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Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Wind Blows where it Wills



The wind blows where it wills. . . .

A Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday 

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE

Broadcast live on Facebook: Sirach 26:10 

May 30, 2021


We gather this morning on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, which proves – contrary to the opinion of some – that I have a firm grasp on the obvious. This is the weekend when we are asked to honor “the fallen soldiers” who “made the supreme sacrifice” and died in the effort to protect the sacred values of this country.


This is also Trinity Sunday – the first Sunday after the feast of the Pentecost – when we honor the three person of the God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mind you, not once in scripture is the word “Trinity” used. There is no explicit doctrine of the Trinity that is articulated in Scripture.


Rather, the founders of the early church used their God-given abilities for reason and determined that the mystery of God is revealed in the gift of the Spirit of the Resurrection at the event we know as Pentecost. God is three persons in one; one being in three persons.  A mystery


I’m going to pause here for just a moment before I get back to the Trinity to tell you the third of the trinity of events which we observe and celebrate today.


This is also the Sunday after we observe what is known as Ember Days. Four times a year, we set aside three days to focus on God through the glory of God's creation.

In Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday

In Summer, after Pentecost Sunday

In Autumn, after Holy Cross Day (September14)
In Winter, after the Feast of St. Lucy (December13)

Or, as we learned in Roman Catholic School: "Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy."


However, that which was originally set aside to celebrate the Glory of God’s creation somehow became a way for the church to celebrate the gifts of the sacraments in general and the sacramental role of the priest, in particular.


When I was a child, four times a year we Catholic school kids were asked to break into our piggy banks and bring in a contribution for something “Father” needed: new shoes and socks, a new suit, new shirts, etc., because, well, without “Father” we wouldn’t have the sacraments.


Insert child's eye-roll here. Although, you know, that’s a great gig if you can get it, right?


Thankfully, the church has shifted away from its focus on “the priest” and toward “the priesthood of all believers”. That means all the baptized who take from the wonder and abundance of God’s creation and share it with others so that all might be fed and clothed, visited when sick or in prison, given shelter when needed, and comforted when they experience the loss of a loved one.


As I was explaining this to your Wardens, we all agreed that it would be a wonderful thing if we used the Ember Days after Pentecost – on Trinity Sunday – to recognize and celebrate the various ministries of the Priesthood of All Believers right here at St. Paul’s.


So, I’m going to keep this sermon short and let the testimonials to those who do the work of the Gospel in this church and in the world in various ways, large and small, be the sermon on the mystery of the Trinity.


Let me just say this: You’ve probably learned that the Trinity is one God in three persons – might have even learned that in Confirmation or Reception Classes. And, you’ve no doubt heard every single last really poor analogy of the Trinity: 


It’s like water: liquid, ice and vapor. Or how the same man can be a husband, father and an employer. That’s called Modalism (or Sabellianism) which was condemned as heresy because it only represents three aspects of God, not three persons in one. 


Or, it’s like the sun in the sky: Star, light and the heat. That’s called Arianism – also condemned as heresy because it denies the divinity of Christ.


Or, it’s like St. Patrick’s three leaf clover: That was also condemned as Partialism, a heresy because it suggests that each person of the Trinity is not separate and distinct but only partially God, only becoming God when they are together.


Here’s a hint: The only correct definition to the Trinity is this: The Trinity is a mystery. St. Augustine said trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity was like trying to fill a bucket with the ocean, bucket by bucket.

While I can’t define the Trinity, the one way I see it manifested is in the mystery of community.  I don’t know stuff gets done in this church. I don’t even know who does all the stuff that needs to get done in this church.


I only know that somehow, the work of this church gets done. And often, it gets done by some of the same people. Who do so every week. Week after week. Sunday after Sunday. With no expectation for accolades or expressions of appreciation.


I’ve often said to you that I love being with you all because you know how to BE church and DO church in love. And that, to me, is the best definition of the mystery that is at the heart of what we call The Trinity: A community of people, being and doing in Love, working together to be and do the Gospel – the Good News – of Christ Jesus.


You’ll see example after example of this when the Wardens have their turn, after the Announcements, so I’ll let that be the best part of this sermon. Because it is.


Jesus said, “The wind blows were it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  


Nicodemus heard those words but did not understand. And yet, as one of the religious leaders of his time, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus by night so that it would not be known that he gave any credibility to the teachings of this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth, was so moved by his teaching that he secretly gave his own tomb so that Jesus might have a proper burial.


Nicodemus knew how to BE more like Jesus and DO more like Jesus in the unconditional love of Jesus. Which is the best definition I know of church, the body of Christ, the community of the resurrection of Jesus and the best revelation of the Trinity.


Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Unbearable Truth


“I still have many things to say to you, 

but you cannot bear them now.”

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and Facebook Live Sirach 26:10
Pentecost - May 23, 2021


There’s a story that gets told in learning circles for preachers about a group of clergy who were brought together to preach about the troubles that were besetting the world at that time.


As each preacher stepped into the pulpit, they seemed to cover not only all the problems but all the possible solutions to every problem, all in great detail and for great lengths of them. That was until it was the turn an old, bent-over monk, who took to the pulpit, looked over the by-then exhausted congregation and a deep hush fell over the crowd.


Just when the congregation was starting to get restless with anticipation and confusion, the monk cleared his throat and said, “Love.” And then he folded his hands and said, “Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.”


And then, he bowed and returned to his seat and sat down.


It is said that no one remembered what any of the other preachers said that day, but everyone remembered the message of the monk.


Every time I hear that story I say to myself, “Someday, I’m going to be as good a preacher as that monk.”


I’m not there yet, but as I look over all of the problems of the world today – the tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Palestine; the new stories of old racism in this country where Black men are beaten and shot to death; the increase of COVID deaths in India even as we celebrate the waning of COVID infections in this congregation this morning – I hear the words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel come together in a new way with a new word.


Jesus says, “Istill have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will notspeak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to youthe things that are to come.”


Jesus was – IS – incarnate Love. Embodied love. Love in the flesh. Love eternal and divine. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.


That was really all we could bear to hear at the time. It still is, for some of us. Many of us cannot even begin to fathom the kind of Love that Jesus is or that Jesus has for us. We cannot get our brains wrapped around the idea of unconditional love. That no matter who you are, no matter who you think you are, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done, no matter where you’ve been or where you think you’re going, God loves you.


God. Loves. You. Take 10 seconds to take that in. God. Loves. You. Unconditionally.


No, you didn’t do anything to deserve that. Can’t, as a matter of fact. God will simply love you more, if that’s even possible (And with God, all things are possible.) You can’t do anything to earn God’s love, or for that matter, God’s forgiveness. You simply have to ask for it and it’s yours.


That kind of love is beyond the wildest imagination of many of us.

So, it ought not to be a surprise that many of us cannot even get to the significance of the gift of the Feast of Pentecost which we celebrate today. Jesus has left us with the gift of the Spirit – the Spirit of Truth who will guide us into “all the truth”.


Truth is one of those words like Love. I’m reminded of that scene from The Princess Bride. You remember. Vizzini keeps saying, “Inconceivable”. And, Inigo Montoya says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


What is this Love that is Jesus? What is it about that Love that Jesus was willing to die for? What is it about that Love which will lead us to “all the truth”? Not pieces of truth. All. The. Truth.


Jesuit priest, theologian and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once wrote:

"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

I think the man is onto something. 


What happens when we harness for God the energies of love? What might that look like? What might that feel like? 

I think Pentecost is one powerful image.


So here’s my word for today. You might have guessed it by the music I’ve chosen for today which come from all over the globe and the Pentecost scene from the Book of ACTS which we heard in several different languages and the Lord’s Prayer which we’ll say together later, as part of our Eucharistic prayer, in four different languages.


That word is ‘transformation’. Transformation. Transformation. Transformation. Transformation.


And now, if I were smart, I’d find my way back to my chair, sit down and shut my mouth.


But, I’m not that smart – not yet – so I won’t. Not yet.


Here’s the thing – here’s the essence of “all the truth” into which the Spirit will lead us: God’s love changes everything. God’s love changes people. God’s love is change and transformation.


We were talking in the Instructed Eucharist class on Thursday that everything changes when you walk into church. I love it that these beautiful windows which carry the sacred stories of our faith are considered ‘stained”.  The “stain” on the stained glass windows helps them to become vehicles of light that change and transform the light as it flows from the sun.


We walk into church and we walk the Way of the Cross in the shape of the aisles of the church (Do you see it?). We walk past the baptistery, the entrance rite into our faith, and head toward the altar where we will meet the true presence of Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of wine. In the midst of the crossing here – between the ambo (or lectern) and the pulpit, where the Word of God is proclaimed and broken open so that we might be fed – we are “led into all the truth” by the Holy Spirit so that we might be changed and transformed.


I know. I know. No one likes change. We always want things to remain the same. Some churches even have that written on the walls of their churches: “Jesus, the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.” 


Personally? I think Jesus reads that and does a face palm. Or, as Anne Lamott writes: It’s enough to make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish.


How can we be surrounded by everything that points to change and transformation – the light in the church, the bread, the wine, even the music – and think that we will somehow escape?


This is not “all the truth” but it is a central part of what the Spirit has lead me to believe: At the heart of what we do and believe as Christians is transformation. It’s not conventional “same old, same old”. It’s not normal. It’s not just living life as it comes. It is transformation.


It’s the truth that love has – and will again and again – transform the world in which we live.


It’s the truth about a love that will not accept that we should have food banks in America – or that our shelters should be overflowing with people who don’t have a roof over their heads. Food banks are okay but it doesn't end there. That's just the beginning.


It’s the truth about a love that does not accept that young people should suffer from mental health issues and not be treated. Or, that people should hate themselves because they’re LGBTQ.


It’s the truth about a love that looks at what is wrong in this world and says we will not accept it – not because of what WE'VE done but Because. Of. Who. Jesus. Is.


It’s a transformation not of violence but of love. Not of hatred or politics or manipulation – but a transformation of embrace and inclusion and renewal and acceptance and yes, CHANGE.


It is a transformation that reaches to the people who are most lost and says “You’re found.” I was once lost and now I’m found. It’s amazing. It’s grace. It’s transformative love.


It’s a transformation that reaches to the people who are most angry and brings them peace – and to the people who are most fearful and brings them courage.


It’s a transformation in which Jesus Christ is not watching from a distance but is next to each one of us and says: “You are loved, you are called, come and be with me, and let us change the world.”


I think these are parts of “all the truth” which Jesus wanted to say before he left, but he knew we could not bear to hear them then. Some of us can’t bear to hear them now. 


And, some of you maybe sitting in your pew, thinking of me as Vizzini and you as Inigo Montoya, and you’re saying, “She keeps using this word ‘transformation’. I do not think it means what she thinks it means.”


Let me reassure you. I do. Ha! You should have known me before I met Jesus! And, I know it may not make me popular. I know I’m saying ‘transformation’ to a congregation that just wants to get back to some sense of ‘normal’ after 14 months of imposed lockdown. I know you simply want to get your bearings back and enjoy the stability of “the way things have always been.” Or, were.


And yes, that’s part of the truth about church. This is called a ‘sanctuary’ for a reason. It’s a place of safety and security SO THAT you might find the strength and courage to transform and change the world, beginning with our own hearts and minds.


This is what de Chardin meant when he talked about harnessing for God the energies of love and, for the second time in history, discovering fire. This is why we wear red on Pentecost. And why we sing songs from other lands and speak in tongues other than our own. We are reminding ourselves of the essence of the meaning of what happened in that ancient event we now call Pentecost.


“I still have many things to say to you,but you cannot bear them now.” If you don’t remember anything else I’ve said today, I hope you remember this: Transformation. Transformation. Transformation. Transformation.


If you can’t remember that, remember this: “Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.” If we can harness for God that love, for the second time in history, we will have discovered fire.


And now, I’ll find my way back to my seat, sit down, and shut up.



Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Bookkeeper Who Planted Azaleas in an Asylum


A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and Broadcast via Facebook Live: Sirach 26:10
Easter VII - May 16, 2020

“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into theworld.” Jn 17:19


On May 15,1813 the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason was founded in Philadelphia. It was the first private mental health hospital in the United States. 


The Asylum was founded by a group of Quakers, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, who built the institution on a 52-acre farm. It is still around today. The name was changed to Frankford Asylum for the Insane but for many years it has gone by the name Friends Hospital.


At the time that Friends Hospital was founded, mental illness was widely misunderstood and treated as criminal behavior. Mentally ill people were tied up, put in chains, isolated, or beaten. The Quakers wanted to model a new type of care. 

They wrote out their philosophy in a mission statement for the hospital: "To provide for the suitable accommodation of persons who are or may be deprived of the use of their reason, and the maintenance of an asylum for their reception, which is intended to furnish, besides requisite medical aid, such tender, sympathetic attention as may soothe their agitated minds, and under the Divine Blessing, facilitate their recovery."


This was 1813.

In 1831, they instituted “Pet Therapy” bringing small bunnies and lambs onto the property, allowing the patients to tend to them which they found reduced anxiety and helped to lift depression. They also established a greenhouse in 1879 where patients worked. In 1889, the first institutional gym was built and included as part of the therapeutic program.

And, in 1922, when some asylums were lobotomizing patients, Friends Hospital established an alternative hydrotherapy unit, using water and swimming as part of their therapeutic approach. Today, Friends Hospital specializes in adolescent and adult psychiatric care and crisis intervention.


The group purchased the original 52-acre farm for less than $7,000, and tried to create a beautiful place with gardens and lots of outdoor space. Today, the hospital occupies 100 acres, which include flower gardens and about 200 varieties of trees.


Much of this was the work of one man who started out at the hospital as a bookkeeper in 1875 and ended up working there and managing the grounds until his death in 1947.


One day, he found an azalea that a family member had brought for a patient and someone had tossed out. He tended it in the greenhouse until it was healthy again, took cuttings, and planted those, and from that one plant more than 20 acres of the Friends Hospital are now planted in azaleas.


I love that story about the bookkeeper who saved and planted azaleas in an asylum. I have loved it since I first read about it in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac about 10 years ago. I’ve not been able to find his name but I figure, well, he joins millions of women throughout history whose deeds are known only as having been accomplished by “anonymous.”


I love the story as it not only says something about the Ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday and honor today, but it also is a wonderful illustration of the High Priestly Prayer which we hear from Jesus in this morning’s Gospel from St. John.


The Ascension was once a major feast in the church, and still is although because of the demands of our modern lives, it is the rare church which celebrates it on the 40th day after the resurrection. Besides, say modern minds, the Ascension just isn’t logical. Heaven really isn’t ‘up’ they say. We don’t know where heaven is, exactly, they say. Or even if there IS an actual place called ‘heaven’.


And, ‘they’ may be right, but one can be right and still miss the point. And, the point is that, after making the point that Jesus was, in fact, resurrected in the flesh, He now has to leave, to return to the place from whence he came.


The point is that Jesus is now delegating the work of continuing His ministry of reconciliation and healing and miracles to us. He is entrusting this work to us.


The point is that Jesus is sending the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and continue to teach us so that we might become the Body of Christ here on earth. This is what we hear Jesus pray in this morning’s gospel.


Jesus ostensibly prays what is called “The High Priestly Prayer “for his disciples, encouraging them to confidence and hope in the face of his imminent “departure” from them. 


Although the narrative is ostensibly set prior to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death on the cross, it well placed for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. It is transparent in its presentation as the words of an already resurrected Lord who now encourages a company of disciples, including modern hearers, living today, in light of the resurrection promise. 

As Easter people, we are encouraged not to dwell in feelings of abandonment or despair, but to hope in the assurance of Jesus’ continuing presence, now that the work for which he was sent has been accomplished.


And that work can feel much like the work of an anonymous bookkeeper who planted azaleas on the grounds of an asylum among the humans whose lives had been deemed without beauty or worth. 


The azaleas, no doubt lovingly plucked from the family garden of one of the patients and brought to them at the asylum, were tossed out. Who knows why? Was it too much a sign of hope in the midst of despair? Did it bring back painful memories of home? Perhaps the patient or one of the other patients or staff were allergic?


No matter. Something of fragile beauty was disregarded. That proved to be too much to bear for our friend, the bookkeeper who became a gardener. So, he rescued and saved it, tending to it until it was healthy again. He took cuttings, and planted those, and from that one plant more than 20 acres of the Friends Hospital are now planted in azaleas.


I can’t think of a more apt description of the role of the church, the Body of Christ. In this week’s class on an Instructed Eucharist, I talked about the role of the priest in the liturgy of Word and Sacrament. For me, it is about being a vehicle of transformation.


The role of the priest is to listen carefully to your conversations and even more intently to the Prayers of the People. These are the discarded elements of the world in which we live, where everyone is supposed to live perfect lives and have perfect jobs and come home to perfect houses and be perfectly happy. 

Except we know that that is a perfect load of hooey. No one is perfect. No life is perfect. We all come to church carrying the burdens of our own brokenness, our own sorrows, our own neurosis, and all the things which can make us feel crazy in this life. 

In church, the priest then bundles together all of the concerns, all of the struggles, all of the pain – expressed in words on human lips or in “sighs and groans too deep for words” (Romans 8:26)– and  presents them on the altar of God, along with the other offerings of a tithe of our wages and the bread and the wine to be blessed by God. 


And, through the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” in a moment of kairos – of God’s time, when past and future fold into the present, together with those who have come before and those yet to come join us in the now – we believe that all of these things are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the real, living presence of Jesus.


I know. I know. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? That God would find enough value in our suffering to transform it? Makes us sound like crazies and fools! And, you know, maybe that’s exactly right. Maybe that’s the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.


At the end of his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”


For some of us that means carrying on His work of prayer. For others, it means some other specific work of ministry such as being a teacher or a member of the medical profession, or a lawyer or a bookkeeper or accountant, or a musician or an artist or an engineer or mechanic or a jeweler or baker or chef or wait staff or small business owner or student and/or a spouse, parent, sibling.


Whatever that work is, we are to do it with an understanding that we have been sent into the world by Jesus to “seek and serve the Christ in others,” to treat everyone with “dignity and respect” and to work for “justice and peace”. 


In a world that is beset by turmoil brought on by greed and disinformation and burdened by religious wars and terrorism, domestic and foreign, being a Christian can make us look like crazies and fools. Not to mention believing in the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.


Indeed, being a follower of Jesus can make us look as crazy as a bookkeeper, rescuing an azalea from the trash and planting it in the yard of an asylum among humans whose lives had been deemed as being devoid of beauty or worth, and one day, finding yourself surrounded by 20 acres of beauty.




Sunday, May 09, 2021

Abide in my love



A Sermon preached for Easter VI 
Rogation Sunday - Mother's Day
May 9, 2021
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Facebook Live Broadcast - Sirach 26:10

That’s what Jesus said. And, he said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and thatyour joy may be complete. He also said, I am giving you these commandsso that you may love one another.”


This is Rogation Sunday, a day when we ask (‘rogare’ is Latin for ask) God’s blessings and, in the old days of the church, an appeasement of God’s wrath and for protection against calamities. For those whose spirituality is ennobled by these things, it is their practice to fast on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the observance of the Ascension of Jesus in to heaven on Thursday, May 13th, which is 40 days exactly from the Resurrection. 


At the end of this service, we’re going to process outside to “beat the bounds” (boundaries) and ask (rogare) for God’s blessings on the four-corners of the church property. I hope you’ll stay and join us. St. Paul’s is back and livin’ the dream of the gospel. 

This is also Mother’s Day, a special day, to be sure, which, alas, is NOT on the Church Calendar. I know you’ll be shocked to learn that there are no special observances or even a special collect prayer to be found in the BCP. However, many in Mother Church acknowledge that we ignore Mother’s Day at our own peril. 


And, as you may have noticed, my momma didn’t raise no fool. 


There will be carnations. Red. It’s a tradition and we know how important tradition is in the church.


Abide in my love. That’s what Jesus said. What does that mean? In this sense, abide means to rest, to wait, to stay – to build an abode – a home in our hearts – in the love of Jesus. 


Abide in my love. That’s what Jesus said. As we consider his commandment, to love one another as he loved us, what might that sort of ‘abiding in love’ look like? 


For many, Mother’s Day is as easy an analogy of abiding love as picking low hanging fruit. However, this day is terrible for those who mourn a mother now gone, and also for those whose mothers were just not equipped to nurture a child. It’s terrible for women who desperately wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, and also for women who didn’t want to be mothers but are too often vilified for that perfectly reasonable choice. It’s beyond terrible for women who have lost a child.


As painful as Mother’s Day can be for some, it is also an occasion, especially this Rogation Sunday, to understand how much we share in an innate sense of the abiding love of a parent with our fellow creatures in the animal kingdom.

I live on one of the marshes which are a part of one of the estuaries of Rehoboth Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula. Every day, I am blessed to have a front row seat to nature. The red-winged Black Birds arrived not long ago and every time I hear their angry cry, my heart leaps in anxiety that a sea gull has come too close to their nest in the marsh. I cheer on the angry father Black Bird as he swoops and charges the intruder and predator. I shake my fist and say, “You tell ‘em!”

There are several Canada Geese who are my neighbors. Every now and again, Mother Nature’s timing is off and a storm will arrive shortly after a mamma geese has laid her eggs. The sound of the mamma and papa geese, calling up and down the marsh, looking for their lost eggs is enough to break open even a heart of stone. 

As difficult as it is to hear the grief of another of God’s creatures, I find it comforting to know that humans are not alone in our grief and that we all need and seek solace. I don’t know if you’ve read Rosamund Young’s memoir, “The Secret Life of Cows” but I’m reminded of the story she tells of a grieving young mother cow whose calf was a stillbirth. 


That cow sought her own mother for comfort and solace, from three fields away. Imagine!


Perhaps you remember the story of the orca (sometimes called “Killer Whale”) who carried her dead calf for 17 days – 17 days! – across a thousand miles of ocean because she could not abide to let the baby go. Apparently, the calf was born alive and lived for 30 minutes but then something happened and the calf died and she grieved while holding her calf for 17 days.


No matter your gender or if you have not suffered a stillbirth or lost an infant or child, there is something profoundly moving in that image of that orca. Yes, grief is universal and recognizable, but I think we can all recognize an image of ‘abiding love’ – a love that begins before we are born, stays with us for as long as we live, and follows us even to our grave. That is the kid of love in which Jesus asks us to abide. (BTW, I understand that that orca gave birth again, this time to an apparently healthy calf.)

I have one more image of abiding love I want to share with you. Some of you may know that I am an Associate of the Order of St. Helena. The sisters of OSH have been my spiritual guides for over 35 years. I am the priest I am today in large part because of the discipline of a life of prayer which I learned from them. They have played an enormous role in my formation as a Christian who is privileged to be a priest.  They are my spiritual mothers, sure and true.


One of the sisters, Sr. Ann, has asked for prayers for one of the families she knows. This young couple has two delightful sons, Jack and Archer. 


Jack is the older boy who is bright and inquisitive, sensitive and compassionate. Archer was born with a multiplicity of life-threatening syndromes, most of which are difficult to comprehend, much less pronounce. To put a very complicated medical situation very, very simply, Archer was born with a heart deformity and has had several strokes that left him with a seizure disorder which has been difficult to control.


I want to share with you one of his mother’s recent posts on Facebook to those of us who have been praying for him.

“I came home from work and this is what I saw. I see it all the time but for some reason it hit me especially hard tonight.


Jesse on the phone with neurology (literally his *15th* complex medical phone conversation of the day), Archer's nurse logging all his feeds and meds, his occupational therapist hard at work teaching him how to drink and Jack playing dinosaurs in his bedroom........


It took us a long time to get Archer the in-home therapists and nurses he has now. They're truly incredible and they help us so much. I'm grateful to live in a society where we have such advanced medical technology, treatments and therapies available to us.


But some days it hits me. How much I wish we didn't need them. How much of our life revolves around hospitals, therapies and medications. How I feel guilty sometimes for just snuggling or being silly with my baby when I should be working on therapies. How every medical decision feels like it could make or break his future. How I'm scared to be alone with him sometimes because I don't want to deal with a seizure or stroke on my own.


So yeah, when I look at this photo, I feel sadness. But I also feel so much gratitude. For a husband who fights for our family so fiercely every day. Today a vital medical treatment was late and he spent hours making sure it got here in time. All the while playing with Jack every spare second he could.


Grateful for friends and family who pray for us, help us and give encouragement.


Grateful for the medical team that keeps Archer's little heart beating.


And grateful for a God that accepts both the sorrow and gratitude that coexist in my heart. I never have to hide from him (God). 


Now, I don’t know about you, but I think there can be no clearer picture of abiding in God’s love than the one Archer’s parents provide for us. 


Did you hear what she said? God loves us so much that God accepts both the sorrow and gratitude that coexist in our hearts. Just hold that thought in your mind for a second. God accepts our sorrow and God accepts our gratitude. God knows how we struggle with conflicting thoughts because God once put on human flesh and dwelt among us – fully human and fully divine. 


And, she said, we never have to hide from God. That would be an exercise in futility anyway, because the Psalmist promises that “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.” (Psalm 139:8). 

I think that mother orca knew that when she swam for 17 days – one day for every month she was pregnant with her calf – to grieve its loss. I think that mother cow knew that when she called for her own mother several fields away when she lost her calf. 


Mother’s Day has been criticized as a saccharine invention, a national fairy tale in a nation that does almost nothing to support mothers. But this Sunday, this Mother’s Day, this Rogation Sunday, we can make time to contemplate the ways in which we’re connected to one another, through times of joy and times of sorrow, across time and even across species. 

The mystic St. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), whose feast day was yesterday, wrote in her book, Revelations of Divine Love: 

"It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. The mother,” she wrote, “can give her child her milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most generously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament which is the precious food of life itself… All the debt we owe, at God’s bidding, for his fatherhood and motherhood, is fulfilled by loving God truly; a blessed love which Christ arouses in us.” (Divine Revelations, pp. 141-142.)


“Abide in my love,” Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And, he said, I amgiving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


That sounds an awful lot like what a mother would say, don’t you think? 


Sunday, May 02, 2021

A tree with strong roots laughs at storms

A Sermon preached at 
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and via Facebook Live Broadcast
Easter V - May 2, 2021


The image of vine and branches is one that brings me comfort. It also inspires and challenges me.


My father loved nothing more than to have his hands in the soil. He had a rather large garden on the side lot of our property. He also planted a grape arbor as well as an apple and pear tree in our yard.


He fed the trees a mixture of his own compost which I vaguely remember including coffee grounds, eggshells and fruit rind and vegetable peels along with some manure. He would explain that it was important to feed the roots as a prelude to one of his favorite sayings about the nature of creation and the nature of individuals and families: “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”


He was talking about the tree, of course, but he was also using the image of the tree and branches in the same way we hear Jesus use it in today’s gospel reading. Jesus say, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” There is great comfort in knowing that we are the branches of the True Vine of Jesus which, by the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, is rooted firmly in and connected to God.


The first letter of John amplifies this message by assuring us that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  And, We love because he first loved us.”


Which is comforting and reassuring. However God does not rest there. This is not just about “me and Jesus” or “you and God.” Remember, there is a root and there is a vine, but there are branches. Plural. That means that ours is not an individualistic faith. No, our faith tosses us directly into community.

It is no surprise, then, that John continues, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”  (emphasis on "commandment" and ‘must love’ mine).


If you find yourself slightly uncomfortable and beginning to squirm in your seat, you would not be alone. Generations of people before us have felt the same way. Indeed, church has probably been the worst offender. I don’t know one church – no, not one – that doesn’t like to describe itself as “warm and welcoming”. More recently, we Episcopalians love to champion the fact that we embrace “diversity” and are “inclusive.” And, for the most part, we are. Or, try, anyway.


I think it must be going on 20 years or so now, when the term “inclusive” really started to gain traction in Episcopal Church circles. I’m remembering a particular reaction from one of my brother priests, Juan Cabrero-Oliver, who had had just about enough of being “included”.


We were at some meeting or another when I remember that he practically roared, “Included? INCLUDED? Do you not know that I am baptized? I am already included. Jesus has ‘included’ me by my baptism. "

And then he asked the real stopper of a question: "Whose house do you think this is, anyway?”


Well, that set a few people in the room back on their heels. Including, I confess, me. I have learned a few lessons since then about honoring the branches which come from the same root of God’s love.


I want to tell you a story which involves another of my clergy colleagues, Laurie, who is one of the best priests I’ve ever known in The Episcopal Church. 


I first met Laurie after she had just graduated from Princeton Theological School with a Master’s degree in Divinity and had just moved with her spouse to Hoboken, NJ. She was sure she was called to ministry, but she didn’t know what kind, actually. She thought she might be called to ordained ministry but the idea terrified her. She wasn’t sure she was ready for the institutional church – or, if the institutional church was quite ready for her. (It was not. Still isn't. Which is wonderful.)


She was discussing her quandary with her rector, Geoffrey, another stellar priest in the church, who listened carefully and then said, “You know, what? I think you’d make a brilliant Missioner to the West End of Hoboken.”


Now, some of you may know that Hoboken, NJ, is the birthplace of baseball as well as the hometown of Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. You may not know that it is one mile in each direction, north to south and east to west. If you walk or drive down the main street – which is Washington St – Hoboken looks for all the world like a yuppy/buppy city whose residents mostly take the ferry across the Hudson River every day to work on Wall Street or in the Fashion District or high-powered law offices.


The West End of Hoboken is designated for the Section 8 Housing. That’s government code for “where the poor people live”. Which is also code for “where people of color live”. In their own little corner. Tucked neatly out of sight. On top of each other in tall apartment buildings.


“What do you want me to do?” asked Laurie.


“Be a missioner,” answered Geoff.


“But, what does a missioner do?” she asked.


“Listen to the people,” said Geoff, “they’ll tell you.”


So, for the first two weeks or so, Laurie wandered around the West End of Hoboken, listening to the sounds, paying attention to the rhythms, taking in the sights. One day she found herself asking someone, “So, if I wanted to talk to someone in charge, who would that be?” It didn’t take that person half a second to respond with one name. “Rosie.”


Laurie found her way to Rosie’s apartment. It was not hard. It was the one with the door open and people coming in and out. Rosie was sitting at her kitchen table in front of her sewing machine, while yelling at someone to stir the soup and then pulling a kid out from under the table.


Laurie sat down and introduced herself and talked about why she was there. She explained that she was from the church and wondered if there was any way the church could help.

Rosie never looked up, never stopped working at her sewing machine. “You know,” continued Laurie, “maybe start an after school program? Maybe a computer skills lab? Oh, how about a basketball court?”


Rosie kept her head down and kept working. Just when Laurie thought she couldn’t stand the silence any longer and should probably leave, Rosie said, “You wanna help? Okay, here’s what you can do to help. For one night – just one night – gimme your church.”


Laurie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “The church? You want the church?”

Rosie steadied her gaze and nodded her head.

“SooOOoo, what will you do with the church," asked Laurie, "because, you know, I’ll have to tell Geoff, the rector, the priest, you know, the Padre.”


Rosie leaned back in her chair and smiled, “Tell your Padre that we want the church for one night so we can have a fashion show.”


Laurie heard herself gulp. “A fashion show?  Of course. A fashion show. Sure. Let me tell … er.. Padre . . . Geoff and then I’ll get right back to you. Thank you.”


Geoff was out in front of the church when Laurie walked by and greeted her with, “Hey, how’s it going?” Laurie figured that once she told him what Rosie wanted she’d be fired so she took a deep breath and said, “Fashion show. They want a fashion show.”


Laurie was stunned when she heard Geoff say, “A fashion show? That’s great. Let’s get a date on the calendar! Let’s do this!”


The next month was a bee-hive of activity. Geoff had long ago removed the ancient, uncomfortable pews and replaced them with comfortable, movable pew-chairs. Some of the men from the West End came in and built a runway which came from the front step at the altar and extended itself down the center aisle. The side altar was converted into a waiting area and make up room.


The women of the West End were also busy, making beautiful gowns and outfits for their daughters and shirts and ties for their sons. The local florist, who lived in the West End, donated the flowers. The church’s sound system was adapted to be able to play some soft Hispanic background music.


There was a rehearsal, of course. As the girls and their escorts practiced walking down the runway, Rosie described the outfit she would be wearing that night. Suddenly, she stopped and stood in front of the girls. 

“Why are you walking like this?” she demanded as she mimicked their heads down and stooped shoulders. 

“I want you to walk like this,” she said as she held her head high and her shoulders back, “like your mama walked in front of your papa when she wanted him to notice her.” 


The evening of the West End Fashion Show arrived and the air was electric with nervous anticipation and excitement. Laurie had bitten down every last nail and was now gnawing on her fingertips. No one could have anticipated the many small miracles that were about to happen.


Each young girl emerged from the side chapel looking resplendent in her new gown or outfit that had been made especially for her. The young man who escorted her did so as if the Princess of Puerto Rico was on his arm, as if she were the most beautiful girl in the whole world.


That was enough of a miracle, but the best was yet to come. Out from the darkened back of the church, a man stepped out and stood at the end of the runway. The young girl gasped. “Daddy,” she whispered as tears began to well in her eyes. Her father, whom she had not seen since her parents split up, held up a single rose which he gave to her when she arrived at the end of the runway.


This happened to each girl. One after another, escorted like a beautiful princess down the runway on the arm of handsome young man, to be greeted by her father and given a beautiful long-stem rose.


I am telling you, there was not a dry eye in the house.


And, if one of the girl’s fathers was not able to be there because of immigration or work or death or incarceration, an uncle or a neighbor stood in for him. Each young girl and each young boy was treated with respect and dignity and love.


All of this took place at a fashion show. In front of God and everybody. In the church. And, it was church – in the best sense of what church means and can be. 

Transformation happened. Those kids were changed. They began to see and understand themselves in new ways. They began to see and understand their connections to each other and their neighborhood and the world.


At the end of the evening, Rosie came up to Laurie and they each fell into each other’s arms, crying tears of joy.

Laurie had moved beyond mere inclusion and straight on into Gospel love. She had been changed and transformed and began to trust God's call to her.

Rosie had provided an opportunity to live into the words of scripture, “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”   Rosie was also transformed as she began to trust the institutional church.


Our baptism connects us as siblings, places us in relationship and community with each other, and makes us the branches of the True Vine. And that relationship changes and transforms u.


The branches of those who take the risks of the gospel yield the fruit of miracles.


We are strengthened – strengthened, not weakened – by honoring the unity of our diversity because we honor the source of our strength which is God.


And, God our Creator is love. Jesus, who is Incarnate Love, is the root of our lives of faith. And the fruit of our faith is Love. Trust. Respect. Dignity. Community. Equality. Equity. Justice.


I can hear my father saying, “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”


And Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”