the Daily Office, or other daily prayer will help you. Maybe it’s more exercise, yoga, or sleep. Maybe it is an overdue journey to see a loved one. Maybe it is a religious or spiritual pilgrimage. How is God still speaking to each of us? Because God is!

And those Wise Ones – they went home by another road. They resisted the King. I often wonder if they eventually got caught somehow. What or who might we need to resist? What might we need to say a loud and solid “no” to, even if our lives or our relationships depend on it?

We left Peru, and went home by another way, and we are so glad to be back home here at Trinity and in New Haven. In this new year, may we all recharge ourselves. May we strengthen ourselves and each other in our mission to learn, grow, serve, and love our neighbors as ourselves. May we try to be as wise, disciplined, discerning, and generous as the Magi.

(And finally, one last bit of guidance: if you travel to Peru, don’t go in the rainy season.)



1 See Feasting on the Word – Exegetical Perspective by William R. Herzogg II for Epiphany, Year B.



Christmas Day Homily, 2017

Elise Ashley Hanley
Christmas Day 2017
John 1:1:1-14
Trinity on the Green

Happy Christmas, everyone!

You might be surprised to NOT find the story of Jesus’ birth in our readings this morning. There’s no story of Mary and Joseph and angels, or shepherds. There’s no talk of no room at the inn, or a babe in a manger. Instead, the Gospel of John begins at the beginning – the beginning of time. Long before the birth we celebrate today, Jesus, the Word, was with God – and Jesus was God. All things came into being through Jesus – and without Jesus, not one thing came into being. The poetic language of the text may be a little off putting at first – in fact, some scholars think that this prologue of John’s Gospel was written as a hymn to sing –  but our Gospel message reminds us of the cosmic Christ – the Word of God who was always there, and who then became a flesh and blood human to live among us. On Christmas, we celebrate not just Jesus the baby, or just Jesus the man who died for us, but Jesus, as  the essential word of God; Jesus Christ, the personal wisdom and power in union with God, God’s minister in creation and government of the universe. Jesus who always was and always is, and is to come.1 God sent Jesus into the world to save us by becoming just like any of us, a human being: a human being to be our friend, role model, and saviour.

If I could describe this Gospel passage with just one word, I think I would say that it is mysterious. How does God become human while still being divine? And why must it be that the divine must become human, in order for us humans to be bound to God? Christmas is ultimately a great mystery.

Now, as much as I wish I were Nancy Drew or Columbo, I’m not here to solve any mysteries today. We don’t have many if any hard facts on how Christmas happened exactly. What we have are stories, passed down through the generations, written and translated again and again. Somehow, over 2000 year is later, we still tell this story.  We still continue these traditions.

Today, we celebrate that God did not remain aloof and removed from us. Instead, God sent Emmanuel – God with us. God IS with us. And God loves us, no matter what. I invite you on this Christmas Day to revel in the mystery of God’s love, in the mystery of the incarnation. Let us  continue to tell the story of Jesus – the Word made flesh. I wish you all a blessed Christmas.



1 drawn from class notes with Dr. Deirdre Good, The General Theological Seminary.


Choosing Joy – Advent 3, Year B

Elise Ashley Hanley
Advent 3, Year B, 16 December 2017
John 1:6-8,19-28
Trinity on the Green

Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is also known as Gaudete Sunday – the Latin, “Gaudete,” meaning, “REJOICE!” Today, we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath; some of our sister churches even get decked out in pink or rose colored vestments, and we are reminded by the command in today’s Epistle reading to “Rejoice –  always!”

For some of us, that might be easier said than done, even or especially during this time of year.

I remember as a child, the Third Sunday of Advent was an important marker for me.  I couldn’t wait to light that pink candle. This was both because, as a little girl, I LOVED the color pink, but also, because once we lit it, it meant that Christmas was really soon! It meant that we were more than halfway there! I rejoiced with a child’s sweet impatience and anticipation of all the wonders of Christmas.

Now, as an adult, I light that pink candle – and I panic, because it means that Christmas is really soon! This year, it seems even sooner, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent IS Christmas Eve! That pink candle makes me pause, and question my preparedness – not only around shopping or decorating, but as a priest and spiritual leader: have I slowed down enough this Advent? Have I made enough time for extra prayer and reflection?  Have I truly prepared enough for Christ’s coming into my heart and life? (Have I posted that daily “hashtag” Advent Word on Social Media?)  Have I done all that has been expected of me, and all that I have told others is expected of them?

The answer to these questions most years, including this year, is NO. Life gets in the way. Consumerism throws us off track. Unexpected illness or death causes us to lament and disconnect. The end of the year requires final exams from students, grading from teachers, end of year fundraising and sales from and for non-profits. Instead of being still and reflective, the pace of life often seems to accelerate from the First Sunday of Advent on.

But today is Gaudete Sunday – today we called to rejoice. At one time, Advent was observed more like Lent – it was a penitential season, and there was a strictness to observing the liturgy, like no organ playing allowed. Gaudete Sunday was the break in between – a chance to break one’s fast, to play the organ, and to focus on the joy in the nearness of Jesus’ return.

Wherever you are today in your Advent journey – even if you don’t feel like you’ve been on one – I invite you to pause with me, and rejoice. Rejoice, even though everything might not be accomplished, rejoice, even though everything might not be fine. It’s ok if everything isn’t done and wrapped with a bow.  Henri Nouwen writes that:

“Joy is not the same as happiness.  We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong… to God…Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing — sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death — can take that love away.”1

We are promised God’s grace and mercy to help and deliver us. We are promised Jesus, in just one week from today! Let us choose joy. Let us rejoice.



1 from  The Heart of Henri Nouwen: His Words of Blessing.


Sermon for All Saints Sunday, 2017

Elise Ashley Hanley
All Saints Sunday, Year A, 5 November 2017
Matthew 5:1-12
Trinity on the Green, New Haven, CT.

Have you ever experienced a thin place?

A thin place is what is described as a location where the distance between Heaven and Earth lessens – or thins – where the present world, and the world hereafter meet. One writer, who experienced such a thin place, described it as “a place… where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again.”1  A concept that is often first attributed to the Pagan Celts, and then Christianized over time, the saying goes that “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places, that distance is even shorter.”

I first experienced a thin place while leading a church group on a so-called mission trip to rural upstate New York, where we helped with repairs and rebuilding after Hurricane Irene. We stayed at a rundown retreat center in the woods. One night, we had a campfire, and with it the usual scary stories and s’mores. I decided to head back to my room a little early. By myself, I headed back through the through the dark and smoky woods, only lit by the moon and stars, and suddenly  – it hit me.  I was overcome with the feeling that I had stepped through an invisible portal – that the mortal world had collided with Heaven. While absolutely not under the influence of anything except fresh air and a week of hard work – suddenly, I felt an incredible closeness with God. I felt an incredible closeness with my father, who was long dead. My grandfather, my grandmother – all long gone. It overwhelmed me so that I started to weep, but with a sense of joy – and as quickly as it started, it went away. Thin places are often liminal.

Have you ever experienced such a thin place?

It could be at a beach, a bookstore, a monastery, or even an airport.

I believe in these. I believe we can have such experiences, in which we can experience a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven – in which we can feel connection to our ancestors, all the saints – and in which we realize that we are truly knit together in one Communion and Fellowship of the mystical body of Jesus Christ.

Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Crafton has written a book called The Also Life. In it, she describes this earthly life as living in a small basket. Our small basket, however, is resting inside a much larger basket – that is the Kingdom of Heaven. We like living in our small basket, and yet, now and then, we can just barely peek through the spaces between the strips of the woven basket, and when we peek, we can just catch a glimpse of the larger basket – of God’s greater realm. According to Crafton: it has and is always around us.

Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day have been known throughout the centuries as Hallowed Days – a holy and liminal time, when crossing between this world and the otherworld is thought to be easier: a thin space. It is a time when Christians throughout the world practice such customs as remembering and praying for the spiritual journeys of those who have died, by visiting cemeteries and cleaning or decorating gravesites, and even providing hospitality for the return of deceased loved ones with food and drink. And indeed, I believe it is a time when we can peek – and perhaps see or experience the Kingdom of Heaven in a new and surprising way.

On this Feast of All Saints transferred, we continued to observe this Hallowed time – this morning, we remember all the Saints –  the word ‘saints’ being used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, past, present, and yet to come. We will receive a new saint today at the 11:00 service, as we baptize a new member into the Church. In our Baptismal Covenant we, along with traditional Christians around the globe, profess the words: “I believe in… the communion of saints, … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” We recognize and celebrate our belonging to a Holy Community – we welcome a new member into it through Baptism – and we honor all Holy Ones, those known and unknown.

Our Gospel for All Saints Day is the Beatitudes – likely so familiar to many of us, the Beatitudes also offer us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven, and what we need to do right now. The Beatitudes are Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, and he speaks it in the tradition of a Jewish rabbi who would be expected to offer commentary on the Law, to explain to people how to stay faithful to God’s covenant.

Even as familiar as I am with the Beatitudes, I still find them surprising. They are not easy ways to live and be. For example, I do not want to be reviled or persecuted! I don’t want to mourn!

And yet, I have been reviled. I have mourned. These experiences will no doubt occur again. Being meek does not mean being submissive or wimpy, but means rather means having disciplined compassion. These tasks are difficult – we need help with all of these things! I need help and comfort when I am reviled, and when I mourn, I need help and guidance when I am not being meek, or being a peacemaker, or being merciful – etc. I need others to help me practice living by the Beatitudes. These practices are work for all the saints – all who have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I depend on you, my fellow saints, to hold me accountable to the Beatitudes, and to forgive me when I mess up. Likewise, we all depend on each other. And we all depend on God – as our Baptismal Covenant also reminds us – we can only act with God’s help. This is the holy work of our Holy Community.

The Beatitudes also provide us with a glimpse of how the world will be at the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven – they remind us that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven can already be felt and seen. It may be a struggle to live a Christian life, but we have the witness of those saints who have gone before us, providing us examples of living life faithfully, loving and honoring each other. And we are assured of God’s promises – that we should be called children of God.

Have you ever experienced a thin place, where heaven and earth meet?

Together, we stand at that portal:  the Kingdom of Heaven is near – it is both already, and not yet.



1  Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” New York Times, March 9, 2012, accessed November 4, 2017,