Praying for the Mind of Christ

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2023. The scripture readings are Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12], 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16], Matthew 5:13-20, and Psalm 112:1-9, (10).

Montauk Lighthouse- Montauk Point State Park

Salt and light are strong images. They gain even more strength in the teaching of Jesus. He ties them to faithfulness and suggests that by resembling salt and light we will not only be useful to him and to God, but we will please God, and will be a part of what Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s easy to see why these images have guided Christians for centuries. But taken out of context and blown out of proportion, salt and light become destructive and imperialistic.

As the Puritan John Winthrop sailed towards the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he preached a sermon on the ship entitled, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop said, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” The words have been used again and again by preachers and presidents to inspire and to encourage. The trick is to remember that they are words having to do more with service than privilege. Too much salt can sting and ruin things.  Too strong a light can blind and confuse.

In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul suggests how to navigate a middle way, moderate approach in the face of possible Gospel zealotry.

When Paul approaches the worldly and urbane Corinthians, he does so not as though he’s got all the light and they’re living in the dark. He doesn’t approach them as though he’s rubbing salt into a wound. Instead, he approaches them simply.  He tells them about Jesus Christ crucified. Paul describes his approach as one of weakness, fear, and trembling. Of humility, really. It’s as though Paul trusts God more than he trusts his own words or wisdom.

Paul describes beautifully the Spirit of God—the Spirit being that part of God’s movement and energy in the world that appears when words fail.  It’s the Spirit that soothes when answers are hidden, that accomplishes when plans fail. The Spirit is sometimes our last resort, but it’s often God’s first choice of presence in our lives. As scripture reminds, “The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

And then Paul does an interesting thing. He relates this Spirit of God to the mind of Christ. In that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human, his mind was filled with God and the things of God. And so, to be like Jesus Christ is to set our mind on the things he values and teaches and lives out.  To be like Jesus is to allow our mind to be filled with God and God’s Spirit.

Filled with the Spirit, we discover a funny thing: all of a sudden, we are acting and thinking and living like the people Jesus has described in the Gospel. With the Spirit of God pouring through us, we shine like light for others—not in a self-conscious or self-aggrandizing way, but in a way that comes from God. And we become salty, as well—not in a way that overpowers or offends, but in a way that is distinctive and delights. If you cook at all, you know that too much salt overwhelms a food and so you taste nothing but the salt. But just enough, and the salt encourages other flavors, and the whole dish is made better.

It’s that way in the world, as well. Empowered by the Spirit of God, we add our own Christian perspective and find that it adds to, rather than obliterates; it promotes rather than dominates.  Salt is strong enough to stand on its own, and that’s just the way our faith ought to be.

If we are centered on the Spirit, allow God to make us light and salt, then that second part of the Gospel really sort of takes care of itself.  The second part talks about the commandments of God remaining firm, and how, if we should break a commandment or teach others to do so we will be “least in the kingdom of God.” If we keep the commandments and teach others to do so, the Gospel says, we will be “great in the kingdom of God.”  All of this takes care of itself. Enlivened by the Spirit of God, we realize it when we fall, or fail, or break a commandment. And so we say we’re sorry. We might go to confession. We stop and re-evaluate and pray for the grace to carry on. Keeping the commandments is not the focus of our faith, but it becomes a natural by-product of living faithfully.

And so, how do we get this mind of Christ? How do we get the Spirit of God?

It begins at baptism.  There and then, the Holy Spirit is given to us. But we spend our lives living into the Spirit of God, through the process the church sometimes calls sanctification—a way of being made holy.

Another way of allowing the Spirit room in our lives is through prayer.

Some of you are familiar with the type of prayer known as Centering Prayer.  There are other forms very similar—Christian meditation, Buddhist and non-religious meditation, and others.  Centering Prayer works very simply.  One sits still in a chair or on a prayer stool or a mat, and one simply opens oneself to the Origin of all that exists. When a thought shows up, simply let it pass on through. Just return to the silence, the space, the place where you are inviting God to be. Sometimes a “centering word” is helpful.  It’s a little different from a mantra, which would be repeated over and over.  In Centering Prayer, the silence is welcome and the “centering word” is simply used to bring one back to center.

It can be anything like “grace,” or “blessing,” or Jesus’ word for God, “abba” or perhaps “amma.” The word isn’t the focus, it just reminds you to come back to center and simply “be.”

Centering prayer usually happens for about 20 minutes or more. It takes practice.  It’s counter-cultural because in such prayer, we’re not struggling to keep up with emails, with news, with tasks, with people, with expectations, with hopes. We’re not improving or producing or creating.  We’ve not even paying attention to our own faith, or beliefs, or prayers. It’s a time for being quiet, for practicing the quiet. As Cynthia Bourgeault describes it,

What goes on in those silent depths during the time of Centering Prayer is no one’s business, not even your own; it is between your innermost being and God; that place where, as St. Augustine once said, ‘God is closer to your soul than you are yourself.’

(Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 6)

Whether it’s Centering Prayer, meditation, a good cup of tea and quiet few minutes, or a particular walk in the park—I encourage you to find something that centers you, that calls you again to the Spirit of God within you.  Each us is called to be salty, bright, freed and forgiven people, living in the Spirit of God and sharing God’s love with any who will have it. May we slow down, breathe, notice, and give thanks for the “mind of Christ” within us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As Foolish as a Samaritan

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 29, 2023. The lectionary readings are Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12, and Psalm 15.

The Good Samaritan, 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh

This week, as we continue to read and hear and see videos and commentary about the Memphis police beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, it can sound like that first reading from Micah is directed especially at us– we who live in the United States and either put up with systemic problems, ignore them completely, or throw up our hands in frustration.

But God calls God’s people to account. God says, “I have a controversy with you.” Speak for yourself. Explain yourself. We hear God’s disappointment and almost heartache at having been let down by his people, God’s beloved. In words that return to us again on Good Friday, God asks, “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery…”

And what are we to say?

But then God seems to make it even more difficult. Saying we’re sorry won’t be enough. Simply offering prayers of penitence or offering works of charity won’t wipe the slate clean. We might contextualize Micah to our day and notice that slogans, protests, or quick fixes aren’t the long-term answers, even though they can get things started. Was the Black Lives Matter movement simply a distraction from a boring spell in Covid? Does a plaque or a prayer around Reparations for slavery follow through in any way for change over time?

For God, anyway, the occasional prayer, vigil, or remembrance service doesn’t quite cut it. “Here is what the Lord requires:” Micah thunders. “. . . to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

In that we live in a world of gerrymandered voting districts and big money politics, we can sometimes wonder how such vacuous leaders end up in power. And while we vote and organize and be persistent, our current situation also means that answers become up close and personal. They will be local, even as we advocate for national and global change.

How do I do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

In trying to respond to the dismay and sadness this week, after more shootings, violence, and “other news,” the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, issued a pastoral statement. Bishop Curry noted that as Tyre Nichols was being beaten, among the police and the EMT who were present, there was not one person who offered help. Not one Good Samaritan, as Bishop Curry framed it.

In his statement, Bishop Curry goes on to remind us of the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told. How a man is beaten, and people pass him by, ignoring his situation. The priest kept walking. The Levi, the learned man of Jesus’ day, kept moving. But the Samaritan—the one with no power, no social standing, up against all kinds of prejudice himself (as an outsider, as a mixed-race person, as someone who followed another god entirely)—but that Samaritan stopped and helped.

Bishop Curry says, “The fundamental call and vocation of law enforcement officials, and indeed every one of us, is that of the Good Samaritan.” And he goes on to say, “Here is where there is hope: The Good Samaritan in the parable of Jesus was not the last one.”

Bishop Curry points out that those who have moved towards justice in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death are stepped out, spoken out, and offered help– like Good Samaritans. Bishop Curry writes

There are Good Samaritans who are government officials in Memphis who, after assessing what happened, fired the offending officers, charged them with crimes against human life and dignity, and have committed to addressing systemic and cultural issues that created an environment in which this evil was enabled.

There are Good Samaritans doing what is necessary to radically reform the environment and culture of law enforcement—to create an atmosphere in which the dignity and worth of every human being is respected, protected, affirmed, and honored.

There are Good Samaritans in law enforcement, and other first responders, who often work while others sleep, laboring to protect and serve, at times risking their own lives for the neighbor they do not even know.

There are Good Samaritans, people of goodwill and human decency, who are peacefully protesting. There are Good Samaritans who are activists working tirelessly for the realization of communities and countries where there is truly, as the Pledge of Allegiance proclaims, “liberty and justice for all.”

He goes on to say, “While we grieve, we cannot give in or give up. Just throwing up our hands in despair is not an option lest we leave a brother, a sister, a sibling on the side of the road again. No, let more Good Samaritans arise so that Tyre Nichols’ death will not be in vain.”  Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is not from the story about the Good Samaritan, but the section of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. 

Some scholars suggest Jesus was laying out the basic standard for admission for any who might follow him.   But others suggest that Jesus was preaching in a time during which people really thought the end of the world was coming soon and that such preaching was meant to usher in the Kingdom of God. 

But I don’t think Jesus is giving us a formula for bringing in the Kingdom of God. I don’t think he’s laying down criteria for entering the kingdom of God. Instead, I think Jesus is describing the lives of the people he’s teaching and preaching to, and saying that no matter what you’re going through God is there with you. Jesus is reflecting the reality of those around him, blessing them so that they can be a blessing to others.

If Jesus’ words sound crazy, we can look to Paul for a little explanation. Paul tells the Corinthians that “The message about the cross is foolishness to [most of the world] . . .,  but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

People thought Jesus was a fool for lots of reasons. Lifting up the poor instead of the rich? Hanging out with sinners instead of the holy-rollers? Talking to women? And not to mention his socio-political theory: how foolish, naïve, inefficient, and idealistic!

Jesus gives us the Beatitudes as a kind of foolishness that has the wisdom of God hidden inside.  He offers this list of blessings as invitations, I think, invitations for us to listen and look for God EVERYWHERE, but especially when we’re in a rough spot.

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
Blessed are the meek, . . .
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . .
Blessed are the merciful, . . .
Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
Blessed are the peacemakers, . . .
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . .
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

As Paul says, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block . . .[many], but to those who are the called, . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

The Church also as a long tradition of a Holy Fool—someone who seems out of their mind, totally bonkers, but serves the role of helping the faithful see deeper truth to their practice and piety.

Early on there were those who sought the silence of the desert of fourth-century Egypt. Their sayings are strange and almost Zen-like and are filled with examples of how they would confuse the sophisticated and side with the ignorant. Later, there was St. Simeon Salos, a sixth-century monk who went into church one Sunday with a handful of nuts. At the beginning of the liturgy, he started throwing them and managed to put out all of the candles. When people tried to catch him, he went up in the pulpit and began throwing nuts at all people. He dressed up in strange clothes, ate sausages in public on Good Friday and did everything he could to question tradition, convention, and propriety.

While we might not be as extreme as some of those Holy Fools, if we follow Jesus in our day, people are probably going to see what we do and what we believe as being foolish. But the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ shows us that the life of faith will always look foolish in the face of worldly ways. 

God says we need to be about “justice, kindness, and humility.” What craziness!  But what holy wisdom and really, the only way forward for people of faith.

May we risk standing up and speaking out as Good Samaritans, may we be holy fools, and may we know the blessings of God’s indwelling presence so that we can be a blessing for others.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2022: A Year of Strengthening & Deepening for the Future

Following my usual custom for the Sunday of the Congregation’s Annual Meeting, I deliver a version of my written report within the sermon. A slightly longer version of this report will be included in the documents of the Annual Meeting, available on the parish website. The Gospel of the day is Matthew 4:12-23.

Matthew’s Gospel begins in a crisis, as Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested.  We’re not told exactly why Jesus then leaves Nazareth, but he goes to Capernaum.  Miracles, growth, excitement, and renewal all come later in the Gospel, but for now, Jesus pauses and steps aside.  

It’s this aspect of today’s Gospel that draws my attention today, as make my annual report in the context of the sermon. I’m noticing the way Jesus pauses and re-evaluates before jumping back into ministry with new energy. 

Just as Jesus used the crisis of his cousin’s arrest to think and pray more deeply about mission, I think we did some of that in 2022.  Because of the pandemic and its stresses, some events were cancelled or postponed, and many went online.  

Our community presence has been strong. The garden has been open, our building has been open for recovery and community groups. And Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center has been going strong. Every Saturday, volunteers have cooked and served dinner for community guests, and more recently, we have gathered supplies for refugees. In November, resumed the Thanksgiving program, with some 300 dinners prepared and delivered. This happened thanks to coordinators Lydia Colon, Suzanne Julig, Joe Lipuma, Pat Miller, Jeff McCulley, and others. As always, Erlinda Brent went above and beyond her job as parish secretary to coordinate orders, deliveries, and all the other logistics around the program. Last summer, HTNC had a fund and friend raiser cookout. We raised some money for programs, we enjoyed the food, met some new people, heard the band, and even had a special appearance by our own understated rockstar, Nick Viest. 

One HTNC and church program that has not come back yet has been the Tuesday Senior Lunch.  Initially, we were concerned for safety around COVID. But the reality over the last year is that we don’t have the volunteers.  We’ve had that and further challenges with our shelter, even though it’s extremely unfortunate that during a city-wide crisis in housing and homelessness, our HTNC shelter has not reopened. But we still don’t have a reliable network for screening guests, and we no longer have the particular volunteer leaders who were the backbone of that program. 

But our parish continued to open up in 2022.  We added volunteer singers to our choir, Yemisi Ariyibi revived the children’s Sunday School, and little by little, altar guild, acolytes, coffee hour teams, ushers, and lectors have all been slowly rebuilding. 

Like Jesus, who went away to pray and enrich his own spirit, we sought to deepen our spirituality. In Lent, a dozen of us spent a weekend on retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, New York. And Liz Poole has continued to offer online yoga every Wednesday night, leading us in deepening the connections among mind, body, and spirit. 

During the summer months and into the fall, a handful of us gathered in the Cloister Chapel every Sunday morning for twenty-five minutes of silent meditation. Simone Crockett led most of these meditation sessions, and I was grateful for her steady and prayerful leadership. 

Last summer, I had a two-month sabbatical. In the terms of my call to Holy Trinity (the contract with me signed by the church and the Bishop) there’s a stipulation for a sabbatical, a time away, every six or seven years of ministry. And while the vestry and others suggested I do a full three or four months away, it seemed to me like two months would be a better fit. (I knew that we would need to be searching for a new music director, and I also felt uneasy leaving the church as we were just emerging from the pandemic.) The time was an absolute blessing, and I remain to the vestry, other parish leaders and staff, and to everyone who contributed money, ideas, or time to the sabbatical experience. 

I spent the month of June on sabbatical in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, practicing Spanish, and going deeper into the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as spending time with every painting by El Greco that I could find. In July, I spent time with family in North Carolina.  

By mid-July, I was missing you, I missed New York, and I deeply missed our common life at Holy Trinity. And so, returning in August, it felt like the perfect time away. I felt a little like Jesus must have in today’s Gospel, stepping away from Nazareth, getting refreshed in Galilee, and being renewed for what God has in store next. 

I’m thankful for Bishop Andrew St. John’s leadership in June, and that of our friend from our link parish in London, the Rev. Graham Buckle, who took over for July. The Rev. Doug Ousley and the Rev. Margie Tuttle helped with pastoral care and other services, and I appreciate everything they did. Alden Prouty and Chris Abelt led the vestry while I was gone, with the amazing support of treasurer Christine du Toit, and clerk of vestry, Paul Chernick. 

Our Vestry has been steady and wise through 2022, and I offer all my thanks to Alden Prouty, who has served as Warden of Vestry for two terms, and rotates off vestry, and also to Helen Palmer who has fulfilled her terms. I’m grateful to Paul Chernick, Lydia Colón, and Marlin Mattson, who have completed one term (and can still serve another time, if elected.)

Our organist and director of music Cleveland Kersh told me around Easter of his and his husband Christoph’s plan to move to his Christoph’s native Germany over the summer. In May, we celebrated them, blessed their marriage, and then said farewell in June. 

We also celebrated our longtime senior sexton, Arold Dorsinvil, as he retired from Holy Trinity. While we missed seeing familiar faces and mourned the gifts of both Cleve and Arold, their departures allowed for discernment and adjustment.  

Our building needed immediate attention to chronic problems, broken pipes, and unsafe electricity. With the help of Lu Paone and the ongoing good maintenance work of Ozell Ryant and José Cornier, we have made enormous improvements. 

Regarding our music, Cleve’s expertise and care brought us through the pandemic in ways very few people could have done, but we also realized that Holy Trinity’s music program after the pandemic needed to expand, include more people, celebrate a diversity of styles, and encourage the mission and growth of our church—that mission being (in shorthand) “to show and share the love of God.” 

After a careful search, with candidates from all over the country, Adam Koch was selected.  Adam joined us officially in September, and his time with us has already blessed us beyond my imagining. I enter church every Sunday looking forward to the music, and usually leave church humming a hymn or anthem. 

We also welcomed the Rev. Deacon Pamela Tang to our church family in October. Deacons, in the Episcopal Church, are not paid for their ministry by the church, but must support themselves with other work. Pam is the office manager for Mission Graphics at the Church of Our Savior, Chinatown, and she is also busy with studies at General Seminary and her other volunteer work in the diocese and larger church. I’m glad for her help in our Sunday worship and welcome her support in expanding pastoral care in our parish. 

We lost some members in 2022, as they moved out of the city. But we also mourned the deaths of Hart Fessenden, Jim Iredell, Chris Knight, Rosemary Lawton, and Elaine Siu. Betsy Morey also died, and though she was technically a member of another church, she had long been a part of Holy Trinity. 

And even though Father Bert Draesel, the Rector Emeritus of Holy Trinity, died last week, the loss of his laughter and encouragement is felt strongly in our community, in this year. As with other deaths, something has shifted. But a part of that means he is with our other saints in heaven, urging us on and praying for us still. 

People were busy during the pandemic, and not just with work. We saw evidence of this last summer and fall, as we celebrated baptism after baptism after baptism. Weddings and other celebrations were held– some having been postponed from the pandemic. Even though the year had a lot of uncertainty, our church was full of babies and brides, of grooms and rejoicing. 

Much of our church life is healthier and stronger than it has been in decades. And yet, this year’s financial reality is worse than it has been in most of our memories. Though there were several years in which we took no money out of our General Fund to cover a deficit, this year, we have a massive deficit that is obviously unsustainable for the future. Please know that we are already putting new energy into marketing our space more creatively. We continue to partner with other organizations for sharing resources and space. And our parish is growing.  

We still spend an enormous amount of money on our building, but unless we fix leaks, nonworking lights, broken sound systems, and falling plaster, few people will want to use our space for films, functions, or even for faith. 

In today’s Gospel, even though Jesus leaves the familiar territory of Nazareth, his faith increases. Jesus moves forward, as though empowered by the words of Isaiah, from darkness into light, from death into new life. As Jesus invites companions to join him in his way of love, he speaks of the adventure as a kind of great fishing expedition. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says.  

That’s part of our work, as well. We don’t go fishing for people in a desperate effort to build budgets and staff committees. We don’t fish for people simply to have more volunteers. Those things will take care of themselves whenever and wherever the people of God are faithful to the joy and love of Christ. 

Instead, we’re called to be part of that great fishing expedition, catching others up in the excitement of our music, worship, and prayer.  We can catch people up in the energy of service through Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center. We can all get caught up in learning about faith and in witnessing the power of healing. 

Just as the Spirit led Jesus and the disciples in new directions, we’ll be led in new places, too. We’ll grow in our community connections and support. We’ll grow our digital ministry and outreach. We’ll grow in our ability to check in with each other and take care of each other. And finally, if we allow him, Christ will catch us up in new ways of knowing his presence and life. As the Offertory Anthem today sings, Christ promises that if we stick close to him, follow him, and love one another through him, there will be many fine days ahead. 

Dreaming for Ourselves

Mural composed of Civil Rights Posters by Pentagram, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA.

A sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 15, 2023
The lectionary readings are Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, and John 1:29-42.
Psalm 40:1-12.

As I’ve noticed the various opportunities for remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend and on Monday, I have been thinking of a concert I went to a few years ago on Martin Luther King Day. It was given by the a capella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

What was so refreshing (for me, anyway) about the concert was the way in which the three women who made up Sweet Honey in the Rock celebrated. They didn’t offer dramatic readings of King’s words. There was no slide-show of his life. Instead, they had done the hard work of what we Episcopalians might call “reading, marking, and inwardly digesting” his words, so that the performance managed to convey and invite the audience into the spirit of Martin Luther King. 

The group helped the audience think not only about the calling of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also about our own calling—what are WE doing to create a better world? What are WE doing to heal the divisions that still exist. To what extent are WE following the dreams of God? To what extent are we living into our own calling?

When I use the term, “calling,” I mean to describe one’s deepest sense of purpose, one’s sense that this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it, I mean one’s sense of being selected by God to do a specific thing. 

In our reading from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah’s own sense of God’s calling: “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” God said, “You are my servant, in whom I will be glorified.” Isaiah wonders if he heard God right. But God says, yes, “it’s you I’m talking to.” From time to time Isaiah wonders and checks in with God, each time hearing another version of, “You are my servant, . . . in whom I will be glorified.” 

This past week, as we’ve been praying for the Draesel family and especially as Bert’s condition grew more serious, I’ve been thinking a lot about Bert’s ministry. Bert had a deep and powerful sense of calling. He said to several of his early parishes, “I feel called to minister in the city.” And with a social worker spouse like Ada next to him, it’s easy to see where some of that sense of vacation came from. Wherever he served, Bert’s love of Jesus and commitment to our common life in ministry was infectious. Bert heard God’s calling loud and clear, but his special gift was helping so many other people hear their calling.  [The Rev. Herbert (Bert) G. Draesel, Jr., died peacefully on January 14, 2023 at home, surrounded by family and loved ones.]

God needs us for the dreams of God to unfold. If you think about that for a minute, those are amazing words because they mean that God needed Isaiah in order to get things done. God needed Martin Luther King, Jr. to get things done. God needed Bert Draesel to get things done. And God needs us, to get things done in our world. 

The Gospel is about the revelation of God’s kingdom and plan, especially about the revelation that is Jesus, and recognition of Jesus. It’s about John the Baptist’s recognition of Jesus as the Christ, as God’s anointed one; and it’s also about several of the disciples as they recognize Jesus for who he is, and in so doing, recognize themselves. 

There are two sides to understanding one’s calling—the first has to do with recognizing the caller, who is God. But the second part comes in recognizing ourselves in the midst of God’s calling. 

John illustrates what it’s like to recognize the one doing the calling. He sees Jesus as the Lamb of God. We might think of a lamb as a soft, weak thing. In Judaism the lamb was an animal of sacrifice and as a symbol, the lamb represented innocence and blamelessness. But a lamb also had undeniable strength. Because of the lamb, people were forgiven. Because of the lamb, people were joined again to God. 

And so when John names Jesus as the Lamb of God, he is in part prophesying, perhaps in part hoping, and in part stating what he has already seen to be true, that through Jesus people are brought closer to God. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we experience the healing of sins, and the resurrection to eternal life in God’s love. 

John recognizes Jesus. The other disciples, Andrew and another, see Jesus, but also begin to recognize themselves.

When Jesus sees the two disciples, he asks them, point blank, “What are you looking for?” The disciples don’t really answer him, but instead, they ask for more time. They aren’t sure what they want, but they know they want to know Jesus a little better. After a while, Andrew goes to his brother and says, “We have found the Messiah.” But what he’s also saying is that he has found himself; he has found his calling. 

Of course, sorting out one’s calling is more difficult than simply opening your heart to Jesus, and “poof,” an entire game plan is presented. It’s much more subtle than that. Whether you should be a fireman or a secretary, a nurse or a schoolteacher—whether you should buy a house, or take a new job, or pursue that special person… I don’t know the specific answer to those or many other questions… 

But I do know how to find the answer. It lies in doing what the disciples did—spending time with Jesus, absorbing his words, absorbing his vision of the world, hearing God’s word through Jesus, hearing the promises of scripture and watching as they’re fulfilled in everyday living. 

Frederick Buechner talks about the two sides of finding one’s calling—of recognizing the caller, but also of recognizing ourselves in the midst of that calling. He explains that to be called is to have a vocation—the Latin word, “vocare” means simply that: to call; and so a vocation is simply one’s calling—whether that be over time, or in the moment. 

Buechner points out that there are always different voices calling us to different kinds of work—the trick is sorting out which voice is from God, which from society, which from a voice of super-ego or sole self-interest. The trick for the Christian is to find 1) the work that one most needs to do, and 2) the work that most needs to be done. In other words,

Buechner says,

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 95

The meeting of our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger happen in prayer, in worship, in fellowship and community; in struggle, in grief, in joy… in the midst of the sacraments. We live into our vocations together. 

May we continue to be a people who dream the dreams of God. May we find the resources to follow, and may we find the risen Christ even as we find ourselves. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Communal Cross

Procesión en Vieques III, 2022, Armig Santos

Puerto Rican painter Armig Santos reflects on photographs of a procession honoring David Sanes Rodriquez, a civilian employee of the former U.S. Navy facility on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Rodriquez was killed by practice bombs in 1999. Protests over his death and the military presence are thought to have served as an antecedent to wider protests in summer of 2019.

Protests of 2019 came as a result of outrage over the governor of Puerto Rico’s insensitivity to the lives of his citizens and as a result of government and systemic failure in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (September 2017).

Procesión en Vieques III is part of a the Whitney Museum of Art’s exhibition, “No existe un mundo poshuracán.” The title comes from a poem by Raquel Salas Rivera’s book of poems, while they sleep (under the bed is another country. As explained in the exhibition,

[Translations of the title] grapple with the fact that the real disaster is the thought of its perpetuity, the belief that Puerto Ricans are– and will continue to be–caught in the wake of Maria. But there is another way to make sense of the verse, one that empowers those living through the reality of this post-hurricane moment. The phrase, “no existe un mundo poshuracán” rejects the world altogether in favor of new modes of political existence. Conceived in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Salas Rivera’s verse stakes a claim for artists to be stewards of imagining a different future.”

from museum notes in the Exhibition

I love the painting by Armig Santos because it shows the power of a cross that is shared in community. It is not one person’s cross. It does not belong to a hero. Instead, the cross leads forward, through hope, come what may. In protest, the cross is empowered more than if were mounted on a wall or worn as jewelry. The cross in Santos’ painting holds within it a post-Resurrection sense of hope and possibility.

2023 and a renewed blog

Evening sky in Carl Schurz Park, January 13, 2023

Since 2007, I have kept a blog of some kind and mostly posted sermons. Writing a weekly sermon text is a custom I brought with me from my Presbyterian past, and one that has served me well– whether I use the text in a sermon, or wander wildly from it.

The COVID-19 Pandemic scrambled my normal patterns, but mostly broadened my blog posts to include videos and a podcast (links to those can be found in the Media section of the dropdown menu above and to the left). Though the technology has not always matched the formatting of the blog neatly or reliably, the past few years have involved a variety of attempts to communicate wherever I’ve felt God moving, speaking, and wooing us.

My sabbatical of June and July 2022 put a halt to my busyness, and I have tried to develop new patterns of thought, prayer, and productivity. And yet, I’ve missed the creative challenge of keeping up a blog of some kind and communicating with the several people who have been kind enough to follow and comment.

For the renewed blog, I’ve changed the formatting a little and chosen a new theme that allows for a simpler, cleaner look. I’ll still post the sermons for Sunday, but will also write some shorter posts and perhaps sometimes just post a picture or a quotation.

If you’re someone who has followed my writing and preaching in the past, thank you and hello again. If you’re new, welcome, and come along on the journey.

Sabbatical 2022: Walking Like a New Yorker (in North Carolina)

Sabbatical 2022: Yoga & Walking

Sabbatical 2022: Passing through NYC

Sabbatical 2022: In the Footsteps of Teresa & John