Category Archives: letter press

God and hope are not dead

1 Corinthians 15:12-20, John 5:24-27
The Feast of John of Damascus

I preached the noonday service at Trinity Wall Street the day after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to charge a white New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an African American, sparking protests over the lack of accountability for police behavior in communities of color. I had already planned to talk about how people are like icons, pointing to the resurrected Christ, and I brought one of my favorite icons with me to demonstrate that point. It turns out “Mary of Seven Sorrows” could not have been a more appropriate icon for the day. During the first minute of my sermon, the moment I mentioned the grand jury decision, a man stood up and walked out of the church. He did so respectfully, but he did so in protest–a new experience for me.

Watch it here.

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Losing my religion

Sometimes religious people do really ugly things. Because I am a religious person and a religious leader, working in a religious setting after being trained in a religious school and living in a religious community, I sometimes get to see ugliness in religion up close.

This week was one of those weeks. And this week’s ugliness went public.

For me, besides the heartache, anger, confusion and sadness that accompanies these times–the thing I struggle with the most is how to talk about ugliness and evil with my friends on the fringes of faith traditions. My non-practicing Jewish girlfriends whom I love dearly and who constantly give me perspective and insight. My friends who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” having tired of religious institutions, or my friends who are vehemently opposed to religious expressions of all kinds. And the dearest of them all, my self-proclaimed “recovering-Catholic” husband who vacillates between lovingly supporting my vocation with pride, and shaking his fists with mistrust.

This week was a fist-shaking kind of week. And trust is at an all-time-low.

Two years ago, my husband and I were living on The General Theological Seminary campus while I was in my second year of school there. Without getting into much detail, two members of the administration used various bully-tactics to skirt around their mismanagement of our money. Jay was wounded alongside me as he a) footed the bill, b) lived in the very community calling our character into question, and c) watched me gingerly navigate threats with little/no recourse. It was an exhausting time, and perhaps the first time the church really broke my heart. I was learning the hard lesson that church leaders are not exempt from arrogance and meanness. The two things that most sustained us were the support and wisdom of my bishop and rector back home, and most especially the love and support of the seminary faculty. In that sense, church saved me from the church.

This week those same faculty who held me up were fired by other administrative figures at the same seminary.

The faculty were “resigned” by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees after communicating their serious concerns regarding the Dean and President of the seminary–concerns that in any other church or even business would require the person in question to be removed for the safety of others until an investigation into allegations was complete.  To the outside world, the message communicated is that The Episcopal Church protects those in power, even if that person has reportedly intimidated students and faculty with racist, sexist and homophobic remarks and decisions.  So again I find myself struggling to explain why religion isn’t a bad thing–why I feel called to this work of ministry–why I feel I can trust the church–why I turn to the church for healing–why I’m not only a person of faith, but also a person contributing to the overall framework of the institution of the church.

So let me say: The Episcopal Church–of which I am a member, a leader, and a representative–is a good and joyful community of people striving to “persevere in resisting evil…proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ…serve Christ in all persons…for justice and peace among all people, and respect[ing] the dignity of every human being.”  This is our baptismal covenant, as found in the Book of Common Prayer.  It’s what we promise, what we proclaim, what we are initiated into, and what we expect from ourselves and our church community.

That said, we suffer from the same unhealthy group dynamics everyone else does.  Part of my husband’s frustration stems from his belief that leaders of the church should be held to a higher standard–and to an extent, I agree with him.  Lots of people do.  But that part about “resisting evil” in the baptismal covenant?  It’s followed by, “and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.”  Not IF, but WHEN.  I think the higher standard many people think of is perfection, when in reality its a willingness to repent and say you’re sorry.  Of course the church does not have the corner on apologizing.  And note that the covenant I reference is one of baptism–not one of ordination.  It is so widely adhered to that we make a point of renewing our covenant in our liturgy at least quarterly.

This week’s ugliness has cracked open some long-time systemic problems.  Problems not unique to The General Theological Seminary.  My prayer is that the heartbreak we feel will allow for truth’s light to illuminate a way forward–one of repentance, reconciliation, redemption and resurrection.

It’s what we preach.  Heck, let’s be the sermon.

And so it is in the hope of Christ that I pray for humility–for myself, my peers, the vulnerable students and the bishops that support them, the faculty, the Dean, the Board–and for their spouses and families that did not “sign up for this” in the same way we did.

#prayforGTS

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Generosity and Grumbling

9:00AM service at Trinity Wall Street, New York City
Jonah 3:10-4:11Matthew 20:1-6
Watch it here.

God is good—All the time/All the time—God is good–Amen.

Indeed both the readings we heard today speak not only to God’s goodness, but God’s opulent goodness. God’s over-the-top generosity.

First we hear the story of Jonah and the Ninevites. Jonah takes the prize for being the whiniest of the prophets. I mean here he tries to escape God’s instruction to go to Nineveh and warn the people of their coming destruction and doom, he’s thrown into the sea and swallowed by a giant fish who vomits him out onto dry land again, he begrudgingly makes his way to Nineveh and says simply, “Forty Days and God will smite you all,” and then he climbs up a hill and perches himself on the side of it to wait and watch the destruction. Kinda like the Grinch who stole Christmas waiting at the top of the mountain to hear all the Whos in Whoville cry boo-hoo-hoo.
Jonah
But low and behold, those pesky Ninevites—the people everyone loved to hate—the people who had enacted such evil atrocities on so many—the people no one could forgive—what do they do? They change their ways and turn to God. And God changes the divine mind and decides to spare the city.

Jonah is not happy. Perhaps he crosses his arms and pouts, or perhaps he shakes his fist up at the sky as he exclaims, “I knew it! This is precisely why I tried to flee in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I knew it.”

And God says, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

I think when we hear this story, we’re inclined to be like, “Yeah, Jonah! Give it a rest! How could anyone get upset over a merciful, gracious and loving God?!”

Ok, now picture a person, or a group of people, or a city or nation who have inflicted serious gut wrenching evils on us. Picture a modern-day Nineveh that you might wish were wiped from the Earth. Do you have that person or people in mind? Now imagine God forgiving them, and imagine your response.

Man, forgiveness is hard. Even when we’re not the ones doling it out, even just witnessing the immense love of a forgiving God can make us bristle.

And then we look at today’s gospel. A landowner goes to the market and hires some men to come work in his vineyard for a day’s wage. A few hours later he returns to the market and hires more men. And a few hours later he returns again, sees some men standing idly by, says “Why are you standing around doing nothing?” and when they respond, perhaps feeling destitute, that no one has hired them, the landowner brings who must have been the “least of these” back to work in his vineyard for the remaining hours of the day.

That evening he pays them all the same day’s wage, whether they worked 2 hours or 10. Of course the workers who had worked all day grumble at the landowner’s generosity. It’s not fair!! And like God’s response to Jonah, the landowner asks, “are you envious because I am generous?” And we might be inclined side with the landowner, because who could possibly begrudge his generosity?

But now imagine the implications on your life if minimum wage were to increase to better compensate the workers on the lowest end of our economic system. Or imagine how much more the food on your table might cost if the migrant farm workers who harvest it were entitled to basic workers’ rights, like one day off a week.

Sure it seems ridiculous to begrudge one’s generosity—until it demands something of us.

And lets face it. As easy as it is to laugh or scoff at the senseless anger of Jonah or the laborers, if we take these readings seriously and truly apply them to our own lives, we’re bound to squirm a little. Because if we worship a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—a God who acts out of generosity rather than fairness—a God who forgives way beyond our comfort zone—then are we not called to follow the one we worship and try our best to do likewise?

As you leave here today, think about which of these two stories makes you squirm the most, and then continue to reflect on it all week long. Think of God’s mercy on the Ninevites when you’re watching or reading the news. Think of the generous landowner when you’re going over your bank statement. Allow yourself to get uncomfortable. And then consider how you might practice more forgiveness and generosity in your own life so that your very lifestyle is an act of worship and a testament to the God of love we know in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

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#blessed

First weekday sermon at Trinity Wall Street, New York City
Ephesians 4:32-5:2 and Luke 6:17-23
Remembering Thomas A Kempis

Weekday services at Trinity are special because they are intimate gatherings of dedicated Christians mixed with a smattering of tourists from various faith traditions who happen to stop by.  On Thursdays the “New Beginnings” group of retired parishioners is always present, sitting in the front pews.  I was one lucky lady to preach on a Thursday with a group of strong women sending me love and encouragement!  While I did not preach from this script, it is what I wrote to prepare.

Since beginning my work at Trinity less than a month ago, my commute has quadrupled. I’ve gone from living, studying, eating and worshiping on the same small seminary campus—where forgetting my umbrella on a day like yesterday would might mean a few raindrops on my head walking from the classroom or chapel to my home—to forty minutes of walking and riding the train—where forgetting my umbrella means certain drenching.

With my new commute comes new routines. One of them is to read the New York Times—or the AM New York if I grab one—on the train.

I’ve always considered myself a fairly informed and aware person, but now that I’m really taking the time to read the news each day, I confess I feel like I’m watching the world fall apart.

Today’s Gospel echoes that same desperation.

Jesus is talking to people from Jerusalem, Judea, Tyre and Sidon. Did you know Jerusalem is about the same distance from Gaza as this church is from Croton Harmon or Mt. Kisco? That would be considered a normal commute for many New Yorkers. And Tyre and Sidon are coastal towns. The Gaza strip follows the same coast.

We hear in our reading that everyone is trying to get closer to Jesus—close enough to touch him. Pressing in on him, hoping for healing and change. Desperate.

And Jesus says: Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the weeping. Blessed are the marginalized.

Blessed.

Reading these words today with our colloquial notions of “blessed,” these words could sound trite.

Well, bless his heart—as I grew up hearing in the South.

Or an instagram pic of an ice cream cone on a hot day with the hashtag #blessed.

Hmm.

If Jesus’ words sound trite or empty, it’s because we have misused them.

It’s not about feeling blessed—but being blessed.

And so it’s when we feel the least blessed that Jesus reminds us that we ARE indeed blessed. And it’s the people who appear the least blessed that Jesus points to and says—THIS—this person is blessed.

When Jesus says, blessed are the poor, the hungry, the crying and marginalized—he’s not speaking words of consolation. These words are a call to action. This truth of not feeling—but being—blessed—it’s a truth that challenges us.

And we can look to today’s Epistle to understand just what it is Jesus is calling us to: kindness, forgiveness, love and sacrifice—a life that imitates Christ.

In a war-torn world such as ours—a world where civilians, children even, are victim to political, economic, religious and cultural conflict—these aren’t wimpy words—they are powerful. Kindness and forgiveness are not signs of weakness, but of strength. Love and sacrifice are not signs of compromise, but conviction.

If we listen to Jesus’ words and take them to heart—if we believe that the marginalized are blessed and live lives that proclaim this truth with the same love and sacrifice Jesus taught—we can be the change we want to see in the world. We can proclaim and embody the Gospel as imitators of Christ.

When Father Benjamin started today’s service in prayer, he mentioned a name—Thomas A Kempis. Thomas was a priest, monk and writer. He enjoyed solitude. But he used the quiet time he had to write one of the most published and widely read books in Christian literature: The Imitation of Christ. In it, Thomas talks about how to love God—by imitating the life of Christ with kindness, forgiveness, love and sacrifice.

How can you imitate Christ in your own life? Are you a quiet person like Thomas? Perhaps you can spend 30 minutes of your day praying for the needs of our community and for peace in the world. Are you a live-out-loud type? Maybe you can be like the woman I saw at the Fulton stop this morning singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus, take it to the Lord in prayer.” Are you a social person? Maybe you can help us pack brown-bag lunches on Sundays, or help us share the lunches with our neighbors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or maybe you like to keep to yourself, but have $17 to spare to share your compassion with the school children in our community by donating to our “Totes for Teachers” program.

I feel like the news these days brings out our differences more than anything. And it’s true that each of us is different, one from another. But we can, each in our own unique way, be imitators of Christ. We all have a capacity for kindness, forgiveness, love and sacrifice because we all are blessed.

It’s time to claim our blessedness and be a blessing.

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A Deacon’s First Sermon

On Saturday, I was ordained a deacon at the Church of The Good Shepherd in Raleigh.  It was good to be in my home diocese.  On Sunday, I “deaconed” and preached at Christ Church in Charlotte, with all the sweet smells, visions, faces, and sounds of my home parish.  While I had preached at Christ Church before, this was my first time preaching in “big church” with some extra pieces of clothing befitting a deacon.  So it was a touch foreign and abundantly homey at the same time.  I remain filled with gratitude.
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Proper 7, Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, North Carolina
Genesis 21:8-21, Matthew 10:24-39

In the name of the One, Holy and Everliving God, Amen.

Even the hairs of your head are all counted…
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…
You are of more value than many sparrows…
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…

Goodness, today’s Gospel message is full of paradox. One moment we are told how special and cared for we are. The next we are told of certain struggle and pain. Three times we are told not to fear, and then we are given some scary predictions of what to expect as followers of Jesus.

This is not an easy passage to preach.

And our first reading from Genesis isn’t any easier. Abraham sends his slave and mistress Hagar along with his firstborn Ishmael into the wilderness with nothing but some bread and water. And he does so with God’s blessing!

What are we to make of God’s word to us today? What is the good news?

I have a friend. He could be your friend too. He’s a member of this parish and he’s a doctor and most of his patients happen to be children. This friend often has to give children shots. And when he does, parents will attempt to prepare a child saying, “Now don’t worry honey—this isn’t going to hurt.” At which point my friend must turn to the child and say, “Actually, this is going to hurt. But only for a moment. And you are going to be OK.”

Now which of these statements is most likely to engender trust in the child?

Truth can be hard to hear sometimes, but truth doesn’t let us down. Truth grounds us. Truth gives us the sure foundation we need so that we can weather whatever lies ahead.

This Gospel passage is a shorter snippet of a longer conversation Jesus is having with his disciples about what to expect as followers. Some scholars call it the “missionary discourse” because Jesus is preparing his friends for a mission. He has summoned the twelve apostles, he has commissioned them to go out into the world preaching and healing, and he has warned them of persecution. Then comes this bit of comfort… and of swords. And then Jesus finishes the conversation by telling them that those who welcome the disciples–these missionaries–welcomes Jesus himself and the God and Father of all.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you, too, are a missionary. Listen to these hopeful and hard truths—they are yours.

“It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” In other words, remember Jesus? Always stirring up trouble with statements like, “love your enemy” and “it is better to give than to receive?”[1] The Jesus who came to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “freedom for the prisoners?”[2] Well, Jesus followers, if the disciple is like the teacher, we ought to expect more than a few raised eyebrows about our lives and actions.

And listen when Jesus says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” As Jesus followers, we’re not just called to know that God is Love and rest in that truth. We have to be and do that truth. We can’t just sing at Christmas “Go tell it on the mountain,” rather we must live lives and make decisions that truly tell-it-on-the-mountain every day.

Think back to the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Do you recall the very next sentence? “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3]

When peace is not the way of this world, peacemaking is not peaceful work.

And so Jesus, like the doctor about to give a child a shot, tells it to us straight: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Again and again in the Gospels we see Jesus portrayed as one who contradicts the social norms and introduces chaos. Indeed, Jesus can be divisive. So the life of a disciple, a Jesus follower, a missionary–of you and me–could and perhaps should demonstrate the same. When the Gospel proclaims a counter cultural message, and we are the voices that proclaim it, we are going to come up against traditional power structures and even against one another. We see evidence of this division in our homes and in our churches as we all seek truth and then live out the difficulties of the truth we seek.

And as a result of being truth seekers, truth proclaimers and truth doers, we may feel deserted. Like Hagar and Ishmael, we can count on wilderness moments of thirst for living water and hunger for the bread of life. And like Hagar and Ishmael we can count on God showing up, hearing our cries, staying with us—even in the wilderness.

Today’s Bible passages tell it like it is. They tell us, “This is going to hurt, and you are going to be OK.” Truth like this may be hard to swallow, but it’ll stick to your ribs.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you take a big risk to make what could be just a small change in a broken world. And you’ll remember: do not fear…even the hairs of your head are all counted.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you speak up for a cause or a person who has been beat down. And you’ll remember: have no fear…nothing is secret that will not become known.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you keep quiet at a time you’d really like to speak up – so that someone else can be heard. And you’ll remember: do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

The truths that give us comfort and hope mean what they do and ground our faith because we’ve heard the hard truths too. Jesus’ statement, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” is uncomfortable to hear. It makes us squirm a little. We might want to gloss over these words to focus instead on words like, “I have come that they would have life and have it to the fullest.”[4] But Jesus’ promise of the Kingdom of God and life eternal and “life to the fullest” are promises we believe because Jesus tells the truth about all things—persecution and peace, division and reconciliation, oppression and salvation.

Jesus tells the disciples, “do not be afraid,” because Jesus knows how scary proclaiming the Gospel can be. Jesus anticipates us making unpopular decisions and speaking uncomfortable truths. AND Jesus tells the disciples, “do not be afraid,” because Jesus knows that God will show up and stay with us and sustain us until the fullness of the kingdom is known and the peace of God reigns supreme.

And so I’ll end with a prayer by William Sloan Coffin, taught to me by my dear mentor John Porter-Acee:

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short,
Grace to risk something big for something good,
Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth
And too small for anything but love.

Amen.

 

[1] Matthew 5:44 and Acts 20:35

[2] Luke 4:18

[3] Matthew 5:9-10

[4] John 10:10

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Cristo ha Resucitado─ ¿Y AHORA QUE?

Pascua 3, Iglesia de San Mateo & San Timoteo, Nueva York

Hechos 2:14a, 36–41; Salmo 116:1–4, 12–19; 1 San Pedro   1:17–23; San Lucas 24:13–35

Hace ya tres domingos que hemos estado escuchando historias de la resurrección. Historias de Pascua. Historias de los amigos de Jesús reaccionando a la inconcebible realidad de un Cristo resucitado.

Primero oímos de las dos Marías en la tumba. Juntas van al lugar donde fue enterrado Jesús tan solo para encontrar que la roca había sido movida, la tumba vacía y un ángel del Señor diciéndoles que Jesús se levantó y se fue para Galilea. Ese Jesús siempre andando por todas partes. No puede quedarse quieto. ¡Las mujeresestánaterrorizadas! No solamente su amigo está desaparecido del lugar donde lo colocaron pero también, sí lo que dice el ángel es cierto, su mundo ciertamente ha sido volteado al revés y Jesús ha derrotado la muerte después de haber estado muerto.

Luego escuchamos de Tomás nuestro escéptico amigo. Yo no sé ustedes, pero la historia de Tomás siempre me hace sentir un poquito mejor acerca de mí misma. Tomás como yo, en algunas ocasiones tiene sus dudas. Y sin embargo de todas maneras él es considerado como uno de los discípulos fieles a Jesús y más aún, consigue que se dedique una historia a su testarudez cuando Jesús, específicamente, se le aparece diciéndole pon tus dedos en mis heridas y tu mano en mi costado herido. Y tal como la Madre Carla nos recordó la semana pasada, es porque Tomás duda que más tarde él puede exclamar con confianza, “¡Mi Señor y mi Dios!”.

Eso nos trae a esta semana. Esta semana estamos en el camino a Emaús con Cleofás y su amigo─ ambos seguidores de Jesús. Ellos aparentemente pasaron el día entero con un Jesús irreconocible quien les descifra las escrituras y los llama “tontos” como en los viejos tiempos. Y no es hasta que Jesús parte el pan con ellos, que lo reconocen─ y luego él desaparece. Algunas veces nosotros cantamos algo de esto en la Eucaristía: “Los discípulos conocieron al Señor Jesús/en la partición del pan”. Y luego, ellos se miran uno al otro y dicen, “¿No ardía nuestro corazón dentro de nosotros?” ¡Ay bendito! ¡Como pudimos ser tan majaderos!

Cada uno de estos acontecimientos habla de nuestra persistente y exuberante proclamación durante los cincuenta días de la Pascua:

¡Aleluya! ¡Cristo ha Resucitado!

¡Es verdad el Señor ha resucitado, Aleluya!

Solo que, las respuestas de María. Tomás y Cleofás no hacen eco a nuestras exclamaciones semanales. Si ustedes le fueran a decir a alguno de esos seguidores, “¡Aleluya! ¡Cristo ha Resucitado!” Probablemente ellos responderían: “¿Qué se supone que esto significa?” “¿Están seguros?” “! Ay Dios mío¡”

Y si nosotros tomáramos realmente en serio las exclamaciones semanales de Madre Carla, ¡Aleluya! ¡Cristo ha Resucitado! Quizás antes de poder decir, “¡Es verdad el Señor ha resucitado!” Nosotros, como los discípulos, necesitamos preguntar: Espera un momento… ¿Qué, qué pasó?
¿Cómo se hallan nuestras vidas después de la Pascua? Y no quiero únicamente decir, bueno ahora gracias al triunfo de Jesús sobre la muerte tenemos vida eterna, aunque claramente esa verdad por sí misma tiene enormes implicaciones. No, lo que quiero decir es cuál es el impacto hoy, de un Cristo resucitado. Y mañana. Y pasado mañana. Cómo se manifiesta ahora mismo la Pascua en mi vida diaria.

Cristo ha resucitado. ¿Y ahora qué?

Cristo ha resucitado. ¿Y ahora qué sigue?

Como María y María en la tumba vacía, necesitamos pensar por un momento para darnos cuenta, aun temblando, que nuestro mundo ha sido volteado al revés. La muerte no significa lo que solía significar. El Dios que adoramos es más poderoso de lo que solía significar una muerte “final” o “culminante”. Y nada puede separarnos del amor de Dios, ni siquiera la muerte. Jesús ha cambiado el mundo y no hay vuelta atrás.

Y como Tomás tocando las heridas de Jesús, necesitamos pasar un tiempo considerando qué tan loca es esta idea. En lugar de tan solo aceptar la resurrección como sí simplemente fuese un evento que recordamos cada Pascua, necesitamos enfrentarnos con las increíbles implicaciones del retorno de Jesús de la muerte, con sus manos, pies y costado heridos. Y después creerlo. Tenemos que identificar nuestras dudas antes de que podamos proclamar el misterio de nuestra fe.

Y finalmente, como Cleofás en el camino a Emaús, necesitamos continuamente ser instruidos por Jesús al tiempo que nuestros corazones arden dentro de nosotros.

Solamente en aquel momento podemos empezar a vivir la realidad cotidiana de la vida después de Pascua. Solo entonces, podemos vivir nuestras vidas como un pueblo que empieza a comprender el significado de un Jesús resucitado.

Pedro nos cuenta que es a través de Jesús que nosotros llegamos a confiar en Dios. Es mediante nuestro temor, duda, asombro y celebración de la resurrección de Cristo de la muerte que encontramos la fe y ponemos nuestra esperanza en Dios.

Y es en respuesta a esta verdad que tenemos lo que Pedro llama “auténtico amor muto” para que podamos “de corazón, profundamente amarnos los unos a los otros”.

Así es cómo se manifiesta la Pascua en la vida. Es así como se siente el “volver a nacer”, habiendo recibido el Espíritu Santo después de la resurrección de Cristo de la muerte. Primero viene la confianza en Dios, luego el amor auténtico. Primeo viene el forcejeo con el temor, la duda y el asombro para que podamos creer lo increíble con valentía y convicción; luego viene un amor que es tanto valiente como instrumento de cambio en nuestra vida.

Y ¿saben que he descubierto aquí en San Mateo y San Timoteo? Que tal como una fe audaz trae un amor autentico, lo mismo hace el auténtico amor por una fe audaz. Yo lo sé porque el amor que ustedes me han demostrado aquí, durante los dos pasados años, me ha dado una nueva audacia e intrepidez en la proclamación de mi fe en Jesús─ en inglés y en español. Este pos-resurrección-Pascua-valiente-auténtico-amor es una cosa que cambia la vida─ y yo lo sé porque su amor ha cambiado mi vida.

¡Es verdad el Señor ha resucitado, Aleluya!

Christ is Risen—-SO WHAT?

Preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Church, New York City

For three Sundays now, we have been hearing stories of resurrection. Easter stories. Stories of Jesus’ friends responding to the mind-blowing reality of a resurrected Christ.

First we hear from the two Mary’s at the tomb. Together they go to the place where Jesus was buried, only to find the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and an angel of the Lord indicating that Jesus has up and moved on to Galilee. Always going places, that Jesus. Can’t keep him down. The women are terrified! Not only is their friend missing from the place where they laid him, but their world is surely turned upside down and inside out, if what the angel says is true and Jesus has beat death after having been dead.

Then we hear from our doubting friend Thomas. I don’t know about you, but Thomas’ story always makes me feel a little better about myself. Like me on some days, Thomas has his doubts. And yet he is still counted among the faithful disciples of Jesus, and he even gets a whole story dedicated to his stubbornness as Jesus appears specifically to him saying, put your fingers in my wounds and your hand in my gaping side. And as Mother Carla reminded us last week, it is because Thomas doubts that he is later able to exclaim with confidence, “My Lord and my God!”

That brings us to this week. This week we’re on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend—both followers of Jesus. They seem to spend the whole day with an unrecognizable Jesus, who unpacks the scriptures for them and calls them “fools” just like in the good old days. It is not until Jesus breaks bread with them that they recognize him—and then he disappears. We sing about this at Eucharist sometimes: “The disciples knew the Lord Jesus/in the breaking of the bread.” And then they turn to each other and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” Aw, man! How could we be so dense!

Each of these vignettes speaks to our persistent and exuberant proclamation throughout the fifty days of Easter:

Alleluia! Christ has Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Only, the responses of Mary, Thomas and Cleopas don’t really resonate with our weekly exclamations. If you were to say to any of these followers, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” They would likely respond: “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you sure? Oh. My. God.”

And if we really take seriously Mother Carla’s weekly exclamations, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Perhaps before we can say, “The Lord is risen indeed,” we, like the disciples, need to ask: Wait… what?

What do our lives look like after Easter? And I don’t just mean, well now we have eternal life thanks to Jesus’ victory over death, though that truth clearly has massive implications of its own. No, I mean what is the impact of a risen Christ today. And tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. What does Easter look like in my everyday life right now.

Christ is risen. So what?

Christ is risen. What now?

Like Mary and Mary at the empty tomb, we need to take a moment to realize, with trembling even, that our world has been turned upside down. Death doesn’t mean what it used to. The God we worship is more powerful than any “end” or “finality” death once represented. And nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. Jesus has changed the world and there’s no going back.

And like Thomas poking Jesus’ wounds, we need to spend some time contemplating just how crazy this idea is. Rather than just accept the resurrection as if it’s simply an event we remember every Easter, we need to grapple with the unbelievable implications of Jesus returning from the dead with wounded hands, feet and side. And then believe it. We have to name our doubts before we can proclaim the mystery of our faith.

And finally, like Cleopas on the way to Emmaus, we need to be continually schooled by Jesus while our hearts burn within us.

Only then can we begin to live into the everyday reality of life after Easter. Only then can we live our lives as people who begin to comprehend the significance of a resurrected Jesus.

Peter tells us that it’s through Jesus we come to trust in God. It’s through our fear, doubt, wonder and celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that we find faith and set our hope on God.

And it’s in response to that truth that we have what Peter calls “genuine mutual love,” so that we can “love one another deeply from the heart.”

This is what the every day Easter life looks like. This is what it looks like to be “born anew,” having received the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death and resurrection. First comes the trust in God; then comes the genuine love. First comes the grappling with fear, doubt and wonder so that we can believe the unbelievable with courage and conviction; then comes a love that is equally courageous and life changing.

And you know what I’ve discovered here at St. Matthew and St. Timothy? That just as courageous faith makes for genuine love, so does genuine love make for courageous faith. I know this because the love you have shown me over the past two years here has given me a new boldness and courage in proclaiming my faith in Jesus—in English and Spanish. This post-resurrection-Easter-courageous-genuine-love is life changing stuff—and I know that because your love has changed my life.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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Lent Week 5

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 5: Wednesday, April 9

Mystery Informing Mission

In the Easter Vigil liturgy found in the Prayer Book, the Priest invites the people to renew their baptismal vows: “Through the Paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.”[1]

  • Look at the Baptismal Vows on pages 292-294 of the Prayer Book. What story do they tell?
  • Why do we make a practice of renewing our vows? What or who does the renewing of the vows serve?

Jeffrey Lee writes that: “The Baptismal Covenant says that faith is not simply a matter of giving intellectual assent to a series of propositions about God, but is a matter of lifestyle, behaviors, and concrete commitments.”[2]

We are not just Christians in the church, but in the world. Having been transformed, Louis Weil calls us agents of transformation: “The most common things in human life—a bath, food and drink, a human touch—can serve as instruments of an encounter with God. They can express a deep experience of human community and be signs of God’s grace in the fabric of human existence. So we may say that the starting point for a theology of Christian worship is to take the world seriously as the place where God acts. Or liturgical rites point to that activity, but they do not limit it. This insight offers us a guiding principle for the relation of each Christian to the world: the work of the church is not to escape the world, but to be the agent of transformation and healing whenever we encounter injustice, abuse, hatred or indifference. The ministry of each Christian, and of each Christian community is found right before our eyes. This helps us to understand why, during the early centuries of Christianity, a newly baptized Christian was referred to as “another Christ.” This had not so much to do with liturgical rites as with the fact that each individual Christian was called to be Christ in the place in which he or she lived. That is where ministry begins, and it is the work of every member of the church, not merely the ordained.”[3]

  • Next weekend we will renew our Baptismal Covenant. How will this renewal empower you to be an “agent of transformation and healing” in the world?
  • Think of the Paschal candle we will soon light with a “new flame” and think of the sparks you feel in your own life. Spend time reflecting on where you feel God tugging at your heart. Write some ideas down and consider them in prayer during these last days of Lent.

[1]Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 292.

[2]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 95.

[3]Louis Weil, A Theology of Worship (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2002), 17.

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Lent Week 4

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 4: Wednesday, April 2

New Life Dawns: Easter Vigil

“What we gather to celebrate in the Easter Vigil is not a fond reminiscence, but a present reality. We gather to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, principally in the baptism of new members, but also in the renewal of all the baptized.”[1]

Story: An early account of the Easter Vigil according to Hippolytus (A.D. 215)

“The candidates for baptism fast on Friday and Saturday; others fast with them on both days if they are able, or on Saturday if ill or pregnant. Saturday night is spent in vigil, listening to readings and instructions. At cockcrow the baptismal water is blessed, a prayer of thanksgiving is said over the “oil of thanksgiving” (chrism), and an exorcism said over the “oil of exorcism.” The candidates renounce Satan, his servants, and his works, then are anointed with the oil of exorcism. They are baptized, assenting to a baptismal formula which is a profession of faith, the basis for the “Apostles’ Creed.” When they emerge from the water they are anointed with the oil of thanksgiving in the Name of Jesus the Christ (the Anointed One). They are then led into the assembly where the bishop says a prayer with laying on of hands, completes the anointing, and signs each on the forehead. The newly baptized participate then in the prayers of the people, the exchange of the peace, and the Eucharist. On this occasion they receive water (an internal baptism), and milk and honey (the food of babies, the Promised Land) as well as the elements of bread and wine.”[2]

  • What symbols do we read about in the above passage?
  • What do symbols do? What do they mean?
  • Our Prayer Book states: “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”[3] What does this statement say about the symbols we’ve named?
Dean Patrick Malloy pours chrism onto Amelia Hall, held in the arms of her father, M.Div. Junior Pickett Hall. Photo: John Bethell

At the General Theological Seminary, Rev. Patrick Malloy pours chrism onto Amelia Hall, held in the arms of her father Pickett Hall at her baptism. Photo: John Bethell

“In the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrate and make present (anamnesis) the pivotal events of the Old and New Testament heritage, the Passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death, and our own Passover from the bondage of sin and death to the glorious liberty of new life in Christ Jesus.”[4]

  • What are we making present? What are we making real?
  • How do your answers this week compare to your answers from Week 1?
  • Ponder what it is we are participating in, and be prepared to share your stories when we gather together next week.

 

[1]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 91.

[2]Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 240.

[3]Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 857.

[4]Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book, 242-3.

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Lent Week 3

During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City.  We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish.  I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.

Week 3: Wednesday, March 26

The Space Between: Good Friday

The Good Friday liturgy is simply a reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, followed by prayers, followed by anthems and the veneration of the cross. “The service has no formal entrance rite and no blessing or dismissal: since the church began it’s Triduum celebration on Thursday evening, the Good Friday liturgy is simply a gathering together or a focused offering of prayer at a particular moment in the course of the three days.”[1]

Story: Egeria is a Galician woman who made several pilgrimages to Jerusalem and kept precise journals, giving us an idea of early church practices:

“The pilgrim Egeria gives us the first evidence of special rites to mark the day in her description of the Good Friday rites in Jerusalem about A. D. 381-384. From eight o’clock in the morning until noon, the wood and superscription of the supposed true cross were exposed on a linen-covered table at the site of the crucifixion in the courtyard behind the Martyrium, the great church built by Constantine’s mother Helen. There the faithful came to venerate them as the bishop held his hands firmly on the cross while the deacons stood guard. At noon the people assemble in the courtyard for a service of psalms, lections, hymns, and prayers which lasted until three o’clock. They then moved into the church for a service and afterward to the tomb where the Johannine account of the burial was read (Jn. 19:38-42). A voluntary vigil at the tomb continued through the night. After a time other churches acquired portions of the true cross and conducted rites similar to those performed in Jerusalem. Eventually veneration of a cross became a practice in churches which did not possess any piece of the true cross.”[2]

  • What purpose does the cross serve in Egeria’s time? In ours?
  • The veneration of the cross is optional. The Prayer Book states, “If desired, a wooden cross may now be brought into the church and placed in the sight of the people.”[3] Our church chooses to share in this practice—why?
  • Does the cross mean something different on Good Friday than it does on Easter?

 

The cross sits atop Conejos Peak in Colorado, which I summitted this summer with my family.

This cross sits atop Conejos Peak in Colorado, taken this summer while hiking with family.

“The Christian’s participation in Jesus’ death in baptism is also a participation in his resurrection (Rom 6:5)…Baptism orients us to a future that does not end in death even while it initiates us into a cruciform pattern of life. This was Christ’s path to the resurrection, and thus it is also ours.”[4]

  • Christ cannot be resurrected without first dying on the cross. We can’t celebrate Easter without first observing Good Friday.
  • Is the cross a symbol of death? Or victory? Or…?

 

[1]Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 89.

[2]Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 232.

[3] Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 281.

[4] Susan K. Wood, One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 8.

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