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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Easter Us, O God


A Sermon Preached via Facebook Live Broadcast
Lent II B - February 28, 2021

There’s a commercial on TV for a credit card which features the actor Kevin Hart. He’s at the end of his driveway, at his mailbox, having just received a letter outlining the benefits of this particular credit card. He starts yelling the news to his neighbors. When he yells at Neil, his next-door neighbor, Neil says, “Buddy, I’m right here. Why are you yelling?” Kevin responds, “Because that’s what I do.”


It always makes me think of my family. We were a big, loud Portuguese family. My grandmother had 20 pregnancies and 22 children (yes, two sets of twins), with 15 of them living to adulthood. Nine were alive at the time of her death. We lived in the second floor apartment of my grandparents' tenement house and there was constant traffic, constant chatter and, of course, lots of food. And, someone was always yelling.


We were sort of a cross between the family of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Italian family of Moonstruck. The unofficial motto of Mediterranean families seems to be, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry – and always having to yell.”


That carried over into my grandmother’s prayer life. I’m sure some of you have heard me say this before, but in my grandmother’s house, there were little shrines and altars everywhere. There was a prayer corner for the BVM, and one for St. Jude, another for St. Joseph and yet another for St. Gerard, the patron saint of families. Those were the big, important shrines. Lots of votive candles, large and small.


A very large statue of The Infant of Prague was featured on the top of her bedroom bureau, all in ruffles and frills, and he was surrounded by smaller statues of lesser saints – like St. Lucy and St. Dymphna and St. Theresa of the Little Flower, to name just a few.


Under each statue or the votive candle in front of the statues was a slip of paper on which she wrote her prayer petition. When any particular saint didn’t come through and answer her prayer, she would blow out the light and turn the statue to face the wall as she yelled – yelled, in no uncertain terms, yelled – “And you gonna stay there until you answer my prayer.”


And, she meant it. Face to the wall. Candle unlit. Time out. In the dark. No joke.


This weeks lessons from scripture brought back this flood of memories. Please note that in the first lesson, when God appears to Abram, the man “fell on his face” – not an easy thing to do but especially so when one is reportedly ninety-nine years old.


Even the Psalmist sings, “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *all who go down to the dust fall before him.”


But, notice, please, the way Peter responds to Jesus after he preaches “quite openly” about the suffering he must endure and “be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Peter, scripture says, took Jesus aside “and began to rebuke him”.


Rebuke. As in “express sharp disapproval or criticism (of someone) because of their behavior or actions”. Rebuke. Just as my relatives did all the time. Just as my grandmother did when one of her saints didn’t answer her prayers.

It’s enough to make me think that Peter must be one of my ancient relatives.

I cannot tell you how much comfort this gospel brings me today. Now, I know that this is only the second Sunday in Lent but, if I’m honest, I feel like this whole entire last year has been one long season of Lent. Furthermore, this has not been the fast that I – or you – have chosen but one that has been chosen for me – for all of us.


Over half a million souls have left this earth this year due to COVID. That is more than all of the casualties of WWI, WWII, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.


We are coming up on the first anniversary of The Great Pandemic Lockdown. Most of us have not been back into our beloved church sanctuaries for an entire year. Many of us have not seen our children or grandchildren. Some of us have lost loved ones and are carrying around our grief until we can grieve together in church and over a graveside. Many of us have not enjoyed the simple pleasure of dining in our favorite restaurants or have enjoyed eating popcorn in a movie theater.


Here in Sussex County, Delaware, we had been enjoying a steady decline in both positivity and hospitalization rates, but indications are that both are beginning to rise again.  Here in Sussex County, the positivity rate last Monday was 5.1% (up from 4.9% the week before), with 174 new cases last week. Hospitalizations were 18.9% (down from 21% the week before). Restaurants are still the highest venue for infections, with religious services coming in at second place followed by gyms, beaches and other tourist attractions.

The good news is that we now have the availability of a third vaccine, one that does not need special refrigeration or a second injection. Production of all of the approved vaccines is increasing and distribution, scheduling appointments and providing injections are becoming more efficient – at least here in Sussex County, DE.


We’re not out of the woods but we’re on the path.


Even so, I need to confess that I am exhausted. Emotionally and spiritually exhausted. It came over me slowly, like waves on the shore, each one getting larger and stronger.


I was looking ahead in my calendar to the rest of Lent and I realized that Lent IV – also known as Laetere or Refreshment or Mothering Sunday – would come and go, yet again, without making my grandmother’s Simnal (Bolos do Riso) Cake. So would Lazarus Sunday – the fifth Sunday in Lent – without Lazarakia Bread.


I was holding it together fairly well until I found myself trying to figure out how to assemble yet another meaningful Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter via social media. Suddenly, I found that the liturgical calendar looked very blurry; it was then I realized that tears were filling my eyes.


I began to feel a gathering of energy in my soul that proves that I am of my grandmother’s kith and kin. I felt a sharp rebuke of God coming on. I felt my fist roll into a ball as I raised and shook it toward the heavens as I yelled, “Enough, already! Are you not paying attention here? Do you know your people are suffering? Okay, of course you do. So, can’t you make things go just a little faster? A little easier? Do we really have to mute our joyous celebration of Easter outside our sacred and beloved sanctuaries? Again? Seriously?! Can you cut us some slack here? ”

Almost immediately after I had finished my Great Rebuke of God, I felt awash in relief and gratitude. I knew I was standing on holy ground – on a place where Peter and Jesus once stood.


It’s important to remember that Jesus had just, a red-hot NY minute before, asked Peter in vs. 29, “Who do you say I am,” and Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” We are now in vs. 31 when Jesus began teaching them about his suffering and death. Peter knew to whom he was speaking.


And yet, Peter still rebuked Jesus. And, Jesus rebuked him right back.


In the stories of my people, this is how people who love each other talk to each other. They raise their voice. They yell. If you are rebuked, well, you rebuke right back. Even when you pray.


My point in all this – and I do have one – is that if you are feeling spiritually or emotionally exhausted, or if you are feeling confused and feeling weary and overwhelmed in this season, know that you are not alone. We have been keeping company with fear and anxiety and grief and worry about what lies ahead for some time now.


If the ground beneath you keeps giving way and resurrection seems less than certain and you feel a sharp rebuke coming on, it’s perfectly okay to raise your fist and take it to God. It’s ever so much better than snapping at your loved ones or slamming a door or burning the carrots. It’s easy, in these times, to let passive aggressive behavior take the reigns of your life.


Every year on Ash Wednesday, we are invited to observe a holy Lent. This year, two weeks in, I encourage you to bring your authentic self into Lenten observations. Your grief, gratefulness, sorrow, relief, anger, frustration, hopefulness, and all that is your response to this time are invited to observe Lent with you.

The practices of Lent found in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 265) require facing the truths of this challenging time. While this is hard spiritual work, it is also freeing spiritual work. God loves us as we are and will not leave us stranded in wilderness of grief or anxiety.


Just know that what you hear in response may be exactly what Jesus said when he rebuked Peter right back. Remember what Jesus said? He told Peter to set his mind not on human things but on heavenly things. Heavenly things. Things we could not have previously considered possible. Resurrection into new ways of being a new people and a new church.


There is a great *Ash Wednesday poem by Walter Brueggemann, in which he asks God to “take our Wednesdays and Easter us”. Brueggemann uses Easter as a verb. “Easter us.” God, I think, takes our Lenten sadness and anxiety and “Easters” us to joy and energy and courage and freedom.


The hard truth is that we can only get to Easter after Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And that takes honesty and authenticity and truth. So it may well be that our Lenten yells of rebuke are merely practice sessions for our shouts of joy when we celebrate Easter resurrection.

And, when God hears our yells and says, “I’m right here, why are you yelling?” We can answer, “Because this is what I do.” And the laughter we will share with God will be enough to “Easter” us to new possibilities, new energy and courage and freedom. For we will know we are loved – just as we are – beyond the earthly boundaries of our wildest imagination.   




*Marked by Ashes

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)


Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.

This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.


This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.


We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.


On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.

   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.

Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.


We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.



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.