gentleness | Matthew 22:1-14

My brothers and sisters, in the words of St. Paul,  let your gentleness be known to everyone.

Last Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 6.01.50 PMweek a nearby restaurant hosted a fundraiser for SAFE Shelter, our local center for domestic violence. There was a gentleman passing the hat, moving from table to table, in a skirt made of purple tulle.

Tulle is worn by brides. Purple isn’t. Purple is the color of bruises. Of households falling apart.

I took the man’s skirt to mean he was wearing the color of domestic violence, a color naming the harm done to somebody by somebody they love or live with. Last month one of you sent me an email saying how October is Domestic Violence Month. It came with an invitation for preachers to lift up “the sacred worth of women” on this very day. So I opened my calendar, and under October 15th, I wrote down, The Sacred Worth of Women. It’s been on my mind a lot lately.

By coincidence today St. Paul commends the sacred worth of two women: Euodia and Synteche. He doesn’t waste a word on how young they are or what they look like. What he commends is what most of us hope is recommendation enough: our work. These women, he says, “have struggled beside [me] in the work of the gospel.”

These women, though, are not docile partners. These women think for themselves. You can tell because Paul wants them to be “of one mind”, which is to admit they often aren’t. But when they are, as Paul well knows, you better watch out. No telling what they can do. And will do. Read more

burdened | Feast of St. Francis, Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus said, Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh thee.

The first sermon I remember hearing was about those words, what we used to call the Comfortable Words. I was twelve years old IMG_2242.jpgstuck in church listening to a priest named Fr. Kennedy. He told us how he once served an urban parish, and how the chancel end of the church was backed up next to the bustling life of tenement housing. He said you could hear voices from the outside world breaking in now and then, and one day as he was reading aloud from the old prayer book, he came to the part where the priest says, Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ saith, and at that very moment, an angry mother was heard to shout, Get the hell in here.

I’d never heard a priest talk that way in church. He sounded so free, like something fresh from the world outside. And when the congregation laughed, Fr. Kennedy did a little jig in the pulpit.

Whenever I dance alone — which is never in a pulpit — I feel unburdened like something fresh from the world, too. But get me dancing with other people, and I start worrying about whether I know the right steps and the whole trouble with stepping on other people’s toes.

Ask my children, and they’ll tell you I dance like a chicken. Maybe you do, too. Whenever my kids want to imitate me dancing, they flap their arms like this.

[Imagine your hands lifted before you, your elbows out flapping like wings]

Thing is, the first time they ever saw me dancing, and for a long time thereafter, I was behind the wheel of a car on our way to somewhere. Back then I didn’t know I’d come to look like a dancing chicken. In my mind I was still the independent co-ed who knew how to throw her arms up on a crowded dance floor. But here’s the thing: when my children saw me dancing in the car, elbows out flapping like wings, I was holding on to the steering wheel.

I was holding on to them — to my family. And very likely, most days you dance funny, too, because you’re holding on to burdens you care about.

Church is where you come with burdens to dance funny with other people who also have burdens.

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rain | Matthew 20:1-16

Rain falls on the good and the bad, on those who labor long and on those whoScreen Shot 2017-09-24 at 6.07.06 PM labor only for a while. It’s an idea Matthew alone lifts up: rain falling “on the just and the unjust” all at once, just as Matthew alone remembers Jesus telling the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Rain falls. Like manna from heaven. And sometimes what falls from heaven comes like flood nobody deserves or wants. And sometimes it falls not enough or not at all.

I have a friend in south Alabama with a big front yard full of centipede grass. She struggles to look after it. Has a good-enough sprinkler, one of those little twirling fountains on the end of a water hose, but mostly she forgets to use it.

In the heat of summer, wisdom tells her the grass needs water early in the morning, not late in the day when she comes home from work. She’s a working single parent, often too tired to drag a hose over dry grass. Even inside the house, an old peace lily has to wilt half dead for her to notice it. Dishes pile up. Laundry too. Read more

Street angels | Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14

All through the great fifty days of Easter, you’ve been hearing stories from the Acts of the Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 3.04.13 PMApostles. It’s what you do in Eastertide. You tune in to stories of how the Church began, as told by Luke. Today, on the feast of the Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples that time is not theirs to discern, and suggests they pay no attention to when things will happen in God’s good time. And then he’s gone: up, up, and away, leaving the disciples to stare after him in slack-jawed wonder. Which explains why the angels scold them for looking up. Men of Galilee, they ask, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? And go on to say, This Jesus, who’s been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.

Angels are the messengers of God. And while these two wear the usual white robes, Luke doesn’t call them angels. Instead he calls them men. They’re like street angels, the sort who meet us where the rubber meets the road. And that’s because Luke wants you to look for the message of God on the ground where you live. He isn’t focused on the second coming or apocalyptic endings.

His gospel was written around the time early believers began to accept that Jesus wasn’t coming again anytime soon, around the time believers miraculously began to discern an earthy vocation for the Church. In the meantime between our Lord’s ascension and his coming again, Luke sees what me might call the opportunity of a lifetime. He wants people to quit looking up and away, and start looking up and around. To his way of seeing, Jesus ascended to a kingdom that mysteriously unfolds in the midst of us every day. It’s there all around us: the goodness of God. Read more

gardener | John 20:1-18

The language of Spring is all over the Resurrection. It’s how ancient believers found a Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 2.24.38 PMway to talk about eternal life, using the earthy talk of gardens and springtime: budding branches abiding in the eternal green-growing vine. Springtime is the poetry of Easter: flowers and birds, seeds and eggs. It’s why we have a memorial garden. Why we’re surrounded by lilies today: the church become a garden. It’s why the Easter Bunny hides eggs and why we go searching for them like little Mary Magdalenes on the hunt for life.

More than any other evangelist, John relies on the language of Creation. Only John begins his gospel by saying in the beginning, as if we’re starting all over. And only John tells us Jesus was buried in a garden. He’s the one says Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in search of Jesus and thinks he’s a gardener.

And maybe he is. Maybe the Risen Lord is also a gardener. Read more

Remembering

St. Paul tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God. And yet, tuning in to the Gospel, it’s evident we often feel otherwise. Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. Believe in God, believe also in me. His words admit our hearts are often troubled, in some way separated from the hope of love.

This reading from the Gospel according to John, commended on the occasion of a burial, has a short title in some editions of memathe Bible: it’s called Jesus the Way. No verb at all. The idea is that the way to heaven isn’t finally ours to do or achieve; that none of us quite knows how or where that way aims us. Which is to say, we’re all a little lost: not sure where we are, where we’re headed, or what to do about either of those realities. We’re lost, and some of us happen to know it.

I think my mother knew she was lost. And I think her lost-ness made it hard for her to ever feel like she belonged. At the same time, I think being lost means she, of all people I’ve ever known, was entirely fit for heaven because she needed it. Heaven is for the lost, the utterly lost. As our gospel suggests, the disciples were also lost when Jesus opened the subject of his own death and dying. He tells them they know the way there, and the disciples speak for us when they ask, How can we? Read more