“Give up, let Jesus take over”

A Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 26, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served

but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give

themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom,

patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the

suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him

who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus

Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Give up, let Jesus take over

By the Happy Goodman Singers

Oh, give up, let Jesus take over, oh yeah

And He’ll make a way for you

Well, if you’ve got mountains that you can’t climb

Oh, and if you’ve got rivers that you can’t cross

And if you’ve got valleys that you can’t span

Let Jesus, let Jesus take a hold of your hand

Now if you got burdens too hard to bear

Oh, and if you load is more than your share

Kneel, kneel down, talk to Jesus because I, I know and I know He cares

And He’ll, He’ll make a way, make a way for us somehow

Sing it together, sing it, let Jesus take over

Oh, give up and let Jesus take over

Oh, give it up and let Jesus take over

And He’ll make a way, say He’ll make a way

He’ll make a way for you

There is a special field of theology called “ecclesiology.” The name is derived from two Greek words, “ecclesia,” and “logia.” While we could translate ecclesia as church—it really means “the gathered community.” Logia, as anyone who ever studied for the S.A.T. remembers is “words about, “or more commonly, “the study of.”

Ecclesiology asks essential, vital, and ultimate questions. What is the Church? What is the mission and purpose of the Church? What should the Church be doing? How should the Church operate? What does it mean to be a member of the Church? Who is allowed to be a member of the Church?

In an attempt to address these questions—and many others, Avery Cardinal Dulles, of happy memory, wrote a helpful book—which all Roman Catholic seminarians of my day were required to read. It was called “Models of the Church.” To greatly simplify the nuanced thought of Dulles, In it he addressed, among others, two primary models—“the Institutional,” and “The Charismatic.” Cardinal Dulles suggested that the conflict between these two ways of understanding the Church are at the very center of most of the conflicts and problems which the Church has experienced over the centuries. Because at the heart of this conflict is the issue of control!

Sadly, the need for control, the desire to control, and the actions taken to gain and maintain control have been like a drug for Christians. Once consumed, it never fully satisfied. And, when combined with fear, it led to actions which were counter-productive, because they brought about the very opposite of what the Church was supposed to be.

Inevitably, this need for control, leads to excess. At first, it appears to do a good thing—perhaps it clarifies a point which has been a source of anger and division. Perhaps it helps a community to move beyond a hurt or mistake, or failing. But all too soon, it begins to draw lines in the sand. Either you are with us or you are against us. Some are included, others are excluded. Sadly, it even goes farther—most of the Ecumenical Councils, for instance concluded with the famous sentence, “Those who hold the heresy, let them be anathema, let them be accursed, let them be damned!

This temptation is nothing new for Christians, Jesus addresses it head on in the Holy Gospel, According to Saint Mark, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

What a fascinating encounter. The disciples want to control the “Jesus brand.” They act as copyright police. The issue a lawsuit to force the outsider to cease and desist. This is our Jesus, not yours, only we have the right to say who will use his name. Only we have the right to say who will be included among his followers. It appears that their actions are motivated by fear. Unless they step in, who knows what this itinerant exorcist will do or say. What damage might he do? What will people think?

Jesus, though, operates from a place of trust. He is far more interested in including, rather, than excluding. He is willing to find common ground. He understands that his followers are going to have more than enough enemies, and wants them to find friends wherever they can. Jesus realizes that ultimately that his Abba is control, and that he can not be. And, so, he is not afraid to trust that God’s plan will best be accomplished when everyone is included and allowed to fulfill their vocation within the body of the gathered assembly. As he goes on to point out, that does not mean that there will not be conflicts, that does not mean that there will be disagreements, that does not mean that there will not be mistakes. But, if the leaders of the community are able to act with love, humility, and with a desire to serve and not control, they will be able to move forward in good, healthy, and holy ways.

There are the two opposites here, the call to enter into community, and the desire to shepherd the community together along the road to Beloved Community. God calls whomever God wills to  enter into community. That is beyond the control of humans. It is the community who receives those persons who show up at the door. The question is how will they be received? Over the centuries this has been a real challenge.

What if the person is a






What if they are





What if they are a




         From a group which we have identified as our enemy

What if they are






What if they are

         Ill: physically, mentally, emotionally

         Are addicted to alcohol or some other drug

         What if they appear dangerous

         What if they are a criminal

         What if they have been incarcerated

What if they are

         Not Christian

         Hurt by religion

         Spiritual but not religious

What are we to do? What does Jesus want us to do? Are we willing to run the risk of welcoming them? Are we willing to invite them to join with us at our table? Are we willing to share with them the Sacraments? All the sacraments, or only some? Are we willing to pray with them, to help them discern the vocation which God has given them? Are we willing to help them find their place around our altar, and at our business meeting? Are we willing to give them a voice, to allow them to use that voice, and to prayerfully discern what God is telling us through them?

So many have been hurt, abused, wounded, and damaged by people of faith. It is not so much that they do not want to be people of faith. Rather, it is that they are afraid to trust again. They have been told that they are evil, sinful, flawed. They have had scripture quoted at them, and well-meaning people point out their flaws, mistakes, and errors. They have been threatened with the fires of hell. No wonder they are afraid to walk through our doors. And yet, in so many cases, they have a hunger for God, a longing for community, a desire to find a home.

What might it mean to them if we said: “Welcome,” and really meant it? What might it mean if we told them that God loves them, that they are beautiful, and that in them we see a reflection of God. What might it mean if we thank them for the gift that they are, for the talents which they offer to share with us? What might it mean if we apologize for the hurt which they have experienced—even if we did not cause that harm or hurt? What might it mean if we really listened to them, and made them feel that they had been heard?

As good Anglicans, we are not people of either/or, we are people of both/and. We are not afraid to find a way to reconcile the Institutional and the Charismatic. But, we must know this, we are entering an age and time in which new expressions of the Charismatic are being poured out by God. The challenge for the Institution will be to celebrate, to welcome, to include—and above all to trust that this is the work of God. We must respond then with trust in God, and with thankful hearts because of the wonderful ways in which God is doing new and exciting things here and now.

The Rev. Canon Dale Grandfield and the Canon Sandy Milien representing the Diocese of Bethlehem at the annual Lehigh Valley Pride-in-the-Park celebration, August 15, 2021.

“Let us take up our cross.”

A Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday. September 12, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Si alguien no le sigue, por no llevar su cruz. Yo sigo, yo sigo, yo sigo a mi Jesús.

Yo sigo, yo sigo, yo sigo a mi Jesús.

If anyone will not follow him, by taking up their cross, I will follow, I will follow, I will follow my Jesus. I’ll follow, I’ll follow, I’ll follow my Jesus.

Crux sacra Patris Benedicti,” the “Cross of Holy Father Benedict.”

The reality of the Twenty-First century, for members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, is that the middle of the month has two transformative commemorations. September 11th and September 14th. Only three days apart, these memorials could appear to recall and commemorate two great defeats, two great tragedies, two moments of despair and anguish. But yet, there is another aspect to both—a connection which unites them—and which suggests that there is a very different meaning found hidden within them. The recollection of the massacre of the innocents in the City of New York, the Pentagon, and on a lonely hill in Pennsylvania—and the Feast of the “Finding or the Triumph of the Holy Cross.”

The mystery which lies at the center of September 11th and September 14th is that of suffering: human, divine, personal, collective, and even the suffering of creation. This is the question with which every faith; every culture, every race and place have grappled. Why does suffering occur? Does it have some meaning? Or is it proof that there is ultimately no meaning at all? Is suffering something which happens to only a few or is it an essential part of what it means to be human?

Jesus confronts this very issue in the passage which we hear today from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark. In Mark, this is the first (of three) predictions of his passion, suffering, and death. Clearly, he takes his disciples by surprise: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

This is not what they want to hear. Peter, even goes so far as to tell Jesus that he is wrong, he is mistaken. After all, he has just proclaimed his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one who has come to bring about good things-not to suffer. He can not imagine any possible reason for suffering. He denies it because that does not fit into his narrow conception of who Jesus is, who God is, who humans are.

It is helpful to remember here that Jesus is not actually telling Peter that he is the devil, or that he is channeling Lucifer. The word Satan literally means adversary or opponent. Peter is opposing God’s plan and is becoming a stumbling block to Jesus and to Beloved Community. So, it is Peter who will have to change, to grow and to learn—and he will.

Jesus has a clear-eyed perspective of what this will mean in his own life and for his own ministry—in his own vocation to seek and find God “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”

Jesus understands, and explains to his closest friends, to his chosen family, that he will encounter great suffering and that, when this happens, it will appear as if though it is a great tragedy. His disciples will be traumatized, will scatter, will lose hope, and will hide out in fear. They will believe that all their hopes and longings were in vain. They will taste bitterness, and fear. They will quite simply give up. They will surrender to despair.

And yet, it will be in that very moment that something new will happen. Something unexpected, something that is so surprising and unimaginable that it will literally be gospel, good news.” Because the narrative will not end as Jesus broken body is taken down from the cross and his lifeless corpse is held in the arms of his sorrowful mother. It will end at the empty tomb and the glory of the Resurrection.

Then, it will be part of the daily experience of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus, anyone who chooses to take up, to carry, to wear as a yoke about their neck, the Holy Cross. They will become not people of great suffering, but children of the Resurrection!

When confronted with evil, with sin, with suffering, we really do not know what to say. We want to be helpful. We want to console, to encourage, and to be a source of strength and hope. Yet, we really are clueless. In our ineptitude, we say, as the old show phrased it so well, “the darndest things.” I must tell you that the greatest damage I have witnessed among families and friends, has come at Funerals. Well-meaning people say the most unimaginable and thoughtless things. Rather than helping, they just make those who are suffering feel worse. Rather than encouraging them, they find that their hurt, sorrow, and pain are renewed. It would have been far better to have said nothing, and just to have been present! Sometimes those wounds are so deep that they never really heal. Relationships are damaged forever.

Sadly, the Christian message too has been twisted to such a degree that it appears to be just the opposite of what was intended. Rather than being life-giving, liberating, emancipating and hopeful, it becomes oppressive, burdensome, and manipulative. When suffering is viewed as punishment, chastisement, or curse, there is no sense of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, or healing. There is no hope.

The crucifixion, I was taught in seminary, is not about how much Jesus suffered. It is about how much he loved. And it was that all-encompassing, bottomless abyss of love that made the difference. It was that love which transformed the suffering which Jesus accepted and made it into sacrifice—literally sacra facere-to make sacred, to make holy. It was on that altar of the cross that Jesus united to himself every hurt, every wound, every bruise, every tear which would ever exist and poured out his life in love. This means that, in that moment, in that final and conclusive act of loving sacrifice, the ultimate value and purpose of suffering is revealed. It is that God completely and fully knows suffering. It is that God’s love will not be overcome by suffering, It is that when all seems lost, and hopeless, and impossible, God will speak a final word. That word is life, that word is love, that word is Resurrection!

As disciples of Jesus, then, we have a new understanding. Rather than carrying the cross of Jesus, it is now Jesus who carries our cross. Rather than choosing to join our suffering to the suffering of Jesus, it is that Jesus is now present to us, that Jesus chooses to unite himself to our suffering. It is that every act of hurt, every act of violence, every act of hatred, discrimination, oppression, selfishness, and of cruelty is confronted by God—and will ultimately be transformed by love.

As the abused, tortured, broken, lifeless corpse of Jesus hung in defeat on the cross, the Roman soldier pierced his sacred heart with a lance. Water and Blood flowed forth. Water of healing, of a new creation, of Baptism. Blood of the new and eternal covenant. Solace for those who thirst for redemption, for salvation, for healing, for comfort, for consolation, and for hope.

Remember that in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we were anointed with oil, were marked with the sign of the cross, and were marked and claimed as Christ’s own forever! We were incorporated into the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ.

To take up and to carry our cross means that we do all in our power to live as people of love, to work with all our might to make holy and sacred the suffering which we experience and encounter—to bring it to an end, whenever it lies in our power to do so–and to transform it into good news. Jesus reminds us that whenever we are mindful of those who suffer, and care for them in their pain and sorrow, we minister to him in his own pain and hurt.

May we then find in our experience of suffering and death the promise of Resurrection, and so live as people of hope.