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Just Do It

This sermon was preached at the Preaching Excellence Conference in Richmond, VA

Using the lectionary for the third Sunday of Epiphany, Year B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

I love that today’s readings in Jonah and Mark were paired together because I love the sense of immediacy and urgency they both conjure up.

First we have Jonah—a story every Sunday school child can recount.  God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah runs the other way, Jonah is swallowed up by a fish, Jonah is spit out onto the shore, and here we have God telling Jonah a second time—the only prophet who needs telling twice—go to Nineveh and tell the people to change their ways.  And perhaps more remarkably than Jonah’s 3-day residence in a fish’s belly, the Ninevites repent!  Really!  Jonah says, “Watch out, Nineveh will be overturned!” And boom—the people believe, fast and repent—just like that.  They change their ways, God changes the divine mind, and no one is destroyed.

Then we have Mark’s Gospel.  Mark doesn’t start his gospel with the story of Jesus’ birth, but with the story of Jesus’ ministry.  And here in the first chapter we have Jesus’ first words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  Then, walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus says to fishermen Simon and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And boom—Simon and Andrew drop their nets right where they are and immediately follow Jesus—just like that.

A fisherman in Ganvie, Benin.  Taken when I lived in West Africa.

A fisherman in Ganvie, Benin. Taken when I lived in West Africa.

To read these two stories side-by-side is almost comical because the immediate belief and response of the Ninevites and fishermen is so contrary to our own skeptical world.

I mean, really, if a total stranger were to walk up to one of us on the street and hand us a $100 bill for no particular reason, chances are we wouldn’t respond, “Gee, thanks!” but “What’s the catch?”

I have been racking my brain for several days, trying to think of a situation in which I would drop everything and respond with the immediacy of the Ninevites and fisherman.  But most of the situations I can think of are either from childhood, when faith is a way of life before skepticism creeps in, or from times when I felt absolutely trapped and desperate for a way out.

Perhaps the Ninevites felt trapped and desperate when Jonah proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Perhaps they believed, fasted and put on sackcloth because the alternative was too grim.  Perhaps.  But why would a people so evil and set in their ways heed the call of a prophet like Jonah?

The fishermen are a different story.  They weren’t trapped.  They weren’t desperate.  Fishing was a good trade in Jesus’ day.  And yet they weren’t children either, filled with wonder and quick to believe.  They were adults working in the family business.  So why would they leave their nets, their job and their family to follow Jesus?

What could be compelling enough to make them follow?  What would be compelling enough to make you or me follow?

I think the answer for the disciples and for us must be: the good news—that the kingdom of God has come near.  And not the kingdom of God as in a place, or a thing—but as in the reign of God in our lives.

But what does that mean?  How do we describe this good news?  This kingdom of God?  Preachers are meant to proclaim the good news—so what is it?

When I think of the good news of God’s reign, I have to turn to Isaiah:

he has sent me to bring good news to

the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners…

to comfort all who mourn…

to give them a garland instead

of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of


the mantle of praise instead of a

faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of


They shall build up their ancient ruins…[1]

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because the first part of this passage is precisely what Jesus in Luke’s gospel chooses to read in the synagogue on the day he proclaims his public ministry, saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

“He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,” we read in Isaiah.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news,” says Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

This is what’s compelling.  Broken hearts are mended.  Captives are set free.  Prisoners are released.  And those who mourn are comforted, anointed with the oil of gladness and decorated with garlands.  That which has been ruined is rebuilt and repaired—the oppressed are lifted up.

If you’ve ever felt broken or trapped or stepped on or grief stricken, this is indeed good news.  This good news is for you.

But here’s the catch: the good news for you is also your good news to proclaim.  The fishermen didn’t just hear Jesus and say, “Why yes, that is good news!” and then keep on fishing.  They dropped their nets and followed.

We cry out to Jesus saying, “Me!  Me!  Mend my broken heart!”  And thank God we do.  But once this kingdom of God draws you in and you experience the love that God is, watch out—it is not a love that lets us sit on our hands and watch the world pass by.  This love we receive, this liberation we experience, it is a call to action.

If you believe in this good news, you best be looking for broken hearts to bind up.  If you believe in this good news, you better start recognizing who the captives are and start working to set them free.  If you believe in this good news, get ready to rebuild what has been torn down.

The good news is messy and it is edgy and it is worth dropping our proverbial nets so we can follow the one who gives it to us.

“Believe in the good news…follow me.”

I know we’re a skeptical people.  I know we have our doubts.  But if the Ninevites and the fishermen can believe and be transformed by their belief, maybe we can too.  This good news is just as much ours as it was theirs—ours to live and ours to give.

God, help us make it so.  Amen.

[1] Isaiah 61:1-4

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Escuchando El Espíritu

5 Mayo, 2013—Pascua 2C—Iglesia de San Mateo & San Timoteo, Nueva York

Hechos 11:1-18; Salmos 148; Apocolipsis 21:1-6; San Juan 13:31-35

La semana pasada, Madre Carla nos dio una tarea.  ¿Se acuerdan? Ella nos animó a pensar del amor cuando hacemos decisiones—a preguntarnos cuál es la respuesta de amor, y a actuar de ese amor.

Pues, ¿Cómo les fue?

¿Amaron a sus vecinos?  ¿Se Amaron a si mismos?  ¿Se preguntaron, cuál es la manera más amorosa en que puedo hacer en esta situación?

Leí en un libro esta semana que, “Cuando Jesús nos llama a amar a nuestro prójimo como a nosotros mismos, nos dice que realmente no podemos amar a ninguno sin amar a ambos.”  Si no me amo, será difícil amar a otro/a.  Y si yo no soy amoroso hacia usted, será difícil a amarme a mí mismo.*

La semana pasada el Evangelio de Juan nos recordó cómo la gente sabría que somos discípulos de Cristo, “que se amen los unos a los otros.”

Esta semana Jesús nos dice que él enviará el Defensor, el Espíritu Santo—antes Jesús describe al Consolador como “el espíritu de la verdad…está con ustedes y permanecerá siempre con ustedes.”  Aquí Jesús nos dice que el Defensor es una gracia de Dios, enviado en nombre de Cristo.  Nos dice que este Espíritu nos enseñará todo y nos recordará todo lo que él nos ha dicho.

Y esto es lo que quiero explorar con ustedes hoy, ¿cómo conocemos y cómo escuchamos al Espíritu Santo?  Porque creo que conociendo al Espíritu Santo realmente informa nuestra capacidad de amarnos unos al otros.

Holy Spirit Coming, by He Qi.

Para comenzar, ¿cuáles son algunos nombres que tenemos para el Espíritu Santo?  El texto de hoy llama al Espíritu un Defensor.




Pneuma/Ruach—viento o aliento en griego/hebreo

Intercesor—que ora en nuestro nombre

Estos nombres nos ayudan a conocer lo que hace el Espíritu.  Y saber lo que el Espíritu hace nos ayuda a reconocer al Espíritu en nuestras vidas.

Hay un libro llamado “El ayudante” sobre el Espíritu Santo que leía cada año para la Cuaresma.**  El libro es más viejo que yo, y usa unas palabras que ya no estamos acostumbrados a usar.  Pero lo leía cada año porque me enseña a practicar escuchar al Espíritu.

Empezamos con lo que acabamos de hacer—decir quien es el Espíritu Santo para que sepamos a quien escuchamos.

Entonces hablamos de donde encontramos el Espíritu Santo.  Jesús dice, el Espíritu Santo está dentro de usted.  Para mí, siento el Espíritu Santo en mis huesos. Para otros, puede ser su corazón o su cabeza.  Sin embargo, encontrar el Espíritu Santo requiere un conocimiento de sí mismo que viene de una inteligencia interior.

Cuando sabemos a quien escuchamos, y como escuchar, podemos practicar el escuchar.

Generalmente necesitamos empezar poco a poco.  Preste atención a los pequeños impulsos, avances, pausas y provocaciones.  Tal vez siento que debo llamar a un amigo, que debo mandar un texto a mi esposa para recordarle como le amo, que debo quedarme en casa para descansar y luego de asistir a un evento.

Tenemos estos presentimientos pequeños y nos preguntamos si deberíamos prestar atención a ellos, no?  Esto es cuando comienza el estar escuchando al Espíritu Santo.

No siempre entiendo un presentimiento, y no siempre sé si seguir este instinto realmente hiciera una diferencia en mi día o en el día de alguien más.  Pero nos inculca el hábito de escuchar, confianza y actuar.

Según se pone en práctica, es posible que a veces me pregunte ¿cómo sé yo si estoy escuchando al Espíritu Santo, y no algún otro impulso o influencia?

Recuerden que Jesús dijo que el Espíritu Santo nos recuerda todo Jesús nos ha enseñado.  Así que, como Jesús, el Espíritu Santo nos anima a actuar de tal manera que nos amemos los unos a los otros.  A veces escuchando por el amor nos ayuda a eliminar cualquier otras distracciones.

Cuando nos acostumbramos a escuchar al Espíritu Santo en las cosas pequeñas, podemos confiar en la misma voz cuando encontramos decisiones más grandes.  Quizás es tiempo de moverse, tomar un riesgo en el trabajo, quitar una relación malsana, empezar una familia, elegir una universidad después de colegio, o asumir una nueva responsabilidad.  Si hemos practicado escuchar al Espíritu Santo, ya sabemos la voz tranquila en situaciones grandes y pequeñas.

Esta capacidad de conocer y confiar en el Espíritu Santo es la razón que Jesús pueda decir, “Al irme les dejo la paz.  Les doy mi paz, pero no se la doy como la dan los que son del mundo.  No se angustien ni tengan miedo.”

Jesús dice esto ya que está a punto de irse de este mundo.  Él sabe que los discípulos pronto se enfrentaran con temor y dudas.  Pero porque el Espíritu Santo permanece, el mismo Espíritu de Dios que Jesús ha encarnado en la tierra para nosotros, nunca estamos solos y no tenemos nada que temer.

Mientras más conocemos el Espíritu Santo, cuanto más conocemos la paz de Cristo.

Creo que esta paz es doble.  Creo que hay una paz que experimentamos al actuar con la seguridad del Espíritu Santo.  Creo que es una paz que sobrepasa nuestra comprensión porque a veces el Espíritu nos llama a hacer cosas fuera de lógica.

Pero también hay la paz que se crea cuando hacemos lo más amoroso como Madre Carla nos desafió que consideremos la semana pasada.

La paz que Jesús nos deja es una paz que experimentamos y que creamos cuando escuchamos al Espíritu y nos amamos unos a otros.

Pasé mucho tiempo hoy hablando de cómo escuchar por el Espíritu porque creo que es algo que tenemos que entrenar nuestros oídos a hacer.  Tanto como podríamos creer que el amor debería venir fácilmente, el amor es algo que Jesús nos enseña una y otra vez, sermón después de sermón, parábola después de parábola, y por último con su muerte y resurrección.  Y Jesús nos dice, “el Espíritu Santo les enseñará todas las cosas y les recordará todo lo que les he dicho.”  Así que, si debemos amar el uno al otro, tenemos que practicar escuchando al Espíritu.

En dos semanas celebraremos Pentecostés.  Pentecostés es cuando recordamos la venida del Espíritu Santo que autorizó a los discípulos a predicar vigorosamente y en lenguas que nunca habían hablado antes.  Pentecostés es el domingo del Espíritu Santo.

Pero si queremos que nuestros corazones sean encendidos con el poder del Espíritu Santo, tenemos que estar abiertos y listos para escuchar.

Practiquen conmigo.  Empiecen con lo pequeño y prepárese para algo grande.  Nunca se sabe a que valentía el Espíritu le podría llamar, pero puede confiar en que será una llamada de amor y paz.


*L. William Countryman, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, page 176.

**Catherine Marshall, The Helper.

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Listening for Fire

Preached on the Sixth Sunday of Easter at St. Matthew & St. Timothy, New York

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Last week Mother Carla gave us some homework.  She encouraged us to think of Love as we made decisions—to ask ourselves what the loving response might be and to act out of that love.

How’d it go for you?

Did you love your neighbor?  Did you love yourself?  Did you ask yourself, what is the most loving thing I can do in this situation or that?

I read in a book this week that, “When Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is telling us that we cannot really love either without loving both.”[1]  If I don’t love myself, I’m going to have a hard time loving you.  And if I’m not very loving toward you, it’s going to be tough to love myself.

Last week John’s gospel reminded us how people would know we are disciples of Christ, “that you love one another.”

This week Jesus tells us that he will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit—earlier Jesus describes the Advocate as “the spirit of truth…he abides with you, and he will be in you.”[2]  Here Jesus tells us that the Advocate is a gift from God, sent in Christ’s name, and that this Spirit will teach us everything, and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us.

And this is what I want to explore with you today—how we know or listen to the Holy Spirit—because I think knowing the Holy Spirit really informs our ability to love one another.

Jyoti Sahi- India

So first off—what are some names we have for the Holy Spirit?  Today’s text calls the Spirit an Advocate.


Helper (Paraclete)


Pneuma/Ruach—wind or breath in Greek/Hebrew

Intercessor—groans on our behalf

These names help us to know what the Spirit does.  And knowing what the Spirit does should help us to recognize the spirit in our lives.

There is a book called “The Helper” by Catherine Marshal that I used to read every year for Lent.  The book is older than me, and it uses some language we’re no longer accustomed to.  But I read it every year for several years because it taught me how to practice listening to the Spirit.  And I really do mean practice.

We start with what we’ve just done—naming who the Holy Spirit is so that we know who to listen for.

Then we move on to where we find the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says, the Holy Spirit is inside you.  For me, I feel the Holy Spirit most in my gut.  For others, it may be their heart or their head.  Regardless, finding the Holy Spirit requires a self-awareness that comes from turning inward.

Once we know whom we’re listening for and where to listen for it, it’s time to practice listening.

Usually we need to start small.  Pay attention to the little urges, nudges, pauses and prompts.  Maybe I have gut feeling that I need to leave 5 minutes early today, or that I need to call and check on my friend, or that I should text my husband to let him know I’m proud of him, or that I really ought to stay home and rest instead of attending an event.

We get these little feelings, and we wonder if we should pay attention to them, you know?  That’s where listening to the Holy Spirit starts.

It doesn’t always make sense, and you may not ever know if following that gut instinct really made a difference in your day or in the day of someone else.  But it gets us in the habit of listening, trusting, and acting.

As you practice, you might sometimes wonder, how do I know I’m listening to the Holy Spirit, and not some other urge or influence?

Remember that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would remind us of all Jesus has taught us.  So like Jesus, the Holy Spirit will encourage us to act in such a way that we are loving one another.  Sometimes listening for love will help us tune out any other distractions.

Once we get used to hearing the Holy Spirit in some of the smaller every-day stuff, we can trust that same voice when we feel prompted to make bigger decisions.  Maybe it’s time to move, take a risk at work, get out of an unhealthy relationship, start a family, choose where to go to college, or take on a new responsibility.  If we’ve been practicing listening to the Holy Spirit, we will know that still quiet voice in situations great and small.

This ability to know and trust the Holy Spirit is why Jesus can say to his disciples and to us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”

Jesus says this as he is about to be taken out of this world.  He knows the disciples will soon be faced with fear and unknowns.  But because the Holy Spirit remains, the very Spirit of God that Jesus has embodied for us on earth, we are never alone and we have nothing to fear.

The more we know this Holy Spirit, the more we know the peace of Christ.

I think this peace is twofold.  I think there’s the peace we experience from acting with the assurance of the Holy Spirit.  I think it’s a peace that surpasses our understanding because sometimes the Spirit calls us to do things that defy logic.

But then there’s also the peace that is created when we do the most loving thing as Mother Carla challenged us to consider this past week.

The peace that Jesus leaves with us is one we experience and one we create if we but listen to the Spirit and love one another accordingly.

I spent a lot of time talking about how to listen for the Spirit because I think it’s something we have to train our ears to do.  As much as we might think love ought to come easily, love is something Jesus teaches us again and again, sermon after sermon, parable after parable, and ultimately with his death and resurrection.    And Jesus tells us, “the Holy Spirit will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  So if we’re to love one another, we’ve got to practice listening to the Spirit.

In two weeks we will celebrate Pentecost.  Pentecost is when we remember the in-rushing of the Holy Spirit that empowered the disciples to preach boldly and in languages they had never spoken before.  Pentecost is Holy Spirit Sunday.

But if our hearts are to be set aflame with the life giving power of the Holy Spirit, we’ve got to be open and ready to listen.

So practice with me.  Start small and get ready for something big.  You never know what boldness the Spirit might call you to, but you can trust it will be a call to love and peace.


[1] L. William Countryman, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, page 176.

[2] John 14:17.

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Pies desnudos: a Bilingual Maundy Thursday Sermon

Preached at The Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy in New York City on Maundy Thursday, 2013. 

LectionaryExodus 12:1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

I’m always a little uneasy about Maundy Thursday services because I know what’s coming: foot washing.  Oh, the humility!  To let someone wash my feet!  So embarrassing. 

Peter says to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” 

Why is it so hard for us to let others serve us?

Pedro le dijo: “¡Jamás permitiré que me laves los pies!”

Respondió Jesús: “Si no te los lavo, no podrás ser de los míos.”

Siempre estoy un poco nerviosa en los servicios de Jueves Santo porque ya sé lo que viene: lavatorio de pies. ¡La humildad!  No quiero que alguien lave mis pies!  Que vergüenza.

Pedro le dijo: “¡Jamás permitiré que me laves los pies!”

¿Por qué es tan difícil dejar que otros nos sirvan?

When Jay and I were married, we carefully selected hymns that we felt would be important to our relationship moving forward.  The hymn we most loved started with the following words:

Brother, sister, let me serve you.

Let me be as Christ to you.

Pray that I may have the grace

to let you be my servant too.

I need prayers and grace to let you serve me.  Why?

Cuando Jay y yo nos casamos, nosotros seleccionamos con cuidado cada himno pensando en lo que sería importante para nuestro futuro juntos.  El himno que nos gustó más tiene este verso:

Hermano, hermana, déjame servirle

Déjame ser como Cristo es a usted.

Ora que yo pueda tener la gracia

De Dejarle a usted ser mi siervo también.

Yo necesito oraciones y gracia para que alguien pueda servirme—por qué?

To let you serve me requires a bit more humility and intimacy than we’re used to in today’s society. 

We are taught to be independent.  Self-sufficient.  Strong. 

To bear my feet.  To make myself vulnerable.  To let you wash away my dirt and smell.  There’s no room for pride in that! 

Para dejar a alguien que me sirva requiere un poco más humildad e intimidad que lo que estamos acostumbrados en la sociedad de hoy.

La sociedad dice que debemos ser independientes.  Autosuficientes.  Fuertes.

Para enseñar mis pies.  Para ser vulnerable.  Para dejarle a alguien lavar mi suciedad y olor.  ¡No hay lugar para orgullo en esto!


We are used to sitting on buses and subways pressed up against each other without ever making eye contact.  We have conversations over text messages, emails and facebook without ever having to listen to another’s voice.  We insulate ourselves from the world around us, making sure we look busy and put together at all times, always putting our best foot forward, always playing to our strengths. 

But to strip away those layers of technology, appearance, expectations and social pressures.  To let you see my weaknesses.  My naked feet.  That seems a little too close for comfort in this day and age. 

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 

Estamos acostumbrados a sentarnos en los autobuses y trenes apretados unos contra otros sin contacto visual.  Tenemos conversaciones sobre mensajes de texto, email y Facebook sin escuchar la voz de un amigo.  Nos aislamos del mundo, asegurándonos que parecemos ocupados y bien preparados, siempre poniendo el mejor pie adelante, siempre demostrando nuestras fuerzas.

Pero para quitar cosas de tecnología, apariencia, expectaciones sociales.  Para dejarle ver mis debilidades.  Mis pies desnudos.  Eso me parece incomodo.

Respondió Jesús: “Si no te los lavo, no podrás ser de los míos.”

I looked up the Greek word for “share” used in John’s Gospel: μέρος (meros).  It means portion or part.  Jesus invites us to share in his ministry, to share in serving the world and in sharing God’s love.  But I can’t do my part unless I take off my “shoes” and let Jesus wash me.  I need God to love me so I can share God’s love.  I need Jesus to teach me so I can teach others.  I need people to pray for me so I can pray for the world. 

And all of this requires me to strip myself of my ego, my safety net, my distractions, my anger, and tonight my shoes—and to be served.  If I allow myself to be open to service, if I pray for the grace to let you serve me, then I’ll know what I’m asking of you when I say, “Brother, sister, let me serve you.”

Jesús nos invita a compartir en su ministerio, compartir sirviendo al mundo, compartir el amor de Dios.  Pero no puedo hacer mi parte si no me quito mis “zapatos” y dejar que Jesús lave mis pies.  Necesito que Dios me ame para que pueda compartir el amor de Dios.  Necesito que Jesús me enseñe para que yo también pueda enseñar.  Necesito que otros oren por mí para que yo pueda orar por el mundo.

Y todo esto demanda que quite mi ego, mi seguridad, mis distracciones, mi ira, y esta noche mis zapatos—para ser servida.  Si permito ser servida, si pido a Dios por la gracia de dejarle servirme, quizás sabré lo que pido cuando le digo, “hermano, hermana, déjenme servirle.”

I’m taking a class on addiction right now, and one of the requirements is to attend several 12-step meetings.  The people in the AA meeting I attended last week understand what it is to share.  Again and again I listened to people share their stories, and then to say, “it helps me to share this with you.”  And many people listening would follow up saying, “it helps me to hear your story.” The meeting was a constant give-and-take of serving and being served. 

I think the reason this works so well in AA is that every person who walks in that room has to check their pride at the door.  When you introduce yourself, you share your name, and then you name your weakness.  It’s not, “I’m Jack, and I’m an awesome father.”  Or “I’m Sally, and I’m a successful lawyer.”  But, “I’m Alex, and I’m an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or a gambler, or an over-eater, or a sex addict.”  It’s as if they say their name and take off their shoes in the same breath.

Una de mis clases es sobre la adicción, y uno de los requisitos es asistir a varias reuniones de 12-pasos.  La gente en la reunión de AA que asistí la semana pasada entiende lo que es compartir.  Varias personas comparten sus historias, y luego dicen, “me ayuda compartir esto con ustedes.”  Y algunas responden, “me ayuda a conocer su historia.”  La reunión era una constante toma y da de servir y ser servido.

Creo que la razón por la cual esto funciona bien en AA es que cada persona que entra a la reunión tiene que dejar su orgullo en la puerta.  Cuando se presenta, dice su nombre, y dice su debilidad.  No es, “Me llamo Jack, y soy un padre increíble,” o “Me llamo Sally, y soy abogado con éxito.”  No es esto.  Pero, “Me llamo Alex, y soy alcohólico.”  Es como si dicen su nombre y quitan sus zapatos al mismo tiempo.

Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

May we all take off our shoes tonight, whether they be shoes of pride or of fear or shame or loneliness.  May we take off our shoes and be washed by Christ’s love and be fed by Christ’s feast so that we too may share in Christ’s ministry.

Pedro le dijo: “¡Jamás permitiré que me laves los pies!”

Respondió Jesús: “Si no te los lavo, no podrás ser de los míos.”

Que zapatos nuestros quitamos esta noche, ya sean zapatos de orgullo, o de miedo, de vergüenza o soledad.  Que quitemos nuestros zapatos y seamos lavados por el amor de Cristo y seamos alimentados por la fiesta de Cristo para que también nosotros podamos compartir en el ministerio de Cristo.


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I got to keep on movin’

Preached on the Second Sunday of Lent at St. Matthew & St. Timothy, New York

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Oh, how Jesus laments for God’s chosen people.  He cries out in both frustration and love.  Ah!  Jerusalem!  I love you!  I want to care for you!  But you make it so hard!

For several weeks now, Mother Carla has been asking us to consider where we picture ourselves years from now—what we will be doing, who we will be with, how we will be spending our time and our talents…and then to consider where Jesus desires us to be.  Is it the same place?  Do my desires for myself and God’s desires for me coincide?  Or is there tension between how I want to spend my time and how God might be calling me to spend my time. 

Is Jesus calling out my name in frustration and love?  Is he calling out yours?

I have a confession to make.  I am a very stubborn person.  And I’m also someone who worries about what others think of me.  I want to be liked, to earn the approval of others.  Several years ago, I was living in Benin, West Africa as a missionary.  I had intended to live there two years, but it soon became clear that I just couldn’t cut it.  I had to go home. 

And with that realization came the fear of how others would perceive my decision.  Would they think I was weak?  A quitter?  A wimp?  Would they think my faith wasn’t strong enough?  At some point, I knew in my heart that going home was the right thing to do, that God would care for me despite the many unknowns, and who cares what people think?

After figuring out this whole—you’re going to be ok, God will care for you, don’t worry about what others think—revelation, I got a little perturbed with God.  I said to God, “Really?  Did you have to bring me all the way to Africa to figure this out?”  And in my heart, I could hear God’s response plain as day: “Yes, Lauren, you’re just that stubborn.”

It’s true.  I’m stubborn.  And sometimes God has to go to great lengths to teach me something. 

Like Jerusalem, we are God’s people.  During baptism we are “marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever.”  We use Christ’s name to identify ourselves as Christians.  And Like Jerusalem, we too can cause God to call out in lament and frustration. 

Are you familiar with the term “face-palm?”  It’s when one smacks their palm to their forehead—like so:

Here are some Jesus face-palm moments I can imagine:

When Westboro Baptist Church holds up signs reading, “God hates Gays” at the funeral of a fallen soldier.  Face-palm.

When a priest apologizes for participating in an interfaith memorial service for the children of Newtown.  Face-palm.

When a church tries to cover up clergy pedophilia.  Face-palm. 

When I am too self-absorbed to make eye contact with the homeless man sitting outside the seminary gate. 

When I gossip about a peer because it makes me feel more secure. 

When I ignore a call from a friend or family member because I’ve got more important things to do. 

Face-palm, face-palm, face-palm.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  Christians, Christians!  You!  Me!  Us!

And even in his exasperation, Jesus longs to care for us.  “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  It’s as if he’s shouting, “HEY!  Let me love you!”

Gosh, we can be stubborn.  The good news is: Jesus is stubborn too.

Jesus is traveling in much of Luke’s Gospel.  From chapter 9 to chapter 19, Jesus is making his way from the region of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem.  I imagine it takes him as long as it does because he is so busy healing people.  When the Pharisees tell Jesus he needs to get a move on because Herod is coming to kill him, Jesus says, “Tell that fox I’m busy healing people and casting out demons!”  And then he reminds us that he’s on a journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus knows what to expect in Jerusalem.  He knows he’s journeying toward death.  But dying is just as much a part of Jesus’ ministry as healing people and casting out demons.  Indeed dying is integral to Jesus’ ministry—he’s got to die if he’s going to conquer death.  And so he keeps journeying, keeps healing, keeps fighting evil despite Herod’s threats and Jesus’ impending death.  This is a stubborn Jesus.

Here’s why I’m talking about stubbornness and journeying.  Because we too are on a journey to Jerusalem.  And we too know what to expect—a dying savior.  During this season of Lent we think about the sacrifice Christ made in love for us—He stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” 

We are preparing ourselves to accept God’s love for us.  We are preparing ourselves for the life that Love calls us to lead.  We are on a journey.

And this preparation, it takes time.  Habits are hard to break and make.  30 days remain in Lent.  Is God calling out to you?  Do you hear frustration?  Do you hear love?  Perhaps both? 

What will it take for us to let God’s love rule our lives.  What will it take for us to live risky, messy, Christ-like lives.  What will it take for me to align my plans with God’s plans as Mother Carla has challenged us to imagine.  You may be stubborn like me.  But Jesus is stubborn too.  And we’ve still got 30 days. 

Lets make them count.  Amen. 

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Me gusta mueve, mueve.

24 Febrero, 2013—Cuaresma 2C—Iglesia de San Mateo & San Timoteo, Nueva York

Génesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Filipenses 3:17-4:1; San Lucas 13:31-35

 “¡Jerusalén, Jerusalén, que matas a los profetas y apedreas a los mensajeros que Dios te envía! ¡Cuántas veces quise juntar a tus hijos, como la gallina junta sus pollitos bajo las alas, pero no quisiste!

Como Jesús se lamenta por la gente elegida de Dios.  Él clama en frustración y amor.  ¡Ah, Jerusalén!  ¡Te amo! ¡Quiero cuidarte!  Pero tú lo haces tan difícil.

Hace unas semanas, Madre Carla nos preguntó que a dónde nos imaginamos a nosotros mismos en unos años—lo que haremos, con quién estaremos, cómo pasaremos nuestro tiempo y usaremos nuestros talentos… también nos preguntó que dónde nos imaginamos que Jesús quiere que estemos.  ¿Es el mismo lugar?  ¿Mis deseos de mí y los deseos de Dios de mí coinciden?  Quizás hay tensión entre cómo quiero pasar mi tiempo y cómo Dios quiere que pase mi tiempo.

¿Llama Jesús mi nombre en frustración y amor?  ¿Llama el suyo?

Tengo una confesión que hacer.  Soy una persona muy obstinada. Y también soy una persona que se preocupa de lo que otros piensan de mí.  Quiero ser querida, quiero ganar la aprobación de otros.  Hace unos años, vivía en Benin, África como misionera.  Tenía la intención de vivir allí dos años, pero pronto quedó claro que yo simplemente no podía quedarme.  Tuve que volver a los Estados Unidos. 

Y con esa realización vino el miedo de cómo otros percibirían mi decisión.  ¿Piensan que yo era débil?  ¿Una desertora?  ¿Una cobarde?  ¿Piensan que mi fe no era bastante fuerte?  A algún punto, sabía en mi corazón que irse a casa era la cosa correcta para hacer, que Dios cuidaría de mí en cada momento, ¿y qué importa lo que la gente piensa?

Después de esta revelación, estaba un poco enojada con Dios, “¿En serio?  ¿Me tuvo que traer a África para que yo pudiera entender esto?”  Y en mi corazón, podía oír la respuesta de Dios: “Sí, Lauren, eres tan obstinada.” 

Es cierto.  Soy obstinada.  Y a veces Dios tiene que usar mucha fuerza para enseñarme algo.

Como Jerusalén, somos el pueblo de Dios. Durante el bautismo somos “marcados y sellados como de Cristo para siempre”. Utilizamos el nombre de Cristo para identificarnos como cristianos. Y como Jerusalén, nosotros también podemos causar a Dios  gritar en lamento y frustración.

¿Está usted familiarizado con la frase “facepalm” en ingles, o “mano en la cara”?  Es cuando uno golpea su cara con la mano, significando vergüenza ajena—así:


Yo imagino que Jesús lo hace en los siguientes momentos:

Cuando Westboro Baptist Church levanta signos que dice, “Dios odia los Gays” en el funeral de un soldado.

Cuando un sacerdote se disculpa por participar en un servicio interreligioso memorial para los niños de Newtown. 

Cuando la iglesia trata de cubrir la pedofilia del clero u otros líderes.

Cuando estoy demasiado ensimismado para ver el hombre sin hogar sentado fuera de la puerta del seminario. 

Cuando chismeo sobre un compañero/a para sentirme más segura. 

Cuando ignoro una llamada de un amigo o un miembro de mi familia porque tengo cosas más importantes que hacer. 

¡Jerusalén, Jerusalén! ¡Cristianos, cristianos! ¡Yo! ¡Usted! ¡Nosotros!

Aún con su exasperación, Jesús quiere cuidar de nosotros.  “¡Cuántas veces quise juntar a tus hijos, como la gallina junta sus pollitos bajo las alas!”  Es como si él grita, “¡Oye!  ¡Déjeme amarle!”

Ay, como podemos ser obstinados.  Las buenas noticias son: Jesús es obstinado también. 

Jesús está viaja mucho en el Evangelio de San Lucas.  Desde el capítulo 9 al capítulo 19, Jesús hace su camino de la región de Galilea a la ciudad de Jerusalén.  Me imagino que su viaje toma mucho tiempo porque él está tan ocupado curando la gente.  Cuando los fariseos dicen a Jesús  que debe irse porque Herodes viene para matarle, Jesús dice, “¡Díganle a ese zorro que estoy ocupado curando la gente y expulsando a demonios!”  Y nos recuerda que él esta en un viaje a Jerusalén.  Jesús sabe lo que va a suceder en Jerusalén.  Él sabe que está caminando hacia la muerte.  Pero morir es una parte del ministerio de Jesús, como curando los enfermos y expulsando demonios.  En efecto, morir es esencial para el ministerio de Jesús—hay que morir para conquistar la muerte. 

Y así sigue viajando, sigue curando, sigue luchando contra el mal a pesar de amenazas de Herodes y muerte inminente.  Esto es el Jesús obstinado.

Por eso estoy hablando de obstinación y viaje.  Porque también nosotros estamos en un viaje a Jerusalén.  Y también nosotros sabemos lo que nos espera—la muerte de nuestro salvador. 

Durante este tiempo de Cuaresma, pensamos en el sacrificio que Cristo ha hecho en amor por nosotros—él extendió sus brazos amorosos sobre el cruel madero de la cruz.  “¡Jerusalén, Jerusalén, que matas a los profetas y apedreas a los mensajeros que Dios te envía! ¡Cuántas veces quise juntar a tus hijos, como la gallina junta sus pollitos bajo las alas!” 

Nos preparamos para aceptar el amor de Dios por nosotros.  Nos preparamos para la vida que el Amor nos llama a vivir.  Estamos en un viaje. 

Y esta preparación toma tiempo.  Hábitos son difíciles de romper y de hacer.  30 días permanecen en la Cuaresma.  ¿lo llama Dios a usted?  ¿Oye frustración?  ¿Oye amor?  ¿Quizás ambos? 

¿Qué necesitamos para que el poder de Dios gobierne nuestras vidas?  ¿Qué necesitamos para vivir vidas arriesgadas, desordenadas, parecidas a Cristo?  ¿Qué necesito para alinear mis planes con los planes de Dios como Madre Carla nos ha pedido imaginar?  Quizás usted puede ser obstinado como yo.  Pero Jesús es obstinado también.  Y todavía nos quedan 30 días. 

Que la Cuaresma nos mueva y nos cambie.  Amén.

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whisper words of wisdom

This was my first time preaching in the parish I grew up in as a teenager.  It was especially meaningful to see so many familiar faces, as many people are already home for Christmas.  It was also a perk to see my college New Testament professor on the front row, which reminded me that I once wrote an exegesis on this same passage for her class… and got a bad grade.  She challenged me to look for something more–and I am grateful!  Only downside was my lack of voice.  Despite being the first to bed Saturday night, cups and cups of tea, and lots of TLC… I could barely get out a whisper.  The Rev. Tom Crittenden could not have been a more gracious host, especially under the quiet circumstances.  I hope to come back–next time in “voz alta!”

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Preached at R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church, Lexington, VA

Micah 5:2-5a   *  Hebrews 10:5-10  *  Luke 1:39-55

Oh Lord, uphold thou me that I may uplift thee.  Amen. 

Several weeks ago, when I peaked at the lectionary for the fourth Sunday of Advent to see what I might be preaching on in my childhood parish, I could not help but sing as I opened to Luke’s Gospel.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord…” You see, where I live and worship at seminary, this is a text we sing every evening in chapel.

Immediately, I started thinking of all the cool things I could say about Mary.  How Mary has been depicted in art—from the most grandiose of stained glass windows, to the simplest of roadside shrines.  How Mary has been depicted in music—from Bach’s Magnificat to The Beatle’s Let it be.  All the many ways we encounter Mary in our day-to-day life, and how or why that is.

But then I paused, and realized I was getting carried away.  For if we look at Mary’s words in Luke’s gospel today, we see that every note she sings points not to herself, but to God.  And if we consider that we are a mere two days away from celebrating the birth of Christ, and a mere nine days away from the bloodshed of innocent children and teachers in Sandy Hook—what then do the words in today’s scripture offer us in this moment, now.

We started this morning with words from Micah—a prophet before Jesus’ time.  He says of the coming ruler: “he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord…and they shall live secure… and he shall be the one of peace.”  Is this not what we are longing for in this season of Advent and in this time of grief and bewilderment?  Do we not long to be fed, to be strengthened, to be secure—do we not long for peace?  Indeed I believe this to be the cry of our hearts, even as we have cried real tears this week.

And yet, do we believe in this “one of peace” that Micah promises?  We see the word “believe” a lot this time of year.  “Believe” is written across Christmas cards and even across the Macy’s building in New York City.  Depending on whom you ask, the word could be used to describe our desired relationship with Jesus, Santa or both.  Believe.

This is where Mary comes in.  This is where she speaks to us.  It is her response that teaches us how to respond to the events of our lives and to the coming Christ.

When Elizabeth greets Mary she exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Elizabeth explains her proclamation a bit more when she says, “Blessed is she who believed.”

You all know the story that directly precedes this exchange.  There was young Mary, minding her own business, when the angel of the Lord, Gabriel, came to her and said, “Surprise!  You have found favor with the Lord, and you’re going to have a son, and you’re going to name him Jesus, and he’s going to be the Son of God.”

And blessed, lowly, young Mary responded: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Wow.  Wow!  Blessed is she who believed indeed!  Here am I.  Let it be.  Quite possibly the bravest words ever spoken by a young girl.

You know my favorite thing about these words?  That they were spoken at all.  Mary is a self-proclaimed servant of the Lord.  The Greek word for servant used here is ἡ δούλη and can also be translated as handmaid or slave.  In other words, Mary didn’t have to say anything at all.  You could argue that she had no choice but to be obedient.  But Mary speaks!  She responds.  She asserts her own agency in the Christmas story.  Here I am, let it be.  Simple, yet powerful words.

Now that we’ve reviewed why it is that Elizabeth calls Mary blessed, let’s see what we can learn from Mary’s song that follows.

Mary exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The words used for soul and spirit, ψυχή and πνεῦμά are used interchangeably throughout the bible and both derive their meaning from the idea of moving air, like breathing. ψυχή and πνεῦμά are not used to connote different parts of our being, but the whole of our being. That which animates us and makes us ourselves is that which rejoices within Mary.

It is the same beingness in Mary that magnifies the Lord.  To magnify is to exult or make great. It is as if Mary’s soul, Mary’s being, is making God bigger. And indeed as Mary’s belly grows with the gestating Son of God, one cannot help but acknowledge the magnification.

While Mary realizes that all generations shall call her blessed, she immediately points to God as the cause of blessing: “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” It is God’s might, God’s deeds, God’s mercy, and God’s strength that Mary exults.  This points to Mary’s humility, contrary to “the proud in the imagination of their hearts” that God scatters. If anyone could “imagine” herself proud, surely it would be the mother of God.  And yet Mary says, no, it is God who deserves the glory.

So how do Mary’s responses of “Here I am… Let it be… Glory to God…” how do they inform our response in this very strange and special moment we find ourselves in?

I think the “Here I am” calls us to be in the present.  It’s not a “Wait just a sec…” or “Were you saying something?” or “I’ll be right with you…” but I’m here.  Right here.  And I’m listening.

The “Let it be” may sound a bit passive, but it’s not.  It would be passive to say nothing at all.  The “Let it be” calls us to believe.  It calls us to acknowledge that which seems crazy and foolish and indescribable and unbelievable—to realize the absurdity of God making Godself a vulnerable, nursing child—to realize the absurdity of a maimed and broken King rising to victory over death—to realize the absurdity of God seeking out the lowly, seeking out us, to make God’s presence bigger and magnified in the world—to look at all of that together and say “Let it be…” I believe.

To believe is a tall order.  And it’s Mary’s “Glory to God” that shows us how to bridge the gap between knowledge and faith.  Mary looks on her own lowliness and seems to say, “I know it’s crazy… but look at God.  Look at all God has done and is doing.”

Did you notice all of Mary’s acclamations are in the past tense?  She’s already living into the promises—God has done great things, God has shown strength, God has scattered the proud and lifted up the lowly, God has fed the hungry.  Not “God will” but “God has.”  The God Mary points to is not far off in the distance, but right there with her.  Because Mary knows she needs God to be with her if she is to have the courage to believe, and we need the same.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

For nine days we have mourned the nonsense of lost little ones.  In two days we’ll celebrate the nonsense of God with skin on.  The vulnerability of these two moments is not lost on us.  And it’s hard to know how to respond.

But we look to Mary today, and we hear her response.  And it is my prayer that we will find in Mary’s song the courage to sing our own song of: Here I am… Let it be… Glory to God.


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Empezando Con El Fin: Jesús Al Revés

Primer Domingo De Adviento, Iglesia de San Mateo & San Timoteo, Nueva York

Jeremías 33,14-16  *  Salmo 24  *  1 Tesalonicenses 3,12–4,2  *  San Lucas 21,25-28.34-36

¡Ya llegó!  ¡Ya llegó!  Finalmente ya está aquí.  La estación que esperamos, el tiempo de anhelo.  Aquí estamos en el primer domingo de Adviento, el comienzo de un año nuevo en la iglesia.  Quizás piensan que el evangelio que leemos hoy debería haber dicho algo como: ¡Estén listos—un niño viene quien va a cambiar el mundo!  En vez de eso, tenemos a Jesús hablando, como hombre, sobre el fin de tiempo.  ¿Por qué empezamos con el fin?  Es como leer la última página de un libro antes de mirar al capítulo uno.

Este es el punto de Adviento: Estamos preparando el camino del Señor.  Cantamos, “Oh ven, oh ven, Emanuel”  Miramos a nuestros calendarios de Adviento en expectativa del Cristo que viene (yo prefiero los calendarios con los chocolates para comer cada día).  Pero la manera mejor de prepararse para Cristo, ya sea la primera venida o la segunda, es estar presente.  Jesús nos dice en el evangelio de San Lucas: hay que vivir en el presente.  Y esas palabras son tan verdaderas cuando nos preparamos para la Navidad como cuando nos preparamos para el fin del tiempo también.

¿Qué, exactamente es esta idea del fin de los tiempos?  Cuando Jesús dice, “La gente se desmayará de miedo al pensar en lo que va a sucederle al mundo,” Jesús habla de un tipo específico del mundo.  No es el mundo en general—la palabra en el Griego es kosmos.  Pero la palabra en Griego que se usa aquí es ouikoumene, que se refiere específicamente al mundo económico y político.  Es casi como si Jesús estuviese aquí in este momento exacto, hablando a nosotros.  Jesús no está gritando, “!Es el fin del mundo!” Pero dice, “Es el fin del mundo como lo conocemos.”

En los tiempos de Jesús, Roma era el opresor del que todos querían ser libre.  Nuestra lección de Jeremías también indica los varios opresores de esa época en Jerusalén.  Y a nosotros, ¿Qué nos oprime?  ¿de que deseamos ser libre?  Quizás dificultades económicas y disturbios políticos como en el día de Jesús y Jeremías?  Claro.  ¿Qué más deseamos y esperamos?  ¿Igualdad y justicia social?  ¿Curación en nuestro mundo, nuestra iglesia y nuestros cuerpos?  ¿Restablecimiento de las relaciones y el amor?  ¿Quizás deseamos algo tan simple como una hora adicional de dormir, o bien tiempo para ponerse al día en el trabajo?

La cosa interesante del anhelo es que nunca nos deja.  Aún si obtenemos lo que deseamos, otra idea o persona o cosa captura nuestro anhelo otra vez.  Hace dos años, estaba predicando durante Adviento en mi iglesia, y mencioné como yo añoraba que mi novio pidiera mi mano en matrimonio.  Pues, él lo hizo.  Y yo fui desde ese deseo de ser comprometida al anhelo de estar casada.  Y ahora, como somos casados, deseo tener hijos.  Siempre hay algo,  ¿verdad?

No es fácil estar presente cuando hay tanto que anhelar.  Jesús lo entiende.

Adviento es el tiempo de anhelo.  Verdad.  Y empezamos este tiempo hoy con las palabras de Jesús: “Tengan cuidado y no dejen que sus corazones se hagan insensibles por los vicios, las borracheras y las preocupaciones de esta vida…Estén ustedes preparados.” Prepárense por la mañana prestando atención hoy.  No dejen que su anhelo por el regreso de Cristo interrumpa su mirada en la presencia de Cristo en este momento, ahora.

Jesús nos dice que la venida del Señor será obvia.  Que nadie necesita mostrárnosla, pero que la reconoceremos por nosotros mismos, casi como los brotes en los árboles que significan que el verano  viene, y las hojas que caen de los árboles que significan que el invierno viene.

Pues, ¿lo ves?  ¿Ves los signos de Cristo que están presente en tu vida?  ¿Ves el reino de Dios en tu mundo?  O quizás nuestro anhelo por lo que viene nos impide ver lo que ya ha llegado.

Eso es lo que Adviento significa.  Estamos preparándonos para el fin del tiempo a la misma vez que nos preparamos para el nacimiento de Cristo porque vivimos en el espacio entre las dos llegadas—vivimos en la tensión que abarca lo que ha sido y lo que está por venir.  Vivimos en el presente.  Y Jesús nos recuerda y nos enseña y nos invita a vivir en el presente para que no faltemos a lo que esperamos.

¿Quieres estar listo?  Pues, “amínense y levanten la cabeza,” dice Jesús, “porque muy pronto serán libertados.”  No se siente allí en sueño, anímense y levanten la cabeza.

Has visto algunos de los cruzados en nuestra ciudad, usualmente en las calles más anchas con los paseos de bicicletas, algunas tienen la palabra “LOOK”  “MIRA” pintado entre las rayas blancas.  Yo imagino que esas palabras existan para captar la atención de la gente que camina mirando a sus pies, ignorantes de con qué ellos podrían toparse o lo que podría toparse con ellos.  Pero para mí, la palabra “MIRA” pintado en la calle tiene el efecto opuesto.  Uno de esos cruzados está en frente del Hospital Bellevue donde yo trabajé este verano.  Más de una vez yo fui casi golpeada por un coche que da vuelta o por una ciclista porque la palabra “MIRA” captó mi atención, hasta que me olvidé mirar.

Jesús dice, “amínense y levanten la cabeza.”  Él dice, “pueden ver por si mismo.”  Él dice, “Estén preparados en cada momento.”

Jesús dice, “cuando vean que suceden estas cosas, sepan que el reino de Dios ya está cerca.”  El reino de Dios ya está cerca!  El reino de Dios estuvo presente cuando Dios se encarnó en el hombre de Jesús hace más de dos mil años pasado.  Y el reino de Dios reinará cuando el mundo como lo conocemos termina.  Pero el reino de Dios no solo existe en el pasado o en el futuro—¡el reino de Dios ya está cerca!  ¡Está aquí en el presente, con nosotros, atrapado entre lo que ha sido y lo que está por venir.

Sabemos el comienzo de la historia—conocemos el fin.  Nosotros vivimos en la tensión entre los dos, vivimos en el presente, vivimos en esperanza, vivimos en anhelo.  Amínense! Levanten la cabeza!  El reino de Dios ya está cerca.

[English Translation]

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Beginning at the End: Jesus in Reverse

First Sunday of Advent, Preached at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Church, New York City

Jeremiah 33:14-16  *  Psalm 25:1-10  *  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13  *  Luke 21:25-26

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s finally here!  The season we’ve all been longing for—the season, in fact, of longing.  Here we are in the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new church year.  You might think our Gospel reading would say something along the lines of: get ready—a baby is about to be born who is going to change the world!  Instead we have Jesus speaking, as a grown man, about the end of times.  Why are we starting at the end?  It’s like reading the last page of a book before even looking at Chapter 1.

Here’s the thing about Advent.  We are preparing the way of the Lord.  We are singing, Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.  We are checking our advent calendars in expectation of the coming of Christ (I prefer the kind with different chocolate shapes to eat each day).  But the best way to prepare for the coming of Christ, whether it’s the first coming or the second, is to be present.  Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel to live in the present—and those words ring just as true as we prepare for Christmas as they do in preparation for the end of time.

What exactly is this “end of times” notion?  When Jesus says, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,” Jesus is speaking of a certain kind of world.  Not just the world in general—the Greek word for that is kosmos.  But the Greek word used here is ouikoumene, which refers more specifically to the economic and political world.  Gosh, you’d almost think that Jesus was right here in this room speaking to us today.  Jesus isn’t shouting, “It’s the end of the world!”  He’s saying, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

In Jesus’ time, Rome was the oppressor everyone longed to be free from.  Our reading from Jeremiah likewise points to the various powers of oppression that ruled over Jerusalem.  What is it that oppresses us?  What is it that we long to be freed from?  Is it economic hardship and political unrest, like in Jesus and Jeremiah’s day?  Sure.  What else do we long for?  Social justice and equality?  Healing in our world, church, and bodies?  Restored relationships and love?  Or do we long for something as simple as an extra hour of sleep or a few days to catch up on life and work?

The funny thing about longing is that it never goes away.  Even if we attain what it is we long for, another idea or person or thing soon captures our longing once again.  Two years ago I was preaching during Advent, and I mentioned how I was longing for my boyfriend at the time to ask my hand in marriage.  Well he did, and I went from longing to be engaged to longing to me married.  And now that we’re married I long to have kids.  It’s always something, isn’t it?

It’s hard to be present when there is so much to long for.  Jesus gets that.

Advent is a season of longing.  True.  And we start that season off today with Jesus’ words: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life… Be alert at all times.”  Prepare for tomorrow by paying attention today.  Don’t let your longing for the coming of Christ get in the way of you seeing Christ’s presence in the here and now.

Jesus tells us that the coming of the Lord will be plain as day.  That no one will have to point it out to us, but that we will recognize it for ourselves, just as surely as we know that the buds on the trees signify the coming summer, and the leaves falling off the trees signify the coming winter.

Well… do you? Do you see the signs of Christ present in your life?  Do you see glimpses of the kingdom of God in your every day world?  Or does our longing for what is to come keep us from seeing that which is already here?

That is what Advent is really about.  We are preparing for the end of times even as we prepare for the birth of Christ because we live in that space in between—we live in the tension that spans what has been and what is yet to come.  We live in the present.  And Jesus reminds us and teaches us and exhorts us to live in the present so that we do not miss that which we hope and long for.

You want to be ready?  Well then, “stand up and raise your heads,” Jesus says, “ because your redemption is drawing near.”  Don’t sit there and day dream—stand up and raise your heads.

Have you seen how some of the crosswalks in the city, usually ones on a wider street with a bike path, some of them have the word “LOOK” painted right there in the stripes as you’re stepping off the curb?  Well I imagine these words are meant to grab the attention of people looking down, perhaps texting on their phones as they walk, oblivious of what they might run into or what might run into them.  But I find that the word “LOOK” painted on the crosswalk has the opposite effect on me.  One such crosswalk happens to be on First Avenue, right out in front of Bellevue Hospital where I worked this summer.  On more than one occasion I was nearly hit by a turning car or a cyclist simply because the word “LOOK” grabbed my attention, so that I forgot to actually look up.

Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads.”  He says,  “you can see for yourselves.”  He says, “be alert at all times.”

Jesus says, “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”  The kingdom of God is near!  The kingdom of God was present when God became incarnate in the person of Jesus over 2000 years ago.  And the kingdom of God will reign when the world as we know it comes to an end—whenever that will be.  But the kingdom of God is not just way back there in the past or way up there in the future—the kingdom of God is near.  It is right here in the present, right here with us, caught between what has been and what is to come.

We know the beginning of the story—we know the end of the story.  We live in the tension in between, we live in the present, and we live in hope.  Stand up!  Raise your heads! The kingdom of God is near.


[Spanish Translation]

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Preaching for peers–Know your peeps

This sermon marks my first time preaching in class.  Meaning it was the first time I preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, the first time I preached from an elevated pulpit, the first time I preached on tape, and the first time I preached with the understanding that my peers and professor would be evaluating what I proclaimed.

Proper 21 (September 30, 2012)–James 5:13-20 & Mark 9:38-50

Prayer—May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, oh God, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

As I compared various translations of the Gospel text for today, I was struck by the subject heading for the passage in Mark as the Common English Bible presents it.  I typically ignore such headings, but the words “Recognize Your Allies” jumped out.  Really?  Is that what this passage is about?  The disciples are clearly intent on setting themselves apart from this unknown person casting out demons, not joining up with him:  “Can you believe the nerve?  Casting out demons in Jesus’ name even though he doesn’t follow US??”

Wait a second—back up—do the disciples have the corner on the Jesus market?  Even though this man is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, the disciples are upset because the man is not following them.  Remember this exchange happens soon after their conversation wondering who of them would be considered the greatest.  Their pride is as stifling as it is familiar.  How often do we think we know the way?  Even as open-minded, welcoming Episcopalians—are we not all a bit like the disciples, a little arrogant and maybe disgruntled too that someone isn’t doing things the way we do?  Professor Malloy often reminds us that teaching liturgics at an Episcopal seminary is extremely difficult because everyone believes their way is the way.

And yet the Common English Bible suggests this is not about being exclusive, but about recognizing our allies.  Hmm.  Could it be that our allies don’t always look like us, worship like us, talk, study, eat and learn in the same place as us?  Could it be that Jesus’ vision extends far beyond—just—us?

Jesus turns the tables on the disciples.  He says stop being a tattletale and take a look at yourselves.  Here we are (seminarians) preparing for ministry, presumably up on some sort of perceived or real pedestal, what an enormous amount of responsibility!  Don’t waste your time checking others out, trying to see if they are in or out; we need to spend more time checking ourselves.  It’s pretty easy to be a stumbling block (or as the Greek says, a “scandal”) from the position we are in.

I think Jesus gives us a big clue as to what this stumbling block or scandal might be in the sentences that follow:

“If your hand causes you to “scandal,” cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell…If your foot causes you to “scandal,” cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown in hell.  And if your eye causes you to “scandal,” tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

It is better to enter life, to enter the kingdom of God maimed, lame, and one-eyed.  It is better for us to realize our shortcomings, to be self-aware and true, and to live, than it is for us to act like we’ve got it all together and miss out on life.  It is better for us to know our growing edges, to admit that we do not have all the answers, and to be closer to God—than to keep up appearances and be distant from the God we proclaim.

How do we do this.  How do we discern and allow ourselves to be shaped and formed, perhaps maimed, and thus closer to God?

Our reading from James suggests we pray.  And pray, and pray, and pray, and pray.  Pray when you’re happy, pray when you’re sick.  Pray for forgiveness, pray for the strength to help others.

I love this next part of James: “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  While the passage lifts up the idea of saving a wandering soul, look at who that wanderer is?  You!  “If anyone among you wanders…”  Skimming over this passage it could easily sound empowering and self-righteous.  Let’s go save some sinners’ souls from death!  And yes, we should be looking out for one another, we should proclaim the truth in love, we should remind each other what path we are on lest we find ourselves in the brambles.  But we must do so humbly.  We must do so in the full knowledge that we too are prone to wander.  We must do so as our maimed, lame, one-eyed selves, who just want to be closer to God

There’s one more thing we need to talk about: salt.  Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  What does salt have to do with peace?  In Jesus’ time, salt had two very important functions: to flavor and to preserve.  When I lived in Benin, West Africa, I visited the home of my student, Alexis.  His home was one room.  And on the wall of his room was a huge poster of colorful fruits and vegetables.  Written across the top of the poster was the English phrase: “Variety is the spice of life.”  Alexis was so proud of his poster with its English words, he was so proud of himself for understanding what the words meant.  And he showed that he understood the meaning of the words when he befriended me, an awkward missionary who stuck out like a sore thumb.

Being who we are, in all of our glorious differences, worshiping God and proclaiming God in a myriad of words and practices—that is the spice of life.  And it is that same spice that preserves us.  To “have salt in us” is to season and to preserve.  And this salt is what Jesus equates to peace.  He says, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”  Recognize that your allies may not look like you.  Know that peace is not built on conformity.  But when we are unique selves, and when we embrace the diversity that represents, and when we recognize an ally in the person who also points to God, even without following our way—ooooh, that is living!  That is what preserves, and that is what brings peace!


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