Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 6A

The readings appointed for Easter 6A can be found here


Where True Love Is, God is Surely There

I’ve been reading of late about the risk of joy. How it is our tendency as human beings to push back against joyfulness because at it’s core, joy is terrifying. Terrifying, because ebullient as we may be we have already anticipated losing that very thing that has brought us to this place of goodness.

This is such a common phenomenon that it has coined sayings, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and even diagnostic terminology—euphobia or “fear of good news” is apparently a treatable condition.

Perhaps that’s why the angels so often say, “don’t be afraid”?

Afraid of the good. Afraid of a love beyond reckoning…

And so, we push away the good itself wondering, “what if?”.

What if?

What if he leaves? What if the plane crashes? What if I fail? What if? What if?

What happens if I give myself over to anticipation and delight and then lose it all?

Scary, and painful…the anticipation of a grief that may, or may not come. Is it any wonder that is might seem easier to avoid joy altogether? 

Awe, fear, joy, and love—all a tangle.

A tangle we see represented in scripture, as the authors weave together the pain and pleasure of our belovedness; exploring the cost of goodness, and love in the midst of loss. Their world, like ours, was a complicated one. And, while the pressures they faced were different than many of those we face, as Christians—we are alike in our confusion.

Wasn’t he supposed to fix everything? Wasn’t Jesus the man meant to save us from Caesar the emperor? Wasn’t he supposed to come back to us? Why did he come back and then leave us again? Why do we suffer? Why do we feel so alone? How are we to live? How are we to love? What does this all mean?

Imagine life for the early Christians--expelled from the temples, persecuted by the political authorities. Imagine the authors of the passages we hear today. Imagine the immense pressure they must have felt to put down the words that would both comfort and convict the listener.

Come and listen, all you who fear God.

We too are his offspring

I will not leave you orphaned.

Those who love me will be loved.

A clear message in a confusing world. A message that conveys a promise of God’s abiding presence, the truth of our nature as children of God, and a commitment to love.

A message that today’s collect of the day, embraces

“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…”

It is tempting to define this promise of goodness by human terms--good grades, good behavior, good salary, good stuff, a good life. But, if we do this, we limit the goodness to things we can understand—and this is a goodness beyond our understanding.

This is a goodness that is more complicated than simply the stuff we have, the stuff we get. It is about the goodness of abiding in God and God abiding in us. It is about the goodness that comes from knowing that we are not now, and will never be alone. It is about a goodness that can be found even in suffering when the cause is right.

It is about knowing that no matter how far away we are from the physical body of Jesus, we will and do abide in the limitless body of Christ.

This is a goodness unlimited by our limited imagination.

As Mary Oliver puts it in her poem, “Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things. 

You do not have to be good. You just have to love.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” Jesus says…

And, what then is his commandment?

If you turn to chapter 13 of the Gospel of John you will read the following explication of Jesus’ commandments

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Simply, love one another.

And, in this love you will find your place, in the family of things. In this love, you will find the Spirit within that compels us to mercy. In this love, we will find the strength of the body of Christ manifest in the household of God.

Our love and care for each other, indeed for all of God’s beloved children, is the means by which we experience the presence of Christ in our lives and in our midst. This enjoinment to love therefore is quite fitting with the context of Jesus’ farewell discourse—the long narrative goodbye that he gives to prepare his friends for his physical departure.

To paraphrase today’s Gospel, “If you love me you will love each other. If you love each other, you will find my continued presence through the Spirit who will abide.”

The Spirit who will abide within, the Spirit who will be sent as an advocate—by whose presence we can remain certain that we have not now and will never be left behind by the God who loves us.  The Spirit of truth that remains so that even if we forget the realness of Jesus, the realness of Christ will continue within us.

 “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

No matter where we go, we remain in God’s presence. No matter what we become, we will not be forgotten.

Euphobia means fear of good news. The Gospel is good news we need not fear. 

This good news contains words we need to know--words that we can take with us throughout our lives. 

These are words that describe a joy that can never be taken away from us.

A joy in which we need not fear.

And now, go out into the world in peace, be of good courage, 
hold fast to that which is good; 
render to no one evil for evil; 
support the weak, 
help the afflicted, 
love and serve the Lord, 
rejoicing in his presence as he goes with you always. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 5A, Pomelo Begins to Grow

The readings appointed for today can be found at


The Farewell is the Beginning

The Gospel we hear today, is one that many of you will find familiar within another context.

Funerals. Or, the burial of the dead, as the prayer book calls this sacred rite. This Gospel is offered as one of the possibilities of scripture appropriate to a funeral—and it in, in my experience, the passage chosen most often by families as they mourn.

Chosen, quite simply, because of the deep comfort that so many find in the words, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

How many of us long to know that those whom we love, and see no longer, have found their place in the house of God, in the life that is to come.

That Jesus, ever in front of us, will not leave us comfortless.

Will not leave us comfortless, in life or in death.

So, yes, this passage is frequently proclaimed at funerals...but it would be just as suitable at a baptism or confirmation. Those moments when we commit ourselves to living a life in Christ.

Because, while Jesus seeks to prepare his friends for his departure by assuring them that they will follow him, he also is extolling to them the importance of continuing the work that he has set before them. The work of love made manifest in action, belief made visible through a life lived in testimony.

This is a passage, meant for the living.

The living, the living who long for Christ, like a newborn longs for milk. Not just to sake the thirst, but to live. To live and to grow. To grow in body, but we are more than body…and hence the author of 1st Peter’s description of our spiritual longing for Christ as one akin to the newborn’s longing for milk. And, when we are fed, we grow.

We grow in faith; we grow in love. We grow in our ability to set down the stones that would destroy and take up the stones that would build.

Today’s readings are about how we are called to grow in faith; and in that growth, to grow in service; and in that service to grow in love.

In a just a moment, I will be inviting our youngest members to join me at the chancel steps for a story. It is a story about beginning to grow. It is a story about finding strength to take on the big adventures that await. It is a story in which a little garden elephant wonders if he grows all by himself, or if he is in fact connected to others.

As I read the story, I want each of us to consider how we in our connection with each other help each other to grow. In love and in strength.

And, in your consideration, I ask that you remember that upon every baptism we, the community of faith, the household of God, commits to do everything in our power to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ.

So consider, what you, what we, what this community does to support each other as we grow in faith and in love. Because, we don't grow unless we are fed.

So, children, join me at the steps... as we consider a little garden elephant.

“Pomelo, Begins to Grow” by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud.

For a review of this charming book, go to 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Easter 4A

As always, the readings appointed can be found here


Easter 4A, 2017, St. Clement’s

If you rummage through the old photos of the church you can see that there used to be a fence at St. Clement’s. Tasteful and elegant, a hedgerow, ran alongside the edges of what we call the green--delineating the line between the public space of the sidewalk and the private property of the church.

The hedgerow is long gone, but the gate that stood at the intersection of Portland and Milton is still there.

It’s known as the lych gate. The lych gate, lich being the old English word for “corpse”, has traditionally served as the place where the priest receives the body prior to a funeral. In fact, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer made this liturgical action a requirement. However, over the centuries, the practice grew out of favor and few of our churches have these gates.

That said, our current Prayer Book has a provision for welcoming the body, and whenever there is a body present at a funeral at St. Clement’s, I keep this custom.

Instructing the family and friends that we do this so that the body of one we love can be brought back into the church one last time, escorted by friends, and welcomed with love. However, as I reflect upon the Gospel we hear today, I find that my explanation has fallen short in focusing on the journey and forgetting about the gate.

In the Gospel today, the gate is the means by which we enter into shelter and into the world. And, Jesus stands as the gate—a passage that must stand open if we are to live as God calls us to live.  

Allow me to explain…

The gate we hear of in today’s Gospel, serves as a passageway between two places—the corral and the fields. In the pastoral world of the shepherd, the sheep came into the fenced corral at night and the gate was closed to protect them from danger.

But, the problem with grazing animals and a small enclosure, is that there isn’t anything to eat there. So, during the day, the gate is flung open and the shepherd takes the sheep out into the fields to graze and thrive. 

If the sheep only stay within the sheltered confines of the corral, they will starve--it is in the world where they find nourishment and growth.

The boundary between corral and field is designed not to wall in, but to keep safe. Safe within a community of love and care where we are reminded of who we are and to whom we belong.

But, if the sheep don’t have a gate to travel through, if they don’t engage with the world outside of the gate, they will not live. But, so too, if they only stay outside in the world, and don’t return to the safety of the corral at night, they will be in danger. Both within and without are essential to the survival of the sheep.

It may seem peculiar to set aside the well known imagery of Jesus as shepherd and consider Jesus as the open gate. But, that is the beauty of this powerful figurative language, a simple change of viewpoint expands our own understanding of the grace of God inherent in the scripture.

Jesus is both the gate through which we pass and the Shepherd who leads us through.

Leads us, so that when we find ourselves lost in the world to which we’ve been called we can find ourselves as we are found by God.  From the letter of first Peter, “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

And, so we return. We return via the gate, and guided by the shepherd so that we can love and serve God, both within and without the walls that divide us from the world beyond the gate.

The Gospel tells us that we need to be in here and also out there.

This weekend, we at St. Clement’s have been both within and without the walls. Welcoming our neighbors to support our ministries here within this place as well as offering an opportunity for fellowship and our own support of the ministries in our wider community. We flung open the gates.

And, gates wide open, we did as disciples do--

Breaking bread with each other, selling our goods for the care of others, and sharing the beauty of this place with all who care to enter.

Sharing the contagious and abundant joy of community. This is life abundant, is it not?

When we share this time and this space and this love with each other, we share the life abundant described in the Gospel today and lived out in the Acts of the Apostles.

And, on days when I feel overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world, I find strength and encouragement in this gathering. Because, no matter what happens out there, we have this in here. And, because we have this in here we can go out there with the strength of community and work towards a world in which the dignity of all is recognized and justice prevails out of mercy.

Passing through the gate in life, and with life abundant.

So, now, today we spend time together in the temple we call our church—gathered in community and prayer. And, from this gathering we are (hopefully) strengthened to go out into the world as witnesses to the Good News of a gate held open and a shepherd guiding us through.

None of what we do out there, is truly possible without all of what we do in here.

We need each other, we need to share the bread, we need to pray together, we need to do these things, so that our actions in the world can be grounded in that place where we know God’s love so fully and so completely that it is God’s abundant love that we convey when we go out into the world.

Here at St. Clement’s we used to have a fence. We took the fence down and all that remains is the open gate.

Let the people say, Amen.