For When Christmas is Hard

A ‘Blue Christmas’ Service Sermon

A woman – no, a girl, a teenage girl – is miles and miles from home, away from her cousin and her mother and with only her husband for company- and he is really just a stranger to her.

The pains in her womb are tightening, her breathing is sharp. No one has room for her, for the burden she carries in her belly, this weight that will bring her to knees. At last, someone takes pity on her, and her husband, and their mule, and they are given the barn – where her crying won’t disturb anyone else. Continue reading

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There is no Safety: Sermon on Philippians 4

I was so humbled, and thankful, to share this sermon at Binkley Baptist Church on October 15th, the church my father and his wife attend. It’s a bit longer than usual for this Episcopalian, but “when in Rome” and all that 😉

Text: Philippians 4:1 – 9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.

Loved ones, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord. Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life.

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

 

Our Scripture today begins, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown stand firm in the Lord. Beloved, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntche to come to an agreement in the Lord.”

Did you catch it?

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The Opposite of Fear is Faith, a Sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-22

All readings from the day can be read here. Preached at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

1 Peter 3:13-22 Common English Bible (CEB)

13 Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? 14 But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. 15 Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 16 Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. 17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?”

So opens our reading from 1 Peter today.

“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”

While this letter is attributed to Peter, the Apostle famous for denying Jesus and then walking on water with wobbly feet, this letter is from the first century – some fifty years, or so, after Jesus’ resurrection. Continue reading

Trans-Figuration of the Lord

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Petimg_1625er and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


“Six days later,” our story begins.

“Six days later.”

If this were a novel, the prologue would go something like this: Jesus has been sparring with the Pharisees and Saduccees, the religious elites of his own native Judaism. They’ve heard wind that he might be a prophet. They want to see for themselves.

And Jesus does his usual thing, of telling them exactly what they already know and exactly what they don’t want to hear and generally mystifying everyone.

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Peace in Revolt

IMG_2097To every person who has shown up for protests, who has engaged in painful conversations: thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Jesus was a refugee when his parents had to flee Bethlehem; Jesus is the refugee babe in the ambulance too shocked to speak.

And to everyone who cannot protest: thank you, too.

I mean this with all humility and love: showing up matters, but showing up doesn’t always look like being physically at the protest.

There are infinite legitimate reasons why people cannot always march. PTSD. Anxiety. A shift you can’t miss for risk of losing the job. A shift you need to pay the rent. A paper to write in a class that is doing the slow and steady work of transforming your spirit to be ready for constant revolution. Schoolwork that needs doing because you’ve been so eaten up with anxiety it has sat untouched for so long. No babysitter. No money for a babysitter. Children who are too young to know this isn’t the time for a tantrum. Children who are sick. Parents who are sick. You are sick. Your body isn’t cooperating today. Your body is one that wears faster during long walks and standing outside. Your body is not welcome.

By the looks of things, we are going to be praying with our feet a lot these next four years. As my friend Jes Kast said: “This is not a sprint. Run the race with endurance.”

Taking time to be ready is not disengaging. Taking time to be present to joy is not uncaring. Taking time to rest is not a lack of resilience.

It moves me beyond words to see how “thoughts and prayers for those affected” has transformed into people showing up in the streets to pray with their bodies.

But as a person of faith, i still affirm the power of prayer. Contemplation needs action. And so prayer is absolutely protest. But it is also stillness, and furious dancing, and time apart, and presence.

Our hearts are being challenged and pushed to grow wider, which means there is more room for heartbreak, more people to love and hurt for. This is leaning into our calling to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor and walk humbly, love mercy, and do justice.

Giving yourself permission to seek peace is not the same thing as being at peace with the status quo. 



 

Mary Did Know

Maybe it was my middle school crush on Clay Aiken, or maybe it was a bent toward feminist theology at a tender age, but “Mary Did You Know?” always makes my top 5 for Christmas songs.

(And, yes, i know it’s barely day two of Advent, you snooty Christians. I need a little Christmas, right this very minute, okay?)

A couple of weeks ago i was leading a Bible study on the Magnificat and the encounter in Luke 1 between Mary and Elizabeth. Our deacon then commented that if you were only to have the first chapter of Luke, one might presume that this promised Messiah would go on to be a great king, an uprooter of worldly power through his own majesty. Mary’s song, after all, falls in a great line of Biblical womyn singing praises to God for giving them sons, sons who would go on to do stuff quite like that.

We wondered then about what, exactly, Mary knew.

And, worryingly, what she consented to.

Gabriel doesn’t say precisely what “overshadow” means, nor does he detail how God will protect Mary from being, say, dying in childbirth or being abandoned for her indiscretion. We know she will give birth to one who will be called God’s Son. But God doesn’t detail that Jesus will die, gruesomely, as a criminal. Before her very eyes.

Maybe that’s because God didn’t know; maybe this is evidence for free will, that it was not some magnanimous gesture of wrath on God’s part that killed his kid, but humanity’s fear of what God on earth looks like, acts like.

I really like to think God asked Mary. That consent was required for the conceiving of such a gift, and such a curse.

But what becomes clearer and clearer to me is how much Mary knew. No, she probably didn’t know Jesus would “calm the storm with his hand” and give sight to that particular blind man, but did she know that her baby boy was going to be “Lord of all creation”?

“Surely,” she sang, “all generations will call me blessed.”

 

 

In other news…

Ya’ll, there is just so much right now. I’m not sure i’m ready to talk about Jesus and this election. What i’ve been trying to do is stay present, and hopeful, and to do so by being plugged in with people i love and art that nourishes.

So a few weeks ago i finally launched a photography business, because apparently, i just can’t do one artistic thing at a time. And right now i’m running a sale of goofy Christmas card photos. You can read more about why here

But just in case you’re as mired in the muck of sadness and anger and resignation and rebuttal as i am, here’s a picture of our step-dog, Tupelo:

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Love you. Here’s to laughter!

God, the Persistent Widow

In the Gospel of Luke, there’s this parable. (I originally wrote: “this bizarre parable,” but i realized that was redundant.) And in it, there is a judge who “neither fears God nor respects people,” and there is a widow seeking justice.

Widows are kind of a big deal in Scripture; they are one of the few categorically specific people whom God tells the people over and over they must care for.

Widows were also the most commonly targeted people in medieval witch hunts. Widows were women bereft of a patriarchally-sanctioned identity – that is, a husband or father to claim her.

Widows, too, are an emblem and embodiment of grief: as much as they threaten power structures with their liberty, in this parable her namelessness seems to speak to the cavern of loss. She is a spare, an excess – a bereaved excess. Maybe she loved her husband; maybe she didn’t. But in this story she is known only by the absence – widow – and her grief is no less significant than her gender or her powerlessness.

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On Our Anniversary

 

l&j - bridegroom-128

By Urban South Photo

“Right now, I love you forever. I love you for the hardest mile we walked together.” Andrea Gibson

I don’t know if i can in good faith call it my most favorite part of our wedding day, only because i can’t choose a slice of the whole cake and call it the most sumptuous.

But this is definitely the story i love most today.

We woke up on August ninth to a downpour. My mother had always told me how they had wrapped her train and head with trash bags as she walked to the church, to keep them from soaking. Saran held my hand and told me it was good luck.

Jonathan and i had always loved the rain. I told our photographer – who had managed to sneak engagement portraits in between drizzles some nine months prior – that this was just our lot. We learned to love in the downpour; we’d been engaged just two months when a plane crash took four people from our family forever, when i was in biweekly therapy for clinical OCD and anxiety, when we looked at each other and said, “are they right?”

“Are we too young?”

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A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

A few qualifiers: this sermon was delivered in a Methodist church on both Trinity Sunday and the Sunday following the grueling two weeks of General Conference – a once-every-four-years gathering of the worldwide leaders of the United Methodist Church. At this Conference, there were powerful disruptions wherein the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQIA clergy and laity joined forces to confront the church’s racism and homophobia. The church nearly split in half over whether or not to eradicate harmful language towards “homosexuals” in the Book of Discipline – the Methodist rule book, essentially. As a guest preacher in a church that I know well – it is my mother’s church, a church i attended while still Methodist, i wanted to be sensitive to my position. They, too, are facing their own transition: my mother is taking a new parish and in a matter of weeks, this congregation will have anew pastor.

I also left the Methodist church because i could not handle the heartbreak of continually being told being queer meant i was not “compatible with Christian teaching.” And yet, i wanted to offer words of encouragement for those brave leaders who had joined forces confront racism and homophobia. And i wanted to care for the people, equally loved by God, who choose not to love the LGBTQIA community and radically confront racism. Because being a priest means loving your enemies and recognizing when you are the pharisee and when you are the outcast. I know it is not a perfect offering. But it was from my heart.

Reading: Romans 5:1-5

Transcript:

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday for recognizing and specifically discussing what it means to worship a triune God – a God who is Holy Spirit, Son, and Parent, and a God who is all of this as one Being.

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