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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Beyond Language and Metaphors

A Sermon for Pentecost XII - Proper 14 B - RCL
The Episcopal Chapel of St. George, Harbeson, DE
August 12, 2018

I want to start by telling you something that Gospel Geeks and Language Nerds and English Majors – past and present – will find interesting. The rest of you may not, but I want you to listen anyway because if you don’t, you’ll miss the point of this sermon and that would be a terrible waste of time on a hot Sunday morning in August, don’t you think?

So, the thing of it is that we are in the third week of five Sundays in a row where the lectionary is stuck on the 6th Chapter of John’s Gospel. And, one more time, we hear about Bread. Bread! Five Sundays of BREAD.

So, I confess that it was out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity that I looked up the word “Bread” in the Oxford English Dictionary. I am so blessed and privileged to have this resource in my possession – a gift from a dear friend who wanted to spend his inheritance wisely and decided to invest some in my. Thank you, Jesus! (And, thank you, Scott!)

Turns out, the word we’ve been using all this time for bread is not the ‘original’ word for ‘bread’. That word was, from the Teutonic, ‘hlaf’ or loaf. 

The word ‘bread’ actually comes from the word ‘brod’ meaning ‘piece’, ‘bit’, or ‘fragment’. In fact, the word we use for ‘bread’ to mean a loaf of bread didn’t come into full use until around 1200.

Okay, are you still with me? No one’s fallen asleep, yet?

So, hold that thought for just a minute and listen again to Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” Makes you sort of wonder what he really meant and what got lost in the translation, right? I know I heard “I am the bread come down from heaven” a little differently after I learned of the origins of the word ‘bread’.

So do you suppose Jesus is saying that he’s a ‘piece’ of God? A ‘bit’ or a ‘fragment’ of God come down from heaven? So that one might partake of that morsel from heaven and not die?

Is Jesus using this metaphor of ‘a bit of the loaf’ to explain his identity to the people?

Okay, hold that thought because we’re going in a little deeper now. I don’t want to lose any of you because this will all come together, I promise. So, here we go from English to take a sharp right turn into Greek and Hebrew.

“I am . . .” says Jesus. “I am” is a faithful translation of the Greek ego eimi. But the Greek, standing in an earlier Hebrew tradition, is much more than a simple self-identification.

When Jesus says “I am,” even before he follows the phrase with a predicate nominative (did you catch that, English majors?), there are gasps from certain members of his audience.

That’s because this is how God described God’s identity to Moses. Remember? “I am Who Am”. Jesus seems to be saying, “Remember that bread that Moses fed you in the wilderness so you would not die? I’m that bread – that piece of the loaf – come down from heaven. Eat of THIS bread and you not die. You will have life eternal.”

John’s gospel gives us lots of metaphors for Jesus besides bread. Seven in total. 

Jesus is the Light of the World.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and The Gate for the sheep.

He’s the Resurrection and The Life,

The Way and The Truth

Jesus is The True Vine.

So, I said all of that to ask this. It’s the same question Jesus asked his disciples. He asked,

“Who do the people say I am?” 

And, the disciples said, “Oh, John the Baptist! Or, Elijah! Or, one of the prophets!”

 Jesus asked them: “Who do YOU say I am?”

Who do YOU say that Jesus is? From these seven metaphors, who is Jesus for you? Beyond what may or may not be lost in translation, beyond the seven metaphor, who is Jesus for YOU?

I want to suggest that as you are considering an answer that question, you might want to consider some things about yourself. Because, the thing of it is that, in order to really know yourself in all of your fullness, you need to know yourself in relationship to others.

As far as I can figure out, this is at the center of the reason we come to church. God knows, this is the same reason why some people choose NOT to come to church. Because of who we know ourselves to be in the midst of scallywags and scoundrels and sinners.

Truth of it is, some people bring out the worst in us.

Truth is, those very same people bring out the best in us.

And, we bring out the best and the worst in others. 

Either way, we learn the best and the worst about ourselves in relationship with others.

Let me explain that by telling a story:

My father was an alcoholic. When he drank he was mean. And, violent.  Verbally and physically.

There was so much I didn’t know or, frankly, cared to understand about my father. 

Because, you see, if I knew and understood my father, I would know and understand myself better.

For many years, it was just easier to let my father carry all of that perceived ugliness for me. So I wouldn’t have to.

I remember one day – I was probably around 15 years old or so – and wanting to be out with my friends but my mother had “chores” for us to do. We were cleaning out a room so that my grandmother could stay with us for a while as she recovered from having had a mild stroke.

I was grumpy and steaming with a smoldering resentment, as only a 15 year old who’d rather be anywhere else can be, when I came upon an old photo album. I sat down and opened the album and saw a picture of my father. It was the one the army takes after you finish basic training. He was young and trim and wore a uniform and had a full head of hair under his army hat.

“OhMuhGAWD,” I exclaimed.

“What?” asked my mother.

“This picture of Daddy!” I sputtered. “Look at him! He’s a STONE COLD FOX!”

She looked over my shoulder and smiled wistfully, “Yes. Yes, he was.”

“I don’t EVER remember that Daddy looked like THAT,” I asserted.

She flipped a few pages forward. “Do you remember that?”

There I was. Age 7 or 8. All chubby cheeks, gangly legs and long, disheveled hair, in my PJs, sitting next to my father as he held me close. I looked a bit peaked but he looked, well, strong and young and so very handsome. He was clearly protecting me.

“You had just recovered from the chicken pox, remember? We were so worried about you.”

And then, it all came back in a rush. Now, chicken pox is one of those “childhood diseases” that are spoken of like a rite of passage but, you know, chicken pox was a real misery. 

I was hit with a very bad case – pox in my nose, in my throat, in my eyes, in my ears. I was one massive ITCH. To make matters worse, I ran a fever, which racked my body with shivers.

Mother put cold compresses on me and covered me, head to toe, with calamine lotion. Nothing seemed to work. The doctor said to take some of the baby’s teething medicine – which was paregoric, which, by the way is tincture of opium (OMG!!) – and give me a few drops of it. But, that just made me groggy while I still felt hot and shivery and itchy and miserable.

My father was working the night shift at the factory. It was early morning and he had just come home from work. I hadn’t really slept all night. I think I was whimpering in misery. 

I couldn’t see very well but I sensed my father’s presence. I knew my father’s smell. I could hear his voice but it sounded funny - like he had something in his throat. And, I don’t think I had ever heard him whisper, but he was whispering.

“Oh God,” he was saying. “Oh, Elizabeth. Oh, my baby girl. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

The next thing I knew, my mother was getting me undressed and my father wrapped me in a large towel and carried me to the bathtub where he gently lowered me into a warm baking soda bath. 

He slowly and carefully cradled me in his arms as he washed off all the old calamine lotion, gently compressing the pox on my arms and legs, my face and eyes and ears. I could hear him sniffling and saying soothing things.

The thought crossed my mind that he was crying but well, that just couldn’t be. Not MY father.

The next thing I knew I was in bed, in new PJs, with new clean bed linen. My father was dotting my pox with a new layer of calamine lotion as he sang softly one of his favorite songs, 

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never know, dear. How much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

That was my father’s favorite song. It was probably the only song he knew all the words. I only remember him singing it when he was drunk. Or, when one of the babies was teething.

But now, he was stone cold sober. And, he was singing it to me. 

For me.  Just for me. To comfort and soothe me. And, it did.

I opened my eyes and though my vision was still blurry, I could see that he was crying. And, I swear, those tears were the most healing thing I have ever experienced in my life.

After he left, I think I slept the rest of the day, which was the first time I had slept in days. Later, for supper, my father brought me some popsicles, which felt so good. I remember that I ate them down slowly, savoring the coolness, as he read me a short story. Then I fell back asleep.

As I remembered that chicken pox story, I sat in that room, at age 15, weeping. I wept because I believed the story I chose to believe about my father because it was easier than believing what that story told me about myself. 

I believed it because it was easier for me to believe that my father was ill tempered and I was not. That I could recognize his violence because I have the same potential in me. And, that I could recognize his tender compassion because I have the same potential in me, as well. 

It's mine to choose what qualities I want to cultivate in myself.

So, I come to you this morning with these two questions:  Who do you say YOU are? Beyond what your family told you about who you are, beyond the narrative you like to tell about yourself, beyond the story you want others to believe about you, who are you, really?

Begin to explore that question as you move beyond the language about Jesus, beyond the bits and fragments of the words about The Word of God, beyond the seven metaphors for Jesus, and ask Who is Jesus for YOU?

What pieces of the Sacred Loaf are you choosing to consume? How does that change you by telling you more about who you were created to be?

Jesus is more than an historical figure – don’t let anyone tell you that that’s all He is. He’s more than the metaphors John gives us. He’s even more than the stories four of His disciples told us about him. 

He is a bit, a fragment of the Sacred Loaf that is God.

And, because he is, in our baptism in him, so we are, too. 

As annoying and aggravating as we can be to each other, we reveal something about ourselves to others and, they, in turn, reveal something about ourselves to us. 

Like it or not.

This is why we can listen to the story of David and his son Absolom and, even  though we can recognize that David was a scallaywag and a scoundrel, we also can hear are are deeply touched by his lament for his son.

We are about to partake in the bread come down from heaven. 

We believe that Jesus is present to us in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. 

We are about to eat a bit of The Bread, a true piece of the true Loaf of God.

In the mystery of the Eucharistic feast, Jesus shows us more deeply who HE is, so that we may become more of who We are.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”        

Sunday, August 05, 2018

YOU get bread and YOU get bread . . .

 A Sermon for Pentecost XI - Proper 13 B - August 5, 2018
St. Phillip's Episcopal Church - Laurel, DE

Have you seen Oprah in that commercial for Weight Watchers? The one in which she says, almost lustily, “This is joy for me! I. Love. Bread. I love bread. I now just manage it. I don’t deny myself bread. I have bread every day. I have bread every day.”

I half expect her to say, “And YOU get bread. And YOU get bread. And, YOU . . .”

Well, I’m not as passionate as Oprah, but I do love bread. I come by it honestly. My grandmother made bread. So did my mother and aunts.

I love the smell of bread as the yeast causes it to rise in the pan. I love the “groan-whoosh” sound bread makes as it gets punched down in the pan, only to rise again.

I love the way bread feels when it comes out of the pan and onto the floured breadboard to be kneaded and pounded and patted.

I am convinced that heaven smells like bread baking in the oven.

And, I am quite sure that a bite of warm bread, crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, is, in fact, “the bread of heaven”.

Once you’ve had real bread – not that stuff called “Wonder Bread” which only causes one to wonder how that stuff can be called bread – you just can tolerate anything but.

My grandmother loved bread so much she thought the communion wafers they served at church must be an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

She always chuckled when she heard the joke about needing two acts of faith to take communion in the Roman Catholic Church. The first act of faith is that you must believe that the host is the actual body of Jesus. The second act of faith is that the host isn't 'fish food'. 

My grandmother made great loaves of bread at least once a week. It never seemed to last the entire week. She made it more frequently when there were layoffs in the factory or mills or when someone in the neighborhood was sick.

I remember this one time when the factory was on strike. My whole family was involved in union organizing and this was the first test of the strength of the union.

The strike was going on for a long time – longer than anyone imagined it would (13 weeks I seem to recall) – or prepared for. People were hungry. Women and children were showing up at the picket lines, hoping to get a share of the food some were bringing to feed the men.

There were reported tensions and flashes of anger. People were making sandwiches and delivering them to the strike line, only to watch the men give their food to the wives and children.

My grandmother felt called to go and provide food for those men AND their wives and children.

So, we got up very early in the morning to load up my red Speedy wagon which I had gotten for Christmas. In went a huge vat of soup and all those loaves of bread. We covered everything with a large tarp, lashed it down with rope, and off we walked, pulling the wagon the entire six miles to the factory.

When we got to the factory we could see the men walking the picket line, their wives and children were not far away. I was only about 7 or 8 years old but I could sense the tension in the air. I moved closer to my grandmother and held her hand.

The women and children saw us and started to walk towards us, forming a tight, tense ring around us. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces – worried, anxious, hungry faces – some kept looking at the size of the pot and looking around to the size of the crowd.

We had brought a lot of food, but even I wondered whether or not there would be enough.

Just when I figured something Really Bad was going to happen, I heard my grandmother’s voice. She sounded clear and happy but firm and strong. She was asking people to form a single line.

“Get out your cups,” she said, “and don’t worry. We'll have enough. We’ll just add a little water to the soup and we’ll all eat hardy.”

Some people slowly started to move in line, but others seemed frozen in place. Some of the men had left the picket line and had made their way over to where we were.

My grandmother’s voice rang out again, “Don’t worry. There’s plenty for everyone. Besides,” she said, motioning to me to remove the tarp, “we have BREAD!”

At that, even though this was long before game shows on TV, I did my best game show lady and whipped the tarp off the mound of bread.

I will never forget the sound that came from the crowd. It was a sigh of genuine relief, an acknowledgement of a prayer answered, the sound of gratitude mixed with anticipation of relief from the pangs of hunger.

Episcopal priest, Pauli Murray, used to say that "Hope was a song in a weary throat."

I have come to know the sound I heard that day from the people as one of the sounds of hope.

My grandmother served the soup and I broke off pieces of bread to give to the grateful hands that held it as if it were the most precious thing they had ever seen.

As each person came forward, my grandmother said, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus loves you. We’re on the right side of this fight. This is what we're asking the factory owners to do - to share a little of what they have. Don't worry. God will provide. We have to stay together. Don’t lose hope. Keep your eyes on Jesus. ”

The seed was planted in my heart right then and there so that, years later, when I heard a call to priesthood, I knew exactly what I was being called to do.

There is a line in the service of ordination to the priesthood: "In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come."

Whenever I hear that line, I always remember this moment in the strike like with my grandmother. 

I understood clearly this scene from John’s gospel after the feeding of the five thousand, as well as the scene from Exodus with Moses and Aaron..

The Eucharist we celebrate here is one of hope. It’s one which keeps our eyes on Jesus. It’s one in which we are fed so that we might feed those who are hungry and in need.

Jesus knew two things about the human enterprise. He knew that anxiety is at our very core. That is why whenever something is about to happen to people in the bible, when an angel appears, the first words that are spoken are, “Be not afraid.” Jesus even asks his disciples and his followers, “Why are you anxious?” And, he admonishes people several times, "Oh ye of little faith."

We are born anxious. Ever seen a baby minutes after being born? If that isn’t the very picture of anxiety I don’t know what is. And, what stops that baby from anxiety? Being held and loved. Jesus knew that. Which is why he addressed it so many times.

But, Jesus also knew that the antidote to anxiety was abundance. He talked about that all the time, too. You hear him say it in this morning’s gospel story. There’s always more than enough for everyone.

That was my grandmother’s message that morning on the strike line.

I don't know how that many people were fed that day but no one left hungry. All were fed. 

That is the message of our Eucharistic celebration.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

We are fed that we may feed.

And, not just food. We are fed that we might feed the minds of children and adults with intellect and curiosity and creativity.

We are fed that we might feed the hearts of others with kindness and compassion.

We are fed that we might feed the souls of others with inspiration and light and hope.

The Eucharist is the bread of joy.

It is the bread of hope. 

It is the bread of this world which points us to the bread of life eternal. 

The Eucharistic bread is the leaven in the loaves of our lives, lifting us up from our present reality and expanding our awareness to the lives of our neighbors and our world.

In it and through it, we rise!

It kneads us and plies us and stretches us to feed as we are fed.

So, like Oprah, we can leave the church after communion and say, “And YOU get bread. And YOU get bread. And YOU . . . . .”

We are fed so that we may feed others.

We are blessed to be a blessing.

Come. Jesus is waiting to bless us and feed us.



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Make the people sit down

A Sermon for Pentecost X - Proper XII
St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr)  Elizabeth Kaeton

I had the privilege of presiding at a graveside service this week of a young woman who had a particularly pernicious form of Parkinson’s Disease. 

She spent the last few months of her life in an extended care facility, having uncontrollable spasms of her arms and legs and head to the extent that she didn’t get a minute’s sleep and what little she could eat was not enough to nourish her body. She was quite literally skin on bone. 

The constant movement of her body had worn a bald spot in the back of her head and she had developed an open area on her backside, which actually exposed her pelvic bone.

I’ve been doing this work for over thirty years and I’ve never seen anything like that.

We were finally able to get her the right combination of medicine so that her spasms were controllable and she could get some rest but her poor body was so spent from years of fighting the disease that it was clear that the end of her life was rapidly approaching.

The first time I met her, she was having a really bad time with spasms. I introduced myself and explained my role on the Hospice team. 

She told me she was Roman Catholic and I asked if I could get someone to bring her communion. She said that she was getting communion weekly but wouldn’t mind getting it more often. 

I gently explained that I always bring the reserved sacrament with me and I would be happy to provide it to her.

She smiled and said, “Well, that would be nice, but tell me: Do you believe in consubstantiation or transubstantiation?”

I have to tell you that, in all the years I’ve been ordained, no one has ever asked me that question. Not in church. Not in a hospital setting. Not in an ECF. Not anywhere. Not anytime. By anybody.

So, I smiled and launched into my best seminary spiel. “Well, that was one of the hot questions of the Reformation,” I said, clearing my throat in a desperate attempt to sound like I actually knew what I was talking about.

Roman Catholics believed in transubstantiation – that is, that at communion, the prayers of the priest transform the bread and wine into the actually body and blood of Jesus.

Those who protested – The Protestants – believed the teachings of Reformation theologian, Martin Luther, who taught that what happened during the prayers of the priest and people at communion was consubstantiation; meaning that the property of the bread and wine did not change but existed along with (con) the real presence of Jesus.

She smiled and said, “That was quite good, very concise, on point. But, tell me: What do YOU believe?”

I took a quiet but deep breath. I had no idea when I woke up that morning that I would be interviewed about my beliefs concerning communion

“Well, I said, I think both positions have their merit, but they both miss the point.”

“And, what would that be?” asked my obviously highly intelligent, well-read, well educated patient, even as her spasms brought a painful grimace to her face.

“Well,” I heard myself say, “I think that when we focus just on the theology, we miss Jesus. Let me give you two examples."

“When Jesus fed the 5,000 (or the 4,000 in another gospel account), and everyone was worried about how they were going to feed all those people, the first thing Jesus did was to say to his disciples, ‘Make the people sit down’.”

“At that point, everyone was sitting down, probably in their own small circles of family and friends. Everyone was on the same level. In doing that, in making everyone sit down, Jesus sent an unspoken but very clear message about everyone being equal.

Educator and Quaker Parker Palmer says that this is the first biblical evidence of community organizing. He surmises that, once everyone was sitting down and when some baskets of food were being circulated, people started to open up the bags of food they always brought with them when they started out on a journey. 

Sitting down, with everyone at the same level, it was easy to share, to open your bag and take what you have to give to those who don’t. 

And, THAT Palmer says, was the real miracle.

When Jesus was at table with his disciples in the Upper Room during what we call “The Last Supper”, everyone was sitting down. Everyone was equal. Everyone was eating of the same food and drinking of the same drink.

In both stories, Jesus was there, among them – rich and poor, saint and scoundrel, young and old, male and female.

And, it’s true in our lives today when we celebrate communion together. We’re all being fed of the same food. And, Jesus is with us. That’s the most important thing. Well, to me, anyway.”

I looked into her eyes and smiled. She smiled back at me and said, “I’d really love it if you gave me communion.”

At which point, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes and I knew I had to take a moment to compose myself before I made a real fool of myself in front of her. 

I told her I needed to check in with the nurse and I would be right back.

She smiled and said, “Just be careful of the dog on the way out. He will eat your cake if you’re not careful. And, the goose has been known to fly, fly, fly, fly . . . . Here it is, now. Be careful.”

I realized that she was having a hallucination that is commonplace at this stage of the disease process. As I turned to go to the nurse’s station, I could feel the tears falling down my face.

The head nurse was coming toward me in the opposite direction, took one look at my face, and opened her arms wide. I fell into her arms as we wept silently together.

“She is absolutely brilliant,” I sobbed. “What a cruel disease.”

“Yes, it is,” she said, “Although, I’ve never seen one quite as bad as this.”

We talked a bit and I composed myself as we walked back to the patient who was back to herself.   

She said to the head nurse, “The chaplain here is a good friend of Jesus, so she’s become a good friend of mine. Won’t you stay and have communion with us?”

And, I’ll tell you what: theology went out the window. We were simply three souls in different bodies, one of whom had a body who had betrayed her with a disease process that was outrageously, viciously cruel.

Even so, we were all equal and all worthy to be in the presence of Jesus, who was absolutely there as our unseen guest.

In a moment we are going to celebrate Eucharist together. We are going to invite the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe on these gifts of Bread and Wine that they might become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus. 

At the end of the communion prayer, you'll hear me say the words of the brilliant Anglican compromise of Queen Elizabeth, 
These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ (lived and) died (and rose) for you, and feed on him in your hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving.”
Do you hear it? Do you see what she did there?  


There it is. Transubstantiation AND Consubstantiation. Both. Side by side. 

While it’s important that the Bread and Wine for us are the Body and Blood of Jesus, it all about how YOU are being transformed and how your FAITH is being strengthened.

Because of course, Jesus is truly and fully present to us in the breaking of the bread. Just as he promised. And so, we are truly grateful and give our thanksgiving.

My encounter with that patient reminded me of a quote by Vance Havner: 
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce crops, broken clouds to give rain, broken grains to give bread, broken bread to produce strength.”
So, no matter how broken you are, you are still worthy. 

No matter how broken you are, you are still useful. 

No matter how broken you are, you are still capable of being a vehicle of grace and love, compassion and kindness.

It all begins when we sit down, or kneel down – if that’s your preference or ability – and understand that we are all equal in the sight of God. We are all worthy of being fed the bread of heaven and to drink from the cup of salvation.  

We are all made worthy in Jesus to stand before God who accepts us just as we are, without one plea.

All of us. Everyone of us.

All. And, all means all. No exceptions.

And, when we believe that, just like the story in this morning’s gospel, miracles happen.

We are changed and transformed so we can change and transform the world into one where no one goes hungry. Everyone is fed. Because everyone is equal in the eyes of God.

An opportunity for a miracle awaits us, my friends.

Come. Eat. Drink. 

No matter who you are or who you think you are, no matter what you've done or what you've left undone, no matter where you've been or where you'd still like to go, no matter where you'd like to be or you where you actually are on your journey in life, come.

Jesus is here. 



Monday, July 09, 2018

Keep It Simple: Faith and Prayer.

A Sermon Preached for Pentecost Pentecost VII
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
July 8, 2018

Have you ever read the Gospel passage for Sunday and have a single word or sentence hit you smack between the eyes like a two-by-four?

These words slapped me right up side my head:
He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
Right! You guessed it.

I'm an inveterate over-packer. It's all about having options! I need options!

I am not my father's daughter who was all about having "the essentials, the basics". 

That included his use of words.

Every Saturday morning, my father would drive my mother around town to "pay the bills".

My mother believed in seeing the person to whom you owed money and looking them in the eye as you paid them.

She did this with her utility bills, her pharmacy bill, and the clothing she bought for us on layaway at Robert Hall Family Clothing Store.

As soon as they returned home, my father would disappear into the garage.

He had work to do.

For years, every time I asked him what he was doing, it always had something to do with the distributor cap.

It either had to be tightened or cleaned or replaced.

I had no idea what a distributor cap is or does but I knew my father was always working on one.

Years later he bought a new car and I leaned that it did not have a distributor cap.

I couldn't wait for that Saturday afternoon to visit my father in the garage. There he was, car hood open, his body hunched over the engine, a wrench in his hand.

"Hi dad. (A silent nod of the head) Dad? I read that this car doesn't have a distributor cap."

Another silent nod of the head. "Then, Dad? What are you doing?"

Without looking up, my dad said, "Things get loose. Gotta tighten 'em up."

This was his philosophy in life.

I've leaned, over the years, that he was right.

The quality of life is greatly improved by preventive maintenance - regular exercise, a balanced  diet, a good night's sleep.

It also requires disciplined vigilance, a watchful eye. This translates into an annual physical and appropriate diagnostic lab tests and momograms and pap smears for women and prostate screening for prostate cancer for men. And, of course, colonoscopies as advised for men and women.  

And, because of his philosophy of prevantative maintenance, my dad had two simple remedies.

Long before the T-shirts declared it and computer memes shared it, my father's solutions were:

Duck tape and WD40.

If it moves and it shouldn't, DUCK TAPE.

If it should move and it doesn't: WD40.

My theological adaptation of my father's philosophy in life and, in following the admonitions of Jesus, I've determined that that, besides economy in packing, there really are only two things one needs to take on one's spiritual journey.


If your life is chaotic, if things are moving and swirling about, FAITH is the stuff that will give you something to hold onto.

FAITH is spiritual Duck Tape.

If you feel stuck by fear or anxiety or perhaps some situational depression, PRAYER is the stuff that, scripture tells us, moves mountains.

PRAYER is spiritual WD40.

Now, I know. It's a very simplistic approach to life. But, I think I'm on pretty solid ground following the simplicity of Jesus and my father.

And, every now and again, it's nice to hear a simple - and short - message on a gospel that preaches simplicity.

Because, as my father always said,  "Things get loose. Gotta tighten 'em up."

And, when that happens in your spiritual life, all you need is two things:

Faith - to hold you steady.

And, prayer to move mountains.


PS: Sometimes, a preacher has to preach sermons like this. Typically this happens on a hot summer Sunday. In a church with no air conditioning. And, no breeze. From the center aisle. Interacting with the congregation by looking everyone in the eye to make sure no one drowses off from the heat..

Sometimes, it's just too hot to preach anything more complicated than a simple message of faith and prayer. And so, that's what I did.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Compassion and Freedom

Pentecost VI – Proper 8
The Episcopal Church of St. Phillip, Laurel, DE
July 1, 2018
Please pray with me:

*Abraham journeyed to a new country;
Sarah went with him, journeying too.
Slaves down in Egypt fled Pharaoh's army;
Ruth left the home and people she knew.

*Mary and Joseph feared Herod's order;
Soldiers were coming! They had to flee.
Taking young Jesus, they crossed the border;
So was our Lord a young refugee.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts find favor in your sight, O God, our rock and our salvation.  Amen.

There is an admonition some preachers heed which is to “preach the gospel with a bible in one hand and the NY Times in the other”.

These days, I feel like the dog in the cartoon I saw recently in a humorous exchange with his fellow canine companion. He was holding his smart phone in one … um, paw … and he was wearing his Thunder shirt. He said, “These days, I can’t read the newspaper without wearing my Thunder shirt.

I am keenly aware that this weekend – and, probably next – we will be celebrating the Fourth of July. Independence Day. Since July 4th is on a Wednesday this year, some will continue the celebration straight through the week and into next weekend.

Which means, with all of the displays of fireworks, I’m going to have to have the Thunder shirts at the ready for my three pups. (Pray for us.)

It also means that we are invited to view this morning’s lessons from scripture – especially the Gospel lesson from Mark – through the lens of our so-called “independence”.

After all, the founders of this nation were greatly influenced by the writings of philosophers who had, for centuries, expounded on the ideas of liberty and justice.

And, whether or not they were members of a Christian denomination, they were also influenced by the teachings of Jesus, who tempered all of those lofty philosophical ideas with direct acts of compassion.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we meet two social outcasts – an older woman who had been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years. It was bad enough that she was a woman and therefore inferior – never mind being unable to bear a child – but she had been bleeding for twelve years and was, therefore, considered “unclean”.

The other is a girl child who is sick unto death. She is just twelve years old and has been alive as long as this woman has not been able to conceive a child. Normally, such a child – a girl child – would not have any worth except for the dowry she might be able to fetch for her father at her betrothal.
I'm sure he loved her and I suppose it is cynical to suggest that, at age 12, she is very close to getting a return on her father’s investment for her family.

But, she is the daughter of Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue. I guess, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is a truth as old as time.

Jesus heals them both, of course. Not happily, it would seem. The healing of the little girl seemed something of a dare or a duty and the healing of the woman seemed to have been done serendipitously. No matter. That’s probably more a reflection of the of Mark’s storytelling than the compassion of Jesus.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but compassion is a natural default setting for Jesus. If the choice is between healing someone or feeding the hungry or tending to those who are considered less-than or unclean or not having any value – OR the rules of the synagogue or the Levitical Codes of Torah, Jesus always leads with his heart.

I think that’s an important lesson for us to remember in these days when the very definition of Christian as well as what it means to be American seems to be up for grabs.

I’ve been hearing folks who look at what’s going on at our southern border and decry, “That’s not who we are.”

Well, our American history has a different story to tell, doesn’t it? We have separated family right from the founding of this country with our treatment of Native Americans. We’ve done the same with African slaves.

The battle for voting rights was hard-fought and well won but voting for minorities remains under attack. I can’t believe that I have to continue to explain to well-intentioned, intelligent people that the saying “Black Lives Matter” does NOT mean that other lives don’t matter as well. Or, that “taking a knee” in silent protest is as American as the National Anthem.

It was in 1920 – only 98 years ago – that women were allowed to vote. The Equal Rights Amendment for Women still languishes in Congress, needing one more vote from one more state for ratification. And, for the life of me, I can’t believe that in the year of our Lord, 2018, we are still talking about women having access to birth control.

Okay, somebody get me a Thundershirt!

The truth of it is that we are all immigrants in this land. Everybody came here from some place else. Many of us claim our ethnic roots in the United Kingdom and places in Western Europe, others from Asia and the South Pacific, and still others from the Caribbean, South and Central America and Africa.

The only ones who are native to this land are the indigenous First People who were here when the Pilgrims landed on the Mayflower.  There’s a reason that it says on the bottom of the dollar bill. “E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One.”

Seriously, friends, I think it’s time we get back to the basic principles of the faith which gave shape and form to the principles of this great country.

This holiday weekend, as we talk about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” let the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus be never far from our thoughts.

As we sing, “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” let the song of our faith be always on our lips, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

As we place our hand over our heart to salute the flag, let it beat with the compassion of Jesus.

*God, our own families came here from far lands;
We have been strangers, "aliens" too.
May we reach out and offer a welcome
As we have all been welcomed by you.


*Abraham Journeyed to a New Country
BUNESSAN D ("Morning Has Broken")

Copyright: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, 2010. Tune: Traditional Gaelic Melody.

Text: Throughout the Bible, we see stories of immigrants — people called to settle in new lands and begin new lives for a variety of reasons, people who trusted in God's protection along the way. Abraham and Sarah heard God's promise of a new land. Exodus is the story of God's people being led from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land. 

Later, Ruth went with Naomi, her mother-in-law, because her love of family led her to take risks and leave the home she knew for a new home. 

Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt when his parents had to flee from Herod for his safety. Jesus taught that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbors; these neighbors include foreigners (Luke 10:25-37 with references to Leviticus 19:18, 33-34). He also taught that all people will be judged on their compassion for those in need and their welcome of strangers (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Today, people are immigrants for many of the same reasons that these biblical people were. The Church is called to follow the Bible's teachings by welcoming and supporting immigrants today.

The hymn tune, Bunessan, is a traditional Gaelic melody that was originally associated with the 19th century Christmas carol "Child in a Manger," by Mary Macdonald. When Lachlan Macbean translated the Gaelic hymn to English, he named the melody after the small village on the Scottish island of Mull. Eleanor Farjeon wrote a new hymn to this tune, "Morning Has Broken," that was published in 1931.

This hymn is part of "In the Beginning: Genesis in Scripture, Prayer and Song", a service patterned after the Service of Lessons and Carols for Christmas and based on the stories of Genesis (Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Women and Joseph). This creative service is a great resource for a lay Sunday or instead of a guest preacher.

Nine more hymns to support immigrants and refugees are available at


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Deja vu all over again.

Well, it's that time again, folks.

General Convention resumes after three years of the Executive Council, acting on its behalf, has discussed and attempted to implement the resolutions passed during General Convention 2015.

There are lots of hot-button issues, but none so 'hot' as the whispers of "Prayer Book Revision" have become complete, loud sentences which have found their way into print in the form of resolutions.

Stir in a resolution or two of the red hot chili pepper issue of Marriage Rites and, eh, voila! There are volcanic eruptions and seismic earthquakes to be found wherever Episcopalians gather on social media.

There are two pretty complex and layered resolutions under particular discussion, A085 and  B012

Some background information might be helpful to you who are not General Convention nerds like me.  Because, you know, context is important.

Resolutions are classified according to their origin:
A Resolutions are those submitted by Interim Bodies in the report to General Convention or during General Convention.

B Resolutions are those submitted by bishops

C Resolutions are those submitted by Provinces or Diocese

D Resolutions are those submitted by Deputies.
There's a lot more to it than that but that's just for context. You can find these and all of the resolutions to General Convention here in the Virtual Binder of the 79th General Convention.

So, resolution A085 Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies was proposed and submitted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage - the Interim Body which has been studying the issue for the past three years - and it is exactly what you'd expect from the title and its source.

In addition to proposed additional liturgical rites and changing one rubric, the language in the marital rite and the BCP catechism would be changed to be "gender neutral", as in "two people" vs. "man and woman". (Note: The term "gender neutral" is causing folks a bit of apoplexy - even some gay men who obviously haven't bothered to read the resolution and are clutching their pearls because "I'm marrying a person not a gender neutral thing." Mere, pul-ese! Get a grip and read the resolution.)

It should be noted that the other part of the apoplexy is that this resolution assumes that the process of revising the BCP is underway (GASP! How DARE they?!?!) and proposes that these changes be incorporated in the revision.

Again, deep breaths, people. Saying - or writing down on paper - that it's time to revise the 1979 BCP does not mean that it magically happens. It simply begins the process, which takes almost a decade.

Which would make it available by, oh, say, 2029. There, feel better now? (Pssst . . . don't anybody tell them that the 2029 BCP would probably not be an actual book and it will be out of date the minute it makes its official debut, just like all the other BCPs before it.)

A085 also tries to calm the fears and anxieties of the purple-shirts and their fans who worry themselves into a lather about their "episcopal authority" by stating, "This resolution requires bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority (or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision) to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial liturgies," and urging "pastoral generosity".

This means that they, themselves, don't have to compromise either their conscience or authority but must not compromise the conscience or authority of their clergy and laity who wish to avail themselves of this liturgical-sacramental rite.

Well, that's what we said in 2015. And, there are a handful - okay 8 bishops - who will not allow Marriage Equality in their diocese. Most are simply sending them to other dioceses. Which means, of course, that a couple may not be married in their diocese, in their church, in the midst of their worshiping community of faith.

I see no compulsion in this resolution for them to do otherwise.

Neither, apparently, did Bishop Provenzano of Long Island, who, together with the bishops of Pittsburgh and Rhode Island, submitted resolution B012 "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church."

The resolution seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop. Resolution B012 continues to authorize the two Trial Use Marriage Rites first authorized in 2015 without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

However, this resolution proposes that access to these trial use liturgies now be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop.

It does that by requiring delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) of congregations who wish to celebrate same-sex marriages, but where the bishop’s position is not to permit them in congregations under his or her care.

You can read the Bishops' report on this resolution by clicking on this link.

Okay, so now we've got a spicy stew of Liturgy, Rubrics, and Authority all served over a steaming hot bowl of the rice of Marriage Equality.

See what I mean?

Or as my friend Susan Russell asks, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Well, these three good men, the bishops of Long Island, Rhode Island and Pittsburgh, see this as the "via media" - the "middle way" - to move the church forward through the volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and earthquakes.

I applaud them for their efforts to be pastoral while also being mindful of the "unity" of the church, which, admittedly, is part of the vows they took at their consecration as bishops.

Here's my take on all this.


Flying bishops?

Haven't we been here before? Why yes, yes, in fact, we have. 

To quote Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

This is exactly the "process" we went through with the ordination of women. In July 1974, eleven women deacons were ordained to the priesthood.

In October of 1974, HOB ruled the ordinations "invalid".

Just stop right there for a minute and take that into your heart and your soul and get your mind wrapped around the fact that a group of men had ruled that the call you had experienced to be of God and had risked your spiritual, emotional and professional life to be obedient to have called it "invalid."

Okay, let me continue.

After bringing clergy and bishops to trial for their participation and/or support of ordained women, in 1975 the HOB censured the ordaining bishops and decried the ordination of the Washington Four and the ordination of Ellen Barrett. In September of 1976, General Convention changed the canons to allow the ordination of women, the first of which began in January of 1977.

Less than a year later, in October of 1977, the HOB offered a "Consciousness Clause" which protected any bishop who, in good conscience, could not ordain or allow the ministry of ordained women in their diocese. Since this was an action of only one House and not agreed to by the House of Deputies the decision had no canonical authority and yet a handful of bishops used the HOB decision to prohibit women from the priesthood for 33 more years.

The 1997 General Convention revised the canons to prevent any diocese from denying access to the ordination process, or refusing to license a member of the clergy to officiate, solely on the grounds of gender.

I'm going to beg your indulgence and ask you to pause again and take that in. Set your gender aside for half a heartbeat and imagine you are a person with a valid call to ordination which could be approved by all but a small handful of bishops in the church. You do not have the luxury of geographical mobility - your family is and has been in that diocese for as long as anyone can remember and this is where you feel called to serve. You can not ask your family to make one more sacrifice for your vocation.

Imagine it.

Now, imagine you feel called to the vocation of family life with another person. And, this person is a member of the same sex. You have entered into a legal contract of marriage with this person and now you want the churches blessing on the covenant of your marriage. In your diocese. In your family church. With your priest and community of faith - all of whom are wonderfully, wildly supportive.

And, your bishop says no. Because of HIS conscience. Not yours. Not your family. Not your deacon or priest. Not your community of faith.


Imagine that. 

This is a process known as "compassion". This is exactly what Jesus did. He imagined and then took on the pain of others and then, he took a stand. Even though it was against the "canon law" of his time.

Resolution A085 proposes to make all the sacraments and sacramental rites available to all of God's people. Full stop.

Let's not make God's people wait 33 more years for what we ALL know is inevitable.

Here's the thing - the bottom line for me, in the words of my colleague Juan Oliver:

he conscience of individual bishop does not go beyond the individual. It may not be used to refuse their diocese what the assembled Church has decided.  

 Which means, at least in part, that B012 would be strengthened by removing DEPO and clarified so that everyone - especially bishops - understand that Marriage Equality is, in fact, the way it is in The Episcopal Church. 

And, the language of A085 needs to have everything about Prayer Book Revision removed. Yes, of course, the writers wanted to put their toe in the water. Thing of it is, if the standard practice of the church - the whole church - is Marriage Equality, then these liturgies WILL be included in the revised Prayer Book.

There will no doubt be more discussion on this the closer we get to General Convention in Austin.

As Rachel Maddow says, "Watch this space."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Unforgiveable Sin? Blasphemy!

Pentecost III – June 10, 2018 – St Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
(Lectionary Lessons appointed for Pentecost II I can be found here.) 

They thought he was crazy! His family thought he had lost his mind!

Jesus had been working hard – healing many sick people – and the word about him quickly spread. People came from Judea and Jerusalem and the regions around the Jordan, from Tyre and Sidon, just to be healed by Jesus.

There were so many people pressing around Jesus that he ordered his disciples to get a small boat to be set in the Lake so that all the people might not crowd him. He healed many of them with many different diseases and those possessed of “impure spirits” fell down before him and proclaimed him the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone.

He left the lake and went up to the mountainside where he called the 12 to be his disciples, changing Simon’s name to Peter and calling brothers James and John the Sons of Thunder. And, among them was Judas Iscariot, who would betray him.

After that, they came down off the mountainside and entered the house where they might have something to eat, but again the crowds surrounded them and begged for mercy and healing. And Jesus, of course, healed them. We can only imagine the scene.

When his family heard about it they were worried and went to “take charge of him”. 

They were afraid he was out of his mind. 

The teachers of the Law who had come down from Jerusalem said Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons, had possessed him. 

Imagine! Saying THAT to Jesus!

But, Jesus dismissed them with parables – one of which is deeply disturbing. Well, it is, at least, to me. He says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness. Never. Guilty of an eternal sin.

Has he lost his mind? Jesus has preached that God is love, and that God’s forgiveness and mercy are unending. Are we now to believe that this same God withholds forgiveness for this one sin? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean?

Different branches of Christianity have different responses to that. Augustine of Hippo said this was the most difficult passages from scripture. Thomas Aquinas listed six sins against the Holy Spirit, including despair, presumption and envy.

Because of this teaching, the church - meaning all churches - saw suicide as a sin of despair and thought it unforgiveable.  Those  who had committed suicide were not granted a Christian funeral or burial in a Christian graveyard. The Roman Catholic Church was one of the last ones to hang onto this belief.

That has changed, of course - including Rome - and we now understand suicide to be the result of the mental illness of depression. There have been two celebrities – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – who have committed suicide this past week which has, once again, since the suicide of Robin Williams, raised the conversation about despair and forgiveness and suicide.

I want to be very clear with you this morning: Suicide is not a sin. Suicide is the direct result of depression – an emotional pain so severe that the only way a person can see to end the pain is through death. Suicide can strike when it is least expected – when everyone thinks the cloud of darkness has lifted and everything is going alright.

I had a dear friend, Eileen Gallagher, who was a nurse. She worked in the cardiac intensive care unit and was an excellent nurse – highly skilled and deeply compassionate. Eileen had battled depression all her life. She was Irish so we teased her about being “from the North” – sometimes called the “Black Irish” –where the Irish had married the Normans, from France, as well as the Spanish traders and sailors and had darker hair and complexion to match their darker moods.

Indeed, she would tell us that the translation of Gallagher from the Celtic means “foreign help”. 

I remember her saying once that perhaps the fact that she never felt she fit in anywhere and always felt like an outsider was “just in her blood”.

There came a time, however, when despite her ethnic heritage, the cloud of darkness which seemed always to follow Eileen dispersed and she seemed to be doing well. We were all relieved. And, happy that she seemed finally and for whatever reason, to be happy

Well, that was until one morning, several weeks later, when Eileen didn’t show up for work. One of her friends went to her apartment and found her dead. She was sitting up in her chair, facing the window which looked out on the city.

We later learned that she had been saving up the cardiac drug Digoxin which she could have easily taken out of the hospital pill supply without anyone noticing. She apparently took a heavy overdose of the drug which caused her heart to immediately stop beating.

Eileen’s death was the first I had experienced of a person close to my own age. Her death was also the first suicide I had experienced. It was, in a word, devastating. I was simply devastated. And, confused. And, anxious. I was also afraid that she had committed the “unforgiveable sin” of despair and worried that she might not get into heaven.

I found myself overwhelmed by a strong desire to go to church – to attend Mass and receive communion. In my mind – or, more accurately, out of my mind with grief – I thought I might intercede with Jesus for my friend Eileen, and beg that she be forgiven.

I was doing well until we came to the part when the priest breaks the bread. I don’t know about you, but that’s always a very powerful moment for me – whether I’m sitting in the pew or privileged to be at the altar, breaking the bread as a priest in the church.

In that moment, something in me broke and I wept and wept and wept. I wept not because I thought Eileen was going to hell but because I knew she was safe, now, in the arms of Jesus. I wept not because she needed me to intercede for her – how arrogant of me to even think that – but  because I realized that Eileen knew something about God’s love and forgiveness that I obviously didn’t. Indeed, I think she risked her very life on it.

To understand this, we need to listen to these words of Jesus about blasphemy and remember to whom he directed them. Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees who seemed to know a lot about rules and how to enforce them, but seemed not know anything about the power of God’s love and forgiveness. They did not believe that Jesus was the most precious part of that same God. Indeed, I’m sure Jesus already knew that they were plotting with the Herodians to kill him.

Over the years of studying this text, I have come to believe that Jesus intentionally used the theological word “blasphemy” because he knew it would get the attention of the Pharisees. He turned their harness of heart against them, essentially saying, “You want to dictate who is forgiven and who isn’t? Consider this: YOU won’t be forgiven because YOU have said that I have an unclean spirit.”

I think he might have gotten their attention, don’t you? And, I think it’s pretty clear that he was Very Angry. Sometimes, anger can lead us to overstate the point. 

I know that happens to me when I'm angry. My kids remind me that I used to send them off to their room for punishment, saying at the top of my voice, "And, you'll be grounded until you're 35!"

I say that he said those words in anger, directed at the Pharisees, because the very next words out of his mouth to the crowd are ones of expansive love. The mother and brothers of Jesus have come to him because they are worried about him. One of the disciples tells him that his family wishes to see him, and Jesus responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother.”

Has he lost his mind? Can you imagine how hurt his family must have been? Well, Jesus says that not to hurt his family but to underscore the amazing love and grace and forgiveness of God which breaks down barriers and makes us one in the Love of God. 

That love changes and transforms us and the things we once thought were important are no longer relevant.

These are not light thoughts or easy concepts to get our heads wrapped around. Indeed, I tend to agree with Augustine of Hippo and say, “Yep, this is the most difficult passage in all of scripture.”

In fact, if you said them out loud in most places, people would think that you are crazy! That you have lost your mind!

And to that I’d say, well, people – even his family – thought the same thing of Jesus.

So, I guess you’re in good company.


Suicide Prevention Hotline