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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.




Sunday, January 24, 2021

My whole soul is in this


“My whole soul is in this.”

A sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 - The Headstrong Daughter

Epiphany III B - January 24 2021


It’s hard to miss the theme of these lessons. Jonah is called to “Get up and go to Nineveh.” And Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”


Even St. Paul senses a call about “this appointed time” and the Psalmist sings, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”  And, just in case you missed it, the collect is pretty clear: “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ.”   


Hmm . . . lemme guess …. It’s all about call, isn’t it?


One of the pastoral duties I’ve found myself called to over these many years, in and out of parochial ministry and in interim ministry is helping people and congregations with discernment of call. Most often, that has been discerning a call to priesthood - or, calling a priest - but there have been more than a few times when it has been my privilege to walk with someone on the journey I like to call “Well, what am I supposed to do now?”

Most often, that’s been after a loss of some kind: A death. A divorce. The loss of a job, either after having been laid off or fired. A career change. The last kid has graduated from high school or college. A move to be with a spouse. And, sometimes, it’s just an “itch” – a vague sense that something needs to change.

Very often the first step on the journey of “Well, what am I supposed to do now?” starts with “But, I can’t . . . .” . Or,  “But I don’t know anything else but what I’ve been doing . . .” Or, “I’m just a ____” (fill in the blank: A mom. A cook. A teacher. A bank teller. A musician. An immigrant. And, in one case, a plumber.)

It’s moments like that I love to pull out something I’ve kept in my file for years. I was delighted to go to my file cabinet and find that it was still there.

It's a little something from Greg Ogden, in his book "Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time." It’s in the form of a letter to Jesus from a management consulting firm which Jesus apparently consulted about his disciples.

Jesus, Son of Joseph
Carpenter Shop

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.

They do not have the “team concept”.

We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.

Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.

The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.

Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.

James, the son of Alphaeus, as well as Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings. They registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.

All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new Venture.

Sincerely yours,

Jordan Management Consultants

I also have a similar consultant’s letter about Jesus, which is far less than flattering, but you get the drift. I love to present this to a person in discernment, especially when I get, “But, I’m just a . . .”.


As I was listening to Joe Biden’s inauguration speech, I remembered a writing exercise we were assigned in the 7th or 8th Grade English Class. We were to write a 250 word essay on the following question:


“Is a man made for the moment, or the moment made for the man?” Let’s update that question for the realities of the Third Millennium and ask, “Is the person made for the moment, or the moment made for the person?”


I remembered that question when I heard our newly minted President say this: 


“In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote: “If my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.”


My whole soul was in it today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”


And I thought to myself, “He really feels called to this work. He’s a 78-year old man with almost 50 years of service to his country. He has every right to say, “I’m just . . . an old man .  . . .a retired Congressman with a Medal of Freedom . . . I’m just a father and a grandfather . . . What more can I give? What am I supposed to do now?”


And, maybe he has said all those things, but he heard yet another call to service. “My whole soul is in this today.”   


So, is a person made for the moment or the moment made for the person?

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote on that essay, but I do remember that I got an A. And, I think I got an A because I was, even then, a budding Anglican.


To my mind, there are times, I think, when a moment arrives that we’ve been waiting for all of our lives – sometimes, we don’t even know we were waiting for it until it arrived – and it is as clear as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face that there is nothing to be done but to step into the moment.


There are also times when a moment arrives and it is nothing we could have asked for or imagined and it’s certainly nothing we ever wanted, and we scratch our heads and say, “Well, what am I supposed to do now?”


And we spin the wheels in our mind about how we are “just this or that” and don’t have the skills or the training to do any of what is required of the moment.


And yet, when we step into the moment, the moment has something to teach us – to give us – and we discover, much to our surprise, that the moment makes something of us we had no idea was even a possibility.


And we are changed, and we are transformed, and we will never again be the same.

I'm sure you've all got stories about such moments in your own lives. Sometimes it was good and sometimes, not so good. Mostly they are not dramatic until seen through the rear view mirror of life. But, we all have those stories of transformational moments.


One of my favorite stories is about a woman who struggled for years with a sense of vocation, but because she had also struggled with learning, she thought she was, in her words, "a moron, too dumb to be a priest."


She saw her skills in the kitchen as her vocation, so she became a caterer, to the raving and appreciative cheers of her clients and customers. "Jesus said, 'feed my sheep'," she said. "I guess that's what I'm doing."


But, the "call" wouldn't go away, so she came to me to do some spiritual discernment.


It took me some time of gentle persuasion, but I finally got her to confront her presenting "problem". I was convinced that she was not "dumb" but probably had some learning disabilities that had been undiagnosed. We finally found a psychologist who would administer an IQ test.


She had her appointment and, a week later, went in for the results. That afternoon, we had a scheduled appointment. She was noticeably pale and seemed stunned. She sat down in the rocking chair and rocked for about 5 minutes before she finally found the words to speak.


She started by saying that the first thing the examiner asked her was about her son, which she thought quite peculiar. She asked his age and how he was doing in school.


She said, well, he had had a difficult start but once he had been diagnosed with learning disabilities, he got the help he needed and was actually excelling.


The examiner asked if anyone had ever asked her if she had learning disabilities. She said her heart sank. No, she answered, I've just never been very good at school.

"Did anyone ever tell you that your son's learning disabilities were probably a familial thing - that it probably ran in her family?"


"No," she said. "No, I just thought my son, well, had learning disabilities, as I had been told."


"Well," said the examiner, "so do you. Which is why your IQ score can't be accurately measured."


She said her heart sank. She just knew that this was where the hammer dropped. She was so stupid, her IQ so low, it didn't even register.


She took a deep breath and asked, “So, just how low is my IQ?"


"Low?" The examiner put her head back and laughed. "My dear," she said, "your IQ is so high we don't have the tools to measure it here." She added, "You are at the level of genius."


As the words of the examiner washed over her, she closed her eyes and, when she opened them, she realized she had gone from a moron to a genius. Just like that.


And, just like that, right there in the examiner's room, right in front of the examiner, she heard a voice in her ear say, "I have called you to be one of my priests."


She looked at the examiner and said, "Yes," right out loud, as tears streamed down her face. She told me that was the first time she had dared say 'yes' out loud but, she said, "I know I had been saying 'yes' in my heart for years."


She said the examiner looked a little confused but understood that something else - something more, something deep, something important - was happening in that room.


God speaks to us in various ways - sometimes right into our ear - but sometimes, God speaks through other people, other things. We just have to listen to the varieties of ways God sends messages and messengers.


It often starts when we find ourselves scratching our head and asking, “What am I supposed to do now?”


I’ve learned, over the years, that sometimes, it takes as much courage to let go as it does to take hold and begin something new, something, as Martin Smith once said, drives us to “the crucifyingly obscure boundaries of faith.”

We are called at many different times in many different ways. The challenge is not just to look but to see, not just to listen but to hear, as St. Benedict wrote, “with the eyes and ears of the heart.”


There is another sense of call that I want to leave you with which comes from another moment of the many vocations I heard on Inauguration Day. These are the closing words of the poem by Amanda Gorman, National Poet Laureate:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it.

If only we're brave enough to be it.

In this season of Epiphany, we are called to be lights of hope, lights of love, lights that lead the weary souls of others, in the words of Amanda Gorman, “to lift our gaze not to what stands between us, but what stands before us” and be part of a people united to “rebuild, reconcile and recover.”


Simon and Andrew, James and John, despite all their flaws, were brave enough to see the Light; brave enough to be a light.


Are you?



Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Disturbance in The Force

 A Sermon preached via Facebook Live Broadcast
Epiphany II - January 17, 2021

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.”

— the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


You may not have realized this when you got up this morning, but we are in the midst of an incredible moment in history. Let me point out to you some of the events and the energy which is swirling and gathering around us.


Eleven days ago, on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, the Capitol Building in Washington, DC was attacked and desecrated by insurrectionists. The Capitol Building had been stormed only once before by the British Army in1812.


Three days ago, on January 13, the President of the United States was impeached for a second time – this time for incitement of insurrection – the first time in history that a POTUS has been impeached twice.


Three days from today, on January 20th, there will be a transfer of power as Donald J. Trump, the 45th POTUS, leaves office and Joseph R. Biden, Jr., is inaugurated as the 46th POTUS.


It is yet to be seen whether or not that transfer of power will be peaceful as over 20,000 National Guard troops surround the White House, the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court, and, elsewhere, in State Capitol buildings around the country which also prepare for possible attack by mob insurrectionists more loyal to Donald Trump than to the constitution and law and order of this country.


History will also be made, three days from now, as the first woman, who is also the first biracial (Black and Asian) woman will be sworn in as VPOTUS.


In this moment in history, we observe two notable events: On Monday, we celebrate the life and work and witness of the great leader of the Civil Rights Movement, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Also on Monday, we observe the Confession of St. Peter, which begins the Week of Christian Unity, which ends the following Monday with the observation of the Conversion of St. Paul.


As Yoda might say, “There is a disturbance in the force.”


In the Star Wars series, The Force was a powerful energy field that bound all beings together. The source of the disturbance could be many things, from something new and light and good to something old and dark and dangerous. 

It was a feeling sensed especially by Jedi priests and knights – like Yoda and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader – letting them know that something was happening elsewhere in the galaxy.


One does not have to be a Jedi priest or knight or even an Episcopal priest or Knight of Columbus to sense the energy created by the convergence of all of these events.


I will say this, however: This is an amazing time to be a Christian.


Into these disturbing and anxious days, in the Season of the Epiphany, the scripture appointed for us to consider this morning asks us to listen to and reflect on the call of Samuel and the call of Jesus to Philip and Andrew and Peter and Nathaniel.


Note, please, that the call of Samuel is a quiet call, so much so that Samuel is confused by it; he thinks it is Eli calling to him. God has to call him three times and Eli has to instruct Samuel on how to discern the call from God.


In John’s gospel, Jesus decides to go to Galilee where he found Philip and said, simply, “Follow me.”  We’re not privileged to know what was said before that; John simply cuts to the quick, leaving both the conversation and the character and nature of Philip to the religious imagination of those who would later hear the story.


Whatever was said must have been pretty convincing because when Philip went and found Nathanael, he told him that he had met a man named Jesus and that “we” – meaning, no doubt, he and Andrew and Peter – had  “found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”


To that, you can almost hear Nathanael scoffing as he said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And, Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 


Come and see. That’s it. That’s all.


That’s the first example we are given of what I think is the best evangelism. “Come and see.” No hard pressure sales-technique. No Bible (or Torah) thumping. No threats of doom and gloom or hellfire and brimstone. No yammering about sin and perdition. Not even a real explanation – well, not one that John gives us. Just, “Come and see.”


Do not let the simplicity of the invitation blind you from the enormity of the challenge to accept.


In 1959, Joan Thatcher asked Martin Luther King Jr. to compose a statement on his call to ministry. He wrote these words:

My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. . . . It was not a miraculous or supernatural something. On the contrary it was an inner urge calling me to serve humanity.


“An inner urge, calling me to serve humanity.” An inner urge. That sounds to me like a little like what Philip said to Nathaniel “Come and see”. Nathaniel must have felt an inner urge which lead him to walk down to road to meet Jesus for himself.


Author Frederick Buechner puts it this way, “It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring of the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts.”


I have this sense, this inner urge, that the “disturbance in the force” that many of us are feeling – those waves of anxiety and concern that beset us as we consider the many various things in our midst as we just try to simply live our lives – that inner urge is Jesus in our midst, and Philip is right beside him saying, “Come and see.”


I have this lump in my throat every time I watched the chaos at the Capitol Building last week that what we are in the midst of is the beginning of the end of something, something which has to happen in order for something new to begin. The barnacles are being scraped off the boat and we are being asked to set sail into new waters.


I have this stirring in my blood to say to you, my friends, that I can’t think of a better time to be Christian. I know. I know. That sounds crazy to say but it’s true.


This is the time for which we were baptized. This is the moment. This is the time to put our five baptismal vows into action, especially “to seek and serve Christ” in others and “to respect the dignity of every human being”.


Oh, I know. I know. You’re thinking to yourselves, Okay, she’s nice and all but she’s really crazy. She can’t be talking to me. I’m …. (fill in the blank – too old, too tired, not THAT religious, not that great a Christian .  . . .).


Well, I want to give you a few more words from Dr. King. In his sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King gave a sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct” in which he talked about everyone’s idea of leadership as being someone out in front – someone who leads – someone who’s great. Here’s what he said:

Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.


And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.


If you hang around me long enough, you’ll hear me talk about servant leadership. It’s what is demonstrated in that story we heard from Bishop Quinton Primo*, who had a simple idea of calling together young people of all races to sing and worship God. It started with 100 kids and grew to over 500 young people who gathered together to talk about issues of race and commonalities of their humanity which affected at least two young adults he knew about and no doubt, countless more known only to God.


This is that moment – the moment that has the potential to call forth “Jesus greatness” in all of us. This is that moment that calls for servant leadership which, for Christians, comes from having a heart full of the grace of the sacrament of baptism and a soul generated by the love of Jesus deep down in our heart.


There was a story told by one of the Capitol Policemen who had been dragged out into the mob and beaten unmercifully with hockey sticks and the poles of American flags. Some in the mob were reaching to get his badge and others were reaching for his gun. He heard a few people chant, “Kill him with his own gun.”


And, he said he thought, well, he could get his gun and fire and he would shoot maybe one or two, but that would give them a reason to take his gun and shoot him.

So, he decided to appeal to their humanity. He started to shout, “I have kids.”


Suddenly, a few in the mob came to their senses and came to his rescue. They cleared a way for him, and his partner was able to help take him back into shelter. 


That was, for him, his moment of servant leadership. That was for his partner, his moment of servant leadership. That was, for the people in that mob, the moment his humanity touched their humanity which allowed them to move through their anger and rage and find the grace and love of servant leadership.


This is that moment for us all – to push through our anxiety and anger, our frustration and concern and find grace and love which comes from sharing our common humanity. This is how the barnacles get scraped from the bottom of the boat so we can set sail in new, uncharted baptismal waters. This is how something new comes out of something old.


As it was in the beginning, the Holy Spirit comes and broods over the chaos and calls something new into being.


Dr. King said, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.”


It all begins with an invitation: “Come and see.”




*A reading from “The Making of a Black Bishop” by the Rt. Rev. Quintin E. Primo, Jr. [1913-1998]:


“Thinking of novel ways to serve the diocese (Rochester, NY) ...on behalf of St. Simon’s Young People’s Fellowship, we sponsored an annual diocesan-wide choral evensong service for Episcopal young people. The attendance grew from less than 100 the first year to more than 500. The event was designed to accomplish two purposes: to revive the beautiful and once popular sung evening prayer worship service held in many Episcopal churches during the 30’s and 40-s...; and, to provide safe, congenial, and non-threatening surroundings for black and white urban and suburban, small town and rural, middle-class and underclass, and sometimes ‘no class’ young people to socialize, discuss racial and social problems, and proffer practical solutions. Participating clergy persons, youth advisers, parents and the young people themselves benefited enormously from their open discussions and shared experiences.


“For example, one morning in Chicago, a young white priest came to my office and asked my secretary to see me “for two minutes. The thought-to-be- stranger identified himself by saying, ‘Bishop Primo, as a high schooler and teenager, I participated in your yearly choral evensong services for young people at Simon’s in Rochester, New York. I was so inspired by them and you, that I with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, decided to become a priest and professional counselor. I want to thank you again, and let you know that I am available to serve as a weekend supply priest should you need me….’


“A few weeks later, the incident was repeated. This time it was a U.S. Marine Chaplain form Virginia, who was in Chicago on business. Entering my office, he said, “I have little time as a taxi is outside waiting to take me to O’Hare Airport. However, I felt could not leave Chicago without seeing you and telling you that I was a teenager when you were at St. Simon’s…..Father Dan Bennett brought me up twice to your annual choral evensong service for young people. I learned a lot about racial understanding and tolerance, and now I am a champion of human rights for all.” I was deeply touched by the Chaplain’s surprise visit and testimony of what those evening prayer services, discussions and socializing had meant to him. I knew there were others who had had similar experiences that I would never know about; it supported the fact that if you reach diverse people in their attitude and behavioral formative years and bring them together for positive and enlightening interaction, the seeds of racial tolerance, unity and understanding can be models and references that impact the remainder of their lives and those with whom they come in contact.”


Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Beloved of God


"You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"

A Sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Epiphany I - The Baptism of our Lord

January 10, 2021


Well, it’s been quite an eventful first 10 days of the new year, hasn’t it? Our nation seems to have reached a very low point. The images we’ve seen have been enormously disturbing no matter which side of the political spectrum you land.

In times like these, it’s important to remember the basics – the foundational principles of our lives of faith – the things that hold us together while forces are trying to tear us apart. I want to call us to those foundational principles.


Over the last several years, the one sacrament that kept me the busiest, besides Eucharist, of course, is Baptism. In my 35 years of ordained ministry, I’ve done hundreds – I’m thinking it may well be more than a thousand – baptisms.

Every one of them has been special. Every one of them has been memorable. Every single one has been an honor and a joy, as is every time I am privileged to preside at Eucharist.


There are two that stand out, however. I want to tell you about one of them.


There was one family in my congregation who were artists – both parents were very talented artists – with two children, a boy almost 9 (I’ll call him G2) and a girl, almost 12 (I’ll call her G1) who had not been baptized. Their parents were of the mind that they wanted their children to grow up and chose their own religion.


However, they had moved from The City to The Burbs and discovered that their theological position was a minority one. They joined the church where I was rector and soon their kids were clamoring to be baptized.


I was pretty convinced that the older girl, G1, was in it to be eligible for Confirmation the next year. She told me stories of how some her friends had “made out like bandits” in Confirmation gifts. Her younger brother, G2, however, was very thoughtful and serious-minded and had lots of very serious questions.

G1 was most concerned with whether or not she could have a new dress for baptism. Yes, of course, I told her. Did it have to be white, she asked, because she had seen a beautiful light blue dress with sparkles – lots of sparkles, she said – and her Godmother was going to buy it for her – with sparkly blue shoes to match.


I told her that I suspected Jesus would be very partial to a light blue dress – a color his mother often wore – and I guessed he would definitely approve of lots of sparkles.  She clapped her hands and squealed with delight.


Her brother, G2, had a very different question. He had heard from one of his Jewish friends who had heard from one of his Roman Catholic friends, that when you get baptized, the church “claims property of your everlasting soul.”


G2. was horrified. “Is that true, Reverend Elizabeth?” he asked.

So, over the next few weeks of meeting with them in my office, I labored to find ways to teach my two young students about the significance of the sacrament of Baptism right out of the Book of Common Prayer.


That Baptism is one of the two Great Sacraments and Five Sacramental Acts of the Church. That sacraments are the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” That Baptism is the Entrance Rite into formal membership in the Church, the Body of Christ. That it is our ordination into the Priesthood of All Believers. Etc., etc.


The older sister yawned. G2 grew more curious. Indeed, one day, he asked to see me alone, without his sister, so we could talk “without distraction,” he said very seriously.

“So, tell me,” he said, leaning forward in his chair the way I had seen his father sit during Vestry meetings, “What really happens at baptism?”


I shot up a quick arrow prayer for inspiration. I pleaded a simple request for a word of knowledge. Almost immediately, that word came.

Now, I confess that I have heard spiritual auditions in the past but it is not often that the response comes that quickly. This was one of those times.


And the sacred word I heard? Loud and clear? Just as clear as a bell? That word would have been the word “Pinocchio”.


Pinocchio? Yes, Pinocchio. The word came right out of my mouth.


“Pinocchio,” I said.

“Pinocchio?” asked G2.

“Yes,” I said wondering where I was going to go from here.

And then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Don’t worry, I got this.”


I heard myself say to G2, “Do you remember that scene in the Disney movie, after Geppetto prays for a ‘real little boy’? And the Blue Fairy comes into Geppetto’s workshop and she stands in front of the puppet Pinocchio and waves her wand and says, ‘Little puppet made of pine, arise, the gift of life is thine.’ Remember?”


“Oh, yeah,” said G2, “And then, his strings disappeared and he could move like a little boy.”


“Right,” said I, “but he was still a puppet made of pine, wasn’t he? It’s just that his strings were gone.”


“Right,” said G2. “So,” he said frowning, “what did that mean?”


“Well,” I said, “that’s what Baptism does. It doesn’t change who you are. It just breaks the strings that tie you down and makes you free to be more of who God created you to be.”


G2 sat in deep thought about this for a few minutes. When he seemed ready, I continued, “Now, what happened when Pinocchio decided to use his freedom and discover more of who Geppetto created him to be?”


“Well,” said G2, thoughtfully, “he skipped school. And then he ran away from home with some kids who were not so nice. And, he joined a circus and he smoked a cigar and he told lies and his nose grew longer, and he even made an ass of himself,” he giggled.


“That’s right,” I said but G2 cut me off, “But Geppetto never stopped looking for Pinocchio. He never stopped loving him. And then, when the whale swallowed Geppetto, Pinocchio figured out a way to save him, even though he almost died. And then . .. .” said Gibby, in a burst of insight . . .


“…. and THEN….,” his eyes wide, “Pinocchio became a real little boy.”


I smiled at G2 and heard myself say, “And that’s the gift of the grace of Baptism. It gives you the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.”


G2 repeated the words given to me by the Holy Spirit and said them softly, reverently, like a prayer: “… the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.”


G2 and his sister G1 were baptized. She wore a light blue dress with lots of sparkles – with matching blue sparkly shoes. Gibby wore a lovely blue suit with a natty bow tie. I thought I couldn’t be more proud of them both.


Turns out. I was wrong. That moment was yet to come.


Eight or so years later, G2 ran for deputy to General Convention from the Diocese. At the diocesan convention all candidates were required to make a 3-5 minute presentation at the Candidates Forum. There were two teen candidates running that year. G2 was one.


When it was G2’s turn, he said that there were two issues that were of great concern to him that were going to be discussed and voted on at the next General Convention. The first was the environment, which was very important to him and he listed the reasons.


And then, he said, “This General Convention is also going to be discussing Blessing Rites for Same Sex Couples. As a young gay man, I very much want the blessing of my church when I marry the man I love.”


Now, I had resigned as rector the year before, having served there nine years, and had moved to Delaware so I was not in attendance at the diocesan convention, but my phone absolutely blew up with text messages.

“G2 came out!” “G2 is my hero!” “G2 did it!”


Mind you, G2 had not ‘come out to me’ so this was news. However, I wasn’t surprised, either by his orientation or his honesty.


Later that day, when I learned that G2 had been elected deputy to General Convention, I called to congratulate him. “Well, G,” I said, “how do you feel?”


There was this little pause and then I heard him say, “Reverend Elizabeth, I think I’ve made enough mistakes to know who I really am. And, I feel like I have finally become a real little boy.”


Well, through my joyous tears, I heard myself say to him, “You are a child of God. You are beloved of God. And, with you, God is well-pleased.”


I often think of the grace of Baptism the way Garrison Keillor used to talk about Powdermilk Biscuits. He’d say, “. . . made of whole wheat that gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens, they're tasty, and expeditious!”


That’s as good a way to describe the sacramental grace of God as any I could say.


As we head into another 7-10 days that promise to continue to be tumultuous, I find myself getting so angry I could just spit and cuss. It has taken great restraint not to ‘go there’ in this sermon.


So, if you don’t remember anything else about the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism, or what is at the center of the foundation of our lives of faith, please remember this:


The grace of Baptism gives you the strength and courage to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn who you are so that, one day, you can sacrifice something big for something good.





Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Some thoughts about The Epiphany and epiphanies


“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” 

                                                                                                       (Hebrews 10:24-25)


A few years back, I heard a story of a priest in England. She had labored faithfully in a small town, and pastored a church there for many years. Though the church never grew to be very large, she was loved by all her parishioners, and had a reputation for being kind and gentle, and a faithful and wise friend.


Through the years, she became close friends with a woman in the church. They had both experienced the hardship of losing their spouses, and each had been there for the other, with a comforting word of Scripture, or just a shoulder to cry on. They both took a keen interest in learning the Scriptures, and would often talk into the wee hours of the morning discussing matters of theology in front of the fire, over tea.


One Sunday, the priest was surprised to see an empty seat in the pew where her friend always sat. As soon as the service and coffee hour were over, she went over to her friend’s home to make sure nothing was wrong. She knocked on the door, and a few moments later it opened—but just barely enough to see inside.


Her friend peered around the door into the priest’s eyes. “I noticed you weren’t at church this morning; I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” the priest said. The woman's eyes shifted downward, and she simply mumbled, “I’ve had a rough weekend. I’ll be fine.” Then she closed the door. Stunned, and a little hurt, the priest walked home, puzzled by the unusual encounter.


For the next 6 weeks, the woman’s seat would remain empty. The priest was heartbroken and at a loss for words; what had happened to her friend? Why was she shutting her out? She decided to try to visit her again.


She knocked on the door, and to her surprise, her friend opened it and gestured for her to come in. They walked over to the fireplace and sat where they had sat so many times before. Neither one knew what to say, so for quite some time, they simply sat in silence, staring at the fire.


After a long while, the priest stood up and walked over to the fireplace. Using the tongs, she reached into the pile of hot embers glowing at the heart of the fire. She pulled out a single ember, glowing red-hot and place it on the stone hearth.


Her friend watched, wondering what she was doing, but still said nothing. Both women stared at the ember as it began to fade from glowing red to a dull black. When it had cooled enough, the priest stooped down and picked it up with her hand. She held it for moment, then threw it back into the fire. Almost immediately, it began to burn red-hot again. 


Turning to her friend, the priest simply quoted Hebrews 10:24-25. The woman smiled up at the pastor with tears in her eyes and softly responded, “Thank you so much for your sermon. I’ll be back in church next Sunday.”


We live in a world today which tries to say too much and often says too little. Consequently, few listen. Sometimes the best sermons are the ones left unspoken.

Epiphanies - manifestations or showings of God - are everywhere. In order to see them, we need to open our eyes and keep our mouths shut.


(Sent to me by a friend whose relative sent it to her. The author is unknown to any of us.)


George Regas

I was a seminarian when George Regas came out to "the farm teams" to "scout for candidates for the Big League" to work with him at All Saints', Pasadena. It was part of his "East Coast Swing" of interviewing seminaries to select one or possibly two candidates for Assistant to the Rector.


I was deeply flattered to have been asked to consider the position but I couldn't imagine how we'd work out all the logistics of moving our rather large family all the way across the country. Ms. Conroy wisely advised that I should "go and see" and if this was an actual call, a way would open where there presently seemed to be none.


There's no denying that ASP was, in the words of my bishop when I described it to him, "a social justice candy store." My gracious! There was deep engagement by this congregation on all the major issues of justice - including the most controversial one of LGBTQ rights and rites and the as yet to emerge, important but not yet as visible one of immigration.


That was clearly due to the leadership of the Rector, George Regas. I fell in love with him and his obviously prophetic ministry. I also fell in love with this congregation and their passion and commitment to the call of Jesus to do this work of ministry. 


They had the sort of "fire in the belly" I could only dream of in a congregation. George had not only inspired them, he equipped them with the tools they needed to do this ministry. Most importantly, they were all grounded in prayer.


Here's what tipped the scales: I was there on Shrove Tuesday and there was a wonderful, lively, joyful Pancake Supper in the Parish Hall. After most everyone had finished their supper, George got up and said a few words and then asked, "Do you know what tomorrow is? Do you know why tomorrow is such an important day?"


Someone in the back gave a muted response that it was Ash Wednesday. George's voice boomed in the Parish Hall, "That's right! Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday."

At which point, the insistent voice of a little girl could be heard over his voice and the murmur of the crowd: "No, Grampa. No, no, no."


A very loud hush fell over the parish hall as George moved closer to his granddaughter. "No?" he said, "Tomorrow is not Ash Wednesday?"


"No, silly," she giggled. "Tomorrow is Wednesday and Wednesday is ballet!"

At which point, he scooped her up and they both giggled and snuggled and laughed and, in that moment, every heart in that room, including mine, was stolen.


As it turned out, a way didn't open and I wasn't able to join George and ASP. I told him that before he even offered me the position because I felt I owed him that information. I don't know if he was thinking of offering me the position, but he was wonderful in making me think he was disappointed but understanding.


I know I made the right decision for my family, and I don't have many regrets, but I do wish I could have worked with this most amazing man. He was a prophet because he was a pastor and a pastor because he was a prophet. By that I mean that his pastor's heart listened to and heard the cry of the people God sent him to tend to, and that drove him to prophetic work, to change systems of oppression and injustice. The more prophetic work he did, the various different cries came to his the ears of his heart which drove him to more pastoral work.


As you will read in his obituary, George died Monday at age 90. His wife of 44 years, Mary, was by his side. He had a great run.


There is a large tear in the veil created when his spirit, his light, left this mortal coil to go home to Jesus.


In my religious imagination, there is an incredible thing that happens when amazing and amazed souls like George return to their Creator. In the mind of my soul and the eye of my heart, there is a moment of darkness as these brilliant souls pass through the veil but that creates an opening for more points of light to pass through from the Creator to continue the work that Jesus, the Light of the World, was sent to do.


George's light continues to shine in the heavens. I imagine him now, having brunch with Louie Clay Crew and Harvey Milk and playing tennis with Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I have no doubt he went directly to talk with Martin Luther King, Jr. who was hanging out with Barbara Harris and Pauley Murray, Eleanor Rosevelt and Cesar Chavez, Gandhi and Mother Teresa and that those of the Philadelphia Eleven who are among the heavenly chorus were among the first in line to welcome him through the Gates.


Shine on, George. Shine on! And, thank you. From my heart and for so many, many others, thank you.