Bread that Sustains

bread2A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018.  The scripture readings are Exodus 16:2-4,9-15Psalm 78:23-29Ephesians 4:1-16, and John 6:24-35

Listen to the sermon HERE

Last week, we heard about Jesus using limited resources to feed thousands.  This week, our scripture from the Gospel of John continues just after the feeding of the thousands.  Some of those who witnessed the feeding of the thousands have crossed the lake in their boat, and when they get to the other side they seem surprised to see Jesus.  They ask him how he got there and where he came from.  But Jesus reads their hearts and says, “You ask about me not because you really want to know but because you’re still thinking about the food for the thousands we just ate.”  “And yet,” Jesus says, “you still want more.”

We all probably know someone who can never be satisfied, but always wants more. Sometimes the appetites are external—the desire for more money, more clothes, more food, more drink, more stuff.  But often these mask internal appetites that are sometimes the very hardest to satisfy—the desire for acceptance (self-acceptance or the approval of others), the desire for a purpose, a vocation, or a cause. There’s the desire for excitement, or challenge, or change—or its opposite: the desire for peace, for calm, for silence.  There’s the desire for love.

Those who experience any healing from addiction know that at some level, external cravings are related to internal instincts, and until the internal, spiritual aspect of hunger or thirst is dealt with, there will be no success with the externals.  And that sort of spiritual work is something each person can only do for herself or himself, as hard as we may try to help another.

So much of our “wanting more” relates to the future.  We need to save and prepare—of course.  But Jesus (again and again) cautions us about worrying too much about the short run. Jesus senses this in the disciples and tells them, “Don’t focus so much on the food that perishes but focus on the food that endures for eternal life.”

To this, the disciples remind Jesus that God provided for the people of Israel when they were hungry.  And we hear about that in today’s first scripture reading.  The reading from Exodus recalls the when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. They became tired and irritable. They got hungry. And then, God fed them with manna– this mysterious, odd, flaky-like substance. In the words of the psalmist, “Mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” (Psalm 78:24-25).

But the manna was only for the day. It was daily manna and needed to be consumed or it would spoil. If they left it out it became wormy. If it remained in the sun, it melted. This is because the manna was food, but it was more than food. Manna was meant to be consumed with faith. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow.

Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story about manna that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread. When we pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” this is a part of what we’re praying for. Not just bread for right now, but bread for tomorrow, bread of promise, bread of hope.

Biblical scholars like to point out that the grammar of the Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for tomorrow, for bread of the future. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on this in a meditation where he writes about this phrase

…At least some people in the early church understood [this phrase from the Lord’s Prayer] it to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; “give us today tomorrow’s bread”. And they’ve thought that might mean give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father. And so … Holy Communion is, at one level, bread for today, it’s very much our daily bread, it’s the food we need to keep going; but it’s also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven, at his table, at his banquet… Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

Jesus says, “Look to God for the true bread from heaven. Look to God for the bread that comes down and gives life to the world.” And then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

For Christians, Christ is our bread.  If we stay in relationship with Christ, we are fed—spiritually and in every other way.

Of course, we forget. We sometimes forget to eat or drink of the Spirit.  I was reminded of this when I heard a commentator talking about marathon runners.  The commentator pointed out how important it is for the runner to drink water BEFORE she’s thirsty. The person explained, “If you’re running a marathon and you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, it’s too late, and the water you get will not do what it needs to do to replenish and refresh.” The spiritual life is a little like that, as well. If we wait until we notice the absence of Christ, if we wait until we feel God’s distance, then it can be much harder and slower to feel the strength, the consolation, the encouragement, the faith, we may need. And so, we eat and drink regularly, at this table, in this kind of worship.

By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.

Sometimes we forget to eat. At other times, we prefer junk food—the stuff that seems like it quenches the spirit, but only serves to fill us for a moment.  We can fall victim to addictions or temptations that move us away from our true self and true sustenance.  But we can always come back.

We can come back to the Table (to the Sacrament of Holy Communion).
We can come back to the food of Christ’s Spirit (through prayer).
We can come back or reach out for the experience of Christ’s Body (as he is made flesh in other people.)

Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is our prayer. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever is ahead. We have challenges in our personal lives and we may have worries. God invites us to have faith that when tomorrow comes, God will give us the resources we need. We have problems that seem unsolvable, but with tomorrow’s bread, perhaps God will also give us new answers, creative solutions, and deeper insight.

Late summer is a good time for us to think about what it means to live by faith. There is still time for vacation, but plans are already being made for a new year at school, a new program year at church, a new season for business or work of any kind.

The scriptures leave us with a few questions:  In what ways, might God invite us to look for “bread for tomorrow?” In what ways are we invited to clear out the cupboards, the hiding places, the storage areas that build up our confidence, and rely on God for strength, for nourishment, for sustenance? Might God be calling us to a new place of faith? Might God be calling us to live a little more closely in touch with him, listening more closely for the new word, looking for intently for that which will feed and sustain and grow the Body of Christ into the future?

May we come to know in our hearts, minds, and bodies Him who is the bread of life, in whom all hunger, thirst, and desire are surpassed beyond our wildest dreams.

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

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Planning for Leftovers

food sharedA sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018.  The scripture readings are 2 Kings 4:42-44,  Psalm 145:10-19Ephesians 3:14-21, and John 6:1-21

Listen to the sermon HERE.

The Bible doesn’t say what kind of fish or what kind of bread was used to feed the thousands, but one thing is for sure: Jesus planned on having leftovers.

From the bounty and abundance, through the miracle of multiplication, all were fed. The scripture says “from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, [the disciples] filled twelve baskets.”

If you think about it, this is not unusual for Jesus. Wherever he goes, things seem to multiply. At Cana he makes water into wine, and it flows freely. On the Sea of Galilee he tells the disciples to throw their nets in one more time, and fish are suddenly everywhere. And now, here, on the other side of Galilee, Jesus does it again. He enlarges, expands, and transforms a little bit into a feast for all.

For the feast to happen—and for there to be extra– Jesus does three things.

First, he has a vision: Jesus can imagine people being fed. He can see it. Last week the Church read Mark’s Gospel and we skipped over Mark’s version of the feeding of the thousands. Had we read that version (or Matthew’s or Luke’s, for that matter) we would have seen a remarkable lack of vision on the part of the disciples. The disciples there look at the situation and only see a problem. They don’t identify with the other people and they see the hungry crowd as God’s problem, not theirs.

But today’s version of the story is different. According to John, Jesus is the first to notice the people’s need and he then almost quizzes the disciples to test their vision. For Jesus, the vision is real, even though the means of achieving the vision might not yet be clear. And so the first step in planning for leftovers is having a vision.

Next, Jesus shares the vision as he invites others into it. He makes it clear that he needs help. Turning to Philip, Jesus asks, “Where are we to buy bread…?” Philip responds like the disciples in the other Gospels: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough ….” Notice how Phillip talks about money. He’s a realist. He knows what it is to earn a wage. He knows the market. But even though he may be good with numbers, he’s slow to catch the vision of Jesus. Andrew is quicker. Andrew gets the vision and imitates Jesus by inviting others in. It’s Andrew who locates the boy with a few loaves and a few fish. Sharing in the vision of Christ, Andrew sees possibility in the boy’s offering. Like Jesus, Andrew doesn’t know exactly how it will end, but he invites the boy to be a part of the solution and moves forward.

First, there is the vision of people being fed. Then invitations go out to enlist the help of others. And then, there’s a third piece to this process toward leftovers. Jesus prays.

It might be tempting to see Jesus’s prayer as a stop in the story, a slowdown in the action. But it’s really just the opposite. Prayer is action in high gear. It’s concentrated effort. It’s energy condensed, channeled, and directed toward God.  St. John Vianney (the 19thcentury priest known for his simplicity and spirituality) used to say, “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.” This is what happens when Jesus prays. People notice because of the quality and the focus and the love. The disciples see him and add their prayers. Then the people see the disciples praying and add their prayers. On and on it goes as priorities shift in prayer from our will (our hunger, our hope, our desire) to God’s will (the world’s hunger, the world’s hope, the world’s desire.) In praying to God, Jesus was reminding himself and everyone else that the work they were about to do—this multiplication of bread and fish—was not their work at all. It’s God’s work in which they are privileged to share.

Everyone is fed and there are fragments left over. Sometimes these are tangible fragments, like the extra bread and fish the disciples are able to put into baskets. But other times, the leftovers can almost be missed because of their subtlety. There may be increased faith left behind. There may be an expanded sense of family or community. Individuals who previously had no calling might find an entirely new vocation. There may be a fragment of joy at simply having accomplished something in the presence of God, something larger and mightier even than the combined efforts of all those present. Frederick Buechner calls this a miracle, “when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.” (The Alphabet of Grace, p. 87)

A few years ago the Church of England did a great study called Faithful Cities. The report celebrates the ministries of smaller churches and especially encourages us to claim what it calls, “Faithful capital,” which is a leftover, really. Faithful capital is increased as communities of faith “make a decisive and positive difference in their neighborhoods through the values they promote, the service they inspire, and the resources they command.” (Faithful Cities, p. 76). Holy leftovers become faithful capital through what one person has called “a thousand tiny empowerments” (Leonie Sandercock, in Faithful Cities, p. 2)

Planning for leftovers is hard and sometimes goes against our nature. We’re taught to conserve and be careful. Especially in seasons of scarcity. Play it safe. Don’t anticipate. Don’t over-extend. Expectations, after all, lead to resentments. On and on it goes: the caution and the fear. But as a people of faith, we need to remember that this caution can lead to a mentality of maintenance. And when our chief motivation is maintaining what we have, we’re on the sad road that leads from a people in mission to being a museum. And from being a museum to being a mausoleum.

We currently do pretty well with leftovers.  With food left over from film shoots and meetings, we sometimes supplement coffee hour.  With donated leftovers from Dig Inn restaurant, we have good meals for our shelter guests.  We do what we can with left-over vegetables from the CSA that delivers here and try to use donations, but we can do more.  We can do more especially with “faithful capital,” allowing the benefits of our parish to overflow into the community.

Maintenance and mission need not be mutually exclusive. For most churches, both are part of being the people of God. At Holy Trinity, we have a beautiful, old building. There would be nothing faithful about letting it fall apart. But at the same time, we’re called to envision and invite and pray about how we can be more—more involved in our community and the world, more engaged with the issues, and more responsive to the needs of those who hunger physically and spiritually.

In the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus again took bread. He blessed it, broke it, and shared it. And we do the same. At this altar and the altar we use in the garden, at the tables in the Mission House, in the tables of restaurants and homes, and wherever we celebrate the feast, may the Holy Spirit enable us to move with God’s vision, invite others, say our prayers and always plan for leftovers.

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



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The Wideness of God’s Mercy

Open ArmsA sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018.  The scripture readings are Jeremiah 23:1-6Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22, and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Every so often, I run into one or two people who are starting a “new church” in Manhattan.  Every time I’ve met such people they are white, young, and seem confident, upwardly mobile, and ready to take on the world.  God has called them to this new venture of being part of a new Christian community, they believe. And I’m sure they believe that.

One young couple came to our 6 pm worship service.  I noticed them because they were new and I couldn’t help but notice (in that small gathering) that they did not come forward for Communion.  After the service, they asked if the church ever rented space to other groups.  It turns out that their congregation was looking for a new site in which to worship.

I explained that we do sometimes rent space, but that I would have some serious questions about another congregation worshipping in our space.  And then I said to them, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I wonder… why do you suppose God wants you to create a new church, mostly of young people like yourselves, when there are so many churches already.  And these churches have old people and young people, rich and poor, and could probably use your energy and faith?”  They seemed a little uncomfortable and finally said, “That’s an interesting question. We’ll have to ask our pastor what he thinks about that.”  Then they left.

Maybe we all, from time to time, imagine our “dream church.” But chances are that God’s vision for the Church is much broader than mine or yours, or even ours combined.

The scriptures today work together to show us God’s vision, God’s dream of his called and gathered people.  The readings remind us of the broadness, the expanse, and the array which is to be the church of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians gets right to the point— though, admittedly, Paul writes in terms that may sound strange to us today. He writes about the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised,” hardly a topic one might expect for a Sunday morning in July. But he’s really just using shorthand for a conversation about Jews and Gentiles, Gentiles being everyone who is not born Jewish. By the time of the Letter to the Ephesians, the early Church was filled with at least two kinds of people—some were former Jews who had decided to follow Christ. Many probably still thought of themselves as Jews, even thought they had, in many places, been driven out of the synagogues. But these Jews who followed Jesus were also successful at inviting non-Jews to join the movement. We have stories in scripture about some of them:  There was the Ethiopian Eunuch, there was the Centurion Cornelius, and before long there were many, many more.

But there’s a conflict going on in the early church at Ephesus. It’s not exactly clear what the problem is, but some scholars think it had to do with newer people beginning to follow Jesus who felt that since they were really Jewish (circumcised), they deserved a more immediate entry and a higher status in the community than those who were Gentile and had never been Jewish.

Among some early communities there was even the question of whether a Gentile man who joined the Christian Church should become circumcised like a Jew in order to be a good Christian. Should Gentile women adopt the customs of faithful and orthodox Jewish women? These questions may sound strange to us today, but they were HUGE question for early Christians.

And so, it’s in this atmosphere that Paul preaches, “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.”

Paul goes on to write with assurance to the newly converted, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”

Paul says that we, all of us, are to be one household. If you go to Israel today and look at any of the archeological sites you can see what a household in the first few centuries looked like. It might be a couple of rooms, but then when the children grew older, a sleeping loft might be added on. Then when a child grew up and got married, an addition would be built on to the house, and so the household grew.

With each new addition, another room would be added. It didn’t matter if the new person was liked or disliked. It didn’t matter whether they brought anything in particular to the household. What mattered is that the new person was family, and they were welcomed, and they were included.

The other scripture readings for the day point to various dynamics with the church. The Old Testament reading warns that there will be those leaders who will seek to separate and divide. Some will attempt to scatter the flock and drive them away. But God will create a remnant of those who follow God, and this remnant from every land, and bring them home. And among this new family, there shall be no fear and none shall be missing.

In the Gospel, I wonder if this isn’t one of those places in which even Jesus questions his calling.  One can imagine a contemporary church growth consultant pointing out to Jesus that he would do much better if he were to focus on a particular demographic and tailor his message accordingly.  “Your vision is too big.  You can’t be all things to all people,” they would say.  In today’s Gospel, it seems like Jesus is getting tired and is trying to get a little break.  “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.”  And with that, Jesus tries to go off to a “lonely place.” It’s almost as though Jesus, himself has enough of a following, an already full plate, a more-than-full agenda.

But then, before long, God sends more people.  God expands the word, the appeal, the message, and the healing.  And God gives Jesus the power he needs to keep on.  Jesus teaches and heals and loves with the knowledge that God’s love is for everyone.  There is no end to the wideness of God’s mercy, to the fullness of God’s fellowship.

A few years ago, the preacher and writer Martin Smith told a great story about a Sunday when he noticed a small boy doing a strange thing in church.  Martin noticed the little boy kept “high fiving” his mother.  Then, Martin noticed there was a pattern to the high fives—they happened at the end of prayers.  After church, when Martin saw the mother and child, he asked the mother, “What’s with the high-fives? It seems like there must be a story behind them?”  The mother smiled and explained that now, it was simply their way of participating in the worship and she hoped it wasn’t distracting. Martin assured her it was not, but still—he was curious.  “Well,” she said, “instead of hearing ‘AMEN,’ my son used to think we were saying what they say at soccer:  ‘I’m in!’”  “It just seemed right, then to follow the ‘I’m in!’ with a high five.”

“I’m in” perfectly captures the idea of an Amen.  Amen has been used not just as a punctuation mark to a prayer, but a way of our entering into the meaning and the intention of the prayer, of claiming our part in it, of saying “I’m part of the team.”  But it also means that there is a team.  There are others who have our back, and also lead out in front. There are people covering the sides.   Sometimes it’s our calling to play a different role, but faith is never, ever a solo sport.

Whether it is the worldwide community of believers who are trying to get along, or the Episcopal Church, or a local parish like this one—the good (but sometimes difficult) news of the Gospel is that all are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you are a life-long Christian. It doesn’t matter if you are still trying to figure God out.

God spreads a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us. God anoints us with holy oil, and fills our cup until it’s overflowing. God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. We’re in—each one of us.

May God continue to remind us of his holy welcome, and may God continue to show us how to welcome one another.

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



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Bearing Witness

hildegards saintsA sermon for July 15, 2018, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.  The scripture readings are Amos 7:7-15Psalm 85:8-13Ephesians 1:3-14, and Mark 6:14-29

Listen to the sermon HERE.

At yesterday’s wedding, here in the church, the congregation came through beautifully on what is one of my favorite parts of the wedding ceremony.  At the section near the beginning, called, “The Declaration of Consent,” the bride and the groom make promises to one another. This is where the language of “love, comfort, honor, and keep in sickness and in health,” comes in.  But then, in the Prayer Book liturgy, the officiant asks the whole congregation, “will all of you witnesses these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”  And the congregation thunders, “WE WILL!”  (If that sounds familiar, it’s because we do a very similar thing at every baptism when the congregation is asked to support those being baptized in their life in Christ. Again the assembly answers “WE WILL!”)

If there is a wedding rehearsal, I also instruct the wedding party to really say this part loudly.  If the congregation is too meek, I’ve repeated the question before, and added, “Once more, please, … with feeling this time…”

I want to hear people say We Will support the couple, because of the power of bearing witness.

The Greek word for witness is martys, or martyr in English.  A martyr, among people of faith, is often portrayed as one who is persecuted or who dies for his or her faith.  But in its truest sense, a Christian martyr is simply one who bears witness to Jesus Christ.

Today’s scriptures are not the cheeriest.  They speak of difficulty and demand—but they also speak of deep and abiding faith.

The Old Testament lesson gives us a brief profile of the prophet Amos.  Amos has the hard job of speaking out against power, in this case against King Jeroboam.  The king’s own priest gets wind of it, tells the king, and they put out the word that Amos is all about “fake prophecy.” The religious power structure of the day (which has cozied up to the governmental power structure) turns against him.  “Go preach and prophesy somewhere else,” they tell Amos.  But Amos says, I’m not in this to make a name for myself.  I’m no threat to you.  I’m a migrant farm worker.   Amos basically says, “Look, I’m nobody special.  But God called me and told me to step up and tell the truth.”

The story of Amos reminds us that being a witness to truth is easy.  And of course, the example from our Gospel comes down to us in history not only from scripture but from theatre by Oscar Wilde and opera by Richard Strauss.

John the Baptist DID speak the truth, and we have the awful story that is all too current—literally in other parts of the world, but just as real in our world as people lose job, reputation, friend, retirement, social standing—when they speak hard truth.  With King Herod, power prevails, in the short run.  But that’s the essential thing for us to remember. The powerful appear to win, but they only have the advantage for now.

The Letter to the Ephesians gives an eye into God’s long-run plan.  God has a “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”  That’s a huge plan.  It means that in Christ everything will find its completion and fulfillment.  In Christ, everything will grow to its right purpose and ending—event those who are cut short in this life.

Everything and everyone is redeemed and perfected, brought to completion in God’s good love.

That sort of hope doesn’t allow us to rest content with injustice in this world, assured that life in the next will be better.  Instead, hope in God compels us to live forward, in the open, in the light.  It’s that hope in which we live, toward which we point… that hope to which we bear witness.

I have a cousin who lives in a small town near Tampa, Florida.  We were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, and I asked him how things were in his community.  He laughed and he said he thought he might have to find a new barber.  When I asked, “Why?” he explained what happened the other Saturday morning.

It’s a chain of a hair place where men and women both get their hair cut.  A woman was almost done getting her haircut in the next chair and she was talking to her stylist about all the Muslims who had moved into her neighborhood.  “They’re everywhere,” she said, “and I’m afraid to even go outside. You never know if your next-door neighbor is a terrorist or not….”  My cousin said that he had heard similar comments while the lady had been getting her hair done, but he decided that it was time to say something.  “You know,” he said in his slow, Southern accent. “If you look at history, everybody has done their fair share of violence and terrorism.  Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus… people are people, and even though most people are good, there are always a few who make the headlines. You can’t just all Muslims by what you see in the news.”

My cousin’s barber stopped cutting his hair for a minute, exchanged looks with the other stylist, and then continued.  The lady in the next chair grew red in the face and didn’t say another word–but left soon thereafter.  The stylist who had been cutting her hair went outside for a smoke and several of the other customers who were in the shop went outside to join her. My cousin said that he though his barber might have rushed the haircut.

My cousin might find another barber, but in that one, quiet moment in the barbershop, he spoke up and spoke the truth.  Whatever conversation was brewing next to him, he at least, stopped it for a moment and took the energy out of it.  There might be consequences but there also might be the possibility of surprise, of encounter with someone who might point to a larger issue, and might suggest a more complicated picture than first imagined.

We are called to bear witness to the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes that means saying “no, thank you” at work, in social situations, or at the voting booths.  Sometimes it means protesting and witnessing in public ways, and other times might mean a quieter approach.  Bearing witness always and everywhere includes prayer, that God would reveal God’s truth, that faithful people everywhere might be strengthened, and that God’s reign would enfold and embrace all.

Our prayer for the day asks that God might “grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”  With the saints and martyrs, with the mothers and fathers, with the sophisticated and the plainspoken, may we also bear witness.

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

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God in the Garden

Wosczyk Wedding

A homily offered at the marriage of Lauren E. Kennedy and Matthew H. Wosczyk on July 14, 2018 at The Church of the Holy Trinity.  The Gospel was Matthew 5:1-10. 

Every once in a while, I meet someone who finds out that I’m a priest and is polite and respectful about what I spend my time doing. But the person will say something along the lines of, “you know, I’ve always felt like I can know God just as well—or better—walking in the woods, sailing on the water, or working in the garden.” I normally surprise such a person by agreeing with them, but then I ask a question.  “What do you do,” I wonder, “when a storm comes?  Where is God for you, then?”

At that point, I usually realize that I’ve done it again. I’ve spoiled a perfectly innocuous conversation by bringing theology into it.

Good things can happen in a garden.  The story of creation itself begins in a garden as God creates people and animals and plants of all kinds, and with each, God steps back and proclaims it all Good. The Song of Solomon uses garden imagery to represent creation, but also in a kind of lush and somewhat erotic way: all that blooms and smells suggests the love between two people, which is just a hint of the love God has for each of us.  Jesus often goes into a garden to pray, to be quiet, to listen for God’s voice, and to learn—as he then shares lessons with others about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the winds, and the waves. The scripture I just read, known as The Beatitudes, takes place on a hill, probably a lush one, with grass and trees and perhaps water in view.

Gardens are places where one can meet God, for sure, places where the beauty and truth of the Beatitudes seem self-evident.  Until the storm comes.

But faith in God helps us even when the storms come.   Remember there was a storm, of sorts, in that original garden, symbolized by the serpent, Satan, the accuser who is like that little voice inside our heads that always doubts, that always accuses, that tries to ruin every picnic.  But God shows up and promises always to love Adam and Eve—no matter what.

Jesus preaches and prays in gardens, but recall also that on the night before his death, he’s arrested in a garden.  It’s his faith and his connection with God that reminds him that no matter what kind of storm may come—whether the gardens of this world seem to be torn to shreds and every beautiful thing trampled upon—God still IS.  God still is Love.  And God’s love continues forever.

It is no surprise that Lauren and Matt’s wedding follows a garden theme.  Enjoy the flowers. Enjoy the smells, and sounds, and tastes, and the presence of love all around.  But also, never forget that God tends all gardens, and even in the darkness, even when things are tough, even when we feel alone or afraid or like God is busy pulling weeds elsewhere—return to the garden and wait for God.  God will appear and will enfold you in love.

The weeds will grow.  The pests will annoy.  There may be times of drought or what feels like a flood.  But God has grown your love and will tend it with loving care for ever and ever.

Blessings to you, Matt and Lauren; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Giving thanks for the Life of Michael K. Lawlor (1934-2018)


all-shall-be-wellI should begin by saying that though Mike has known this church in various capacities over the years, I didn’t know him.  But I wish I had.

I’ve gotten to know a bit about him from all of you and from talking to others, and so I have come to admire the man who always kept learning, always demanded more of himself, never stopped reading, and drawing, and creating, and helping, and loving.

Mike had that gift that makes one successful in advertising—that gift of being able to find interest in everything and everyone.  Not in a surface way, but in a way that sees, understands, and hears.

As one person has written to me, “Mike was one of those rare men capable of seeing the other side, of respecting another’s view—and of changing his mind. He could compromise. He could apologize. He could forgive.”

The scriptures today both point beyond their current circumstances.  In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is trying to inspire a whole nation. Things are going to get better, Isaiah says.  And then, Isaiah becomes an artist and paints a picture of a whole world beyond, a place in the future, close to God.  It’s a place of continual feasting.  A friend of mine says that her view of heaven is a place where you can drink as much as you want without getting drunk and you can eat everything in sight without adding a calorie!  That’s a little of the view of Isaiah—a place of perfect health where tears are wiped away and life awakens new each day.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words of Jesus saying, “Don’t worry. All shall be well.  I’ve going ahead of you to prepare the way and so when you’re ready, the way will be clear, and good, and true.

That little phrase, “All shall be well” (especially in Episcopal and other Anglican churches) is a kind of hyperlink to the life, faith, and words of a medieval holy woman named Julian of Norwich.  Scholars think that Julian probably lost her son and her husband in a plague, and so she committed her life to service in the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.  She began a life of prayer and before long, people began to come to her for advice and wisdom.  She became a kind of spiritual guide.

She received a vision from God and she wrote down two versions of that vision—a vision a little like our scriptures today—a vision in which God assures Julian that love prevails. Love wins.  Love is never defeated.

Julian of Norwich takes to God her deepest question:  Why is there sin?  And more specifically, why has there been sin in my life? Why did I do that, say that, think that, go down that road, etc, etc, etc.  Julian writes about this and says,

… Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’  These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved. (Showings, Long Text, Chp. 27)

Mike knew in this life what it meant to “come to,” to wake up to a new possibilities—new ideas, new friends, new ways of being of service and in community.  In another story of Jesus’, the famous story of the Prodigal son, when the young, hell-raising son returns home to his parents, poor, broken, defeated, and at his bottom; the scripture says that the prodigal “come to himself.”  He “came to.”

And that gets us back to what heaven might be. I think of heaven as a place in which we come to ourselves and we come to our Higher Power in a way that is a little like someone turning the lights on in a dark room.  We’re not afraid. We’re not startled.  But we’re quietly surprised at what we.  Heaven is a kind of “Ohhhhhh! 😊  I had no idea!”    We see, say, and breath relief as all questions are answered, all rough places made smooth, all resentments dissolved, all shortcomings completed—we come fully to ourselves, which is to say, we come face to face with our Creator and our Creator’s highest, most loving intentions for each of us.

Ann Lewin is a British writer and poet who reflects on those words of Julian,
“All shall be well….”

She must have said that
sometimes through gritted teeth.
Surely she knew the moments
when fear gnaws at trust,
the future loses shape,

The courage that says
all shall be well
doesn’t mean feeling no fear,
but facing it, trusting
God will not let go.

All shall be well
doesn’t deny present experience
but roots it deep
in the faithfulness of God,
whose will and gift is life”.

Let us give thanks that we have all been touched by the life of Mike Lawlor. With faith, let us give thanks that he has come to himself and to his God in light and love.  And may we live with hope and faith and great gratitude.  Amen.

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Developing a Sense of Faith

bears at tea detailA sermon for July 8, 2018, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.  The scripture readings are Ezekiel 2:1-5Psalm 1232 Corinthians 12:2-10, and Mark 6:1-13.

Listen to the sermon HERE

A friend sent me a funny cartoon the other day.  It’s from a comic strip called “Rhymes with Orange” and the cartoon showed two bears having a summer picnic.  Both were sipping from cups and there was a teapot between them on the blanket.  One bear says to the other, “What delicious tea!” and the other bear explains, “It’s hibiscus and honey infused with garbage and compost scraps.”

Bears are known for their sense of smell, but summer can activate our senses as well.  The sights, the smells, the tastes, the feelings, the sounds.  As advanced as humankind seems to be and seems to be becoming, we really are usually people of our senses, aren’t we? When we’re cooking, we go by smell and sight to determine if something is cooked. When we plant in the ground, we look for shoots or sprouts to know whether something is, in fact growing. When someone promises to undertake a certain task or project, we wait and we listen and we watch to see what will happen. We look for evidence.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, so often, we’re called to live by another sense, or by something beyond sense—we’re called to live by faith.  Like a parent teaching a child to walk, it can feel like God is urging us, teaching us, pulling us up so that (as St. Paul puts it) we can learn to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel is called upon again and again to walk by faith, to believe that God is leading him and is showing the way. In today’s reading, Ezekiel is warned that there are going to be lots of people who will not get it. They won’t understand. They will try to see, but their eyes will fail them. They will try to hear, but their ears will be of no use. But, God says, “if you’re true to yourself, and true to the person I’ve called you to be, then they will know one thing: a prophet has been among them.” So don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed, just keep praying and moving and being faithful.

Jesus has the same problem in many places as he preaches and teaches and heals. In today’s Gospel he runs into local opposition. The very people who know him best cannot reconcile the Son of Mary with the Son of God. It’s doesn’t compute. It’s doesn’t flow. It can’t be charted out and explained and rationalized and proven. To perceive Jesus as the Christ, to receive Jesus as the Son of God, come to redeem us and live in us and be with us through death and into everlasting life— this takes faith.

In the Fourth Century, women and men left the cities and went into the desert to look for God.  These desert mothers and fathers and those who have taken matters of the Spirit seriously ever since have prayed for a balance in the senses so that faith might be developed more strongly. There is a tradition in some places of maintaining “custody of the eyes” so that one’s gaze might be directed more upon God. There is the tradition of fasting, so that one’s hunger would be less for carbohydrates and more for Christ. There is the tradition of silence so that the inner voice of God’s Holy Spirit might be heard. Christian ascetics take seriously this spiritual training of the senses—the training, itself being a kind of faith—so that a deeper faith and reliance upon God might be developed and sustained.

There are lots of ways of developing our sense of faith, but it all begins with asking God for help.  Asking—no matter how you picture God, no matter whether you really believe in God, no matter whether you’re struggling to find a God who is different from the caricature-god you might have been told about, growing up— whoever or whatever “God” is for you, begin the way of faith by asking. In the Christian tradition, we look to Jesus to show us the way, so Christ becomes the way we focus our request for help, for direction, for strength, for clarity, for love.

The old question of which comes first: the chicken or the egg has an analogous one arising from today’s scriptures. Which really comes first? Faith or evidence of faith? Faith or mighty works? “Jesus could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” It’s as though somehow their unbelief, their lack of believing, their disbelief, and their skepticism prevented them from seeing or receiving any miracle that Jesus might do among them.

Whether it’s through long walks, visits to quiet places, a retreat or even silence in the midst of a crowd, may we take time this summer to practice training our senses, and to include in that an openness to developing a deeper sense of faith.  May the Holy Spirit develop within us the kind of faith that leads us through loving trust; that allows God to work wonders, make miracles and do mighty works.


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Remembering Jackie Albert (1922-2018)

Christmas 2016

Christmas Day 2016

Thoughts for the Memorial Service on July 7, 2018 for longtime parishioner Jackie Albert, who served on the altar guild at Holy Trinity for over 60 years. The Gospel is John 14:1-6.

The Gospel we have just read is from the New Revised Standard Version, an update of an update of the King James Bible.  In the King James Bible, verse 2 is famously phrased “In my father’s house there are many mansions …”

If that is the case, I imagine Jackie approaching heaven, being pointed to the mansions and saying something like, “Don’t you have anything smaller?”

Jackie was a small lady. And in some ways, Jackie lived what might be regarded as a “small” life.  But that would be misleading.  In fact, Jackie was always moving with a crowd.

In this life, she moved with a whole lot of people.  She wouldn’t go far without a former student coming up to her and saying hello.  Parents of former students would stop her in the street to thank her.  And even if Jackie were walking down the street alone, she carried with her the friends and family from the Yorkville neighborhood and beyond.  In her prayers, she carried even more people with her—so many that if we thought about it, it would seem amazing for such a small person to hold such weight.  Except, she held on to us all very lightly. She held other people—their stories, their fears, their worries, their joys, their dreams—but she held us all in God’s presence, and she knew that God always does the heavy lifting.

For some years now, Jackie not only moved with a crowd from the past, but also with a crowd in the future—those so many of her friends who died to this world but have risen to new life. When I met Jackie, about two and a half years ago, I was always confused when she talked about her friends, the ladies from church, many of whom attended the 8 AM worship service and some of who worked with her on altar guild.  I knew that her husband Jimmy had died years ago, but still, he was very much a part of her stories. And when Jackie spoke of Frances, Lillian, Cecilia, or Elsie, I had to think for a minute whether the person were living or dead.

Christians believe in the Communion of Saints, and we understand this Communion to be a living community of all those who have died and risen again to new life in Christ.

As Walt Whitman puts it so beautifully,

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. (Song of Myself)

Many of our local saints are gathered especially in that corner of the church, the Columbarium, where the ashes of the beloved dead are interred. Some might find our life with the dead-who-are-alive-again a little disrespectful.  We usually keep a piano over there, and on many Sunday mornings, the choir sits over there—from that part of the church come some of the most beautiful sounds known in Christianity—from chant to motets, to anthems to hymns, and everything in-between. We serenade our saints, and perhaps a few of them sing along.

On Sunday evenings when we have our Community Eucharist up here, around the altar, our fellowship time, our coffee time, is spent over here. We set up a table, wheel in the coffee, and enjoy each other—all in the presence of our saints.

Four mornings a week, we offer Morning Prayer in the Memorial Chapel and then, as with every Sunday and Wednesday, as people walk by the Columbarium, we pay our respects.  We remember. We say hello. We update and ask for advice. We give thanks and we pray.

In just a few minutes, we will inter earthly remains of Jackie Albert.  We will miss her accessibility and warmth, her gently correcting us when we set up for worship, and her gracefully presiding over every Sunday morning’s “Third Sacrament” (after Baptism and Eucharist, there was always Breakfast.)

But she is still close by.  She is fully part of the Communion of Saints now—praying for us, as always. Encouraging us, as always. And loving us, as always.

Let us pray.

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy  Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy matriarchs, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



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Asking for Help

jairus-daughterA sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2018.  The scripture readings are Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24Psalm 302 Corinthians 8:7-15, and Mark 5:21-43

Listen to the sermon HERE.

The other day, several of the Merricats-Castle preschool kids were in the garden with their parents. One little girl was exploring every corner, looking at the flowers, climbing on the bench, playing with her friend. But at one point, something she was playing with seemed to go into the bushes. Not quite sure what to do about it, she looked over at her mother and yelled, “Help!” Her mother stopped her conversation, went over, and helped solve the little girl’s problem.

As I watched the little girl ask for help easily and naturally, I wondered, “At what age do we stop doing that?” When do we begin to learn that it’s NOT ok to ask for help or that we should do everything ourselves? How often are we like that little girl—needing help, perhaps wanting help—and yet, we don’t ask?

Today’s Gospel introduces us to someone who does ask for help. But in order to ask for help, he must have overcome a lot of internal and external resistance. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue. He’s well known and probably successful in whatever he does. He’s someone people look up to, the sort of person you’d want running stewardship or chairing a mission project. He gets things done (and sometimes that means doing them yourself if you want them done right.) He is probably responsible and organized and runs a tight meeting.

But suddenly, with his little girl sick, he’s out of his field of expertise. He can’t control, manage, or direct. He can’t fix or persuade. He’s at his wit’s end. His daughter is getting worse and some are saying that she is going to die. Finally, out of resources, out of ideas, with no more options, Jairus reaches out to Jesus. Jairus asks God for help, and healing comes.

This story has a happy ending, but it’s the kind of story I sometimes worry about people hearing. Does this story always promise a happy ending? If a young parent with a very sick child comes to me, do I tell them this story as a means of hope, or do I carefully avoid talking about Jairus and his daughter, in case it gives false hope, in case it gives the impression that God always shows up right when we need it and that healing always comes with a cure?

Perhaps here is where we might recall that healing CAN involve a cure, but doesn’t always. If healing has to do with wholeness, with shalom, with God’s bringing things to a loving completion, then we will need to acknowledge that sometimes healing end s in death. That’s one aspect of the vast spectrum of healing, but we (and others in this room and beyond) also know that miracles of healing happen. People get better. A parishioner who risked losing her eyesight had surgery that included the doctor placing a tiny bubble in the back of her eye. The bubble filled the hole somehow and sight was preserved, a miracle made. Sometimes miracles involve medicine, and sometimes they are simply unexplained.

Miracles happen with prayer and with medical care. But today’s Gospel also points to the more mundane miracles in our lives—the ones that involve healing when someone asks for help.

After Jairus asked for help, his daughter is healed—but that’s just the most obvious part. The Gospel doesn’t go into detail about the other ways that I’m sure Christ brought healing—to Jairus, to his family, to their community, and on and on the healing circle goes. That’s the way healing works when we are humble enough to ask for help—it expands in all kinds of unimagined directions.

When I think of this kind of healing I think of a former parishioner I’ll call “Sarah.” Sarah was middle aged and never married. She had no living family except for one or two distant cousins. When she first received a diagnosis of cancer, she began on a course that would create miracle after miracle. She asked for help.

First Sarah asked friends for help understanding the diagnosis. Which course of treatment might be best? What were others’ experiences? In order to ask for help, she had to get to a new place of humility of realizing that there was no way she could absorb all of the information, do all the research, and weigh every detail alone. She needed help. But that was just the beginning.

Over the next five years, Sarah’s health had ups and downs. She continued to invite other people to help her—doctors and nurses, but also friends and new friends from church. She had one of these amazing spirits that would smile in the face of fear and make a joke about losing her hair during chemotherapy. Each time she got a new, dire diagnosis, she would plan a trip, and that really involved asking for help. In her last year of life, the doctors told her there was no way she could make a dreamed-for safari to Africa. But she felt ok and just kept praying and asking for help. She navigated transporting her medicines across international borders. She lined up emergency insurance and medical support. She had friends praying for her. And she made her trip, taking beautiful photographs that are now shown in an exhibition at our church.

After a long series of ups and downs, Sarah eventually died—peacefully. In the process she had empowered friends who had no idea what they were capable of. She had raised new issues and concerns about the retirement complex where she lived, including other voices and changing procedures and rules for the future. She slowly gave her two animals (probably her very best friends) to other friends, blessing those families with new life and adventure. And she gave her priest (me) the kinds of conversations one usually only imagines in seminary: “What do you think heaven will be like? How do I pray for people who have wronged me but who are dead? Did I fulfil my mission in life?—on and on the questions went, and the conversations continue to live in my head and heart. They sustain me and guide me in talking with others.

Healing that comes from the humility of asking, from a place of emptiness. But the other side of healing encourages generosity and the expansion of inner and outer resources people never dreamed they had.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is talking to the wealthy Corinthians almost shames them by telling them about the Macedonians. Look at the Macedonians, he says. They’re poor as church mice, but look how they insist on being a part of every campaign—they’re giving and making and serving and showing up. The Christians in Macedonia had created a culture of generosity. Even though they didn’t have much to share, they shared what they had. As anyone who has ever lived or served among the poor knows, it’s often the poorest of the poor who are the most generous. That’s because they’re used to asking for help. They live more often in a place of humility, so generosity is just that much more obvious.

Richard Rohr is a popular writer and priest of the Franciscan tradition. In one little book, he says, “to finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body” (Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 8-15).

To keep the head open, some kind of contemplative prayer or meditation helps.

To open up the heart, we take a look at our past, be honest with our relationships, allow for creativity, and actually allow our heart to broken, at some point.

For that third part—keeping the body open—Rohr says that the “body is like the ignored middle child in a family.” Having been ignored for so long, the body gets revenge through compulsive eating, sexuality, anorexia, and addiction…” The body needs to be reclaimed as being a part of God’s “good, generative force.” God called it good. God calls US good. And so, we try together, to pray and to live our prayers that God might open within us, “head, heart, and body,” so that we might be healed and might share healing with a wounded world.

As we celebrate this week that includes Independence Day, much of the national celebration will probably focus of the celebration of strength and success and power. Those can be good things and for them, we can offer honest thanks. But also, at least in our own lives, may we also be clear about our weak places. May the Spirit reveal our deficiencies, our inability to fix everything and control everyone. May we be aware of our neediness and ask for God’s help, that we, too, may know God’s healing and resurrecting love.

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


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Calm in the Chaos

Jesus_Calms_a_Storm-1181430957lA sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2018.  The scripture readings (from Track 2 of the lectionary) are Job 38:1-11Psalm 107:1-3, 23-322 Corinthians 6:1-13, and Mark 4:35-41

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Just north and east of us, in Harlem and in the Bronx, there are children who have tried to cross into the United States borders.  Some have come on their own and others have been separated from their families.  Regardless of how one feels about the pace of immigration reform in this country, or different ways of protecting borders, the mixture of chaos and coldness by too many first makes me angry and then makes me sad.  But also when I read or hear of interviews with some of the people involved, I get confused when various people invoke God.

Sometimes people seem to invoke a god I read about in the Old Testament—a god who orders people into battle and demands the slaughter of enemies.  My own formation as a Christian and my education as a priest have shown me how to read those scriptures in the context of a much larger history and story of God’s love for all creation.  And so, it shocks me when I hear people who are still following, worshipping, and willing to sacrifice for that old, violent god.

But then I’m also confused when I listen to those who are affected by the border crisis—those who flee violent homelands and those who offer them compassion—I listen when God is invoked, because as much as I would like to believe God is in charge and will take special care of “the least and the lowliest,” whether it’s our borders others’ borders, there is a global refugee crisis, and to me, it just doesn’t look like God is doing a very good job of taking care of people.

Why does God allow people to suffer?  Why does God allow for such chaos? Why does God allow evil so much room to roam?  The questions are as old as religion itself, and while there may be no clear answers in today’s scriptures, we will see that we’re not alone in asking.

It comes up in today’s Gospel when there’s a storm and the disciples get scared.  They ask Jesus bluntly, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” But in that case, Jesus is right there, and it soon seems clear that Jesus does care. He wakes up and does a miracle. The wind calms. The sea settles. Jesus cares. God cares, and in that situation a miracle saves the day and restores faith—at least for that afternoon.

The Old Testament character Job must have asked a similar question. “God, do you not care that I’m perishing?” If you recall the story of Job, you remember that he loses everything. He loses family, work, possessions, and finally, even his health begins to suffer. His so-called “friends” sound like anything-but as they give advice and talk, talk, talk, and talk at him. Surely Job has brought all of this upon himself in some way, they say. Surely he’s offended God in some way. Today we might call this “blaming the victim,” and while it’s as old as Job’s friends it’s also as recent as the commentators and politicians in our day.

What’s great about Job, and one reason why we have his story as a part of sacred scripture, is that Job never caves in to the moralistic, simplistic thinking of his friends. Instead, Job goes right to the source. Job prays and talks and even argues a little with God.

Our first scripture reading today is part of God’s answer to Job. It’s beautiful and poetic, but the spoken answer of God is not especially satisfying. It’s as though Job asks, “Why is there evil in the world?” And God says, “Creation IS.” But when Job asks “Why is there evil in the world that’s happening to me?” God responds by drawing closer. It’s like some of the more important conversations we might have: the content is less important than the proximity, the “being with.” God is present with Job. In storms and in good weather. In sickness and in health. In life and in death and in new life again.

What Job’s friends may have been trying to do, but did clumsily, is what Paul is trying to do with the church in Corinth in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. The Christians there had all sorts of problems – with each other and with Paul. But Paul cautions them not to lose hope—remember all we’ve been through, and the faith that has brought us this far. More specifically, Paul says, “As we work together with Christ, [don’t] accept the grace of God in vain.” Another translation puts it, “Don’t squander …[the] marvelous life God has given us.”

Here, I think Paul hits on something that was not only a problem for first century Christianity, but also a huge problem for twenty-first century Christianity. Grace has come to us. It comes at our baptism or before. Grace perhaps comes again at other times in life, but we forget. We get distracted. We are overcome by the storms of life so that all we see is the rising water and the crashing waves, the lightening and the thunder. We say to ourselves, “Sure, God calmed that storm, but what about this one.” Sure, God was with me when I narrowly escaped a car accident. God was with me on the other side of the successful surgery. But what about the complicated issue of THIS day? What about tomorrow?

When we “accept the grace of God in vain” we still think of ourselves as Christians, but it just doesn’t mean much. We forget the power of Christ. And that’s what grace is—not a soft, wispy glow that comes over us when we’re good or when God thinks we’re special.

Grace is power! It’s the power of right over wrong. Grace is the power to love in the face of hatred. Grace is the power of life over death. Grace is the presence of Christ.

When we take that in vain, we’ve lost our voice, we’ve lost our power, we’ve lost ourselves.

On Friday, someone died who was a friend and former parishioner at a church I previously served.  Dick Leitsch had been an early member of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights groups in the country.  Dick and his friends tried to take a lesson from the Civil Rights “sit ins,” and so he and his friends decided to stage what they called “sip ins,” calmly going into bars, telling the bartender they were gay, and then seeing if they got served.  Most bars and restaurants would not serve gay or lesbian people and could risk their liquor license or worse, if they did.  The Stonewall raid and riots opened things up dramatically in 1969, but Dick Leitsch’s group had paved the way.

The Mattachine Society was accused by others of being too slow, too subtle, too patient.  But Dick just kept going.  Over time, it paid off.  He did the same thing in other aspects of his life, as well—with relationships, with friends, with work, and with church—all areas where initially Dick was rejected, told he was a misfit, and shut out.

Dick Leitsch never took God’s grace for granted, but used for love’s sake.  In his later years, every Wednesday afternoon, many other weekdays, and almost all the major feast days of the Church, Dick would be ushering in the back of the church, small-talking people, welcoming them, pointing out aspects of the architecture, and quietly living out God’s grace.

We MUST NOT take God’s grace in vain. As children of the living God, we have died to sin in the sacrament of baptism and we have been raised to new life in Christ. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. And that MEANS something. That MEANS everything.

In answer to the question that comes out of scripture and out of our lives, God does not let us perish. Things might not be easy and they might not look very good ahead, but the love of God surrounds us, the presence of Christ moves us forward, and the fire of the Holy Spirit helps us go with God’s energy of love and healing.

The storms of life will come for us and for others. We may feel as singled out and persecuted as Job, or we may feel like Job’s useless friends—unable to say or do anything to help. But God’s grace is never in vain. God’s grace enables us to love, and love, and love even more.

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

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