This sermon was preached extemporaneously, therefore, it is in video only - there is no text available. Blessed Triduum to you all.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Friday, April 2, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
Lectionary:Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Lectionary: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad... In the name of God who is Trinity in Unity. Amen.
Today is Laetare Sunday, also known as Refreshment or Mothering Sunday. The word Laetare means “rejoice.” In the tradition of Mothering Sunday, we give thanks for our mother church, that is, the church in which we were baptized, the Mother of our Lord, and the motherliness of God.
In our time, the association of the color pink with all things female provides an unmistakable embodiment of the feminine. I can picture God smiling, knowing this was coming for us…
We talk a lot about God the Father, but not so much about God the Mother even though doing so is true to Scripture and Tradition. For example, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God desires to comfort the people of Israel “As a mother comforts her child.” (66:13) Our Wisdom literature talks about the feminine character of God using feminine names and images for God. Jesus talks about the motherliness of God in the Gospel of Matthew, saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
There are times in our lives when we need God to be motherly for us. At all times, we need to know and experience the loving nature of God, which Jesus talks about in our gospel reading today, saying: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God so loved the world. All of the meanings of the word love come into play here. God’s love for all that is created is so far beyond our ability to grasp that we tend to place ourselves outside of it.
I’ve had conversations with people that sound like this: God isn’t concerned with the details of our lives, just the broad strokes of human history. Or… I’m so messed up, I’m not worthy of God’s love. Or… I’ve done terrible things. I’m not worthy of God’s forgiveness.
But Jesus goes on to connect this important phrase: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Whenever we rebel, when we make mistakes or act badly, how does God react? The way God always reacts: to save us from death and restore us to life.
In our Old Testament reading, Moses is leading the people out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. On their way, they mostly whine about what isn’t right. They complain that they have no food, so God gives them manna. Then they complain about the manna.
Put a snake on a stick, God says, and lift it up so they can see it. Anyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. While this may sound a bit superstitious at first, what it really is, is a concrete way to move the people from dysregulation to wellbeing.
Fearing death, when they look at the serpent on the stick, they remember God’s presence with them and God’s authority over all life. When we fear death, we look at the cross of Christ and remember God’s victory over the power of death.
God always meets us where we are and leads us to where we need to go.
Back when I ran a shelter, we had a woman come in who took emotional power over the other families by concocting curses, claiming herself a witch. Being in the deep South, most of the women we served were Bible-belt Christians, yet they came to believe that this woman had the power to curse them.
The woman would leave a thin line of ashes (a symbol of death) across the doorway of the person or family she was “cursing.” When they awoke and saw that they had been “cursed,” they panicked. In about a week’s time, this woman had almost complete control of the way the women and children in that shelter behaved toward her. They did her chores, gave her control of the TV, and no one crossed her.
It’s no surprise that this woman’s need for control was self-protective. It was also imaginative and quite effective. She didn’t trust the others, so she controlled them. They feared her, so they complied.
My staff was working hard in individual and group meetings to speak rationally about this, but their assurances went unheard, and the fear and anxiety continued to ratchet up. So, one day, at a house meeting, I confessed my Puerto Rican heritage and my great-grandmother’s claim of being a bruja (a witch). I told them that she had taught me some things and that I knew how to undo the curse magic. (I didn't.)
I walked into the kitchen where we had bread dough rising, took a handful of it, and went over to the doorway where the ashes had been spread. I scooped the ashes into a pile and plopped the bread dough on top of it. I covered it with a towel and spoke a prayer over it, using familiar words: light, love, life’s victory over death.
When the ritual was over, I lifted the cloth, picked up the bread dough, and the ashes were gone. They had been absorbed into the sticky dough. The relief in the room erupted into joy. Like the Israelites in exile, the women in my shelter had to be met where they were and their attention had to be redirected from death to life.
Even the woman who claimed to be a witch stopped cursing people and began to trust the other women and establish friendships. Peace was restored to our shelter household.
Bread is life. It is Eucharistic and powerfully symbolic to us. Back then, I let the chaplains at the shelter connect the dots for the women. Now it’s my turn.
Jesus is the “true bread which gives life to the world.” When we trust that, when we rely on it, we have eternal life, that is, “he lives in us and we in him.”
The word love used throughout this gospel refers to a deliberate exercise of judgment, a decided preference for one out of many options. It isn’t about feelings. It’s a decision by God to choose us, to choose life for us.
The last thing Jesus says in this gospel story is that God has already decided our final judgment: “And this is the judgment [he said], that the light has come into the world…” If we choose to trust and rely on that light, which is Christ, then everything we do will be done in God.
This doesn’t mean we won’t mess up. God knows we will. It’s part of being human.
So how does God react when we mess up? The way God always does - leading us from death to life. God comforts us like a mother comforts her children and protects us like a hen gathering her chicks under her wing to keep them safe.
Knowing this, trusting it, we give thanks to God who, as our psalmist says, is good, whose mercy endures forever, who gathers us from all directions, delivering us, healing us, doing wonders for us from age to age demonstrating over and over again God’s choice to redeem not condemn us.
Relying on this truth, we know, as the writer of Ephesians verifies, that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own doing. Our final judgment is life in the light of Christ.
I can’t think of a better reason to rejoice. Laetare!
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad… In the name of God who is Trinity in unity. Amen.
Over the years I’ve learned that if you want to know someone’s true character, notice what flares up their anger. Who are they angry at and why?
In my years working with and advocating for persons subjected to violence and abuse, I witnessed toddler-like tantrums from plenty of adults who simply didn’t get their way and resorted to intimidation to enforce their will - and I’m not just talking about the abusers here, but also law enforcement, lawyers, and judges. Self-interest, power, and control are deeply rooted temptations for us humans, and the more we think we have power, the more we think we deserve it, and the less willing we are to let it go.
In today’s gospel, Jesus pitches the only angry fit recorded in the gospels. This was no toddler-fit. It was righteous anger. Who was Jesus angry at and why?
A little background might help. The setting is the temple in Jerusalem, which was a huge complex, and the time is the feast of the Passover in spring. Thousands of worshippers have traveled to Jerusalem on spiritual pilgrimage to offer their sacrifice at the temple. The deluge of pilgrims strained local resources that had to house, feed, and clean up after them.
In order to make their temple sacrifice, people first had to exchange their Roman money for Jewish money – and the exchanges weren’t always done fairly. In addition, most of the sacrificial animals, even the cheaper birds, were too expensive for regular folk, but the religious leadership had convinced them that unless they bought and offered an animal for sacrifice, they couldn’t participate in worship and their prayers would go unheard by God.
Typically, the money changers, sacrificial animals, and merchandisers would have been 13 miles away in the Kidron Valley, but in our story, they are in the temple precincts, most likely in the Court of the Gentiles. It is believed that Caiaphas, the high priest, had permitted his supporters to move their stalls to the temple as a way of garnering their support while asserting power over his rivals in the Sanhedrin.
It’s a good bet that a lot of people were offended by the presence of the animals and merchants in the temple. Imagine trying to worship in the presence of the smell and sounds of the animals, while merchants are barking out their deals – not to mention the money changers fleecing hapless believers within earshot – all in the habitation of the Holy. (Source: Dick Donovan commentary)
The exploitation of the poor and their cruel exclusion from communal worship unless they lined the pockets of the rich was so far off the path of righteousness that Jesus fairly exploded with anger at the self-serving exploiters, who also happened to be the religious leadership.
Why was he mad? Because they were throwing obstacles on the path for God’s people. Remembering what we said last week, that the literal meaning of “the satan” is “one who throws an obstacle across one’s path,” Jesus is making clear that the religious leadership were “satan” in that moment. Their eyes were on earthly, not divine things and it led them to insolence in the house of God and maltreatment of God’s people.
By his tantrum, Jesus reveals to us his true character and ours. Jesus is a fierce protector of the vulnerable people of God who was consumed by a zeal for the house of God. He also showed us, by contrast, that even when we are trying to be faithful, we can slip into self-serving behaviors or become complicit in the self-serving behaviors of others that harm many while serving only a few.
The merchants in our gospel story, for example, were only trying to make a living in hard times, and besides, a portion of the money they raised went to serve the church – so it’s all good, right? Wrong. These merchants were complicit in a system that was harming the many while serving an elite few. Their choice to manipulate their own reward from that exploitative system was their presumptuous sin.
The systems in our world that create and perpetuate harm to the many while serving the few are no secret to God, and no matter how we justify them or our participation in them, they are our presumptuous sins. Sins like racism, classism, sexism, and the other ~isms we’ve been discussing all year Once these sinful systems are put in place, they become accepted, then habit, then tradition. In the end, however, they are simply “the satan” and our response must be to remove those obstacles from the path of God – even if the obstacle is us.
Lent is the season we take the risk of allowing ourselves to see our own presumptuous sins individually and collectively, then respond to them. They are there, of course they are, because we aren’t perfected yet, but God isn’t finished with us either, and God continually chooses us to be removers of the obstacles on the path of the love of God.
Living out our baptismal vows is serious business and can feel arduous or unfair at times, especially in a world where leisure seems like the treasured reward – and people who don’t work for it seem to have the most of it! But we have a different goal. Our goal isn’t to live an easy life or a leisurely life. Our goal is to live a faithful life. That may look like foolishness to someone who is not on God’s path of love, but we’re in good company.
So faithful was their approach that they became icons of loving service to the world. This tiny woman, and her band of faithful sisters in Christ, worked some powerful love into the world. Their story illustrates for us that when we let the strength of divinity perfect - that is complete - our humanity, we are transformed and we become instruments of transformation in the world.
As we enter our third week in Lent, I pray we wait through the discomfort of looking courageously at our presumptuous sins and commit ourselves fully to our loving God who is already working to perfect us, prepare us, and transform us so that we can transform the world in God’s holy name. Amen.
Mother Theresa Photo credit.
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Lectionary: Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Sunday, February 7, 2021
Lectionary: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. (In the name of God who is Trinity in Unity) Amen.
Long ago and far away, I spent a year as a hospital chaplain on the oncology-hematology unit of a regional hospital deep in the heart of the Bible belt in south GA. All of my cancer patients died and my sickle cell patients returned regularly with painful recurrences of their disease.
These people needed God to be bigger and more powerful than the diseases destroying their bodies. They needed the God described in Isaiah who is “great in strength [and] mighty in power.” As insignificant and undeserving as they often said they felt, they needed to believe that God cared about them and would, as Isaiah said, “give power to the faint and strengthen the powerless.”
During a typical hospital visit, I would spend a great deal of time listening. I often heard them say they feared God - not because God was so great but because they were upset with God for not caring enough to cure them. Then they felt guilty, which made them afraid that God might be mad at them for being angry. It’s a terrible spiral.
As their chaplain, I had to trust that my prayer would unite us to God, as Julian of Norwich said it would. It also meant putting aside my way of being a child of God and entering their way. For example, when family or friends were present, I would listen as they talked or prayed together.
I made note of the words and phrases they used – especially the ones they repeated. I would listen for the song of their prayers, that is, the way they used their voices. I learned the cadence and language of their prayers so that when I spoke the good news to them they could hear and understand it. I also noticed their posture so I could mirror it.
For the Pentecostal patients, I learned to pray as a Pentecostal: “Thank you, Jesus. We just thank you Jesus that we can come to you right now and give you praise. We call upon you, Lord, in the name of Jesus to lift the burdens of our hearts. Here is your child, Father God. Take him home now – home to glory-land. Thank you, Jesus. Glory halleluiah!”
To the wounded Christians, I prayed as one also wounded: “Holy God, you are gracious and full of compassion. Hear our prayers for this beloved child of yours. Hold him close in the warm embrace of your healing love. Smile upon him and comfort him in body, mind, and spirit.”
Praying like this was meaningful for them and didn’t feel the least bit hypocritical to me. Was it hypocritical of God to become Incarnate – to become like us – so that we could understand and believe? By seeking to serve in this way, I came to realize that there is within me the free and fiery heart of a Pentecostal, the deep and faithful heart of a Jew, and the cautious but hopeful heart of the wounded ones.
My purpose, as a witness of Christ’s love, was not to analyze their theology or teach them mine. All I had to do was let God show me the connection between them and me, then be willing to be connected. Religious laws and theological perspectives become so beside the point in the face of the Love that connects us - especially in times of suffering or at death.
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, he violated religious law. Jewish men were not to touch women who were not their family, and worse yet, this healing happened on the Sabbath. But for Jesus, compassion overruled the law – and it was the first of many times he would model such behavior.
Jesus proclaimed the good news to all regardless of the divisions imposed by culture – divisions like class or race or gender or nationality. We who carry on the ministry of proclaiming the good news must be willing, as Jesus was, to go to the people who need to hear the message of salvation, and like St. Paul teaches, give it to them in ways they can understand so that they can receive it.The Hip Hop Prayer Book” a translation of our Prayer Book by my good friend and colleague The Rev. Timothy Holder, or “Poppa T” as he is known. I admit - I was not always a fan of rap or hip hop and I had lots of valid reasons for putting up a wall against that kind of music - but that was my sin. God had a connection to make and I was refusing to be connected.
Now, one of my favorite artists is Tupac Shakur, a rapper who died at the young age of 25. I commend to you his video, Ghetto Gospel. Here’s a bit of Tupac’s message. St. Paul couldn’t have said it better:
there's no need for you to fear meif you take the time to hear me,maybe you can learn to cheer meit aint about black or white, cuz we're humanI hope we see the light before its ruinedmy ghetto gospel (Source: Tupac Shakur, Ghetto Gospel.)
The beauty of our Episcopal tradition is that we can pray in Elizabethan English, preach about a rapper, and chant our Gloria – all in the same service. We are and we can be, as St. Paul says, all things to all people, as we proclaim the good news that the all-mighty God who is great in power, who stretches out the heavens, is also a tender, compassionate God who notices the suffering, lifts up the lowly, and renews their strength - because we all matter to God.
Like Tupac, “I [too] hope we see the light…” and speak it out there to all who need to hear it. Amen.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Lectionary: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
“…the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always justice.”
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
En el nombre del Dios: que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
Epiphany is the only season on our liturgical calendar where the color changes mid-stream: from white to green. As with all things liturgical in the Episcopal church, that’s intentional and the reason is: we are shifting our collective focus from the revelation of the heavenly light of Christ to its earthly implementation.
In our Collect, we pray that we may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. Why do we want that?
Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He said that very explicitly. (Mt 20:28) He came to connect us to God and one another in a way that would lead to new life in complete and perfect unity with God, one another, and all creation.
It may not come as a surprise to you after the last couple of weeks, that we aren’t there yet. But take heart.
Sometimes the reconciling love of God acts first to disrupt and dismantle systems and structures we have built, structures by which we have gone astray. We tend to resist this kind of divine correction, but our story from the Old Testament today, shows us that a faithful person, even one who has gone astray, can return to faithfulness and concede to rather than resist the will of God - even when that means being held personally accountable for the wrongs done and losing the honor of former days.
Let’s begin with a little context. You may remember that the boy, Samuel, is the son of Hannah, the barren woman who prayed to God for a son, the ancestor who inspired Mary’s Magnificat. In thanksgiving for her son, Samuel, Hannah dedicated him to God giving him over to the care of Eli, the chief priest, to raise in the temple.
In our story today, Samuel hears a voice calling his name in the middle of the night, so he runs to Eli assuming he called him, but Eli hasn’t called him and sends him back to bed. After a few times, Eli realizes it is God calling to Samuel and tells him to answer “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” the next time he hears the voice.
Good advice from an experienced priest.
The next time he hears the voice call his name, Samuel responds the way Eli told him to, and God imparts a terrible truth to him, one he might rather not know, and one is afraid to share with Eli. Samuel lays in bed till morning and it’s probably a safe bet that he didn’t sleep much.
How scary it must have been to hear God speak so forcefully about punishing Eli and his line for their iniquity, which, by the way, was no secret to anyone at that time. The abuses of Eli’s sons were widely known but the system that enabled them was deeply embedded in Jewish tradition and Eli’s privilege as a Judge within that system meant could have - and should have - interceded, but he didn’t.
Eli’s surprising response was: “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”
Eli had to know this was coming. He was an experienced and deeply faithful priest and judge. He knew the sins being committing and that one day he would be held accountable for not intervening. As we say in our Confession, forgive us for what we have done, and what we have left undone.
So when the moment of accountability arrived, Eli didn’t justify himself or his choices, or try to weasel out, or declare an alternative truth. Instead, he acquiesced, restoring his faithfulness to God and to his role as priest and judge.
Eli continued serving God whom he loved, in the temple for many years - until the Philistines attacked the temple. As the story goes, Eli, who was 98 years old by then, was so shocked when heard the Philistines had stolen the ark of the covenant, which he was charged to guard and tend, that he fell off of his chair, broke his neck, and died. His sons were also killed in the battle. It was the end of the family and household of Eli.
Samuel then became the Judge - the last one for Israel. As such, he anointed Saul and later David as Kings of Israel. It was King David through whom God established a path to peace and prosperity for the people of God.
Jesus descended from the line of David and as the Messiah, it was hoped he would bring peace and prosperity to Israel the way his ancestor, King David, had done. But God had a different plan, a bigger plan. By coming to us in the person of Jesus, the path to new life God opened was not just for the people of Israel, but for the whole world.
This bigger plan is what Jesus is beginning to reveal in our Gospel story. In his conversation with Nathanael Jesus demonstrates a little divine knowledge and Nathanael flushes with excitement: You are the Son of God, the King of Israel! But Nathanael is speaking about the expected Davidic King.
“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” Just wait and you’ll see greater things, Jesus replies. Then he uses images of angels ascending and descending - such rich symbolism - calling to mind the stories of the patriarch, Jacob, and his ladder, the book of Daniel, and Jesus’ own baptism where heaven and earth were opened to each other in real-time and experience.
In each case, the systems enabling the desolations of the current age were disrupted and God established a new pathway, a divine pathway leading to new life. In each case, the new pathway took years to be established.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prophet who radiated the true light; and who, like other biblical prophets, was imperfect and faithful. Dr. King’s message of the value and dignity of every human being threatened the status quo, so they killed him almost 53 years ago now. They may have stopped him, but God was not stopped. The pathway God established through Dr. King is still an open channel and God is still flowing through it establishing a new path of life for us.
The systems enabling the desolations in our time are being revealed to us in an undeniable way lately. Many among us who could have - and should have- stopped the abuses in our systems didn’t.
The moment of our accountability and divine correction is upon us. How will we respond?
We can begin by looking to Eli and Samuel. When the divine correction began for them, Eli and Samuel didn’t stop loving one another. They didn’t demonize or exile the other. They stayed faithful to their relationship with God and one another so that in God’s time, the new path was forged through their cooperative obedience.
This isn’t easy. How do we prepare ourselves to walk through our moment of accountability and systems disruption without demonizing or exiling the “other side”?
This is exactly what this green portion of our season of Epiphany offers us. Having been illumined by the Word and Sacraments, we now open ourselves to what Hildegard of Bingen called “viriditas” - the greening power of the Divine - an invigorating, healing power that flows from God into us and through us into the world, connecting us, and leading us to the new life God is preparing for us.
Hildegard’s principle of connectedness can be understood in this homey example: when a person eats a
Nourishment of our bodies - the rich and poor bodies among us - requires that all of us have access to food that is nutrient-rich and affordable. Nourishment of our souls requires the continual practice of prayer and service: gathering online for Sunday worship and weekday Daily Offices, practicing private meditation, supporting Calvary’s Blessing Box, Loaves and Fishes, or participating in dismantling racism in our diocese - all of these are pathways of connection, channels through which the healing power of God flows.
Whatever chaos happens as our current systems are disrupted and divinely corrected, we know that the redeeming love of God in Christ connects us and leads us to new life. Let’s keep our channels open and watch for the greater things. Amen.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Lectionary: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12