Tag Archives: Trinity Wall Street

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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Hi there

This was filmed back in August and edited this fall (thank you communications peeps for eliminating some of my awkward pauses and facial expressions!) as a means of introduction to the congregation. In the end, Trinity decided to wait until after my ordination to publish it–and now I share it with you.

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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Shanah Tovah

Growing up in Virginia, my family celebrated Rosh Hashanah every year with our closest Jewish friends. It was a time we looked forward to–in large part–because of Maryann’s great cooking. My little brother often said he hoped he would grow up to marry a Jewish woman in hopes that fresh-baked challah would be a staple in his home. (Who knows–it could still happen!)

So last week when I met one of the members of Tamid, I got excited and nostalgic upon mention of this week’s Rosh Hashanah service. I asked around to see if I could attend (High Holy Day services in NYC are generally ticketed events with no empty seats) and was so pleased to join with five other Trinity clergy. Why would so many of us be at a Rosh Hashanah service? Because Trinity shares space with the Tamid congregation in St. Paul’s Chapel. And only tonight did I hear the story of why.

Rabbi Darren Levine told us that years ago, he and his son would shoot hoops before school almost daily. And daily they would encounter another father-son duo doing the same. A year or two passed by, and the dads became friends without ever mentioning their day jobs. In 2011, Rabbi Darren was looking for a space for Tamid to worship. The historic St. Paul’s chapel came to mind, so he looked up Trinity Wall Street’s website, only to discover the dad-friend from the basketball court: the Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones. And in a New York minute the basketball dads became clergy colleagues– the rest is history. Only tonight the history grew deeper as Tamid dedicated it’s new/restored/historic Ark as a permanent fixture at St. Paul’s. It was a beautiful celebration to witness, with some personal touches that will remain etched on my memory for all time.

Tonight I am grateful for haunting Hebrew music, moments of incarnation and Spirit filled spontaneity, a warm welcome from the people of Tamid, and the promise of profound relationships as we encounter and embody the Holy in this world together.

It’s going to be a great New Year. !שָׁנָה טוֹבָה

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Generosity and Grumbling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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#blessed

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Gospel echoes that same desperation.

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

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

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

Blessed.

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New not-yet Norms

Apparently I have a subconscious desire for making several major life changes all at once. Three years ago I got married, became Mrs., moved to New York (which also meant moving in with my husband), and started seminary all in the same week. And now, over the span of 6 weeks, I graduated seminary, was ordained a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, became the Rev., moved from Chelsea to West Harlem and started my first clergy call at Trinity Wall Street.

The new norms are numerous, and not quite normal yet. Here are the top three:

1. Groceries. One of the selling points (or in our case, renting points) to our new place is that it’s across the street from a grocery store. Awesome! And said grocery happens to have the best craft beer selection in all of NYC. Even awesomer (you heard me). But we are Trader Joe junkies. We love TJ products, and we love that they cost the same in NYC that they cost in CLT.  And now the closest TJ’s is 50 blocks away… so we’re torn about whether we should somehow schedule weekly/bi-monthly trips to TJ’s, or just cut it out of our routine all together and accept the reality of expensive groceries in The City. Booo. Also, the Harlem Fairway does not deliver for free like it does in Chelsea. Double boo. Gluten-free Jay will have to adjust his shopping habits twice over.

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Panoramic View of Thunderstorms from our Patio

2. Pepper. People in our building know who Pepper is whether they have met her or not. Why? Because we made the mistake of leaving her alone for 3hrs on her very first day in a new space to attend a great birthday party in Brooklyn. Going to the party was not a mistake… underestimating Pepper’s shock to the system was. We came home to the sound of Pepper barking at the elevator door. Note that we heard her barking on the 1st floor, but we live on the 8th. Noise carries down those elevator shafts! So we left an apology note in the elevator, “Hello new neighbors! Sorry for the three hours of barking you may have put up with today… Pepper is normally quiet, promise!” And then I left Jay’s number for complaints (hehe). Instead we got a nice “Thanks for being so courteous, and welcome!” note on our note. WIN! But any time we meet new neighbors, they say, “This must be Pepper…” Yep. She’s doing much better now, though the fireworks and thunder aren’t helping much.

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First day of work (but also: YAY real refrigerator!)

3. Clergy Collar. It appears I am allergic to my collar–or the collar studs at least. I’ve always had a metal allergy, but I can’t remember the last time I had to mess with it. Today I ordered new collar studs and less-tight collars in hopes that this new clergy getup won’t feel like an itchy noose around my neck. It’s hard enough to come up with professional-not-frumpy-female clergy outfits… and it’s hard enough to get used to the implications of wearing a collar in a world where it can signify a range of things for an even broader range of people. It may sound silly, but I try to be sure I never have a scowl on my face. I mean, really! It’s a serious adjustment, though “lauren laughs” isn’t much of a scowler.

There are a gazillion other little things like… Do I keep my personal cell phone and carry two around or migrate everything to my work phone? Relearning Microsoft and all it’s hangups. Not being able to crowd source my peers for wisdom and insight on church dorkdom. Not knowing everyone in my building or neighborhood. Commuting. But figuring out how to navigate “our daily bread,” caring for our fur baby, and acclimating to my new uniform (with snazzy accents on a good day) and all it represents… those are every-day adjustments that will def take some time to normalize.

Lord help us, and thank you Jesus.

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