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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Pinky Swear

 Pinky Swear: A Sermon for Lent I B
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter


When I was a kid, we grew up on the axiom, “A promise is a promise,” by which we understood to mean that if you made a promise, you were required to keep it.


Children develop their own rituals around promises and commitments and truth. And, they are very moral beings. If you made a promise to do something or be somewhere, your friend might ask you to “pinky swear.” That meant that you locked your pinky finger around your friend’s pinky finger and, as you said the magic incantation, “Pinky swear” you snapped your fingers apart.


You could really up the ante if you were going to pinky swear with a Blood Sister or Brother. That was its own special ritual where you took one of your mother’s straight pins that she used to hem your hand-me-down skirt or the safety pin you used to tighten the waistline on your hand-me-down pants and then pricked your finger and squeezed it until a small bubble of blood appeared. Your friend would do the same thing and then you would touch your fingers so the blood ‘mingled’ as you said the magic incantation, “Blood Sister (or Brother). Forever.”

Henceforth and furthermore, when you ‘pinky swore’ a promise with a Blood Sister or Brother, well, your very life was on the line if you even THOUGHT about breaking the promise you made with a ‘pinky swear’.


No joke. Kids are dead serious about morals and rituals.


It should be noted, however that in my neighborhood and every neighborhood I ever knew, there could only be Blood Sister or Blood Brother. Girls would NEVER mix their blood with a boy’s blood or vise-versa, because, “Ewww . . .”


Every girl knew boys had cooties and every boy knew girls had cooties and, as a girl you never, EVER wanted boy cooties. And, no boy EVER wanted girl cooties. Until, adolescent hormones kicked in and then all bets were off the table and the Joker was absolutely wild. Unless, of course, in the great wonder and diversity of God and God’s creation, you were ‘born this way’ as Lady Gaga’s song goes, and others of the same gender were exactly the cooties you wanted.


And so it was with my best friend in the whole world, Maureen Toupin. Maureen lived in a house directly across the street from our house on Renaud Street in Fall River, MA. She was a single child. I was the oldest of four. Maureen’s mother was Irish and her father was French Canadian. My family were the newest wave of immigrants – this time from Portugal and the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands – specially imported as cheap labor to work in the garment mills and factories of that old, New England mill town.


As the latest “greenhorns” to the community, we were now the lowest on the social ladder, with all of the ridicule and prejudice ascribed to that social position. In the mill towns of New England, the pecking order – and I mean ‘pecking’ – was according to one’s arrival to work the mills and factories. So, first came the English, then the waves of Irish, then the French Canadians, and now the Portuguese – who were of darker complexion, didn’t speak the language and ate different kinds of food.


Even in Maureen’s family, her Irish mother regularly taunted her French Canadian father. Maureen hated it. She hated it more when she saw other kids taunting the Portuguese kids in the neighborhood. I had a sneaking suspicion that she specifically chose me to be her friend because I came from an immigrant family. You know, to be in her mother’s face about her prejudice.


I didn’t care. It didn’t matter why we were friends. It only mattered that we were friends.


Then came the day that we had been playing outdoors in the hot summer sun. We were both very thirsty, so Maureen invited me into her home for a glass of water. Her mother was in the kitchen and practically froze when she saw me. She demanded to know what I was doing there. Maureen reached in the cupboard for two glasses and explained that we were thirsty and just needed water.


Her mother snapped one of the glasses from her daughter’s hand and said to her, “You, get a drink from the faucet. And YOU,” she said, pointing to me, “go outside and drink from the water hose.”


I think I got dizzy from turning so quickly on my heels as I sped out the door. I didn’t even care that the screen door slammed behind me. Seconds later, Maureen came flying our of her house and said, “C’mon, I didn’t want to drink out of that glass, anyway. It’s much more fun to drink from the water hose.”


After we had satiated our thirst, Maureen’s face lit up with an idea. “C’mon,” she said, and I followed her into the storage shed where her father kept all his tools. She found the flashlight, a knife and some matches and then closed the door. Seeing the confusion on my face announced, “We are going to be Blood Sisters.”


I couldn’t have been more than seven years old, but I remember the moment Maureen and I became Blood Sisters as if it happened just yesterday. As a Rite of Passage it was a holy moment, the image of which remains in my memory files along with all the other holy moments in my life.


At the end of sharing our blood, we made a pinky swear to be Best Friends Forever – and that was long before the Internet created BFFs. We pinky swore to fight for and defend each other. To share what we had and teach each other what we knew. And never, ever let anyone or anything get in the way of our friendship. Not other girls or sisters or brothers or even mothers or fathers.


Alas, I lost track of Maureen long ago but she will live forever in the memories I store in my heart.


That’s the way it is with ‘pinky swears’. In scripture, it’s called a ‘covenant’. God made a covenant with Noah and all living creatures that never again would the earth be destroyed. God did not draw blood but instead, God drew a bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant between God and the earth and all the creatures of the earth.


That bow – which we call a rainbow – was a sign to us for all generations – as well as a reminder to God – of God’s covenant, God’s promise, God’s ‘pinky swear’.


St. Paul reminds us of the promise God made to Noah – when God saved eight people from the waters of the flood – and compares that to the covenant we make with God in the waters of our baptism, not as a removal of dirt fromthe body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrectionof Jesus Christ…


At the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, we learn that as hewas coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spiritdescending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son,the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’.

Right after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him out to the wilderness – or, the desert – where Satan, the fallen angel, tempted him for forty days and forty nights.


I’ll tell you what: You wouldn’t dare go out into the desert for even one day, knowing that Satan was going to be waiting for you, if you hadn’t already gotten a pinky-swear from God. And, because you had that promise, that covenant with God, that you were God’s beloved child, you also knew, when they showed up, that God sent those angels there to tend to you.


When Jesus had recovered, the strength of that same pinky-swear allowed him to go all around Galilee, saying that the ‘time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  I mean, you just wouldn’t have the courage to do that unless you had just had a ‘pinky swear’ with God.


As we take these first few steps on our journey into Lent, I bid you to remember the promises you made with God at your baptism. The grace of that sacrament may not appear like a rainbow in the sky – it may not always be visible – but it is the promise of God to always be with you. At your baptism, a voice was heard throughout the heavens, ‘You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased’.


We are beloved of God. Scripture says that our names are written in the palm of God’s hand.


When we remember that moment, when we recall our baptism, when we know God calls us Beloved, we can gather up the strength and courage to venture forth into all the wildernesses and deserts that the path of life can take us to.


The promise is not that you will be free from fear or danger, hunger or thirst. The promise is not that you will be exempt from anxiety or depression or despair.


The promise is that, when these things happen in our lives, we will not be alone. God is with us – Emmanuel – the One who promises comfort and consolation, help and hope.


We are Blood Sisters and Brothers through Jesus who shed his blood on the cross.


Jesus will always send angels disguised as other human beings – other Blood Brothers and Sisters – to tend to us in our deepest hour of need.


That is the promise we make to God and each other in Baptism. See? That’s how it works. God depends on us. We depend on God.


Because a promise is a promise.


Pinky swear.




Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Anglican Prayer Beads: The Ashes of Tamar

Anglican Prayer Beads: The Ashes of Tamar
Facebook Live Broadcast: Sirach 26:10
Ash Wednesday - February 17, 2021


The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent.

Any. Time. Any. Place.

Before Jesus went out into the wilderness for "forty days and forty nights" - the length of time of our 'modern' Lent - he didn't have John smear ashes on his head. Indeed, he went there "immediately" after he had been baptized.

In the Gospel chosen for the Day (Matthew 6:1-6,16-21), Jesus is pretty clear about the whole business of fasting and ashes:

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward".

So, I did a bit of a word study/search for ashes in Scripture. I found a few sources, like Job 2:8 "Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes".

And, Esther 4:1 "When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly".

I also found it in Daniel 9:3 "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes".

I even found it in Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."

But it was the Rape of Princess Tamar, "the beautiful sister" of Absalom, son of David, by Amnon, the son of David, that took my breath away (2 Samuel 13).

Tamar, the young royal princess, wears a distinctive robe, “a sign of favor and special affection”. She lives in a world where her powerful father and brothers hold sway over her, but have responsibility to protect her. Tamar has abundant privilege, yet little power.

Tamar is obedient, trusting, and kind. When her father instructs her to help her ailing half-brother, Amnon, she goes and cooks for him. When Amnon bids her to bring food to his room, dutifully she goes, unaware that he has schemed and lied in order to get her alone, because he is obsessed with desire for her (2 Samuel 13:7-11).


When Amnon seizes and crudely propositions Tamar, she responds with an emphatic triple “No”:

No, my brother, do not force me;
for such a thing is not done in Israel;
do not do anything so vile! – 2 Samuel 13:11-12


She wisely anticipates the harm his crime would cause: “As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel” (2 Samuel 13:13a).


But Amnon, the crown prince, ignores Tamar’s pleas and overpowers her, hurting and humiliating the one he was charged to protect. After raping Tamar, he called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.


Beware the suspicious claim that Amnon loves Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1). His selfish and cruel behavior is the very antithesis of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Violent abuse can never trace its origins to love. Instead, violence expresses lust for power and control — an unjustifiable desire to dominate another person made in the image of God


The story ends like this: "And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman".


A desolate woman. Takes your breath away, right?

I also noted, in my word study, that Tamar is a female name of Hebrew origin meaning "Date Palm" - the large branches of which are used in Jerusalem (and in some church's here) during the Palm Sunday re-enactment of Jesus' entry into the Holy City.

Interesting, that we "make" ashes - at least these days for liturgical use - by burning last year's palms from the Sunday of Passion. 

Mordecai was deeply grieving. Daniel and Job were truly repenting. Tamar, however, was mortified, deeply ashamed about what had been done to her, as well as grieving what had been stolen from her.

That's not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."

So, it's not about getting ashes just to get ashes and let everyone know that you went to church. It's about an outward and visible sign of your inward and spiritual grief, repentance and/or mortification or humiliation.

It's about intention. It's about sincerity. And, authenticity.

I want to use this time on the first day of the 40-day Season of Lent to pray for the women in the world like Tamar. I want us to remember and pray for young girls and women who have been sexually assaulted, especially those our cultural system has failed to love and support and those to who our legal system has denied an avenue of justice.

I want us to pray especially for all the women who were sexually assaulted by their priests who were their trusted counselors and/or rectors or pastors, and for all the desolate women whose wounds remain open and whose pain is unbearable.


I want us also to pray for the perpetrators of sexual assault and rape and those men who are sexual predators, that they may repent of and confess their sins, seek guidance and counsel from a wise priest, make amends to those they have injured and throw themselves at the mercy of the courts so that justice may be done.


I have taken the biblical pericope for our Anglican beads from the lectionary lessons appointed for today, Ash Wednesday.


The Collect: O God of mercy and justice, be with us this Ash Wednesday as we begin the Season of Lent by recalling the suffering and sacrifice of our sister Tamar. May her ashes of grief and sorrow be mingled with the ones we place on our foreheads, that we may remember the injustice done to her to all women and men who are sexually assaulted.  May we not desecrate the gift of sexuality as a weapon to abuse power, but as an instrument to communicate the mystery of love. May your justice find its way into our culture and all who govern and uphold the law, for you are the God of justice and mercy, and in you we find the peace that passes all human understanding. Grant us these things, we pray, through Jesus Christ, our Sovereign Healer and lover of our souls. Amen.




Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!



See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 



Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.



For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.



Ash Wednesday: Blow the Trumpet in Zion


Blow the Trumpet in Zion.
A reflection on Ash Wednesday 2/17/21
Facebook Live Broadcast: Sirach 26:10 

In ancient Israel, the trumpet, the shofar, was sounded to announce a new moon or the election of a new sovereign. It was also sounded to call the people to gather together to worship, to fast and pray, to observe a Holy Sabbath. 


On this day, the church blows a spiritual trumpet which calls all the faithful to begin a Holy Lent – a dedicated time of fasting and prayer, of discipline and study.


It is during this time that we hear the story of the adult life of Jesus and begin the pilgrimage to walk in his footsteps, from the banks of the Jordan River to the Garden of Gethsemane; and from the rugged cross on Calvary, to the empty tomb in the Garden near the place of skulls, called Golgotha.


It’s a long journey – forty days and forty nights – a reflection of the time Jesus spent in the desert, as well as the time after the death of Jesus and his ascension into heaven. 


And so we are asked to make this same 40 day journey of being tempted as Jesus was but to resist the diversion and put our energies into strengthening the body, mind and spirit so that we, too, might take up our cross and follow Jesus.


That is the traditional understanding of Lent. 


I don’t know about you, but these past eleven months have felt, on one level, like a prolonged Season of Lent. We have endured a very long fast from so many things that defined our lives as “normal” – everything from the simple pleasure of going out to enjoy a meal - at a friend's house or a gathering in our own homes - or at a restaurant or diner - to the expected availability of paper towels and toilet paper.

We’ve all had to learn how to maneuver through our public lives with masks on, remember to wash our hands several times a day, and maintain a social distance of 6-10 feet between us in lines in the super market aisles or at the check-our registers at the drug store or even during a visit to the doctor’s office.


Perhaps the mot difficult self-sacrifice has been that of relationships. The isolation that has been necessitated by what we have come to know about the transmission of COVID has kept families apart and separated communities of faith. Even if we did hear the blast of the shofar or trumpet, COVID-19 continues to prevent us from gathering together in our beloved houses of worship to pray and praise the glory of God’s name.


There have been almost 28 million cases of COVID. While infection rates are falling and fewer people are hospitalized, we are nearing 500,000 souls lost to this pandemic.   


How much more are we expected to sacrifice?


I have a suggestion for making it through the next 40 days and 40 nights. It’s not an original thought. Indeed, I’ve been suggesting this approach to Lent for several years. 


What I’d like to suggest is that instead of giving something up that you take something on.


What might you learn in the next month and a half? Might you take up learning to play an instrument or speak another language? Perhaps you'd like to perfect the art of bread making or cake decorating? Is there a project around the house that you’ve been meaning to tackle and all you’ve needed is the time and the dedication?


I’d be willing to bet that you, like me, have several shoe boxes of old photographs or slides – remember those? – that could be sorted and selected and then either taken to a service that will put them on a disc or a ‘stick’ and be stored there and in your computer.


Perhaps you want to be more disciplined about your prayer life - a new way to pray - or learning more about the Bible, or learn more about the history of the church or religion.

One Lent, I took dancing in a proper studio with a proper bar and mirror. I thought I was dancing like one of the June Taylor dancers. And then, I looked in the mirror. I did not look like a June Taylor dancer. So, I stopped looking in the mirror and I had a GREAT time, 


What is it? What one thing can you challenge yourself to accomplish – that, at the end, will make you feel better about yourself just because you succeeded at a challenge you gave yourself?


Whatever it is, do that. 


Do that one thing that will be edifying to your body, mind and spirit. Do that which will take advantage of this time and be of benefit to you or your family or your neighbors. 


Do that which lifts your spirit and gladdens your heart.


I know. That sounds almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it? I promise you, it isn’t. I know from personal experience that it delights the heart of Jesus when we rise to a challenge. 


Indeed, one question you might ask this Lent is one that was posed to me one Lent, many years ago: Suppose your heart's desire is also God's desire for you. If you knew that to be true, what do you need to do to satisfy your heart's desire which will also delight the heart of God?


Today is Ash Wednesday. Whether you’ve heard it or not, the trumpet has sounded. God’s people are being called to a Holy Lent.


That’s not the question. The question is, how will you respond?



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Transfiguring Kodak Moments

 A Sermon Preached on Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter
February 14, 2021


I clearly remember the day when my father bought an Eastman Kodak flash camera. It was a Brownie Hawkeye Flash camera – a small box of a thing with a pop-up flash bulb that had a blue dot in it but after the flash, the whole bulb had streaks of red and brown, which looked like a bloodshot eye covered in a plastic coating.


My father was so proud of that camera. My father loved that camera. I mean, he Really Loved that camera. My mother reminded him – often, as I recall – that the only reason they could afford that camera was because she had gone back to work, the main reason of which (she also often reminded him) was so they could afford to buy a house so we could move out of the second floor apartment in the tenement house my grandparents owned and where they lived. 


My father’s argument was that he needed time to practice before we had a home of our own. He was a man in search of the perfect family portrait of my mother’s idea of a perfect family of “four beautiful children”. He would spend hours, when he wasn’t working, of course, stalking his family in our natural habitat.


No one was safe. Not my mother stirring a pot of soup or stew over the stove who would be admonished to “C’mon, Lydia,” he’d say, “Make the picture interesting. Lift the spoon out of the pot.” Click. “Now blow on it.” Click. “Now, taste it. Click.”


He would also interrupt us kids at play. Or, reading a book. Or, running. Or riding a bike. Well, we couldn’t actually run or ride a bike. We had to pose the various stages of running or ridding a bike as he posed us. “Okay, now put your left foot on the pedal.” Click. “Now lean forward on the bike handle like you’re riding into the wind.” Click.


My favorite picture is the one he took of us on a Sunday afternoon outing. We always went on a Sunday afternoon outing. This particular Sunday we went to the Buttonwood Park Zoo on Hathaway Street in the next town of New Bedford, MA.


My mother had bought us matching summer outfits, the two older girls in blue shorts with matching sleeveless blue and white polka dot shirts, my baby sister in a blue and white polka dot dress and white and blue polka dot baby hat, sitting in her carriage, and my brother (“The Little Prince”), in blue shorts with a white, short-sleeved shirt and a navy blue, clip on bow tie.


All the girls also wore patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Mind you, we wore this to the zoo. Because, well, it was Sunday and it was still The Lord’s Day. Even at the zoo.


In the picture, we are all perfectly lined up according to height and age against a chain-link fence, my baby sister in her carriage at the end. Behind us are two bison.


There is no mistaking that, to a child, we are hot and tired and crabby.


I look like I am on the verge of tears. My sister Madeline looks like she is mentally willing herself to be taken up by alien beings. My brother John looks to be in a trance, like his body and brain have actually been taken over by alien beings, and my baby sister, Diane, has her mouth open, her eyes scrunched, her fists balled near her face, and you can almost hear her shrieking cry all these many decades later.


I’m not sure what had happened before that picture was taken. I’m pretty sure we went home shortly after that moment was memorialized on film. At least, I hope so.


My father loved that picture. He thought he had captured something perfectly imperfect about his family. It was perfect in its imperfection. And, come to think of it, he had done exactly that.


Every now and again, that memory makes its way back into my mind, but especially when I think of Peter and this story of The Transfiguration. Jesus had taken three of his disciples, Peter along with the Sons of Thunder, James and John, up to Mount Tabor, which is in Lower Galilee, at the eastern end of Jezreel Valley. We’re not sure where, exactly, on the mountain that Jesus was transfigured before them, in dazzling white, but we can be pretty certain that it was at the top.


Out of nowhere, Elijah and Moses appear. They stand together there, on Mount Tabor, talking with Jesus, who is so white and bright he is dazzling. Scripture says the disciples were terrified. Which is totally understandable. I can’t even begin to imagine what I might do, had I been in the shoes of Peter, James or John.


But, I know what my father would have done. He would have taken out his trusty Eastman Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash Camera and then he would have organized the whole scene so there would be a perfect picture of event.


Peter, of course, didn’t have a camera, so he did the next best thing: He offered to organize the whole event and build three booths, one for each of them. How perfect!


But, it was not to be. Almost as soon as the vision of the three prophets appeared, a dark cloud covered and overshadowed them and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.


I think I understand, now, all these many decades later, why my father wanted to take all those perfect pictures of his wife’s idea of a perfect family. It wasn’t just a gentle, loving yet teasing jab at my mother’s part of the Great American Dream – the perfect family of four. Although, to be sure, it was undoubtedly that. It was something my father seemed to know about perfection in general and perfect moments in particular.


It is this: perfect moments are not meant to be frozen in time. Perfect moments, when they come in this imperfect life, are meant to be lived in the moment because they usually don’t last more than a moment and then a cloud comes and overshadows them and they are gone.


Ironically, if you try to capture the moment, you will miss it and it will be gone, only to live on in your memory. Which, I think, it’s supposed to be in the first place.


I always chuckle when I go to a school event or a kid’s sports event and every parent and grandparent has the camera in their phone up and they are not watching their child in the moment but they are watching them through their camera so they can relive the moment they totally missed because they were busing filming it.


I remember a line in a JacqueBrel song, Alone. The lyrics are: “We forget how to cry; we save photosinstead.”


It is the memory of those moments – those perfectly imperfect moments – which we don’t fully understand at the time but come to visit us over time, revealing little pieces of truth – other facets of truth – with every visit, until one day, we are transformed and dazzled by the insight and understanding they bring to us.


I think the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor was one of those moments when all the facets of the truth Jesus was facing about himself came all together and he understood with not just his head but in his heart and deep in his soul and in every fiber of his being, what it was he was called to do and to take his place in the long line of prophets sent by God as heralds of the Realm of God.


There is a teaching among the Franciscan friars that Jesus did not come to change God's mind about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.


Let me say that again and let it sink in: Jesus did not come to change God's mind about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.


And, in the midst of that perfectly imperfect revelation, the revolution of Jesus began in earnest. Jesus understood that, in that moment, just as he had been baptized in the River Jordan by John, now he was being ordained by the Light of God to fulfill God’s mission on earth. And that truth, that Kairos moment of stop-the-world truth, was absolutely dazzling in its clarity.


I suspect that’s part of what my father chased with his Brownie Hawkeye Flash Camera. I suspect that’s part of the reason why Mr. Kodak invented the camera and Mr. Eastman invented the film – to help us try and catch those divine, perfectly imperfect moments of what it means to be human – of what it means to love.


In just three days, on Ash Wednesday, we will begin the Season of forty days and forty nights of Lent. We will have that time to examine our imperfections as well as the times when, through our own fault or neglect or in a moment of bad judgment, we missed the mark and have fallen into sin.


I hope you come to know, as you go through Lent and sort through the memory of all the Kodak moments in your life, that our lives are made up of millions and billions and trillions of perfectly imperfect moments; that no matter how you try to order them, those moments will find their way to their own dazzling order of truth.


When we acknowledge and step into the truth about ourselves – that, no matter what,  we are beloved of God – we will then be willing to love fully, lavishly, wastefully – just as Jesus did.


To give our lives over to something bigger than ourselves; a love that was love at the beginning, is now, and will be forever. 


A love that will change and transform us by making us more of the truth of who we really are and are meant to be.


And that love, in turn, is the only thing that can change and transform the world.


It’s the only thing that ever has. It’s the only thing that ever will.



PS: A shout out to my dad in heaven on his 102nd birthday yesterday, 2/13/19

Sunday, February 07, 2021

And the word was Oprah!


A Sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10: The Headstrong Daughter
Epiphany V - February 7, 2021  


Poor Jesus! He had healed Simon’s mother-in-law – I really don't like that she doesn't have a name so I’m going to call her ‘Betty’ – who was sick in bed with a fever, but after Jesus took Betty by the hand and lifted her up, her fever left her and Betty was able to return to her normal activities. Then, he just wanted to heal a few folk, cure a few others and then find some time to steal away by himself and pray. But it was not to happen.


Simon and a few others “hunted him,” scripture says – HUNTED him – and when they found him they said, “Everyone is searching for you.” And Jesus decided that the best way to handle all of that was to keep moving – stay focused on his vocation and mission and ministry – and to go “throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”


Can anyone relate to that? No, I don’t mean performing miracles as your every day work or being swamped by adoring fans or needy people who want you to keep performing. I’m talking about trying to stay focused on the task at hand – even trying to steal away a little time to set the refresh button – but there were just too many distractions, too many people seeking you out – hunting you down – to find you?


Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as Mark portrays this situation but we all understand that sense of being harried and that sense of constant and continual demand. Sounds very much like my memories of young motherhood. Or the early days on a new job. Or, the days before Thanksgiving or the week before Christmas with the baking and the shopping and the wrapping.


I think what I love most about this passage from Mark is the ordinary humanness of it all. Yes, of course, Jesus was performing miracles of healing and curing but even in the midst of what is clearly his divine nature, he is still deeply human. And his response at the crossroads of his divinity and humanity is to stay focused on the work he is called to do.


A few weeks ago I told you that I would tell you about my Oprah story and how it was that Oprah helped me to learn something about leadership and kept me focused on my vocation as a priest in the midst of the multiple demands of the work of ordained ministry. Now seems a good time to tell that story.


So, I had been rector of a fairly large affluent suburban congregation in Northern NJ which had been in a prolonged interim period before they called me to lead them. The former Senior Warden had been a much-loved Mayor of the town and the Vestry was mostly men and a few women, all of whom were very successful in business: Banking, Real Estate, Insurance, Law Firms, Accountants, Chemists, etc., etc., etc., many of whom had also served on the Town Council.


The culture in that town in general and in that church in particular was to have Very Long Meetings where, rather than discussions being held, speeches were given. Some even qualified as bona fide soliloquies. In that culture, the standard seemed to be that the person who could hold the floor longest, won. 


There were some occasions when the standard seemed to be that the person who spoke the loudest and the longest won, but mostly people talked at each other rather than to each other. 


I recently saw an advertisement for a T-shirt that said, “I’m not being argumentative, I’m just trying to tell you that I’m right.” I could have made a lot of money selling those shirts in that town. 


I had also noticed a pattern that the ‘rector’ seemed to be the replacement in those scenarios for the Mayor, who was either “Mr. Fix It” if the solution worked, or the scapegoat if it didn’t. I also noted that there had never been a woman who had been Mayor; neither had there been a woman to be Rector of the church. Except me.


Let the hearer (or reader) understand.


So, one particular Vestry meeting was consumed by a very controversial subject – a real hot topic – one that was certain to cause division and dissention in the community. No, it wasn’t the usual hot button topics like human sexuality or money. It was much more critical and controversial than that.


As I recall the topic du jour which threatened to tear the very fabric of that Christian community was this: to choose the exact color red to paint the new door to the church. We had established that the color needed to be red but not without covering some pretty controversial ground in the previous Vestry meeting.


One person thought the door ought to be blue because it was the color of the heavens, but that was quickly shot down by someone who asserted that it had to be red because – everybody knows, for goodness sake – that the color of The Episcopal church doors are always red. No one knew why, exactly. 


Except one person seemed to remember that “Father” had once said in Confirmation Class that the doors were always red because it recalled the direction God gave to Moses while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt to have all the doors painted red so that the Plague would Passover.


They turned to ask “Ms. Fix It” – that would have been moi – if that were true. Well! I didn’t have a clue (I certainly didn’t learn that in seminary) but I finessed my way out of it by saying that tradition was central to the Episcopal way of life and tradition held that the doors to our churches are always red. It’s just tradition – the 8th Sacrament (Coffee Hour being the 9th


We ended the Vestry meeting with my direction to drive around the various neighboring towns and check out the doors to other Episcopal churches and see if the tradition of the Red Door wasn't consistently applied in our neighboring churches.


Now that that problem had been settled handily we were on to the topic for THIS vestry meeting to determine the particular shade of red. Some said it needed to be the exact color of the Red Book of Common Prayer. Others said differently. One person came with one of those paint wheels from Sherman Williams with the various shades of red.


It was getting pretty hot in the room as speech after speech after soliloquy was given and we all had a bad case of MEGO (My Eyes Glass Over) and, right on cue, someone asked what I thought – the perfect set up to be either savior or scapegoat. 


So, I did the sensible thing and asked for a 10 minute “biology break” during which I went into the bathroom and shot up a very quick prayer and asked for a word of knowledge. Just something to help me through this perilous plight.


And, just like that, the word came back. And the word was: Oprah.


Oprah? Oprah! Seriously? Oprah? Yes, Oprah.


And, just as I walked back into the Vestry room, I knew what to do. I found myself picking up my pencil like a microphone and I heard myself say, “Well, Mike thinks it ought to be this color red because it looks more like the color of the BCP, and John thinks it ought to be that color red because it looks more like dried blood.” 


And then, turning to one of the Vestry men, one of the elders in the congregation who had previously seemed to be nodding off, I said, “Charlie, you are always very quiet but my experience is that it is the quiet ones who are always the deepest thinkers. What do you think, my friend?”


And, Charlie cleared his throat and rose to the occasion and delivered a brilliant soliloquy about using primer and then the first coat would be blood color red because it was more historical and that would draw out the colors of the topcoat which would be the color of the BCP.


I picked up my pen again and turned toward the former mayor and, just like Oprah, said, “Well, Jim, what do you think of what Charlie said?” 


And, the former mayor, after a moment of weighted silence, delivered his verdict: “I like it. It’s Anglican. Scripture and Reason.” I checked back in with Mike and Steve who, by then, were both pleased that both their views had been represented, and that the elder statesmen had come to an agreement.  And that, as they say in showbiz, was a wrap.

They had come to a decision and they did it together. More importantly, they didn't talk AT each other. They talked TO each other.


My point here – and I do have one – is that we can learn a lot from what Jesus says, but we can learn even more from what Jesus does. 


When feeling overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to take some time for yourself. Jesus went away to pray. And then his response to any sort of additional pressure was to stay focused on what was important, on the task at hand, the original mission.


Author Sue Monk Kidd writes, Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting.”


Deliberate waiting. Some would call that part of what it means to pray – to not just yammer away at God but to be intentional – deliberate – in waiting to hear an answer.


Believe it or not, Lent is right around the corner – a mere ten days from today. I don’t know about you but I plan to take a little bit of Epiphany light with me into the darkness of Lent. 


I plan to greet questions not with fear but creativity, and see within the upheaval an opportunity for growth and change. 


To take the chance to see with new eyes a new way. 


To allow Jesus to lift me by the hand and let the fever of sin to break so that I might be lifted up. 


To spend time asking for and listening to a word of knowledge so that I may not only be healed but also be a vehicle of healing.


And, like Betty, Simon’s mother in law, to allow gratitude for my healing to be the energy I need to return to the task at hand and follow Jesus into the mission – the work – to which I am (we are all) called – to bring the nourishment and the healing, the justice and the hope of the Good News in Christ Jesus to others in the world.





Sunday, January 31, 2021



A Sermon Preached on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Epiphany IV - January 31, 2021


On this fourth Sunday in the Season of the Epiphany, we are treated to yet another story of yet another manifestation of the incarnation – another revelation that Jesus is the Son of God – by the miracle at the Temple in Capernaum.


There was a man in the synagogue there who was ill. Perhaps he had a seizure disorder, or maybe he suffered from a mental illness. Scripture says, “… he had an unclean spirit”. And, Jesus “rebuked” him and the unclean spirit convulsed the man and, crying with a loud voice, came out of him and he was healed.


And, everyone in the synagogue was “amazed”. Amazed. I have no doubt. That was pretty amazing. No wonder scripture tells us that Jesus became famous and word “began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee”.


Amazing! That word from scripture has followed me around like a lonesome, hungry puppy dog all week. Sometimes, I could hear the word in the tiny, three-year old voice of our eldest granddaughter, who used to say, in her tiny three-year old lisp, “Amathing!” The swing ride was “Amathin!”  Discovering worms underneath rocks was “Amathing!” And billowy clouds in the sky that looked like an animal was “Amathing!”


Now, of course, she’s in her second year of premed studies and finds living off campus this year, “Amazing.” And, her organic chem professor is “Amazing”. And she, from this nana’s perspective, is pretty amazing herself.


Amazing. Those folks in that temple that day in Capernaum, that small ancient town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, had a right to be amazed. The healing a man of an unclean spirit is pretty amazing. 


Today, however, over 2,000 years later, we understand that a seizure disorder is a neurological not theological problem, and there are several modern techniques from a pharmacological to surgical remedy to manage and even, in some cases, cure the disease.


These days, we call them “modern miracles” and while there are some who might still shake their heads in disbelief and ask, “Isn’t that something?” and “Can you imagine?” and “What will they be able to do next?” these days, we pretty much take modern miracles in our stride.


Ever since “the boy in the bubble” and “the baby with the baboon heart” that Paul Simon sang about 40 years ago, we have become aware that these are truly “the days of miracles and wonders.”


Except, I wonder. I wonder if Jesus walked into one of our sanctuaries today – even if there were only the required five people or less people there during the pandemic – I wonder if Jesus walked right in to one of our churches and healed a person with a seizure disorder, would we be ‘amazed’?


Maybe, but I suspect we’d be more surprised by his visit than the fact that he cured someone. I mean, these days, things like that happen every day – some days, six times before breakfast.


Why is that, do you suppose? Have we become jaded? Spoiled? Arrogant? Entitled? Privileged? Or, have we just gotten so very comfortable that we’ve lost touch with the wonder of it all?


I have a very clear memory of the time – now, I’m going way back in the Way-Way-Back Machine – when my grandmother moved in with my parents, temporarily, just to recover – after she had had some abdominal surgery. I was working a summer job flipping hot dogs and hamburgers at a lunch counter (Remember those? Every posh department store had them.) and I was just getting home from work.


My mother had bought a brand new device – a telephone answering machine – so she could tend to my grandmother or her laundry or her garden outside and still get important messages. My grandmother was used to the telephone but she had no idea about this answering machine.


As I pulled into the driveway, I could see my mother out in the garden. It was a beautiful summer day and my mother had all the windows opened. As I got out of the car, I could hear the phone ring and then the answering machine click on. My mother’s voice, sounding that tentative,  high pitch that also recorded her nervousness in not being sure how this all worked, announced that she wasn’t able to come to the phone? Right, right, um, now? So please, um, leave a message?

At which point there was a loud BEEP and I could hear the voice of my aunt Deolinda asking about my grandmother. And then, I heard my grandmother’s voice. She was YELLING. At the answering machine. But, she didn’t know it was the answering machine. She thought it was her daughter, Deolinda. 


And she was YELLING, “Linda! Linda! It’s me! Mamma! It’s me! Lydia is outside. If you just shut up for one minute, I’ll tell you how I am! Linda! Linda! Argh, you never listen to me!”


I had stopped in my tracks to listen to the commotion and when my mother came round the corner from the garden and our eyes met, we both burst into laughter. As we walked together into the house, we talked about how we might explain this “modern miracle” to her.


As my mother tended to my grandmother, my mind began to wander, as it often does, if left to my own devices. I wondered if that’s how prayer works. That, maybe there’s an answering machine in heaven and sometimes, Gabriel or Raphael or one of the cherubim and seraphim in charge of receiving and delivering messages of prayer that day assigns someone who doesn’t understand the miracle of modern devices so instead of taking the message, they just yell back at the phone.


See? Maybe it isn’t that God heard your prayer and the reason you didn’t get what you wanted is because the answer is no. Maybe the message just hasn’t been taken off the answering machine yet.


Anyway, now, all these years later, I don’t know too many people who have an answering machine. In fact, fewer and fewer people have an actual phone in their home – a ‘landline’ as it’s called. Now, your phone with all your contacts plus a camera plus a place to store and share all the pictures you take (anybody remember ‘PhotoMart’?), plus a way to communicate by text message and email, plus access to the ‘internet superhighway’ where you can consult The Google and get all sorts of information which you never even had in your library at home, plus all sort and manner of ‘apps’ that allow you to get the current weather and predictions, play solitaire or Candy Crush, or tune into your local news or watch a movie on Netflix. . . . .


 . . . . . . All. From Your. Phone. 


And, you know, when you stop to think about it, if that isn't amazing, I don't know what is. 


If Jesus had walked into your church even 15 years ago and told you you’d have this device that fit into your pocket or purse and be able to have access to all of that (and more), I suspect you’d have been just as amazed as the people in that ancient Temple in Capernaum when Jesus healed that man with a seizure disorder. You might have even asked, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!”  My, my, my.


I confess that I am no longer amazed at the things technology can do for us. I nonchalantly nod my head approvingly at the “direction stations” set up in a friend’s house for her Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner that silently vacuums her floors every night while she sleeps. 


I have found – and taught others – my “Chimpanzee Technique” of managing technology. I just keep batting at the key board and, eventually, some combination works and I get what I want from the computer.


What does amaze me is, given the current state of the affairs in our world in general and this country, in particular, that human kindness and generosity can and does prevail.


I just heard a truly amazing story of the principal of ahigh school in North Charleston, South Carolina who works all day at school and then works a part time job every night at the local Walmart. His daytime job supports his family, but every penny he earns at the Walmart goes to support the kids and families in his school.


You see, 90% - that’s ninety percent – of the students in his school live at or below the poverty line. As he was being interviewed, he talked about making a home visit with a family of a child who was disruptive and, he said, “I knocked on the door and (chocking up), there were curtains on the window and (coughing while chocking up) a bare mattress on the floor and . . . (long pause), I knew I had to do something to help.”


That, to me, is amazing! I mean, this man, this principal of the local high school, is working a part time job just to take care of his students and their families, to help them put food on the table and a table to put food on. That kind of generosity, that kind of kindness, in today’s world, is – at least to me – simply amazing.


I know. It shouldn’t be, should it? But, it is. 


Then again, I think sunrises and sunsets are amazing. I think the waterfowl who are my closest neighbors are amazing. In the season of Light, I think Light is amazing and that even darkness is just a shape of the light, which is why the ancient Psalmist sang that ‘darkness and light are both the same’ to God, who is the Ultimate Amazement.


So, in this Season of the Epiphany, the season of Jesus who is the Light of the World, I want to know what it is that you find amazing? What is it that “causes great surprise and wonder” in you? And, if you haven’t felt surprise and wonder recently, ask yourself why not.


What is it that gets in your way of wonder and great surprise? Is it you, yourself? Have you become so worn down by the worries and troubles of the world that you’ve become jaded? 


Have you become such a serious adult person that you can’t get out of your own way to feel the amazement of your childhood again? 


Has it been so long since you last felt amazed that the only thing you’re amazed about is how long it’s been since your were last amazed?


Here’s a nickel’s worth of unsolicited advice. Drive or walk yourself to a local playground. Yes, in this cold weather. Bundle up. You’ll be warm in a minute. 


Sit yourself down on a swing. Just swing. Slowly, at first. And then, start to pump your legs. I know it’s been a long time but I promise, the memory of how to do it will all come back to you. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself feeling like you’re soaring in the air. It might even make you giggle a little.


And, when you get to that point? Just between the feeling of soaring and the feeling like you’re going to giggle? That, my friend, is the feeling of amazement. If you feel it, say it right out loud. Just like my granddaughter, you can say, “Amathing!”


Winnie the Pooh once said to Christopher Robin, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”  


There is great truth and wisdom in that. And, when you do that, when you come to that realization, it is amazing. But, because we are adults, we forget it and dismiss it almost as quickly as we learn it.


I’m also remembering that theologian G.K Chesterton once wrote, "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."


Be an angel. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Find what it is that makes you feel amazing. Maybe it’s a ride on a swing. Maybe it’s playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. Maybe it’s building something with a child in the neighborhood and seeing the amazement in their eyes. 


Maybe it’s a walk along the ocean or on a forest trail. Or, perhaps, it’s just looking into your own yard, taking time to watch the sunset as the squirrels scurry and the birds fly off in flocks and just taking in the wonder of it all.


Whatever it is, do that one amazing thing. And then, whatever it was that was dis-ordered in you, whatever demon of guilt or pride or remorse or shame was tormenting you will be tossed out and you, too, will be healed.