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, December 30, 2018

2018: That Was The Year That Was


The year 2018 is almost “a wrap” as they say, a fact that some greet with relief and others with regret. It has certainly been an eventful year in The Episcopal Church, so before we start making resolutions for the New Year, it might be helpful to take a look back on the stories that caught our attention.
I was going to try and rank the stories in terms of which one was “The Top Story in The Episcopal Church for 2018,” but after conducting a few polls on FaceBook – my own and a few corners of the Internet where Episcopalians gather – I decided that was not the most productive way to look at what has happened.
As one person taking the poll pointed out, “it depends on whether or not you are looking at it from the ‘inside’ or the ‘outside’ of the church.” 

Fair enough. Some of the stories are interrelated, so I’m just going to try to summarize things according to the results of the polls and my own perspective on things.
You may disagree. Of course, you might. “Some may, none must, all should” as some Episcopalians like to chant. I really welcome the addition of your perspective in the comment section of the blog or on this FaceBook Page.

So full disclaimer: I'm not a journalist. I'm just a woman who is a priest, who, like every other Episcopalian I know, has at least three firmly-held opinions on any one given subject - except those who have only one position and they ain't movin' for love nor money - and I love it that the church that I love is like that. 

Most days. And then, it's not so much that I've changed my mind as switched my priorities.

There's an awful lot to cover, even though I summarized as often as I could and provided as many links as I could find, so let's get to it.
The Bishop, the Prince and the Princess

Whether you are inside or outside of The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop “stole the show” at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex), according to media on both sides of The Pond, and raised his profile as a progressive religious leader.   

An estimated two billion people watched his riveting, hopeful, and deceptively simple message: love and acceptance are what we need in these strange times.
His “royal sermon” is featured in his book “The Power of Love” which also contains an additional four of his personal favorite sermons on the themes of love and social justice as reflective of the over-arching message of his episcopacy: “We are the Episcopal branch of The Jesus Movement.”
A Wedding and Three Funerals
It wasn’t just a Royal Wedding that put our beloved church in the news. There were three major funerals this year, two of which were at The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, AKA “The National Cathedral,” in Washington, DC. 
The first funeral was that of former first lady, Barbara Bush, who died on April 17th. Her funeral was held on April 21st at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Huston, TX. There were remarks by author, historian and family friend, Jon Meacham, prayers led by the Rev’d Dr. Peter Cheney, her pastor in Main, and the sermon was delivered by her rector, the Rev’d Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr. 

The funeral was attended by First Lady, Melania Trump, as well as former Presidents and first ladies Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michele Obama. St. Martin’s was often referred to by the media as one of the largest Episcopal Churches in the country.

The life of Matthew Shepherd, the young gay man who, at age 21 was brutally beaten unconscious, tied to a fence in a barren field in Wyoming, and left to die, was celebrated and his earthly remains laid to rest in a crypt at The National Cathedral on October 26th

Twenty years after his death, the 4,000-seat cathedral was filled to capacity at a powerfully emotional service led by Bishop Mariann Budde, of the Episcopal Diocese of DC, and Bishop Gene Robinson, of the Episcopal Diocese of NH, retired, who also delivered the sermon. "Gently rest in this place, you are safe now. Matthew, welcome home," Robinson said.
"Matthew loved the church," said Shepard's father, Dennis. "He loved the fact that it was a safe place for anyone who wanted to enter. It's so important that we now have a home for Matt ... A home that is safe from haters. A home that he loved dearly." 

The other funeral which placed The Episcopal Church in the national and internal spotlight was that of former President George Herbert Walker Bush who died November 30th at the age of 94. With President Trump and four living former U.S. presidents in attendance, Bush was remembered as “America’s last great soldier-statesman” by biographer Jon Meacham, one of four people delivering eulogies. His body was received by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his service was presided over by Bishop Mariann Budde at the National Cathedral. 

No news is good news but good news is best.

I should give honorable mention to two other services. 

On Saturday, September 1, a funeral was held at the National Cathedral for Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who died August 25th at the age of 81. 

The veteran US senator who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam as a young Navy pilot had been diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2017. 

At an emotional service presided over by Bishop Mariann Budde, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush gave eulogies, after McCain specifically requested before his death that his former political foes speak.

Bishop Budde also presided and preached at the Christmas Eve service at the National Cathedral which was attended by Vice President and Mrs. Pence at the 6 PM Service and the President and Mrs. Trump at the 10 PM Service during which they heard the bishop’s powerful sermon which touched on refugees, immigration and nationalism. The President and Vice President were not expected to be in attendance but were in town because of the partial government shutdown. 
I didn't explicitly mention any of the immigrant crises that are facing us,” said Bishop Budde, “although I was just at the U.S.-Mexican border a few days ago and can't get those images out of my mind. But I didn't have to. It was the text that called that to us, and I simply touched upon it pretty lightly, actually, at the end of the sermon. But it's an unmistakable part of the story.”

General Convention: Following The Way of Love
The 79th General Convention was held July 5-13 in Austin, TX.  A lot happened. A whole lot happened. For the first time in a long time, I didn't attend. If you did - or, if you never have been to General Convention - your perspective is no doubt different from mine. 

I'm going to very briefly touch on the issues I thought looked important and impactful, at least from where I sat - which was in front of my laptop, watching it via live stream.  

Turns out, the Way of Love is not easy, filled with twists and turns, a few missteps, a couple of steep hills and low valleys, and not more than a few bumps and potholes. 

A summary of all of the resolutions and action can be found here and here.

Confession: Some of the many highlights include a Special Report from the House of Deputies Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation which featured a Listening Session and liturgy where bishops offered laments and confession for the church’s role in sexual harassment. This was considered a good start by many while other voices cried aloud for accountability and justice. A three-year suspension of the statute of limitation on reporting incidences of sexual harassment and abuse was approved.
Immigration: In addition to several resolutions which put the church on record as respecting the dignity of immigrants,  one of the defining moments of this General Convention was the prayer vigil held July 8 outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigrant detention facility little more than a half-hour outside of Austin. 

A massive gathering of more than a thousand Episcopalians prayed and sang in support of immigrant parents and children who had been separated.

Justice: After many revisions and amendments, Convention agreed in passing a compromise Resolution B012 on July 13 to give all Episcopalians the ability to be married by their priests in their home churches. 

The resolution took effect December 2, the first Sunday in Advent, but despite painstaking compromise involving a modified form of DEPO (Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) with eight conservative/orthodox bishops, one bishop, William Love of Albany, in a Nov. 10 pastoral letter to his diocese, forcefully condemned the Episcopal Church’s adoption of same-sex marriage rites, vowed to reject a General Convention resolution intended to offer the rites in all dioceses, and suggested Episcopalians in his diocese would leave the church if his directive were overturned.

There is also some confusion and concern over how some bishops are defining DEPO, which was designed to be a temporary arrangement to allow for the process of reconciliation; additionally, it was never dependent upon a congregation's ability to fulfill its diocesan pledge.  

I can't imagine someone's access to the Sacraments and Sacramental Rites of the church being tied to the congregational pledge but then again, prejudice of that sort exceeds the limits of my imagination.  See original 2004 statementt.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued a statement Nov. 12 saying all clergy are required to “act in ways that reflect and uphold the discernment and decisions of the General Convention of the church.”

ENS story here:  

A summary of where the 8 bishops now stand can be found here: 

Film, as they say, at eleven.  

Revision: Even though we all know that the one constant thing in life is change, we resist it tooth and nail, especially, it seems, in The Episcopal Church where once something happens twice, it becomes "the way we've always done it". After three times, it's "tradition" and you mess with one of the legs of the three-legged stool at your own peril.

And so it came to be that Convention, after initially sounding quite certain that it wanted to revise the Book of Common Prayer - especially since its language is not "gender neutral" (a polite way of saying exclusively male, heterosexist, and sexist)  and does not yet contain the new rights of blessing for same-sex marriages - decided to begin the process to study the process to begin the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, all the while assuring everyone that we could still use all the authorized resources already available. 

See also: Every Episcopalian has three opinions for every issue - except those who only have one.

The Year of the Woman 

This year has seen record numbers of women elected to public office. That historic gain has also been seen in The Episcopal Church, with record numbers of women elected to the episcopacy. Indeed, there were four women-only slates in 2018 and of the eight elections this year, five are women, three of whom are women of color. This brings the total number of women elected to the episcopacy to thirty-two since Barbara Clementine Harris was first elected in 1988. 

Thirty-two bishops in thirty years is not exactly lightening-speed progress but the advances made in the last year have at least given us more momentum for further progress. A sea-change is happening in the House of Bishops and the fact that women are riding this wave is a cause for great celebration.
Women elected to the episcopacy in 2018 include Carlye J. Hughes, XI Newark, Cathleen C. Bascom, X Kansas, Jennifer Anne Reddall, VI Arizona, Phoebe A. Roaf, VI West Tennessee, and Kimberly Lucas, XI Colorado.

All that having been said, after 47 years of prophetic witness and activism, the board of The Episcopal Women’s Caucus voted to “sunset” itself as an organization, waiting hopefully for the next generation of women to take on the mantle and continue to work for the full and equal status of women in the church and in the world. 

Well, it’s been quite a year, wouldn’t you say? It most often is when we meet in General Convention. 

We’ve still got a long, long way to go, and God knows, sometimes it feels like we’ve taken 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, but we seem to have made important gains in our work in prospering God’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Then again, there is a Lambeth Conference planned for 2020, isn’t there? It will be interesting to see who gets invited and who is not invited.

Alrighty, then. Buckle up, boys and girls. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride from here to Canterbury.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Feasts but not Fasts: Beef Wellington.

I've been meaning to post this recipe for a while now. Actually, I've been working on it for at least five years and making it for our Christmas meal since 2015.

It's mostly the recipe from the fabulous Jamie Oliver but it does have a few bits here and there from Holy Mother Julia Child, Lady Martha Stewart and my butcher, the fabulous Bryan Hickman at Hickman's Meat Market in Rehoboth Beach.

They are all fabulous butchers there but special kudos to them this year for walking into my annual "Christmas Meltdown" which, if any chef is honest, is bound to happen at least once during "the most wonderful time of the year." (I'll be sweeping flour dust from corners in my kitchen until Easter.)

Bryan was so gentle and kind, so understanding and patient with me on the phone that it almost made me weep. He not only offered to come to my home and fix my perceived problem, but even offered to deliver a larger cut of beef prepared the way I thought it needed to be.

In the "Customer Service Hall of Fame" there's a picture of Bryan with stars all 'round his face.

He also has a great sense of humor. Do you know the difference between a meat cutter and a butcher? About $10 per hour.  (Old family joke, he says.)

I'll tell you what: The church could learn a little something from this fine man and his wonderful family. I've already told him he just might appear in one of my sermons one of these days.

Anyway, I think I've worked out all the "kinks" in the recipe and I'm now confident enough to share it with you. If you have any questions or concerns, just leave a question in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Or, message me on FaceBook. Or, if you know me, just call me on my cell. If you have my cell phone number, you know that I love to talk recipes and cooking. At any rate, it's probably been too long since we've had a proper conversation. Call me. We'll talk.

One word before we begin: If you like beef well done, stop right here. This recipe is NOT for you.  Oh, you may find that the end pieces are "more done" than the main body of the meat, but this meal is meant to be eaten red to reddish-pink, but not anything less than a healthy pink.

Because, seriously, why bother? Have a piece of fish or chicken. We'll all feel better.

PS: A lovely man named Jack Thompson has sent me an article: Eight Primal Cuts of Beef which he's written. He's all about BBQ, which I'm not, but I found it very helpful. I hope you do, too. 

(adapted from Jamie Oliver, Julia Child, Martha Stewart and my butcher)


1 kg (roughly 2.5 to 3 pound) beef tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat.
EVOO (Extra virgin olive oil)
2 large knobs (approximately 2-3 tablespoons) of butter
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 red onion
several (okay, many) cloves of garlic
600 g (roughly 1 pound) white mushrooms, stems removed, finely chopped
100 g (roughly 3.5 ounces) chicken livers (cleaned)
¼ cup Madeira wine (alternative: dry sherry)
50 g (1.5 oz) bread crumbs
1 x 500 g (approximately 1.1 pound) block puff pastry
All purpose flour for dusting
One egg, lightly beaten
Coarse salt to taste (start with 2 teaspoons)
Freshly ground pepper to taste (start with ½ tablespoon)

Optional gravy:

2 onions
4 springs fresh thyme
1 heaped teaspoon blackcurrant jam
100 ml (3.5 oz, approximately) Madeira wine
1 heaped teaspoon dry English mustard
2 heaped teaspoons plain flour, plus extra for dusting
600 ml beef stock


Your butcher will have tied the tenderloin with kitchen twine in 1-inch increments to form an even piece, so it will hold its shape during cooking. 

As I learned this Christmas 2018, some cuts of beef tenderloin do not have to be tied. It all depends on the size of the cut and the butcher. 

DO NOT SKIMP ON THE QUALITY OF THE BEEF. Start with the freshest cut you can get and make sure it is well-trimmed. 

Yes, you will pay for what has been trimmed. My butcher happily grinds the trim for me to take home and use in other recipes, or just to treat ourselves to a ground tenderloin burger. (Oh, my!)
Note: It is not absolutely necessary but I have found it best to start the process late in the afternoon or early evening the day before you are planning to have this meal. I think searing the beef and letting it rest then keeping in in the fridge the night before all helps with the flavor and  texture of the beef. If not, try to leave at least several hours for the beef to "mature" in the fridge.
BEGIN BY SEARING THE BEEF TENDERLOIN: Preheat a large frying pan on a high heat. 

Rub the beef all over with sea salt and black pepper. 

Pour a good lug of oil into the pan then add the beef, 1 knob of butter and 1 sprig of rosemary. 

Sear the beef for 4 minutes total, turning regularly with tongs on all sides, even the end.

Remove to a cutting board with a drainage-well. Let rest until cool. 

Cut and remove the kitchen twine. 

Chill tenderloin until ready to assemble and beef is cold, at least an hour (or more) or overnight.

TO MAKE THE PATE: Wipe out the pan slightly and return to medium heat.

Peel the onion and garlic, then very finely chop with the mushrooms and put into the pan with the remaining knob of butter and another lug of oil.

Strip the rest of the rosemary leaves and cook for 15 minutes, or until soft and starting to caramelize, stirring regularly.

Toss the livers and Madeira wine into the pan and cook for another few minutes.

Tip the contents onto a large board.

Finely chop it all by hand with a big knife, to a rustic spreadable consistency of pate.

Taste and season to perfection, then stir in the breadcrumbs – just enough to make it easy to handle.
Note: The pate can be made a day or two before you start the process. You may find that you will have more than enough pate to serve as part of your appetizer presentation.  It's lovely served with toasted french bread rounds, but even Ritz Crackers work well.
ASSEMBLING THE WELLINGTON: Preheat oven to 210 C/425 F/gas 7. 

On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the pastry to 30 cm x 40 cm (or ¼ inch thick rectangle big enough to enclose the beef). 

If using store bought pastry, it may be necessary to lay out 2 pieces, overlapping, and roll them out into one piece.  

Note: Or, depending on the cut and size of beef, you may use two sheets, one on the bottom and one covering the top, rolled up all along the sides. Just remember to brush the edges with a beaten egg to seal

In the middle of the pastry, spread a layer of the pate out on the pastry in approximately the size of the beef. 

Carefully place the beef on top of the chopped liver then cover the beef with the rest of the chopped liver.

Fold up the long sides of the dough to enclose the beef, brushing edges with beaten egg to seal. 

Trim ends if necessary, then fold up and seal. 

Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. 

Roll out any extra dough, cut into holly or pine trees or other shapes if desired and chill on baking sheet with the beef.

COOKING THE BEEF WELLINGTON When you’re ready to cook, heat the baking sheet (without the parchment paper) on the hob (oven) for a couple of minutes (15 will do it) to start crisping up the base. 

If you are using dough decorations, put them on the top of the Wellington now. 

Make 2-3 slits in the pastry for venting steam. If desired, sprinkle with sea or coarse salt. 

Carefully transfer the Wellington to the preheated baking sheet which has been lined with parchment paper. (Note: Depending on the size and the cut, you may have been able to simply remove the Wellington on the parchment paper from the baking sheet it had been resting on in the fridge.)

Place baking sheet with parchment paper and Wellington to the middle rack of the oven. 

Bake until pastry is golden brown and beef registers 120 -135 degrees for medium rare, 35-50 minutes. 

Cover pastry with foil if it gets too brown while cooking. 

The two ends portions will be more cooked, but usually some people prefer that. Let rest on a cutting board 10 minutes before slicing.

You may choose to add a spring of rosemary 

OPTIONAL (thoroughly decadent and completely unnecessary) GRAVY:

Peel and roughly chop the onions and put into a large pan on a medium heat with a lug of oil and thyme leaves.

Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in the jam and simmer until shiny and quite dark.

Add the Madeira, flame with a match, cook away, then stir in the mustard and flour, gradually followed by the stock.

Simmer to the consistency you like, then blend with a stick blender and pass through a sieve, or leave chunky, if you prefer.

May be poured on individual slices of the Wellington, if desired.

Elizabeth Kaeton
Christmas 2015

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Holiness Happens

A Sermon Preached for Advent IV - December 23, 2018

Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE

Well, here we are, the fourth Sunday in Advent and two days from Christmas. 

This will be my last Sunday with you – well, I suspect we may see each other again – but I think we can all agree that it will be wonderful for you to have an Interim or Priest in Charge which will place you back on the road to stability in leadership, besides your amazing Jr. and Sr. Wardens and hard-working Vestry. 

In three weeks with you I know this much: You are a wonderful community of faith.

If you’ve learned anything about me in the past three weeks, it’s that I’m a storyteller. I love the Gospel stories and I love the stories of our lives that reflect the ancient stories of Good News – and the way the people of today reflect the ancient characters in the Gospel stories.

I especially love Luke’s story of The Visitation which gives us the beautiful song of Mary we know as “The Magnificat”. Scholars tell us that this song affords Mary the most words said by any woman in any piece of scripture anywhere.

What I love about the story of the Visitation and the Magnificat is that there are so many stories within that story. The story looks to me the word equivalent of one of those Russian Nesting Dolls – like this one here – where one doll fits into another and then another until you get to the baby.

Now, I'm really excited to get to all the stories in the stories, but before I begin, let me address something that always dances in the mind of at least one or two people in a congregation like this. Someone always wants to dismiss this story because of The Virgin Birth – which they consider so much hocus-pocus or poppycock. 

I love what author and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner says about that:
“ . . . .many Christians have made it an article of faith that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph who got Mary pregnant. If you believe God was somehow in Christ, it shouldn't make much difference to you how he got there. If you don't believe, it should make less difference still. In either case, life is complicated enough without confusing theology and gynecology.

In one sense anyway, the doctrine of the virgin birth is demonstrably true. Whereas the villains of history can always be seen as the products of heredity and environment, the saints always seem to arrive under their own steam. Evil evolves. Holiness happens.”
Evil evolves. Holiness happens.

The story of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth and the Magnificat that Mary sings is one of those moments when “holiness happens”. 

It has a great deal to do with the word “blessed” – which is the word Elizabeth uses to greet Mary: “Blessed are you among women.” 
Hold that thought because I’m going to come back to it in just a minute.  Or, two. 

I say that this is one of those moments when ‘holiness happens’ because on the surface of the story it may look like only Mary and only Elizabeth are present in this story. 

But, if you open the Nesting Doll of this story, you’ll find other women present, as well, all having to do with Mary having been greeted by Elizabeth as “Blessed”.

The first is the story of Hannah, which Mary must have known. Indeed, she may have even learned it from her mother who may have sung the song around the house as she went about her work. 

Found in the second book of Samuel (2:1-10), Hannah gives thanks to God for the birth of her son Samuel. It is very similar to Psalm 113. In Judaism, the song of Hannah is regarded as the prime role model for how to pray and is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It begins: 
 “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.”
But, there is yet another story in this story – the song of Deborah which we find in the fourth book of Judges (4:4-5) – her song is in Judges 5. 

Deborah is described as a prophet, a judge and a warrior – a mother of Israel. Her story comes at a turning point in the history of Israel as the people cross over to reclaim Canaan. It is a time of violence and war when men and women are called to battle to save the nation of Israel.

Deborah’s song recalls the heroine Yael who kills Sisera, a general hellbent on destroying Israel. Yael offered him milk and kindness and hospitality and then, when he becomes drowsy with satisfaction, drives a peg through his skull and kills him. For this, Deborah sings the praises of Yael and says she is “blessed among women.”

But wait! There’s more. 

There’s another nesting doll to be uncovered. Yael is not the only woman thus invited into this holy moment. 

Perhaps you may have heard the story of Judith, another strong woman in the stories of our faith during the time of the Assyrian attempted take over of Israel. In the 13th chapter of the Apocryphal Book of Judith, Judith is praised in similar language for killing Holofernes:  
"O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies."
So, we have Mary and Elizabeth, Deborah and Yael and Judith. 

Oh, but wait! There’s more. 

You may already know this but there are only two of the four Gospels which give us any sense of The Nativity. John and Mark are silent on the details of the birth of Jesus. Luke’s story contains the most specifics and is what the kids will act out in their Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve. 

Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus, to prove his human lineage. In that genealogy, four women are named: Tamar of Judah, Rahab, the Canaanite of Jericho, Ruth of Moab, and Bathsheba, the Righteous. 

Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba are each described as women whose morals are at least questionable if not scandalous but a closer look at their stories reveals the story of women who were smart and brave. 

Even Ruth is encouraged by her mother-in-law, Orpah to seduce the owner of the fields where she works – but only in order to save them from starvation and death. 

All of these women are in the room with Elizabeth and Mary. All of them are “blessed among women” because Mary carries within her womb the embodiment and the redemption of all of their stories. 

No wonder John the Baptist leaps in utero when Elizabeth greets Mary.

To understand this, to understand how ‘holiness happens’, you have to know something about the word “blessed”. That story is the final nesting doll in the nesting egg of stories about the Magnificat.

Several years ago, I was curious about the word “blessed” so I looked it up in the Old Oxford English Dictionary. I grew even more curious as I discovered that the root of the word ‘bless’ is ‘blood’. 

I mentioned this to my spiritual director at the time, Martin Smith, who was, at that time, a brother in the Anglican Order of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA where I attended seminary. You may know them as “The Cowley Fathers”

Martin explained to me that most of our words in the English language came to us from St. Gregory who founded a monastery where the monks wrote down most of his sermons.  Prior to that, not many sermons were written down. Gregory’s favorite preaching topic was the stories of Jacob. He especially loved preaching on the story of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel.

Gregory said that, when Jacob and the angel began to wrestle, in that moment, time stood still. It’s a holy moment, Gregory said, when the past and the future fold into the present and become one.  

In that moment, Gregory preached that the blood of the cross splashed on Jacob and he was “blooded”. 

Jacob was ‘blooded’. 

When the monks wrote down the sermon, they wrote in the script of their day, of course. To eyes that came to read that sermon later in time, their letter ‘d’ looked like an ‘s’. 

Thus, ‘blooded’ become ‘blessed’. 

Jacob was blessed.

When you open the nesting egg of the story of the Magnificat and begin to hear the echoes of all the other women who are singing with Mary in that holy moment – all those warrior women who fought for the freedom of their country which did not fully grant it to them – you begin to understand the blessedness of Mary, and why Elizabeth greets her as “Blessed among women.”

You begin to understand that in the holy moment when Mary wrestled with the words of an angel and had to suspend logic and reason, the past and the future folded into the present and the blood that had been shed in the past and the blood that will be shed on the cross has splattered on Mary. 

St. Gregory would have said that Mary is blooded.
You also begin to understand why Mary spoke about the “strong arm of God” and “casting the down the mighty” and “lifting up the lowly”. Perhaps you can understand why she sang about “filling the hungry with good things” and sending “the rich away empty”. 

And, you begin to understand just how much of an influence Mary had upon her son, Jesus as well as his cousin John who leapt in her womb when he heard Elizabeth say to Mary, “Blessed are you among women!”

In two days, we will be celebrating the Nativity of Jesus. We will be asked to participate in a story that defies logic and strains reason. 

And for one night, one Holy night, we will be asked to suspend logic and reason and belief and participate in a story that requires an act of faith.   
We will be asked not just to receive Jesus, but also to conceive Jesus in our hearts and souls and minds.

We will be asked to participate in a miracle.

Like Mary, we will be asked to say YES to God, even though people may judge us unkindly. 

Fear not! We will not be alone. 

We will be surrounded by Mary and Elizabeth, Hannah and Deborah, Judith and Yael, as well as Tamar and Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba and a whole host of holy women and men, the saints of old, who arrived into a holy moment on their own steam.

At Christmas, we will enter that time and space when time stands still and holiness happens.

And when we do, we, too, will be blessed among women and men. 



Sunday, December 16, 2018

What then should we do?

A Sermon Preached for Gaudete Sunday
Advent III C - December 16, 2018
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE

Happy Advent, you brood of vipers!

Well, three down, one to go. It’s the third Sunday in Advent. This is sometimes known as “Stir up Sunday” – because of the words of the collect for Advent III. (“Stir up your power and come among us.”) It’s also the time when one is to ‘stir up’ the fruit which has been soaked in whiskey for the Christmas fruitcake.

It’s also known as Rose Sunday or Refreshment Sunday – especially when Advent was considered a “mini-Lent” (Which is no longer the case in most churches, so it’s okay to say “Alleluia”. You don’t have to use the Kyrie but you can use the “Trisagion” instead, just to make the point.(

Today is properly known as “Gaudete Sunday” from the Latin word for “Rejoice” – the first word in the Introit for the day, taken from the lectionary Epistle reading. In some churches, the vestments are a pink color and, of course, we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.

Does anyone know why?

Haven’t you not heard? It’s because Mary really, really, really wanted a girl, of course.

Well, we get no relief from John the Baptizer who makes yet another appearance this week, scolding and yelling and scaring the pants off of everyone.  

People were so scared they asked, “What then should we do?” Even tax collectors and soldiers asked what they should do to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”.

The answer they got was not exactly what they expected.

Got two coats? Give one to someone who needs one.

Got food? Share.

Be honest.

Don’t be greedy.

It sounds almost too obvious, doesn’t it? Sometimes, the obvious thing is the most elusive.

I want to tell you about a brilliant friend and colleague of mine who learned this lesson. Her name is Laurie and I met her when she was a seminarian from Princeton and doing an internship at All Saints, Hoboken, NJ, to be Missioner to the West Side.

Now, I don’t know how much you know about Hoboken, NJ. You probably know that it’s the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. You might know that it’s part of the Hudson Waterfront and a bedroom community for New York City. 

It’s also uniquely one mile square and has the best Italian café on Washington and Eighth where they make their own mozzarella and amazing hot, fresh bread and zeppoli to die for. It was known as a real blue collar town but now it’s pretty upscale Yuppie/Buppie.

Except for the west side. That’s where all the Section 8 housing is, the crowded apartment buildings where all the poor families live, most of whom are Hispanic and people of color.

Laurie’s job was to just go and be with the people. Talk with them. Be in relationship with them.  

Understand their needs. Don’t judge them. Just get to know them and let them know you.

Now, that’s generally NOT what churches do, is it? We pretty much decide what we think people need and then we do that thing. Sometimes, we get it right – mostly because people who work with families and know them tell us what we can do, and we do that thing.

But, Laurie’s job was to just be with people. Not just serve them. Understand them. Be in relationship with them before deciding to do anything. Until ‘they’ stopped being ‘them’.

It took her about three weeks to figure out that one woman in the west side housing projects was the unofficial “mayor”. Her name was Rose and her apartment was a magnet for everyone in the neighborhood – people who needed help with rent, help with food, help with a cranky, fussy baby, with a kid who got kicked out of school, with a job or school application – and so forth.

So, Laurie dropped by one afternoon to have coffee. Rose, was a feisty Puerto Rican woman with sad eyes that still occasionally twinkled or flashed with passion. She had a deeply lined face which revealed that the last couple of miles of her journey in life had been particularly rough.

Rose was immediately suspicious of this young, well dressed, very earnest, very srubbied-up clean, very white girl.

To say that Rose gave her a hard time is to make a bit of an understatement. Poor Laurie reports that she was so rattled she lost her cool and composure under Rose’s scrutiny and went immediately to her comfort zone and instantly offered the church’s help.

Because, you know, if you're offering help that means that you are superior and they are inferior - you have stuff they need and supposedly want, so as long as you are offering things you can think of yourself as being in control - or, at least, changing the level of the playing field. 

“You want to help?” Rose asked, incredulously. “You and your nice church and nice people want to help? You don’t have enough time or money to help the people on the west side!”  

“Well,” said Laurie, “we can do an after school program for the kids. We have basketball court. We can set up a computer lab. Anything you need. We can help.”

Rose poured another cup of coffee for herself and Laurie. After shifting her weight in the chair as she stirred the sugar and milk in her coffee, she said, “You want to help? I’ll tell you how you can help. You give me your church for one night. Just one night, that’s all.”

Laurie cleared her throat and said, “Sure…. Um…and, um… what would you do?”

Rose smiled as her eyes twinkled and said, “We’ll have a fashion show.”

“A fashion show?” asked Laurie. “Well . . . I mean . . . I guess .  . . I’ll talk with the rector but  . . . I mean . . . a FASHION show?”

Rose looked at her straight in the eye and said, “Anything? Is that what you said? Anything you need? Well, I need a place for a fashion show. Can you help with that?”

Well, long story made very, very short:  Laurie had feared that her rector would think she had lost her mind, but learned he was actually THRILLED and was very supportive of the idea.

The date for the fashion show was set for 8 weeks hence, and the west side housing projects were suddenly whirring with sewing machines and sequins, glitter and sashes, bow ties and bowler hats.

The night of the fashion show finally arrived. The church had been completely transformed. A curtain had been hung in front of the altar and some of the men had built a runway from the chancel steps, through the rows of pew chairs, to the beginning of the narthex or church entry way.

The church was filled with people – most of whom had never been into that church or, perhaps, any church in Hoboken, NJ.  Rose found Laurie in the sacristy, helping with the microphones and sound system.

“Do you see,” she asked. “Do you see what is happening here?”

Rose led Laurie to the door to look out into the congregation. “Look! Look at all those people. Those men are the fathers and uncles of these girls and the boys who are their escorts. They are seeing their children all dressed up, looking like the beautiful young girls and women and handsome young boys and men that they are. They are seeing the results of all their hard work and sacrifice.”

“They are seeing their future,” she continued. “They are seeing hope. And, isn’t that what the church is supposed to be about? Hope?”

Laurie watched as those young girls, all dressed up in lovely dresses that had been specially made for them, get escorted down the runway by one of the young boys, also dressed in a proper shirt and tie and vest – some wearing bowler hats.

She had to admit, they looked spectacular. So proud of themselves – head held high, chest out, walking with pride and confidence.

As a surprise, when each girl neared the end of the ramp the young girl’s father or uncle stepped out from behind a screen and stood waiting to hand her a long-stemmed red rose.  

And then, he shook the young man’s hand.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Sometimes, the thing a person needs is the thing that is so obvious that you miss it.

Sometimes, the greatest thing you can give to anyone is a sense of their own dignity.

Surround them with a reminder that they have worth as human beings.

Allow them an expression of beauty and luxury, even if it’s homemade.

Remind them that they are special creations of God who loves them unconditionally.

Give them opportunities to give and receive love.  

Allow them to feel confidence in who they are and what they have to offer the world.

If you read through the lines of Luke’s Gospel, if you tone down the sharp rhetoric and all the scolding and all the yelling, John is only saying the obvious to those who wish to prepare the way of the Lord: Be as generous as you know how to be. Be honest. Don’t abuse your power.

It’s so simple, so obvious that we could easily miss it. Especially in this world filled with the anguished sounds of poverty and starvation, and the terrible noise of violence and hateful rhetoric and threats of war.

There is a wonderful poem by Madeline L’Engle from her book “The Weather of the Heart”. The last line  goes like this:
On this third Sunday in Advent, I ask you to consider how you might “stir up” your own soul to see the obvious in your lives.

Maybe you don’t need to buy another thing as a Christmas present.

Maybe someone in your life – very young or very old – needs the gift of your time and attention.

Perhaps someone needs the gift of hope.

Maybe someone needs to be reminded that they are special and unique and worthy so they may find the gift of confidence in themselves.

Maybe someone really needs an opportunity to give and receive love so that love may take the risk of birth in the manger you have prepared in your heart.

To quote Rose from the west side of Hoboken: “After all, isn’t that what the church is all about?”    


Sunday, December 09, 2018

Crying in the Wilderness

A Sermon for ADVENT II 
December 8, 2018
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE 

Have you begun to feel it yet? I certainly have.

The tension of keeping Advent is enormous! The pressure is ON! It’s easy to simply say, oh, play the Christmas music already! Why not?!?! They’re playing Christmas music in the stores and malls!  Santa is already receiving guests at Rehoboth Beach. What’s wrong with you, anyway?!?!

I was talking with a woman the other day who was looking for Advent candles. She was hoping for three blue, one pink and one white but she would have settled for purple instead of blue.

She went to several stores without any luck because green and red candles seem to have taken over the stores. She finally stopped in at her local grocery store, thinking certainly they’d have a great variety of candles. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. 

She finally asked a passing clerk: Do you have Advent candles? The clerk looked at her as if she had two heads and one was flopping.

Advent? What?!?!?

The rest of the world is “decking the halls with balls of holly” and we’re out scouring the stores for blue or purple candles. 

Or, at least, some of us are. 

I’m no Advent purist but I do love the season of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” to borrow a line from the poem “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats.

Yeats, of course, was describing the aftermath of World War I. He was drawing on a biblical image to depict a world that had become unmoored, a world falling apart into anarchy. Which, of course, is what John the Baptizer is yelling about, out there in the wilderness. 

The apostle Luke names all the various leaders of the day to show how far Israel had fallen. 

Politically, the Jews were ruled by foreigners, and religiously, Annas and Caiaphas had been illegally put into their positions by the Roman authorities, and constantly used their power to line their own pockets and increase their own authority. Annas was even sometimes called a viper who hissed or whispered in the ears of judges and politicians in order to influence their decisions.

John the Baptizer did not say, “The falcon can not hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” That, of course, was Yeats, but it’s a perfect echo of John.

I have to turn down the volume on my own Christmas voice. I’m no purist – or, as one of my friends says, “An Advent Jihadist" – but there is something about staying in the wilderness for a bit, listening to Luke’s Apocalypse which we heard last week, and tolerating John the Baptizer’s ranting in the wilderness – this week and next!

How else will we be prepared to hear Mary singing the Magnificat on the fourth week? How will we hear the Baby Jesus cry? In my experience, it’s important to listen to all of the voices of Advent – even the ones we don’t want to hear – in order to prepare for the joy of Christmas.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

I spent a good amount of my ministry in the Tri-state Area, mostly in New Jersey but also in New York and a wee bit in Connecticut. I was rector of a fairly large suburban congregation in northern NJ where taking one’s child to Radio City Music Hall at Christmas was almost a rite of passage.

And so it came to pass that a child I had baptized, one beautiful little girl named Olivia, celebrated her fifth birthday and lo, it was decreed by her father that the family should make the cultural pilgrimage into New York City for the Annual Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall.

Lo, the mother and father and their girl-child did board a train and traveled into the region known as The Big Apple where these modern pilgrims did pay homage at all the Holy Places: The State Building of The Empire, The Store of the American Girl Doll, and, of course, they, as a family, venerated the hallowed halls of F.A.O. Schwartz. (Of course!)

Olivia loved it all. Her parents were delighted. Everything was going well. They had great seats in Radio City Music Hall with a wonderful view. They thrilled as the Rocketts high-stepped and step-kicked their way through all the familiar Christmas songs.

And then, as it is written somewhere where no one can read but everyone just knows, the traditional ending of the Christmas Special at Radio City Music Hall began. The lights dimmed and a manger scene appeared under the spotlight of an otherwise darkened stage.

There was Mary. There was Joseph. And there, in a manger, was the Baby Jesus.

Then, a man’s voice began to intone from his tried and true script, read to thousands of people over decades of Christmas holidays: “And it came to pass that a child was born in Bethlehem, in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. And it was for this he came into the world: To be killed and hung on a cross and to die for the salvation of the world.”

At which point, Olivia sat up in her seat and, at the top of her voice that would have made John the Baptizer proud, cried out, “WHAT! They killed Jesus?? Mom! Dad! THEY KILLED JESUS??”

At which point, a hush did fall over the entire section in which they were sitting in the hallowed halls of Radio City Music. Olivia’s parents did look at each other in horror, and fear did strike every corner of their parental hearts while embarrassment did cover their faces.

And, the father did open his mouth and bravely said to his daughter, “Olivia, let’s wait until tomorrow and we’ll talk with Reverend Elizabeth.”

And it was night, and it was morning, a second day. Sunday. In the fifth year of Olivia’s birth, when Barack Obama was in his first term as President and Chris Christie was Governor of all New Jersey. 

And, lo, the father and mother did bring the girl-child Olivia to church. As fate would have it, the parents did see their priest at the end of the church service but before the child Olivia came upstairs from Church School and they did tell her what to expect.

But, before the priest could even begin to think of an answer, lo! The child Olivia came careening around the corner, yelling, “Reverend Elizabeth! Reverend Elizabeth! Did you know? Did you hear? They killed Jesus? Why did they do that, Reverend Elizabeth?”

You know, there are times in the life of a priest when, if she keeps her mouth shut and her ears opened, she can actually hear the voice of God. And, so it came to past that I sat with Olivia on the chancel steps, kept my mouth shut, and let God speak.

“You know, Olivia,” I heard my voice say, “the people who killed Jesus were good people. They were kind people. They were just scared people. And, when people are scared, they make bad decisions. That’s what happened to the people who killed Jesus. They were good and kind people. They were just scared people. And, they made a bad decision which made them to a bad thing.”

Olivia considered very carefully what I was saying. “Here’s the thing, Olivia. It’s very important not to make a decision when you are scared. Or lonely. Or, tired. Or, even if you’re hungry. Some very wise people say that when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired you should HALT. Stop. Because if you are any of those things, you are probably going to make a bad decision. Just like the people who killed Jesus.”

Olivia looked at me and said, “Wait. Did they kill the BABY Jesus or did they kill JESUS?”

“Oh,” I said, “they killed Jesus. Not baby Jesus.”

“Oh,” said Olivia, getting up on her feet, “Well, that’s different!” 

And then, she ran off to play.

What's that old joke? You know, the one bout the kid who asks his mother, "Where did I come from?" And she sits him down and tells him all about the birds and the bees, at the end of which the kid says, "Oh, well, see? Tommy comes from Pennsylvania so I wondered where I came from".

Right. Le sigh. 

So, here’s my Advent message to you on this Second Sunday in Advent: We all know how the story ends. Don’t rush Advent.

Don’t rush the story. Live it.

Take each week as it comes. Light each candle, one by one.

Yes, the pressure is on and it is all around us. But, keep Advent. For as long as you can.

Stay and cry in the wilderness this week and next.

How else will the falcon hear the falconer’s song?

How else will you be able to join Mary in her song when it’s time?

How else will you hear the angels sing when the infant Jesus takes his first earthly breath?

Resist the pressure to rush the story.

Slouch your way towards Bethlehem.

We’ve been doing this for thousands of years.

The center will hold – especially if you take the time to listen for it and find it.