Monday, September 23, 2019

It is Already Happening

20C, 2019
Readings can be found here


I had some fun this week, imagining Jesus smacking himself in the forehead for the past millennia. “Ugh, that’s not what I meant at all!”

A bit of righteous indignation on the part of our beloved savior as we try our best to hear what the spirit is saying in a passage that has confused and confounded Christians through the ages.

I can empathize…

Words are an imperfect form, and these are words that have been translated, paraphrased, copied, transcribed, through the lens of the reader and of the listener. And, like the game of telephone, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what the good news was when the words first came to form.

So, we try our best to go to the source. We meditate with our hearts, praying that in all the words that are said, some word of God will be heard.

Some word of God. A word of God that makes sense of a passage that seems to let a schemer off the hook. A word of God in a passage that seems to extol cheating the rich. A word of God in a passage that we encounter through the lens of our own shame about money and how we use it.

The word of God...

And, here we are, set to hear it and to heed it—in the midst of our own struggle and confusion.

Our own struggle and confusion in trying to figure out who is “good” in the story and who is “bad” in the story. About who is “right” and who is “wrong”. About who God is, about who Jesus is, and about who we are in the story.

The rich man, the manager, the debtors, the disciples.

The manager’s job is to make more money for the rich man. To manage the income and expenses of his employer in such a way that they are increased and the rich man becomes richer.

The manager, however, has mismanaged the accounts. One reading of this text implies that the manager has a history of writing off the debts of debtors—only collecting a part of what the rich man is owed. And, in this sense, he is a TERRIBLE manager.  

He is a TERRIBLE manager because he was trusted with wealth and has given it away. Given it away to the poor. To the desperate. To those who have little when the rich man has much.

He has cheated the rich man!  And, he is bad! Or is he?

 This is where the confusion slips in. The rich man ends up commending the manager for his wits.


By any reading of the text and our knowledge of economics—the manager has mismanaged funds and ought to be punished. But, Jesus, once again has upset our expectations of how we think the world works. Arguably, Jesus has identified a systemic injustice, accrual of wealth for self without care for others and for God, and in pointing out this injustice, Jesus is asking the disciples to reconsider what they thought they knew about God’s economic justice.

If the dishonest manager is able to right economic inequality and in doing so perform a good, how much more good can the disciples do when they give without any expectation for return.

Try to be as good as the bad guy seems to be the takeaway here…it’s a pretty low bar!

And, we laugh, because it’s unexpected. We find humor in this because it seems so outlandish.

But, is it outlandish to think that what God would have us do is forgive debts? Is it outlandish to think that what God would have us do is give to the poor? Is it outlandish to think that God cares about what we do with all that we have?

Many of us have been raised to be “polite” about money. Conversations about money, have or have not, tend to make us uncomfortable. The author of the Gospel of Luke clearly does not share our compunction and economic justice and restoration are very much at the heart of Jesus’ ministry as the Lukan author understands it.

In chapter 4 of Luke, Jesus’ very first reported public teaching references the prophetic ideal of a year of Jubilee.

Jesus stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In chapter 25 of the Book of Isaiah, which Jesus is quoting in this passage, the prophet declares a year of Jubilee in which land is redistributed, debts are cancelled, slaves are freed, and prisoners are released. It is a year in which the people participate in a full scale reset of all cultural and economic inequalities. Jubilee is a full-scale enactment of God’s mercy in the form of economic reparation and the liberation of all people from enslavement and captivity. What if the parable equivalent of Jesus is the dishonest manager? What if? The one who writes off the debts and intercedes on the behalf of debtors?

Hard to imagine, no?

It seems impossible, no?

From what we know, this year of Jubilee was never fully lived out by the Israelites or our Christian forbears. But, this does not weaken the impact of the message, because it’s held up as the ideal to strive for. God’s will for us and God’s intent is that all shall be free, that the land shall flourish, that wrongs will be righted AND that we will be actors in this reversal of fortune. That WE are part of the in-breaking of justice in this world. And, in Jesus’ reference to this passage, we are being told that what seems impossible is fulfilled through the personhood and divinity of Jesus.

A personhood and divinity we share as members of the Body of Christ.

As members of the Body—a Body that transcends time and sees and names injustices not as an acceptable status quo but as a repairable breach of God’s intention at creation.

And, so Jesus teaches the disciples, teaches them that they they are not passive observers, they are empowered to act. That they can use the gifts they have been given with an eye towards the righting of wrongs and the care of others. That if the dishonest can do good, how much greater good can they do as they strive to enact God’s radical mercy.

And, so as the disciples learn so too do we. We learn that we can repair. We can renew. We can live in and with and through God’s mercy.

We can do it—and as I reminded you all a couple of weeks ago, it is not too hard nor is it too far off.

And, it is already happening.

Earlier this month, Virginia Theological Seminary, a seminary of the Episcopal Church made the news when the seminary’s leadership announced that VTS would be setting aside 1.7 million dollars as seed money towards reparation efforts in recognition of the fact that the seminary had been built with slave labor and that many of its early founders and donors had been enriched through the enslavement of Americans of African descent.

It is already happening.

Over the past 9 years, members of St. Clement’s have sent roughly 270,000 dollars for reforestation and economic vitalization efforts in Haiti.* Haiti, which was initially deforested by European explorers for the planting and exportation of sugar cane, has continued to suffer as the impoverishment of its people, political turmoil, and natural disaster have led to further environmental degradation.

It is already happening.

Next week, we will pack non-perishable meals for distribution to hungry children and families in our community ( We will use our resources to purchase the food, and we will use our privilege to continue to advocate for hungry people in our communities—joining with organization like the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition to address social justice issues that directly impact the people of Minnesota.

It is already happening.

On Friday, children around the world led a climate strike to advocate for their future and the future of this earth. The children could not be ignored, no more than we can ignore that we have the power to advocate for change.

It is already happening.

And, so in my reading of Luke 16 today, I am not centering the dishonest manager, rather I am centering the empowered followers. Those who will engage the work of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation in the world. Those who will strive to be akin to Christ in their ministry. 


Now, that is quite the game of telephone through the ages!

And I trust that I will be forgiven if I too have mistranslated, misread, or misheard the Good News. I trust that Jesus will shrug and say, “that’s not what I meant at all…” and I will try again and again to get it right. But for now, for today, this is what I have. This is what I have as I try to make sense of God’s profligate love and the means by which we might make this love known in the world.

For all the world. For all God’s beloved children. For all of creation.

It is already happening and we are taking part.


*a congregant brought it to my attention that the conflation of reparation and our ministry in Haiti was never the intent or purpose of our ministry with our ministry partners in the region. I want to be clear that reparation, or any form of expiation, has NEVER, to my knowledge, been part of the conversation the congregation has had about our ministry in the region. I also want to be clear, that the root of reparation is quite simply, repair. We are participating, with partners, in repairing what was initially broken, in part, by the French when they cut down forests in order to propagate sugar cane in Haiti for export. For more about our ministry partners, head to

Additionally, due to this conversation, I did add a couple of clarifying sentences to the section on Haiti (nothing was deleted) and a clarifying sentence on centering the empowered followers. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Life or Death and Care for Creation

18C, 2019, readings here

I am setting before you today life and death

On Pentecost, I invited the congregation to consider their own visions and dreams for the world and many of you shared your hopes that we will find the mind, the will, and the heart to address the issue of climate change. And, so in response to your visions as well as the wider Church’s call to observe a season dedicated to creation, we will be observing what some have come to call “Creationtide”.

Creationtide, a season within the season of Ordinary Time, invites us to use our worship, our forums and our fellowship as opportunities to explore what a faithful response to the climate crisis might look like and how we are called, as Christians, to care for God’s creation. 

So here we are, and I as preacher, have the task of kick starting this season…

I’m going to begin with a quick poll.  Raise your hand if you read a newspaper. What about watch the news on television or streaming? The Daily Show? Anyone?

How many of you read scientific journals? How many of you are familiar with the term “Climate justice”?

Raise your hand if you listen to MPR.

So, my job today is not to repeat what you’ve already read or heard or studied. Today’s sermon will not include data points or ominous warnings marking the exact volume of sea ice lost this year. What I hope the sermon will do is help us all to connect the scripture we heard today to the issue of climate change, the climate crisis, and how we can understand the call to action as God’s call in our time and place. 

And, that seems like plenty…

So, what happens when you read the text through the lens of the Climate Crisis? What happens when you take seriously the word of God, in light of climate change and all that comes with it?

The first reading we heard proclaimed today was from Deuteronomy. There are five books in the Torah, those books of the Bible traditionally ascribed to Moses. The last of these is Deuteronomy—a book whose principal focus is the covenant between God and God’s people and how that covenant can be maintained through faithful ritual practice and the law.  

Deuteronomy’s composition spanned the exilic period following the fall of Samaria and the first stages of the restoration of Judea. The restoration of the people to the land for which they had longed—the land which was, and is, a key feature of God’s commitment to God’s people. 

And so, the law in Deuteronomy is law written for the people and the land and the God who had restored them both. Restored them in a place where vines would grow and water would flow and bees would keep their sweet, sweet, honey. The well-being of the people cannot be separated from the health and vitality of the land which they occupy. 

For example, from Chapter 11, “the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that the LORD your God looks after…If you only heed God’s every commandment, then God will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and oil.”

EVERY commandment…keeping God’s commandments is a prerequisite if creation is to flourish. And, while we tend to focus on the “Big 10”, in Deuteronomy you will find laws governing everything from hunting, to planting, to harvest. Even in warfare, the early Israelites are prohibited from desecrating the land, “if you besiege a town for a long time…you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them.” (Deut. 20:19).

God cares about the people; God cares about the land. 

As Christians, we know ourselves as inheritors of the covenant, and our story of liberation follows the trajectory of the early Israelite people as they emerge from exile and settle in the land that they had been promised. What would it be like if Christians, all Christians were to take seriously the biblical injunctions that are intended for the care of creation? 


Without the land we have no milk, without the land there is no honey. 

No bees, no trees, no fruit, no us. 

By reason alone, we must see that God’s care for us cannot be separated out from our call to care for creation. If the land is to flow with milk and honey, the land will need tending. 

And so, we are called to tend, and to grow, and to offer the first fruit, fruit from rich soil, watered and nourished through care and sheer grace, to God and to all who hunger. 

“the Lord brought us into this place and gave us this land…So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground as an offering. As an offering to God an offering to be shared with “the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill” (Deuteronomy  26:10-12).

We must tend the land. Tend the land, so that all may eat. So that all may live. 

Creation, land, us, the poor, and our God—we cannot speak of one without speaking of the other. We cannot hope to live in fullness of life, without tending to all of creation. 

All of creation…daunting, no? And so, if you like me feel yourself giving up in despair because all is simply too much, I want to remind you of a central tenant of our faith, 

Death is not the end of the story. We are a resurrection people. We proclaim every single week that Jesus was dead and he came back to life! We proclaim that death was overthrown, and evil will never win. 

And, holding this truth at the center, we need not despair, but we do need to act. We need to act—we need to pick up our cross and address the environmental crisis at hand. In this, we as disciples who have studied what it means to overthrow death, may bring forth life into the world. 

Bring forth life, from desert places, by keeping God’s commandments for the care of creation.  

The care of creation, for the care of our children. The leaders of the Israelites led them across the desert so that there would be a future for their children. It was not for them, but for their future. Is it any wonder then, that today’s prophets include our children? 

Hear the words of 16 year old Greta Thunberg,

“There are no gray areas when it comes to survival. Now we all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the future living conditions for humankind, or we can continue with our business as usual and fail. That is up to you and me. “ (Greta Thunberg, “Our House is on Fire” 2019 World Economic Forum,

Today’s prophets speak…and they sound a great deal like the word of God in our midst. 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…choose life so that you and your descendants may live”

To choose hope, rather than despair. To choose life, rather than death. To choose to act…to act for a future that fills our present hopes. 

I have set before you life and death. There are not gray areas when it comes to survival. Now we all have a choice. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live. 

That was Greta, and Moses.

It may seem too much, but good people of God, I turn once more to the scripture—this time the passage from Deuteronomy that immediately precedes that which we heard today, “this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is
not in heaven...neither is it beyond the, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (30:11ff)

Scientists, climatologists and ecologists would concur—it’s not too hard or far away.

And, in this, I will end with the words of Bill McKibben, a scientist not known for his optimism. He wrote The End of Nature and in an interview last April he said, “The point is, we don’t lack the things we need to get done that need doing. We have the technology, and we have an enormous number of people who have great love and affection for the world around them and for other human beings.”
This commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard or too far away. We don't lack the things we need to get done that need doing. We have an enormous number of people who have great love and affection for the world around them the word is very near to them; it is in their mouth and in their heart. 

That was Bill McKibben, and Moses. 

And so, we will, with God’s help. 


United Under the Law and the Prophets

Proper 16C, 2019
Readings, here

When a code is called in the hospital, everyone stops.

They stop, the glance down at their pagers, and they run.

They drop everything and run. Cafeteria tray abandoned, conversations halted right in the middle of the story.

In the face of human need, nothing else mattered.

Besides the common goal of saving a human life.

My first call as a priest was as the chaplain of a children’s hospital. This is where I learned about the fragility of life and about what really matters…

What really matters.

And, in a world in which we are so often divided. Where factions cannot seem to agree on even the simplest of things. We have to consider what really matters.

When a life is at stake, when the earth is at stake, when children are at stake, when we—all of us—are at stake. We have to stop everything and consider what it is that really matters.

In the hospital, it was easy. Our pagers would alert us and our roles were clear—we were there to support the lives of people in desperate need. So, we were united. The gay priest and the Hassidic Jews. The Conservative Evangelical Christians and the atheists. The new age humanists and the old school Catholics. The doctors and the nurses. We were united in a fundamental place of life and death, hope and healing—and, at bedside, we were forced to set aside anything but that which had become essential.

In the day to day of our lives, it becomes easy to forget that we share a common goal. When we aren’t standing on the brink of life and death and called to service in the midst of crisis, we can forget what really matters.

We can forget what it means to share a common goal grounded in love. Distracted by the onslaught of opinions and media, factionalizing and fiction, we forget.

But, today’s scripture reminds us. It reminds us what it looks like when we unite in response to the affliction of another. It reminds us of God’s intention of goodness for all of creation. When we rejoice at the healing of the bent over woman, we are reminded of our shared humanity and mutual concern.

And, we are reminded that there is need all around us and that responding to that need takes precedence over our own plans and agendas. The work of healing, the healing of the earth and its people, takes center stage as everything else fades into the background.

This is an ideal. This is the love that transcends. This is the will of God. The will of God, that moves us beyond our tendency to define people as either good or bad, evil or righteous, right or wrong. Which is where I want to pick up the Gospel for today.

The Gospel on its face, seems to set the Pharisees and Sadducees up as villains and Jesus and Jesus’ followers as the good guys. But what happens if we look at how these two groups might be united in a common cause? What happens if we take the time to look beyond the factions and towards the faith they shared?

What happens if we assume good intentions and try to understand the Pharisees and Sadducees motivation?

The religious authorities, in their service to the people, relied on the law and the prophets to make sense of a broken and chaotic world. In trying to maintain religious life and community, they had to look at the big picture of what was best for the Jewish people as opposed to what might be best of a single individual. One of the basic tenants they would have worked to uphold was adherence to the Ten Commandments. One of which is that of Sabbath rest.

Nowadays, people don’t seem to give much credit to the Sabbath. Our culture celebrates work at the expense of the Sabbath—and has made constant business the norm. We have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the fact that Sabbath rest, alongside the command to not commit murder, is a fundamental tenant of our faith—a tenant established at creation.

After God’s creation of the world, when it was all good and bathed in the perfection of the unbroken vision of God, God rested. 

And when we rest, we are called to observe and honor the holy work that has been done.  Work that we have done in mission and ministry those other six days.  Sabbath becomes a creative act and affirmation all at once and completes the circle of the creative energies of the divine.  Sabbath completes creation. 

So, the mandate to observe the Sabbath isn’t just some arbitrary was a commandment founded in the very origin of creation and fundamental to the structuring of a Jewish life in an occupied territory.

So, when Jesus healed the woman broken and bent--the religious authorities saw a tenuous balance upset. Like a guest preacher who preaches a sermon that offends the congregation and upends a hard-won stability—Jesus shows up in somebody else’s worship space and upsets the system that has been put in place.

And as a Rector, I can tell you no matter how fabulous or true a guest preacher’s sermon might be, the priest who has to do the clean-up work isn’t likely to be delighted at the imposition…

So, here we are with the Pharisees and Sadducees and a guest preacher who has ignored the community norms and has left them with a big mess to clean up later.


[assume laughter]

We laugh. We laugh, in part, because this scenario is a familiar one. A familiar one to anyone who has been faced with an inconvenient truth expressed at an impolite time—think about it, no one really wants to call out “Uncle Buddy” for a racist comment at Thanksgiving dinner while “Grandma” looks on. But, upending the status quo that has grown comfortable with oppression is a holy calling.

A holy calling. A holy calling to upend the plans, derail the liturgy, and offend your grandmother to boot.

But, grandma’s disapproval (poor grandma), comes out of a context in which our concern for the rules of polite society or liturgical order have kept us from remembering our principal calling to the work of healing. 

The Pharisees and Sadducees were responsible for ensuring the wholeness of the community and the continuation of the faith. They were charged with the rituals that restored the ill, infirm and those considered impure to the community following acts of healing. They, fundamentally, shared in Jesus’ mission of redemption--making the broken whole and offering worship and praise to God.

But, in clinging to the law, they had lost sight of the reasons for the law. Because, I would argue that fundamentally, the biblical laws were developed and maintained for the integrity of community and creation. The law is for mercy. The law is for justice. The law is for love.

And, this is where we find our common values. This is where we find an urgency to our shared calling. To enact a way of life that is the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus which is the way of mercy, justice, and love that liberates us and all of creation.

Let me proclaim once again the words from Isaiah that we heard today,

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

We are called to liberate ourselves and each other. We are reminded that blame does not bring healing. We are called to nourish the hungry and respond to the needs of those who are suffering.

And, in this calling we will be united. The gay priest and the Hassidic Jews. The Conservative Evangelical Christians and the atheists. The new age humanists and the old school Catholics. The right, the left, and the fair to middling. You and me, united. United in that fundamental place of life and death, hope and healing—where what is essential is the love of God. The love that leads to liberation.