The Audacious Call: A Sermon on Hannah in 1 Samuel

Sermon given at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas on November 18th, 2018.

Text: 1 Samuel 1:4 – 20, 2:1 – 10

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,

no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.”

 

For as foreign a story as our Old Testament reading feels at first glance – a family with two wives, and yearly visits to the Temple to sacrifice animals that then become a sacred meal – for as foreign as all of this can feel, there is something achingly familiar in the story of this woman who wants, more than anything, to have a child.

Year after year, Hannah, and her husband Elkanah, and his other wife, Penninah, and her many children, go to the Temple to make sacrifices. Going to the Temple as a family was a time carved out to be particularly close to God, and a time that was marked by a special meal – not so unlike our own Thanksgiving holiday. And every year, as the family made the trek Penninah would mercilessly mock Hannah for her lack of children – not so unlike family dynamics at the dinner table during Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Unconditional Peace

A Sermon for the Feast of Saint Francis & Blessing of the Animals

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas. Text: Isaiah 11:1 – 9. 

We are here today to celebrate the life of Saint Francis – a man whom we remember in this service by blessing the animals who make our lives so full. St. Francis was known in his lifetime for a particular communion with ALL the animals around him – and part of his love for all animals, beautiful and not-so-beautiful, was because he literally lived among the animals – St. Francis was a homeless man. He was a church reformer who believed the best way to know Jesus was by begging with the poor in the streets, because the poor know Jesus the best.

St. Francis was also known for being a broker of radical peace between humans and animals. He famously befriended a wolf that was terrorizing an Italian village and brought both the wolf and the people into a reconciling relationship where the people would feed the wolf in exchange for the wolf’s protection and companionship. Continue reading

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

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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Committing + Confirmation: On Finding a Church Home

We’ve committed. Hell, we had our first confirmation class this morning.

After years of waffling, of hurling insults of elitism and masculine language, of denying the abiding current of the liturgy – a current that sustains and challenges – Jonathan and i are committing to the Episcopal Church.

I am not a commitment phobe. I am not afraid of routines or weekly commitments or sharing the peace with people i don’t agree with. I use a label maker for my bureau drawers to delineate socks from underwear, for Chrissakes.  I’m not the cliché anti-labeling (as much as i believe in the danger of a single story).

But i am very, very opposed to monogamy when it comes to church denominations.

It’s not a moral thing. It’s not even really a result of theological meandering rooted in my confused Protestant-Catholic dualistic upbringing. I don’t think any one person believes every facet of the catechism of their denomination. I’ve long accepted that part of being in the Church (and a church) is that i’ll never 100% agree. There are too many people in one community to ask for conformity. As deeply as i want a community to universally support feminism and such, i also know that this desire itself can be skewed to be a desire for conformity of mindset. It is the lack of conformity that challenges me to go beyond my own limited scope.

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God as a Child

We moved eight times before my seventh birthday. Chapel Hill was the pin on the map my mother pressed into concrete, telling my father Switzerland and Singapore were perfectly commute-able for him, but her children had friends, and so did she, and that was the end of her moving.

Still, i’d spent hours in the stratosphere, legs dangling over the seat and nose pressed to the oval windows of airplanes. I thought if i looked hard enough, i could see angels in the clouds.

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How to Have a Feminist Christian Wedding

To the first: if you self-identify as that beautifully paradoxical and frustratingly poignant mix of feminist and Christian, AND now you’re planning a wedding, bless you. 

And please know that, contrary to the title, this post is not a one-size-for-all guide. We contain multitudes, and in those multitudes is the very understanding that feminism (and womanism) liberates us to choose, and contain contradictions, and that the elusive “feminist” and “Christian” essence is perhaps so elusive because essentializing anything causes allergic reactions to Jesus and Audre Lorde alike.

Urban South Photo

Photo by the effervescent Urban South Photo!

In August, my cis-male partner and i got married, in a big Southern church, with an exchange of rings and big organ music in the background. I wore white(ish), he a tux, and ordained preachers married us.

That’s about where the tradition ended.

We had a multi-gendered bridal party where my 6’2″ brother held my bouquet; we had a “Blessing of the Families” where all our immediate family laid hands on us, giving us both their blessing instead of giving me away; and Jonathan kicked off the procession with his mother, and both my parents escorted me down the aisle.

Since then, i’ve been asked a lot about how we did it, and here are a few of the big tips i have:

1. Ask supportive people to be a part of your wedding – priests and bridal party alike! We had three officiates who were all amazing feminists. Because they all knew how much we wanted a faithful and feminist wedding, they supported praying to “Our Mother-Father God” and assisted us in finding “biblical marriage” resources from same-gender unions to use in our own. The homily even included some Gene Robinson and Saint Teresa of Avila quotes! As for our multi-gendered bridal party, we were

Chosen Family, by Urban South Photo!

Chosen Family, by Urban South Photo!

careful to ask what people would be comfortable wearing, and we unabashedly loved how uneven and perfect our friends looked surrounding us on the altar. They, too, understood deeply who we are and what we wanted our covenant to look like.

2. Choose your Scriptures thoughtfully. I admit, it baffles me that there are Christian couples who have little to no preference for the Scriptures read at their wedding. It’s easy to get swept up how many mason jar tea lights you need for the reception (guilty) but for us, the ceremony was the centerpiece of our day. Take some time together to think about how the Scriptures you choose reflect the life you want to lead together, and if you want the more traditional Ephesians 5 or 1 Corinthians, take some time to really discuss why. We chose Ruth 1:6 – 18, John 15:1 – 15, and “On Marriage” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I’ve been to some other amazing weddings that included quotes or passages from Mother Teresa and Bishop Oscar Romero.

2A: If you’re like me, and you simply can’t choose an economic number of readings, try and integrate these extra readings into other parts of the service; for example, we couldn’t quite squeeze Songs of Songs into our readings, so for the Eucharist we used this Great Thanksgiving based on Song of Songs

3. Make use of the resources your church/officiate knows of. We wanted to ensure a number of heteronormative and sexist doctrines were removed from the liturgy of our wedding, so we wrote our own “Statement of Intent” that made reference to Biblical friendship and love (i.e. Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David) rather than to Eve being made for Adam as the original two people destined to be hetero-happy forever. Our pastor recommended the Protestant Wedding Sourcebook which was especially helpful for reading through various liturgies, knowing the liturgy had all the good stuff in it – connectedness to the church throughout time, familiarity – but there was flexibility in the language. Also, i always recommend the WATER Womyn’s Alliance as a good place to start with feminist liturgies.

Yellow shoes & true love, by Urban South Photo!

Yellow shoes & true love, by Urban South Photo!

4. Be prepared for the Emily Post fanatics. I refused to address our invitations to any sort of “Mr. and Mrs. Man-name Man-Surname” on principle, choosing instead to say “Mrs. Lady and Mr. Sir LastName” or throwing all convention out the window when it came to the majority LGBTQIA/single friends we invited. (One friend was addressed as the Future Queen of England, on the fancy printed paper and everything.) We also conscientiously chose local businesses and showed a preference for mostly womyn vendors. Wedding can be massive capitalistic consumerist monsters, and while we chose to have the Big White Wedding, we wanted to be as responsible about our spending and financial support as possible. This raised some eyebrows, but on the whole once we sat down and gently explained why, the rule of Our-Day-Our-Rules kicked in. Mostly.

4B: The best piece of logistical advice i got pre-planning was this: sit down, in quiet, and picture your dream wedding. What are the top three most important things to you? Mine were: solidify the covenant with my love before God and surrounded by our community, focus only on getting married and no last minute drama or planning [so make sure other people know the plan for the day], and throw a raucous party that is casual and fun all at once. In the moments where my mother and i inevitably argued over the mason jar tea lights or why i should/should not have to wear a veil, i remembered my list, and let go what i knew she wanted to be in charge of. So when it comes to the social niceties, sometimes it is okay to keep the peace and make small concessions that you don’t feel violate your core values or partnership.

This is true whatever kind of wedding you’re a part of – no matter how much it may be your moment, there’s always someone else who thinks it is theirs. And when it’s your parents or in-laws or friends, try and remember that they love you and are excited for you and just want the day to be perfect – even if their vision of perfection is not, well, yours.

And take some time alone to breathe, and find a friend who won’t judge when you need a good vent session.

5. Breathe. Pray. Take time to remind yourselves why you are doing this ridiculous and beautiful thing called marriage. Especially during the wedding week – try and find time every day to be alone with your love and just hang out, if only for ten minutes.

This is a sacred and wonderful time, and it will be messy and feathers will get ruffled, but your marriage is between you, God, and your partner, and the tea lights are really the least important thing to worry about.

l&j - ceremony-129



Mother Wisdom: A Sermon for Epiphany

Nativity, Loreta, Prague.

Nativity, Loreta, Prague.

Texts: Matthew 2:1 – 12 & Book of Wisdom 10: 15-21

Our texts this morning are drawn from two sources: one I imagine is familiar to you all: the Gospel of Matthew. The other, however, is a little less known – The Book of Wisdom, or Wisdom of Solomon, which is from the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is comprised of biblical texts that are included in the original catholic canon but have not always been used by Protestants. I, however, think the Book of Wisdom can richly inform our faith and as it was suggested in the lectionary for this week thought to share it with all of you.

The Book of Wisdom, along with other Apocryphal literature, tells us that Wisdom has been with God since the very beginning of time. The Book of Wisdom itself retells many stories of the Old Testament explaining how it was She, Wisdom, who moved with famous patriarchs to fulfill God’s will. Our text today comes from the retelling of the Exodus, explaining how it was She, Wisdom, who dwelt in Moses’ heart as much as She split the Red Sea.

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No More Equality for Me.

Maybe it’s the fuel in the gaslights, or maybe my if-i-had-a-dime jar has just cracked from the weight of the coins. You know, the jar for every time i have to endure “Well, I am not a feminist but I believe in equality.” Followed by how womyn who care about dismantling oppression inherently hate all men, and fuss too much, and really, what’s with the armpit hair?

I’m done with “equality.”

I’m done with people thinking a woman for Bishop means sexism isn’t still real in the church, that the apple cart shouldn’t be rocked so the church can grow (and get whiter and richer), done with the idea that in our post-racial society talking about prison and the new Jim Crow is bad dinner manners.

I really don’t like bashing other womyn, especially when i’m venting to a keyboard and not to breathing bones. But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In phenomena (however passé that is in summer reads) just doesn’t cut it for me.

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Sermon: Resurrection in the Dark

Sermon, April 27th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Text: John 20: 19 – 31

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.*

Our text this morning picks up immediately after last week. It is evening of the same day, the same day when earlier that morning Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb. She had run to tell the disciples – and though Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw the tomb, they returned home. Jesus appeared to Mary, calling her by name. But the disciples, we are told as this story unfurls, are gathered in a locked room, afraid.

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.

Even though the disciples have heard the good news, even though some have seen for themselves the miracle of the empty tomb – they are gathered in a locked room, filled with fear. Fear of what has happened to Jesus, fear of the Pharisees, yes.

But what if the disciples were also afraid of the empty tomb? What if they were afraid of what the resurrection meant?

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