Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sermon for the Ordination of Danae Ashley to the Priesthood

Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances…

What a glorious day for Danae’s ordination!

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Today is the first day of Hanukah.
Today is the feast day of St. Thomas.
Today is the Winter Solstice.

I think if Danae could have selected any day of the year for her ordination
it could not be better than this day.

Now I must warn you,
I also read on the internet this week
that the rapture is beginning today.
Yes! This very day!

But no worries!
That same internet article that says the rapture begins today—
December 21, 2008--
also notes that the rapture will take until 2015 to complete--
so there’s plenty of time for my sermon,
for Danae’s ordination,
for Holy Eucharist
AND for the festive reception afterwards!
So don’t leave—at least not yet!

But truly, and seriously, today is a day
of an amazingly diverse convergence of happenings.
We hear it in the scripture readings.

Isaiah sees God on a high and lofty throne,
There are celestial seraphs—angels—
flying about with fluttering wings
and golden tongs
and burning coals and cries of holy, holy, holy.
Paul writes to the Ephesians
of the grace and gifts that God showers upon God’s people.
Not a stingy drip drip drip of grace
but showers.
God bucketing a rain of gifts upon us.

And the words of John’s gospel
tell us of a shepherd who willingly risks everything
for the sheep he so loves—
and the good news is
the Good Shepherd loves all the sheep.

So we have this convergence:
--the cosmic entry into the mystery of God’s call;
--the absolute assurance that God will grace each one of us
with the gifts we need
to do God’s work in the world ;
--and the determined and passionate inclusiveness
of One who loves all the sheep,
those lost and those found.

Ordination is also a convergence--
a convergence of all that was and all that is and all that will be--
all that breaks our hearts
and all that makes our hearts sing—

All that has happened in Danae’s life,
in the life of this parish,
in the life of our diocese,
and in the life Church—
with a capital C!

What is God doing in making Danae Ashley a priest?

The truth is
only God REALLY knows.
Ordination is a liminal event that will transform everything about Danae.
Only she –and we—will not have the eyes to see it all at one time.
Danae’s priesthood will be revealed to her
and to us
over and through time.

But what we do know is this:

At some point, Danae heard God ask,
Whom shall I send?
and Danae courageously—
and my guess is,
with more joy and enthusiasm
than some of us will ever muster—
Danae sang out, “Here I am! Send me!”

And God did.
And God continues doing.

At some point, others started looking at Danae
and recognizing that HER gifts were gifts leading her on a journey
to Holy Orders.
And God led.
And God continues leading.

Danae listened and followed and the journey
led from the Diocese of Spokane
to the Diocese of Western North Carolina
via Sewanee
here to Denver.
God doesn’t tend to draw a nice straight linear path for any of us.
You better like twists and turns and switch backs and cloverleafs,
If you are going to follow God’s call.

Today hands will be laid upon Danae
and the Holy Spirit will fall upon her and surround us all
and Danae will be made a priest in our Church.
And we will all be witnesses
to the grace and power of God
continuing to work in the world through humanity.
Today is indeed the convergence of some many miraculous events.

Danae and I share a great love for Celtic Christianity.
You can’t spend time in any Celtic country without noticing
that there are a lot of sheep.
More sheep that people in fact. (That is the honest truth!)

Danae, I pray that God will give you strength and courage and endurance
because being a shepherd is hard work.

I also pray that you don’t spend all your time in your office.
Go out and be with people where they are--
in their homes, at Starbucks,
in a karaoke bar,
in a hospital waiting room..
It’s okay to spend time wandering in the wilderness,
Because you never know whom you might bump into there.
(Just ask Moses—or Jesus!)

As a priest you are called to pattern your life after Christ,
to set a wholesome example for your people.
This is truly important and sometimes truly difficult.

However, I want to be clear.
Danae, some of us would have a very hard time
walking a mile in your shoes,
But we love your spirit of joy and delight,
And by no means do we want you to ever
trade your funky shoe wardrobe
for sensible saddle oxfords!

Paul offers excellent advice to the Ephesians when he writes:
Equip the saints for ministry.

Look at all these saints!!
Remember, you do not have to do it all yourself, Danae.
Encourage and support the ministries of all God’s people.
The best work we do is the work we do together.

I also pray that you will designate one person—one brave person—
and give that person permission and your blessing
to always speak the truth to you.
To speak the truth in love.

That means allowing that one person, when necessary,
to walk into your office, close the door,
and say, “Danae, you are acting like a jerk!”
or “What are you thinking?”
or “You are wrong about this.”

If we surround ourselves with too many people who adore us,
who think we are perfect and holy and without fault,
we lose the ability to see our own brokenness,
we forget the necessity
of falling to our own knees on occasion.
And most dangerous of all,
we start to believe that it is all up to us.

It is not up to us.
It is up to God.

So choose and designate one person to remind you of that
and when they speak the truth in love:
Really listen.
Then act accordingly.

There is an early 6th century hymn that was written on the island of Iona— some say it was written by St. Columba himself.
There is this wonderful line in that hymn:
Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.
That is not just about what it feels like on one’s ordination day.
That is what it feels like to any of us
when we live fully
into the wondrous mystery
of God’s on-going presence in our lives.

Thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.

In times of celebration and in times of weariness,
in times of helping someone bear their suffering,
and in times of helping someone share their joy,

I pray that God will keep your eyes, your mind and your heart,
always open, Danae,
so that you will see God moving in your priesthood:
like thousands of angels rejoicing in holy dances.

Holy, holy, holy.

Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’ 
4The pivots* on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph* touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
 he gave gifts to his people.’ 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

John 10:11-18
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Sermon for Year B Advent 3


Today is the third Sunday of Advent.

This Sunday we light the pink candle in our Advent wreath.
The color change lets us know there is a shift.
This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete comes from a Latin word
which basically translates as “rejoice.”
We have turned the corner of Advent
and are heading straight into the joy of Christmas.
Soon we will be immersed in true joy—joy to the world!

A friend of mine—now in his 70;’s-- recently told me that he grew up
being told that gaudete means SHOUT OUT!
That this pink candle Sunday in Advent is SHOUT OUT SUNDAY.
I love that!
It says it so much better than just REJOICE!

We can think of SHOUT OUT in two ways.
First, in the more traditional way,
we want to SHOUT OUT because Jesus is coming.
That is the Advent story.
We’re happy
We’re excited.
We want to tell everyone.

We can also use SHOUT OUT in a more contemporary form,
Where what it means is a public expression
of gratitude or acknowledgement—
For example, I want to give a SHOUT OUT to Carol O’Neal
for the fine job she does on our worship bulletin every week.
Or I want to give a SHOUT OUT to the choir
for their fine music.

In the Advent domain,
we might give a SHOUT OUT to John the Baptizer
for preparing the way.

John is a wise man.
He knows who he is and who he is not.
He knows what he can do and what he cannot do.

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Mark
we know him as John the Baptizer.
In Luke’s gospel he is John the son of Zechariah.
In Matthew, he is named John the Baptist.
But in John’s gospel
he is just plain John,

The only really plain things about John
Are his dress and his diet.
Because John is noisy and loud.
He is not intimidated by the authorities--
but he is well aware of the game they are playing.

The authorities have come to question John.
What he has been saying
has caught their attention.
There are too many paying attention to John and John’s words
and that is making the priests and the Levites uncomfortable.

Who are you?
It is not a casual question.
Indeed, it is a question that a few years later
will be asked of Jesus.
Who are you?

John makes a point of saying , “I am not the Messiah.”
Priest and author Herbert O’ Driscoll,
writing in his book THE WORD AMONG US,
tells us that John knew
that those who came to question him were afraid.

They were fearful of what John was stirring up
And the way people were responding to his words.

He made the authorities even more nervous
when he told them that the person
he was referring to was already among them:
Among you stands one whom you do not know…
I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

And John’s message was—and you’re not worthy either!
That message did not sit well with the people in power.

This week I received an email from a young woman
whose family has been friends with our family for a long time.
Our daughter used to babysit this young woman—
who is now 26 years old.
Molly is a gifted artist. Truly gifted.
She makes exquisite jewelry and is very sought after for her work.
She wrote:

I thought you all might be interested in knowing that I am taking a sabbatical, of sorts, and going to Africa for 3 months! I know, its crazy. I bought my ticket yesterday: I leave on February 9 and return on April 25. Total length of stay: 78 days. I will spend my 27th birthday on a different continent.

I will be working with an organization called the Rural Development Center which is located in Cameroon. I will be staying in a very small town called Belo, which is in the mountains. After speaking to a former volunteer and a current one, I really feel like this is right.

For the past year or so, I have felt like I needed to DO something; I just feel like I have more to offer the world than merely pretty jewelry.
It was that last line in her email
that stopped me short.
I just feel like I have more to offer the world than merely pretty jewelry.

From the outside looking in,
I think anyone would believe
that Molly’s jewelry offers the world a lot.

But if we are wise,
we do not live our lives from the outside.
We do not let other people dictate who we are.
We look deeply inside of ourselves and, with God’s help,
discover and celebrate the truth.

These are not easy times in the world.
Sometimes I wonder if there have ever been easy times in the world.

Just as Isaiah was challenged,
that challenge continues with us—
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to comfort those whose hearts are broken,
to walk WITH one another,
to hold hands
when someone—including ourselves—
needs a hand to hold.

Not all of us can—or would choose—to go to Africa like my friend Molly.
But we are are called on a journey to seek the something more
of whom we are.

The spirit of the God is upon each of us;
God has anointed each one of us—no exceptions.
And regardless of our age—
Whether 8 or 88—
the psalmist has it right:

The LORD has done great things for us…

We are not called to sit in darkness
but to witness to the light .

This pink candle day of Advent
is a day that calls us to celebrate, to rejoice--
to give a SHOUT OUT!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon for Advent 2 Year B /State of the Parish 2008

What you doing?

My grandson who is four
begins every phone conversation with me with the exact same phrase:
“What you doing?”

And now his younger two-year-old brother
is following in his older brother’s footsteps
and again I hear the question,
“What you doing?”

The grammar may need a little work
but I think it is a good question—
and the heart of what I wish to say to you today is just that:
“What you doing?”
or more accurately,
“What we doing??”

You and I have been doing together now for 18 months.
I feel as if I am just beginning to get to know you
and to understand some of the unique characteristics of this parish.

You have so many gifts.

You give your time, you give your skills and talents,
you give your money, you give your heart.

I thank you for all you do and all you give
and most of all, for who you are—
people who love God and love this parish.

So “what we doing” since our last annual meeting?
Here are some of the "doings" of 2008:

Bishop Johnson came
and consecrated the Weinhauer Chapel and our columbarium.
It is a beautiful sacred space.

Youth and adults were prepared and baptized confirmed and received
when Bishop Taylor visited our parish last January.
He also consecrated our new altar
and blessed the retable
that was so beautifully constructed from our old altar.

Thanks to those who have shared their sewing and design skills
new altar hangings and vestments –that match—
were created and have been blessed.

This church built a house for one of our beloved parishioners.
Our friend now has a warm and safe home.
To think that this little parish could build a house!!
I think a big part of this
was reaching out and asking others—not only from this parish—
to join us and be a part of this project.
So many people said YES. Of course.
People gave their expertise,
their financial support
and their blood, sweat and tears.

We haven’t even officially gotten to the winter season yet
but it has been cold—really cold.
What a blessing to know St. John’s was able
To make a difference in someone’s life
And keep them warm—in body and spirit.

Our ECWs have been active
with their continued caring for one another and the community.
They have studied the Bible,
They have offered the leadership
for assembling “Going Home Bags”
given to women being released
from the Swannanoa Correctional Center.
The whole congregation pitched in and helped with that project.

We continued our relationship with ROOM IN THE INN
and new parishioners are getting involved in that project.

We collected canned goods for MANNA FOOD BANK on a weekly basis and also collected financial donations
for MANNA and for ABCCM

We purchased new software
that will combine our accounting and our stewardship records
into one program.
Those who have worked on our finances do more than you can imagine—
And they do it with little thanks and complete humility.
There work and attention to financial details is vital to our operations.

Speaking of invisible jobs—
there is always garbage to get taken out,
recycling to be done,
and hauling away stuff to the dump on occasion.
You have cleaned up and cleaned out and done good work.

We purchased two new vacuum cleaners to help our Clean Team
do their jobs.
Where would we be without our Clean Team members?
We’d be dirty—that’s where we’d be!

They come in on Saturdays and vacuum and mop
and clean the bathrooms and other areas of the church.

We frolicked and ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
and then we wore ashes on our foreheads the following day
as we remembered that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Holy Week was observed
with services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was celebrated with the Easter Vigil
and with Easter Day services.
We rang bells and sang hymns and cast off our Lenten disciplines
as the church was transformed
with liturgy and music and flowers
and a festive Easter brunch and egg hunt.

Our choir, under the direction of our devoted organist,
Has offered their gifts of music
And led us in singing hymns
from three Episcopal hymnals.
We have also been blessed with special music—
from electric guitar and drums
to clarinet and trumpets
to gifted resident and visiting soloists.

Thanks to a generous gift
we were able to purchase and install a new digital organ.
The installation was made possible because of—
once again, blood, sweat and tears,
offered by members of this congregation—
who worked around the clock to build organ towers
and to accomplish more than they believed was possible.
They did it!
They did it for the glory of God and because of their love for St. John’s.

This parish knows how to BUILD and make dreams come true.

We hosted the Celtic duo CAIM here at St. John’s,
oth in a benefit concert for the Swannanoa Correctional Center
and for our Sunday Worship.

We also hosted, with the other Episcopal Churches in the Asheville Deanery,
the outstanding nationally acclaimed theatre group

Three of us signed up to go on a Medical Mission Trip to Panama.
St. John’s worked heartily with St. James, Black Mountain
in the preparation and planning
and fund raising for this trip.
Sadly, at the last minute,
medical situations for all three participants
prevented us from going.
We recently enjoyed a wonderful slide presentation
by those who were able to go on that mission trip.
Our joy is that we helped make it possible for over 800 children and adults to receive medical attention and medications.

Four members of this parish—along with your rector—and six others— traveled to Wales on pilgrimage.
We’ll hear and see more about that in Sunday School next week.
Don’t miss it!

We celebrated a member’s 90th birthday
with a gala dinner in the Parish Hall!
To be an “elder” in a parish is a position of respect
for it is these elders that bless us
with their wisdom, their humor and their continued presence.

We participated in the Lenten Walk
with other small parishes in Asheville
and gave EYC x 3 a try
working with St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s
to offer a weekly program
for our middle school and senior high young people.
Some of our youth attended Camp Henry,
Participated in the Youth Fall Conference at Valle Crucis,
and one has been selected to serve on the Diocesan Youth Council.

An Architectural Task Force was formed
to begin looking at the needs of our physical space—
both maintenance and repair needs
and possible improvements and additions.

We have had two consultations
with members of the Diocesan Architecture Commission
and the Task Force has also visited the chapel spaces
at Mission and St. Joseph Hospitals
as they continue their work.

We painted the interior of the church—
the last part was just completed this week—
to give the church a brighter, cleaner look.

We received a grant from the All Saints Memorial Day Offering
through our Diocesan ECW
and will make some building improvements
when those funds are released to us in 2009.

Long needed fire extinguishers were purchased and installed
in both the church and the Parish Hall.

Energy efficient bulbs were installed in all the lighting fixtures in the church
To save us money
And to be better stewards of our environment.

Another step towards “greening” the parish was made
by getting the dishwasher repaired and back in service,
by the purchase of glass tumblers by the ECW
and by discontinuing our use of paper products
for dinners and events.

Our memorial garden was cleaned up
and work continues to make it a place of beauty and peace.

We have said goodbye to those we love but see no longer,
celebrated their lives and resurrection
with both tears and joy.
Our memorial garden and our columbarium
are ways we remember those who have been a part of this community and will always be a part of this community.

We have also been blessed to say hello to some new members.
We still need to work on how we reach out to those
who come as strangers.
It is not just a matter of just saying hello
but of learning to see this parish
through the eyes and hearts of visitors
and to respond with holy hospitality.,
by encouraging involvement in both worship and other ministries.

We experimented with several alternative liturgies this year,
including using an alternative liturgy for eight weeks.
The resulting survey shows that we are a diverse congregation.

Three people indicated they hope we never do an alternative liturgy again, Ten people wished we would never return to the Book of Common Prayer.
Most were in the middle
saying they enjoyed the alternative liturgy
and thought we should do it either on occasion
or for a season of the Church Year.
Our Saturday evening 5 pm service
faithfully offers a service of Holy Eucharist
from the Book of Common Prayer continuously.

We had a series of dinners this year to help us in our fund raising efforts
and enjoyed everything from pancakes to a low country boil
to a choir sing along to a cook out.
People—too many to name—worked incredibly hard on these dinners. Those of us who attended enjoined both the food and the conversation
and felt we were able to do something good for the parish
by our attendance and support.

Lots of parishioners helped staff the two Pepsi booths at Bele Chere,
again having fun getting to know one another
and working hot and hard at this fund raising effort for St. John’s.

With the hanging of Penelope Carscaddon’s painting
for the Advent season,
contemporary visual arts
became another part of our liturgical worship.

An evening book study was offered at FILO,
Several from this parish
attended the Diocesan A CALL TO LISTEN discussion
on sexuality.
Others represented St. John’s at Diocesan Convention.

We hosted an intern, Chris Cole,
and were immensely blessed by his presence among us.
Chris has been made a postulant
and will begin his seminary studies next year.
We have been assigned another intern, Dale Carter,
who will begin serving with us this month.
What a blessing for St. John’s!

This past year some of you have been sick,
Some of you were in the hospital.
And some have found themselves
more and more confined to home
or care facilities.
I have tried to be faithful in visiting and phone calls.
This is the area where I feel most limited by my part time status.
There are just never enough hours in Asheville to do the pastoral care as I would like.
I am immensely grateful to the Rev. Jane Smith who continues to bless this parish with her presence, her compassion and her willingness to go when I cannot.

We have blessed palms and backpacks and animals and babyclothes
and hopefully we continue to learn together
about our beloved Church in the EPISCOPAL MOMENT
at announcements.

We offer hospitality to a number of recovery groups and community organizations that use our building.

Thanks to the dedication of two of our parishioners
we have bulletins in our hands each week.
Thanks to others the CHURCH MOUSE newsletter
appears in our mailboxes monthly.

You continue to volunteer your time to serve in so many ways—altar guild, flowers, chalice ministers, ushers, lectors, healing ministry, acolytes. Our goal for this next year is to grow new leadership for these groups; not out of dissatisfaction for the old leadership but for the purpose of keeping parish ministry fresh and alive.

We worship and pray together every week.
That is the heart of all we do.
Nothing is more important than our worship,
Our thanks and praise to God.

We cannot ignore that we are in the midst of Advent.
What a wonderful season to have our annual meeting.
The season of waiting and hoping and expectation.
That to me is where a parish should live.
Waiting and watching
for how God is moving in the life of the parish.
Hoping and dreaming of all that is possible in ministry.
Expectation that God is here and will always be here with us—
to both comfort and to challenge.

God has chosen us to be disciples.
To follow Jesus and to spread the good news in all we say and do.
What a challenge!
We are blessed to have an opportunity to do good work.
You ARE doing good work.

I remember you in my prayers every day.
I ask that you remember me in your prayers as well.

In our scripture readings today we are called to both offer comfort
and to prepare the way.
We do need both those elements.
We need comfort—we need to know we are loved and cared for.
We need to remind one another that God loves us always.

But we also have work to do.
To prepare the way.
And God’s work is full of challenges and changes.
And that takes us back to needing one another.

Love God.
Love one another.

That is both our challenge and our comfort.
2008 has been a year brimful with both.
From my perspective as your priest
And as the rector of this parish,
We are fighting the good fight.
We are running the race that is set before us.
There is great hope and great expectation.

Let us not forget to thank God for all we have
For all we are
For all we hope to one day be.
For all our many blessings, for all our many challenges.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon for Advent 1 Year B 2008

Sometimes a light surprises

You have heard the reading from Isaiah.
Now I want you to hear it in another way:
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why…

No, it isn’t Santa Claus who is coming to town, says the prophet.
It is God.
And God is going to break open the heavens and come down.
Just you wait! says Isaiah.
Just you wait.

And waiting and watching and trying to be prepared
is what this season of Advent is all about.

We wait for the arrival of God
in the human form of a baby.
We wait for the arrival of God
bumping in on our daily lives.
We wait for the arrival of God
mysteriously promised to come again in the future.
Date and time unknown.

The season of Advent begins today.
Things are changing.
Our vestments and altar hangings
have changed to this deep blue-purple hue.
It’s the color of the night sky.
It’s a color you can fall into and dream dreams
and see visions.

Things are changing.
There is the Advent wreath with its four candles—
we light one
each Sunday of Advent.
We wait with expectation.
One candle, two candles, three, four…
Time passes.
Life does not stand still.

In Advent, the cross on our retable behind the altar
and our processional cross are wood,
not our usual shiny brass.
We wait with simplicity,
reminded of the importance of setting priorities,
of remembering what is really important in our lives.

As we stumble towards a manger in a stable,
we are alert to the abundance of our blessings,
and challenged to discern the difference
between what we want and what we need.

In Advent,
our worship changes here at St. John's.
We begin using a different Eucharistic Prayer—Prayer B--
which we will use for most of this church year.
Our hymns changes. They sound different,
in both words and music.

During Advent we pray the version of the Lord’s Prayer
with its King James language
of thine and thy and thou..
We remember our tradition
and we wait in expectation
for God’s next move
in this never-ending story.

And the wall above the retable,
so long blank and empty,
is now graced with a painting—
a painting that offers us
a window into this Advent season.

Sometimes a light surprises…
That is the title this painting has claimed for itself.

This painting, by artist Penelope Carscaddon--
whom we joyfully claim and hold dear
as a member of this parish—
this painting offers us
a way to experience Advent
in a new way.

Throughout Christian history
visual art has been used to communicate
both the doctrine of the Church
and the story of the Church.

It is important to remember that our early Christian ancestors—
and certainly those before them—
were often pre-literate.
They could not read or write.
They learned and remembered by what they heard—
through their oral tradition—
and by what they saw—
through their visual tradition.

The arts tell a story in ways we never forget.

Some people are uncomfortable with abstract art;
by abstract I mean,
visual art that is not pictorial.

I am always amazed
at how comfortable we are with pictorial images of Jesus—
when we have no earthly idea what Jesus really looked like.

Tall? Short?
Fat? Thin?
Bald? Hairy?
Attractive? Homely?
There is not one single word of physical description of Jesus
in the entire Bible.

But the imagination of artists who paint
a clear pictorial image of Jesus
don’t make us uncomfortable, don’t cause us to scoff
or pull away and say, “I just don’t get it.”

There is nothing wrong with realism
(as long as we understand it is only the realism of one imagination)
but we also need to understand
that art is not a one-way avenue.
Something is expected of us, the viewer.

Just as we are expected in the liturgy to respond,
to join in at points,
to participate---
so we are also called to participate in visual art as well.

This painting does not hang here during these four weeks of Advent
to tell us precisely the real and true meaning of this season.

The visual arts are not the answers in the back of the test booklet.
This painting is here to invite us on a spiritual journey.

Spend time in silence when in you come in for worship.
Gaze at this painting and ponder how it speaks to you,
especially how it speaks to you about the season of Advent.
Don’t look at the painting and try to “think” it out—
look at the painting and try to “feel” is out.
The arts engage our hearts.
Be open to that happening.

Look at this painting and pray about your own spiritual journey.
What are you waiting for?
How is the hope, the expectation of advent, alive in your life this year?
Or is it?
Where does your faith connect to the coming of the Light into the world?

Penelope has given us a great gift by allowing this painting
to hang at St. John’s during the season of Advent.
Artists use their imaginations to expand the boundaries
not only of their experience,
but of our experience as well.

Our own experience with this painting
may surprise us,
may wake us up,
make us a little more alert
to this Advent season.

Anything and everything is possible
when we look and pray and listen
with an open and uncluttered heart.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why….

Jesus is coming to town.
Keep awake.
Stay alert.
Ponder these things in your heart.
But most importantly,
actively expect
the light that surprises.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sermon for Year A Christ the King Sunday

When was that?

When was that?
When was what?
You know…

…when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
And when was it that we saw you a stranger
and welcomed you,
or naked and gave you clothing?

And when was it that we saw you sick
or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them,
`Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me.'

When we lived in Memphis, Tennessee
my husband Tom was the General Manager of a country club.
The position paid exceedingly well
and had a certain amount of prestige
in the community.
But sometimes what seems like a nice, posh job—
can be a very dark night of the soul.

It is difficult to work somewhere
if your personal values are often in conflict
with the corporate values of your employer.

Racism, sexism, elitism…
these were at best the undertones,
at worst, blatant and obvious.

But far worse than any of those philosophical “isms”
were the ways
many club members treated the staff on a daily basis.

They were rude.
They spoke in sharp, sarcastic tones of voice.
They were demanding and ungrateful.

They had no use for the “least of these”--
and certainly could not imagine any of those people--
who served their food
or carried their golf clubs
or cleaned their toilets
or parked their cars--
they could not imagine any of those people
as members of their family.

But as is often the case
with the darkest and most difficult times in our lives,
there are also gifts to be received.

One of those gifts my husband received
was being invited to join a group of employees
who gathered each morning
(before they clocked in for their shift),
who stood in a circle, joined hands
and prayed.

They prayed for one another.
They prayed for their families.
They prayed for the members of that club--
they prayed for those very same members
who verbally abused them, who looked down upon them.
They prayed for any one who needed prayer.

That prayer circle always closed with the same exact words:
Help us to see the face of Jesus in every one we meet. Amen.

Help us to see the face of Jesus in every one we meet.
In EVERYONE we meet.

That is the theme of today’s gospel.

Jesus is saying—
I am there…
when we are pushing our grocery cart
down the aisles at Ingles,
and we remember, yes, of course I can
afford to buy a few extra cans
to put in the Manna Food Basket.
When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat.

Jesus is saying—
I am there…
when we are cold and walk over
and with a flick of the wrist turn up our thermostat,
and suddenly we remember those
who do not have the luxury
of a warm home
and we remember, yes,
I can buy
a pair of socks
or gloves or a scarf
to put in the Christmas box
for Church of the Advocate.
When I was naked you clothed me.

Jesus is saying—
I am there…
when we show up at church after a long day’s work
to assemble going home bags for the women at the correctional center in Swannanoa
or build a Habitat House
or fund scholarships for children
in faraway Durgapur
or pack medical supplies for a clinic
in Panama
or lovingly sew beautiful tiny dresses
for babies
that will not live a long and happy life.

Just as you did it to one of the least of these
You did it to me.

Jesus is telling us that nothing we do is separate from our life in Christ.

You know we are only a few days away from Thanksgiving
And being the age I am,
and having been a college student back in the 70’s--
I never come to a Thanksgiving
without remembering the song Alice’s Restaurant
by Arlo Guthrie.

No, I am not going to sing Alice’s Restaurant
(See, you already have something to be thankful for!)
but I am going to share some words
from another Arlo Guthrie song.

That song is DOORS TO HEAVEN
and the lyrics go like this:

…If all the doors were closed in heaven
They'd have to close the road to hell
We'd all be stuck here with each other
There would be nowhere else to dwell…

So I hope they close the doors to heaven
And all the angels up above
Come and build a home among us
Remind us what it is to love

If the pearly gates were closed this morning
Would there be angels here tonight
And would they live their lives among us
And share the darkness with their light

Jesus is asking us to be willing
to share the darkness with OUR light.
Because the truth of the matter is
we ARE all stuck here with each other.

The sheep and the goats. Right here together.
The members of the club and the staff of the club,
Those who pray and those who scoff at prayer.
Those who live in darkness
and those who have been blessed with light.
We are here together.

We are part of one family,
the family of God.

It is NOT our job to separate sheep from goats.
Our work
is to see the face of Jesus
in everyone we meet.
And that is hard and challenging work.

…when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

And when was it that we saw you a stranger
and welcomed you,
or naked and gave you clothing?

And when was it that we saw you sick
or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them,
`Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me.'

You did it to me.

Sermon for Year A Proper 28

More will be given…

This parable we hear today is a bit ironic.
The message here seems to tell us to invest.
Don’t squander or bury your money—your talents.
Invest and you will earn more.

Our 21st century ears hear that
and we are likely to say, “Oh, really?!!!”
Considering the past few weeks,
sometimes it may be better to bury our money in the backyard
like the criticized and chastised servant did.

Of course,
this parable was not written or told in the 21st century,
but in the first century.
This was centuries before Wall Street
and bull markets, unsecured loans
and other such modern day financial ventures.

Besides, making money, turning a profit,
is also not the real meaning behind this story Jesus tells.
Jesus is saying—
to all of us—
regardless of our century—
each of us
is given gifts.
These gifts are not for any of us to clutch tightly and fearfully.

The work we have to do in this world
is to use these gifts to grow the kingdom of God.
That is the investment we are to make.

It takes courage.
Fear makes us
want to hold onto our talents—
our money, our gifts, our blessings—
What if we don’t get any more?
What if this is it?

We have that urge to hide what we have--
Oh maybe to occasionally give others a peek—
But to live as if what we have been given
is scarce (i.e. if we use it we will lose it)—

Or to live with the attitude
that what we have been given is not real, not important, not significant---
(i.e. why would God bless me?!?!!!???)

But the truth is,
the TRUTH is
we are all blessed.
Each one of us.
How we use our blessing is both our life journey,
and our faith journey.

I—along with several other members of this congregation—
have spent the past three days at Diocesan Convention.
There were 113 clergy and 108 lay delegates from this Diocese present;
58 parishes were represented.

Once a year,
we come together to do the business of the Diocese.
We come together as a touchstone
for how we are doing as a Diocese—
financially and spiritually.
It is an exhausting but also invigorating experience—
to take a larger view of God’s kingdom.
At our annual meeting on December 7th I will show you a DVD
that tells a bit about our Diocese,
and gives us a bigger view of what is happening in our parishes
and in the diocese as a whole.

This year our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori
was our speaker.
She was also the preacher and celebrant
at the Eucharist on Friday evening.

The theme for this year’s convention was DISCERNING THE WAY.
Discerning the way.

That is really what we are all about.
Not just our Diocese, but this parish, St. John’s
And each of us as individuals.

We are here, alive in this world.
discerning the way.
Our way as Christians,
our way as human beings,
our way as part of various communities.

I want to share a few thoughts from our Presiding Bishop.
Her background is that of a scientist.
She is an oceanographer.

One comment she made was this:
when fierce storms come up
it’s better to go into the deep water
so you are not caught in the shallow currents
and tossed against the rocks.

As our Presiding Bishop she has been faced with
fierce storms of threatened division within our church.
She has calmly and fearlessly steered the church
directly in to the deep water.
Bishop Katharine so totally trusts that God is in control
that she does not try to steer the boat (AKA the church)
around the storms—
She knows that is impossible—
She is facing the challenges head on.

Bishop Katherine believes that one of the gifts
God blessed her with
is the gift of dealing with conflict
and helping others face and deal with conflict.
Helping people understand that they need “those others”—
The people they don’t agree with,
The people they don’t like,
The people they think don’t get it.

She believes that a reasoned faith
is about using all the gifts we have been given.
When we put our own gifts in use
we stop being envious of other people’s gifts, other people’s lives.
We aren’t angry or obsessed
with what other people are doing with their talents
because we are too busy, too happy, too engaged
with our own talents.

Bishop Katherine said:
Churches divide and begin to spat
when they focus on the internal—
instead of the external—the true mission of the church.

The church is not about a private little house of worship that is ours.
The church belongs 100% to God.
We come together to worship and pray to give us strength for the journey,
to engage in the gospel
so that we can go out and LIVE the gospel,
to use our talents
so that the least of the Body
is not pushed aside or ignored.

The catechism in the Book of Common Prayer
Asks the question,
The answer given to instruct our faith is this:

asks the Catechism (Page 855).
The Church pursues its mission
As it prays and worships,
proclaims the Gospel,

And the last question of that section of the catechism is this:

The Church carries out is mission through the ministry of ALL its members.

ALL its members.

We are each and all
given gifts
so that we might be a part of God’s marvelous mission.
What a partnership we are offered!

So if you or I
are taking our gifts and burying them in the backyard of our lives
we show a blatant distrust
of God’s continuing work in this world.
Cynicism has no role in the life of a Christian.

We have the responsibility—and the joy—
of using our gifts.

The Church calls us to grow,
not stand still.
It may not be to grow in numbers;
the most important growth is in our own relationship with God.

Church is
not a place to let our fields go barren
or overgrown with old weeds of the past.

Where we choose to worship
must be a place for us
where the soil is rich and deep—
a place where our gifts and the gifts of others
will have a chance to grow.

Church is a place to grow deep roots as we connect with God
and to grow tall towards the sun
as we walk humbly, love deeply
and act justly in the world where we live.

If we feel our gifts cannot grow in the place we worship—
then in the words of our Presiding Bishop—
“Some people will find a more fruitful experience worshipping elsewhere.”
She is wise to counsel each one of us:
Find that place where you can grow.

This is hard to hear
But I think it is true.

Bishop Katherine said:
Churches divide and begin to spat
when they focus on the internal—
instead of the external—the true mission of the church.

The slave who dug a hole in the ground and hid the gift he was given
was truly a slave.
He was held captive by his destructive focus on the internal.
He was critical and judgmental
—seeing only the harshness of his master ,
instead of recognizing and celebrating the generosity
that was present.
This slave was afraid.
held captive by fear.
Fear is, indeed, our worst enemy.

The slave who hid his gifts in the darkness of the dirt
was a person with no vision for the future.
He was so imprisoned by the present moment
he had no hope, no trust, no delight in looking to the future.

God has entrusted us with so much.
Our blessings truly multiply
when we live with generosity, with gratitude and with vision.
We are indeed called to encourage one another,
to build up each other.

The parable says that God doesn’t have much use for those who choose to play it safe.
It is hard to use us if we hide in fear.
If we cannot see the blessing because we are blinded by our fear, our anger, our lack of hope.

But the truth is this: We are called to risk everything.
Repeatedly, Jesus calls us to risk everything.
We are called to risk everything
for the one who continues to risk everything for us.

Friday, November 7, 2008

No, I really did not write all these sermons on November 7....

Life has been full and busy and I just stopped posting sermons. It really wasn't on principle it was just that I never got around to it. Tonight there was a little window of time and so I posted all the ones I could find from the past few months. Some Sundays are missing. St. John's was blessed to have an intern--Chris Cole--for 5 months--and we enjoyed his sermons on three Sundays. And then I was in Wales. So you have what I have been able to find and post here. Perhaps I will be more faithful in my posting as we get ready to enter year B in a few weeks.

Sermon for Year A All Saints Day

For all the saints….

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.
It is a time to remember our connectedness
to God’s people throughout the ages,
from generation to generation.
We remember with great thanksgiving
those who have gone before us
as witnesses to God’s blessing.
It is not just remembering;
It is understanding that we are bound together
As God’s children—past, present and future.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu sums it up nicely when he says,
“My humanity is bound up in yours,
for we can only be human together.”

We can only be human together.

Today, listening to the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel,
we are promised blessings.
What can the poor in spirit hope for?
What do the meek receive?
What happens to the pure in heart?

The answers are super-sized promises.
There is a thread that runs through all these promises:
God has not forgotten us.
God will not forget a single one of us.
God will bless us and comfort us.

I read a wonderful story this week
that was shared with the Canadian House of Bishops recently.

It is the story of a woman named Annie Kashamura-Zawadi.
She arrived in Toronto with her five children,
aged between 9 and 19, on October 6, 1999.

She had $ 20 in her pocket when she stepped off the plane
from the Belgian Congo into Toronto.

Twenty dollars and five children.
Yet she was filled with hope and possibilities.

Before coming to Canada, Annie recalled
that the ONLY thing she had
was her faith.
As it turns out,
her faith was not just enough,
it was more than enough.

She had fled an abusive relationship
and in response her husband had taken their children away from her.
She had been left homeless and jobless.

This all happened while a war was raging where she lived—
then known as the Belgian Congo
(today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Annie went to the office
of the Canadian High Commissioner for Refugees in the Congo
and was told that she and her children
did NOT qualify as refugees.

But she refused to be discouraged.
She refused to give up.
Her persistence finally paid off
and she was told she WOULD be allowed to emigrate
to Canada
If---and only IF—someone would sponsor them.
She did not know anyone in Canada.

Annie says, “I knew I needed a miracle.”
Her prayers were answered.
Because the Anglican Church of Canada—
the Canadian equivalent of our Episcopal Church—
was part of a ministerial refugee sponsorship committee.
It was through one church—a team of 7 members from one church—
that papers were signed,
and Annie Zawadi and her children had a sponsor.
They left for Canada that same week.

Upon arrival in Toronto,
they were met at the airport by the group who had sponsored them.
Among the team of seven that were at the airport that day
was Linda Nicholls, now suffragen bishop of Toronto,
then Rector of Holy Trinity parish.

“Linda and her team have never left me, “ says Annie.
“They are my family.”

Today, 11 years later, Annie Zawadi has earned a master’s degree
from the University of Toronto.
She is the executive director of a non-profit organization.
Her children are all in university except for one.

“I am your success story,” says Annie.
“ I stand before you today so proud and yet so humble.
You have no idea how meaningful your support is…
You were the light at the end of my tunnel.”

The Anglican Church of Canada developed a program
to reach out to refugees.
One church put together a team of 7 people to reach out to one family.
The saints are simply faithful followers of Jesus.

There is a multitude of famous saints that we know by name--
saints from early Christian history—
St. John, St. Patrick, St. Mary, St. Luke., St. Theresa—
and on and on.
There are those who have become our modern day saints—
Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu, Dorothy Day,
And on and on and on.

There are our personal saints as well—
those people who may not be famous
but who are known to and forever remembered by us
because they showed up in our lives just in time,
because they opened the door
that let in and focused the light of Christ,
the love and grace of God right into our hearts.
These saints of God walked the walk and talked the talk
and we noticed
and we changed
and we have not forgotten.

Our stories may not be as dramatic as Annie Zawadi’s
but I imagine that each of us can name at least a few people
who have been for us
our light at the end of a tunnel of darkness.

I keep a little notebook
of people to remember in my prayers.
I don’t want to forget anyone
so I write their names in this little notebook
and use it when I say my daily prayers.

As I began thinking about the Feast of All Saints
I decided to start another list.
A list of the names of the people
who are my saints.
Those who bless me.
And when I say my prayers,
I give thanks for each one of those saints.

Who are the saints of God?
They are those who have made God’s love real in the world.

Saints come in all shapes, ages, colors and theological persuasions.
They show up in every country throughout the world,
They usually appear when we least expect them,
often when we are close to giving up all hope.

All Saints Day celebrates those people who have touched our lives
whose good examples remind us
of whom we can be at our best.

Those seven people who stood in the Toronto airport that day
to welcome a family of strangers
did not set out that morning to be saints
Anymore than you set out to be a saint
when you build a Habitat house
or bring in gifts for the Church of the Advocate
or provide food for the hungry
or spend a night at Room in the Inn.

Those seven people at the airport
are just ordinary people like you and me—
who have decided to follow Jesus.

Jesus calls us to care for the least and the forgotten among us—
and sometimes we actually do that.
Sometimes we actually do just that.

Sermon for Year A Proper 25

You sweep us away like a dream…

Imagine this.
It is early Saturday afternoon/early Sunday morning.
I get a phone call.
It’s Bishop Taylor.
He says, “Jeanne, he’s back.”
“He’s back? Who’s back?” I ask.
“Jesus,” the Bishop replies.
“ Yes, he’s back and he’s coming to your Saturday evening/11 AM Sunday
morning service.”
“To St. John’s?”
“Yes, that’s where he said he wanted to go. He wants to preach.”

Who am I to say no to Jesus wanting to preach.
I’m a bit of a nervous wreck and I don’t say anything to anyone.
After all, what if I say Jesus is coming here to St. John’s
and he doesn’t show up?

The service starts.
No Jesus.
We begin the Liturgy of the Word.
We hear the lessons and I read the Gospel.
Just as I return the Gospel book to the altar,
here comes Jesus.
Right down the center aisle.
Right here at St. John’s.

He walks up to the pulpit.
He looks out at each of you.
I mean he really looks at each of you.
He looks at me too.
Needless to say, we are all speechless.

Jesus too is silent for a few moments.
Then he speaks.

“You shall love the Lord your God
with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul,
and with ALL your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these TWO commandments
hang ALL the law and the prophets.”

On these TWO commandments—
Love God. Love your neighbor—
hang ALL the law and the prophets.

Jesus smiles.
He looks again—deeply—at each one of us.
And then he walks down the center aisle and out of St. John’s.
We are stunned.

Suddenly we come alive and realize we have all these questions
we want to ask Jesus.
Someone runs after him,
out into the parking lot
But he is gone.
We sit in silence and think about what he has said.

You shall love your God
with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul,
and with ALL your mind.
Love your neighbor.

It sounds so simple.
Almost too simple.
Surely there is more required of us than love.
But those are Jesus’ own words.
Love God. Love your neighbor.

Most of us realize--
regardless of the simplicity of the statement--
we realize that love is never an easy journey.
Even when we set out with the best possible intentions.

Loving with ALL our heart
And ALL our soul
And ALL our mind—
That means no exceptions.
Not an easy journey
but that is the journey for which we are each commissioned.

When I travel,
I like non-stop flights.
No changing planes.
No lost luggage.
No sitting around in multiple airports.
No missed connections
Give me a non-stop flight any day.

And that is great—for going to Wales or to Providence or to Denver
or to wherever we might be traveling.
But we have to understand—
there just aren’t any non-stop flights on our spiritual journey.

We get on. We get off. We wander. We lose our “luggage”—
whatever we are carrying around at the time.
Sometimes we pick up some new baggage along the way.

Our spiritual journey forces us to travel some new routes.
Some we willingly undertake,
Others are almost forced upon us.
We find ourselves sitting next to strangers quite often.

Have you ever noticed how pews in a church are set up like an airplane?
All neatly lined up.
A center aisle.
We have our favorite seats—window or aisle.
Please oh please save us from those middle seats
unless we are sitting with family!

We travel along our spiritual path and we arrive—
Or at least at first we THINK we have arrived.

But when we stop and look around
We realize we are not at our destination—
we are at a new place
but it often feels like beginning again.
And the journey continues.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus tries to make it so simple for us.
Friends, he says,
You don’t really need to remember 10 commandments.
You can remember just two.
Two will do it.
Here are your signposts for your journey.
Love God. Love your neighbor.
ALL the commandments hang on those two.

Yes, we know it is simple to remember—
but we know it is not simple to live those two commandments
on a daily basis.
We can get our ticket and board the plane
but it won’t be a non-stop flight.

But regardless, loving God and loving one another—
with ALL of our being—
that is our flight assignment for our spiritual journey.

It’s a bumpy ride sometimes.
There is often turbulence.
How do we love people that drive us crazy?
How do we love people that are down right hateful?
How do we love God with all our heart and soul and mind
when we are so busy, when we’ve been hurt,
when we are struggling to make a living,
when we are fighting an illness?

We show up.
We pray.
We make mistakes.
We try again.
We start over.
It’s not a non-stop flight.
There is no direct route.

We choose to sign up for the journey or not.
We choose to accept the assignment or back away.

We are not trying to achieve perfection or success.
Our spiritual journeys are not about accomplishments.
Our spiritual journeys are about increasing our faith, our hope, our charity.
Our spiritual journeys are about learning to walk in love
as Christ loves us.

We heard in the reading from Deuteronomy about Moses.
Moses never got to go and live in the promised land here on earth.
But he got a glimpse. He got a holy glimpse.

And that glimpse reminded him
That the journey—that long and winding road—
is not about the promised land here on earth—
it is about what lies beyond.

Moses only got a glimpse.
But that glimpse was enough.
That glimpse makes the whole journey—
with all its stops, connections, layovers, lost luggage—worth it.

We show up for worship to catch a glimpse.
We offer kindness and forgiveness and love
to those who have not earned it or deserved it,
to catch a glimpse.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

On these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets.

Love is everything.
Absolutely everything.

Sermon for Year A Proper 23

Whose party is it?

Some of you are old enough
and some of you are young enough
to remember an old Leslie Gore song—
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to..”.

That song has run through my head all week.
As I read the scripture lessons for this week.
As I read the newspaper and listened to the news.
It’s my party
And I’ll cry if I want to.
Whose party is it?

Moses goes up on the mountain to speak with God
and when Moses doesn’t come back right away
the people gather around his brother Aaron, complaining and shouting
and the next thing you know
they are melting down their gold,
taking control
creating an idol to worship—a golden calf.
A “god” that is tangible and touchable.
Did they think God wouldn’t know, wouldn’t notice?

Jesus tells a parable about a king who is trying to give a party—
a wedding feast for his son.
But it wasn’t really a very happy occasion.
People were invited and they didn’t come.
Not only did they not show up,
people were rude, abusive and destructive.

The king doesn’t take rejection well.
He strikes back—
he gets rid of the murderers and burns down their city.

But the king does not give up.
He is determined to have this feast.
He extends the invitation to a new guest list.
He sends his servants out to invite those
who are never invited to any party.
So the Father,
determined to have this feast
Sends his servants out into the streets
And has them invite everyone and anyone—
That’s right—
The gospel says they invited the good and the bad—
And soon the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome at the party.
But it’s not a free ride.
The guest who shows up dressed as if it’s casual Friday
instead of a wedding feast?
He’s bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness.
I doubt there’s much partying going on
in the outer darkness!
It sounds like a place I don’t want to go!

There is a lot
of chaos and confusion, anger and anxiety
in our scripture readings today.
It’s not too dissimilar to what’s been happening in our world this past week,
especially the financial world.

Wall Street has not been having a party.
And even people without investments are worried about
what this all means.
How will this affect me? You? Us?

Read the headlines in The New York Times or any other paper
and you see words like “Panic,”
“Depression,” “Fear.”

Not exactly the most conducive environment
for kicking off a parish stewardship campaign.
But today is the day we do just that.

There’s a minister named Larry Patten
who says that stewardship is a fancy word
for asking nice church folks to give money.
And we do indeed “stew” over it!

Here’s the biblical truth behind stewardship.
We are called to give 10% back to God.
You’ll find that in more places than one in the Bible.
A tithe.
A portion.
Keep nine sheep but give me the tenth one, says God.
Keep the nine dollars but give me the one dollar.
Ten percent.
It’s easy math.

But that doesn’t mean we like it.
We are funny about money.

Not HA-HA funny,
But weird funny.
Touchy funny.
It’s none of your business funny.

But it is God’s business.
Because the question we have to struggle with is this:
What belongs to God?
Ten percent? Five? One?

What belongs to God?

I think the answer to that is everything.
Everything is God’s.
Every hair on our head.
Every coin coming in and going out of our pockets.

The mortgages we pay, the foreclosures we fear, the SUV or Prius in the garage, the oil in Iraq…

It all belongs to God.
All of it.
Just like we each belong to God.

Do I want you to make a pledge this year?
Of course I do.
Do I wish that every member of this parish would tithe?
Of course I do.

Do I believe we will be bound hand and foot
And thrown into the outer darkness
If we do not make a pledge?
Absolutely not.

But I also believe
that we do not want to be part of the crowd at the foot of the mountain
With our golden calf—
worshipping our everyday, right now wealth and abundance
with no regard to what God calls each of us
to be, to give, to offer, to trust in.

Your pledge—your offering to God—
Is your decision, your choice.
This is a generous and giving parish.
You do give with glad and generous hearts.

I, like you, want this parish to grow and thrive
and be on a strong financial foundation.
We have been blessed
with this little corner of God’s kingdom
called St. John’s Episcopal Church.
It is not ours.
It belongs completely to God.

But we have been invited to the party, to God’s feast.
We have been invited to care for this little corner of the kingdom.
How awesome it is
to know that God trusts us to offer this care.

That is our challenge.
But within that challenge is also our blessing.

Sermon for Year A Proper 22

KISS: Love God. Love One Another.

The breath of life.
That is what we each are given.
We are part of God’s creation.

This is a beautiful piece of poetry we heard as our second reading
(James Weldon Johnson's THE CREATION)
I recognize that it is not very inclusive of women.
But we women know
God gave us the breath of life as well
And we too are created in God’s image.

This piece was written in 1927.
The world has changed a great deal since then.
Yet the beauty of James Weldon Johnson’s words
still touches us today.

We are given breath,
our life,
by God.

We then have quite a journey of free will
on how we will use that life.

Our scripture readings today are interesting.
The Hebrew people receive the ten commandments.

We’ve let the ten commandments become almost a cliché in our culture.
That’s a mistake.
The ten commandments are
actually the minimum moral code
for how we can survive as a culture.

I read an interesting essay this week by David Gill,
an ethics professor.
He points out that every one of the ten commandments hangs on LOVE.

When Jesus is asked WHAT ARE THE GREATEST OF ALL THE COMMANDMENTS—he replies immediately:
Love God. Love one another.

That’s like giving us the KISS version of the ten commandments.
(KISS standing for Keep it simple, stupid)

Martin Luther said, “Whoever knows the Ten Commandments
perfectly knows the whole of scripture.”

Take that little scripture insert and put it in your pocket.
Pull it out later today or later this week.
And think about your own life and those commandments.
Don’t think about or judge anyone else’s life.
Just think about your own.
Think about your own covenant relationship with God
And how you are doing in keeping up your end of the bargain.

We hear from Jesus in today’s gospel.
That we can lose the whole kingdom
if we forget what is really important,
if we ignore the One who gave us breath, life.

Love God.
Love one another.

Loving God means putting God at the center of our lives.
Not work, not money, not success, not even family—
but God.
That’s not easy.

But even more difficult is loving one another.
Imagine a day without being critical of someone.
Without spreading or listening to a tidbit of gossip.
Imagine a day without blaming someone else
when things don’t go as you want.

Imagine a day when every minute you just felt
overwhelmed by love.
We need these commandments.
We need to remember who it was that gave us life.
We need to remember who the Creator is.
Who it is who gives us everything.
And we need to live lives of thanksgiving.
How do we do that?

Love God.
Love one another.

And how do we do that?

Practice love every day.
And saying your prayers never hurts either.

Sermon for Year A Proper 21

Just say YES

There is a book out now--
supposedly a true story--
about a fellow—Danny Wallace—
who is a freelance radio consultant for the BBC.
The book’s title is YES MAN.

Because Danny Wallace—
who had been accused of always immediately saying NO
to everything and everyone--
decided that for one year
he would say YES to everything and everyone.
Just to prove he could I suppose.

He says YES to people giving out pamphlets on street corners.
He says YES to credit card offers overflowing from his mailbox.
He says YES to all those pleas for help on the Internet.
He attends meetings with a group
that believes aliens built the pyramids in Egypt
and he says YES to every invitation to go out on the town
or come to a party.
Danny Wallace becomes the ultimate YES MAN.

In today’s Gospel reading
Jesus is telling yet another vineyard parable.
This time it sounds like the vineyard owner
has one son who is a YES man
and one son who is a NO man.

Or at least that is the first impression.

As the story goes on we hear the story a little differently.

The man asks his sons for help.
The first son says NO—sorry, I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m not interested.
I just don’t want to go work in the vineyard—
but then he changes his mind—
he does go and work as his father asked.

The other son says YES immediately—sure, Dad, of course I will,
no problem,
Only there is a problem
because he doesn’t actually go.
He says he will go,
He tells his father he will go—
But he doesn’t.

The son who says NO goes;
the son who says YES doesn’t go.

Jesus is quick to point out that the son who actually WENT and WORKED
is the one we need to look to as our model—
not the son who promised and did nothing,
not the son who boastfully said YES, OF COURSE
and then did nothing.

Jesus is making a very particular point here.
Jesus is teaching that what we say—what we promise God with words—
is not what matters.
The saying is so easy.
Words can slip and slide so easily off our tongues.
We can be so glib.

Jesus is teaching that what we do—how we LIVE our promises—
that is what matters.
And that doing is not always easy

Poet Mary Oliver has a line in her poem
I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and tongue.
Then I pray.

St. Francis said:
Preach the gospel at all times.
When necessary, use words.

Words are beautiful and good and indeed, can help us communicate;
but it is our actions that speak the loudest.
Showing up.
Showing up to worship.
Showing up to pray.
Showing up to give.
Showing up to help.

Preach the gospel at all times.
When in doubt use words.

There should be no doubt
that Jesus very purposefully
uses the imagery of a father and two sons.
A father loves both his sons.
Even the one that can’t seem to follow through on his promises,
Even the son who fails is still a beloved child.
Things done and things left undone.
We are such a mixture of both.
God knows that.

We want to be good and do good
But sometimes we over promise what we can deliver.

Jesus tells this parable so that we might grow a kinder, more compassionate,
And far less judgemental heart.
Tax collectors and prostitutes—
the lowest of the low in that first century society--
yet Jesus holds up his hands to the harsh judgments
that slip so easily off the lips of some
and says look with different eyes,
see with a different heart.
God welcomes everyone as beloved children.

We are called to change.
To change our minds.
To change our hearts.
God welcomes each one of US as beloved children.
We do not have to be perfect
to come into God’s kingdom.
It would be a lonely, empty place if that were the case.

We fool ourselves if we think God expects perfect.
Madeline L’Engle once told the story of her mother,
a life long Episcopalian,
who suddenly stopped going to church.

Finally, she confronted her mother and said,
What is this about?
Her mother said,
I can’t go to church because I can’t take communion.

What? asked her daughter.
What are you talking about.

I can’t take communion, Madeline.
I’ve thought about it and I am just not worthy.

Mother! No one could take communion if we had to be worthy.

There was a silence.
A long pause.

Oh, her mother quietly replied.
I guess that’s true.

Her mother never missed another Sunday==
or another communion.

We don’t have to put up a good face with God.
God knows whom we really are—
the good, the bad and the ugly.
We are created in God’ image.
God only wants us to be real, to be honest, to be truthful.
To be faithful.

We need to stop expecting others to be perfect.
We need to stop expecting ourselves to be perfect.
We need to just stop and listen and hear the invitation
to come—
come into the vineyard and go to work.
We are each invited every day.
Why not give it a try, says God?

And who do we find in the vineyard?
A bunch of folks just trying,
TRYING--to practice the generous gospel of Jesus Christ.

This means we will be mixing with
seekers, searchers,
and those who have been bruised;

those who limp and mourn;
orphans and widows,

folks who are worn out,
clapped out, burnt out,

wise elders, young wonderers,
lesbian and gay couples,
singles and married,

the wealthy who are trying to get through
the eye of the needle,
the poor who are struggling to maintain their dignity,

the emotionally deprived and harmed,
those who have failed to love
and those who are afraid to receive love

those who have broken their promises,
those bowed down with burdens,
those who teeter on the brink of breakdown,

those for whom the grip of alcohol or work,
food or drugs or sex,
gambling or unnamed powers,
is getting stronger,
and those for whom the grip is loosening,

Those struggling with faith and doubt,
and goodness knows how many others…

Indeed, anyone who is like those Jesus mixed with.

The kingdom of God is not a private club
and neither is this parish.
We are called to offer our parish as one little corner of the vineyard—
a sacred space open to all people of goodwill---
especially those who find difficulty with any of this.

And though we are not yet
strong and vulnerable enough
to show the unconditional love of God at all times,
we hope we are moving in that direction.

We hope we are moving in that direction.

+ + +

Note: This sermon was inspired by a brochure titled BEWARE! Found in St. Hywyn’s Church in Aberdaron, Wales.

Sermon for Year A Proper 19

The Pilgrim Way

Some of you know
that I have just returned from 12 days in Wales.

I helped lead a pilgrimage.
There were 11 of us who traveled together,
ate together, worshipped together, learned together,
laughed together, prayed together.
For those 12 days we were a small and loving community,
our own little congregation.
I was repeatedly astounded how this group shared and helped
and loved one another.
It was an amazing time.

In Wales we traveled several ancient pilgrimage routes.
Paths that have been traveled since the early centuries of Christianity.
We learned about St. David, St. Non, St. Beuno.
We worshipped in a church in Llandanwg that has celebrated
with prayers and hymns and Holy Eucharist
since the early 5th century.
We met clergy and parishioners from a variety of parishes.
We noticed differences but we also noted similarities.

We visited three Cistercian monasteries—
the ruins of those monasteries, to be more accurate.
Strata Florida, Valle Crucis, and Tintern.
The Cistercians were very important to Christianity in Wales.

Once we have fully recovered from jetlag,
Organized and edited our 3 million photographs,
and had more than 24 hours to reflect upon this experience,
we will certainly share more about our pilgrimage
with all of you.

On pilgrimage afar and on our daily pilgrimages
we receive so many blessings in the people we meet,
the places we visit,
the prayers we offer and the prayers that are offered for us.

When we touched down at the Charlotte airport yesterday evening
we immediately began to hear news.
Gas had gone up 85 cents a gallon since we left--
IF you could find gas
(indeed, we had to stop at two stations
before we found any gas at all)
There was political news in abundance.
We were well soaked in rain in Wales
And happy to find out that you, too, had some rain here
while we were away.
We were not so happy to hear that
Hurricane Ike was heading straight towards Galveston and Houston.

To go away on an intentional pilgrimage, or a retreat,
to purposefully fast from the media
to let go of control and focus one’s heart on the spiritual
stops time in a way--
So that we might intentionally make ourselves present
and open to God.
That is a gift.

But upon return
We also must face that time has not really stopped.
We must learn to make ourselves intentionally present
and open to God
even amidst the hubbub of our daily lives.

Following the Cistercian tradition that we heard so much about in Wales
was a very well known American monk
by the name of Thomas Merton.
Until his death in 1968,
Thomas Merton lived at a monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky.
You can still go on retreat to that monastery today.

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer
that I keep taped in the front of my hymnal.

Here are the words:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you
and I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
although I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

This is a wonderful pilgrim prayer.
This is a wonderful prayer for all of us trying to follow God.

My Lord I have no idea where I am going…

Our scripture readings today are all about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is often a long and difficult journey.

Sometimes our anger and bitterness and hatred over being so wrongly hurt
has consumed us and every nook and cranny of our lives.
Sometimes we are afraid to forgive those who have hurt us--
because we don’t know where that forgiveness will lead.
Will it lead to more hurt, more abuse?
Does our forgiveness mean what they did is right, is okay?

.To the contrary,
Forgiveness is about truly freeing ourselves.
Forgiveness is about letting go of denial
and acknowledging the truth,
Forgiveness is about letting go of all those hurts that have kept
and keep us captive
and finally—FINALLY--moving on.

Forgiveness is not about forgetting.
Forgiveness is not about being someone else’s doormat.
Forgiveness does not mean staying in a hurtful, abusive relationship.

Forgiveness means, with God’s help,
We unlock the chains that have bound you to the perpetrator,
We lay those chains down upon the ground
for good and for ever.
Forgiveness gives us the freedom
To once again walk as a child of light.

Peter questions Jesus
about how far does forgiveness really need to go,
Jesus responds: to infinity—
not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Never stop forgiving one another.

Forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

Forgiveness is unconditional.
It cannot depend or rely upon the repentance of the wrongdoer.
Forgiveness does not wait
for someone to be sorry for what they have done.

We cannot possibly repay God for all our blessings.
But we can show our gratitude by the way we treat others.

We choose.
Whether we close ourselves in by putting on
the armor of hate and resentment, bitterness and judgment.
Or whether we open ourselves up
by putting on the face of Christ, the armor of light,
and offer mercy and grace, forgiveness and love.

We are so quick to judge.
So slow to forgive.
The world may give us a million messages
that tell us that is the way to live, the way to be,
But Christ tells us that is backwards.

The teacher and poet Wendell Berry writes:
Friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

We find the stepping stones to the path of forgiveness
in those words in Thomas Merton’s prayer:

I will not fear,
for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

It is with God’s help
that we learn to forgive from our hearts.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Sermon for Year A Proper16

Who do you say I am?

There is an amazing cover on the recent issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Michael Phelps
Wearing his gold medals from the Olympic Games.
Now if you don’t know who Michael Phelps is,
All I can say is that he is an amazing swimmer.

I am a Michael Phelps fan.
But not just because he is an amazing swimmer.
I like Michael Phelps because he has very candidly talked about being teased--
Actually more than teased—more like bullied and tortured
when he was growing up.

He and his sisters were raised by their mother Debbie
In a working class neighborhood in Baltimore.

Phelps had it otouch because he was taunted by other kids
About his sticking out ears, his lisp and his long arms.
He also struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and was put on medication for two years.

His mother Debbie said:
"In kindergarten I was told,
'Michael can't sit still, Michael can't be quiet,
Michael can't focus'.
"I said, 'Maybe he's bored'.

The teacher said, 'He's not gifted.
Your son will never be able to focus on anything'."

Then Michael Phelps discovered swimming.
And he knew that was who he really was—a swimmer.

He had a natural gift,
but he coupled that with incredible dedication
and the hard work of training.

Michael Phelps competed in his first Olympic games in Sydney
in the year 2000.
He was 15 years old.
Even as a teenager, Michael Phelps decided
that he would define who he was---
not other people.

Did their ridicule and comments hurt?
Yes, of course they did.
Cruel comments hurt all of us deeply.

Somehow, though, these past few weeks,
I don’t think anyone has paid much attention to Michael Phelps ears—
those gold medals and those multiple world records
have had the spotlight.

We cannot control what other people say or do.
We can control how we react to what other people say or do.

So what does Michael Phelps have to do with the gospel of Matthew?

Lots and lots of people have lots and lots of opinions about Jesus—
and many of them are not very complimentary.
That was true in the first century and it is still true today
In the twenty-first century.

Jesus knows who he is—
But I think he is wondering if anyone else can really see him,
Really see him for who he is.
But I think Jesus is dead serious when he asks Peter the question:
Who do you say I am?

The others have responded to Jesus by what they have heard others say.
But Peter speaks from the heart.

What a gift it is to have someone who loves us so much
that they see us with the eyes of their heart.

Peter is rash and controlling, often fearful, sometimes a hot=head.
But at this moment,
Peter’s eyes are as wide open to Jesus as they can possibly be:
And that is what he sees:
All the possibilities.
All that is and will be possible with God.

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!

What a gift it is to have someone who really sees us
for whom we really are.

We are each so loved by God.
God looks at us with the eyes of the heart.
Be whom you were created to be.
Use YOUR gifts.
Paul had it so right when he wrote in his letter to the Romans:

..we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

We have gifts that differ.
But we each have gifts.

The challenge is to discover those gifts and to celebrate those gifts.
Very often gifts come coupled with a great deal of hard work.
Michael Phelps made it to the Olympics
because he was disciplined and dedicated and practiced
and practiced and practiced.
and trained and trained and trained.

Throughout our lives
other people will try to define who we are.
It is good to listen
but it is important to listen with our heart.

Throughout our lives
other people will also try to tell us who Jesus is and who God is.
They will insist on this characteristic or that.
But each of us must take the time to be able to answer
the question Jesus asks today:
Who do YOU say I am?

To see with our heart
we must listen with our heart.

To become whom God created us to become,
is to first discover our gifts,
to then discover the ways we can develop and use those gifts,
and finally to celebrate with great joy
those gifts we have been given.

To listen to God
we must first take the time,
to set aside time to be quiet, to sit in stillness and silence—
even if it is only the few minutes at night
before we drift off to sleep,
or the few minutes in the morning when we first awake.

Once Mother Teresa was asked by an interviewer,
“What do you say to God when you pray?”
Mother Teresa replied,
“I don’t say anything. I just listen.

The interviewer then asked,
“Well, what does God say?”
“Nothing”, she replied.
“God just listens too.”

We are all given the gift of prayer.
Prayer opens our hearts.
Prayer trains us to listen.
Prayer is a discipline.
Prayer is learning to be quiet, to be still.
Prayer is learning to receive.

Prayer changes us in ways we cannot ask or imagine.
Prayer is the journey which leads us to our answer
for the question
Jesus has for each of us:
Who do YOU say that I am?

God is listening.

Sermon for Year A Proper 15

Things fall apart

Pema Chodron is a Buddhist
who is a gifted teacher and writer.
She tells this story in her book Things Fall Apart.
A holy man and his disciples were on their way to visit a temple.
To get into the temple
they had to pass by this enormous, very ferocious attack dog.

The good news was
the dog is kept on a chain
so if you keep out of the dog’s reach you were okay.
They arrive that day
and all that stands between them and their destination
is this growling, baring his teeth huge dog.

They pass by safely
as the dog strains against the chain that holds him.
They think they are home free
when the chain breaks
and the dog comes running straight towards them.

The disciples freeze and begin to scream.
The holy man begins to run as fast as he can—
not AWAY from the dog, but straight towards the dog.
The dog sees the man running towards him—
something he has never seen before—
and the dog stops
then walks away and lies down and goes to sleep.

Sometimes when things fall apart,
the best approach is to run towards all that is collapsing.
to face the disappointment, the anger, the prejudice, the shock
head on.

In our reading from Genesis
Joseph is part of a family that has fallen apart.
In a surprising twist of events,
His brothers come before him needing food.
These are the same brothers who showed him no mercy.
Joseph faces his brothers head on.
He could have easily turned away,
not met with them at all.
He could have easily had them all thrown in prison—
or killed—

These brothers had deceived Joseph and their father.
Jealousy and greed and selfishness
caused Joseph’s brothers to conveniently throw him in a pit—
and walk away.

Things had indeed fallen apart in that family—
as in many families.
But Jospeh doesn’t sweep that dysfunction under the rug.
Rather than transform his power
into anger or revenge or hatred,
Joseph forgives his brothers
and in the process he IS transformed—
along with the rest of his family—
by the true power
of compassion and forgiveness and love.

Joseph faces into the growling dog
that has kept him and his family hostage all these years
and lets go of the past
so there is room for the future.

In Matthew’s gospel today we have a very painful encounter
between Jesus
and the Canaanite woman.
This is not the “love is all you need” Jesus,
we are so comfortable knowing.

Jesus is downright hateful in this scripture passage.
He is cruel to this woman.
Because she is not a Jew,
not one of the chosen people,
not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus’ disciples urge him to send her away
and he is set on a collision course to do just that,
to show no mercy.

The woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter
And Jesus replies cruelly:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs.”
He is telling this woman that her ethnic and religious background
mean that not only will he not listen to her,
not only will he not heal her daughter,
but Jesus thinks she and her people are the scum of the earth.

Harsh words can fool us into believing
that Jesus is running straight toward the growling dog.
But the reality is Jesus is ducking out the side door.
He doesn’t want to deal with this problem.
He doesn’t want to take the time to really see who this woman is
beyond the stereotypes and prejudices of his day.

You see, it is the woman who runs straight towards the growling dog.
This mother is not about to let go of her hope
that her daughter can be healed.

You can call me anything you like, Jesus.
You want me to be a dog?
I will be a dog.

But please—
Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

And Jesus stops short.
His carefully constructed prejudices fall apart.
Jesus realizes how wrong he has been.
Not only wrong in the way he has spoken to and treated this woman
but how wrong he has been about his mission in the world.
Suddenly Jesus realizes that God’s love and mercy and grace
are for ALL people.
Not just a select few.
All people. No exceptions.

The church is not a private club, not a gated community.
Paul gets it so right in his letter to the Romans.
God doesn’t exclude anyone.
God welcomes all.
All people.

When we face the things in our lives that bother and disturb us the most,
We have hope for real healing.

When we run away, when we hide, when we keep secrets,
when we respond with anger or cruelty or apathy,
That growling dog keeps running after us, nipping at our heels,
smacking his lips
keeping fear as the ruler of our lives.

Our scriptures this morning tell us that is not God’s intention—
to rule us with fear.
This does not mean that God gives us a “pass GO and collect your $ 200”
highway to life is easy street.

There is an enormous difference between
life is easy
life is good.

Joseph’s life was transformed first by God.
Joseph had to let go of his privileged family position as beloved son
and suffer slavery, prison, and many harsh hardships.
Yet God transformed evil into good.
God transformed a curse into a blessing.

What Joseph then offered his brothers
was that same mercy, that same love
that had been offered to him by God.

Anger and hatred and revenge destroy.
Love and mercy and forgiveness transform.

Jesus was running from the truth—
the truth that all people are worthy of respect and dignity.
That all people are God’s children.

The Canaanite woman had every right to be furious with Jesus—
his words and his actions are plain hateful.
But she believes in his power to heal—
and she focuses on that good she believes is inside him

She faces up to the growling dog of rejection
and Jesus stops.
He recognizes and realizes his mistake,
How wrong he has been.
The Canaanite woman’s love for her daughter
And her love and belief that God will heal her daughter
Opens Jesus’ eyes.
And the child is healed.

When we stop running away from all that keeps us captive,
When we face the growling dog head on,
we too have hope for healing, for wholeness.