muddy hope| luke 24:1-12

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.

Yesterday morning, a good dozen of us gathered outside in the memorial garden to say Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 2.16.39 PMprayers on Holy Saturday. We stood over gravestones remembering those we love and see no more. It felt right to be there, outside under a blue sky with the birds and the bees getting ready for Easter Sunday in a garden of memory.

Two roses in full-blown blossom kept company with us. I spied a pair Georgia Bulldogs, too, engraved in stone, their red caps bright as the roses.

We sang, Morning has broken and blackbird has spoken; and overhead, high in the trees, an old crow cawed, “Tomorrow, tomorrow.”

Today is that tomorrow, and Easter is come again: a hidden tomorrow in all our days. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that women came to the tomb, and found it empty; that a pair of angels (two men in dazzling clothes) told them why and how they remembered the words of Jesus and told the disciples what they knew, and that Peter heard them and ran to see for himself.

When those ancient women came to the tomb, they came ready to attend death, and found themselves suddenly useless, their spices irrelevant. They came looking for Jesus and found something else entirely: a stone rolled away and an empty tomb.

Yet somehow that nothing they found, that confusion they felt, became everything they needed. The pair of angels were there to remind them that this emptiness was something Jesus prepared them for. Hey, the angels said, it’s like he said it’d be, remember. 

And feeling useful again, they left, and became the first to try and talk about Easter. If Peter is any measure, they succeeded, because right off he ran to the tomb. Only later would people say he was competing, aiming to be first. I’m guessing, at the time, the women understood why he ran. They knew his grief. Read more

With Good Friday | John 18:1-19:42

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to IMG_0657his mother, “Woman, Here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple,”Here is your mother.”

How to be with another person is a question that stirs throughout John’s gospel. Always in John there is the language of abiding, most especially talk of who abides with and in God.

But tonight, in John’s Passion narrative, it’s all-too-evident that abiding isn’t always a comfort. Being with another person is difficult. Sometimes the greater comfort is running away, or can seem to be. Peter has run off after denying he had anything to do with Jesus. And Pilate, resisting it all, wants nothing to do with anyone, and so hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Fear and pride and resistance to others – these things often find us on the run.

But something strange happens in this story. Right there, in the terror of the moment, a handful of friends stand beside Jesus on the cross, among them Mary his mother and the beloved disciple. And seeing this gathering of friends still with him, Jesus arranges an adoption of sorts, giving his mother to the disciple, and the disciple to his mother. Read more

beautiful offense | John 12:1-8

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Judas is deadly serious in our gospel today. So serious, you can’t help but give him a Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 12.46.51 PM
hearing. Seems only fair. So bear with me while I try.

The way I see it, Judas wants Mary to quit wasting expensive perfume on the body of Jesus. He also wants Jesus to quit wasting time with Mary. He’d rather the two of them step away from the woman and take care of the poor. But Jesus is unmoved.

If you’ll notice, our narrator is full of insider talk offered up in a pair of parentheses. It’s John’s way of whispering to you in the middle of the story, like kicking you under the table.  In theatre, it’s called an aside. Within that pair of parentheses, John whispers what he wants you to know. Judas, he says, is about to betray our Lord. And by the way, don’t be fooled by his concern for the poor – he’s a thief who stole from the common purse.

John lets you in on this information because he wants you to keep an eye on Judas, to watch out for him. Very often, when somebody whispers an aside, they’re telling you something no one else in the story knows. Makes you wonder if Jesus and Mary also know Judas is a thief.

I’m guessing they don’t, but even if they did, it wouldn’t change a thing. Mary would still fill the room with perfume and anoint the feet of Jesus with her hair, and Jesus would still receive her odd ministry.

Though Judas poses no obstacle to their way of seeing, he may well get in our way. You see, the trouble with keeping an eye on Judas is this: you just might miss something beautiful at work in this story.

In the novel A Room with a View, written by E.M. Forster in 1908, a pair of well-behaved elderly sisters go to Italy and stay in a villa with other guests, among them a man and his son (men they’ve only just met). The father and son learn that the sisters love flowers, and one day on a wild impulse, the two men set out to decorate the sisters’ room with violets.

These are characters very much shaped by the Victorian era, so you’d expect the sisters to be offended by the sneaky gift of violets left in their bedroom. But one of them declines to think in that direction and raises a lovely question. “Have you ever noticed,” she asks, “that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time – beautiful?” [1]

Have you ever wondered whether things that offend you might also be beautiful? Even necessary. Read more

tenderness | Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Then he said, A man had two sons. And the younger of them said to the father, Father, give me that share of the fortune that belongs to me.

Those words are from a slightly different translation than the one proclaimed a moment 1012073_800562819959942_170395354_nago.  They make you wonder if the prodigal only wants what belongs to him (not what will one day belong to him), like saying, Father, give me that share of the tune that belongs to me..

We all want what belongs to us, what God gave us at birth, which is our very selves.

How to come into that inheritance – the whole of who you are – may well be a question at play in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it all ends in the same place. Whether the Prodigal runs off with what belongs to him – or with what will belong to him – he still manages to squander it all so completely he is lost.

And very likely, the other brother – the one who stays home, never leaves – the one who lives entirely within his father’s fold – is also lost.

Charle Peguy was a French poet who died in the First World War, and who also wrote memorable lines about this story. He believed it was the word of Jesus that had lasted the longest, the one everybody knows. Read more

paper | Luke 13:31-35

This morning while I was on my way to church listening to the radio, I caught the tail IMG_0801.jpegend of a conversation with Barbara Brown Taylor. Her new book is called Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Her premise is that God can be found and met in the faith traditions of other people.

I’m a devout Christian who believes God is present to and in all life. And I remember a time when it was easier to talk in church about other faith traditions.

My favorite religious poet is a Muslim: a thirteenth-century mystic named Rumi, and I have met God in Christ often through his words. Today, I’m comforted by these: “Out beyond our ideas of who’s right and who’s wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

Until now, I have never named the blessing of Rumi while standing in a pulpit. It seems such a small confession alongside the inter-religious anger that governs so many today, in every faith tradition, including our own. My appreciation is made of words on paper found in books I keep at home. Read more

crowd | epiphany 1

The voice of the Lord is upon the watersthe God of glory thunders. 

According to the Psalmist, the God of Glory thunders. And since those words precede our stagereading of the Gospel today, it’s tempting to hear something of that same rumble in the words God speaks at the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. Thunder, though, aint exactly what you want to hear when you’re in the water, is it?

Thunder clears the pool.

We hear those words from the Twenty-ninth Psalm every first Sunday after the Epiphany, a day when we always remember the Baptism of Jesus. Those words are meant to make us all tremble, if only a little, as we remember that strange day when a sinless man – Jesus – descended into the sins of many, as if repenting them all.

Today it’s Luke’s turn to tell that story. And Luke has his own unique way of telling it.

Matthew and Mark have it Jesus entered the River Jordan all alone, coming wet from the water, the heavens immediately opening, the Spirit alighting on him like a dove, with a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved son and with him I’m well pleased.”

Luke gives us pretty much the same words and the same holy dove but in his telling, Jesus isn’t the only one getting baptized that day. Apparently, while John the Baptist was waiting on the arrival of Jesus, he was busy doing what he did: baptizing whole crowds of people.

You get the feeling Jesus may have had to stand in line for his turn in the river, and that when he finally did enter the water, there were others already there kicking up the mud, whole hoards of broken people coming alongside him in the murky water. Read more

another way | Matthew 2:1-12

And they left for their own country by another road.

A friend of mine made a wrong turn on her way to the beach one morning.  Feeling lost1546229_783691748313716_28938471_n and in a hurry, she pulled up alongside a roadside vegetable stand in search of directions. And there among the sweet corn and local tomatoes, she met a woman nursing an early morning cup of coffee.

“What’s the quickest way to Perdido?” my friend asked her.  And the woman smiled and said, “Oh, it don’t matter, honey. All the farms are square and the world is round. You’ll find your way.”

This week I’ve been wondering what sort of roadside wisdom assisted the Wise Men finding their way to Bethlehem. St. Matthew leaves a lot to the imagination in their story. Which may explain why Christian Tradition has had so much fun coloring outside the lines of what Matthew gives us.

If you’ll notice, the Wise Men do not have names in our gospel today. And yet we know who they are: they are Caspar, Balthazaar, and Melchior. They are three kings – a detail again not mentioned at all in the gospel – and they arrive from the east, though by way of tradition, we’re to know they’re from Asia, Africa, and Europe. In other words, wherever Jesus is, in short order here comes everybody. Read more

guardians |Christmas Day

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

 Those beautiful words from St. John’s Gospel name the Incarnation of God on earth. Screen Shot 2018-12-24 at 8.23.53 AM.pngThey are among the loveliest and most powerful words in the New Testament. Very often, though, churches at Christmas choose other words to tell the Story.  Christmas comes with choosing, whether to share the good news John’s way or Luke’s way.  Last night we told it St. Luke’s way, with the story of Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and landing beside the manger where Christ will rest.

Luke’s way is full of mud and muscle and struggle. John makes it all sound so easy. He knows it’s fundamentally God’s doing, and wants us to know that, too. So John  avoids the mud and muscle and struggle. But we know the Story.  So, as we hear John’s news of the Word becoming Flesh, we see again Joseph and Mary walking toward a reality they have no words for at all, a reality they can only really come to see in adoration.

Last night we sang, What child is this? I’m guessing in beginning, Joseph wondered, Whose child is this? But then love overcame his questions. We may want to tell him what we know. To say, “Joe, he’s the Son of God born of Mary.” But he’s also the earthly son of Joseph, an ordinary hopeful carpenter descended from the house of David, understandably wondering, What child is this? Is he anything like me? Will he know what it is to be ordinary? Read more

Did she know | Advent 4

My soul, magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.. . .  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

St. Luke is always full of songs, many of them intended for use in worship. It’s Luke who IMG_0079remembers the Ave Maria, an Angel saying Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, and Luke who records the Song of Zechariah, the Gloria (another word for the song the angels sang to shepherds in the field), and the Song of Simeon. No other evangelist can boast such a playlist, and annually in Advent he queues up the glorious Magnificat for Mary: My soul, she sings, magnifies the Lord.

As Luke would have it, Mary has voice. Somehow she has a say in the miracle that happens, most especially a say in whether it happens under her watch, within the body of her own life. She’s a great one for singing and a great one to sing about. Among my favorite Mary songs is Mary, Did You Know?

It goes like this: “Mary did you know, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again? The lame will leap, the tongue will speak the praises of the Lord. Oh Mary did you know?”

It’s a song made up of questions, few of them answerable, mostly raised to make us wonder about Mary. Just what exactly did she really know about the life she carried?  And what did she need to know in order to raise him? Read more

We’ll see | Advent 2 | Luke 3:1-6

And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas are full of strange characters. Santa Claus IMG_0910for one. And John the Baptist for another. It’s easy to imagine they have nothing to do with each other. To think Santa only hangs out at the North Pole waiting on Christmas to come. To think John only loiters around in the wilderness waiting on us to open our Bibles and hear him preach again. But the truth is these two inhabit the same ground in our lives, what we call the season of Advent: a season of preparing a way for Christ to be born in our hearts again.

And since this is so, I’m guessing the deeper invitation is to imagine Santa and John are working the same stretch of road, showing us how to live a Christmas life: a life of believing Love came down at Christmas to keep company with us. Read more