Monday, October 12, 2015

Then, Now and Will Be: 1892 and 120 Years of Stewardship

On the Occasion of the 120th Anniversary of St. Clement’s
Scripture Found Here

For context, the liturgy used on the 120th Anniversary of the Founding of St. Clement's was that of morning prayer with communion from the 1892 Prayer Book (American).  An online version of the 1892 prayer book can be found at

On the bookshelf in my house I have a copy of my Mother’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer--my brothers thought I should have it after she died, you know, since I’m the religious one.  It has her name in it, and every time I look at it, I am reminded of her.  I’ve never used her prayer book for my own prayers, but it becomes a means of connecting with my memories of her and grounds me more firmly in who I am.  

And, then, there is my home communion kit. Gifted to me by Jean Hoover, it belonged to her husband, the Reverend Henry Hoover.  Both Jean and Henry have died, but in using their gift I am reminded of the love that endures all things.  In the kit is a note--detailing its origin as Henry’s father’s kit, a gift from his Bishop.  I am the third generation of priest to carry this kit on visits.

We are all carriers of memories, of objects we deem sacred, we keep the traditions and pass them on to the generations to follow.  And, it is a gift to be able to turn a page and see for ourselves what those who’ve preceded us in this life of faith held dear. To kneel as they kneeled, to say the words they would have said, to be in this space and know the love and care that has gone into the preservation of what could be a museum piece alone--but is instead a vital and busy place of prayer, fellowship and service.  

Today we mark the 120th Anniversary of St. Clement’s and just as described in the carefully preserved newspaper clippings in the Service Register kept that year, we celebrate with 1892 morning prayer followed by communion.

“At the close of the consecration service, Morning Prayer was said by the Reverend Ernest Dray, the Lessons being read by Archdeacon Appleby. Bishop Potter delivered an able and appropriate the conclusion of the sermon, Bishop Gilbert, who was suffering from a severe cold, made a very brief address, calling for the need of unity and cooperation on the part of all who proposed to make St. Clement’s their church home.  Holy Communion was celebrated, Bishop Potter acting as celebrant.” (newspaper clipping, found in Parish Service Book).  

Unity and cooperation...

And, so 120 years of unity and cooperation (mostly!) have brought us here--to a place many of us call our church home.  And, our own unity and cooperation is just as essential now as it was then--we bring a variety of gifts to this place, and it is that very diversity of gifts that enlivens the body of Christ and allows us to continue on in this place for the people of the now and the people who are yet to be.  

And, so, 1892 in 2015--then and now. And I wonder how we, the people of the now, hear the words of the people of the then.  Words like render, dissemble, goodly, vouchsafe.  Phrases such as, “the place of departed spirits” and “dispose the hearts of all rulers.”  

And, then the scripture, King James Authorized--no longer authorized for our regular Sunday observances!  How will we hear the good news if the words no longer make sense to us?  

A word by word explication seems necessary.  But, then, I begin to feel a bit like the Humpty Dumpty of Alice’s encounter in “Through the Looking Glass”.  Humpty Dumpty assures her that he knows the meaning of all poems and so Alice requests an explanation of the opening verse of Jabberwocky...

''Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.'

'That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted: 'there are plenty of hard words there. "Brillig" means four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.'

And, so, Humpty Dumpty and Alice continue through each word of the opening verse of Jabberwolky, concluding

“'what does "outgrabe" mean?'
'Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle...Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?'

'I read it in a book,' said Alice.” (Carrol, Through the Looking Glass, 1971)

I read it in a book...and here we are with our books, and these words, and our history. 

From the first American Prayer Book in 1789 to the current 1979 version.  

So, what do we see in these words and phrases...what needs opening for the meditation of our hearts? When I asked myself, what one thing do I want each of you to hear in the midst of all of the words of today, I found myself drawn to one simple sentence from the Gospel.  

 “Then Jesus beholding him loved him”.  

Jesus loved him--even though he didn’t get it, even though he walked away distraught at the notion of giving out of his abundance, Jesus loved him. I’ve often thought of this text as an indictment against the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others—and it is (and next time this Gospel appears on a Sunday you’ll hear more about that!).  But, what I’d never noticed was that despite this young man’s inability to let go of the wealth that he has been told is keeping him from living up to God’s standards…despite this, he is loved by God.  When we fall short, Jesus loves us.  When we are unable to do what we should, God is present and we are loved.  

And, perhaps this, perhaps this is what unifies and allows for our cooperation--this shared knowledge that no matter how we might fall short, we will be loved.  And, no matter how our fellows fall short, they too are loved.  

The generations preceding us at St. Clement’s would have heard this text in the course of their own worship here.  And, I wonder if they too were drawn to the knowledge that Jesus loved him, and in loving him demonstrates that we ourselves are loved. I wonder, if someone sitting in that pew there, might have underlined that phrase and found comfort in it for another day.  

These are our books, these are our things, these are our inheritances.  And, they remind us both who we are, from whence we have come and of the God of love to whom we belong.  And, so the invitation today is to enter into this service with a sense of wonderment, wondering at what our ancestors in this place thought and held dear, wondering at our ability to pray these prayers that they prayed, wondering at the stewardship, and trust that was extended in order to make this place this place.

We are here because they were then.  

They will be because we are now.

Divorce and Advocacy for the Vulnerable

Proper 22B, 2015
A Preferential Option for the Poor
Readings Found Here

It’s the rare family that has not in some ways been impacted by divorce...and so I am careful with these words. I have to hold them gently and honor them fully lest we do ourselves harm in their interpretation.  I have to listen, to my pain and yours, before I begin to letter after another...seeking the grace within a text that has no loopholes.  I have to put on what I think of as my “grace goggles” in order to see the gift that this particular text so wonderfully offers when we read it with an eye towards liberation.  

So, I begin with the recognition of the damage that this text has done to the countless folk who have been impacted by divorce.  There are those for whom divorce was the best option and the right thing, those for whom it was a tragic necessity, and those for whom divorce was its own liberation. And, I move from that recognition to another reality--this text is not about divorce in the 21st century. And, this is a text that demands that we not only encounter the scripture through our own life experience

But, also through what we know about the socio-political context of the time.  

In ancient Mediterranean culture, marriage was not about the individual--it was about the joining of economic and social resources of two families.  The individuals in the marriage allowed two extended families to be joined  in what was hopefully an economically advantageous situation for the entire extended clan.  

So, divorce, brought shame upon the entire family system AND could result in feuding.  

So, the debate about divorce isn’t about individual rights--it’s about the entire extended family system.  And, not only about the family system but also the rights of a vulnerable population in the social context of ancient Mediterranea...


Divorce was not a mutually agreed upon arrangement in which the goods and rights of each person were considered as terms of the separation.  There was no divorce court, counsel or mediators on hand to protect the rights of both parties.  Judge Judy wouldn’t even exist for another 2000 years...

So, divorce was a means by which a man could dismiss his wife.  And, the dismissed woman would not only suffer the shame of being “unwanted” but would also lose goods, protections, financial and social security (as would her extended family).  

So, in a world in which women’s rights were based on their marriageability and procreative power--the injunction against divorce becomes a means of honoring the personhood of women.  

This may seem counter-intuitive in our context--but, within the context of the world in which Jesus and the disciples lived--divorce was something which disadvantaged an already vulnerable population.

This injunction against divorce precedes the welcoming of another vulnerable population--Children.  

As we discussed two weeks ago, children held little status beyond their hoped for potential.  And, in a world which lacked vaccinations and antibiotics--and where germ theory had not yes been theorized...

Potential had to be proven through survival beyond infancy and early childhood. 

First Jesus advocates for the vulnerable, women, and then he refocuses the entire conversation on the vulnerable, children.  Putting children in the center.

In a world where women and children are vulnerable, Jesus prioritizes their care.  

“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

It is from texts like these that the Christian social teaching of the Preferential Option for the Poor emerged. The theologian who first outlined this interpretive approach was Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez O.P., the first to articulate what was to become the major theological movement of Latin America--Liberation Theology. Using his study of these texts, Father Gutierrez wrote “To make an option for the poor is to make an option for Jesus”. (“A Theology of Liberation”, 1971)  

So, in caring for the marginalized, we care for Jesus.  But, perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to this message and no longer see in it the power it holds to transform the unjust systems which perpetuate poverty.   

Gutierrez writes, 

“the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” 

Jesus recognized this and draws our attention in the Gospel, in the GOOD NEWS, to those who have been marginalized by their social and cultural world. The injunction against divorce in the ancient Mediterranean was Jesus’ demand that his followers build a different social order.  

What then, does the body of Christ demand of us? In our different and diverse contexts we are called to recognize those who have been marginalized in our culture and move beyond noticing into action.  

We gather here, in order to change the world out there...our faith demands our action.  Or, as my colleague, the Reverend Winnie Vargese stated boldly in her response to the latest mass shooting, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough” 

Our thoughts and prayers are not enough...these are hard words but honest ones.  She goes on, 

“It is hard to stand up for gun control in every state in this nation, but faith is hard. One of the roles of religious communities is to hold a vision of justice larger than might be politically reasonable, a vision worthy of the Creator.”

And, this heartens me, that we as the church are called to hold up a vision of justice larger than might be politically reasonable!  

So, let us consider being unreasonable!  Let us embrace the irrational, and the audacious, the impossible and the prophetic. 

And, from that audacious place of Good News and grace, let us consider how we might hold up a vision that will be somebody else’s liberation.  

Lashon Hara--Mean Spirited Words

A Sermon for 19B, 2015
Scripture Found Here

When I first moved to Cleveland, I lived in an Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.  I noticed, fairly shortly after moving into the community, a bumper sticker on several neighborhood cars “No Lashon Hara”.  My housemates (otherwise known as the awesome friends who took me in until I found a job), explained that this meant “no evil tongue”...and was meant as a response a conflict at one of the local Synagogues.

No Lashon Hara, no cruel words or slander spoken against another with intent to bring about evil--even indirectly.  The Jewish tradition takes seriously the power of words, even true ones, to destroy relationships.  A popular Jewish folk tale goes as follows:

“A woman repeated a story (gossip) about a neighbor. Within a few days everyone in the community knew the story. The person she talked about heard what had been said about her and she was very sad. Later, the woman who had spread the story learned that it was not true. She was very sorry and went to a wise rabbi and asked what she could do to repair the damage. After giving this some thought, the rabbi said to her, “Go home, get one of your feather pillows, and bring it back to me.” Surprised by the rabbi’s response, the woman followed his advice and went home to get a feather pillow and brought it to the rabbi. “Now,” said the rabbi, “open the pillow and pull out all the feathers.” 

Confused, the woman did what she was told to do. After a few minutes, the rabbi said, “Now, I want you to find every one of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.” “That’s impossible,” said the woman, almost in tears. “The window is open and the wind has scattered them all over the room and blown many feathers outside. I can’t possibly find them all.” “Yes,” said the rabbi. “And that is what happens when you gossip or tell a story about someone else. Once you talk about someone, the words fly from one person’s mouth to another, just like these feathers flew in the wind. Once you say them, you can never take them back.” 

So many words.  And, so many times, when words assault us like a deluge.  Tweeted, posted, shared, written, e-mailed, spoken. Reply all...reply all...reply all...

The words keep coming.  And, everyone has an opinion. Read, like, share, comment.  But, oh, the comments!  Never read the comments.

Because, there be trolls...waiting like the fairytale creature beneath the bridge. Scene stealer, spirit breaker.  

Oh the fires that are set!  

A clergy colleague told a story about a forest ranger, who upon receiving a “Dear John” letter from a former beau went into the woods and set the letter ablaze.  And, from the words that inspired the fire, a greater fire spread.  Acres of forest were soon ablaze from the simple act of setting fire to those painful words.

And those were written words...pen to paper and an envelope stamped, addressed and mailed.  How quaint!  

We needn’t look far to find example of the untamed tongue set to acts of destruction.  Articles like “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” or “Six Ways Social Media Can Ruin Your Life” were at the top of my google search when I googled “People whose lives are ruined by stupid tweets or facebook posts”...

Yeah, those were just the top two of two million five hundred and fifty thousand search results...

I won’t go on.

With the return key, words go out beyond anyone’s control. A rudder, a spark, a bridle.

And, the opportunity to take those words back gone.

Now, this world of instant communication and the possibility of “going viral” wasn’t the landscape which faced the community addressed by the letter of James.  James sough to encourage the early Christian community to continue to live with an adherence to the ethic of Jewish tradition.  And the enjoinder against the untamed tongue in James reminds us of the 9th commandments injunction against “false witness”.  When people live in small communities, any false word against a neighbor has the power to destroy the entire community.  In a small tribal community, or faith community, the ill spoken word can lead to the fracturing of the unity held dear and bought at great price. 

Theologian Walter Brueggeman puts it this way, “real community depends on reliable truth telling.”

And, the transmission of the Gospel of the good news of Christ in the world, depends on reliable truth telling.

And, so I wonder, what truth would you share about this community with a neighbor, with a friend?  

What truth brings you to this place?

I invite you to think about this question for a moment before taking a post it and pen and writing down that truth.  

And, the challenge I will give you is this, share that truth with one other person who may not know the truth you know about this place.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Phoenician Woman From Syria


She was a Phoenician woman from Syria.

Allow me to repeat myself.

She was a Phoenician woman from Syria.

Far from home, and with a sick child, this Phoenician woman from Syria had heard rumors of a man who could help.

And, so she pressed her cool lips to her daughter’s forehead and abandoned her bedside vigil.

She asked in the streets if anyone had seen this man. And, rumors of his power swirled about and there were whispers and proclamations, and finally a crowd of the faithful, nay fanatical, to be found outside the home where he had sought respite from the mid-day heat and the urgency of need which surrounded him wherever he went.

And, remembering the touch of her lips on her dear ones forehead, she steeled herself to beg at the feet of this man of power.  

In the rumors lay all of her hope.

And so this Phoenician woman from Syria genuflected low. She could taste the dust and the shame. To beg so.

But, her need was greater than her need for honor.

And, at his refusal, as he called her a dog, as he bid her wait until others had achieved the liberation she so desperately longed for.

As she was bid once more, be patient, her anger welled up. And from her stooped position she met his eyes.

“Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”

And, he could not hide. He could not escape notice. And, the shame of inaction outweighed the social customs which would preserve honor. 

And, having been called out, I imagine his heart made tender. His words of hate turned into a claiming of dignity and, in this moment, begins Jesus’ mission amongst the Gentiles. 

He saw her and she saw him. And, he could no longer hide from his calling to heal. Mercy has triumphed over judgement.

This Phoenician woman from Syria has been seen and cannot be unseen. And the good news is broken open to the world beyond the walls of faith and country.  

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

A parent’s anguish and a still form lying in the surf.

And, the conflation of the Gospel with an image seared into the world’s collective consciousness. 

Even the dogs under the table.

And, the conflation of that small form with the Presiding Bishop’s and the President of the House of Deputies  call for Episcopal congregations to participate in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” on September 6th.  

Asking only for the crumbs.

My heart hurts and we are grieved. 

And, those who would readily abandon dignity for the sake of survival,

The garbage pickers and scrap haulers and the beggars and the panhandlers and the orphans and the widows and the children and the poor...

Today is a day when we cannot avert our eyes.  

We have been seen.  

And, what has been seen cannot be unseen.  

Have we seen enough?

And, with this, today becomes a day of lamentation, because the status quo is not acceptable to God nor is it to us as God’s people.  And, in lamentation we lift our voices with the transformed and transfigured Chris and from his words on the cross we join an a litany published 20 years ago...that still speaks to the lament of the Syrophoenician woman. 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Our God, our God, why have you forsaken us?
My God, our God, my Father, our Father
When will we ever learn? When will they ever learn?
Oh when will we ever learn that you intended us for
Shalom, wholeness, for peace,
For fellowship, for togetherness, for brotherhood,
For sisterhood, for family?
When will we ever learn that you created us
As your children
As members of one family
Your family
The human family--
Created us for linking arms
To express our common humanity.

God, my Father
I am filled
With anguish and puzzlement.
Why, oh God, is there so much
Suffering, such needless suffering?
Everywhere we look there is pain
And suffering.
Why must your people in El Salvador,
In Nicaragua,
In Guatemala,
In ......... [Syria],
In ......... [Tunisia],
Why must there be so much killing,
So much death and destruction,
So much bloodshed,
So much suffering,
So much oppression, and injustice, and poverty and hunger?

I don’t understand, oh God, my God,
Our God, oh my Father, our Father,
Why, oh why, must there be so much
Pain and suffering in your creation so very good and beautiful?
In Sri Lanka, in Calcutta, in Burma, in Kampuchia
Why are there boat people bobbing
About so vulnerably between vile camps in Hong Kong and in the deep blue sea, and Vietnam

And what about Latvia, and Lithuania, and Chernobyl?
I am dumbfounded
I am bewildered
And in agony--
This is the world 
You loved so much that for it
You gave your only begotten 
Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to hang
From the cross, done to death
Love nearly overwhelmed by hate
Light nearly extinguished by darkness
Life nearly destroyed by death--
But not quite--
For love vanquished hate
For life overcame death, there--
Light overwhelmed
Darkness, there--
And we can live with hope.

excerpts from Desmond Tutu’s, An African Prayer Book, “Litany”

And, as I offer this lament, and as I see what cannot be unseen, and as I proclaim the Gospel and as we gather here, and as we weep, and as we turn from sorrow to anger to despair.

And as, I wonder, where grace lies in this story, in our story...

I wonder at this story in the Gospel of Mark, where the all too human Jesus must be confronted in order to do the right thing.

And, I wonder if that’s the grace? 

That it too took confrontation, it took seeing and being seen, it took an accusation and the naming of an uncomfortable truth, for the all too human and oh so divine Christ to hear this lamentation.

And, in hearing, respond.

And, in responding, heal.

Will we, the body of Christ, hear?

And, in hearing will we be transformed?

And, in transformation will we transform the world?


Faith and works

check out these websites to learn more and find ways to get involved

International Institute of Minnesota, Refugee Resettlement.  Find out more about refugee resettlement in Minnesota.

Episcopal Relief & Development has renewed its support of those impacted by the conflict in Syria through the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC). A donate button for ERD allows monies to be designated to the “most” urgent need. 

The United Nations Refugee Agency, learn about the concerns, crisis, and cares of the global refugee population. Donate now options.

A graphic approach to an explication of the how/what/why of the Syrian crisis. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Beloved, Be A Light

Proper 17B, 2015, St. Clement’s
Scripture appointed for Proper 17B can be found at

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

The island of Maui emerged through the volcanic activity of the Volcano, Haleakala.  Growing up on the side of this dormant volcano, I was ever aware of the relationship between the sun and the earth.  From sea level, you can watch the sun gradually rise up from behind the volcano’s dome.  And, as the sun dips you can see the shadow cast by mountains and the interplay of light and shadow on the slopes of the volcano.  

Rising from the caldera and sinking into the sea with the attendant breezes and tides, the smell of salt and burnt sugar cane. The cattle lowing and roosters crowing.

From the slopes of a volcano looking out over the vast pacific, it can seem as if the world entire is in sight.  Anything beyond the horizon unimaginable and the sun more tangible than any continental mass.

And, from this interplay of light and shadow, of ocean and land, of smoke and wind--comes an understanding of the divine grounded in creation.

But this is not an understanding limited to the imagination of a child on an island, but grounded in the relationship each of us has with the created world.  The sound of a rock thrown into Lake Superior, the way the sunlight reflects off of the smaller interior lakes, the sound of loons and those moments where in the bracken an animal’s scurry gives hint to the passage of a moose.  

The sight of the moon on a crisp night, bright against the sky and silhouetted, this very church, where gardens and soil and trees and grass meet stone hewn from the earth itself.  

And, so God, creator. God, inspirer.  God, the Father of light.

And all that was and all that is and all that will be--given birth by a creator from whom all light has emanated. 

Without shadow, without obscurity.  God, the Father of light, as the author of the letter of James describes the divine creator.

Light which brings warmth, light which allows for growth, light which restores, light which gives birth to a new hope in a new day.

One of the collects for the morning, offered in the Book of Common Prayer begins, “O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning...” 

God, the Father of light, whose love and liberation destroys death and brings us life.

What an amazement...and what a gift. Light, in all of its manifestations. Creation, in all of its glory. Each and everyone of us, in all of our belovedness.

In the light of creation, we are beloved. The author of James wanted to express this belovedness to a community that wrestled with what it meant to be in community, and to be a follower of the way of Christ. 

And so grounded in that belovedness, they are tasked with being doers.  Doers of the word, bringers of light. It is out of our belovedness as children of the creator that we are charged with bringing hope, light, liberation and love into the world.  

And, those acts of doing which manifest God’s vision of light for the world transcend boundaries of race, class, cultures and creed. And this vision of light was as radical then as it is now. Radical light bringing, radical in that the light which transcends must be made available to all of creation if that creation is to survive and thrive. 

Light for all without limit or barrier! The Gospel today addresses the concerns of a community struggling with what it means to be in community, what it means to follow a Christ whose scandal is the act of embracing the love beyond the law. The declaration of all foods as “clean” was a declaration that the benchmark of our faith was not one grounded in adherence to purity legislation, but in adherence to love, in adherence to the way of Christ in the world. 

Or, as I so often put it, pastoral care trumps everything else...acts of love take priority over any rule of law or liturgy or canon or constitution.

When I served as a hospital chaplain, I served alongside an Ultra-Orthodox medical resident.  I asked him how he and the other observant Jews in the residency managed the required call schedule and observation of the Sabbath.  He was clear in his response--during the sabbath, any work that is done has to be work that sustains and saves life.  Necessary work that offers comfort, care and healing to another person is work that can be done on the Sabbath.  Love wins.

And since we are created in love, we are tasked with being co-creators of love.  

And so, I leave you with an invitation and a reminder from poet, Wendell Berry,

“Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.”

Each of us a beloved light, called to shed light unto the world.