Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon Year C Proper 12

Sermon for Year C Proper 12
July 25, 2010
Trinity Episcopal Church, Chocowinity, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

Ask, Search, Knock

Many months ago, Sonny Browne,
your beloved rector and my beloved friend,
called and asked me if I might want to supply for him
while he was on sabbatical.

Sonny, I replied,
I would love to help you in any way I can,
but I have my own parish—St. John’s in Asheville.

Sonny said, I know that --
but I just thought I would call.
I just thought I would ask.
I thought perhaps you and Tom (my husband)
might like to come and enjoy a week in beautiful Chocowinity.

Most of you know Sonny well enough
that you know it is difficult to say no to him.
He has such a nice way of asking.
And who could refuse an invitation like that?
Who would not want to leave the high cool mountains of North Carolina
in late July,
come east across the state--
to where the heat index is predicted to be 110 degrees today!

The truth is--it’s been hot in Asheville too!
The truth is Chocowinity is a lovely place
and you, the people of Trinity, are as lovely as Sonny told me.

Thank you for the invitation to join you today.
Unfortunately, my husband was unable to join me.
He is the director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center—
just as you have Trinity Center in this diocese
we have Valle Crucis (which is Latin for “Vale of the Cross”)
as our Episcopal Conference Center in Western NC.

Tom sends you his greetings and an invitation
that for your next parish retreat you should come to the mountains!

Our gospel reading for this Sunday has the disciples asking Jesus:
Lord, teach us to pray.

Teach us to pray.
Prayer is so important, so vital to our lives as people of God.

Theologian and scholar C. S. Lewis wrote:

I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—
waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God—it changes me.

When the disciples plead, “Teach us to pray,”
Jesus responds by teaching them what we now call
“The Lord’s Prayer”:

“Okay,” says Jesus,
“try this…
when you pray, say..
Father, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come…

Jesus is giving them the words to get them started--
much as we might say,
..turn to page 364
in the Book of Common Prayer.
When we are without words, for whatever reason,
words are given.

But Jesus also knows the disciples are not just asking for words.
Jesus knows their real longing is for a deeper relationship with God,
a connectedness that seems missing.

In a way they are saying,
You know Jesus, we must not be doing this prayer thing right
because it seems like God isn’t hearing us.
So many of our prayers just don’t get answered.

Ask and it will be given you.
Search and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened for you.

This does not always seem to play out in our lives.

What about that pony I prayed for when I was 7 years old?
What about my friend who died
when everyone I know was praying for her to live?
God, didn’t you hear us asking?

What about that job that just doesn’t seem to be appearing?
What about true love? What about a bigger bank account?
Where are they?
God, haven’t you seen us looking?

Oh, we knock. We knock and knock and knock.
But we are not going to hang around on your front porch all day, God-
waiting for you to come and answer the door.
We’re busy too you know!
God, maybe you can just get on Facebook--
and we can be friends that way.

Where are you?
Why do you not hear my prayers?

I think God might say
Why do you think I do not hear?
Why do you think I do not care?
Why do you think I do not love you?

Somewhere along the way
we got sidetracked into believing that we could boss God around,
set the agenda, get our way, put God on our time schedule,
and do it through prayer.
Our little token offering to God so we can get what we want.

But prayer is not a means, as one writer put it,
of ringing up God like some cosmic bellboy.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples
that prayer is connecting with God
from the deepest part of our being—
from the center of our souls—
and learning not only to speak from that center
but to listen from that center place.

Writer Anne Lamott says we only really need two prayers:
The first prayer is Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
The second prayer is Help me! Help me! Help me!

I like those two prayers. They are honest and direct.
Prayer is about being brutally honest and open.
Prayer is sharing with One
who cares more about us than we can ask or imagine.
Prayer is not about getting our way or our wishes.

Prayer is about speaking from our heart—
our deepest desires, our darkest fears and our most illuminated hopes.
The truth is
God already knows all these things.
Prayer is offering it all to God.

Prayer is about the asking, the searching, the knocking.
It’s in the process, the practice of prayer
that is when we come to feel God’s presence,
to know God’s love.

Sonny and I have a mutual friend
also from our days together at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Her name is Glenda McQueen and she is from Panama.

After we graduated, Glenda returned to Panama,
was ordained to the priesthood
and was assigned by her Bishop
to serve 4 parishes
in the somewhat remote but very beautiful province
of Boca del Toro.

One of these parishes is on an island
and the only way to get there was is take a taxi—
a taxi that comes in the form of a canoe.

Her first Sunday morning serving
Glenda did the early morning service at one of her churches
and then raced down to catch the canoe taxi
out to the island for her next service of the day.

But the canoe
had already left.
She was very distressed.
She knew she was going to be very late
by the time the taxi traveled across the water,
dropped his passengers on the island,
came back across the water,
picked her up,
and then went back over to the island.

She sat there worrying and fretting and feeling terrible.
Her fear was that people would give up on her
and leave and go home.

Finally—finally-- the canoe appeared.
She climbed in.
She was so anxious by this point
that she had to truly resist
grabbing the paddle right out of the boatman’s hands.

No need to tell the boatman to “step on it”—
because a canoe can go only so fast.

Plus she had a strong sense
that the church would already be empty
by the time she arrived—
almost 2 hours late.
Not a very good beginning for her first Sunday.

But when she arrived,
the church was full.
No one had left.
Everyone had waited.
They had gone ahead and had their refreshments
and social time--—their “coffee hour”---
before the service.

When she arrived,
no one tapped their watch,
not one person said, “You’re late!”

No one was angry or disappointed with her.
Quite the opposite.

They were happy to see her.
They embraced her.
brought her something cool to drink.

When she began to apologize they stopped her.
It’s fine, they said.
We knew you would come.
We knew you would come.

Imagine if we approached our prayers with that spirit of grace.

Lord, teach us to pray…
Teach us
to say our prayers.
to pray from our hearts.
to ask and search and knock—
and to not always be watching the clock or the calendar.

Teach us to empty ourselves of anger and disappointment and skepticism
and let our hearts be filled only
with love.

Help us to resist
trying to grab the paddles
or hurry the boatman.

Teach us to pray with hearts that say
I know you will come.
I know you will come, God.
I know you will come.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 10

In the Ditch

Today’s gospel is probably the best known of all of Jesus’ parables.
We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Even for those who are not Christians or a churchgoers,
this story is a familiar one.

Interestingly, the reading we hear today is not just the parable.
The reading starts with a lawyer asking Jesus a question.
It’s a question that we all might want to ask Jesus if we were to meet him

So Jesus, what is life really about?
What do I need to do
to be saved,
to go to heaven,
to live a good and holy life?
What is really important?
What should my priorities be?

Jesus doesn’t answer immediately.
He turns the table
and asks the lawyer a question.

One midrash story says that someone once asked Jesus,
“Why do you always answer a question with another question?”
And Jesus responded, “Why not?”

So in good rabbinical tradition,
Jesus asks the lawyer,
“What do you think?
You know the law.
What do you read there?”

And the lawyer responds,
“Well, the law says,
‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.’

“Bingo!” says Jesus.
“You got it right.
Now just do it. Go and do likewise.”

“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” says the lawyer.
“WHO is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?
That is really the question in this gospel reading today.
It is a question we struggle with still.
Who qualifies to be loved?
How far do my responsibilities go to my neighbor?

But once again,
Jesus does not give an answer.
This time Jesus tells a story.
A parable.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”

Jerusalem sits on the highest elevation in Palestine.
Jericho is down by the Dead Sea at the lowest place on this planet.
The road between the two was quite dangerous,
Narrow, winding, with desert on both sides.
It was an easy place for robbers to hide and then attack someone,
rob them, and slip back off into the desert.

None of Jesus’ listeners would have been surprised
to hear that someone got robbed
on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Then along comes a priest.
This was not an Episcopal priest.
This was a Priest from the Temple.
This was someone who held a very high and powerful position.
The priest sees the man—stripped, half-dead, lying by the side of the road.
The priest does not stop.
He passes by.
He does not even cross the road to see about the man.
He just keeps going.

Then along comes a Levite.
Levites also served in the Temple.
They weren’t as high up as the Priest
But they had important responsibilities.
The Levite sees the man
And he too passes by.

The Priest—symbol of all that was religious—passes by.
The Levite—symbol of a high position in society—passes by.

Then along comes a Samaritan.
To understand Samaritans in first century Palestine
is to know that they were considered “half-breeds.”
It was not so much about place or geography,
as about race and culture and religion.
When a Jewish person married a non-Jewish person,
their children were labeled Samaritans.

Samaritans were ostracized.
They were shunned.
Samaritans were not the kind of people
you wanted to associate with in that day and time.

Yet who is it that stops to help?
Who is it that bandages the wounds?
Who is it that puts the injured man on his own animal,
Takes him to an inn, and pays for it all out of his own pocket?

The Priest? Nope.
The Levite? No.

The Samaritan? Yes.

The fact that it was a Samaritan who stopped to help,
The fact that it was the Samaritan who saw the man in the ditch
As his neighbor—
These were, indeed, shocking facts—
not just to the lawyer
but to anyone listening that day to this parable.

Even today it is a shocking story.

Who is our neighbor?
Who are we to love as much as we love ourselves?
Are we really called to love people we see in the ditch?

This gospel was the gospel reading of the first sermon I ever preached.
I was doing my chaplaincy at Wake Forest University Medical Center
In the summer of 2001,
And we had a chapel service twice a week.
I was on the schedule to preach.

So as I begin to work on my sermon
I asked my husband Tom,
“Who are you in this story?”

And he immediately responded—I’m the man in the ditch.
I was stunned.
What? I asked.
I’m the guy in the ditch.

Now you see, I had always seen myself as the Good Samaritan.
The person who would stop and help.
The person who would go out of the way
To offer compassion, mercy.

But my husband made a powerful point.
Until we can see ourselves as the person in the ditch,
the person who is shunned, and ostracized
and essentially shut out from society,
we are probably not going to be able to truly offer compassion, mercy,
to others.

Years ago our son Jody and his wife Natalie decided—
this was long before they had children—
that they wanted to live in Hawaii.
Not just visit Hawaii, but live there.

So they moved.
They did not really have enough financial resources
for a major move like that,
but they had hope and confidence and they were young.
That was a good thing because they also did not have jobs
When they moved.

They both have extensive work experience in outdoor leadership programs,
working in camps and leading backpacks, teaching horseback riding, and such.

They assumed that getting a job of that sort would be easy in Hawaii.
So after many dead ends and money running out,
they both got jobs in a restaurant--
our son cooking and our daughter-in-law waitressing.
It was an eye-opening experience for both of them,
living and working in Hawaii.

In one phone conversation with our son,
he was very distressed
at the way some of the native Hawaiians
treated him and Natalie.

“I’ve never done anything to them, Mom.
They throw rocks at us when we ride by on our bikes.
They call us ‘haole’.
(which is really just a Hawaiian word that means “white person”—
though it can certainly be said in a tone of voice
that makes it an insult).

Our son continued,
“The Hawaiians I work with at the restaurant
do not want to be our friends—they make it very clear.
They hardly speak to us.
They think I have taken a job away from someone
who deserves it more.
We’re hard workers. We’re nice people.
But they don’t care.”

It was painful to listen to my adult son experiencing prejudice first hand,
experiencing racism.
That is a very uncommon experience for any of us with white skin.

But I also felt that in the long run,
it could be a good experience.
Until we are the ones in the ditch,
it is really hard to understand why loving our neighbor really matters.

If we really open our eyes,
we will see that much of the world lies half-dead on the road.

We have our many comforts, our good life—
And this parable today calls us to look at all our abundance
And blessings and to ask ourselves,

Who is my neighbor?
What am I called to do?
What am I called to give?
How am I called to love?

Love God. I think that is the easy part.
Love our neighbor.
That is much more challenging.
But it is the challenge we are called to face.
It is the road we are called to cross.

Jesus is giving a heavy message to us this morning—
If a Samaritan can cross the road and have pity,
have mercy, have compassion,
Why can’t you?
Why can’t we?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 9 July 4, 2010

Scotland the Brave

Some of you may be wondering why we have a piper here today—
Why have Scotland represented on the 4th of July?
Isn’t this day all about us? All about America?

The answer to those questions is yes and no.

There is a deep connection
between the Episcopal Church of the United States
and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
And it has to do primarily with what happened after the American colonies
declared their independence from Great Britain.

But first a look at the events that led to this eventual connection.

During the American Revolution,
on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted and approved
a resolution of independence from Great Britain.
After this resolution was approved,
the Congress then turned its attention to
the Declaration of Independence,
a statement explaining this decision.
Most of you know that Thomas Jefferson headed the Committee of Five
that wrote the Declaration.
Just as they do today, Congress debated and revised the Declaration
And finally approved it—on July 4th.

Interestingly, a day earlier John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Now John Adams’ prediction was off by two days.
From the very beginning,
Americans celebrated their independence on July 4th,
the date shown on the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams predicted the celebration would be July 2
because that was the date the resolution was approved
in a closed session of the Congress.

It is interesting that Adams said this day of Independence
should be celebrated first by acts of devotion “to God Almighty.”
Then he goes on about parades and bonfires and games and illuminations.

And if you are wondering, as I did,
if fireworks had been invented in 1776
and was John Adams referring to fireworks
when he wrote illuminations,
then I can tell you I looked it up
and found out that fireworks
have been around since the 12th century==
when they were invented in China.
I don’t know if they had fireworks on that first 4th of July celebration—
but we have certainly made up for that in the years that have followed.

I am not sure we score very highly when it comes to first
celebrating our independence by acts of devotion to God.

It is unusual that July 4th comes on a Sunday.
If the date falls in midweek,
it tends to go by without much fanfare at all in the church.
And in truth,
because no secular event can trump a Sunday,
our liturgical calendar this year
tells us to transfer July 4th to Monday, July 5th.

But when I read John Adams letter about celebrating the 4th
(well, he said the 2nd)
with acts of devotion to God Almighty,
it seemed highly appropriate
that we acknowledge this day—this celebration—
in our worship.

The readings for today
are the readings assigned for this 6th Sunday after Pentecost.
Our gospel reading today
focuses on Jesus sending others out into the world,
out to continue God’s mission.

It is undeniable that part of God’s mission is
that all people should live as free people.
We hear that message
over and over and over in scripture—
both in the Old Testatment and the New Testament.

The writers of our Declaration of Independence based this right for freedom
on rights they believed came directly from God:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those writers of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed
that our freedom was a gift from God.
Given to everyone.

If we ourselves claim to be people of God,
and Americans,
then we can’t just rush out to the fireworks celebrations
and the picnics.
It is important to take at least a little time
to ponder how we are living into this gift, this blessing
of living as free people.
It is important to take at least a little time
to consider what we are doing in our lives, in our church, in our nation
what we are doing to bring about and assure the freedom of others.

According to those who gathered at that 2nd Continental Congress,
according to those who have lived fully into that Declaration
with respect to those who give their lives for freedom--
regardless of national origin, gender,
economic, social or political status—
has rights that are given by the grace of God—
and no one has the right
to threaten or take away
life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

It is something for us to seriously ponder and pray about
when we consider others who desperately desire freedom.

There is no doubt that God calls us to stand up and speak up
so that all God’s people might be free.
It is not easy and often it is not popular
to speak and fight for those who do not share the freedom
we often take for granted.

Fighting for these rights,
for ourselves and for others throughout the world,
is indeed often
like being sent out as lambs into the midst of wolves.

Fighting does not always mean bearing arms.
Fighting is not just about weapons and wars.

We fight with our votes,
We fight with our voices,
We fight with our wallets.
We fight with our prayers.

But there is no doubt—
either Biblically or in how we were shaped as a nation—
that we are called to value life,
to value freedom.
and to value happiness.
For ourselves and for others.

But what is the connection between Scotland and the Episcopal Church?

The connection is
that if it were not for Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church,
who stood up for our American Episcopal Church,
we likely would not exist as a denomination
in the United States today.

If a few Scottish people
had not cared about their brothers and sisters in Christ
in a land far away,
in a place where many of them had never been
and would never go—
a land—the new country the United States of America—
and her people-- which were at that time
were viewed as revolutionaries,
ingrates, terrorists even.

Yet Scotland looked beyond all of that
and reached out to help—in the name of God.

Before the revolutionary war,
the church here was the Church of England.
Because remember, we were part of England.
We were a colony.

During the colonial period, the entire continent of America
was part of the Diocese of London.
Although the truth is,
the Bishop of London never once visited the congregations
here in America.
There were no confirmations.
Remember? Your priest can baptize, marry and bury,
but it takes a Bishop to confirm,
to make you a full member of the Episcopal Church.

There were no ordinations.
A bishop must lay hands upon one’s head
to be ordained a priest or a deacon.
There were no bishop consecrations,
because it takes a minimum of three bishops
to consecrate a new bishop.

So needless to say,
the church in America, even before the Revolutionary War,
was none to happy that the Bishop of London
never set foot or eye upon our spacious skies,
or purple mountains majesty.
We had long been separated by the shining sea.

After the revolutionary war,
ten clergymen (and they were all men in those days)
met in Connecticut in 1783
and elected Samuel Seabury as Bishop.

Now Samuel Seabury traveled to England—
as he was elected but still needed to be consecrated Bishop—
and that takes other Bishops (at least 3).

But no bishops in the Church of England would consecrate him--
UNLESS he would take the required oath of loyalty
to the British Monarchy.
And he would not.

So Samuel Seabury went on to Scotland.

And on November 14,1784, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen,
Samuel Seabury was consecrated Bishop for America.
And it was this act that officially began
the worldwide Anglican communion.

Thank you, Scotland!

I know it is not the origin of the pipe tune Scotland the Brave,
but I always think of the Scottish Episcopal Church
defying the Church of England by consecrating
Samuel Seabury as our first American Bishop.
Scotland was brave indeed to do this.

The Church of Scotland felt that being bound together by God
overruled any political boundaries or national allegiances.

Over 200 years ago the people of the Scottish Episcopal Church
looked upon us as their neighbors
and reached out to us
so that our church might continue.
So that we would have the freedom
to worship as we desired.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
God only wants the best for us.
For all of us,
for all God’s people.

Those of us who have life, liberty and happiness in abundance
are called by God
to fight the good fight for those who do not.
To reach out to those who are on the fringes.
To reach beyond borders and boundaries.

This is how we continue God's mission to the world.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I finally took the time to get the last 7 sermons I have preached posted. Thanks for your patience!

Sermon for Year C Proper 8

Speaking the truth in love

I have to confess.
I love the old video arcade game Ms. Pac Man.
If you don’t know that game
you have a little yellow smiling head—
with a big mouth.
Ms. Pac Man wears a bow on her head
and lipstick on her lips.

To play the game you manipulate Ms. Pac Man
through a series of mazes as she eats little dots—power pellets—
along the pathway.
Sometimes she gets to eat pieces of fruit that appear—
an apple, a cherry, a banana—they are the bonuses.

But there are always these ghosts
that are after Ms. Pac Man.
They want to eat her.

But the ghosts are kinda cute.
And they come in array of bright colors.
So if you don’t pay attention,
you can forget that the ghosts are the enemies.
But the ghosts don’t forget--
their goal is to be the end of Ms. Pac Man—
and the end of the game.

I thought of Ms. Pac Man and the power pellets and the ghosts
as I read Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week.

Paul seems to be saying to the Galatians,
there is this very distinct line,
between the “power pellets” that nourish your life,
and the “ghosts” that want to destroy your life.

Paul warns his friends
that many are living on the wrong side of the line.
On this “wrong” side of the line
are these colorful, tempting empty things, “ghosts.”
Paul gives us a long list of these ghosts,
the behaviors that keep us bound as slaves

Paul ends is ghastly ghostly list by saying,
I could go on.

But we say, “OH, PLEASE, DON’T!!”
We think you have covered it all, Paul.
That’s quite enough.
It’s hard for any one of us
to escape without at least one conviction on that list!

But Paul does go on.
Paul also gives the Galatians a list of the “power pellets,”
the ways of living that truly give life.

Things like [using Eugene Peterson’s words from THE MESSAGE]
affection for others,
exhuberance about life,

Keep on the right side of the line my friends,
says Paul.

Now it is easy to think of Paul as a rather dour, self-righteous character.
Pointing a finger,
saying, you better watch out.
You better get right with God.

But there is another way to hear these words.
We can also hear these words as words from a friend.
Words from someone who really, really cares about us.

Someone whose eyes are wide open
to the dangerous and destructive paths
we sometimes travel.
Someone who sees the ghosts paused to devour us
and cares enough to speak the truth in love.

Paul is letting us know there is a choice.

The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer says:
“From the beginning human beings have misused their freedom
and made wrong choices.”

I doubt there is one of us here today
who would claim to have never made a wrong choice.

God offers us incredible freedom.
We can’t choose every twist and turn of our lives--
But we can choose and do choose
how we respond to the twists and turns,
how we live the life we are given.

If we don’t want to draw an either/or line,
we can think of our life, our being,
as a circle.
Inside the circle God has gifted us with joy and peace,
with patience and kindness,
with generosity and faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control.
All that is light and love.
This is the original blessing from which we all begin.

But around the edges prowl strife and jealousy,
anger and quarrels,
envy and addictions,
and all those destructive, abusive forces
that persistently work to creep inside
and make themselves a home.

On occasion, even the most faithful of us,
gets distracted by the bright colors of temptation,
and we allow these negative forces, these life-stealing ghosts,
to find their way into our circle.

There is enormous strength in the power of good,
but sometimes we willingly unhook the screen door,
and give entrance to the negative and the destructive.

Little by little,
the dark side begins to eat away at the joy
and the light gets dimmer
and the peace begins slipping farther
and farther away from the center.

We are human beings.
We sometimes make bad choices.

But we are also children of God.
There is reconciliation, forgiveness.
There is redemption, starting again.
There is resurrection. Hope.
The light, the good, can overcome any darkness.

We, too, may have to turn our faces toward Jerusalem
and face some very difficult truths and realities. Even suffering.
The first step is to stop making excuses,
to stop blaming others.

Just as Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, tells those who make excuses
about why they can’t follow him,
Jesus says to us, too,
Please. Stop with the excuses.
Just do it.
Choose life or choose death.
But you are going to have to choose.

The most difficult part of the truth, especially the truth about ourselves,
or those we love,
is that we often must face the need to choose differently,
to do differently, and to change.
The good news is,
even though each of us is faced with our own unique choices,
this is not a solitary journey.

The psalmist writes:
“I will cry aloud to God;
I will cry aloud, and God will hear me.”

There is a story of a little child,
who wakes in the middle of the night and calls out,
from her bedroom, where she sleeps alone,
“Daddy, I’m scared!”

The response from across the hall comes almost immediately,
“Honey, don’t be afraid.
Daddy’s right across the hall.”

After a brief pause, the little voice is heard again,
“I’m still scared, Daddy.”

The father calls out,
“You don’t need to be afraid. God is watching over you.”

This time the pause is a little longer…
but finally, the little voice calls out again,
“Daddy! I need someone with skin on their face.”

God often comes to us wearing a “skin face”.
The “big” theological word for that is incarnation.
God came as Jesus.
God shows up repeatedly wearing the skin face of people we know.
And people who know us.

People who are not afraid to speak the truth in love.
People who will insist we end our excuse-making and blaming.
People who will travel the rough parts of the journey WITH us,
but are wise enough to know they cannot travel FOR us.

We choose the path.
The path of power-pellets and fruits of the spirit.
Or the ghostly path which destroys us from the inside out.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu is quoted as saying,
“The journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.”

Some scholars say a better translation of that Chinese phrase would be,
“The journey of 10,000 miles begins beneath your feet.”

Paul speaks to his friends in the churches of Galatia.
Jesus speaks to those who say they want to be followers
but always have an excuse about why they have to wait.
God speaks to us.

The journey begins and continues
beneath our feet.
Our journey, our feet,
Our freedom, our choices.

Sermon for Year C Proper 7

Go and Tell

My husband Tom and I recently rented and watched a movie
It is a documentary about an inner city high school in Philadelphia.
The school offers an amazing culinary arts program.

Now, lest you think that culinary arts—cooking--would be an easy class,
you obviously have not met—or seen==the teacher of this class--
Mrs. Wilma Stephenson.

Mrs. Stephenson is tough. That’s putting it mildly.
She is a strict disciplinarian with 38 years of teaching experience,
and she has high—I mean pie in the sky high--expectations
for every student.

Her students dare not show up late for class
or worse still, unprepared;
Students quickly learn that Culinary Arts class is not a place
to goof off
or mouth off.
Try it and
they incur wrath like you can’t imagine.

Mrs. Stephenson is tough.
But the truth is,
Wilma Stephenson doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.
But she knows these kids at Frankford High
are going to have to achieve the impossible
to make it out of their crime-ridden
and crumbling neighborhoods,
to escape the demons that haunt them--
body, mind and soul.

What are those demons?
Poverty. Primarily poverty.
But there is also abuse. Hunger. Racism. Illness.
Low expectations. Hopelessness.
Every one a demon.
A demon that can grab hold, possess and destroy you.

Wilma Stephenson, like Jesus, is determined that the demons will not win.
Wilma Stephenson has been there and she knows what it takes to get out
and she knows it is not an easy journey
to get free of those demons.
She also knows that we do it only “with God’s help.”

Wilma Stephenson sees the potential in these young people.
Yes, she has definitely assumed the role as task-master,
but she has also accepted other roles with her students—
cheerleader, surrogate mother, mentor, motivator.
She sees their potential
and she sees her work
to be helping these students
see that potential in themselves--
and then to take responsibility for that potential.

Her Culinary Arts classes are the door to a much brighter future
for many of these students.
Through an annual competition
these students will compete for scholarships to colleges
to earn a culinary arts degree.
Top-rate chefs—especially those with a college culinary arts degree—
command top-rate salaries and positions when they graduate.

Mrs. Stephenson knows that none—hear that---NONE—
of her students’ parents
can afford college tuition.

So Mrs. Stephenson jumps in and gets involved.
Her students learn what it takes to be a gourmet chef.
She helps them understand the scholarship application process.
She teaches them how to manage their time and how to meet deadlines.
And she makes them work and work and work.
Work harder and work smarter.

Her results are impressive.
She points out in the film that last year 11 members of her culinary arts class
landed three-quarters of a million dollars in college financial aid.

Watch the film and you will see
that these students truly EARN those scholarships.
They work hard. They work late. They work early. They give up vacations.
But they do not give up hope.
Wilma Stephenson is a genius at generating hope.

So what does this film PRESSURE COOKER
have to do with Luke’s gospel today?

What is the connection between the students and the Gerasene demoniac?
Between Jesus and Wilma Stephenson?

Luke tells us that Jesus has gone into Gentile territory.
You know how we know?
Because they raise pigs here.
Jews don’t eat pork and they don’t keep pigs.
So we know that this is foreign soil for Jesus.

Foreign soil almost always guarantees that things will not be easy.

Immediately a man---a naked man—violent, shouting,
confronts Jesus.
“I beg you do not torment me.”

Now the disciples probably took one look
at that screaming, crazy, naked man—and like you and me--
wanted to get right back in the boat and go home.

But if you want the safe and easy,
you better not travel with Jesus.

Jesus remains calm but also quite stern.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind
that Jesus is a person of strength and authority.

He looks with compassion on this man
who has been tormented by demons,
and probably by other people as well.
Jesus sees far beyond the demons—
Jesus looks and sees the potential
in every human being.
Jesus sees all we CAN be.
(And to that, we each ought to say, Thanks be to God!)
Jesus sees all that this man, this man so tormented, so possessed—
Jesus sees all this man CAN be.

Even in this man everyone fears,
even in this man everyone shuns,
Jesus sees what is good and what is possible.

And Jesus commands—
he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t offer a weak little prayer of intercession,
the demons to come out of the man.
And that happens.

The man is healed.
The man is free.
The man is saved.
The man is immensely grateful.

This man now wants to go with Jesus.
He wants to follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes.
Out of gratitude, out of amazement, out of transformation.

But Jesus says no.
Jesus says what I need you to do is to go.
To go and tell.
To return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.
To go and live a life that is whole and holy
and to keep reaching out to others.

And the man does just that.
The man does just as Jesus asked—he goes away,
proclaiming throughout the city
how much God has done for him.
You know that had to be hard.

Because these people in his hometown
they only know this man for whom he WAS—
possessed, out of control, some would say mad, crazy,
even mean.

These people in his hometown
do not know this man for whom he is now.
Healed, free of demons,
free of the demons that kept him captive all those years

But Jesus still tells him to go home,
to go and tell others
how his life has been transformed by God.
And this is exactly what this man does.

We cannot be Jesus,
but with time and practice and work,
we can learn to look with the eyes and heart of Christ,
to see the potential,
the possibility that lives in each person.

It is oh so easy
to see another person’s faults and weaknesses.
It is oh so easy to believe
that someone will never be free of their demons.
“Oh, she’ll never change…”
Jesus says wrong.
People do change.
People do live into their potential and possibility.

Wilma Stephenson, that culinary arts teacher at Frankford High,
looks at each student that walks into her class
as full of potential and hope.

She COMMANDS their demons to get lost.
She COMMANDS those students to work harder
than they have ever worked in their entire lives.
She COMMANDS their respect and their love
because she respects and loves each of them.
And love is really at the heart of all hope, all possibility, all change.

Jesus tells the man who is now free:
go and tell how much God has done for you.

Wilma Stephenson goes and tells how much God has done for her
by being a teacher that cares
and sends her students out into the world
with a future filled with hope and possibility.

Go and tell.
It’s called evangelism.
Sharing with others the good news of God’s abundant love.
Go and tell how much God has done for you.

Go and tell.
Go and do.
Go and care.
Go and love.

Go and see the possibilities,
instead of the obstacles.
Go and give hope to others,
just as hope has been given to you—and to me—and to all of us.
Some of us have received mightily, abundantly.
Truthly, not so much.
Or so it might seem by worldly measure.

But in God’s measure,
we are all receivers of abundant possibility.
In God’s heart,
we all have the potential
to go and change the world.

The source of all that is possible is the love of God.

The potential is here.
The possibility is there.
The time is now.
Go and tell.

Sermon for Year C Proper 5

Anything can be

Listen to the MUSTN’TS,
listen to the don’ts—
listen to the shouldn’ts
the impossibles,
the won’ts—
listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me.
Anything can happen,
ANYTHING can be.

That is part of a Shel Silverstein poem.
This poem fits well with our scripture readings
for this (Saturday) Sunday,
because these readings are filled with impossibles.
These readings are filled
with God making the ANYTHING come true.

Our Old Testament and our Gospel readings tell similar stories—
someone who is dead is brought back to life.

The prophet Elijah brings the child of a widow back to life.
Jesus tells the son of another widow,
“Young man, I say to you rise!”

And in both stories the dead sit up, get up
and are alive once more.

These readings have troubled me this week.

How do you preach about the dead being brought back to life
without raising the question,
“So, Elijah! Jesus!
Where were YOU
when the breath left the one I loved?
Where were you
when my heart was broken?”

The truth is
there are no answers to those questions.

We can read the stories as miracle stories.
Indeed, raising someone from the dead back to life
qualifies as a pretty major miracle.

We can read these stories as being told to confirm that yes, indeed,
Elijah truly is a great prophet.
Yes, indeed,
Jesus is also a great prophet.
Who else could do such impossible things?

But perhaps these stories are here
not to focus on the ones who are dead
but to focus on the ones
whose lives are so deeply touched by those deaths,
that they themselves felt dead.
The mothers.

Elijah is an important man.
A revered man
Yet he listens when God directs him to the home of a widow.
he goes not just to receive
but to give.
When the woman’s son dies,
Elijah does not just offer a platitude of condolence,
he begs God, he cries out to God,
this woman has suffered enough, God—
undo this death.
Elijah takes the mother’s suffering into his own being
and suffers with her.

We hear in Luke’s gospel that Jesus has compassion for the mother.
She has lost her only son.
She was already a widow.
How much loss can one person endure?

Jesus understands this pain.
Jesus has compassion.
Compassion is very different than sympathy.
Sympathy is saying, “I am sorry this happened to you.”

The word compassion means “with-suffering”—
one who is with us in our suffering, in our pain,
in our absolute agony.

Jesus does not just keep walking.
Jesus does not say, “Well, you know, people die every day.”
Jesus stops.
He sees the woman,
He REALLY really sees the woman,
And he feels her pain in the marrow of his bones, deep in his gut.

So what does this mean for you and me?
We are not able to bring the dead back to life—
Or are we?

You see people can be physically alive
but oh so dead inside.

Perhaps as followers of Jesus,
we are called to compassion,
to be fully present with those who are suffering,
with those whose lives
feel utterly empty.

A few years ago I was covering pastoral care for a friend,
another priest.
We did this for one another and generally, thankfully,
nothing ever really happened
that demanded much from us.

But the night before my friend was returning from her conference,
I got a phone call that no one wants to receive.
It was late at night. It was pouring rain.
A bright vibrant young man—
driving back to Asheville for school,
was hit by a truck,
who was swerving to miss another car,
and the young man was killed.
Instantly killed.

The mother and father and brother and girlfriend were in disbelief.
The mother was hysterical—and furious with God.
The father was calm, keeping his emotions under control,
lest he lose all control.
The brother wept silently. Wrapped in a blanket. Curled in a chair.
The girlfriend was numb with grief.

The amazing thing was how the people of their church showed up.
In the middle of the night.
In the pouring rain.
It did not take a priest
to have compassion.

These people of God,
these followers of Jesus
could not have acted any other way.
Their years of worshipping together,
Praying together, being church together,
Somehow, miraculously,
Led them to do just what was needed that night.
To show up.
To hold one another.
To be compassionate.
To be with that heart-broken family
in the deepest parts
and darkest places of their suffering.

Not everyone has a household of friends who shows up.
Sometimes, like it was for the two widows in our readings today,
it may be just one person.

And even for those who think they don’t even have that one person,
They are wrong.

Because I will tell you for sure and for certain,
God shows up.
Always. Bidden or unbidden. God is there. Here.
God sees us with compassion.
God is right there with us
in the worst of times,
and in the best of times.
It is not impossible to be raised from the dead.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS,
listen to the don’ts—
listen to the shouldn’ts
the impossibles,
the won’ts—
listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me.
Anything can happen,
ANYTHING can be.

Sermon for Year C Trinity Sunday

The Trinity as Poetry

I heard on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac
that Saturday, May 29 is the birth day of John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
our 35th President of the United States,
born in 1917.
If he were still alive he would be 93 years old today.

In one of his last major public speeches,
President Kennedy said,

"When power leads man toward arrogance,
poetry reminds him of his limitations."

When power leads man toward arrogance,
poetry reminds him of his limitations.

When we as Christians become spiritually arrogant,
when we think we are the source of power,
that we are the ones in control,
one of the mannerisms we default into
is attempting to keep God in a small box
with a very tight lid.

But almost as soon as we do that--BOOM!
we are reminded of the limitations of that thinking!
That poetic mysterious Trinitarian
everywhere and everything God
blows the top off our box!

The Trinity is very much like a poem.
We can understand it in our bones,
in the very deep place of our spirit—
But to understand it rationally
is difficult and has its limitations.

It would be exceedingly arrogant of me as a preacher
to believe that I can stand here in this pulpit today
and give you a concise clear explanation of exactly
what the Church means by the Trinity.

Theologians have struggled with explaining the Trinity
since the beginning of Christianity
and theologians today still struggle with this.
Me too!
Yet it is a good struggle,
not a struggle of conflict or violence--
but more like Jacob’s struggle with the angel,
a struggle to try to understand God more fully.

Even our own Episcopal Catechism,
doesn’t deal with the Trinity very well.
The Catechism doesn’t even mention the Trinity
until it comes to the questions WHAT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?
and then the catechism tells us
the Holy Spirit,the third person of the Trinity,
is God at work in the world today, even now.

And then you have to flip back a few pages and figure out
Oh, I guess God the Father and God the Son
are the other two parts of the Trinity.
with God the Holy Spirit are the Trinity.

We as Episcopalians are Trinitarians.
We believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Yet we believe in only ONE God.
Three in One and One in three, we sometimes say.

Trinity Sunday is a very different type of Sunday in the Church.
Usually our gospel
or at least one of the scripture readings is narrative,
it tells us a story.

That is not so on Trinity Sunday.

We have Proverbs,
sort of the “Dear Abby” advice column
of the Old Testament.
(Maybe we should call it “Dear Abba”!)

We have Psalm 8—
magnificent Psalm 8—
but psalms are rarely narrative.

We have Paul’s letter to the Romans—
Paul is not a notable storyteller—
he falls much more under the category
of bossy older brother--
“Let me tell you what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
Sometimes we think our bossy older brother is right,
and sometimes we think he is wrong—just bossy!

And there’s John’s gospel today.
Now the gospel is most often where we hear a story—
because the gospels are about the life and work of Jesus.
But there is no story today.
Jesus is just talking—
“I still have many things to say to you…”
he begins as he addresses his disciples.

First of all, a brief history of how we came to have
this doctrine of the Trinity.

From our earliest days,
we as Christians believed in one God.
We were and are monotheistic.

Like our Jewish brothers and sisters
we understand God the Father,
God the Creator.

Then along comes Jesus.
And we as Christians see Jesus as the face of God in the world.

Then Jesus, on the day of Pentecost says,
Don’t worry, I am leaving this world but I am going to send you
an Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

Hmmm…Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So do we have ONE God or do we have THREE Gods?

So the early theologians got together
and finally in the fourth century officially declared
that God is one essence==that one essence being GOD—
but that essence
is distinguished by three persons or personas --
Father, Son and Holy Spirit—all equal.

We forget that sometimes.
The EQUAL part.
We try to make the God the Father the boss,
The BIG boss,
The head of the God’s family.
But that is not true to our belief or our theology.

God encompasses Father, Son and Holy Spirit—equally.
and that is a difficult concept for us
and why people sometimes use different language—
we keep trying to find better language that
would make these three personas seem more equal--
such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
to try to better represent the equality
of these three dimensions of our one God--
but in all honesty,
words are generally inadequate for the Trinity.

The early Celtic Christians
tried to approach the Trinity more practically
by using this teaching rhyme:

Three folds of the cloth yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints in the finger, but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock,
yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snow-flakes and ice,
all in water their origin share
Three persons in God,
to one God alone we make prayer

The 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen
tried to explain the Trinity in poetry and song. She wrote:

Who is the Trinity?
You are music.
You are life.

Source of everything,
Creator of everything.
Angelic hosts sing your praise.

Wonderfully radiant,

You are alive in everything,
And yet you are unknown to us.

So why be concerned with something we can’t really explain?
Why should we even care about the Trinity?
Why does our church set aside—every year—
a Sunday
to draw our attention to the Trinity?

I will tell you that a number of priests
do not like to preach on the Trinity.
They will say,
How on earth am I supposed to preach
on something that no one completely understands
or can explain?

A friend of mine sent me an email this week and said,
“I’m not preaching on the Trinity this Sunday. I’m telling a fishing story.”

Well, I don’t fish,
so I AM preaching on the Trinity!

Because I think it is an important and powerful image.

The Trinity is the image of God as community,
God as full and total communion.

We are not called to be Christians in solitude or isolation.
We are made in the image of God
and God is not a solitary ruler or a lone ranger.
So why would we ever want to live our lives in isolation?

Now please understand,
There is a big difference between living alone
and living in isolation.

Many of us live alone, for a multitude of reasons,
but to live in isolation is to live in arrogance and disrespect,
of one another—and of God.
To separate ourselves from the community, the communion
of God’s people is saying,
“I don’t need anyone but me.”

We are a people called to community and to communion.
We enact that every single Sunday—
when we share the bread and wine together.

Regardless of our differences,
our theological differences and our personal differences,
when we receive communion
we bind ourselves to the God of the Holy Trinity
and to one another.
One bread, one body.

We say thank you God for making me part of your holy mystery,
Thank you God for this moment in poetic time.

Thank you God for giving me others,
this motley crew of which I am one,
a community to travel with on this journey.
Thank you.

God never stands aloof or arrogant.
God does not stay up on the mountaintop,
God is always moving,
here, there, everywhere.

God is a living God, a changing God,
a seeking God.
God is always on the move.
That may scare the pants off of us,
but it is the Gospel truth.

Think of the Trinity as
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
holding hands and dancing round and round and round--
celebrating all that is possible and hopeful in the world--
and always,
always having room in that circle
for us to join in the dance.

God is never still.
The Holy Trinity is the image of the perfect community.
It is the best image for the church—
not a hierarchy of power
but a community of diverse gifts and functions.

If we can learn to better embody the Trinity
we will be a more faithful church,
we will create a better world.

We are not called to be wallflowers
standing silently or even sullenly on the sidelines,
thinking “I sure hope someone notices my gifts
and asks me to dance.”
We are already invited!

Our names have been on God’s dance card
since before we were born.

We are called to offer what we have and who we are
and to be generous and joyful about it.

This isn’t easy for some of us.
The poet John Donne wrote
“Batter my heart, three-personed God.”

Batter my heart, three-personed God.
What a magnificent prayer!

John Donne was inviting God to come after him
and claim him
in every way and any way possible.

Batter our hearts, O Holy Trinity,
and help us remember
God above us and beside us and beneath us ,
God with us.
God continually on the move
Mysteriously binding us together
into a holy community,
into perfect communion.

Holy, Holy, Holy.
We say it three times.
That is no accident.
In the name of the Holy Trinity—
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sermon for Year C Easter 7

A glimpse of the kingdom of heaven…

Paul and Silas come to Philippi.
They are simply on their way to pray,
but there is this annoying girl.

People say the girl is possessed
by a demon—
a demon that sees the future.
A fortune-telling demon so to speak.
Only the fortune
never goes to the girl,
only to her pimps.

Because this is exactly who these men are--
these men who are using and making money off this girl.
This girl they keep as their slave.

Paul and Silas come to Philippi.
They are simply on their way to pray
but there is this annoying girl.
She keeps following them and shouting things
and finally gets Paul so irritated--
you might remember
that Paul has always had a bit of a short fuse--
Paul gets irritated and he stops,
turns around and orders the demon—
in the name of Jesus Christ--
he orders the demon to scram, get lost.

And the demon does.

We don’t really know if the girl likes being free of the demon or not.
We don’t hear anything else from or about her.
What we do know
is that the girl’s pimps are not happy at all.

They grab Paul and Silas
and take them to court.
They make up a bunch of lies
(well, some of it was probably true).
The owners of the slave girl get everybody
all worked up into an ugly mob
and Paul and Silas get a beating and a flogging.

And, as if that isn’t enough,
they are then thrown in prison.

Into the innermost cell.
Which means
the darkest, dankest, stinkiest, scariest
worst part of the prison.

Now go figure,
but along about midnight,
sitting there in the darkest, dankest, stinkiest, scarciest,
worst part of the prison,
Paul and Silas began to pray
and to sing.
When all the jails are empty…
(Well, maybe not that exact song…)
But they do begin to pray and to sing.
To pray and to sing.

Now jump with me from first century Philippi
to twenty-first century Louisiana.

Neil White, a journalist and magazine publisher,
wants the very best for his family—
a beautiful home, nice cars, great clothes, the best schools for his kids.
He gives generously to his church.
He is active and well-respected in the community.
He attends and supports all the right charitable events.
There is only one problem:
Neil White’s bank account can’t keep up
with Neil White’s lifestyle.

He begins the shell game of moving funds from one account to another
to avoid bouncing checks in his businesses.
It works. For awhile.
But then everything falls apart.

The FBI discovers his scheme.
Kiting checks—sometimes, interestingly enough,
referred to as “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Whatever we call it, to the courts it is fraud. Plain and simple fraud.

Handsome, perfect, well-respected Neil White
is arrested and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
He tells his young children, “Daddy is going to camp.”

But this was no camp and no ordinary prison.
This prison was in Carville, Louisiana.

Carville was indeed a federal prison but it was also home
to the last people in the United States
disfigured by what we used to call leprosy.
The more respectful and preferred term
is Hansen’s Disease.

Even today we have no idea how people contract Hansen’s Disease.
95% of the population is completely immune—
but that other 5 % is not so lucky.
Even today there are over 3000 active cases in the United States.
There is treatment,
but there is no preventive vaccine
and no complete cure.

When Neil White discovers that he will share the same buildings
and grounds with “those people”
he is terrified.
As many of us would be.

Carville was the national leprosarium for the United States.
It was meant to be a place of refuge,
not a place of reproach or punishment.
But the truth is,
it was a place of forced quarantine.
People—even children—were taken there against their will
and sometimes against the will of their families.

Though sometimes,
families willingly took their children
and other family members there.
People were—and still are-- afraid of this incurable disease.

Those with Hansen’s Disease were not physically beaten or flogged.
They had not committed a crime;
they contracted and suffered from a random disease.
Yet they, too were, cast into the innermost cell.
Away from their families and away from the world.
Those suffering from Hansen’s disease were hidden away.
They became known as the “secret people.”

Yet these outcasts,
especially an older African-American woman
who had lost both her legs to Hansen’s Disease—
her name was Ella Bounds--
would teach Neil White how to confront his past with honesty,
how to begin to value the things in life that really matter,
how to sing and pray in the darkness.

Carville closed as a leprosarium in 1999 shortly after Neil White’s release
Most of the residents were moved to a hospital wing in Baton Rouge.
Thirty-six refused to leave.
Carville was the only home they knew. They were allowed to stay.

The story we hear this morning in Philippi is about being in prison.
But not just about Paul and Silas in prison.

The girl is imprisoned by her demon and her pimps.
The pimps are imprisoned by greed.
The magistrate is imprisoned by corruption.
The crowd is imprisoned by anger.
The jailer is imprisoned by fear.

Paul and Silas--the only two people in this scripture story today
who are in a physical prison—
are actually not in prison at all.

Even before the earthquake,
before the doors open and the chains are unfastened,
Paul and Silas are already free.

The jailer realizes that –
and he wants that kind of freedom too.

Neil White arrives at federal prison in chains,
both physical chains and spiritual chains.
But he has been trapped in a prison of self-centeredness
for a long, long time.

He has been held captive
by his desire to impress people,
to keep moving up, up, up in the world,
to protect his image,
even if it meant lying and cheating
and fraudulent money handling.

The earthquake for Neil White comes when he sees
those suffering from Hansen’s Disease
as people, as friends.
It is these outcasts who teach Neil White about unconditional love.
Neil White discovers his deep desire
to love like that, too.

Neil White wrote a book about his time at Carville.
When he is released from Carville, he writes:

…at some point after I settled in Oxford [Mississippi] I would take Ella’s advice and find a church. Not just any church. A place like the church at Carville. Where the parishioners were broken and chipped and cracked….A place to ask forgiveness. A sacred place where people were not consumed with image or money. …I would pray. Not the kind of prayers I used to say for miracles or money or advancement. I would ask for something more simple. I would pray for recollection—pray that I would never forget.

Neil White caught a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven
in Carville, Louisiana
and he knew, at last, what he needed.

The jailer caught a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven
in a prison in Philippi
and he knew, at last, what he wanted.

We too sometimes find ourselves bound and held captive.
We too sometimes find ourselves
in the darkest, dankest, stinkiest, scariest, worst of all places.
Addiction. Bitterness. Illness. Grief. Abuse. Self-centeredness.
There are hundreds and thousands of dark, dark cells.
We too long for a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven usually shows up
in the most unlikely person or situation.
After a beating and a flogging in Philippi.
After hitting bottom and winding up in federal prison.
When our life is turned inside and out.

We begin to see grace in the midst of the brokenness.
We begin to see light even in the darkness.
We begin to pray and to sing.

The stone is rolled away
and anything is possible.