Come in! Come in!

"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, March 27, 2022

Prodigal and Favored


Prodigal and Favored
St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Georgetown, DE
Facebook Sirach 26:10 
Lent IV - Refreshment Sunday - March 27,2022

There are a few stories in the Bible that even those who do not attend church regularly – indeed, those who are not Christian – know, at least by title. The Prodigal Son is one of those.


I think that’s because stories about families strike a very familiar cord. If one is not like the ‘prodigal son’, one is like the elder brother. Or, we know brothers or sisters like this.


 “Mom always liked you best.” Remember that? Tommy and Dickie Smothers built their stage act and then their entire career around the tension between siblings. I just learned that they are very much alive today. Tom is 84 and Dick is 81. They retired in 2010 but re-runs of their routine continue to draw knowing smiles and deep laughter.


I grew up knowing that I was my grandmother’s favorite. I knew it. Everyone in the family knew it. Actually, it wasn’t so much that I was her favorite as it was that we had a special relationship – a  certain bond, a special connection – that was different from any of her many children or her many more grandchildren. Part of that was because until I was nine years old, I lived with my family in the apartment one floor above my grandparents, so I was with her most of the day, every day.


Everything I know about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit I learned from my grandmother. She used food, primarily, to teach. There were special meals or desserts for most of the saints which she borrowed liberally from other ethnicities.


She always made fig cookies and Zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day, and green sugar cookies for St. Patrick’s Day. She also made “the bread of the dead” for All Saints Day and sweet almond cookies for All Soul’s Day. And, of course, Lazarakia Bread for Lazarus Sunday. She always told the story of the saint which had a connection to the food she made in that saint’s honor. 

Hearing the stories of the various saints was like hearing about family relatives who lived a long, long time ago. My grandmother wanted us to know about them so we'd know them when we got to heaven for that big family reunion in Life Eternal.


My favorite was Grasshopper Pie for the Feast of St. John the Baptist (Grasshopper. Locust. Get it?). My least favorite was St. Lawrence on August 10th. That’s when we learned to grille chicken and beef and pork. Why? Because Lawrence was grilled to death. (I'm serious. Ewww, right?! It's a wonder I'm not a vegetarian.)


Of course, my grandmother always made Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday. My Grandmother said that when St. Benedict (July 11th) was served a poisoned roll by his enemies, he blessed it and a cross appeared on the top of the roll and he was saved. In the Middle Ages, monks would pass out rolls, with crosses cut into them, to the poor and starving that came to their door. (In case you’re wondering, they are supposed to be eaten on Good Friday without the gooey icing on top.)


My grandmother loved St. Hildegard of Bingen – even named her firstborn daughter after the saint - well, Hilda. She also made this wonderful confection for St. Hildegard which was a beautiful marriage of a crepe and a muffin. 

They are known as Nun’s Puff’s, but my grandmother always said it in Portuguese, which was actually translated, indelicately, Nun’s . . . um . . . let's just say "gas". I mean, we are in church and it's an Episcopal church, for goodness sake, and we have a reputation to uphold for being polite. 


Every year on her feast day (September 17th) I recall the mischievous look on my grandmother’s face when she would ask, “Do you know what day today is?” And I would answer, “It’s time for Hildegard’s NUN .... gas (I'm sure the reader has guessed 'farts')!”

Other kids got in trouble for saying that, even in Portuguese. Not me, because, you know, I was her favorite. 

On the Saturday before the fourth Sunday in Lent, all of the grandchildren would gather to make a traditional Simnel Cake. My grandmother and I would put the raisins to soak in the brandy - homemade by my grandfather - before going to bed Friday night.

We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves. 

We would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another - usually one of the boys -  to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).

And I, only I, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Because, you see, I was the oldest. And . . . well . . . you know . . . .

And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe saved only for sorcerers and magicians.

And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do riso - "Laughter Cakes".

Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".

After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.

And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again.

She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"

And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh. It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake. When you have a piece of Simnel Cake at Coffee Hour, see if you can taste the laughter.


The story of the prodigal son is a wonderful choice for Refreshment Sunday. We had a highly prodigal Coffee Hour last week and we’re having another again this week.  Prodigal means being ‘wastefully extravagant’; ‘having or giving something on a lavish scale’. We apply that term to the son, but it seems to me that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The father in the parable is pretty prodigal himself, isn’t he?


The parable is meant to demonstrate to us the prodigal nature of God. God loves us lavishly. God’s love for us is wastefully extravagant. Jesus is saying to us that nothing we can do can separate us from the unconditional love of God.

The thing of it is, for me, is that the image of God is most clearly seen in the one who isn't in the story - the woman, the wife of the father and the mother to both sons.

She's no doubt back in the kitchen, worried sick about both her boys.

Of course, she's concerned about the younger son who has left home - where is he? how is he? does he have enough to eat - but I can't help but think she's also concerned about the elder son who has probably been gloating now that he has the spotlight all to himself while his stupid brother goes off to squander his inheritance.

Gloating is not good for the soul.

And, after he hears that his brother has returned, well, he's just been teaming with resentment. Well, resentment is toxic stuff that can rot and do permanent damage to the soul.

A mother worries about these things.

I'm sure she's also none too happy with her husband, either, who allowed the younger son to have his inheritance now - long before he was due to receive it. I mean, what in God's name was he thinking? And, what did he expect? You give a young kid all that money and no instruction or guidance and of course, he's going to blow it.

It is a miracle that he even survived such parental malpractice.


For me, one of the most touching moments in the story comes when the father sees the son coming home and runs to meet him. God is always there. God is already there. God is always waiting for us to come home. God will always meet us more than halfway.


No matter who we are or who we think we are or who we think we want to be; no matter where we’ve been or where we think we’re going, God loves us unconditionally and is waiting to lift whatever burden is on our hearts.  


I don’t know if you believe that. I don’t know if you can believe that. I don’t know if something is standing in your way – some old hurt, some deep pain, some resentment, something you’ve done that you’re ashamed of or would be humiliated if anyone ever found out.


None of that matters. Not any of that matters. Our God is a prodigal God.


In the midst of all of the tension in the world – the war raging in Ukraine, soaring gas prices, the continued, unending squabbles that have become the daily stuff of political life and all the normal, everyday tensions of this modern life – it’s important to take a moment and remember the unconditional love and absolute forgiveness which God has for each one of us.


So, maybe once this week, when no one is looking or no one is around to hear you, try laughing into your food. I'm serious. Give it a try.

Pour your morning cereal and laugh as the cornflakes land in the bowl. Laugh as you blown on the hot soup you’re having for lunch. And, laugh right into the bowl of potatoes as you mash them to have with your supper.


Laugh because you know that, no matter how bad things get, God always has the final say.

Laugh because you know that Good Friday may be coming, but so is Easter. Laugh because Death does not have the final word.

Laugh because you know that our God is prodigal. God loves us extravagantly, lavishly, wastefully – so, as the psalmist says, Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30).


Laugh because even though you may think you need to do more or be more, God knows that you are enough.

And, laugh because you know that you - only you - are God's favorite!



Sunday, March 20, 2022

When bad stuff happens


and live streamed on Facebook - Sirach 26:10

If you haven’t read the book, I’m certain you’ve heard the title. It’s called, “When bad things happen to good people,” written by Rabbi Harold Kushner.  Rabbi Kushner is a prominent conservative American Rabbi who served Temple Israel in Natick, MA for over 24 years.


A Rabbi, much like a pastor or priest, guru or imam, elder or minister, is exposed to some of the worst tragedies in life: Car accidents. House Fires. Hurricane, tornado, flooding or snow damage. Cancer, strokes, heart attacks or long-term debilitating illnesses. Alcohol or drug addiction or domestic violence or abuse. Death.


And, when any of these catastrophes involve a child, the probability automatically increased that someone will raise an angry fist to heaven and cry out, “Why?” Why now? Why me? Why my child? Why not me, instead?”


The answer often provided by good, well-intended Christians, many of them ordained, has included, “It was God’s plan.” Or, “You (s/he) don’t deserve this.” Or, “Heaven needed another angel.” Or, “God would never give you more suffering than you can bear.”


Rabbi Kushner tells the story of one of his parishioners whose young daughter was gravely ill in the hospital. She was naturally bereft and wailed at her Rabbi, “It’s all my fault. All of my daughter’s suffering! It’s my fault.”


“How can that be?” asked the Rabbi.


“Well,” said the near-hysterical woman, “everyone always says that God never gives you more suffering than you can bear. Don’t you see? I’m too strong. If I weren’t this strong, God would not be testing me. God is causing my daughter to suffer to test my faith. My daughter is suffering because of me.”


Rabbi Kushner writes, “I have seen some people made noble and sensitive through suffering, but I have seen many more people grow cynical and bitter. I have seen people become jealous of those around them, unable to take part in the routines of normal living."

"I have seen cancers and automobile accidents take the life of one member of a family, and functionally end the lives of five others, who could never again be the normal, cheerful people they were before disaster struck."

"If God is testing us, He must know by now that many of us fail the test. If He is only giving us the burdens we can bear, I have seen Him miscalculate far too often.”


Jesus is very clear that the Galatians suffered, not because they were worse people than others. 


He assures us that there is limitless forgiveness and patience in Christ once we awaken to and acknowledge that we have strayed and then return to the right path. Bad stuff happens to good people. That is not in God’s control. What’s important to know in this life is that grace is abundant and free and available – at all times – but especially in times of need and trouble.


I might already have told you the story of my grieving grandmother, shortly after the very sudden and unexpected death of my grandfather. She was in the rocking chair in her parlor – the room that was just outside the living room. The room that was always closed and always very cold. The room with every piece of upholstered furniture was covered in plastic and everything smelled vaguely like moth balls. Maybe your family had a room like that.


Anyway, she was in the parlor, rocking rhythmically in her rocking chair in time to her wailing in her grief as was appropriate and proper for a Portuguese/Azorean woman of her generation. “Oh, God,” she cried out, “Oh God, why did you strike him down? He was such a good man. A good provider for his wife and children. Why did you take him? Why not take me?”


And suddenly, we heard a loud TWACK, and just like that, she was sitting on the floor in the midst of her broken rocking chair. She and the whole family were struck silent in our shock, only to be suddenly roused back by hearing her say to God, “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”


Rabbi Kushner writes, “If we want to be able to pick up the pieces of our lives and go on living, we have to get over the irrational feeling that every misfortune is our fault, the direct result of our mistakes or misbehavior. We are really not that powerful. Not everything that happens in the world is our doing.”


That’s a very hard lesson to learn. Some of us who grew up in large, dysfunctional families, grow up believing that everything IS our fault. I remember clearly the day my spiritual director sat patiently listening to me as I wailed about one situation or another that I felt was my fault.


She sighed and said, “Again? Another something you messed up? That’s really your problem, you know?”


“What? I asked.


“You think everything is your fault,” she smiled wryly. You have never really forgiven yourself for starting the Vietnam War, have you?” I looked at her and suddenly realized that she was exaggerating to make a point, and I started to laugh with her.


“There’s a fine but distinct line,” she said, “between the importance of taking responsibility for your mistakes and thinking everything is your fault. Here’s the thing,” she said, “You are not that powerful. No one is. Not everything that happens in the world is our doing.”

“When you have been hurt by life, it may be hard to keep that in mind. When you are standing very close to a large object, all you can see is the object. Only by stepping back from it can you also see the rest of its setting around it. When we are stunned by some tragedy, we can only see and feel the tragedy. Only with time and distance can we see the tragedy in the context of a whole life and a whole world.” (Kushner)


Lent is a time to take that step back, to see the larger picture, to enter into the discernment process of choosing that for which we must take responsibility and that for which we can neither take, nor assign, blame. 

Rabbi Kushner reminds us that “Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?” He continues:

Are you capable of forgiving and accepting in love a world which has disappointed you by not being perfect, a world in which there is so much unfairness and cruelty, disease and crime, earthquake and accident? Can you forgive its imperfections and love it because it is capable of containing great beauty and goodness, and because it is the only world we have?

Are you capable of forgiving and loving the people around you, even if they have hurt you and let you down by not being perfect? Can you forgive them and love them, because there aren't any perfect people around, and because the penalty for not being able to love imperfect people is condemning oneself to loneliness?

And if you can do these things, will you be able to recognize that the ability to forgive and the ability to love are the weapons God has given us to enable us to live fully, bravely and meaningfully in this less-than-perfect world?”

I will leave you with an old Chinese tale about the woman whose only son had died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and said, 'What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?'


Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, 'Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.'


The woman set off at once in search of that magical mustard seed. She came first to a splendid mansion, knocked at the door and said, 'I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me.' They told her 'You've certainly come to the wrong place,' and began to describe all the tragic things that had recently befallen them. 


The woman said to herself, 'Who is better able to help these poor unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?' She stayed to comfort them, then went on in her search for a home that had never known sorrow.


But wherever she turned, hovels and in palaces, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune. Ultimately, she became so involved in ministering to other people's grief that she forgot about her quest for the magical mustard seed, never realizing that it had in fact driven the sorrow out of her life.”


As we move deeper into Lent, I wish you the journey of that woman in search of the magical mustard seed to drive the sorrow out of her life. For, as Jesus told us, all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed and you can move mountains of doubt and fear and pain. Nothing will be impossible for you.       



Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Wings of Mother Hens


 St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and simultaneously on Facebook livestream
Second Sunday in Lent - March 13, 2022


There’s a story coming out of Ukraine which has several versions. It may be true. It may be a compilation of several stories. It goes like this: 

A line of young Russian soldiers, fully armed, is walking shoulder to shoulder down a street in a town in Southern Ukraine.


Walking toward them on the same street is a line of Ukrainian women who are old enough to be the grandmothers of the Russian soldiers. As they move closer together, one woman begins speaking to them in Russian. Her words are harsh. Angry. Filled with profanity and curses.


The two lines square off several feet from each other. The one grandmother steps forward and speaks into their faces. She is speaking Russian. She goes down the line and hands each soldier a small handful of sunflower seeds. The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.


One might think that she is doing something beautiful. Perhaps she is encouraging them to think of the possibility of beauty in the midst of the ugly bird of war? Maybe reminding them of the future of Ukraine? Or, perhaps she is reminding them of the hope contained in a seed? 


Not so. According to the story, the grandmother tells the young men to put the seeds in the pockets of their military uniforms. She tells them to keep the seeds there so, after they die, something beautiful will grow from the soil where their body is buried, for surely, they will die. 


The story is that the young men look at each other, turn around and walk in the opposite direction, back to the other men in their battalion.


I don’t know if the story is true, but that sure sounds like every grandmother I knew when I was growing up. In my time grandmothers rarely entertained fools gladly.

They were usually not wanting for an opinion about things – sometimes two opinions about the same thing. They were often fearless – and fearsome – especially when their brood was threatened.  


Mess up and they would smack you upside the head – even if you were just a kid from the neighborhood. And yet, grandmothers were tender and forgiving, able to weave a bad experience into a valuable life lesson or some moral instruction. No one could make a boo-boo feel better than a grandmother – even with the dreaded bottle of Mercurochrome.

They were the keepers and tellers of stories of places far, far away – all told without reading a book but spoken from the heart. And, Lord, how they could cook! There was usually one special thing – a dinner dish or a dessert – that brought almost world-renown to each grandmother.


My grandmother had a chicken coop with a fenced-in yard in the back of the house. Every morning – rain, sleet, snow or shine – she would feed the chickens. I loved to go with her and she would sometimes let me take over scattering the corn in the chicken yard while she went into the coop with her basket to collect the eggs.


(Can I just say, right here and now, that if you’ve never had a fresh egg – I mean, not grocery-store fresh but a really fresh egg, laid by your chicken that morning, fresh from the nest, into the frying pan and onto your plate – you will never stop singing its praises.)


My grandmother’s chickens had names. I remember but a few. Honey. Raggedy. Old girl. And one named Lucy. After “I love Lucy” – Lucille Ball – who always made her laugh with her antics.

When my grandmother appeared with corn in her apron, Lucy would get so excited she would call out to the others. You could almost hear her saying, “Look everybody. Corn! Hurry up. Woops! Here it comes! Duck!” And then she would run into the fence or trip over the water pale or another chicken. My grandmother thought that was hilarious but she also thought it very endearing.


Lucy was the only one who would come to my grandmother when she called her. And, she let my grandmother pet her. After a while, she let me pet her, too, but only after my grandmother had already pet her and let her sneak some extra kernels of corn from her apron pocket.


When Lucy was a baby chick, she would not gather under the protective wings of her mother the way the other chicks did. She was always “Ms. Independence” – another trait to endear her to my grandmother.

But, when my grandmother let her have her first brood of chicks, Lucy was fiercely protective, insisting that every last one of her chicks was under her wing. She demanded complete obedience. One cluck from her and those chicks knew exactly what was expected of them and what to do.


My grandmother would say, “Chickens are just like people. They need food and water and shelter, yes, but they need something else, too. Do you know what that is?”


I would stick up my hand, just like I did in school. “Love,” I would answer.


“Yes, child,” she would say, all of God’s creatures need love because God is love. Never forget that. God is love. Whenever we are in trouble, we can always find safety under God’s wing. And,” she said, “when God clucks, God expects us to come.”


I think of Lucy and my grandmother’s chickens every time I read this story from Luke’s gospel.

I suspect Jesus must have grown up around chickens. I’m betting either his mother, Mary, had a chicken coop in the back yard, or perhaps someone in his neighborhood did.


“Jerusalem, Jerusalem . .. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathersher brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”


From those chickens, Jesus must have learned a little something about God and God’s love. I think he figured something out about the shelter of God’s wings. Watching those chickens, Jesus knew what he wanted to be and do and, what was expected of him when God clucks.


And because of Jesus, one cluck from God, and we all know, too. Just like those Ukrainian soldiers who turned around and walked away.   



Sunday, March 06, 2022

The Greatest Temptation

 A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Georgetown, DE
and broadcast via Facebook Live: Sirach 26:10
Lent I - March 6, 2022


A few years back, when I was helping out in another congregation, a member of that church came to the service a little early. He wanted to talk to me. I could see he was steamed, and that it wouldn’t take much for him to boil over.


It was one thing, he said, for The Episcopal Church to change the words of The Lord’s Prayer, but it was quite another for the Pope – the POPE, HIMSELF – to call for a new version of The Lord’s Prayer because thinks the common English translation of the Lord’s Prayer is mistranslated. 


The Pope, he said, is calling for a new version that doesn’t imply that God might lead people into temptation –that, he says, is the Devil’s job. He wants the sentence changed to read, “do not let us fall into temptation.”


Well, THAT, said my angry old friend, was just a bridge too far. If that happened, if even the POPE was changing stuff, and TEC had already changed too much, he was out. Done. Finished. Gone. You may have noticed that things have been a little tense for a while.


Well, first of all, The Episcopal Church is not changing the words of The Lord’s Prayer. Actually, we never change anything without first calling for a Committee to Study the Possibility of Change. And, if a majority of Episcopalians don’t like the findings of the Committee? Well, we just call for another Committee to study it some more.


It’s called “Anglican Fudge” – we ‘fudge’ a definitive answer so as to avoid, “The Troubles”.


It didn’t help that I pointed out that there are already two versions of The Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. We are bold enough to put them side by each. One asks that we forgive our trespassers – the other that we are forgiven our sins as those who sin against us. One asks that we are not lead into temptation – the other asks to save us from the time of trial.


As a side note, during Lent, we will be singing The Lord’s Prayer, which provides yet another translation of trespass/sin/debtors/being led into temptation and delivered from evil.


My friend was angry because in a world that is swiftly changing, he wanted – demanded! – that his church stay the same. He needs to know how the story ends. He needs to know that the church won’t mess with the story. He really doesn’t care if we’ve gotten it wrong all these thousands of years later. Just don’t change one more damn thing. Please. It leaves him feeling alone – isolated – anxious and yes, if you must know, occasionally scared.


So, leave The Lord’s Prayer alone. Please. And, thank you. Or, I’m outta here.


This is not a sermon or a lecture on The Lord’s Prayer. This is a sermon on the First Sunday in Lent and the Gospel, traditionally and predictably, is about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. 


The details vary a bit between Matthew and Luke, and Mark is predictably sparse, but the theme is consistent each year: Temptation.


I want to talk about the temptation that I think is central to being human, and in this passage, Jesus is being very, very human. Even Jesus is tempted in the same ways we are.


Across the street from the house in which I grew up in the city was a large, undeveloped plot of land. When we moved from the city to the newly developing suburb, our house was on the end of a dead-end street and next to it was also a large, undeveloped plot of land. To me, those areas were as close to “The Wilderness” as I cared to get.


Once, while walking alone in the woods, I thought I heard someone behind me. I got really scared and started to run. I didn’t pay attention to where I was going and tripped over something and my right hand landed on a broken piece of a bottle. 


I bled profusely which made me nauseous and queasy and lightheaded, but somehow I ran all the way back home with the broken bottle stuck in my hand, sure with every step that I.Was.Going.To.Die. All alone. In the woods. The wilderness. Where wild animals would come and eat me alive. 


Or, Barnabas Collins, the vampire from “The House of Dark Shadows” would smell my blood and swoop down, bite my neck, and turn me into a vampire.


I was only seven or eight years old – the time when all little girls become more dramatic than Sarah Bernhardt – but I still carry the faint half-moon scar on my right hand – a reminder of my time in the wilderness and the dangers that can lurk there.


In Hebrew, one of the words for wilderness is more literally translated as “the wordless place.” While there may be times in our lives when we might wish for some peace and quiet, this wordless wilderness has a frightening landscape that whispers from the shadows, “You’re all alone.” 


And that’s one of the most frightening things a human can experience – especially when we are hungry or angry, lonely or tired.


I think that’s what scared me the most: being alone in the woods with no one to hear me. I think, on a different level, that’s what made my friend angry – the fact that changing the words to a familiar and much-loved prayer would separate us from each other – or from what he understood about himself. If that was going to happen, he’d rather leave first than be left alone.


And, here’s the truth of it: As much as we sometimes drive each other to the edge of frustration and back again, as often as we drive each other to the brink of insanity, the truth is that we need one another. 


We need one another especially in times like this, when the world seems out of control, when war is raging on in Europe for the first time since 1945, when it’s difficult to trust our elected officials, when we feel scared or anxious – when we are in a “wordless place” that whispers from the shadows, “You’re all alone.”


I’ll leave you with this last story: Years ago, I was volunteering in a newly designated “Safe House” – a shelter for battered and abused women and their children. 


One night when I was on duty, a woman in her early 50s came in from the emergency room. Her whole face was swollen, purple and black and her eyes were just tiny slits from having been beaten and battered. Even her neck and wrists and fingers were bruised.


I fixed us a pot of tea and we sat at the kitchen table as she told me her story. She had been married for 35 years. She had been battered and abused for 34 and a half years. I asked her what was it that finally got her to put an end to it all, to finally get help.


She said, “You know, my life had become a slot machine. I kept putting quarters in, pulling the lever, and expecting to come up cherries."

"I would think, ‘I’ll make his favorite meal tonight’, put in a quarter, pull the lever, and no cherries. I would think, ‘Okay, I’ll get the kids bathed and fed and in bed so they won’t make a sound and disturb him’, put in a quarter, pull the lever, and, well, no cherries." 


"No matter what I tried, I’d still get beaten. No bowl of cherries for my life.”


“I couldn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed. I couldn’t go out looking like this. What would people think of me? I became more and more isolated. Alone. I couldn’t even let my adult kids or grandkids see me like this. I missed them. Terribly!"

"That was the worst part. I never felt so alone in my life.”


“So,” I asked, “what happened?”


“Well,” she said, “I woke up this morning and realized something.” She paused.


“What was that?” I asked.


“Well,” she said. . . . . . “I realized that I had run out of quarters.”


She paused again and said, “I realized that if this was going to an end, I was going to need help. I couldn’t be alone anymore. I wouldn’t be alone anymore. The temptation was to think I could make it stop on my own. I can’t. I needed help."

"And I got help. Now," she said, "I’m not going to be alone anymore. He will.”


There are all sorts of wildernesses in life – the kind that are real, the kind we imagine, and the kind we create. In each one, the greatest temptation is to listen to the voices in that wordless place who whisper to us, “You’re all alone.”


When we are in one of life’s wildernesses, the most courageous thing we can do is to seek out and ask for help.

The real heroes I have known in my life were like that woman, who were up against incredible odds and refused to believe they were alone; who were anxious and scared and yet walked through their fears to seek out and asked for help.


It takes courage – real courage – to ask for help.


Don’t give into the temptation to believe that you are all alone. You’re not. God knows your suffering and your fear and your temptation because Jesus, who was fully divine and fully human, knew those very human sufferings and fears and temptations.


I have come to know that believing that we are all alone – without even God – is The Great Temptation.


There’s a reason our baptismal vows call us to “seek and serve Christ in others.” It’s not just about the work of ministry. It's that, but it's not only that.

It’s about the work of community. It’s about not falling into the temptation of believing that we are “all alone”. It's about knowing that we are all in this together.


In both Mark and Matthew’s gospel, this story ends a little differently. After the devil left Jesus “until an opportune time”, as Luke tells us, both Mark and Matthew tell us that “the angels came and began to serve him.”


Even Jesus was not left all alone. Even Jesus needs community.


Sometimes, even Jesus needs angels.



Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Ash Wednesday



What will you do with the gift of your one, wild, precious life?


That’s really the question of Ash Wednesday.


In a few moments, I will impose ashes on your forehead in the sign of the cross and say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”


We are being asked to remember that our lives are short. We are mortal. Only God is immortal. But through the cross of Christ we are given the gift of eternal life.


In order to more fully appreciate that gift, we are asked, in this Season of Lent, to consider our mortal lives. What are we doing with the time we have been given? How are we making a difference in this world?


No, not everyone is here to find a cure for cancer. Not everyone is here to figure out how to land a space ship on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. Not everyone is here to develop the latest gadget in technology.


But, we are all here for a purpose. We are all given one special something by our Creator, one special spark of the divinity of our God, one unique gift that may not change the world, may not make someone’s day, but may change the moment to something meaningful and special.


Yesterday, I visited with a woman who is in a nursing home. She has Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Even though there were many moments when she couldn’t create a sentence to carry an entire thought, she still had a wonderful kind smile and a sparkle of fun in her eye.


As we ended our visit, I asked her if she wanted me to pray. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. So, I prayed and then ended my prayer with The Lord’s Prayer. When I finished, she smiled at me and said, “Oh, that was beautiful – especially that last prayer. Did you make it up yourself?”


“No,” I told her, “that was the Lord’s prayer, the prayer Jesus taught us.” “Oh, I remember him,” she said. “Nice man. He mows the lawn at the church. Always does such a good job.”


Later, I called her daughter to tell her of my visit and I mentioned this last part of the story. Her daughter and her spouse exclaimed, “Yes! That’s my mom. She was very involved and active in her Methodist church. She and my dad were very generous in giving their time and money. But, my mother always had a way of making you feel special. She knows how to make you feel like you are unique and you have a unique gift. Alzheimer’s has stolen so much from her. I’m so glad it hasn’t stolen that gift from her.”


We all have a purpose in this life. Each one of us has a unique gift. Something no one can take from us. We are called together to do something that couldn’t be done any other way.


“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”


So, what are you going to do with your one, wild, precious life?  Amen.