Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, February 26, 2017


NB: It was my privilege to preach this morning at St. Martin in the Field in Selbyville, DE. My month with them has flown by. I'm continuing to challenge myself to preach without a manuscript. It's so much more work than using a manuscript, but I'm relaxing enough to begin to love absorbing the energy in the room and engaging with people's facial expressions. It's a bit like walking a tight rope without a net. Except, of course, the net of a prepared heart. This is what I remember preaching - which, interestingly enough, was not all of what was in my notes: 

St. Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Let me put this morning's Gospel story of the Transfiguration into some context for you.

Believe it or not, it's been ten weeks since Christmas. Yes, ten weeks. Imagine.

Ten weeks since the shepherds saw the bright star in the dark sky and followed it to find the infant Jesus.  We celebrated Christmas for twelve days before we began to celebrate the eight week season of Epiphany, when three wise men from the East followed that same bright star seeking to find the Incarnation of God.

And this morning we read about the moment that Jesus, who was the reason that star was shining so brightly in the dark night sky in Bethlehem, is so filled with the glory of God that his whole face is shining as bright as the sun and he was "transfigured". 

It is important then, to pause here, as this eight week journey into Epiphany, the season of Light, comes to an end and before we begin another eight week journey into the season of somber darkness known as Lent.

Before we travel forty days and forty nights into the wilderness with Jesus, I want to take us back, way back to the beginning of the story.

I want to take us all the way back to Genesis. Do you remember how the story begins?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Light always follows the darkness.

Darkness always follows Light.

Just as the day follows the night and the night follows the day

The sun follows the moon and the moon follows the sun.

That's the pattern set right from the beginning of the story.  It's the pattern of the story of our lives as daughters and sons of God.

It's part of the reason we are People of Hope. The promise of Hope is in the very DNA of creation. 

There's yet another pattern. After God said "Let there be light", God said that it was "good". Indeed, after each one of God's creation is called into being, God proclaims it "good"

I don't know this for a fact, but I think there's something God said just before and directly after pronouncing the creation "good".

If we had the original manuscript, I'm betting that if you look closely, you might just see in parenthesis that God says this:

("Be not afraid") "This is Good!" ("Just wait till you see what's next")

That, too, is a pattern. Whenever an amazing new thing is about to happen, God always sends a messenger. In Sanskrit, the word for messenger is "diva" or "point of light". And, these messengers, these divas, these points of light, always say the same thing, "Be not afraid."

And then it gets dark. And then it gets light. And then, it's amazing - something we couldn't have asked for or imagined.

Some of you know that I am a Hospice Chaplain. Sometimes, as it becomes clear that the end of life is rapidly approaching, one of my patients will be brave enough to say to me, "Chaplain, You know that I believe in God. You know that I believe in eternal life, But, I'm afraid."

And, if I'm feeling particularly brave, I tell them the truth that I know:

Death comes on like a cloud of darkness, but after the darkness comes the light. And, in that light we will be transfigured.

And, like Peter, we may even see those who have gone on before.

So be not afraid. This is good. Just wait till you see what's next.

This Wednesday, we will enter the Dark Wilderness of the Season of Lent. For forty days and forty nights we will be asked to enter more fully into the life of Jesus, even as Jesus enters more fully into the experience of being more fully human.

For eight weeks, we will be asked to look at the frailty of our humanness, the brokenness of our relationships, and the limits of our mortality.

It can be a pretty dark and scary time, touching into ancient wounds, giving rise to old anxieties.

But, at the end of that journey we will experience the inexplicably glorious light of the Resurrection.

So, as we enter Lent, don't be afraid. This is good! Just wait till you see what's next.

Think of it as practice for when we'll be transfigured into the glorious Light Eternal of God.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

On Being a Prophet in a Not-For-Prophet World: A Letter of Encouragement

On Being a Prophet in a Not-For-Prophet World:
A Letter of Encouragement to Those Who Work for Justice in the Age of Trump.
(the Rev. Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

On November 9, 2016, I woke up with a weariness in my bones that has not gone away.

It was, of course, the day after The Election.  

It was the day that was never supposed to happen. We had this, didn’t we? The opposition was so outrageous, so unimaginable, so deplorable, so unprecedented and un-presidential that it couldn’t possibly happen, right?  

Not if there was a God.

We were going to continue the march of progress we had made in the last eight years, weren’t we? Onward to making appointments to SCOTUS and overturning the Hyde Amendment and restoring the Voting Rights Act and making real our commitment that Black Lives Matter, and fixing the Affordable Care Act, and, oh yes, the first woman President of the United States of America.

The truth? It hasn’t yet been a month and I’m already exhausted. I’m already tired of being tired. And yet, I have to admit that I find myself strangely energized.  I’m living out the uncommon truth that “the flesh is weak but the spirit is strong.”

I didn’t know it before but I’m learning it every day: I’m ready for this.

I know many of you who are – and have been – committed to the work of justice feel much the same way I do. It’s a strange mix of exhaustion and excitement. Those of us who are also religious leaders have been carefully considering how it is we can maintain the prophetic tradition of leadership in these days where the smell and stench of bigotry and oppression hang in the air like the hazy fog that arises from a dark and dank, cold and musty swamp.

I’ve been sitting with – dwelling in – the words of Walter Brueggemann. In his book, “The Prophetic Imagination,” he writes,
“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
I ask myself how it is that I can do that? How can I be prophetic in a world that is not-for-prophet – even on a good day – but is now flat out antagonistic to those who “evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us”?

In other words, how can I provide the groundwork for an “alternative reality” to the outright lies and falsehoods and deceptions which masquerade as “alternative facts”? 

I have some initial, general thoughts which I hope will begin a conversation among religious leaders. I hope we will “breathe together” – to con-spire – and create out of this chaos a holy conspiracy of a new creation of religious prophetic thought and action. 

Here, briefly, are four barebones of prophetic religious leadership that have begun to take shape in my mind.

FIRST, YOU CRY:  The prophets were empathic. They wept for their people. They wept when their people were too numb from oppression to weep for themselves. They wept for the empire and kings that were anesthetized by greed and sloth and unable to hear the cries of the people. Prophets like Jeremiah laid the blame for the oppression of the people on the feet of the priests, saying, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14)

One of my seminary professors taught that we must do three things in order to provide prophetic leadership: Name the pain. Touch where it hurts. Offer hope. We must feel the pain of the people ourselves – the refugee, the immigrant, women, the disabled, LGBT people, the poor, those who are persecuted for their religious beliefs and creeds – the anawim or outcast who are beloved of God.

Empathy is the fertile ground from which prophetic leadership can grow.

REPENT!: The prophets were always all about repentance, or metanoia. This is not about some empty public show of breast-beating; neither is it about the age-old religious tact of inducing guilt. Rather, it is about facing reality and taking some responsibility in its creation so that one can turn it around. To repent, to experience metanoia, is to experience a spiritual conversion which results in changing one’s life.

As prophetic religious leaders, we need to analyze the election results and learn the lessons we need in order to move on and move forward. Religious leaders have a habit of getting stuck in repentance, falling into “paralysis by analysis”. The good news is that there is a movement in this country that will not have patience with immobility.
Religious leaders will need to be more nimble, more facile, more empathic and ready to provide spiritual roots so that this new movement can fly.

Religious leaders will need to experience repentance and spiritual conversion before we can create and lead change.

IMAGINATION. Prophetic imagination inspires people to see beyond the daunting, depressing images of their reality, beyond that which is merely probable and into that which was once thought impossible and now is seen as possible. This requires the risk of facing the truth, of engaging the experience of the pain of reality and rejecting the numbness offered by the empire. It also requires the additional risk of collaboration among all the various target groups, which breaks the bonds of ‘brokering’ by the oppressor. Brokering pits different groups against each other to fight for crumbs while the empire holds onto the whole pie.
Now, more than ever, prophetic religious leaders will need to help people recognize our differences while lifting up and celebrating the things we have in common. Prophets know that we are, in fact, stronger together, especially in terms of overcoming the empire which prefers that people bicker and fight with, and are anxious and fearful of each other. Prophetic religious leaders encourage different communities to engage with each other by engaging with religious leaders and communities that are different from them.

Religious imagination frees the mind and spirit to possibility, defying oppression.

HOPE! Contrary to some caricatures, prophets are, in fact, hopeful. They understand that each one of us, in our earthly bodies, contain a divine spark. They know that we are the embodiment of a God of promise, a God who calls people into covenant. That runs contrary to the narrative of the empire which promotes anxiety and fear, and fosters doom and gloomy images like “American carnage”.

Prophetic religious leaders offer hope which flies in the face of the dominant narrative, refusing to accept the reality which may have become the majority opinion. That presents an enormous political and existential risk to prophetic religious leaders because it is subversive, calling into question all the assertions made by the empire and daring to dream of and work for a new reality. The empire offers the ‘bread of anxiety,’ encouraging people to always be very afraid. Prophetic religious leaders offer hope which is the ‘bread for the journey’ into the promise of the future.  

Hope, as the poet said, is a thing with feathers. Without it, our dreams cannot take flight.

These are the barebones of prophetic religious leadership which, I think, will begin, in Brueggemann’s words to, “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around

I’ve been thinking about that weariness in my bones. The prophet Ezekiel was brought by God into the Valley of Dry Bones and God breathed upon those bones and brought them to new life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). I believe that if we, as religious leaders from all faith backgrounds, creeds, beliefs and views enter into a holy conspiracy, these barebones can breathe new life into the ancient calling of prophetic religious leadership.

We need to weep together, repent and experience a conversion of our spiritual lives. We need to work together, modeling the beloved community of God. We need to take the risk and dare to hope even in – especially in – the face of anxiety and oppression. 

I believe we can, indeed, be prophets in a not-for-prophet world, leading people from the numbness of despair to the vision of the Beloved Community.

First, we cry. Then, we repent. We fire our imaginations. And, we take the risk of hope.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

What does it mean to be 'righteous'?

Note: I had the privilege of preaching this morning at St. Martin in the Field Episcopal Church in Selbyville, DE. It's the first of four Sundays I'll be preaching there. I have lots of Hospice patients in that area. I drive around there a lot. And yet, I had never seen the church. It's actually a sweet little chapel. I was told there might be 10-15 people in attendance, ages 65-90. When I've previously driven through Selbyville, there have been a lot of pick up trucks with bumper stickers that boast their support for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. So, I preached what I call a "Via Media" sermon. At least, that's where I was aiming. I did not use a manuscript. I thought, with 10-15 people in attendance, I'd best "preach from a prepared heart." So, they put my name out on the sign in front of the church. There were twenty-seven souls in the pews this morning. I guess they were curious about a woman preacher. That's what the Deacon and I figured. (Did I mention that I LOVE working with deacons?) At any event, here's what I preached, best as I can remember. 

St. Martin in the Field Episcopal Church, Selbyville, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton  

So, as Blessed Joe Biden would say, "Here's the deal."

I don't know you, and you don't know me, but we profess to know and love and follow Jesus, so that makes us neighbors and friends with each other and, in fact, everyone else in the world. 

Here's what I propose: That we 'dwell in the word' together for the next 12 minutes or so. Because  this morning's lessons - and especially this morning's Gospel from Matthew (5:13-20) - present us with a serious challenge.  

I want us, in the words of St. Paul to the ancient church in Corinth, (I Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]
to have "the same mind in Christ." 

Jesus says,  "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Did you hear THAT? Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will NEVER enter the kingdom of heaven.

That sounds like a pretty serious challenge to me.

So, I'm going ask you "What does it mean to be 'righteous'?

Not 'self-righteous' but 'righteous'?

I'm not going to ask this as a 'test'. I'm not looking for a 'right or a wrong' answer. I'm not here to trip you up or stump you or embarrass you. 

I don't know you and you don't know me, but we're going to be together for the next four weeks, so it's good that we get to know each other as neighbors and friends in Christ. 

I want us to find "the same mind in Christ" so that we may be, as the prophet Isaiah said, "repairers of the breach"; that we "shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail..... the restorer of the streets to live in." In other words, to repair the things that separate us and make the world a better place.

So, before I ask you for you answer to that question, let me put this morning's Gospel in context for you. 

The first thing you need to know is that, when Jesus was saying these very words, Israel was an occupied country. Rome. It was Rome that occupied - and oppressed - ancient Israel.

The truth about Jesus and his disciples is that they were not poor. Well, at least, they shouldn't have been. They were businessmen. Small businessmen. Carpenters. Fishermen. Craftsmen. 

They were poor because they were oppressed by the Romans. They were taxed almost literally to death. There were taxes on everything. On the fish they caught. On the nets they used to catch the fish. On their boats. On the lakes and seas they fished in. 

Does that sound so very different than what we know today? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Some scholars say that the occupation and resulting oppression helped to shape and form four different strains of religion. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots.

Now, I could give a whole class on this but briefly - very briefly - it goes like this:

The Pharisees had a strict, inflexible adherence to the traditions of "the fathers". They were, if you will, what we call "the fundamentalists" of their day. On a positive note, they were not wed to "The Temple" and encouraged people to pray in their homes and to make prayer and ritual part of their everyday lives of faith.

The Sadducees were functionally like the Pharisees but they were more affluent and had a 'cozier' relationship with the State. And so, Rome. The oppressor. They were also all about the Torah and only the Torah - the first five books - and rejected all other books of scripture. 

The Essenes were a small group who focused more on how to live your life of faith rather than a strict adherence to 'the word'. Some scholars believe that it was the Essenes who were the primary first followers of Jesus, who were called "People of The Way." 

The Zealots were those who were most reactionary to The Roman Oppression. They felt the only way to achieve change was through violent revolt. Do you remember which one of the Disciples was a Zealot? Yes, that's right, Judas Iscariot. 

You may also have heard the words "Sanhedrin" and "Scribes". The Sanhedrin was a sort of "Supreme Court" made up of 70 Jewish men, directly under the authority of the High Priest, who determined legal/religious trials. 

The Scribes that Jesus referred to in this morning's gospel functioned basically as religious lawyers who transcribed the Scriptures. They didn't just transcribe but were teachers of Scripture. 

So, Jesus says, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

I don't know for certain, but I think Jesus was being a bit sarcastic when he said this. Or, at least, the writer of Matthew's gospel was being sarcastic. 

Why do I say that? Well, if you have paid attention all these years of coming to church, Jesus wasn't all too keen on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, much less the Scribes. He held them even lower than the tax collectors. At least he sat down and ate with them - even invited Zacchaeus , a chief tax collector, to come down from his tree and eat supper with him and stay in his house. 

Whenever the Pharisees and Sadducees observed Jesus and his disciples eating with tax collectors and other ne'er-do-wells, all they offered was criticism because Jesus did not enforce the strict Levitical purity codes. 

Given what we know, then, or Jesus to say,  "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” can only be taken as a bit of a cheeky, sarcastic thing to say. 

So, what do you think Jesus meant by 'righteousness'? What does being a 'righteous' person mean to you?

(A quiet but pretty lively discussion ensued) So, we've' come to this as the 'mind of Christ' among us': Righteousness is being in right relationship with God. Well done.

Here's a bit of a clue about what Jesus was saying. At the beginning of this passage, he talked about not losing your 'saltness' or it would not be good for anything. Jesus also talked about not hiding your light under a bushel. 

The thing about the Pharisees and the Sadducees is that they hated each other. They were always fighting. Always squabbling. There were a few issues but the major one was the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a future, full resurrection of the body. The Sadducees didn't. 

They argued so much about their differences that they lost sight of what was important: faith. They created a breach between what they professed to believe and how they lived their lives. 

Jesus called them to repair that breach, to be moral and ethical people, to let their authenticity show and their light shine.  He said that they could do this by keeping the commandments, but to do it even better than that Pharisees and Sadducees.

So, how do we do that? I want to leave you with a practical way to be repairers of the breach and be righteous people, in right relationship with God. 

I want you to reach for your Book of Common Prayer. It's the red book in your pew rack. I'd like you to turn to page 319. When you get there, I want you to look at the bottom of the page and find The Decalogue. 

The Decalogue, of course, are the Ten Commandments. 

Jesus said he "did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it". It's not about being a Pharisee and obeying the law, every jot and tittle. It's not about fighting with your fellow Christian about what the Scripture "really" means and imposing that - YOUR - interpretation on others. . 

It's about following the law by fulfilling the spirit of the law. To help it change YOUR behavior. To make YOU a better person. To set YOU in right relationship with God.

To keep your 'saltiness' - your authenticity.

To let your light shine and not be hidden under the bushel of self-righteousness and legalism. 

I want to end this sermon by having us read this litany of the Decalogue on page 319 of the BCP. 

I want you to linger over each one of these Ten Commandments. I want to suggest that you take one of them each week for the next ten weeks and 'dwell in the word'. See what it means for you in your life.

This response for this particular version is, "Lord, have mercy, and incline our hearts to keep this law." 

Incline our hearts. Not follow every jot and tittle. 

Let the word dwell in your heart and incline your heart to discern a way to deepen and improve your relationship with God. 

That you might be a 'righteous person' - not 'self-righteous - and be a repairer of the breach.