Tag Archives: Jesus

Teach us to Pray

This morning as I was helping Charlie get dressed for school, the brightly colored rosary hanging on his closet door caught my eye.  It was a gift at his baptism from my professor and friend, who is now in hospital.  Mo. Mitties had a knack for showing up at Holy Spirit events–so many ordinations (often as a presenter or preacher), installations and baptisms.  She showed up at Ground Zero as a chaplain to first responders when she was supposed to be on sabbatical.  The woman shows up.

And she showed up this morning in Charlie’s room, even from ICU.

Jay and I pray with Charlie every night before bed, and have since he was born.  As soon as we start praying, he crawls off our lap and puts his head down to sleep.  It has become his signal that peace has come and it’s time to rest.  Because Jay usually does bedtime, I don’t get to pray with Charlie as often.

I realized the other day that we had not been praying at meals–ever.  The start of supper is such a fluid thing now, with no real pause to signal prayer.  Sometimes Charlie starts eating before us, sometimes one of us is calming the Lucy while the others eat, and in the midst of the chaos we don’t even notice that we’ve forgotten to ask God’s blessing.

So we’ve started this week, remembering only ever-other-day, trying to re-create a meaningful and formational habit.  Jay prays the Catholic prayer he was taught as a child, I’ve introduced “Johnny Appleseed” (which has to be sung several times at Charlie’s request), and I imagine Charlie will come up with his own brand of blessing as his vocabulary increases.

Sitting there with the rosary this morning, I tried to *explain* prayer for the first time.  We talked about how the different colored and shaped beads can remind us of things to talk to God about.  We talked about how the cross reminds us of Jesus’ love for us.  We prayed for our friend Mitties, that she would know comfort and that God would make her whole.  And then we walked to school thinking of more people to pray for and pointing at things we thank God for.

The glory in all this is how God is teaching me to pray in new ways.  There’s a different kind of sacredness I am discovering in praying with my child who is beginning to understand conversation more and more, because of course prayer is conversation.  I feel as if I’m entering a new season of spiritual formation as I grow alongside Charlie.

Lord, teach us to pray.

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Apocalypse Now

It’s not my habit to write sermons anymore.  I find I get too caught up in how I’ll sound (me-focused), therefore missing out on what the Holy Spirit might be saying (God-focused).  Lots of people can write great sermons and do.  I just find I preach better from a place of vulnerability, and I’m more vulnerable sans script.

But nights like tonight, before mornings like tomorrow, I sometimes question that wisdom.  Here we are, mere days after the most divisive election in my lifetime, and we get to grapple with an apocalyptic text from Luke: Jesus predicting the fall of the temple.  Couple that with Isaiah’s text that God is making a new heaven and new earth.

Of course these texts weren’t chosen in response to the election.  I preached the same text 3 years ago and I’ll preach it again 3 years from now… only every 12 years does this text fall after a presidential election.  And its real purpose is to prepare the way for the season of Advent–the coming of Christ.

Here are some truths about my parish: most will be hugely (not just slightly) heartbroken over the results of Tuesday’s election.  Most.  And yet a significant number will not feel heartache, but relief.  And everyone has to feel welcomed and loved and valued–because they are.  So how to tend to the wounds of the majority without ostracizing the few?  How to preach in light of the election, but not about it?  And how to do all that being true to myself without making it about myself?  The tenderness of the timing almost does require a script of sorts.

Here are some things I want to say–things I’ve said before about this text.

  • While Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple–Luke’s gospel is written in retrospect of that same destruction.  Anyone who has ever heard or read this gospel has done so in hindsight of the events Jesus describes.
  • This isn’t just about the decline of a building–but of institutions, of ministry.  Some might feel like our nation is doomed after Tuesday.  Others have felt that for the past 8 years.  But we can’t let that overshadow the decline we see in other areas: like the church.  Just last week a parishioner posted a picture from our balcony, lamenting that the pews are only ever half-full at the 11:15 service anymore.  And then there are declining relationships–marriages that feel as if they are falling apart.  Strained familial ties.  Best friends you aren’t sure you really know or understand anymore.
  • Clearly, this gospel is for us.
  • Our “temple” of St. Luke’s has been thrown down before–literally shelled only months after being established.  We have come out of the ruins.
  • We’ve been led astray by false teachers before–all of us.  Whether it be at work, at school, at church, or in our national landscape.
  • Our kingdoms have been at war, as the veterans we celebrate this weekend can so ably attest to.  In fact this church was born out of war.
  • We know something about natural disasters too–even as our neighbors just North of us suffer from wildfires–so close we can smell it if the wind blows our direction.
  • Betrayal, hatred and death are daily realities.
  • And YET, Jesus says we will not perish–we will endure.  And the fact that this church still stands and that this nation still stands is a testament to that truth.
  • Most importantly–Jesus says this is our opportunity to testify.  Every single one of us gathered in this room is called to testify.  To give witness.  To proclaim.  Not in our facebook statuses, but in our lives.  Does your life, does my life, testify that Jesus is the risen Christ?  That Jesus is the living Christ?  That love conquers death and faith conquers fear?
  • I know that it can be hard to testify when you feel your “temple” (whether it be our country, our church or our relationships) is in shambles.  It is so much easier to testify when we feel like we’ve been vindicated, when we’re making progress, when we’re on top.  The truth is that fear breaks down creativity.  And many of us are facing varying kinds and varying levels of fear right now.
  • But lets take a look at Isaiah.  “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”  Folks, testify from that hope–the hope of God’s vision of the future.  Read through that text again and remember that God is at work in the world–even at this very moment–and that we are invited to share in that work and creativity.  We don’t have time to be stifled by fear. It’s time to get busy.

All of this brings me to one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.  It’s one that can be used at various times, but it is always used at ordination services of deacons, priests and deacons.  I think it’s important to share it the week following baptism.  Last week we renewed our baptismal covenant, as we do several times a year.  We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons.  We promised to respect the dignity of every human being and to work for peace and justice in the world.  And in so doing, I want to remind us all that this week’s gospel calls us ALL to testify, for we are ALL among what church types like to call, “the priesthood of all the baptized.”  So remembering that you are all part of this priesthood, be it ordained or not, I share with you this prayer at ordination:

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are bing made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Amen.

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Safe in the palm of God’s wild hand

This week we talked about what it means to belong to God, to be claimed by the Good Shepherd.  How we are safe and secure in the palm of God’s hand, and no one can snatch us away–BUT our God is a wild God.  We are safe in the wilderness.

Listen here.

Preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta.

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#blacklivesmatter too

Sometimes, the young white clergy woman gets asked to preach on Absolom Jones Sunday.

Preached from white privilege–Listen here.

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The Pregnant Church

My first sermon preached in my new parish: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta

Advent 4–Listen here.

This week last year, I preached this very Gospel text in a different pulpit.  I’ll admit today’s reading is a favorite of mine.  But preaching this text last year was especially memorable because it was in that sermon that I shared with my then-parish that Jay and I were fourteen weeks pregnant.  This year, instead, I am so excited to share the news: YOU are pregnant.  You are!

One of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart, says: We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.  Isn’t that a beautiful reality to contemplate?  We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.

And with that reality comes this truth as well: You are blessed and highly favored.

Can you imagine a world where every person was treated as if they were blessed and highly favored?  Imagine what it would look like if we treated everyone known and unknown to us as if they were pregnant with God—or even how we might treat ourselves if we truly believed that we too were mothers of a God waiting to be born.

I’m tempted to end my sermon here so we can walk around this sanctuary and practice greeting one another with this truth in our hearts.  [Turn to your neighbor and tell them they are blessed and highly favored]… But first I think some words of context might help this exercise.

First—a word about Mary’s song.

This song that Mary sings might be familiar to you.  The “Magnificat” is often read in our liturgy or sung by our choir.  Indeed the words of Mary’s song have been put to countless tunes in every language.  As familiar as it may be to us, the words were even more commonplace to Mary’s contemporaries.  You see, a very similar song appears in 1 Samuel when Hannah learns she too is with child.  And anyone who studied Hebrew scripture, Mary included, would have found Hannah’s song to be familiar.  God gave Mary the words she needed before she even knew she needed them.

My soul magnifies the Lord.

My spirit rejoices in God my savior.

My God is strong.

My God scatters the proud.

My God is lifting up the lowly.

My God is feeding the hungry.

And surely, Hannah’s words and Mary’s words shaped Jesus—who, like his mother, quoted the Hebrew scripture when in his first public address he said:

The Spirit of God is upon me. 

God is caring for the poor.

God sets the captive free.

God lifts up the lowly.

God is restoring the broken.

With these familiar words in mind, let me return to the thought that God is always waiting to be born.  You know what this means, don’t you?  God is born when the proud are scattered.  God is born with the lowly are uplifted.  God is born when the hungry are fed and the poor are comforted.  God is born when the prisoner is freed and the broken are bound up.  God is born and God is strong—and why?  Because your soul magnifies the Lord.  To magnify—to make bigger.  Our words and actions ought to make God bigger.

Which brings me to my second note of context—a word about peace.

Peace does not mean quiet.  Peace does not me calm tranquility.  Did you hear the world described in the words above?  According to Mary’s song and Jesus’ teachings, peace means turning the world as we know it upside down.  Peace means comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted.

Last week when Dennis preached, he reminded us that a voice prepares the way for God incarnate—a voice that refuses to be quiet in the face of injustice.  And I carried this challenge—to be a voice—through the remainder of the service, letting it shape how I heard the Great Thanksgiving of our Holy Eucharist.  At the end of each service, we prayed the post-communion prayer per usual.  But at the words: send us out into the world in peace—I paused.

Send us out into the world in peace.

Grant us strength and courage.

To love you and serve you.

Peace is not quiet. Peace takes strength and courage.  Loving and serving Jesus takes strength and courage.  Being a voice and singing Mary’s song takes strength and courage.  Giving birth to God takes strength and courage.

Which is why I can’t ignore this final word of context—the increasingly familiar violence we face—or perhaps choose not to face.

Three years ago, I preached this same Gospel text days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Last year I preached this text the morning after two police officers were assassinated in Brooklyn.

And today I am preaching this text on the heals of a Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll finding that 71% of Americans believe that random acts of violence are part of American life.

Unfortunately, Mary’s song is not the only familiar tune.

And yet it is in the face of such violence that we must sing all the louder.

I think it’s easy enough to be inspired by Dennis when he reminds us that a voice prepares the way of the Lord.

I think it’s easy—though different–to consider the possibility that all are called to be mothers of God.

But how do those ideas play out in real life.  How do we move from proclaiming the Gospel to living it?

Sometimes I can walk out of church feeling so energized to do something, but then a few days go by and I find that I haven’t channeled that energy into doing anything new or different.

So in response to Dennis’ sermon last week, and in preparation for my sermon this week, I thought about how to use my voice to sing Mary’s song. And then I wrote my first letter to Governor Deal as a Georgia resident, asking him to reconsider his stance on refugees entering our state. It took all of ten minutes and $0.48.

And no, I don’t think that my letter will singlehandedly open Georgia’s doors to vulnerable families fleeing war. In fact, what usually keeps me from speaking up is the fear that my voice won’t make one bit of difference. That as a person of modest means and little influence, I might as well save my breath. But save my breath for what? God gave us a voice to join God in this song.

How will you give birth to God this week? How will you use your voice to sing Mary’s song? How will you go out into the world in peace?

Will you give more money than you are comfortable giving to ensure the most vulnerable in our city and world are cared for?

Will you bake a loaf of ginger bread for that acquaintance you’re not sure you know well enough to visit but know you should?

Will you sit with a woman who is dying and hold her hand while the pressure of Christmas to-do lists loom large?

Will you write a letter to your representative, or pick up the phone and call, even though you don’t feel knowledgeable or influential enough to do so?

Will you invite someone to your table, knowing it might make dinner uncomfortable for your family or other guests?

Let God scatter your pride this week so that you too can lift up the lowly. Find strength and courage in the meal we are about to share at this table so that you can proclaim peace—loudly and uncomfortably—to the poor.

God is waiting to be born. And St. Luke’s is pregnant with possibilities.

Amen.

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Observing a Holy Lent

Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

This morning I preached at our 8am Ash Wednesday service. It was special to me because a) this time last year I was a seminary volunteer at Trinity, sharing ashes in the church and on the street, not realizing I’d be a clergy person on staff a year later… and b) I’d never been asked to preach Ash Wednesday before.

In reading the lessons assigned for the day, I found that I loved the juxtaposition of Isaiah’s “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” with Matthew’s “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them… whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you.”

It made me laugh because I read lots of opinions on how to do Lent “right,” often opinions of other clergy friends, and often opinions expressed as rules or facts.

ie: Ashes on the street is evangelism and love in the real world! vs. Ashes to go is cheap grace and not real church! Brothers and sisters–please.

This is probably why my mom texted me earlier this week, asking for advice on whether she ought to wear her ashes all day or wipe them off after leaving church. Usually when my mom asks such questions, I suggest she ask her priest. So when I responded this time that the decision was a personal one she would have to make for herself, she replied, “How would you answer if I were not your mother?” My response: the same.

And so that’s what I preached about this morning. My mom wanted to know what the church’s “stance” is. The church’s stance is simply to invite you to observe a holy Lent. A good start is to observe which of the lessons for today make you squirm more. Do you prefer to wear ashes on your head all day so that folks will see what a good Christian you are, getting up early to go to church before work on a weekday? Then maybe Matthew’s text makes you a wee bit uncomfortable. And maybe in observing that discomfort, you decide to wipe your face clean before continuing your day. Or does the idea of wearing ashes strike you as a reminder of your mortality you’d rather forget–or as a strong symbol of your faith you’re nervous to profess? Then maybe Isaiah’s text pushes you outside your comfort zone. And maybe that discomfort challenges you to wear those ashes “loud and proud” all day long.

The answer isn’t the same for all of us because our sin manifests itself differently in our individual lives. Some sin is communal–it’s true. And some sin is yours alone–or mine alone. In Lent we get to reflect on both. It takes observation. It takes noticing where your discomfort is and how that might be distracting you from following Jesus.

What will you observe this Lent?

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Tough Love

Preached at Trinity Wall Street on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

We tend to think of love as something soft and nurturing–and it is these things. But if we’re “doing” love right, it’s also hard.

Watch it here.

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Holy Spirit Extravaganza

On January 17th, my bishop came up from North Carolina and family and friends came in from Texas, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and of course New York–all to ordain me to the sacred order of priests.

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Photo credit: Craig Ruttle


Watch it here.

If you want to skip ahead to Bishop Michael Curry’s spirited sermon, it begins around 40 minutes in.

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Photo credit: Craig Ruttle


With Bishop Curry’s blessing, I asked that the readings for the day be those used in celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. They are Genesis 37:17-20 (Joseph the dreamer), Ephesians 6:10-20 (the whole armor of God–including shoes for proclaiming the gospel!), and Luke 6:27-36 (love your enemies). It is my prayer that these readings will forever shape and embolden my ministry in Christ’s church.

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We are all called to be mothers of God

Preached at Trinity Wall Street the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Annunciation seemed like an appropriate time to share with the parish that Jay and I are expecting our first child.
The night before I preached, two police officers in Brooklyn were murdered–I could not ignore it.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38
Watch it here.

Greetings, favored ones! The Lord is with you. Amen.

There’s a term church-types like to throw around. “Hermeneutics.” Perhaps you’ve heard it? It’s basically a fancy word for a “lens” or “perspective,” and it acknowledges the idea that we all bring something to the text when we read scripture. All of us have been shaped by life experiences that in turn shape our reading and hearing of scripture. And what a gift that is! Indeed, part of the reason scripture is living and active is because we come to it as living and active human beings who grow and change and learn constantly.

I find this helpful because as a preacher it is inevitable that you will preach on the same text many times in your life, but you never want to preach the same sermon. Even if the last sermon on said text was a hum dinger—you’re always looking for new or deeper insights to take in and then share.

Case in point—I preached this text two years ago. I was visiting my childhood parish in Lexington, Virginia, and I was so excited to be preaching on a text that was already so meaningful to me. I mean, I’ve had a framed print of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation hanging on my wall since college, always hoping to be inspired by Mary’s courageous statement: Let it be. This was my jam! And other than the fact that I had no voice and had to whisper into the microphone, that sermon was a great one.

In the two years since I preached this text, I have graduated from seminary, been ordained a deacon, started my first ordained call here at Trinity church, and discovered that Jay and I are due to have our first child this summer. These are the kinds of life events that can adjust your lens slightly this way or that, opening up the scriptures in new ways that keep our reading of them living and active. I can tell you it has made for an interesting Advent.

But here’s the thing. As much as I marvel at the miracle and weirdness of having a human being growing inside me—and how much more miraculous and weird for Mary to experience the same with the very Son of God… and sure I smile whenever we sing “My soul magnifies the Lord,” thinking of Mary’s magnified belly while touching my own slightly magnified version… at the end of the day, that Mary became as we call her in Greek theotokos, the container of God, really says more about God than about Mary.

What makes Mary remarkable is her response.

The actual gestation of God as a fetus, nursing of God as a baby, caring for God as a child—even when that child became a grown man, that really points to the remarkable mystery of God. The same God that laughed at David’s suggestion in our Old Testament reading today that God would want a proper house—that God chose a womb of a lowly unwed maiden. No wonder we call Jesus “Emmanuel”—God is with us—you can’t get much more “with” humanity than to take up residence inside a human being and grow there for nine months. And thus Gabriel says to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

But lets get back to what makes Mary remarkable—because she’s today’s example of how to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

First, note that Mary’s gut response upon seeing Gabriel is to be perplexed. She’s wondering to herself, ‘What could this guy possibly want from me?’ Certainty is not a requirement of faithfulness. Mary teaches us that one can be perplexed and pondering and still be faithful to God’s call.

Second, after Gabriel explains that which is to come—which is really less of an explanation and more of an exultations of God’s love and power—Mary wrestles with what she has just heard, saying, “But how can this be?”

And after Gabriel speaks of the Holy Spirit’s presence with Mary, proclaiming “Nothing will be impossible with God,” Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Notice she doesn’t say, “Oh, now I get it—that makes perfect sense!” My guess is she’s still perplexed, pondering, and wrestling. But Mary doesn’t have to have all the answers to know that God is requiring something of her in this moment and in her lifetime. I say “requiring” because Gabriel doesn’t proclaim his message in the form of a question. He does not come to Mary saying, “God would like you to bear God’s son—the savior of the world. Are you cool with that?” Rather Gabriel speaks the truth of what is to come in a more definitive manner. Mary acknowledges this requirement when she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” And “servant” is really a soft translation of the Greek word doulos—Mary is calling herself a slave to God—which reinforces the fact that she has no choice in the matter. And yet—and this is what I LOVE about Mary—the young, lowly, unwed, perplexed servant or slave exercises courage and agency even in her obedience by saying, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary responds—and she responds as one who believes.

It is Mary’s response and faithfulness that is praised again and again in Luke’s gospel. The scripture immediately following today’s passage tells us of Mary’s journey to see her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant despite her old age. As soon as Elizabeth sets eyes on Mary, she begins praising her: “Blessed are you among women—blessed is the fruit of your womb—blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Blessed is she who believed.

And how does Mary respond to Elizbeth’s blessing? By praising God with the very words we sang earlier, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior!” She receives the blessing by pointing to the one she is faithful to.

Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is a grown man preaching and teaching when his brothers and Mary try to reach him through the crowds. When Jesus is told they are waiting outside, he responds, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” While some take this as a harsh response—it’s true! Mary is often referred to as the ideal disciple precisely because she heard God’s message and responded in faithful obedience.

And again when Jesus is teaching towards the end of Luke’s gospel, a woman in the crowd calls out to him and says, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” And Jesus corrects her: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Jesus does not deny Mary’s blessedness, but clarifies the nature of it.

That God lived in a womb and nursed as a babe tells us something about God and God’s longing to be with us.

That Mary believed in the face of perplexing truths and responded in faithful willingness, “Here am I—let it be,” tells us something about what is means to be blessed.

Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century German mystic once said, “We are all called to be mothers of God—for God is always waiting to be born.” I love that image. It’s one I can relate to. We are all called to be mothers of God—for God is always waiting to be born. But you don’t have to have a womb to be a mother of God. And you don’t even have to be certain of every aspect of God’s nature. You can be young or old, rich or poor, male or female, perplexed, pondering, wrestling—and yet hear God’s call on your life (crazy as it may seem at the time) and respond in faith and obedience: Here am I—let it be.

And when people see the fruits of God’s call manifest in your life, you—like Mary—can point to God and say, “Yeah—look at all God has done. Isn’t God amazing?”

That’s what’s remarkable about Mary. And it’s in that kind of response that each of us can be remarkable too.

Here am I. Let it be. My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior. Amen.

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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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