“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.

“Hungry and Restless for God.”

A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

August 15, 2021

Preached at La Parroquia Catedral de la Natividad

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Lord Jesus, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, you gave us a memorial of your passion, death and resurrection. Grant that we may venerate the sacred mysteries of your body and blood in such a way that we sense within us the fruit of your redemption. Who lives and reigns with the Father  in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Gift of Finest Wheat

You satisfy the hungry heart

With gift of finest wheat

Come give to us, O Saving Lord

The Bread of Life to eat

As when the shepherd calls his sheep

They know and heed his voice

So when you call your family Lord

They follow and rejoice

With joyful lips, we sing to you

Our praise and gratitude

That you should count us worthy Lord

To share this Heavenly food

Is not the cup we bless and share

The blood of Christ outpoured?

Does not one cup, one loaf declare

Our Oneness in the Lord?

You satisfy the hungry heart

With gift of finest wheat

Come give to us, O Saving Lord

The Bread of Life to eat

Author: Omer Westendorf (1976)
Tune: BICENTENNIAL

500 hundred years ago, Christians in Western Europe were engaged in a vicious and often bloody conflict over exactly what it was that happened during the Mass, the Holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. One group contended that at the words of Consecration, the very reality of the bread and wine were changed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Another group suggested that Jesus became present in a very real but mysterious way. They rejected terms like “transubstantiation,” and preferred not to even try to come up with a term or phrase which explained what happened. They had learned to be cautious about the use of philosophical terms, and feared that too much defining created a kind of rigid and narrow view. Others rejected the notion of Sacraments at all. They argued that this was just a symbolic gesture which recalled something which had happened in the life of Jesus. For some of them, the washing of feet which was a part of their celebration was just as important as anything which happened with bread and wine. And finally, there was a quite interesting group which said that what really happened at the Eucharist was the consecration of the gathered community into the Body of Christ.

Each of these groups claimed that their own view was clearly and unmistakably supported by the Christian Scriptures. Each of these groups anathematized and damned anyone else who did not agree with them. And, in some cases, even went so far as to torture, abuse, and kill those with whom they disagreed. I am sorry to say that it was not the finest moment for Christianity!

I don’t think that there is much point in saying much more about Eucharistic theology today, other than that it sems to me that the words of Princess Elizabeth of England, before the death of her sister, Queen Mary, are as good an explanation as anything else I have ever read about this topic:

“Twas God the Word that spake it,

He took the Bread and brake it:

And what that Word did make it,

That I believe and take it.”

Today, I would like to reflect with you on the famous passage from the Holy Gospel According to Saint John, which is often referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Without focusing on particular and specific words, I would invite us to consider what the passage as a whole might tell us about God, about what it means to be human, and how all of this might assist us in our desire to truly become a Beloved Community—also known as the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

The first thing which immediately occurs to me is that even before he preaches, teaches, or explains anything to those who are following him, Jesus takes action. He notices that there are hungry people. And he feeds them. Only after that does he engage in a dialogue with them. When we encounter people who are starving, God challenges us to feed them—not to try to convert them, not to try to educate them, not to try to equip them for ministry and service. This is essential. We have to honestly acknowledge that for some, this is all that they will feel they need or want. That is ok. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, protecting widows and orphans, welcoming foreigners and caring for those with any need—these are ends in themselves and need no other justification than that is what Christ has commanded us to do!

It is insulting to speak to someone who is starving about the life to come—it is insulting to them, and it is insulting to God! This is the very thing which Marx and others condemned. This is “pie in the sky” theology—and it has nothing to do with authentic Christianity. First, those who are starving must be fed, they must be cared for, they must be loved. Only then, do we have the right, as Saint Paul would tell us, to “give an explanation of the reason for the hope which is in us.”

Do we know what it is like to be truly hungry? Most of us have never starved. We might have missed an occasional meal or two. There might have been times that we were not able to eat the meals which we might have preferred. But very few of us understand the horror of real hunger pains! Few of us know what it is to fear that we will not find something to eat. Few of us know what it is like to wonder if we will survive. Few of us can even imagine what it is to go to sleep in pain, aching, because our bodies crave a morsel of bread or a sip of clean water. But in our world, even in our country, state, and county, there are people who experience debilitating hunger as a daily reality. A Beloved Community is one in which the gracious abundance which God freely gives is shared so that the needs of every person are met!

There are many kinds of hunger: physical, mental, spiritual. Each of these hungers is valid. God desires to feed all who are hungry in any way–and in every way–with an abundance which will surpass any hunger or longing which they ever experience.

Among the many kinds of hunger, though, there are three which seem to me to be paramount—after the first physical craving for nourishment is satisfied: the hunger for God, the hunger for community, and the hunger for the beauty of creation.

In the passage from the Gospel of John, after Jesus feeds the crowd, they follow him. Some of them are looking for another free meal. But many others are looking for more than that. Jesus engages them. He takes time to speak with them, to get to know them, and to hear from them the longings and desires of each heart. Then, and only then, does he share with them an invitation to go deeper—to lean more, and then to become disciples. Jesus gives us the very model of evangelism. We do not preach to those we do not know. We get to know them first, identify with them, listen to them explain their needs, desires, and longings. Then we share with them the way that God has satisfied our own longings and desires—individually and collectively.

It is all about relationships. Only if we are in relationship with God will we be able to help others to find a way to connect with God. Only if we have prayed, we be able to help others learn to pray. Only if we have read the Holy Scriptures, will we be able to assist others to listen to God speaking through them. Only if we have washed the feet of others will we be able to help them to find ways of loving and serving others in turn.

Above all, we must never try to impose our own experience on others. What has worked for us may not work for them! But we can give them a template and invite them to find ways of using it in their own journey towards God. I will go so far as to say that the hunger and longing for God is the most basic need of the human heart. It is foundational. Without encountering God and experiencing God’s transforming love, I do not think that we will ever really know lasting happiness. There will always be an emptiness, a vacuum inside us! It was Saint Augustine who wrote of this reality so beautifully: “Our hearts are restless, O God, and will find no rest until they rest in you.”

We were not created to be lonely. We were made for relationship. This means that we are called to not only to seek God, but to find and experience God in community. The beauty of authentic community is that it is diverse, inclusive, and comprehensive! Those who are well-connected often feel that it is easy to enter into community. It is often not the case. Some people have been hurt and wounded by community. Some have been exiled, excluded, shunned, and rejected. Some are fearful of giving community another try for fear that they will be rejected again. Some find that they live in large cities and do not know anyone. Some know lots of people, but do not feel that they really have any friends.

True community, beloved community, has the power to heal the loneliness which so many experience. It has the capacity to encourage, empower, affirm, and enable in a way that quite no other entity can ever do. The power of that love, welcome, and inclusion, can be transformative—even life-changing! True community has the ability to help each of us overcome our limitations and liabilities and develop our potential.

A wise monk once told me, community is like carrying a small back full of rough stones. Over time, those stones will rub together as you walk. Eventually, all the rough edges will be removed, and the stones will become smooth. The character and beauty of each of the stones will then be revealed. True community is productive and generative. It produces abundance to share with others. It is in true community that each of us finds our vocation, our calling, our purpose.

When God created humans, we were placed in a garden. Later, we were given responsibility to care for and to nurture creation. It is in that work of tikkun olam, as Jewish mystics call it, of “working to heal and repair wounded creation,” that we become co-creators with God. We experience the beauty of creation, we become creative. We become artists, artisans, craftspersons. We take the gifts of creation with which God blesses us in such abundance and we transform them into offerings for the world. Our act of offering them to God allows them to be made holy, to be made sacred, to become food and drink for those who hunger and thirst.

The offertory prayers used in Judaism and many Christian traditions speak of this “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. You give us bread from the earth and the fruit of the grape. By the work of human hands they are transformed into bread and wine. And you transform these gifts into our Spiritual food and drink.” From creation, from human work, from the outpouring of God’s Spirit, we receive the very Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.

You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the Bread of Life to eat. And then, dear Lord, transform us into bread to be broken for others, and wine to be poured out in loving service to all who long and hunger–for you, for community, and for your presence in creation.

“Get up and eat.”

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

August 8, 2021

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Eliyahu hanavi, Eliyahu hatishbi, Eliyahu hagiladi. Bimheirah b’yameinu,  yavo eileinu,  im Mashiach ben David.

Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah of Gilead. May he come, and with him soon, bring the Messiah, the Son of David.

“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” The window is located in the Chapel of the Church of Saint Bartholomew in the City of New York.

This haunting song about Elijah the Prophet is one of my favorites. In part, that is because it was one of the very first songs which I learned in Hebrew. It is also, because this is a song about my favorite person from the Hebrew Scriptures. As a child, I remember hearing the story of the very mysterious “death” of Elijah, if we can use that term, in Sunday School. And, over the years, I have delighted each time I have found a new image of the fiery chariot taking Elijah up into heaven.

From an early Christian perspective, and from a monastic one, Elijah was the great exemplar of what it means to be a faithful follower of God. He is called “The Man of God,” and it is clear that he served as the model which Pope Saint Gregory the Great used when he told the story of the life of Saint Benedict. There is something about his story which captures our imagination, and which engages us in a very deep way.

We just heard the account of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ this past Thursday. In it, the two greatest prophets of Judaism appeared with him on the mountain—Moses and Elijah. They advised, him, comforted him, encouraged him-as he was transfigured by the Power of His Father’s love—and then left the mountain to begin his final journey to Jerusalem.

In Jewish thought, Elijah will reappear to bring with him the Messiah, the Son of David. The Gospels which include the account of the Transfiguration want to make sure that we understand that this is what is happening on the mountain. Moses and Elijah present our Lord as the Messiah, and welcome in the Messianic Era. It is, thus, not only God’s validation of the essential reality of who Jesus is—it is the endorsement, the ultimate “seal of approval” by the Jewish faith as well.

Rabbinic Judaism, though, did not—and does not—see in Jesus the fulfillment of the Promised “Anointed One” of God. And, thus, to this day, this lovely hymn of longing and expectation continues to be sung at the Sabbath meal at home, and each year at the Seder—when the door is opened to welcome in the Prophet Elijah.

There are a few themes, that I would like to briefly explore with you today, taken from our First Reading today, and from the Scriptural account of the Prophet Elijah.

Elijah turns our expectations of God upside down! We often think that “seeking God,” is something which we have to do. As a result, we expend a great deal of time, energy, and effort, in trying to open ourselves to God’s presence in the world. Now that is not a bad thing, at all, but it ignores an important fact. Long before it ever occurred to us to look for God, God was already looking for us. We are not left on our own on the quest to find God. God lovingly and graciously gives us numerous opportunities to encounter God. Even if we miss most of them, God has a way of finding us—and almost always at the exact time which we most need God. There is a saying which we sometimes here, “God’s timing is perfect.” I think that we can all testify to a healing, loving, and comforting word, presence, or person whom we have received at moments of pain, suffering, confusion, and uncertainty in our lives. At the moment it happened, we may not even have appreciated how significant this was. In looking back, though, we understand how powerful—and even life, changing this encounter was!

Elijah teaches us that God is not so much found in dramatic things—not in tornadoes, not in earthquakes, not in public spaces—but in the terrifying quiet of the silence in the cave. Thus it is, that we are called to lay aside our own prejudices and stereotypes. After all, they can be an obstacle to us. If we believe that only a true encounter with God includes lightning, brilliant and blinding light, thunder, and trumpets—we may well be disappointed. But, if we allow it, God will come to us in unexpected ways. And here, I think that it is important to affirm, that this is something which God intends for each of us—and not just for a few. God wants each of us to encounter God, and to be transformed by God’s love.

As one brief example of this, Vatican II spoke of the various presences of God which we find at the Eucharist. God is present in the community gathered, God is present in the Word—proclaimed, heard and preached. God is present in the Ministry of those who act in the Person of Christ. And God is found in the broken bread and in the chalice of wine-poured-out.

God is found in the Sacrament of Baptism in which persons are washed in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—are marked as Christ’s own forever, and are sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is found in the other Sacraments (or Sacramental Rites for those who prefer that language) in which we are empowered, healed, forgiven, bless and are blessed, and sent forth as witnesses to Christ.

Elijah reminds us that not only is God mysterious, we are mysterious too! We are each created in the image and likeness of God. We are given unique talents, abilities, and gifts. There is no one else quite like us. We have the opportunity to make a difference in a way that no one else can or will. God wishes to use us to affirm, encourage, love, and invite others into Beloved Community. That means that each interaction we have is fraught with potential. It opens the door for us to encounter God—and for others, through us, to encounter God as well. An important thought here is that everyone is important. No one is insignificant. Every single person has worth, value, beauty, and potential. Each person is needed in God’s community—no one can be excluded or left outside!

Elijah challenges us to celebrate our humanity-and not to dismiss, disparage, or apologize for it. I love the very honest conversations which Elijah has with God. He is not afraid to tell God that he is hungry, that he is tired, that he is frustrated, that he is depressed and unhappy. Things have not worked out for him the way that he hoped, or wanted, or wished. The evil Jezebel has put a contract on his life to anyone who will bring him in “dead or alive.” And at his weakest moment he wonders if he has made any difference at all? He wonders if anything he has done matters? I have no reason to think that this is just wallowing in self-pity. Elijah acknowledges the reality of the human condition. This is often what it is like to be human! Elijah asks the questions which each of us will ask—and perhaps more than once in our lives. And yet, despite all that, Elijah takes a nap, has a meal, and gets up and goes on his way. He perseveres—even when there seems to be no reason to hope. In that way, he is a reminder to us of what faith is all about.

Finally, Elijah inspires us to believe that God is active in ways which we do not understand. God has a plan! We are part of this plan, but it is much greater than each of us individually-or of all of us collectively. We see that fully when we hear our Lord Jesus Christ speak of himself as the Bread which came down from heaven. God’s gift to the human family is far greater than anything we can imagine or anything for which we can long. God’s love can fill every hunger, longing, and desire of the human heart. God wants to transform us, transfigure us, and shape us into being Women and Men of God! We need a Messiah, and God has given us one!

What we can not do on our own efforts and under our own power, God can and will do! Elijah has indeed come again. May he come this day, and every day, and open our eyes to see Jesus Christ—the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God, the Bread of Life come down from heaven!

Shepherds and Sheep

A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 18, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you, bring the nations into your fold, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Our readings are full of imagery about Shepherds today. If we heard these words, only in a superficial way, our minds might be full of lovely images of sheep grazing in green fields with the occasional wildflower for desert—with fluffy clouds floating far above their heads. It might almost be a scene from “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” And for anyone who has seen it, what an amazingly beautiful film that was!

Sheep, though, and those who would shepherd them, are far more complicated. Left to their own devices, sheep have a tendency to get into trouble—and rarely the good kind! It is not that they are stupid, or malicious, or even difficult. It is rather that they are designed for community—for life together. But, they appear to lack the ability to work together, unaided. They are in need of a Shepherd. Without the love, guidance, and compassionate care of a shepherd, they will fail to achieve the potential-and they will quickly devolve into chaos.

For instance, I remember one of the very first passages of Scripture which I memorized as a Southern Missionary Baptist Child, some fifty years ago at Vacation Bible School, “All we like sheep have gone astray, turning each to his own way.” Talk about herding cats—sheep could give them a run for their money any day of the week.

There are also those heart-rending images in the Gospels of the lost sheep who just wonders off one day, and quickly finds that they are in serious trouble. An old hymn, “The Ninety and Nine,” speaks powerfully of the difficulty which the shepherd finds in rescuing the piteously bleating lost sheep:

But the Shepherd made answer: “This Of Mine

Has wandered away from Me.

And although the road be rough and Steep,

I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew

How deep were the waters crossed;

Nor how dark was the night the Lord Passed through

Ere He found His sheep that was lost.

Out in the desert He heard its cry;

‘Twas sick and helpless and ready to Die.

Sadly, not all the sheep even have a shepherd. That line from the Gospel according to Saint Mark pierces our heart with sadness, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus, we are told, had compassion on these poor hungry sheep. Compassion—a word which literally means “to suffer with.” Jesus did not have sympathy, nor did he experience concern. He suffered with those lost sheep. He entered into their suffering in unity. He understood their pain, their hurt, their hunger, But more than that, he joined with them. He united their suffering with his own. And that made all the difference.

Reflecting on the metaphor of Sheep, and of Shepherds, we begin to understand it in a new way. No wonder our Sacred Scriptures, Hebrew and Christian, chose to use this imagery. It is not only that they raised sheep—and thus new from personal experience the difficulties which that vocation entails. It is rather that they had the wisdom to see in the reality of the sheepfold echoes of their own experience with each other and with God.

It is no accident that the greatest King of Israel, Daivd, was a shepherd. He had already proven his ability with sling and stone by chasing away or slaying bears and wolves long before he challenged Goliath. And yet, he was a flawed shepherd, who, as the prophet Nathan told him point blank, had slaughtered the sheep entrusted to his care—Uriah the Hittite—and then taken his partner in adultery, Bathsheba, to be his wife.

The Prophet Jeremiah too speaks of the evil of bad shepherds who fail in their responsibility to love, care for, and to protect the sheep entrusted to their care: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.”

I do find it interesting that we have not seemed to take the metaphor of the Good Shepherd to a logical place which it seems to lead us. The proclamation of our belief in the Incarnation could be expressed in a powerful and engaging way. What if we spoke of Jesus, not exclusively as a Shepherd, but first and primarily as a sheep. What might John have meant when he referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Lay aside, for a moment the focus on “taking away the sin of the world.” If we are sheep, and Scripture seems to suggest that, at least metaphorically, we are, what does in mean for God to become a sheep with us? What does it mean to have a shepherd who has lived as a sheep? A shepherd who understands the complexity, the beauty, and the pain of that life. Not just someone who has a theoretical knowledge of sheep, but one who, from his own experience “gets it.”

This Shepherd, though, is filled with compassion. This Shepherd will not allow the sheep of his flock to wonder off on their own, uncared for, unprotected, unloved. As the Prophet Jereimah goes on to instruct us, this Good Shepherd will follow the very example of the loving God who created the sheep in the first place: “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.”

In the Gospel of Mark that is exactly what we find. What does Shepherd Jesus do? “When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

It would be easy to end there, with our hearts filled with loving images of Jesus as Good Shepherd. That would certainly let us off the hook. But Mark reminds us that Jesus also chose others to go out and to assist him in shepherding the sheepfold. Among them he chose Apostles—and today we hear of their returning from their first mission to tell Jesus what had happened. In speaking of them collectively, we sometimes use the Greek word for “overseer,” episkopos—bishop. Remember that we are a Catholic Church (of the English variety). We have Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. As a symbol of their authority—and of their responsibility, our Bishops (of any gender and gender-identity) use a shepherd’s staff, or a crook. It is these shepherds who provide the visible unity which keeps us together as a flock. It is not a question of bureaucracy or of an annual assessment, but rather of bonds of affection, unity, love and service which truly make possible the reality of Beloved Community.

Once again, if we stopped there, that would be comforting and would let us off the hook. Oh, we might say, “Shepherding is something that the ordained do.” It has nothing to do with me! But, if we pause for just a moment, where do those ordinands come from? They come from families. Anyone who is a mother, father, sister, or bother knows what it is to shepherd! They also understand the complexity of the sheep-fold. They know what it is like to struggle to find and rescue lost sheep. Who know, at some point they may have been a lost sheep too! They might be one even now!

In Baptism, we are all called to share in the ministry of Christ: Priest, Prophet, King—and yes, Shepherd. So, as we go on our way, let us listen attentively to the cries, all around us, of sheep in need of compassion, love, and healing. If we can not care for them ourselves, we can at least bring them to the safe shelter of the fold where other shepherds will be able to meet their needs,

“Do we not care?”

A Sermon for

the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 20, 2021

preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

Almighty and most loving God, through your Son Jesus, who came among us as a slave choosing rather to serve his disciples than to be served by them; help us in our weakness not to seek to oppress others, nor to make peace with any form of exploitation, but in all things earnestly and of our own free will to seek to serve each other following Christ’s good example, this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the Juneteenth Liturgy of the Diocese of California

Rescue the perishing,

Duty demands it;

Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide.

Back to the narrow way patiently win them;

Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing,

Care for the dying.

Jesus is merciful,

Jesus will save.

I have a memory from my adolescence of being at home with my sisters. Daddy and Momma had built a basketball court for us just above the house. It was a Summer day, and we were outside playing. We were apparently making a lot of noise. Daddy was trying to take a nap and we must have awakened him. He told Momma, “Tell those children to go home.” She replied to him, “I can’t, they are ours.” When she told us, we thought that was hilarious. Poor Daddy, I am sure that he was exhausted—he was a very hard worker. And yet, that was the cost of being a father. We were indeed his children and could not be sent away. In retrospect, I just hope it wasn’t Father’s Day!

I would like to take a moment today to acknowledge all our Fathers, Grandfathers, Step-Fathers, Godfathers, and all who serve in a “father-like” role. I include Uncles, and Mentors as well. May God Bless you in your vocation to love, provide, serve, protect, and nurture. This is such an essential role and truly a life-changing one. May your be strengthened when you grow weary and empowered to make God’s love real, present, and effective, in the lives of those entrusted to your care.

1) “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In the Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark, today, we hear the disciples say the most amazing thing to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This is a truly honest question, and is one which rings true to us from that very day to this one. It is a question which has meaning on so many levels, and is one which I would like to explore with you today.

In the context of this Gospel, it is a genuinely surprising question. It comes from commercial fishermen. They make their living fishing on the Sea of Galilee. I cannot imagine that they have never been caught in an unexpected storm before. And yet, there is something different about this storm. The short passage tells us only this, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” This must have been an unbelievably bad storm, indeed. Even for these experienced sailors, this is unexpected. They may have been in bad storms before, but this one has them terrified. They are literally at wit’s end. They have done everything in their power, and now they are hopeless. They fear that they are going to die.

And then, in their fear, their worry, their despair, they realize that Jesus is asleep. They think that he is unaware of what is going on. They are about to drown, and he is sleeping through it all. And so, they wake him from his sleep, and confront him. We are about to die. Don’t you even care? Are you just going to let this happen? Can’t you do anything? What is wrong with you?

Jesus might well have yawned, stretched, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and looked around. He clearly sees what is going on, recognizes the danger, understands the terror which has gripped those in the boat with him—and in the other boats which are with them, and then, in love, he acts. “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

Why is it, we might well ask, that Jesus reacts in such a radically different way in this circumstance. Why are the disciples so afraid, and Jesus is not? Well, of course, the Gospel does not actually tell us enough to know how Jesus felt. Clearly he understood what was going on. He was in a different place, though, he speaks from a place of trust. In another passage he tells his disciples that “fear is useless, what is needed is trust.” In short, he knows that even in the misdst of the worst storm imaginable, God is with them. And in a very practical way, he refuses to be incapacitated by fear. He responds in love and takes action. What is really being calmed? Is it only the waves, the storm, the wind? Or could it also be that Jesus speaks peace and calm to the storm-tossed friends all around him.

The answer-both literal, and metaphorical astonishes them. They are amazed, they are in awe! “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They recognize the presence of God. Their fear dissolves immediately, and they are now as shaken by that realization as they were previously shaken by the fear of the storm. Jesus, good teacher that he is, asks them a piercing question, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

I was curious when I read this last comment, and do I went to the Greek text of Mark to make sure. The Greek word, pistin does not mean necessarily mean “faith” in the way that we use the word—as in “don’t you believe?” Here it could mean, don’t you trust? Or, if Jesus were being sarcastic—and do remember that he had just been awakened from a sound sleep, his question might have been, “you still don’t get it?” I suspect that he is far gentler and more compassionate, though, and is really saying to them, “Look at what just happened. In the midst of this huge and fearful storm, God was present to us. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let fear control your lives and deprive you of hope.”

Of course, the story does not end there. They cross the lake safely, and continue their journey. In the days, and months, and years to come, they will encounter many other storms—some of which will be even worse. But we know that they will remember this incident, and that they will not always panic in the storms which follow.

2) “Are we not afraid that we are perishing?”

It seems to me that this Gospel passage wants to challenge us in another way. It invites us to examine the ways in which we find ourselves in storms throughout our lives-both as individuals, and as Beloved Community. What do we do when we realize that we are in peril? Do we allow the fears which overwhelm us to pull us under? Or, at the other extreme, do we become so blindly trusting that we nap in the boat and ignore the danger—naïvely trusting that God will take care of everything? To use another metaphor, if we discover that our house is on fire, what do we do? Do we have the good sense to get to safety? Do we rescue those who are with us in the house and gather outside? Do we then assess whether we can do anything to put the fire out, or do we realize that it is out of our control and quickly call 9-1-1?

For some of us, the past year or so, has made us feel that we were in a storm which might well pull us down. We were in a house that was on fire. In our country alone, more than 600,000 of our Sisters and Brothers have died from the Coronavirus. We have witnessed the brutal acts of violence against our Black, Colored, and Indigenous Siblings. We have seen failure and virtual collapse in the political structures which we had just taken for granted. It feels like we are in danger of perishing. The challenge then, is what do we do? Do we just wring our hands and say that it is “out of our control.” Do we choose to sit on the sidelines and do nothing? Do we just expect a miracle-that God will somehow take care of everything and make it all better. That might be more like a kind of magic, than faith or trust. Does not God expect us, and challenge us to do everything in our power to make a difference? Does not God ask us, in the language of Mother Jones to “pray for the dead and to fight like hell for the living?” Does not God ask us to do our part as well?

3) Are we not afraid that others are perishing?

A great danger is that we could fail to connect what we do here today to the rest of our lives. We could choose to use our time of worship as a consolation. While it is a true that they mystery of our encounter with God wants to heal us, restore us, and make us whole, there is more to it than that.

The Eucharist which we celebrate is not primarily a dessert for having lived a good week. It is rather bread for the road—strength, nourishment, and sustenance for the challenging week ahead. It is bread to be broken, to be shared with others. And so, this very meal invites us to be mindful of others. It invites us in the words of that fourth verse of the old hymn, “Rescue the Perishing,” to care for those who are dying, to patiently love them, and to proclaim to them good news. It is our duty, that song tells us. It invites us to trust as well. After all, we are not alone, God is with us, God is present in each encounter with others, God will provide the strength we need for this labor.

In these closing days of June, we are challenged by two significant secular celebrations. Yesterday, we celebrated for the fist time, the new Federal Holiday of Juneteenth. It reminds us of that joyous day in 1865 when the enslavement of kidnapped Africans and their descendants in this country were finally freed from the bonds of Chattel Slavery in the former states of the Confederacy But it also reminds us that was only the first of many steps which are needed. After more than a century we still struggle to move from emancipation to equality and justice. We must celebrate this victory, this milestone, but we can not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we have no need for conversion, repentance, lamentation, apology, and reparation. May God bring to completion the good work begun in us.

Next Sunday, the Pride March in New York City—and in various places around the world, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riot,  will remind us of the oppression, injustice, and violence experienced over so many years by our LGBTQIA+ Siblings. In particular, it challenges us to be especially concerned about violence against Trans Persons and Trans Persons of Color. May we create a world in which sexual orientation, and gender identity are regarded as sacred gifts to be treasured, valued, and affirmed. A world in which each and every person is loved! May God bring to completion the good work begun in us.

Inclusive Pride Flag

May we trust absolutely that God does care that we are perishing. May we fully care that we are in peril and work to find solutions to the dangers which surround us and perplex us. May God enable us to care for those all around us, who are in danger of perishing, and work to make a Beloved Community of Peace in which they too will be safe, and protected from chaos, fear, and harm.

“If it’s not about love, it’s not about God”

A Semon for Trinity Sunday

Preached at the Parroquia Catedral de la Natividad

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

May 30, 2021

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Un mandamiento, Dios nos ha dado, que nos amemos unos a otros

que nos amemos

que nos amemos

que nos amemos unos a otros

TRinity Symbol

Almost without exception, the important Feasts which we celebrate each year are taken from actual events which occurred in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We can name them, easily, as they unfold for us chronologically—the birth in Bethlehem of Judea, the Epiphany, the Presentation in the Temple, The Flight into Egypt, the Baptism in the River Jordan, The Transfiguration, the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, The Last Supper, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection, The Appearances to the Apostles, and the Ascension.

In the Liturgical Calendar, though, there are two other great Feasts which have a different origin. The Feast of Weeks, of Shavuot, or of Pentecost, which we celebrated this past Sunday is a celebration of the baby Church. It celebrates that explosion of power which transformed those frightened disciples locked in the Upper Room and sent them out into the streets preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Solemn Feast of the Most Holy Trinity—which we celebrate today, is often thought to be a “doctrinal” Feast. That is to say that it does not commemorate a specific event from the Holy Scriptures, but rather, is usually thought of as an affirmation of the central mystery of our Faith as explained to us in the words of that Creed from the First Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Constantinople which we profess each Sunday. In summary, we profess that God is one undivided Trinity. In that reality of One Loving God, we acknowledge three Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Of course, we readily admit that it is impossible for words to ever fully capture the essence or reality of God. God is the ultimate mystery. Our words are limited, incomplete and fragmentary. Yet, we are reminded that theology is “faith seeking understanding.” It is, thus, the vocation of the theologian to assist us as we enter into the presence of that most sacred of mysteries—not only to make an attempt to comprehend, but, more importantly to love, to adore, to worship, and to serve.

The single most helpful theologian for me, is the late German Jesuit, Karl Rahner. Father Rahner wrote a more devotional work in which he presented his own understanding of the “ontology of the symbol.” When we were given the article to read in Seminary, I took one look at the title, and thought, “Oh no, I am NEVER going to be able to make sense of this!” To paraphrase (after thirty years), Father Rahner made a surprising statement, “Reality can only be truly real, present, effective, and actual if it reaches outside itself in love.” He then went on to give the best analogy for the Holy Trinity which I have ever heard. From all eternity, God the Father is filled with love. That love goes forth, outside of the one God and engenders, gives birth to the Son. Between the Father and the Son is an all-encompassing love. That reciprocal love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. Rahner suggests that there is only one way to understand the Trinity. God is essentially a Community of Love.

This God of Love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then reaches out in the acts of creation: of all that is seen and unseen, this world which is entrusted to our care, and humans who are created in beautiful diversity in the very image and likeness of God. God viewing that creation says of it that “it is good,” and that the humans who are created are “very good.” Perhaps this is as much God’s wish for us as it is a description of our origin. We humans are most like God when we love. It is in those acts of loving, caring, and nurturing that we most resemble our Creator.

Whatever theories we espouse about the more tragic events in the Book of Beginnings, the Book of Genesis, it is clear that we live in a world which has been wounded. Our relationship with God is damaged, our relationships with each other fail to reflect love, care, and concern. We have wounded and damaged creation, to a horrible degree. And yet, as our Eucharistic Liturgy reminds us, God never gave up on us. God has reached out to us, again and again. The Story of Salvation History is that in Covenant after Covenant, God reached out to us in love and invited all people into a loving relationship.

In the fullness of time, we are told, God chose to “pitch a tent among us” (as the Greek of the Prologue to the Holy Gospel According to Saint John reminds us). God became one with us, God became one in solidarity with us—God from God, Light from Light, True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. And we are told that God became incarnate—out of love for us, for our well-being, for our health, for our salvation.

Those of us who have been incorporated into new birth through the waters of the Holy Sacrament of Baptism, like our Brother, Nolman, this past Sunday, were Baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then we were then sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we have been nourished and fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, the “Bread of Heaven,” and the Cup of Salvation.” And in the Sacrament of Confirmation, we have received the strengthening and empowering of the Holy Spirit to carry out whatever vocations God has given us.

What then does this mean for us as we seek to love and serve God here and now? First and foremost, it means that we are invited to be transformed by God. Through prayer, through our participation in the life of grace of the Sacraments, and through concrete acts of loving service to our sisters and brothers (and in our care for the gift of creation), we make God’s love real and present in our homes, in the places where we work, and in the lives of every person “whom we receive as Christ.”

The danger is that we allow superficial things to prevent us from viewing things as God views them. For that reason, we constantly need prophetic voices to remind us, to open our eyes, and to empower us to act for God.

The Scriptures make clear to us that God has priorities. God is on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the abused, and the excluded. God is especially concerned with widows, orphans, and “foreigners.” God loves every gender identity, each person of every race. God loves the beauty in every language, and culture. God joyfully receives the prayers offered by persons of any religious expression—or of those who attached to none.

If we wish to be like God, to be people of love, to know that “we have passed from death to life because we love,” we must make our love more than just an emotion which makes us happy. We must make God’s love real, active, present, and effective in the here and now.

We must work to respect the beauty, dignity, and worth of every single person—with no exceptions. We must denounce racism, misogyny, homophobia, Anti-Judaism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, bigotry, and intolerance as forces which are in opposition to the love of God.

In our own time and place we must denounce, reject, and oppose, with all our heart, the sin of Racial Hatred—and especially against our Black, Indigenous, Colored and Asian Sisters and Brothers.

We must denounce, reject, and oppose, with all our hearts, the violence against, the abuse against, and the exploitation against women: mental, emotional, sexual, physical, and financial.

Our Lord, in particular, challenged us to show love and charity to the poor, to the hungry, to the naked, to the homeless, to the sick, and to those in prisons. He told us that when we loved them, cared for them, and ministered to them, that we did so to God, present in them.

We must become a loving, welcoming, and truly inclusive community. We must become a safe place in which everyone finds a home, a place at the table, and a voice. We must become a Beloved Community. And we must constantly assess, evaluate, and plan each act we undertake in light of a single criteria: does this make God’s love, real, effective, and present here?

Our Presiding Bishop often reminds us of this, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

The lyrics of the song with which I began this reflection today challenge us. God has given us a new commandment, “that we love one another.”

“Blessed be God, who has brought us to this Season.”

A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

May 16, 2021

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

 O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

This evening, at sunset, our Jewish Sisters and Brothers will begin the celebration of the Feast of Weeks, known in Hebrew as Shavuot. It commemorates that moment when, seven weeks or 50 days after Passover, the People of Israel gathered around the base of Mount Sinai as the Prophet Moses—at the height of the mountain—received the Torah, the Law, the Commandments from God.

In Second Temple, Judaism—at the time of Jesus and his disciples—there were three great Pilgrimage Festivals: Pesach (or Passover), Shavuot (or Weeks) and Sukkot (or Tabernacles or Tents). If at all possible, each family would make the journey to the Holy City of Jerusalem to celebrate in the Temple. Of the three festivals, Passover may have been the most popular, but it is quite possible that Shavuot may have been the most important.

Years ago, after having attended my first Seder, while I lived in the Bronx, I had an interesting conversation with a Jewish friend. I told him how deeply touched I had been by the Seder and shared my conviction that this, surely, must have been the transforming moment for the People of Israel. The delivery from slavery and oppression must have been the defining moment. He disagreed, and said that “No, it was the giving and the receiving of the Law which set Israel apart from all the other nations, and which made us into a unique and distinct group.”

Gary then shared with me his own experience of preparing for the Bar Mitzvah. He had been raised in a Jewish family, and had been circumcised and named on the eighth day. So, on some level he might be considered to be Jewish. But, there was something lacking, something missing, something incomplete. As he stood at the bema and chanted the passage from the Torah, he took upon himself the obligation, the commitment of following the Law. He literally became a “Son of the Commandment,” that is what bar mitzvah literally means. No longer was his family responsible for his faith and for his practice. He now took that responsibility upon himself.

Some Jewish mystical thinkers refer to the Sinai experience as the “Marriage between God and Israel.” We speak of “covenants” of the ways in which God enters into a committed relationship of love and compassion. There is a progressive revelation of intimacy and inclusivity as these covenants are revealed (Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses at Sinai, King David, and the Prophets). But notice that we do not speak of either Pesach or Sukkot as a covenant-only Shavuot.

In reality, the three Pilgrimage Festivals speak of one reality in three stages. The delivery from Slavery, the giving of the Law, and the time spent wandering in the desert. They speak of a disillusioned and hopeless people who are transformed by the emancipating love of God, who are then willing to take the risk of committing themselves to that God (even though they really have no idea what that will mean for them) and who then morph from freed slaves (with a slave mentality) into independent persons who are finally ready to cross the Jordan River into a land—which they are promised—will be “flowing with milk and honey.”

As an interesting aside, the tradition for Shavuot is to eat dairy products. It recalls the promised, milk and honey, the “sweet gift of the Torah,” and has been described as an unexpected surprise. After all, the kosher requirements and regulations did not exist prior to the giving of the Law. When Moses came down from the mountain and explained the Law, the people suddenly realized that the meat which they had been eating (and the pots in which it had been cooked) was not kosher and could no longer be eaten. And so, to celebrate, they had a dairy meal. Perhaps we could all eat cheesecake to celebrate tonight.?

Shavuot also celebrated an important harvest festival. It was the time when the “first fruits” were brought to the Temple. It celebrated God’s abundant—even extravagant—generosity. In love the Ruler of the Universe provided, from the earth, gifts of grain and fruit. Through human labor and cooperation, these would be transformed into the essentials for living.

Unique among the Pilgrim Festivals, though, Shavuot seems to recapitulate the story of the three primary relationships from Genesis: God, community, and creation. God enters into covenant on Mount Sinai with the People of Israel and then blesses them with the abundance of creation. In response, the People of Israel take upon themselves the project of “tikkun olam,” of working to heal, to repair, to lovingly restore wounded creation. In its own way, it is the celebration of a new creation, a new season of hope. Thus the prayer of gratitude is recited on this day, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”

On Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, with the Apostles and the Disciples, we gather in that Cenacle, that Upper Room in Jerusalem. Like their ancestors, they have been brought out exile—from death into new life—through the Paschal Mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. And yet, there is something missing, something lacking. They quake in fear in that Upper Room because Jesus has left them. They imagine that at just any moment, the Roman authorities or the Jewish political leaders will break down that door and haul them off to court.

And so, they do the only thing which remains for them—the only thing which gives them hope—they pray as Jesus instructed them to do for the coming of the Advocate, the Consoler, the Comforter—even though they have no idea what that means. And, in a city, suddenly full of Jews from all over the diaspora—almost fifty days after Passover, after the Resurrection—they prepare to celebrate Shavuot. However, influenced by Greek culture, and even the Greek language, they use another name to describe this Festival of Weeks, the Festival of the Giving and Receiving of the Law, the celebration of the First Fruits—they use a name which in Greek means “fifty.” They prepare to celebrate Pentecost.

This coming Sunday we will recall and celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. We will celebrate the transformation of those frightened disciples who will open the doors of that Upper Room and who will run out into the streets proclaiming the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We will celebrate the birth of the Church. We will celebrate the incredible way in which that Good News will be proclaimed first in Jerusalem and then to the ends of the known world.

But we are not there yet. We live today, between the Ascension and Pentecost. Today, we pray for the coming of the Comforter, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. We pray that our broken, violent, and wounded world may be renewed and—with our help—recreated! We pray that all of creation, and all of humanity may be drawn into ever deepening relationship with God. So that we may become like that tree planted by the river which never grows thirsty. Like grain scattered on the hillside which produces an abundant harvest—and the tastiest of breads. Like grapes crushed and fermented into wine to gladden the heart and to bring healing.

Today we pray for a world overflowing with milk and honey. A world of abundance in which the needs of every person will be met. A world in which there will be safety, security, peace, and justice. A world in which no one will be excluded or treated as less than anyone else. A world of love, and hope, and joy. A world in which we will all be sanctified in truth by recognizing that every single person—without exception—is beloved and is claimed as “God’s own forever.”

And so, today, between Ascension and Pentecost, we pray. “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

“Go, find my sheep where’er they be.”

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 25, 2021

preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13: 20-21, KJV)

Hark! 'Tis the Shepherd's voice I hear,
Out in the desert dark and drear,
Calling the sheep who've gone astray,
Far from the Shepherd's fold away.

Who'll go and help the Shepherd kind,
Help Him the wandering ones to find?
Who'll bring the lost ones to the fold,
Where they'll be sheltered from the cold?

Out in the desert hear their cry,
Out on the mountains wild and high;
Hark! 'Tis the Master speaks to thee,
"Go, find My sheep where'er they be."

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One of the most astonishing, and distinguishing features of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John, is that it features a series of seven “I Am” Statements. Jesus presents a series of images, metaphors, explanations of who he is and what he is about. He uses common, every day, objects—things which would have been very familiar to those who were listening to his words.

But, Jesus gives them a new shift, a new focus, a new view. And that is both exciting and perplexing at the same time! In doing so, he identifies with these images, and invites his listeners—and us—to think about them in a different way. We are challenged to look beyond a literal and superficial examination of these images, and to find in them hidden meaning and value. They open new ways of thinking about God’s Realm, about Beloved Community—and about our own mission as disciples of Jesus.

Just to remind us, here is a list of the “I Am” Statements:

  • I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
  • I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
  • I am the Door (John 10:9)
  • I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14)
  • I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
  • I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
  • I am the Vine (John 15:1, 5)

Bread, Light, Door, Shepherd, Resurrection and Life, Way and Truth, and Vine. Wow! These are images which none of us would have used to speak of God, of community, or of ourselves. And yet, each of these images is like a mirror. In it we see a reflection of something transcendent, something mysterious, and something transformative. We see not only reality as we perceive it to be—but prophetically—reality as it could be, as it was created to be, as God intended it to be!

Today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is the day in which we are invited to look at just one of these statements, “I Am the Good Shepherd.” We are invited to think and pray about what it means to be a Shepherd, what it means to be a Sheep, what it means to be part of a flock, and how all of this is connected to “Beloved Community.”

Sadly, the whole shock and surprise of this image is lost on us! Few of us grew up on a farm. Even fewer of us raised sheep. And the images in which Jesus is depicted as Good Shepherd are so saccharine, that we are tempted to just see them and quickly move on.

The scandalous image of a shepherd from first century Judaism does not even occur to us! In seminary, for instance, I remember being shocked when one of my professors (who loved to scandalize his naïve students) said to us, “Good Shepherd? There is no such thing!” His point was that shepherds were perceived to be filthy, smelly, generally ritually unclean—and normally disreputable. It was not a vocation that most parents would have wanted for their children. Thus, it is almost unimaginable in the Gospel of Luke, for instance, that it is to a group of shepherds that the good news of the birth of the Messiah was first announced. That is literally the last thing that anyone would have expected. Shepherds! Really?

It would be harder to imagine anyone who would have been farther removed from the center of power. Shepherds would not have been in the room where it happened! Even worse, they were often understood to be quite mercenary. You got what you paid for! The image of “sheep stealer,” then as now, was one which was quite common. King David might have used a sling to keep his family’s sheep safe, but he appears to be an exception! Knives, and clubs, and swords were probably more commonly used than a shepherd’s crook. There was also the expectation that losing a certain number of the sheep was just the cause of doing business. After all, the shepherds had to eat too (and so did the wild and hungry beasts)! And were the hired hands really willing to fight “mano a mano” with wolves, bears, and other predators?

Imagine for a moment, that shepherd is used as an image for anyone who holds and exercises authority! Then, as now, it is far easier to think of those who have abused their authority, have neglected those entrusted to their care, and have mistreated the sheep–rather than those who have cared for them, protected them, and loved them. This is at the heart of the debate in our country about the role, value, and purpose of “law enforcement.”

We are challenged by our BIPOC Siblings–(Black, Indigenous, or People of Color–for brevity, I will here after use the acronym)–to examine the systemic racism which they experience–on a daily basis–at the hands of those who have sworn to defend and protect them!

Depending on the color of our skin, we will have radically different perspectives about “peace officers.” For BIPOC persons, shepherd is a loaded word! It is not a word which immediately brings feelings of comfort, safety, and rest.

Our Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Most Revered Michael B. Curry shared an incredibly powerful and moving personal reflection at the Celebration of Compline with the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota on the evening of April 20th, following the announcement of the guilty verdicts in the murder trial of George Floyd. In his remarks, Bishop Curry shared his own painful life experiences of having been taught to be wary of the Police. The message which he learned as a young man, just learning to drive, remained true for most of his life, “Don’t fight them back because you can’t win. They can kill you and get away with it.” If you have the time, I invite you to prayerfully listen to Bishop Curry’s words—and I will post the link with the text of this sermon on my blog.

For BIPOC communities, the radical message of Jesus will have the same impact today, as it did when he spoke this word millennia ago! They challenge us to imagine “community policing,” as a series of partnerships in which everyone involved in community is invited and empowered “to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” (Borrowed from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs).

This is a very different view than the one we have if 911 is called today! This is the kind of vision which Bishop Curry speaks of when he shares his hopes for Beloved Community. And he reminds us, that this is very much a work in progress, “Our work now goes on . . . the struggle continues.”

Let me cut to the chase. In our readings today, there are two ideas of shepherding which I would like to briefly explore with you.

First, Jesus says something which always mystifies me: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Just who are these “other sheep?” Saint Augustine went so far as to describe it in this way, “Many that God has, the Church has not. And many that the Church has, God has not.”

Who are these other sheep, indeed? For me, it feels like they could well be those whom we “other.” We find it all too easily to exclude them, to push them to the margins, to dehumanize, and to dismiss them. We fail to love them, value them, encourage them, support them, and empower them. We fail to recognize beloved persons who are created in the image and likeness of God.

Most often, we do this out of ignorance, blindness, and lack of self-awareness (we do not recognize our privilege, our biases, our prejudices). But sometimes, it is intentionally done. Sometimes it is “us against them.” Sometimes it is fear which motivates us, and, sometimes, it is a sinful and destructive hatred which “justifies” our desire to act in ways which are clearly opposed to and antithetical to the “good news” of Christ!

Jesus’ message is unambiguous: the “others” are his sheep! Even if we choose to exclude them, God will not! And, it may be in the very act of choosing to exclude them, that our own membership in God’s sheepfold is determined. Those are not easy words for us to hear! Those are not easy words for me to hear! A recent post on Facebook put it this way, “I would rather be excluded for those I include, than included for those I exclude.” In Beloved Community there are no strangers, aliens, exiles, or “others”!

Secondly, why is it that we never think of ourselves as shepherds? We are tempted to think that this is a vocation which applies to someone else; to those who are elected, to those who are professionally trained, to those who are powerful, to those who are ordained. What if the vocation of shepherd is an essential and integral part of the ministry of all the baptized? What if each and everyone one of us are called to both shepherd and to be shepherded?

Our reading today from the First Letter of John presents us with this invitation—and challenge: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Yes, “let us love one another.” Let us become Good Shepherds, and not bad ones. Let us work tirelessly to include, to heal, to reconcile, and to build up. Let us not only profess our love but let us prove it in the concrete actions which we undertake to make that love real, present, and effective!

I chose to begin today with a song from my childhood, “Bring them in.” It reminds me—it reminds us–that we are all called to “go and help the shepherd kind, to bring them in from the cold, to find them wherever they be.” After all, isn’t that what others have already done for us? Isn’t that the reason that we find ourselves inside the flock rather than looking in from outside?

So, today, on this Feast of the Good Shepherd, I salute each of you and bless you in your ministry of shepherding God’s sheep—wherever you find them, wherever they may be! God bless you as you do whatever you can to “bring them in.” God bless you, Good Shepherds of the fold!

“To change often.”

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

March 21, 2021

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,

in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront

one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work

together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus

Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”—John Henry Cardinal Newman

There are several ideas which have been used to think about the Season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, our Book of Common Prayer used two of them. The early church, we were reminded, spoke of Lent as the time which notorious sinners were reconciled and welcomed back into communion. It was also the final season of preparation for the Catechumens who were preparing for their full reception into the Body of Christ through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. I find it interesting that in both of these cases, there is a singular reality: a sinner, a Catechumen and groups of sinners and Catechumens. In either case, it was also a season in which others—who were neither notorious sinners or Catechumens prepared to celebrate the life-giving and transformative mysteries at the heart of the Christian faith—the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One way of understanding the connection between these seemingly competing ideologies of Lent, is that both are really struggling to understand what it means to be converted, to change, and to become. What is conversion about anyway? Is it a single dramatic life-changing moment-like, for instance, the experience of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus? Or is it rather, a slow and gradual process that takes place over years-over a lifetime? Is it possible that there are elements of both? Are there memorable moments which may or may not be rather dramatic, and many other ordinary moments which reveal new insights, and new ways of thinking?

March 21st is a dual celebration this year. For all the Western Church it is the final Sunday of Lent. It is a time of transition. Next Sunday will be the beginning of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we will being to recall the pivotal experiences of the life of Jesus: the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem by riding on a donkey while the gathered crowd welcomes him as the messiah, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We will recall the Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist with the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday. We will recall the agony in the Garden, the arrest, and the trials of Jesus. We will recall the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Death and Burial, and finally the Resurrection. And then, in the fifty days which follow, we will examine the appearances of Jesus to his disciples as they struggle to understand what all of this means to them—personally and as a community of faith.

For the Benedictine family of monastics, and those connected to them, though, March 21st is the Feast of the Transitus—a fascinating word—the commemoration of the happy and holy death of Benedict of Nursia. I will have more to say about that in just a few minutes.

This final Sunday of Lent offers a moment to look back on this past month. How has Lent been for us this far? Did we choose to give up something this year? Did we choose to take on some good work or practice? In either case, how has that gone for us? Lent is not about accumulating gold medals for perfect observance. It is rather a very concrete season in which we struggle to understand change, growth, and conversion. It is a season in which we come to understand that there are things in us which are deeply rooted. To move from practice, to habit, to changed behavior is a real struggle. It is not easy. It is challenging. It is frustrating. Inevitably, we will fail in our attempts. But what do we do then? Do we give up? Do we throw our hands up in despair? Do we say that we tried, and we were just not able to do it? Or, do we admit that we failed, and start over? The challenge is to persevere—and not only during Lent, but in all of our lives.

Lent, then is like a way to understand the whole Christian life. It begins by saying yes to God’s gracious invitation. And then we try to find our way. If we are gifted with guides who have walked the journey before us, and who are able to help us understand what we encounter along the way, we are blessed indeed. Along the way, we will be fed and nourished and empowered to keep traveling towards our destination. If we travel with others, we are more likely to safe and protected from harm and dangers. And then something amazing happens. As we grow, we find that we have something to contribute. We will be able to assist others who join us along the way. In time, we may become leaders rather than novices or new believers. Together, we form a Beloved Community, a company in which each person is loved, respected, welcomed, affirmed, valued, and treasured. A host which spans time itself, and in which we have a foretaste, a foreshadowing of the joys which await us at the completion of our journey.

It is important, though, not to get distracted. The danger is that if we focus on the wrong things, we will find ourselves going down the rabbit hole and wasting valuable time, energy, and resources. This is especially true of the week which lies ahead of us. Remember this, Holy Week is not about how much Jesus suffered—it is about how much Jesus loved. It is about understanding the power of that saving, healing, and redeeming love to transform us from strangers, aliens, and outsiders into family, into community, into Church. It is all about love. And, as our Presiding Bishop reminds us, “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”

I mentioned, though, that today is the also the Feast of the Transitus, of the death of Holy Father Benedict. In the Dialogues of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, there is a wonderful account of the last days of Benedict’s life. There is the final meeting with his Sister Scholastica (in which humbly learns about the power of her faith and prayer). Then comes the vision of her death—with her soul ascending to heaven as a dove. Benedict is then gifted with a vision in which he sees that connection of all reality—bathed in the warmth and light of God’s love. Finally, when he realizes that his life has come to a natural conclusion, Saint Benedict goes to the oratory, receives the Body and Blood of Christ. With his brothers surrounding him, and holding his hands up in prayer, he dies.

This is said to be a celebration of a happy death, and Benedict is viewed as the Patron of happy death because, as the Benedictine hymn, the Ultima, phrases it, Benedict’s good death was “anointed and serene.” It showed that the man of God, the man of faith, the man of prayer concluded his life as he had lived it—loving, serving, seeking God in prayer and in community.

Many of us have been tempted to think that this past year has been a time of Lent. The pandemic has called up to leave behind the “normal,” the “comfortable,” the “routine and familiar,” and to journey to a new place. It has been a frightening detour for us. And yet, it has also been a time of unexpected insight, growth, and change.

The past year has allowed us to struggle both to understand and to combat the coronavirus. Our world has been devastated by the impact of this disease. In our own country alone, the CDC website indicated that more than 538,000 people have died. This crisis will prove to be a defining moment for us—we will speak of life “before and after” Covid 19.

This past year has also allowed many of us to understand that our country has been afflicted with another devastating disease-that of White Supremacy. The deaths of countless Black women and men—some recorded on video—have opened our eyes to the constant violence with which Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color are afflicted on a day-to-day basis.

Just this week, we have been forced to realize that our Asian siblings have been singled out for scapegoating and abuse. They have been blamed for a pandemic which has nothing to do with them as individuals or as a group. For many of us, this has served as a wake-up call. Our BIPOC sisters and brothers have clearly told us that this is nothing new. This is what has been happening since the first Europeans arrived on our shores on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1585. Yet, to most of us, the violence and racial hatred remained invisible. We just did not see it! Rather than a coronavirus, it is a cancer which has eaten at the very organs, flesh, and bones of our community. Like the coronavirus, which attacks and often permanently damages the lungs, it has left us gasping for breath. While our Sisters and Brothers were profiles, harassed, assaulted, shot and killed, and smothered to death on our city streets by the very law enforcement officers who vowed to serve and protect them, we collectively have not been able to breathe.

It must be a moment of change, of growth, of transformation, of conversion for our country. We must finally choose to renounce—once-and-for-all—the sins of White Supremacy and Racial Hatred. Love means that we choose to stand in solidarity alongside our family members who are of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. Only then will Beloved Community be possible!

Our Lord used a beautiful image to describe this reality of change, growth, and conversion. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We may be tempted to fear that we have become a diseased, dried up, and useless grain of wheat. We may be tempted to throw up our hands in defeat and say that nothing can be done. We may be tempted to fear that we are dying. If, as Paul reminds us, “we are buried with Christ in death, and rise with him to the new life of Resurrection,” there is every reason to think that we may yet bear abundant fruit There is every reason to believe and to hope!

“It’s Me, O Lord.”

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Preached at
Trinity Episcopal Church
In Easton, Pennsylvania

January 31, 2021

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of the
people of this land, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 823)

“It’s Me, O Lord.”

It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not my brother or my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my brother or my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not my mother or my father, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my mother or my father, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not my stranger or my neighbour, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.
Not my stranger or my neighbour, but it’s me, O Lord,
Standin’ in the need of prayer.

Not long after I became a parishioner at St. Bart’s in the City of New York, I think it was in 2007, Bishop Gene Robinson was invited to speak at the Rector’s Forum. He began his remarks by sharing a surprising thought.

Since the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire did not have a cathedral, the Bishop visited at and presided at a different church each week. After just a few weeks as bishop, Robinson came to a fascinating realization. At each parish, there were homeless people wondering around the church during the service. He was astonished to realize that everyone accepted this, no one seemed to be bothered by it, and no one did anything about it. No one confronted them, no one tried to control them, no one tried to force them to “behave in church,” and no one tried to kick them out. The problem, he learned, was that most of the visitors were people who had been expelled from mental institutions as a result of cuts in budgeting.

Bishop Robinson went on to say, that this was one of the happiest moments in ministry for him. In it he realized how truly loving, welcoming, and inclusive the parishes in that diocese were. To this day, it remains one of those things that I contemplate when I dream about what Beloved Community could be. And, it remains a challenge for me—and for us. How close are we to realizing that experience of church. Do we honestly have the love, the patience, the tolerance to welcome even people whom we might find annoying, distracting, frustrating, and inconvenient. What if they are smelly, dirty, loud, and frightening. What if they interrupt our worship with their screams?

The accounts of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus do not give us the impression that he got off to a good start. In my favorite account, found in the fourth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, following his inaugural sermon, we hear this account, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” This took place in the Synagogue where Jesus was a member. And the would-be murderers were people who had known him for his whole life. Faced with an experience like that, I suspect that most preachers would quickly reevaluate their vocation. This goes far beyond criticizing the preacher for going on too long!

Today, we hear another account of the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry—this time from Mark. It is helpful to remember that this is the very first Gospel to have been put into writing—most likely some time after the year 70 of the Common Era. And thus, it gives us one of the very earliest views into the actual words and actions of Jesus.

This is a story of a surprising reversal of what one might expect to find in a community of faith. At first everything appears to go quite well. It is depicted as a pleasant and welcoming community. Jesus is present on the Sabbath. He and his friends are welcomed to the Synagogue. It is an open and appreciative community. After the readings from the Torah and the Prophets, Jesus is allowed to teach and preach. His sermon is well-received. In fact, the congregation appears to be very receptive. They are astonished by the “power” of Jesus teaching. His words move them, and warm their hearts. Had the account ended there, we might well have been tempted to think that this would be the beginning of a huge success story. We would expected that Rabbi Yeshua was off to a good start.

Things suddenly take an unexpected turn, though, and the story unfolds in a way that shocks and confuses all who are present. Mark’s Gospel is disappointingly concise—and very matter-of-fact. It does not give us the details which would help us to enter into the story more easily. Since “inquiring minds want to know,” we are left asking questions—rather than finding everything explained for us. We are forced to do the hard work of trying to unpack the account and find the meaning which it contains.

All at once, the service is interrupted in a very dramatic way. One of the congregants—we are told that he is a man with an unclean spirit—jumps up and starts yelling! What a surprise!

If we step back for just a moment, we are allowed to try to make sense of this story Is this the first time that something like this has happened in that Synagogue? Is a person who regularly attends? Is it possible that this person often disrupts the service? We do not have answers to these questions, of course. But one possibility is that this is the kind of community which Bishop Robinson discovered as a new Bishop in New Hampshire.

The question, then, is what is the purpose of places of worship? It is the question of why do we choose to go to Church? It is the question of what do we expect to find there? It is the question of what is most truly and fully needed. To be blunt, is church exclusively a place we go to find comfort, encouragement, and hope. Or, is it possible that church is also a place where we are offered the opportunity to be challenged, to be made uncomfortable, and to be confronted with difficult-even painful questions?

The interaction between Jesus and the man with the unclean spirit might give us some answers. The first thing to note is that the Gospel makes a clear distinction between the man and the spirit. It is the spirit who asks questions and offers opinions—not the man. And, thus it is the spirit, and not the man, who is rebuked! If we choose not to focus on whether or not this is a demon, in the way that watching too many horror movies late at night might cause us to do, we encounter a very profound reality. The humanity of the possessed person is revealed to us. This is someone who is deeply wounded, hurt, and suffering. The possession has broken his spirit. This is someone who is desperately in need of love, of healing, and of hope. This is someone who constantly lives in fear. His life has been completely disrupted by forces beyond his control. His is a life of fear, of suffering and pain. He is at a loss as to what to do. His community is at a loss as to what to do. And yet, he has not been chained, has not been excluded, has not been muzzled. Clearly, he is loved.

It is interesting that Jesus allows the spirit to ask questions: What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us? By the forces of chaos and disruption, By fear and hopelessness, Jesus is confronted. What will his ministry be? What will he offer to those who are hurting and in pain. With what words and actions will he comfort, console, and encourage.

Jesus responds immediately to the unclean spirit. He rebukes and expels the spirt. He restores the man to health, to wholeness, to normal life. He is restored to his family, to his community, to himself. Jesus accomplishes something which no one else has been able to do!

The paradox here, is that we come to realize that this afflicted, wounded, and suffering person represents something far more important. He represents the community. It is to this very community that Jesus has come to love, to serve, to heal, to restore, and to empower.

Should we choose to accept this image, it says some very important things about us. We need those who are wounded, who are suffering, who feel excluded—far more than they need us. We need to hear their questions; we need to have them confront and challenge us. We need to provide them a safe space in which they may speak truth as they have experienced it. We need to have them awaken our awareness to things which are all around us that we do not see and do not understand. We need to have them shake us free from our comfort, and from our privilege. We need them to help us realize that we are also wounded, broken, and in pain. Only then, will it be possible for us to be healed as well. Only then, will Beloved Community be a possibility.

We need people who appear to be “other!” We have no idea what their lives are truly like. If we have not experienced rejection, oppression, discrimination and prejudice, those realities will seem meaningless to us. If we are not Black, Indigenous or Latino, we will be blind to the reality of Racial hatred. If we are not female, we will not understand misogyny or exclusive and manipulative patriarchy. If we are not LGBT+, we will not understand homophobia or transphobia. If we are not Jewish, we will not understand anti-Judaism. If we are not Muslim, we will not understand Islamophobia. If we are not from some other culture or ethnicity, we will not understand xenophobia.

Jesus comes, not only to rebuke and expel unclean spirits. He also comes to give voice to those who have previously been silenced. He comes to open privileged eyes and hearts to injustice, inequality, racial hatred, misogyny, bigotry and to all the forces of division, fear, and violence. Jesus comes to heal and restore communities.

The invitation then, is to realize that it is not only others who are in need of God’s love and healing. It’s me! Only if each of us is truly open will it be possible for this promised reconciliation and love to be effective. Only then will we truly become Beloved Community.

“Not anyone else, but us O Lord. We stand in the need of prayer.”