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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Miracles and Flat Jesus

A Sermon Preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and simultaneously broadcast via Facebook Live Sirach 26:10
June 27, 2021

Let me begin by making an introduction. This is ‘Flat Jesus’. About 10 years ago, a clergy colleague of mine created him as a way for her congregation to keep in touch during the summer holiday, when everyone is away.


She encouraged them to take ‘Flat Jesus’ with them on their summer vacations or wherever they were during the summer. She then asked them to take pictures and upload them to the parish Facebook page so they could all stay connected through Jesus even though they weren’t in church.


I thought it was such a great idea that I asked her to send one to me so I could play along. She did. And that’s how I got my very own ‘Flat Jesus’. I think she picked this one out especially for me. See the ‘peace sign’ on the middle of his T-shirt? Sorta Hippy Jesus. It’s great, right?


This past week, I ventured forth, outside of Sussex County, out of the state of Delaware, for the first time in almost two years to have a short visit with my friends in Astoria, Queens. They had also not been outside of their city. They are members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and really wanted to see some of the portraits of St. John the Baptist on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which was this past Thursday.


So, what was I to do? I had to help them out, right? Off I went to Metro Park Station in Islin, NJ, and then took the train into Penn Station, NYC to meet up with them. But, the car ride from my home to Metro Park is about three hours, give or take, with a few pit stops to stretch my legs.


It seemed a perfect time to take out Flat Jesus and have a conversation with him, going to NJ and coming back, just to help pass the time. Besides, there’s an awful lot going on in the world as well as this morning’s gospel, so I had a lot of questions to ask Him.


The first thing I wanted to know was His thoughts on all this talk about withholding communion from politicians and other public figures who hold positions different from the church.


Jesus shook his head sadly and said nothing. I thought I saw Him moving His finger around in the air. I imagine He would have done the same thing in the ground if He could move but, well, as you can see, He’s laminated.


Finally, He took a deep sigh and said, “You know, I’ve said this once before but it was about a woman who was about to be stoned to death because of adultery. I wasn’t condoning adultery but I was trying to make the point that adultery is not something one does all by oneself, you know? And, the party of the first part was conspicuous by his absence. Besides, no one is without sin.”


“So, what I said to the crowd long ago is just what I would say to all those well-intentioned ‘Men in Black’ today,” He sighed. “‘Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.’”


“Good call, Jesus,” I said. We talked about Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter and Voting Rights and Reproductive Rights and I was surprised by how well informed He was about current events in the United States. I mean, people worship him all over the world, you know? That’s a lot of very different ‘current events’ he has to pay attention to.


“People have always labeled themselves and each other,” He said, sadly. “I really wish they’d quit it. I mean, Israel had not one, not two, but 12 tribes. Religious groups did the same thing. Just look at the Sadducees and Pharisees in my time. And, the Canaanites got slammed because they had their own religious observances outside of Jerusalem. Sort of the way people are now talking about those who don’t come to church but prefer to watch it on a social media platform.”


“So, He said, “I’m not at all surprised by all the different denominations today that are so very, very different and yet they all claim a piece of me. Some of them even claim to be the “true” me which means, of course, that the rest of those who follow me are not “true” or “real”.”


He sighed deeply. “Right now, you’re going through a period intense time of tribalism. You got one political tribe with the mascot of an elephant and another with a mascot of a donkey – which, I have on good authority that, like the whale, God also created just for the sport of it. And there are tribes, which think one race is superior to the other, which is just completely wrong. God created different kinds and varieties of people, not races. And, God didn’t make one better than the other.”


I could tell Jesus was getting a little annoyed because He started to raise His voice when he said, “The only race God created was the HUMAN race.”


I figured I’d better get him off the topic of current events because it was getting Him as irritated as it got me, so I decided to turn to the gospel lesson.


“So, what was up with that woman Mark talks about in this week’s gospel passage? You know, the one who touched your hem without you knowing it and she got healed of her hemorrhage?”


“Yes,” He smiled and said softly, “I remember her well.”


“It kinda reminded me of the first time the Beatles landed in America. ‘The British Invasion’ they called it. People were swarming them and trying to touch them. I was thinking that must have been the way you felt that day by the sea. Like a rock star.”


“Yeah,” said Jesus, “I really hated that. They missed the point entirely,” He said. “It wasn’t a ‘Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’ like that nice man, Neil Diamond sings. I had stuff to do. Things to teach. People to heal. I was on my way to take care of that little girl who was really sick and could have very easily died. In fact, when I got there, they thought she was already dead.”


“So,” I asked, “what was it like? I mean, the poor woman was desperate. She had been suffering physically and ostracized personally for 15 years. You were completely surrounded like a rock star. Nevertheless, she persisted, and she managed to wiggle her way through the crowds and get close enough to touch the hem of your cloak. And, you didn’t even know it.”


He nodded quietly as he remembered the scene.


“So, what is it? I mean, do you have a huge battery of power that we have access to and all we need to do is get close enough to you to plug ourselves into it?”


Jesus chuckled kindly and shook his head. “That’s pretty close to church heresy, my friend.”


I blushed with slight embarrassment. “I know, I know. You always initiate, but it IS nice to know that we have access to an incredible source of power that can change our lives.”

“I wish you’d preach about that more often,” Jesus said. “Maybe if we keep saying it, one day people will really begin to believe in the power of prayer.”

“You know,” he said, “I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I made it too complicated.”


“What too complicated?” I asked.

He sighed and said, "Maybe instead of that 'New Commandment', I should have just said something like, 'Be Kind' or, maybe, 'Keep it simple'."


I told Him that maybe it might have been more effective if He had said something concrete. Like, "Take naps" or "Have cookies and milk at the end of the day." Or, "Eat ice cream".


He thought it over and said, "Hey, can't we get a swirl cone of ice cream at McDonalds? I hear they are only 170 calories. And, you know, there’s one just up the road in the rest area."


"Sure, I said. So, I swung into Mickey-D's and got us an ice cream cone. After we finished it He said, "You know, it's hard to hate anyone or feel violent after you've had an ice cream cone. Maybe you're right. Maybe I should have been more concrete. Instead of ‘Love one another.’ Maybe I should have said, “Eat ice cream.’"


"Nah," I said. I think you were right. Give people the operating principle - Love one another - and then let them use the intelligence and creativity God gave them to figure out how to live it out."


"Ice cream is good," He said.


"Yes it is," I said.


"I love ice cream," He said.


"Me, too," I said. It's always good, but especially in the summer time and you’re celebrating being out and about and ‘almost back to normal’ after a pandemic.”

"Next week, we're having a special celebration with homemade ice cream. You'll have to make sure to stay for the Ice Cream Sundae Sunday."


"Life is a celebration," Flat Jesus said, adding, "You know, it's a good thing these are only 170 calories, or I'd quickly move from being 'Flat Jesus' to 'Fat Jesus'."


Turns out, Jesus has got a weird sense of humor but He's great company on long drives in a car. Actually, He’s great company anywhere. You don’t need a ‘Flat Jesus’ to start talking to him, but if you think you need a little prompt, just let me know. I’ll let you borrow Him.”


I want to encourage you to "plug into" Jesus through conversational prayer any time. We have this amazing source of spiritual power available to us through Him. Lives will change, and with it, the world. 


Until then, just remember to love one another. And, eat ice cream. It won’t cure diseases and it won’t raise the dead back to life but it sure helps things feel like normal again.   



Sunday, June 20, 2021

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?


A Sermon preached at 
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and on Facebook live broadcast Sirach 26:10
June 20, 2021 


So, at the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I just have to say – without even the slightest attempt to hide my enthusiasm and excitement – that the readings for today are precisely why I chose to follow Track I of the Revised Common Lectionary.


I’ll get to the gospel in a minute but, oh, can you just stand the excitement of the story in the first lesson from Hebrew Scripture? Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, we’ve been building up to this encounter between David and Goliath for weeks now.


That’s the beauty of Track I. Major narratives and themes from Hebrew Scripture are provided in a continuous reading, not necessarily related to the Christian readings, but encourage familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms.

Here’s the thing: I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.

There’s probably not a person in church this morning who doesn’t know the story – at least in broad terms – of David and Goliath. We either learned it in a Sunday school classroom long ago or saw it in a movie or heard secular references to it when the mighty are brought down by those considered small and weak.


To only know this part of the story, however, without what has led up to it is to miss the real importance of the story and how it informs our understanding of the gospel lesson we heard this morning about Jesus calming the storm. We also miss, as well, how it is that God has always acted to raise up the meek and lowly to give us a glimmer of the Realm of God.


So, let’s go back to a few weeks ago, to the first book of Samuel, when we heard that the elders came to Samuel at Ramah and told him that none of his sons had leadership qualities so they wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them; they wanted a king just like everyone else.

Samuel prayed to God and God said to Samuel, “Listen to them. They have not rejected you; they have rejected ME as king over them. So, let them have their own king and let’s see how they like it.”


Samuel tried to warn them of what it would be like to have a king – sort of “be very careful for what you pray for because you might get it and then what will you do?” – but the people persisted and they appointed Saul as their king.


Last week, we heard how God sent Samuel from his home in Ramah to Bethlehem, to chose a successor to Saul among the sons of Jesse. Seven of the sons of Jesse passed before Samuel but God gave no indicated to him of God’s favor.


Samuel then asked Jesse if had any other sons and Jesse called for his youngest son, David, who had been out tending sheep. When David appeared before Samuel, he anointed him with oil in the presence of his father and brothers and the spirit of God came upon him and was with him from that day forward.

David was to replace Saul, whom God would set aside because of his disobedience. God promised to build David a kingdom that would last through all eternity, and that a descendant of David would rule as the eternal king. The early years of David’s reign as king were extremely successful as he followed closely after God – well, not so much in his personal life, but that’s another story for another time.


Enemies constantly threatened David and his kingdom, especially the Philistines, including Goliath of Gath. In this morning’s first reading we hear about the famous battle between David and Goliath.


David fought the Philistines at Gob and several times at Gath. Four of the giants who were descendants of Goliath fell by the hand of David and Jonathan, the son of Saul, as well as many of his servants. (We’ll hear about David’s love of Jonathan next Sunday.)


So, who are these Philistines? And, what might they have to teach us today, especially in light of today’s Gospel? Well, they were known as a seafaring nation and non-Semitic people, who left Crete and arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century B.C.E.

They inhabited the Mediterranean coast of Canaan, founding five principalities, including what is today known as Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and the southern portions of Lebanon and Syria. They came during a time when cities and civilizations in the Middle East and Greece were collapsing. 


Their highly developed weapons brought a great threat to the Israelites. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites purposely took a southern route to circumvent them. But when the Philistines stole the Arc of the Covenant, God struck them with “the plague of emerods”, which translated means boils, tumors, or severe, bleeding hemorrhoids.

(I am not making this up. You can read all about it in 1 Samuel 5-6. See? And you thought scripture was boring.)


Whatever it was, it was bad enough that the Philistines returned the arc to Israel along with “five gold tumors and five gold rats and two cows that have calved” (1 Sam 6:7). But, we actually don’t know much about the Philistines because they left no text of their own. We do know that they worshiped the god Dagon and disappeared about 600 years after they arrived.


Today, the word ‘philistine’ is used to describe a smug or boorish person, one who is guided by materialism and self-interest, or a person who is disdainful of intellectual or artistic values.


The Philistines no longer existed by the time Jesus was born, but certainly he and his disciples had heard the stories of the wars between the Israelites and the Philistines; they most certainly knew the story of David and Goliath of Gath.


So, it should be no surprise to us, then, that Jesus becomes so annoyed at hisdisciples when a great storm arose on the sea, and the waves beat on the sides of the boat so that the boat was being swamped.


Jesus had been asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat and the disciples, being rightfully frightened that they would drown, woke him up. Well, they didn’t just wake him up. They woke him up with these words: “Teacher, do you not care that weare perishing?”


Do you not care? Do. You. Not. CARE? OMG. The disciples treated Jesus as if he were a Philistine – someone who did not care about others. Smug. Guided by self-centered interest.


But, Jesus calmed the storm and then cut them to the quick with these words, “He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”


Did they not remember the story of David? Did they not recall how God had directed Samuel to call out the youngest? The one relegated to tend to the sheep? The eighth and most insignificant of his brothers, to be the next King of Israel? Did they not remember the story of David and Goliath and how David did slew the giant with just his slingshot? And how Goliath of Gath did fall face down into the ground?


Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?


I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.


There are Philistines among us today. There are giants who call to us and taunt us and threaten to kill us. There are cultural giants of greed and corruption. There are societal giants of prejudice like racism and sexism and homophobia. There are personal giants of fear and shame, insecurity and doubt.


I think we forget that God always chooses the weak to overcome the brutal oppressor. Like: Lilly Ledbetter who sued a major corporation concerning employment discrimination and not only won for herself but inspired the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. We forget that it was a little old lady seamstress, one Rosa Parks, who just got tired of her feet hurting so she sat down in a seat for a White person and when she got up she had sparked the Civil Right’s Movement. 

We forget that it was Ms. Opal Lee, the 94 year old activist, who, when she was 89 years old, walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. two and a half miles at a time, to commemorate the two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, when more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas learned that they were finally free, marking the end of slavery in America. Five years later, she found she had become the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” which is now signed into law as a federal holiday.


I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.


If God can send David to slay Goliath, and God can send Lilly and Rosa and Opal Lee to slay the cultural giants of our time; and if we know that God sent Jesus, the son of a very young woman and an elderly master craftsman, who calmed the storm for the disciples, then we know that Jesus and can calm any personal storm of fear or shame, insecurity or doubt we might have.


Which makes the long ago questions Jesus asked the disciples in that boat the same questions Jesus asks of us today:


Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?



Thursday, June 17, 2021

Watching the SBC


It may not seem like much, but I see a glimmer of hope in the election of Ed Litton as the new President of the SBC (Southern BaptistConvention). Even though the victory was narrow (2%), it represented a defeat for the Hard Right, which many, myself included, see as an indicator of a change in the temperature of the political waters of this country.


Many of us, myself included, have been watching the SBC since the “conservative resurgence” of the 70s, which had a huge impact on other denominations as well as the politics of this country.


Indeed, there are direct parallels between what many called “the hostile takeover of the SBC” by Hard Right Conservatives and the attempted coup of the Mainline Protestant denominations – including The Episcopal Church – by the IRD (the Institute on Religion and Democracy) a political think tank aligned with far-right conservative political causes, and infused with cash from Howard Ahmanson, heir to the Home Savings and Loan fortune

Jim Naughton’s work, “Follow the Money” documents how the IRD and the AAC (American Anglican Council) along with other, similar organizations, worked in concert with Anglican bishops in Nigeria, Uganda, and Argentina, to attempt to split the U.S. Episcopal Church from the worldwide Anglican Communion.


So, yes, while the “culture wars” in The Episcopal Church are considered “over” as indicated by the growing numbers of women and LGBTQ people now in the House of Bishops, there are many social media platforms where Episcopalians gather to blow off steam which indicate that a surprising number of TEC members support the policies of the “Hard Right” of the administration previously in power. 


And, one can always depend on The Living Church to publish breathlessly apoplectic articles about all-women slates for the election of bishops. Indeed, the reaction to the presentation of an all-female slate (two of whom were African-Americans) by the search committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh was promptly met by the nomination "from the floor" of two white, straight men. 


I continue watch the SBC as an indicator of which pressure points White Evangelicals, who are ostensibly Very Concerned about “religious freedom” and “the separation of church and state”, place on their elected officials at local, state, congressional and federal levels.


There were two “hot” issues the SBC have been dealing with (stop me if you’ve heard this before): race and the role of women, specifically, the role of CRT (Critical Race Theory) and “woke” theologies,” as well as the reported sexual abuse of women by leaders in the SBC and the mishandling of the injustices suffered by those women.


Critical race theory, a framework used by academics to examine structural racism, appeared to be the biggest concern among the majority of Southern Baptists, some of whom wore red stickers on theirconvention badges that read “Stop CRT” and “Beat the Biden Baptists.”


The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) which was established in 2020 by Mike Stone, the man defeated by Ed Litton, hosted its own gathering prior to the election at a nearby hotel featuring speakers who lamented the direction of the country and convention, including the state of public schools, how young people are leaving churches, and “woke” ideologies.


But, Litton is known for his work in racial reconciliation and had been supported by leading Black members of the SBC, including Fred Luter, the first and only Black pastor to serve as president of the SBC, who nominated Litton for the position.

In the end, the convention adopted a resolution on race that did not address CRT specifically. Instead, it stated, “we reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic.”


Sounds positively Episcopalian, doesn’t it?


The SBC didn’t do as well with the issue of how they have handled sexual abuse both in their churches and at the highest levels of leadership. Because churches operate independently, they have struggled to know how to prevent people who have been accused of abuse from moving to other churches.

Southern Baptists voted to “prayerfully endeavor, before God, to eliminate allincidents of sex abuse and racial discrimination among our churches.” However, those survivors of sexual abuse who were present think a smaller group of hard-right Southern Baptist leaders have retained control of power in its Executive Committee, which runs the business of the convention. They believe the decisions made Tuesday might mean nothing for survivors if Southern Baptists don’t do more to change the committee’s leadership.

They may be right. Litton, who considers himself a complementarian which generally teaches the headship of men and the submission of women, said he thinks the current Baptist statement on faith is sufficient on women’s roles in the church. (Women are generally forbidden from the lead pastor role in SBC churches.)


Indeed, Saddleback Church, a prominent California congregation led by bestselling author Rick Warren, is, even as I’m writing this, under scrutiny by an SBC committee to examine whether the church cancontinue in fellowship with the SBC after Saddleback recently ordained threewomen pastors.


Someone needs to help these SBC boys make the connection between the sexual abuse of power and the prohibition of women from the councils and courts of power in the institutional church. I fear that’s going to take a lot longer to achieve than the beginnings of racial reconciliation.

It has ever been thus since The Garden.

And then, there's this disturbing quote from the outgoing President of the SBC:

“Whenever the church gets in bed with politics, the church gets pregnant. And our offspring does not look like our Father in Heaven.” – J.D. Greear, Southern Baptist Convention President, June 15, 2021

The church as a shamed promiscuous woman. Hmm .. . . Where have we heard that before?

I have hope that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many other people of color who have died senseless, violent deaths will provide an avenue of redemption for the sin of racism and White Supremacy on which so many denominations of Christianity are built.

I see some of that beginning to happen in the Southern Baptist Convention.


Yes, it’s just a beginning. Yes, it's a fragile beginning at that. Yes, this might just place a slight pause on the White Supremacy movement which gained momentum these last four years. Yes, I’m hoping that this pause, no matter how long it lasts, will have an effect on some of the decisions made my those elected to positions of power.


Is there a relationship between the vote of the SBC to elect a man committed to reconciliation of race relations and the recent overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House (415-14) and the expected passage in the Senate of Juneteenth as a federal holiday? 


I don't know. I'd like to think there is at least some relationship between the two. 


As my dear friend, Mary Miller, who continues to inspire justice from her seat in heaven, used to say, “Sometimes, justice is where you find it.”


And, as Desmond Tutu once said, "I'm not an optimist. I am a prisoner of hope."

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Mustard Seeds, Beanstalks and Soup

A Sermon Preached at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and simultaneously broadcast on Facebook Live
The Third Sunday after Pentecost Proper 6 B
Sunday, June 13, 2021


When I was a kid listening to this parable about the Mustard Seed from Mark’s gospel, I immediately thought of another one of my favorite stories, Jack and the Beanstalk. If you recall, Jack’s family lived in extreme poverty and, as a last act of desperation, his mother asked Jack to sell Milky-White, his family’s cow.

On the way to the market, Jack runs into a man who convinces him to trade the cow for his beans, which he claims are magic. When Jack returns home, his mother is so distressed and angry to learn what Jack has done that she throws them out the window.

However, in the morning, Jack discovers that the magic beans have grown into a huge stalk, which reaches high into the heavens. Jack decides to climb the beanstalk which begins an adventure that brings golden eggs and riches – as well as danger – into their lives.


To my young mind, Mark’s story of the mustard seed sounded an awful lot like Jack’s story of the beanstalk. Faith, it seemed to me, was the magic bean that could grow high into the heavens, setting you off on a great adventure which wouldn’t necessarily bring you great financial riches, but by which one’s life would be greatly enriched.


It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that every seed - even a tiny mustard seed – needed a lot more than just a careless toss out the window. Faith is a priceless gift, but it does need to be tended and cared for and nourished in and by a community of faith. (Otherwise known as church.)


That’s when my grandmother’s story of Stone Soup began to make more sense to me than Jack’s beanstalk. You have probably heard a version of the story of Stone Soup.

This is my grandmother’s version, which she brought with her from her home country in Portugal. Indeed, just outside of the capitol city of Lisbon is the town, Almeirim, where the story allegedly took place. It is now world-renowned for its Stone Soup.

According to my grandmother’s Portuguese folklore of Sopa de Pedra, a mendicant Franciscan friar was on pilgrimage and was passing through a small village just north of Lisbon when he was hungry but found that he had nothing to eat.

He stopped by a house and knocked on the door, asking if he could borrow a pot in which he could make a delicious and filling stone soup. Curious but also devoutly religious people who understood what Jesus said about hospitality, the family invited him in.

The friar reached into his deep pocket to produce a smooth and well-cleaned stone that he promptly dropped into the boiling water in the iron cauldron in the fireplace.

A little while later he tasted the soup and said that it needed a touch of seasoning. So the wife brought him some salt to add, to which he suggested that maybe a little bit of chouriço or pork belly would be better. Graciously, she obliged and dropped several thick slices into the pot. Then, the friar asked if she might not have a little something to enrich the soup, such as potatoes or beans from a previous meal.

Smiling broadly at his clever game, she agreed and added a healthy portion into the bubbling water. This continued for a while, the friar tasting the soup and then the family supplying some other ingredient. Finally, the friar announced that he had indeed made a very delicious and filling soup. When the soup was done, the friar fished the stone out of the pot, washed and dried it off, and plopped it back in his pocket for the next time.

He and the family ate a delicious soup for dinner after which he told them many stories from the bible. When the family woke up in the morning, they found the friar had already gone but he had left enough soup for them to feed the poor and hungry in the village.

My grandmother said that when we ate this soup we should remember the Portuguese virtues of hospitality, generosity, and community, especially in times of crisis.

She used to end the story by holding up her hand and saying, "See? There are four fingers and a thumb. Each finger is different from the other and the thumb looks nothing like a finger. Yet," she'd say as she closed her hand, "they all belong to the same hand. And, know this: If you take one finger away, the hand does not work as well."


She would tell us one of the stories of the families of the bible, sometimes she would tell the story we heard this morning – of Samuel and King Saul – and how God did not want Saul to be King so he sent Samuel out to Bethlehem to see the sons of Jesse where, God instructed him, he would find the King God had anointed.


Seven of Jesse’s son’s passed before Samuel, but Samuel knew that not one of them had been chosen God. There remained one son, David, who was away, tending sheep. Jesse sent for his youngest son and as soon as Samuel saw him he knew that he was the one God wanted; Samuel anointed him right there and then.


“David did not become King by himself,” my grandmother would say. “People look to outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. So it is with our faith. Sometimes, we need other people to help us with our faith – to see in us what we can’t see in ourselves.”

As she served the soup she'd always say, “The bible says ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’. (That was St. Paul, actually.) We never know how the soup is going to turn out. It all depends on what God will bring you that day. So, keep a stone in your pocket and, with God’s grace and the generosity of others, inspired by your cleverness and faith in them, you'll never go hungry.”


I think we catch glimpses of the Kingdom or Realm of God whenever we walk by faith, not by sight; when we acknowledge that we already have what we need but sometimes it takes others to point out that even a tiny mustard seed of faith is what we have and all we need for our lives and our work to prosper the work of God’s hand.

I keep hearing people say, "We need more families." "We need more kids." And, maybe we do. But, what if this is the mustard seed God has sent us? What will we do, how will we make the best of what we've been given?


Sometimes we catch glimpses of the Kingdom or Realm of God when we see the stalk, or just the head, or only when we see the full grain in the head; and sometimes we can only see it when the harvest comes and the sickle cuts down the ripened grain.

But, God has been there, all along, tending to our faith no matter how small or how big, just the way David tended the sheep as a lowly shepherd but would soon be tending the flock of God as King.


You don’t need magic beans, like Jack in the fairy tale.  Keep a stone in your pocket, my grandmother advised, to remind you of God’s grace and the potential generosity of others. But, as Jesus says, all you really need is a tiny mustard seed of faith to see the Realm of God. 



Sunday, June 06, 2021

Move the fence!

 A sermon preached on the Second Sunday after Pentecost (5 B)
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Georgetown, DE
and simultaneously broadcast and recorded at
Facebook page Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter
June 6, 2021

This is a sermon about insanity and family and unforgivable sin.


I can hear a few of you thinking, right: being part of a family will either make you crazy or lead you to think and do unforgivable things.


Well, I understand. Yes, I am a member of a family. Several of them, in fact. I’ve been both driven crazy and driven others crazy which lead us to do things which were  “sins against the Spirit”. Then again, haven’t we all? More on this later.


So, let’s tackle the kind of insanity with which the family of Jesus thought he was suffering. To get our heads wrapped around this, let me take us through a short exercise.

I’m going to call out a word and I want you to respond with the first word that comes to your mind. 


(Yes, I am asking you to talk while I’m preaching. Yes, I am inviting you to participate in this sermon. For those of you watching from home, just pretend you’re watching Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy and yell at the TV screen.)


So, when I say “servant” what word comes to your mind? What are some of the characteristics of a servant? What are some of the tasks of a servant? What is the temperament of a servant?


Okay, now, let’s try another word: “leader”. What word comes to your mind? What are some of the characteristics of a leader? What are some of the tasks of a leader? What is the temperament of a leader?


Now, let’s put those two words together: Servant leader. That’s the kind of ministry that Jesus models. It’s the ministry of our baptism. To be like Jesus and his disciples and be servant leaders. 


Which means, we are asked to be two opposite realities: Knowing when to follow and when to lead; when to be humble and when to be strong; being sacrificial and generous and willing to be criticized for it, to hold back for the good of the whole.


A Servant Leader can look to some to either be a poor leader or a crazy person, neither of which is what the world seeks in a leader. In our first lesson, we hear of the time when Samuel, one of the great leaders of Israel, was approached by the elders because it was time, in their view for Samuel to retire.


“Give us a king to govern us,” they said. Samuel was greatly displeased and tried to convince them otherwise, underscoring for them all the negative aspects of an autocracy or plutocracy – the singular leadership of a wealthy person.


Scripture tell us: “But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel” . . . they wanted, instead, to be like all the other nations and have a great King “to go out before us and fight our battles.” 


Well, you may have heard the old saying, “be very careful what you ask for because you just might get it and then, what will you do?”. They got David, which is a whole ‘noter sermon for a whole ‘noter time,


Suffice it to be said that Kings and Queens are seen a stronger than Servant Leaders. We see royalty as being “divinely anointed” where Servant Leaders are merely “called”.  Royalty is in one’s blood; Servant Leaders can be anyone with good intentions. Those who prefer Servant Leaders or who are, themselves, Servant Leaders are sometimes seen as having at least a few screws loose.


That was certainly the case, as I read it, in Mark’s reporting of Jesus and his disciples working so hard among the people that they barely had time to stop and eat a proper meal. Indeed, his family went down to “restrain him for people were saying that he had gone out of his mind.”


But Jesus, our great High Priest who sacrifices himself for the good of all of God’s people, scoffs at them and says that when you try to block the work of the Spirit - whatever that work is, if it is divinely inspired by God – that is a sin so grave as to be unforgivable.


Let me say that again – When you try to block the work of the Spirit – whatever that work is, if it is divinely inspired by God – that is a sin so grave as to be unforgivable.  Just let that sink in.


Maybe then Jesus won’t sound as harsh as he does when the people tell him that his mother and brothers were there, and he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


No, I don’t believe that Jesus is disowning his family. I think, rather, he is expanding it. He is saying that the work of tending to each other and allowing healing to happen; the work of feeding the hungry even if it means you don’t eat or – THAT work is so important, so critical to the life of community, that anyone who does that work is not limited by human-imposed barriers or understanding of what it means to be ‘family’.


No, doing the will of God breaks down all barriers and the work because the focus of what’s important. With Jesus, all previous understandings and definitions of relationships are obliterated. Now, we are all one. We are all family – beyond barriers of kith and kin, or race, tribe, or class.


It is the nature of sacrificial love to break down barriers and see that which we hold in common, that which unites us not divides us; that which inspires us to take care of one another, even if that means it costs us something like our time or our talent or our treasure. And, especially if it means giving up our most cherished thoughts and beliefs and prejudices.


There is a story told of five military buddies who fought together in WWII on the European front. They had first met in boot camp, bonded together by the rigors of training, the anxieties of war, the service to their country and the longing to return one day soon to their families.  They considered themselves family – ‘brothers’ – and they looked out after each other.


One day, while there were in a small farming village somewhere in France, they were ambushed and picked up heavy artillery fire. When the skirmish ended, to their horror, they discovered one of their brothers had suffered a mortal wound and had died. Bereft, they talked among themselves about what to do.


One of the brothers remembered seeing a church in the village with a graveyard. Together, they decided to carry their fallen brother’s body to the church and ask the priest if he could be buried there. They pooled their money and promised that they would one day return to pay the priest the rest of whatever it cost.


When they arrived at the church the priest took pity on them and agreed to let them bury their brother in the graveyard. But first, he wanted to know the dead man’s religion. The four soldiers looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. 


The priest pressed on, asking, but surely he was baptized, yes? Again the men exchanged curious glances. 


They had talked about a lot of things. They knew where he was born and the kids he grew up with and the school he attended. They even knew some of the names of his teachers and neighbors. They knew he loved his parents. They knew he loved his girlfriend. 


And, they knew he was a good, kind, decent man, but they had never seen or heard him pray – although they assumed he had, doesn’t everybody in war? – much less know if he had been baptized.


The priest shook his head sadly and looked out the window for a long while before saying to the men, “The cemetery is sacred ground. I cannot let just anyone be buried there. But, do you see the fence around the cemetery? You may bury him right outside that fence.”


The men were not pleased but said nothing and took to their sad task of burying their brother. After they laid him in his grave, they said some prayers. 


They laid a large rock on top of the grave to mark it and put one of his dog tags under the rock. One of the brothers made a sketch of the graveyard and wrote down the name of the town and the church so they could find it again.


A few years after the war ended, the four brothers gathered together and agreed to make the return trip to visit the grave of their fallen brother and to finish paying the priest. When they got to the church and the graveyard, they searched for the grave outside the fence but could not find it. There was no sign of the rock, no sign of the dog tags.


Just as they were about to panic, the priest arrived and waved to them. Their panic turned into anger and one of the men demanded, “Where did you put him, you arrogant, heartless so-and-so”? 


The priest bowed his head for a moment and then said, “Look. He is right here.”


The men looked over the fence and, sure enough, there was the rock and the dog tags as well as a grave stone, ready to be engraved. 


“You see,” said the priest, “after I prayed about it and thought about what the war had done to us, the answer seemed simple: I moved the fence.”


This is a sermon about insanity, family and unforgivable sin. Some might look on the story and think the priest insane. Others might look on those men and see soldiers who had bonded in war but were not family. 
And some might find an unforgivable sin in the priest either denying burial inside the cemetery or skirting the law of the church and moving the fence.


St. Paul says to the early church in Corinth:

“. . . for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

I hope you remember this story and these ancient words of St. Paul when we enter into conversations about the insanity of sacrificial love and servant leadership and what it means to be a “church family” and open to the spirit. 


In answer to a problem, I hope one day to hear someone say, “Well, maybe what we need to do is move the fence.” 


I pray that we will not be bound by that which is temporary and can be seen, but by that which is invisible to the eye and is eternal.


To other ears, the ears of the world, that may make us sound like crazies and fools.

I like to think it makes us sound more like family members in the household of Jesus.