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, February 26, 2023

Emmanuel, Don't Do It!

Good Saturday morning, good citizens of the cosmos. It's the day before the First Sunday in Lent and, in anticipation of enduring the annual visitation of the dreaded Great Litany (Spare us, Good Lord), and the dirges that pass for Lenten hymns,

I've decided to turn my attention to the latest picture from Knucklebump Farm and giggle at the sweet faces of Taylor Blake and her emu, auspiciously named Emmanuel Todd Lopez.

Knucklebump Farm is a small "hobby farm", located in sizzling south Florida, "where animals wreak havoc on their caretakers and revolt against education".

They specialize in miniature cattle but there are emus like ETL who loves to peck on Taylor's iPhone while she's trying to teach a class, a deer who just loves the taste of human flesh, and a black swan who chooses violence "faster than Tristan Thompson chooses a new baby mama."

Lately, Taylor and her fiance, Kristian, have taken in an old dog, a cow herder, who was starved and emaciated with large open sores on his haunches, is crippled by arthritis, and was abandoned on the side of the road. They named him Old George, gave him food and a bed and toys and lots and lots of love - oh, and treatment by a Vet - and well, by gosh, Old George is walking and living his best life.

Sometimes, they even put a blanket down on the grass for him so he can visit with the cattle that look very much like the cows he's herded most of his life.

They've also taken in Axel, a teeny-tiny newborn German Shepherd pup who, for some unknown reason, was bitten by his mother and had his skull crushed in the process.

Axel has also gotten expert Vet care and, for a while, we didn't think he'd make it but he's doing okay now - walking a little wobbly, and his head tilts to the side but looks like Axel gonna make it, after all.

The sad news the other day was that Tiny Norman, a Berkshire pig who was born about 3/4 of the weight he was supposed to, and after a really strong rally and after Taylor spent 6 hours at the Vet on only 2 hours of sleep, lost his battle and died.

We almost lost Emmanuel just 5 months ago when a strain of Avian Flu came to Knucklebump Farm and killed off hundreds of their chicks, hens, and roosters.

Taylor spent four months sleeping in the barn with this emu, nursing him round the clock back to health. For a while there, he couldn't walk and couldn't lift his head to feed himself, but all of that is just past history now.

You may have seen clips of Taylor and Emmanuel on Twitter or Instagram or FaceBook (search: eco sister). The setup is that Taylor is broadcasting a lesson on one of the farm animals on her iPhone and Emmanual comes by, at first very curious about the iPhone and then, not at all happy that this ... thing... is getting more of Taylor's attention than he is.

The video is hilarious documentation of Taylor saying, "Emmanuel Todd Lopez, don't do it. Don't. Do. It. EMMANUEL TODD LOPEZ! Don't. Do. It!! Do NOT choose violence today."

All the while, ETL is pecking away and then, the iPhone topples over and Taylor expresses her distress while ETL looks down at the iPhone and we get an up-close and personal "inside look" at the nostrils on Emmanuel's beak.

Emmanuel has sisters, Ellen and Regina, who also disrupt the videos, but not with the same frequency as Emmanuel.

Here, you can watch this clip and get all caught up on their antics:

Personally? I think this is a brilliant (if not Great) Litany to start Lent. It's the story of the Garden of Eden. All of God's creatures are cursed and blessed with curiosity. We're all tempted. We all fall short of the mark. It's in our nature.

I think, "Emmanuel Don't Do It" has a much nicer sound than the stiffly British refrain of "Spare us, Good Lord."

But, that's just me. I'm sure many of my devoted Anglo-Catholic brothers (and, it's mostly the brothers) are holding their heads in both hands and sighing deeply.

It's okay. We differ on this every year, but we still love one another.

Tomorrow, also in my branch of Christianity (Jesus said he is the vine, we are the branches John 15), we will be reading the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness right after his baptism in the Jordan by John. (Mt 4:1-11). The passage ends with "Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him."

I take great hope in the fact that even after we have endured the tedious, outdated solemn antiquity of The Great Litany, we will be ministered to by an angel or two, sent to wait on us and revive us.

So, I join Taylor in wishing you a wonderful Saturday, filled with hope and love and promise and good deeds done well.

And, as my people in Portugal, the Azores, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, Portugal, & São Tomé and Príncipe are of't wont to say. . . .

"Bom dia, meus amigos!"

Lent I: Great Expectations

The First Sunday in Lent - February 26,2023
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Millsboro, DE
(the Rev Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Was anyone else required to read Great Expectations in high school?

It’s been a while so let me briefly refresh your memory in the “Cliff Notes” version:
Charles Dickens's Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, an English orphan who rises to wealth, deserts his true friends, and becomes humbled by his own arrogance.

The moral theme of Great Expectations is quite simple: affection, loyalty, and conscience are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class.


Every couple of years, I think about that book – or, at least, the title – as we enter the Season of Lent. I have often set Great Expectations for myself, only to fail miserably. Oh, I’m sure you’ve done the same.

I’m going to give up chocolate, I say on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. Right! Sure, I am! In my mind, I’m a real champion of sacrifice. A veritable paragon of virtue.


Sometimes I even last to mid-Lent. And then come a Sunday when someone brings brownies to Coffee Hour and I can resist anything but temptation. Oh, I play neat tricks on myself. Sundays are not counted in Lent. Did you know that? Or, am I telling you something new?


If you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Ends Holy Saturday, you’ll find there are 46 days, including Lent. You have to back Sundays out of the equation to get to 40.

Wait. Did I just bring you to the near occasion of sin? Did you just figure out, as I did, that on Sundays, you can have whatever it is you’ve given up because Sundays are the Lords’ Day and never part of Lent?


Oopsie! You’re already drooling for sweets at Coffee Hour aren’t you? Or, tonight, you’re going to have that class of wine you’ve given up, aren’t you? Sorry. It was the snake made me do it. Which gets me to why it is I think of the theme of Great Expectations.


I think it started with God. In the Garden. God certainly had Great Expectations for Adam and Eve. They were great because they were simple: Just stay away from the tree in the center of the garden. Do not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. That’s it. Easy, right? Apparently not when there’s a snake and a woman involved.  

Great Expectations continues with Jesus, out there in the wilderness. He is tempted not by a snively old snake but the Devil himself. And, he gets tested three kinds of ways on three issues that are central to the enterprise of being human: Hunger, Power and Glory.

The difference in the temptations in Eden vs the temptations in The Wilderness is like the difference between playing Chutes and Ladders vs. 3-dimensional Chess.


Unlike Adam, Jesus passes with flying colors. Just as we expect him to. As St. Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome, For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”


I used to have a coffee mug my kids gave me. On the outside it said, “If you want me to live up to your expectations,” and on the inside it said, “lower your expectations.” Good advice for any parent. I find that I say that to God with some frequency. “Sorry I disappointed, God. Better lower those expectations a tad.”


From time to time, we all miss the mark. That’s just baked into our DNA as humans. We fail. We just do. We fail, we miss the mark, I think, because we forget what the mark is. We forget what it is this life is all about. Why we are here.


Let me give you an example. I want to tell you a story about Hank and Rhoda. Hank was a Hospice patient of mine. That’s not their names, of course, but Hank and Rhoda could be any couple in the rural area of Sussex County.

Of all the stories I heard about Hank these two about Hank and Rhoda became the bookends of all the stories of their 57 years of married life together.

Hank met Rhoda when he was 19 and she was 12. Rhoda was on vacation with her family in DE and when she and her two sisters walked to the dance hall they went by Hank's house where he was outside washing his car. That’s when he first laid eyes on her and was totally smitten.

At the end of her vacation, Rhoda went back home to PA and Hank went into the Navy. At the end of his Navy career, he was stationed in Philadelphia and decided, just on a whim, to look up Rhoda.

He went to the addresses he had for her only to find that her family had moved. Hank started calling everyone with her last name that was listed in the phone book (remember those?), asking them if they had a daughter Rhoda. He called and called and called all day and into the evening until he found her.

He surprised her one night when she was leaving her job at the A&P store and showed up in his Navy uniform and instantly won Rhoda's heart. At the time Rhoda was already sorta-kinda "engaged" to someone else, but once she saw Hank in his Navy uniform, she broke off her relationship with the other guy and "Hank and Rhoda have been together ever since".

The second story is one that is more recent. A few years ago, Rhoda need to be admitted to a local skilled nursing facility for a few weeks of IV antibiotics. Once she had the dose of medicine, she was allowed to come home for a few hours and had to be back to the facility by bedtime.

Hank was always used to Rhoda taking care of him, so when she came home he still expected her to clean the house, do the laundry and cook his meals. One day, while she was home, they had a disagreement and he was fussing and she decided that she was not coming home for the day anymore until she was discharged because she was just not able to do the regular housework and he just did not understand.

That night, he called his daughter and daughter in law and wanted a family meeting. He wanted an explanation of what exactly was wrong with Rhoda and why she was mad with him and then, his family told me, he cried. His "girls" told him that maybe he needed to do something special for Rhoda to show her he loved her and they suggested flowers.

Hank became very upset. "She knows I love her and I have never bought flowers in fifty some years and I am not going to start now," he thundered. Well, Rhoda wasn't going to give in either. She wasn't going to come home until Hank apologized.

The next morning, Hank called the florist and ordered "a dozen of their prettiest roses and he said he didn't care what the cost was". Then, he took the roses and his cane and went unsteady to the second floor of the Skilled Nursing Facility where Rhoda was staying.

The story was that no one was certain who cried more - Hank or Rhoda - but Rhoda called the girls that evening, crying happy tears and saying "in 50 plus years he's never given me flowers, much less roses." The girls said, "This story just goes to prove that it's never too late to give flowers and tell someone that you love them."

Well, yes. That is one thing that story just goes to prove. It also proves that it’s not so much the great expectations we have but the comfort we feel in the assumptions we have made.

And, it also true that life often tests us and finds us wanting but it’s never too late to rise to the challenge and exceed everyone’s expectations, even our own.


Lent is such a time. It doesn’t have to be grand and glorious or dramatic and tested on the battlefield. Forgiveness and redemption can be held in a simple bouquet of roses, brought by an aging, fragile body, to a spouse of over 50 years, and contained in a contrite heart.


I have learned that the most powerful three-word sentence in the English language – after “I love you,” is “I am sorry.” That one small sentence – said with truth and oftentimes courage – can melt a wall of ice built by anger and heal a heart broken by disappointment or betrayal.


Lent is such a time to examine our assumptions about our relationships, to take another look at the priorities in our life, to ask “What’s really important to me? What do I value most and how do I demonstrate that in how I live my life?”


Lent is a time to take out our household budget and see it as a statement of our theology – of what we believe about God. How we spend our money, where we place our treasurer, is a statement of our great expectations about ourselves and our family and God.


Lent is a time to admit our flaws and faults and those times we have trespassed against others and seek forgiveness for our trespasses and to forgive those who have trespassed against us.


Those are the great expectations of Lent, which are no less and no greater than Jesus has for us, which is to love ourselves and others as he loves us and sacrificed his life for the love of us.

And, to love wildly, generously, lavishly, and wastefully, the way God loves us. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday 2023

Remember that you are dust and to dust, you shall return.

Later on today, I will impose ashes on the foreheads of those who are ancient of days and live in what used to be known as "Nursing Homes" but are now called "Extended Care Facilities" (ECF) or "Long Term Care Facilities" (LTCF).

They have long ago moved from - and some have forgotten - the homes they once lived in, and loved in, and made love in, and birthed and raised children in, and cooked fabulous meals in, and celebrated holidays and holy days in, and wept in and laughed in and cursed in and sang in.

And now, they share a room no bigger than their former living room with another who is also ancient of days, who cries out in the middle of the night for her children, or his comrades on the battlefield, or just simply, "Help me. Help me. Help me." until their voices are hoarse, yet they continue on in a whisper until the light of a new day filters in their room.

Maybe that's not so much the cry of the demented. Maybe they have seen something and know something we don't yet know and haven't yet seen.

Maybe asking for help is the most courageous thing they've ever said in the whole of their lives.

Maybe they are finally free to say it. Out loud.

All of their earthly possessions have been reduced and are now contained in one small closet and one four-drawer dresser, a bedside table, and a hospital bed.

And, implausible as it seems to ones who are younger than them, it is enough.

When I impose ashes on their foreheads and say the ancient words of this day, some will look away, others will look bored, but a few will look me right in the eye, silently accusing me of redundancy.

But there's always one - one ancient soul, whose memory has been replaced with wisdom (which may be the wisest thing), whose watery eyes will dance with some happiness, deeply hidden in the wrinkles and crevices of her face.

I will say, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," and he will pat my hand and say, "Yes, yes, child," as if I am singing a freedom song.

And, perhaps I am. Perhaps that is the greatest wisdom scattered and hidden in the ashes I carry.

This pilgrimage we are on has a destination which is contained within itself. When we come to know that the journey is our home while we are here, there is a wonderful liberation. Or, so it seems.

All caution and disturbing memories and soul-wracking anxieties are thrown to the wind where it will be carried and scattered and somewhere, mingled with the light feathers of hope.

Remember that you are dust and to dust, you shall return.

Scattered amidst the song of the limits of our mortality is the song of our liberation as children of God.

If you quiet yourself and still your wildly beating heart, you will hear it and then you will know the freedom to love wildly, generously,  lavishly, and wastefully, the way God loves us.

And you will find forgiveness for yourself and others.

And your soul will be free.

May that be your prayer as you being this Lenten Journey.

Friday, February 17, 2023

He Gets us


He gets us.

That's the message of the $100 million dollar campaign to "re-brand" Jesus. The target audience of this effort is young people and those who are skeptical about organized religion.

I've seen a couple of TV ads. You probably have, too. I didn't watch The Super Bowl, but I understand $17 Million was spent to air two He Gets Us ads during the game.

Which doesn't surprise me. The campaign is a natural fit with the NFL. Players often pray on the field and point to the heavens after touchdowns. Fans often hold up signs with "John 3:16" written on them.

A little bit of poking around on some of the research that has been done by those who have followed the money shows ties with all the usual suspects: Right-wing Evangelical Groups.

More specifically, the campaign is a subsidiary of The Servant Foundation, also known as the Signatry.

According to research compiled by Jacobin, a left-leaning news outlet, The Servant Foundation has donated tens of millions to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group. The ADF has been involved in several legislative pushes to curtail LGBTQ rights and quash non-discrimination legislation in the Supreme Court.

Surprised? I'm not. I'm sure you're not, either, not if you've been paying attention (or to use a word loathed by the Right: "woke").

Although most donors choose to remain anonymous, no one will be surprised to see that some of the big money comes from Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a. Indeed, Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green claims to be a big contributor to the campaign’s multi-million-dollar coffers.

Hobby Lobby, of course, has famously been at the center of several legal controversies, including the support of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a successful years-long legal fight that eventually led to the Supreme Court allowing companies to deny medical coverage for contraception on the basis of religious beliefs.

So, they would know best that the Jesus they have hijacked and whose reputation they've tarnished now needs some "rebranding".

This quote from Green is so thick with irony you could choke on it. So, warning: Put down your beverage before reading it:

“We are wanting to say — ‘we’ being a lot of different people — that he gets us,” Green said. “[Jesus] understands us. He loves who we hate. I think we have to let the public know and create a movement.”

I mean . . . . seriously? "Jesus loves who we hate"? Do you think he even knows what he's saying or is he preaching mostly to himself?

“Be assured … we’re not ‘left’ or ‘right’ or a political organization of any kind,” the “He Gets Us” site reads. “We’re also not affiliated with any particular church or denomination.”

What they do have in common is the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, which is an important unifying document in evangelical Christian churches.

The Lausanne movement itself was started by evangelical Christian leader Billy Graham. Documents and decisions that have come out of the movement’s summits have decried the “idolatry of disordered sexuality” and focused heavily on the impact of the devil and sin on national cultures.

But, you know, He Gets us.

In my experience, the churches in the Lausanne Movement all adhere to pretty much the same theology. I call this theology "King Jesus" AKA "He who must be obeyed."

King Jesus has his own "Princes" (AKA "ministers," "pastors" and "reverends") and other members of His Royal Court (*His* church) who enforce all his "rules".

You know, like the 10 Commandments. And, every single last one of the 613 laws in Leviticus. Well, except the ones we don't pay attention to like touching pig skin, or tattoos, or mixing fabrics in clothing, or holding back the wages of an employee overnight, or . . . .

But, wait, you say. Jesus didn't say any of those things. Yes, the argument goes, but *His Father* did. And, besides, it's right there in Matthew where Jesus said, "I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."

None of that is the point of the movement; it's the defense of the movement. And, the point? From where I sit, this is the second iteration of Mary Daley's logic. Daley famously posited:

If God is male, then male is god.

In this manifestation, the working hypothesis is: If Jesus is King, then Christians are sovereign.

And, if Christians are sovereign, then Christians rule the world.

And, if Christians rule the world, everyone has to follow Christian rules. See also: The 10 Commandments, the 163 Rules of Leviticus (well, the ones we like), The Five Fundamentals of Christianity (biblical inerrancy, nature divine of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, resurrection of Christ, and his return), and the Lausanne Covenant.

So, with one, simple, three-word slogan campaign, the downward slide of Christian membership can be reversed, women brought under control, LGBTQ people abolished, and no more Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Ba'hi's, etc.

We'll all be one, even as Jesus and *the Father* are one. It's an answer to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.

Brilliant, no? Um, no. I think young people are pretty savvy about the difference between slick marketing and authenticity. And skeptics are, well, skeptics for a reason, this being a good reason to continue to be skeptical.

There are lots of articles about He Gets Us that you can google for yourself. I hear lots of alarm bells going off about this movement - especially when I read that the campaign has a goal of raising one billion dollars to "rebrand" the name of Jesus that they, themselves, have tarnished.

The irony is almost overwhelming when it's not laughable.

I have more to say about the theology of this movement which I will address in another piece. Much of my thinking has come out of a conversation I had earlier this week with a gathering of clergy who were talking about The Transfiguration - which we'll be observing this Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent.

There's something about the emphasis on the humanity of Jesus in this "He Gets Us" Campaign that is in stark contrast with the mystery of the divinity of Jesus into which we are invited in The Transfiguration. I need to sit a bit more with this thought - maybe a long walk when it stops raining - to find the right words.

There are lots of videos you can watch from He Gets Us. This one "The Rebel" has netted 122 million views on YouTube in 11 months

Their web page is pretty slick, too. Check it out. It's pretty slick.

I don't think there's any question that Jesus gets us. The question is: Will this campaign really lead people to Jesus and, if it does, what path they will be encouraged to take?

I'll try to answer that question in my next reflection.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

A Red Letter Day in Black History Month for TEC

Today is a pretty amazing day on the calendar. Indeed, it is a Red Letter Day in Black History Month for The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

Let me explain:

On February 11, 1989, Barbara Clementine Harris was consecrated as Bishop Suffragan of The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. I can’t even begin to explain what a monumental event this was in the life of the church.

I mean, she was the first woman in “God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” to be elected and consecrated a bishop. And, that woman was also Black.

That made two major cracks in the Stained Glass Ceiling, and the shock waves reverberated around the Anglican Communion and the world. I remember flags with the symbol of the Episcopal Church being flown upside down, the international distress symbol.

There were anxious discussions at coffee hour and angry protests in front of churches and “Chicken Little” sermons preached from pulpits that declared that The Theological Sky Was Falling and the Anglican Communion would be no more.

You know, the way that was predicted in 1974 at the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven. And again, when Marriage Equality 2015 was finally achieved in our country and in our church. And, now, even now, in the UK as the Church of England approves the Rites of Blessings for Marriage (but not marriage) of LGBTQ people.

It was ever thus.

I remember that Bishop Barbara had received several death threats, but, in Barbara’s way, she refused to wear a Kevlar vest. “I don’t take this personally,” I remember her saying.

But it was. Personal. Very personal. You can’t get more personal than gender and race. And, the personal is, in fact, political. Which, turns out, is a very dangerous combination.

To wit: On February 11, 1990, one year after Bishop Barbara’s consecration, Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island prison. He had been incarcerated for 27 years for the political crime of leading the movement to end South African apartheid. Apartheid, of course, is the policy and system of segregation and discrimination on grounds of race – specifically, Black. Or, mixed race.

It doesn’t get more personal than that.

A decade later, on February 11, 2000, Michael Bruce Curry was elected Bishop of North Carolina on the 11th ballot. He wasn’t the first Black man ever to be elected bishop. There had been Bishops Suffragans, of course, who were Black. Indeed, in The Episcopal Church the office of Suffragan is inextricably linked with the struggle of Black Episcopalians for equality and recognition. "

See also: Harold Lewis “The History of Bishops Suffragan in TEC”

As Edward Rodman observed:
"The office of Suffragan Bishop grew out of the controversy of how to deal with "colored work." For in fact, there were those who believed that black suffragans under the authority of white diocesans would be a more effective missionary strategy for managing the growing number of small and primarily rural congregations that were developing in the south after the end of slavery."
Accordingly, at the 1874 General Convention, a proposal was put forward by the Diocese of Texas. requesting the Convention "to appoint a suffragan bishop for the supervision of the freedmen."

However, it would take until 1918 until two Black men, Edward Thomas Demby in Arkansas and Henry Beard Delaney in North Carolina, were consecrated suffragan bishops “for colored work”.

See also: “The Church Archives: Episcopal Passage: The First African American Bishops”

Michael Bruce Curry was the first African American Diocesan Bishop elected in the American South. His election also marked the first time the great-grandson of enslaved people was elected by the great-grandchildren of some slave owners.

Just stop, take a deep breath and wrap your head around that fact for a few minutes and let it sink in.

If you're not a person of color and you’ve been watching The 1619 Project you have some sense of that achievement and the incredible nature of that landmark in time.

In 2015, Michael Curry would become the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate in the Episcopal Church and the first Black man – indeed, the first person of color – to be elected to that high office.

And so it is that February 11th is a Red Letter Day in Black History Month. On this 11th day of the second and shortest month on the calendar, The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion hit a trifecta of notable achievements.

Black History Month, for us, is very personal. 
And so, yes, it is political. If you are one of those Episcopalians who likes your religion 'pure' and free from politics, well, deal with it.

One of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes is this: “Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front.”

Or, as I once heard Ed Rodman say, “I want my fingerprints on everything and my name on nothing.”

That “strategy of the humility of the activist” seems to be the thread of wisdom that ties these three people to each other and to the achievement of the service of sacrificial distinction.

Today, let us take personally and remember and be inspired by their courage and bravery and boldness to be obedient to the call of God to leadership. The world is – we are – better for the gift of their lives and their service.

I can hear all three saying, "To God be the glory."

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Let Me Tell You Why You Are Here

Let me tell you why you are here.

Epiphany V - February 5, 2023

St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Lewes, DE

I have a friend named Judy – she’s one of my favorite agnostics – who says that her favorite part of church is “story”. To her ears, church sounds like this: “Blah, blah, blah STORY. Blah, blah, blah, STORY. Blah, blah, STORY.”


One of my favorite names for the church is “Keeper of the Ancient Stories of Faith.” Now, you won’t find that in our Catechism or Outline of Faith. It’s not there (BCP 854) along with the other descriptive terms like “The People of God,” or “The Body of Christ” or “The Royal Priesthood” or lofty sounding- bordering on the pretentious “The Pilar and Ground of Truth”.


Nevertheless, “Keeper of the Ancient Stories of Faith” we are. We heard three of them just this morning. Isaiah tells us the story he told to the ancient Israelites of what God revealed to him in prayer about how we should live justly. St. Paul does the same concerning the early church in Corinth. And Matthew tells the story of how Jesus explained all that to the disciples in words and images that were pertinent to them in their time – namely salt and light.


Some of you may be familiar with Eugene Peterson’s translation of scriptures in his version known as “The Message”. He begins Matthew’s gospel story with Jesus saying, “Let me tell you why you are here.” That sounds close enough to my ears to echo the favorite words of my childhood: “Once upon a time . . .”


“Once upon a time” was magic to my ears. Wherever I was in the library or the schoolroom, when I heard “Once upon a time .  . .” I would make a bee-line to my place on the braided rug, sit cross-legged with my back straight – just like Mama taught me – waiting for the teacher or the librarian to open the book and transport me to another time and meet new people and learn new things.


“Once upon a time” was as magical to my ears as “Abracadabra!” “Once upon a time” meant that time was somehow suspended and a portal would appear and I could enter into the past and live there for a while, and I’d learn things I wouldn’t . ..  couldn’t . . learn from anyone else in my present life.


So, as a follower of Jesus I want to tell you a story about a man from whom I learned about salt and light and how to live life as one loved unconditionally by God.


Ready? Let me tell you why you are here. Once upon a time . . .  . It was 1986 and I was a newly ordained priest in my very first call as Ecumenical Chaplain at the University of Lowell – otherwise known as “the poor man’s MIT” – in Lowell, MA.


As Chaplain, one of the first things I did was to call together a group of students who would help me put together an Ecumenical Worship Service that would be meaningful to students of all denominations – or no religious persuasion or experience at all.


Part of our learning was to attend different churches in Lowell – Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Unitarians, and we were very lucky to have in Lowell both Greek and Armenian Orthodox – and then gather together with the priest or minister or pastor after the service to talk about what was important or different in their religious and liturgical expression.


That’s how I met Father Koumaranian. When we first met, he took one look at this young, 33 year old woman with an overly enthusiastic smile and earnest eyes and a (then) skinny neck in a wide white clergy collar and immediately took pity on me.

He studied me carefully for a while before announcing in his deep, rich voice which was thick with his Armenian accent. “I see . . . I see,” he said, stroking his long, scraggly beard and then, without a hint of surprise or sarcasm but a genuine observation said, “I see the light of Christ in you.” (Whew! When I considered the options of what he might say, that was a huge relief!)


Which seemed to justify his decision which he then announced loudly. “Come. You come to church. It would be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It would be good for my people to see woman priest. Come. You come.”


Understand, please. This was not so much an invitation as it was an order to be obeyed. With which, I’m happy to say, I was happy to comply. I mean, holy moly! The church was one huge mosaic. The stained glass windows were all Tiffany. The vestments were amazing works of art. There were great billows of incense that lingered and danced at the high vaulted ceiling for days after mass. And – TJ, you’d love this – they chanted everything that wasn’t nailed down.


I have lots of Fr. Koumaranian stories, but this is the one I want to tell. One Monday morning, Fr. called me, “Mother,” he said. (He always called me, “Mother,” which always made me giggle. I mean, for Jimminy’s sake, I was 33 years old! Anyway, “) Mother,” he said, dees ees Father. We have funeral on Wednesday. It will be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It will be good for my people to see woman priest. Come. You come.”


Of course I came. Are you kidding me? Well, I did get the hairy eyeball from the woman who was the head of the altar guild and the male acolytes ignored me buy I got to wear one of those fabulous brocade vestments. The incense was thick enough to cut with a knife and the chanting was almost nonstop with more Alleluias than we’re apt to hear on Easter Day.


And then, it came time for the eulogy. I looked out into the congregation which was pretty good for 9 o’clock on a Wednesday morning but even 80 or so people looked lost in that cavernous church. In the front row on the gospel side sat the widow and the family. The front row on the epistle side sat All The Other Widows in Greater Lowell and surroundings – all dressed in black with black scarves covering their hair and tied tightly under their several ample chins – rocking and wailing in a non-harmonious counterpoint to the chanting.


I thought sure Father would be speaking to them in Armenian so I was very surprised when he moved toward the casket and started to preach in English.

“There are people in dis world,” he said, “who are always making you hoppy. Oh, you see dem walking across the street from you and your heart leaps in your chest, so hoppy are you to see dem.”


He moved closer to the casket, put his hand gently on it and said, “Diss . . . diss is not one of dose people.”

I don’t think I gasped but I do remember gulping and shutting my eyes and praying, “Oh please, God, don’t let my face show what I’m really thinking right now.”


When I opened my eyes I looked over at the first row on either side of the church and the entire row of women and the men and women behind them were all nodding their heads in sad agreement with Fr. Koumaranian.


And then Fr. opened his arms wide and said, softly and tenderly, “But! Isn’t Gawd, our own Gawd, isn’t diss Gawd so wonderful? Isn’t diss Gawd so amazing, dat now, even now, even one such as diss is resting eternally in de arms of Gawd.”And then he lowered his voice and said, “And dat, my friends, is because of diss . . . “Gawd eess Gawd. And, people eess people.”


And then, he turned around and sat down. And I marveled and said to myself, “Someday, I’m going to be a priest just like Fr. Koumaranian. I’m going to have one point, I’m going to make it, and then I’m going to sit down and shut up.”


Well, sorry, but that day hasn’t arrived. Not quite yet. I’ve still got one or two more things to say, so just hang on another couple minutes and I’ll be done right quick. I promise.


“Let me tell you why you are here.” As Eugene Peterson translates this passage from Matthew:  “You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”


The great theologian of the Reformation, Martin Luther, is said to have preached that salt has three purposes. The purpose of salt is to preserve. The purpose of salt is to bite. And, the purpose of salt is to bring pleasure and tastiness to life.


We are here to be seasoning for each other. We are here to preserve the best of what each of us was given at our conception. But we are also here to sometimes be the salt in each other’s wounds – to speak the truth in love even when that ‘bites’.

One of my Spiritual Directors told me once, as I complained about my annoyance with one colleague or another coworker, that God intentionally places people in our lives to “rub us the wrong way”. She called them “Divine Sandpaper”.  Isn’t that great? Divine Sandpaper. She said, “People who ‘rub us the wrong way’ bring out our authentic grain. And, just like sandpaper on wood, Divine Sandpaper helps to bring out our natural shine.”


Peterson says, “You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”


We are here to preserve the best about ourselves and each other so that we might find pleasure in each other and in life. We are here to bring out the God-colors in the world, so that God is “not a mystery, not a secret to be kept”.


Jesus, like Isaiah before him and Paul after him, is telling us a little story about how to live our lives. Shine, says Jesus! “Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God,” who is generous beyond measure.


Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1966-1973) wrote a poem titled ODE TO THE SALT which ends with these words: and so the minimum, / the tiny / wave of salero (salt) / teaches us  . . . . the central flavor of infinity.


Salt teaches us the central flavor of infinity. That becomes an even more powerful idea when you consider that Jesus is telling us that WE are salt. WE are the “central flavor of infinity”. When we look into the face of another, we are getting a taste of the central flavor of infinity.


Jose Maria Castillo writes, “What Jesus wants is that we live in such a way – and that our behavior be of such a nature – that people, when they see us, feel better, feel happy, and feel eager to have faith in God.”  . . . . Jesus wants us to feel eager to feel on our lips, on our fingers, in our hand, in our heart, in our whole being, the central flavor of infinity.

And that will only be possible by being salt and light – through the spirituality of hospitality and trust, the spirituality of compassionate listening and truth-telling and supportive tenderness, and by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly – attentively – with God.


Matthew begins the story of how Jesus teaches us to live by saying, “Let me tell you why you are here.”  Once upon a time, an Armenian Orthodox priest named Father Koumaranian saw potential in a new, young Episcopal priest, who was long on enthusiasm and very short on experience, and helped her to better understand the mystery of the relationship between God and the people of God, and why we are here saying, “God is God, and people is people.”

I’ve learned over the years that that’s a good and helpful mantra to learn so you can use it the next time God sends you some Divine Sandpaper.


And, let the church, the “Keeper of the Ancient Stories of Faith” which inspires us to see the stories of our lives as part of the ongoing story of God’s unconditional love for us, let that church say, Amen.


Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Beatitudes in the Rise of White Supremacy

I want to start with the word 'Blessed'.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christian and still attend church - either in the actual building or on some internet platform - are going to hear that word a lot tomorrow.

We will hear Jesus apply the word blessed to people and situations that, in any age and time, would not be considered 'blessed' much less 'sanctioned' by God.

And, preachers all around Western Christendom will try to help us understand what Jesus meant. And, some of it will actually make some sense. Some of it will actually be comforting.

Parts of it will provide a few moments of relief from the atrocities of what's happening in Ukraine and Memphis, or Palestine and the Southern Border, or the 'plague that lays waste at noonday' in hospital Emergency Departments and Pediatric Wards and Extended Care Facilities (AKA Nursing Homes) with the Tripple Threat of COVID, Influenza and RSV.

One sermon I heard, oh, it must be more than 30 years ago, has come back to visit me this week, especially these past few days. Martin Smith, Episcopal priest, author, retreat leader, and former member and Abbott of SSJE, wrote and delivered it.

As I recall, he said that most of the words in the English language have come to us from the Gregorian monks - the religious order that surrounded themselves with the teachings and spirituality of St. Gregory.

Gregory was a bishop of Rome after the city's fall in 476. He is the patron saint of musicians and teachers. It was said that when he dictated homilies to his assistant, a dove could be seen speaking from his mouth.

Gregory favored preaching on the Jacob cycles and did so often. Apparently, his favorite story was the one of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22–32), which ends with Jacob walking away with a limp and a new name: Israel.

Here's that passage:

<<25 When the man (angel) saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”>>

Gregory said that the moment when the angel touched Jacob's hip was a kairos moment, a God-incident, when the past and the future fold into the present and the blood sacrifices of the past come together with the blood sacrifice of the future on the cross and Jacob, was "bloodded".

Jacob, he said, was "bloodded with the blood of the cross."

When the monks transcribed Gregory's sermon, the "d' looked to future eyes like an 's'. Thus, 'bloodded' became 'blessed'.

If you look up the etymology of the word "bless" in the OED, you will find one of the definitions as "to mark with blood for sacrifice" (In my version, Second Edition, Volume II, " B.B.C - Chalypsography," this can be found on page 281).

"To mark with blood for sacrifice".

This, for me, moves us away from the temptation to pick the low-hanging sermonic fruit and choose the translation of "blessed" as "happy". As in, "happy are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."

Which has never made a lick of sense to me, except in some super-saccharine, Monty Pythonesque "always look on the bright side of life," kind of Christianity.

Blessed as bloodded.

To mark with blood for sacrifice.

Blessed as entering into that point of human suffering when one is "beside oneself" with grief or hunger or wanting or persecution or pain - and we enter into a kairos moment, God's time, the time of the sacrifice of Jesus, who was a part of and one with God - who suffered in every way a human can suffer - on the cross.

And, in that suffering, in that kairos moment when time becomes past, future and present, we are "bloodded" - marked with blood for sacrifice - and we are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

And, like Jacob, we are "bloodded" and we limp away with a new understanding of who we are.

I think we have entered such moments with the brutal murder of George Floyd and other innocent black men and women like Dante Wright, Philandro Castile, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Janisha Fonville, Tanisha Anderson, and many, many, many others.

We have entered yet another kairos moment with the beyond brutal, sickeningly savage, inhuman death of Tyre Nichols who was beaten to death by five Memphis police officers who held him down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots, and batons as he screamed for his mother who was only three houses away.

Bloodded are those who are persecuted.
Bloodded is his mother who morns.
Bloodded are the meek.
Bloodded are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed - to mark with blood for sacrifice.

The thing about this kind of blessing or beatitude is that the sacrifice is not senseless; rather, it has deep, spiritual meaning.

Sacrifice is a vehicle of transformation.

We are already seeing this transformation in the way Tyre Nichols murder was handled. The transparency on the part of elected officials. The immediate firing of the five officers. The immediate charges of murder were brought against the five men who beat Mr. Nichols to death. The quick release of the video of the beating.

Imagine it: The very people who are persecuted by White Supremacy - those who are bloodded - are changing the way in which we deal with these horrific injustices.

Imagine it: The very people who hunger and thirst for righteousness - those who are bloodded - are teaching us that White Supremacy is an equal-opportunity disease, its toxins can poison people of any color.

Imagine it: The very people who mourn - those who are bloodded - are teaching us that there is life after death, that a person's life not only has meaning but their death can provide a legacy that can bring about real change for justice.

As I sit and begin to process the images of violence of not only Tyre Nicholas but Paul Pelosi as well as this time of extreme political violence and social and cultural turmoil, I find myself reflecting on what Jesus said in his first sermon with new eyes.

We are being marked with blood for sacrifice.

We always have. We always will.

That's not the question.

The question is how will we allow our sacrifice to be a vehicle of transformation - of our souls and our lives; individually, as a people, a nation and the world?

Bloodded are you who are persecuted, who are meek, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will become vehicles of transformation and change.

Know their names:

Sunday, January 15, 2023

What are you looking for? Where does your heart dwell?


St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Millsboro, DE
Epiphany II - January 15, 2023 


There is something in all of us that loves a story. The first magical words I heard were, “Once upon a time . . .”. I hear those words and even now, I’m four or five years old, sitting cross-legged on a braided rug in the library, listening intently.


I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I love coming to church – even when I don’t have to – is because I’m going to hear another story. It may be something from the Hebrew scripture – something that happened centuries before even Jesus was born – or it may be yet another story about Jesus and his kindness and his love and his teaching.


Normally, St. John is a pretty good storyteller. He reports seven different miracles that Jesus performed. I think the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is my favorite, but you have to admit that the story of Jesus walking on water is pretty spectacular.

John tells stories differently than Luke or Mark or Matthew. John is less concerned with or in awe of the actual miracle itself; rather, John is more in awe of the deep spiritual meaning implicit in the story.


The miracles are signs not of the coming of God's Realm but of the presence of the Logos, the Word or the power of God, which brings about a transformation in people's lives.


That’s really what John is keen about – the transformation in people’s lives because of the miracle that is Jesus. That’s why John uses poetry and metaphor more than the other evangelists. He knows that mere words can’t contain the Logos, the Word, the Power of God.

It’s about experiencing the presence of the miracle that is Jesus which transforms lives.


That’s the way I understand this morning’s gospel from John which, truth be told, is not his best effort at storytelling. He’s really all over the place, isn’t he? And who was the guy who brought his watch so that we know that it’s 4’o’clock? Seriously.

John strings together two stories, a day apart not because the details of the story are important but because the story is the vehicle to make his point. And, his point is this: Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus is the one who takes away the sin of the world.


What caught my eye in this story of John’s is what Jesus says to two of John’s disciples. After John says, again, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” two of his disciples heard him and they turned to follow Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”


What are you looking for? It’s a great question, actually. It’s one I think we who follow Jesus should ask ourselves from time to time. What are you looking for?


That’s the question that’s been following me around all week. I don’t have to be in church every week. And, I have the option of watching several church services on YouTube. I’ve been attending the 5 PM Saturday service at St. Peter’s, Lewes, which I love. It’s like the 8 AM service with no music, straight up church, except I get to sleep late on Sunday morning if I want to. But the truth is, I find myself in my jammies, with a cup of coffee, “church-surfing”.


Typically, I find myself watching the service from the Washington National Cathedral in DC, the service from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC, and maybe a couple other churches where I know some of my clergy friends will be preaching or some of my musical friends will be playing or singing.


It’s a wonderful buffet – a feast for the eyes and the ears and the soul. By Sunday afternoon, I’m had my full of the Gospel and I’m satisfied that my soul burbs. But lately, I’ve been calling my own habits into question. Why isn’t one service enough?

What am I looking for?


So, I’m bringing that question with me into this church this morning, and I’m going to ask you the same question. I’m not looking to embarrass you. I’m not going to ask you to stand up and say why it is you come to church. Although, you know, I do think that, every once in a while, Episcopalians might learn something from our non-denominational sisters and brothers who offer their testimony in church. Witnessing and testifying about one’s spiritual journey is inspirational and transformational.


That said, you can all relax and take a deep breath. I’m not going to ask you What are you looking for. But I do want you to consider the question. And, I have a story that I think just might be instructive as well as helpful to you as you do.


It’s a story that was told to me by a Buddhist monk I met while I was doing some work in Thailand. I was helping a friend who had set up an orphanage for young children who had lost both parents to the AIDS pandemic. About 50 steps from my apartment was a Buddhist Temple – or a ‘Wat’ as it is called. Every day I would pass by the Wat and stop in to pray in my own way, surrounded and uplifted as I was by the beautiful chanting of the Monks.


The Abbot of the Wat took an interest in me and we began to have wonderful conversations after their prayer services. He had enormous curiosity about Christianity which matched my curiosity in Buddhism. I think I learned more from him than he from me and I will be eternally grateful for all he taught me.


As my time in Thailand was coming to an end, The Abbot said to me, “I have a little gift for you. I will tell you this story which I think Christians need to hear. I will make of this story a gift to you.” It is the gift of that story that I share with you now. 


So, ready?


“Once upon a time . . . . “ there was a village in Thailand that had been settled by the banks of a very large river. The river provided the villagers water for drinking and cooking, bathing and cleaning. It also had a very strong current, so if you went out too far, the current could swoop you up and carry you away only to drown and never to be seen again.


One day, a young man who had been bathing waded out too far and was swooped up by the strong current. He began yelling for help. Person after person went into the water, trying to get as close to him as they could without getting caught up in the current themselves, and they yelled to him, “Give me your hand!” The man just flailed about, screaming for help.


Just as everyone feared for the worst, one of the old women in the village came into the water, getting as near as she could to the man caught in the current; she stretched out her hand and said to the man, “Take my hand!” And, miraculously, the man reached out his hand, and took the hand of the older woman, who pulled him from the current.


Everyone was wild with happiness, cheering and yelling at the miracle they had just witnessed. One of the villagers went to the woman who was sitting on the water’s edge and said to her, “You are a hero. You saved that man’s life. How did you do it?”


The old woman said, “It is not hard, when you think about it. Everyone was yelling, ‘Give me your hand’. A drowning man does not think he is able to give anything, not even to help himself.”

“I simply said to the man, ‘Take my hand.’”

“When you are drowning, when you are desperate for help, you need others. A drowning person can’t hear ‘give me your hand’. When a person is in over their head, they can hear, ‘take my hand’. The difference, she said, can save a life.”


The Abbott looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, smiled and said, “I think this Jesus, your savior, knew a little something about drowning and being in over his head.”


When John’s disciples started following Jesus, he turned and asked him, “What are you looking for?” They answered, “Rabbi/Teacher where are you staying?” Which is to ask, Where do you dwell? Where is your heart?”


And, Jesus didn’t say, “I live in Nazareth.” He didn’t say, “I’m sort of in between homes right now.” Or, “Well, I’m not from here, I’m staying with friends.”


No, Jesus said, “Come and see.” Which is to say, Take my hand. Follow me.


Not, do this. Not, don’t do that. Not, give me this or that.

Not, give me your name. Not follow these rules and pay this price and you’ll be saved.


No. Jesus said, “Come and see.” Take my hand. Experience it for yourself.

I’m going to take a risk here and say that I think that’s why many of us come to church. I think that’s what we’re looking for. Some who will take us by the hand – especially when we feel we’re going under.


Baba Ram Dass, and American spiritual teacher and guru of modern yoga once said, “We’re all here to walk each other home.” You know, I think that’s just about right.


I think many of us are looking for the stories of the lives of our faith so that we can find ourselves in those stories. I think we are looking for the “once upon a time” to be “once upon a time in my life.”


I think we are looking to find our way out of the strong currents in our lives that sometimes sweep us up and away in anxiety or depression or confusion and we feel in over our heads, pulled along by forces out of our control. 

I think we strengthen our faith and belief when we actually repeat the actual words of John the Baptist – becoming like him – when we say (or sing), “Here is/Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”


And Jesus doesn’t say, “Give me your hand.”  He says, “Take my hand. Come and see.”


And so, just as we are without one plea, O Lamb of God, we come.  We come.  


And, Jesus tells us stories – we call them parables and they don’t start with “once upon a time’ but they could – about people just like us. 


Women who can’t conceive and Husbands who can’t imagine.

Daughters who are near death and sons who squander their inheritance.

Women who have lost coins and Shepherds who leave 99 sheep in search of the one that is lost.

People who are wealthy in things but poor in spirit and people or have faith as small as a mustard seed but who can move mountains.


And, we listen to the stories Jesus tells us and we take his hand when he tells us to come and see for ourselves.


And when we do, we are changed and transformed and our lives will never again be the same.


What are you looking for?



Sunday, January 01, 2023

Who were those shepherds, anyhow?

A Sermon for
January 1, 2023

Today is the day the church celebrates The Holy Name of Jesus. For a long time, the church celebrated this day as The Circumcision of Jesus, because that’s the time, eight days after his birth, that  Mary and Joseph, being good, observant Jews, would have called a Mohel to circumcise their newborn male in accordance with the covenant God made with Abraham.


Today, our Roman Catholic friends are celebrating The Solemnity of Mary. It’s a celebration of her motherhood and the role she played in the salvation of humankind as a Theotokos, a God-bearer, the Mother of God.


The designation of the feast in honor of Jesus' Holy Name is new to the 1979 BCP. Celebration of the Holy Name reflects the significance of the Holy Name of Jesus, and the emphasis of the Gospel of Luke on the naming of Jesus rather than his circumcision.

And, that’s the end of the lecture portion of this sermon. So, here’s what I want to know. You know those shepherds? The ones in Luke’s Gospel to whom the angels appeared? They were the first ones to hear the Glad Tidings – the Good News – of the birth of Jesus – and to tell others. So, what were their names?


I mean, naming is obviously very important. We had to give Mary another name, one that sounds all ancient and fancy like “Theotokos”. We even know that one of the angels is named Gabriel. So, it seems important to name the first heralds of the Savior’s birth. Doesn’t it?


Let’s say that there were three of them. Three’s a good, biblical number. So, I’m thinking one has to be named David after the great Shepherd King. But, the other two? I’m sure they had the Palestinian equivalent of the names of regular guys like Caleb, Ali and Ahmad.

Names like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . .Ed.

You know, I always liked Ed Norton. Remember him, the guy from the Honeymooners who worked the sewers in New York? He was a real underground philosopher.

He once said to his buddy, Ralph Kramden, “
A sewer worker is like a brain surgeon. We're both specialists. Like we say in the sewer, time and tide wait for no man.”


Yeah, one of them is definitely Ed. So, Dave and Ed and one other shepherd. What shall we name him? What about Norman? Do you remember the great TV program, Cheers? Remember Norm? Norm had previously served in the Coast Guard but then lost his job defending Diane in their accounting firm and, after struggling for years as an independent accountant becomes a housepainter.


And, every time he came into Cheers, everyone said, “Noooorm!” Diane would always say, “Norman.”

Sometimes, someone would say, “Hey, Norm, whaddya know?”

And Norm would say, “Not enough.”

Or, “How’s life, Norm?”

And Norm would say, “Not for the squeamish.”


Names are very important. When you think of the shepherds being Dave, Ed and Norm, they sound more like guys we’d know and the whole story becomes more believable.

My point – and I do have one – is that this is the Octave of the Incarnation – the time when we celebrate God in the flesh – and nothing grounds things in human reality better than human names.


In fact, I learned something very important about the incarnation from a real shepherd named Fred. Alfred. But his mates called him Fred or Freddy. I was doing some study in England and, while there, I had to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, you know, as the English do. Not only that, but I had to learn how to deal with the occasional herd of sheep whose shepherd let block the road while they crossed from one pasture to another.


There was nothing to be done but to sit and wait it out. Eventually, I learned to strike up a conversation with the shepherd – mostly because I was curious to learn about sheep and shepherds, since that’s one of the metaphors used for Jesus and the people of God – that’s you and me – who are part of His flock.

Here’s the thing I learned best about sheep from my Shepherd friend, Fred: the problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. They are decidedly not. Sheep have a very keen sense of smell. They can actually smell the new green grass and they can smell where the water is and they know how to find it. They really don’t need a shepherd to find it for them.

That’s not the problem. The problem with sheep is not that they are dumb. The problem with sheep is that they get very excited when they smell the new green grass and the water.

The problem with sheep is that they can get so excited about getting to the new green grass and the water that they don’t watch where they are going. They can trip over each other and hurt each other – especially the new little lambs. They will run into big trees or stumble over rocks. They have even been known to head over a cliff because they smelled the water beneath.

As I considered what my shepherd friend, Fred, was saying, the whole Good Shepherd Sunday thing began to make more sense. We’re not dumb sheep, but sometimes, we do get excited about life.

Well, at least I do. I have been known to go running off with half-baked plans that were doomed to fail until, in prayer, Jesus sort of tapped me on the shoulder with his shepherd’s crook and said, “Hang on. Wait just a minute. Have you considered this?”

I was feeling a bit better about the whole Sheep-Shepherd thing, but a question continued to nag at me. As luck would have it, I got a chance to ask the question of Fred before I left.

My question to Fred was this: “Why is it that the sheep follow your voice and not mine? They know my voice after all these weeks, I can see that, but they follow your voice. Why?”

“Ah,” said Fred, “that’s the other thing about sheep. Not only are they not dumb, but they have a great sense of smell.”  


“Well, yes, you’ve already told me that,” I said, wondering whatever any of that had to do with the price of wool.

Fred smiled and said, “You see, I smell like them. When I help with the birthing of new lambs, or when I sheer the sheep, there is a sort of lanolin that is given off. After a while, that lanolin gets under your skin. You can’t smell it, but the sheep can. They know my smell and they know that I am one of them. And so, they follow.”

And then, I got it. Like a dumb sheep finally smelling the new, green grass, I got excited and said, right out loud, “It’s the Incarnation, stupid!”

Fred, thinking that I was talking to him and questioning his intellect, got a bit startled and then distressed. I quickly explained to him that, suddenly, this passage of scripture made sense.

God came to earth and put on human flesh. God got ‘under our skin’ the same way that the lanolin from the sheep gets under the shepherd’s skin. God in Christ Jesus smells like us, so when God speaks to us in the name of Jesus, we hear and recognize God’s voice. And, we follow.

Well, I got so excited about this new insight that I tripped over a rock and fell flat on my backside. I suddenly remembered what the shepherd had said about the problem with sheep not being dumb but getting excited, and I started to laugh. So did Fred.

Some of the wee lambs and momma sheep came over to check me out and make sure I was okay.  “Careful now,” Fred called out. “Besides the smell of lanolin, the other way sheep know you is if they pee on you.”

 I wasn’t that dumb. I got up very quickly.


Friends, today we are celebrating the Holy Name of Jesus. "Jesus" is from the Hebrew Joshua, or Yehoshuah, "Yahweh is salvation" or "Yahweh will save." We also know him by Emmanuel, “God with us.” He is the Great Shepherd. The King of Kings. The Lord of Lords.

He has a name and he also has a shape and flesh. Which means he thinks like us and feels like us and, yes, smells like us. He knows who we are so that we will better know who God is. And so, we follow Jesus when He calls, because we know the sound of His voice and we know His name.


Scripture tells us that His name is above all names. Higher than Elizabeth or Alice or Diane. Higher than David or Ed or Norman.  It is the name that was given him by the angel Gabriel before he was conceived in Mary’s womb.


Even so, Jesus loves us so much that he walks with us, as close to us as our next breath. The birth of this Christ child is about God coming to us in our everyday lives and saying to us, "Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news."

  • It's about God meeting us in our pain and loneliness as well as our failures and success.
  • It's about God meeting us in our frustration and anger as well as our happiness and joy.
  • It's about God wanting to be a part of our lives every day, in the field or woods or in the office, even when we get excited and ahead of ourselves and trip over our own feet.


Because we are promised that our names are written in the palm of God’s hand.

So yes, we know God’s name, but God also knows ours.

And to God, we are also holy. Amen.