Saturday, December 24, 2011

The desert, the stars, the manger, and the altar.

My Christmas Eve sermon for 2011

“If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have time to make the long slow journey across the desert as did the magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each one of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover, and a being within ourselves to bring to life.”

I found this quote on a notecard a month ago, and couldn’t find out who originally wrote it, but it has dominated my thoughts as Christmas approached this year. It both convicts me and inspires me because they key phrase is “When will we have time….?” And that is a question I ask myself every day. It seems like there’s never enough time to do all I must do; much less all I desire to do. But the feast of Christmas itself asks something more. When will we have time to do these holy things… it is almost like we’re being asked, “When will we have time to be a Christian?” Or to visit Jesus in the manger.

You have all made time to be part of that journey tonight. Some of you no doubt under duress; others seeking a feeling, or warmth, or music; and still others looking clearly for God. We are taking the time tonight to stop, breathe, and think and pray about big things—about God becoming man, about shepherds seeing angels, and magi journeying on faith. The Christmas story isn’t just about being a passive witness to events a long time again, it’s about remembering that Jesus is Emmanuel—God with us—now, and that we are not just witnesses but participants in God’s story. Our stories are inherently part of God’s story, and when we reflect, we can see those connections and better develop our role in God’s story, so that we find ourselves reflected more in the shepherds and the magi and Mary than in Herod. 

So what’s your desert to travel? What’s your star to discover? And what being is it that God is calling you to bring to life? 

I realize we didn’t read the text about the magi—which is from Matthew’s gospel rather than Luke’s—but I suspect you’re pretty familiar with it. The magi—wise men—follow a star across the desert from the East in search of God in a very unexpected place. They are looking for God outside their own country, outside their own religion. And when they get to Jerusalem, first they go to a semi-obvious place—they go to Herod’s palace. They don’t go to the Temple, interestingly, they go to the seat of temporal power. But then they go to Bethlehem, and find a baby and bring him their gifts and worship him. When we are in the desert looking for God, do we look in the obvious places or in the places that are less likely?  

We can find God in the obvious places—temples, churches, cathedrals—but we can also discover God in the unexpected places. The desert, the hospital bedside, the manger. The purpose of our time in the desert isn’t to rush across and get out as quickly as possible; the people of Israel spent 40 years during the exodus in the desert. It’s to get to the right place, the promised land, the promised child, even if that means you have a few detours along the way. Jesus is always there at the end of the journey, but first we may have to stop and ask for directions; and then we may have to listen for the dream that will tell us to go home another way, because Herod is dangerous, and always there. The journey across the desert doesn’t end in Bethlehem, either—it continues, back across the desert, home, where we tell what we have seen, and praise God for it. 

What star is God calling you to discover? Over Thanksgiving, my family and I went down to rural North Carolina to spend the week with my brother-in-law in a house they have just built in preparation for their retirement. The night before Thanksgiving, we filled the new Jacuzzi out on their deck, turned out the lights on the deck and relaxed staring into the heavens. Their house is so far in the middle of nowhere that you could actually see not just all the stars in the sky, but the line of the Milky Way standing out among them. A skyscape a lot closer to what the shepherds saw on a hill outside Bethlehem than what I’m used to seeing here.  

I’m not aware as a New Yorker of the absence of seeing the stars. There’s plenty of twinkling lights in the city. But to suddenly remember just how full the night sky is, was kind of profound. It made me remember how often we don’t realize what we’re missing. We’re focused on who we are, where we are, the way things are in our own little corner of the world, and we not only miss the bigger picture and forget how limited our own vision is, we forget to imagine the possibilities for how things could be. Sitting and watching the stars reminded me that being open to discovery is part of faith. If you’re not looking at the stars, maybe you won’t discover the angel. If you don’t remember that there are stars, maybe you’ll miss the star that is calling out to you.  

Mary gives birth to the Word of God. I’m never sure what “brooding” over the child means—when I was 9 months pregnant, I remember mainly just feeling huge and uncomfortable, and I’m not sure that’s brooding; and in the days after Nathan was born, I was overwhelmed and exhausted and desperate to learn how to feed him and care for him, and I don’t think that’s brooding either. But we do give birth to a word. We don’t literally give birth to Jesus, but the Words which we speak (whether they are actions, or words, or relationships; or whether they are lack of action, silence, and aloneness) are what enter the world on our behalf and take on life of their own. 

At a meeting this week, I met a woman who now works at another church who upon hearing I was from the Church of the Epiphany was delighted to tell me that this was the church her parents brought her to as a young child in the 1960s. She recounted a story from when she was about four years old of how she tripped going up the steps and fell and cut her face, and remembered a very kindly priest who comforted her, got her a band aid, and patched her up. She looked at me and finished the story by saying, “And I think that’s the reason I’m an Episcopalian today.” The word we speak may seem to us to “just” be a band aid; but the being it brings to life might be a Christian. All those little “words” we speak—a purchase, a vote, a “yes”, the taking of a hand—can bring to life justice, or peace, or reconciliation, or love…. Or not.  

Jesus Christ the Word came to bring all those things to birth: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love. Tonight I invite you into the desert, up to the stars, into the stable, and up to the altar to witness and participate in what can be. God has become human, for us, and it is now for us to bring that Word to the world. Justice, peace, reconciliation, love. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Shepherd's Prayer

I wrote and performed this as the homily for Epiphany's Christmas Pageant on December 18, 2011
The angel said not to be afraid, but I'm terrified.  I keep thinking about my children, and what this will mean for them.  I've seen false messiahs, I've seen people get excited and hopeful and then their hopes are dashed in a bloodbath.  I don't want this to be like that, and if it's going to be like that then I want no part of it. 

But I never saw an angel for any of those other messiahs.  It was such a beautiful and clear night, and we were sitting around and talking about the stars, and what we saw in t hem. If they brought good fortune or bad, if there would be love and marriages and properity for our families this year.  And then it was just light and wings all of a sudden, and a loud noise that sounded like music and yet said words--"Fear not."  But we were afraid, and shaking and on our knees.  Except the sheep--the sheep weren't afraid.  They just acted like nothing was strange, like they see angels every day.  Maybe they do. And the angel said he brought the good news of hte savior, and sent uns into the town to go look for the baby, and the baby was there. 

I want to believe, and I want it to be different this time. And it's never been a baby before, with those other messiahs. there was something in that mother's face, too, that Miriam of Nazareth. When we told her what the angel said to us, she didn't seem surprised.  It was like she already knew.  Maybe she saw the angel, too.

This child is different. This child is the one. 

The angel said to go tell everyone what I've seen, but I'm not much of a talker.  I'm just a shepherd. I take care of sheep, and I've never aspired to anything else.  I don't teach in synagogues, I'm not a rabbi, I'm  not even a man. But I'm going to tell mysisters. And the other families who have sheep with us. And if we have a visitor stay with us from far away, I will tell them, too. Maybe they'll believe me.  I will try, and I will do what the angel said.

Glory to you God, for this gift.  if you have truly brought us messiah, I am living in the most important moment for our people in a thousand years.  If that baby can bring peace to all people, please give him the strength to do so. I will help, in whatever way I can. Because I am tired of war, and I am tired of being oppressed. And I am ready for a savior, who will keep my chidren safe. I am ready to follow, Lord, if you will show me the way. Amen. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent meditations on Elizabeth and Zechariah, part IV

The Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, works on two levels: one is the big picture—the celebration that God has sent a savior for Israel. But it’s also just a parent’s prayer for their child and what God’s desire for him is. “You my child, shall be the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”  

What is the hope in this… how do our children relate to the big picture? What are our expectations of them—our hopes for them? For Zechariah, he knows that John is a prophet, is sent to prepare the way, and to give knowledge of salvation. He gets a head start on most of us.  But he gets at why we want our children to do things and what we want to teach them. Zechariah knows that John’s upbringing will train him to prepare for Jesus. Growing up in the wilderness he will be humble and tough and unattached to social status or ego. John will always be pointing to someone else.  

How do I pray for Nathan, my son? He’s two… so it’s all potential. I have no idea how he will relate to the big picture. But some of what Zechariah sings about rings true for me—especially about prophecy. We named Nathan “Nathan” for a variety of reasons, but one was because to me, the biblical prophet Nathan is the hopeful example of a prophet who can speak the truth to power and be heard and effective. I find many of the Hebrew prophets frustrating because even though they say beautiful things, their messages of repentance and reform are never heeded. Their messages of restoration and future hope are what inspire. The prophet Nathan does both. He is artful and crafty and wise and so King David heeds him. I would love for Nathan to be a prophet like that because it’s so hopeful. The ministry of the prophet is not to prophesy doom, but to draw the people of God closer to God. Nathan the prophet does that by truth telling; John the Baptist does that by preaching repentance; who knows how Nathan Linman will do it.  

Question 4: What is our prayer for our children?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Meditations on Elizabeth and Zechariah, Part III

We are connected to the founders of Israel by the way Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story is a retelling of the story of Sarah and Abraham—the people who are beyond the years when they can have a child, when God intervenes through a divine messenger to make the impossible possible. Sarah’s laughter at the idea of bearing a child is transformed in this story into Zechariah’s honest confusion and questioning of the angel, but with more dire results. Zechariah is struck dumb for his lack of faith.  

This has always bothered me. Why doesn’t anything happen to Mary when she asks basically the same question as Zechariah? Why doesn’t anything happen to Sarah when she laughs? Why must Zechariah and only Zechariah suffer for lack of faith when he questions an angel—when all the prophets question their calling—Moses, Amos, Isaiah—they all object to what God is calling them to do. Zechariah doesn’t even object—he just asks how this could possibly be, given the reality of the situation.  

Here’s one possible explanation. It would be anachronistic to say that Zechariah was the 1% of Israel of his days, but he comes from a priestly family, and he is as “in” with the temple as you can be. He is—so far as the temple life goes—the mighty. He is also the lowly in the overall political life of their culture and time as Jews in Roman-occupied Israel, but he is also a man of power. Elizabeth has less power; still from a priestly family, still honored, no doubt, but her barrenness—for which she was responsible in the understanding of the day—pushes her down in daily humiliation as she is reminded of her barrenness every time she sees another woman with a child.  

So when Zechariah is silenced, it is left to Elizabeth to name their child. He has to lose his voice—for a season—so that the one who has been shamed and disgraced can find her voice. Elizabeth names John, not his father. The temple authorities don’t want to let her name John—but Zechariah is able to support her voice in writing, and the authorities accede to her wish.  

By the end of the story, they both are able to speak, and Zechariah’s voice is let loose in song. Which is a narrative example of the kind of change God is creating in Jesus, described in the Magnificat and the Benedictus, an incarnate hope for what God desires: that all should find their voice. It isn’t just about turning the world upside down and the poor now becoming the oppressors of the rich, God’s promise is about sitting at the table together as equals. God’s promise is that we should know when we need to speak up, and when we need to let others speak.

Question: Where in your life do you need to make yourself mute so that others can speak? And where do you need to claim your voice and speak up?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Meditations on Elizabeth and Zechariah, Part II

Now why do we not say “yes” when God gives us glimpses of alternate, more faithful futures? I know for myself that I’m afraid of what would happen if I did. Fear inhibits faith. Zechariah is terrified when the angel arrives. The way this is portrayed in the movie the Nativity Story is spectacular, if you’ve not seen it: Zechariah enters the holy of holies, the incense is ascending, and there’s just a breath of wind blowing the incense as the angel speaks. And those first words spoken by an angel in Luke’s gospel are, “Fear not.” But of course Zechariah is terrified anyway. As soon as someone tells you not to do something, we automatically do it.  

And fear is never far from the scene in this story—it permeates that first scene in the temple, and then surely Zechariah must have experienced fear when he could not speak; then when his tongue is finally loosed after John is named, “fear came over all their neighbors.” In the song of Zechariah, the goal of the promise of God to the children of Abraham is to “serve him without fear.” Freedom from fear is the promise of God, and it is our hope as people of faith that conquers our fear.   

The way that Zechariah faces his fear is peculiarly human. John is not conceived by the Holy Spirit a la Jesus. Zechariah and Elizabeth had to, um, do something to bring his conception about. In my experience, that’s a tough act for men to do when they’re afraid. And yet he does it—they do it—they have the hope and the willingness to say “This time it will be different.” That is a profoundly hopeful, and concrete act.

We have a good friend who walked with us along our fertility struggles. On her refrigerator to this day is a copy of the first ultrasound of my son Nathan as a blob inside me attached to the fridge with a magnet that says, “Never never never give up.” If we remain in fear, we never try. If we can let go of our fear, hope can dawn. 

Question 2: What are the fears we need to let go of in order to live in a place of joyful expectancy?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Meditations on Elizabeth and Zechariah, Part I

This is from an Advent Quiet Day I co-led on December 3, and will be the first of a series of four brief blog posts reflecting on Luke 1:5-25, 57-80.  

I remember when I was a little girl growing up in a very protestant church wanting to be the Virgin Mary. Everyone did. She had the best costume at the pageant, she was the Mother of Jesus, she was presented as perfect in every way.

I do not remember ever wanting to be Elizabeth or Zechariah.  

So it came as a real surprise to me six years ago when I was reading the story of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth at a weekday Eucharist and it suddenly struck me that I identified much more with Elizabeth than with Mary. I was not a virginal teenager who found it miraculously easy to get pregnant. I was 30, an unhappily childless woman, who was married to a priest.  

If the story of Mary is the story of God’s presence and hope with youth and impetuosity and optimism and wide-eyed excitement, Elizabeth and Zechariah tell the story of God’s presence and hope among those of mature faith, skepticism, and who thought they were so far down a certain path that they didn’t realize they could change.  

And this is where the Gospel begins—in Luke at least. Elizabeth and Zechariah are where Advent begins. They are the preparation for the preparation, if you will… before Jesus comes John; before the annunciation to Mary comes the annunciation to Zechariah. Before the comparative privacy of Jesus’ birth in Luke (where there are shepherds, but no magi) there is the very public birth and welcoming of John the Baptist.  

So what does it mean that Advent, the season of waiting and expectancy, the season when hope is born anew in us, begins with Elizabeth and Zechariah? 

How often do we dismiss creative and interesting and faithful ideas because they are “impossible”? It’s one thing when you’re 23 to join the Peace Corps or something and dedicate your life to serving others for a season, but I know that I’m certainly at a point in my life where as much as I might aspire to spend a year or two in Tanzania or feel it would be worthwhile to become a military chaplain or any of the other life-altering dreams I might have, it’s very easy to dismiss them because of my other commitments: my husband, my parish, my child, my pension. Zechariah and Elizabeth are mature, responsible people making a huge change. It’s a positive one, in many obvious senses; as Elizabeth says, to finally bear a child takes away her disgrace at being barren. But it cuts through happy routines as well; I’m sure Zechariah was not able to serve in the temple while he was mute for 9 months; and the birth of John, and his upbringing in the wilderness, pull Elizabeth and Zechariah away from the center of established temple life and towards the fringe of the people of Israel. If the great praise of Mary is that she “said yes” to God; it is even more impressive that Elizabeth and Zechariah say “yes”, because they had more to lose. The call of God is not just for the young, or those who have time, or for those who don’t have anything else to do. God calls us in the midst of our “important” work and not just when it is convenient. 

Question: What new path might God be calling you to walk on that you thought it was too late for—or that seems too impractical?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dancing with the Saints

My sermon for the Sunday after All Saints, at a joint service of the Church of the Epiphany and Saint Peter's Lutheran Church.

“Today is Randy Giles’ birthday!” Facebook cheerily told me on July 22 this year. 

Except Randy is dead. He died over a year ago in India, where he had spent the last decades of his life as a missionary and musician.  

But his Facebook page lives on. There is no death on Facebook, it seems. And on his birthday, as I was reminded of him, I looked at his page: hundreds of messages from other friends wishing him a happy birthday—and these were not people who were unaware that he had died, mind you—these were people who missed him, and who, through their comments, expressed their love, their longing, their sadness, and their prayers that he was enjoying the heavenly banquet.   

It struck me that this is an interesting—and odd—example of the modern communion of saints. You die on earth, but you live on online. Randy didn’t have children or close family members to take down his page. There was no one to close that door. And in the absence of such a person, his page goes on, and is a place where friends still post remembrances, good wishes, and commune with him in an odd sort of way. It seems a blessing. Sort of like visiting someone’s grave, or saying a prayer remembering them, except in this case each person who reaches out to him on his wall is joined in a community of other people who loved Randy, linked through his life to hundreds of other lives. A cybercommunion of saints. 

When faced with death, the church has always tried to straddle the divide between grief and hope. We grieve, because we miss those who have died. We miss seeing their face, hearing their voice, encountering them in myriad ways, and they are gone from our daily lives in the way we are accustomed to finding them. Death is real. And—not but—AND, we hope for resurrection, and even when we grieve, we do not grieve as those without hope. We do believe in reunion, we do believe that in the resurrected life, that we and all the saints in light will be sitting around a heavenly banquet table with Jesus at the center someday. We believe in the communion of saints—the real one, not the cyber one.  

So it’s a full church today. Lots of living people, from two earthly communions of the Episcopal church and the Lutheran church; and lots of people who have died, present here in spirit, in their names being read aloud, in our memories of them, and in our recalling with John of Patmos his vision of the great multitude of those who have passed through the great ordeal of life and gone on into greater glory and greater closeness with Jesus.  

During Lent, I preached a sermon about the communion of saints gathering around the Eucharistic table, and was expecting to be conscious of the presence at that table of those who I’ve buried at Epiphany over the last eight years. But the presence I felt, ever so palpably and surprisingly, was Lot Jones, and Uriah Tracey, and all the old rectors of Epiphany whose photos are on the walls, and whose names we are reading today. I stood at the altar, and I felt their hands on my shoulders in this line of ministry all the way back to 1833. Maybe Pastor Derr will experience something similar today. They were at the table and I felt both the weight of their hands and the support of their hands. 

One key to fully embracing the communion of saints, for me, is to make sure that isn’t just a once-a-year experience. Yes, when we are celebrating this merging of All Saints day and All Souls Day, we have a particular focus on those who have died, but if we truly believe that with death life is changed and not ended, then the communion of saints is a constant thing, not a special event. Every time we worship, every time we gather at this table, the saints surround us. And they do that both to give us their weight—our inheritance of traditions and theology and liturgy and story—and to give us their support: they have passed through the great ordeal, and now we are going through the great ordeal and they are rooting for us. The saints want to encourage our faithfulness, to inspire our lives so that we might move ever closer to a world in which the “blessed” of the beatitudes are a reality and not just a hope for the future.  

Some churches have art that reminds us of that. Not here—St. Peter’s walls are pretty bare, and so are Epiphany’s. But other churches have art. The new Roman Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles, where I’m from, is a beautiful and simple building of sand colored stone. The main adornment is a set of tapestries hanging along the sides of the nave of 135 “saints and blesseds” and a few people in modern dress, all with very realistic faces modeled on people who lived in LA in the 1990s. St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Katharine—all faces you could pass on the street every day. They worship with the assembly every week, a visual reminder that our altar is not just an altar for the people physically present, but for the wider church as well.  

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco takes it a step further—they have an incredible painting of icons of dancing saints around the inside of the dome that tops their altar. That congregation dances every Sunday around the table, I think I remember that it’s two steps forward and one step back, while holding the shoulder of the person in front of you, in a spiral around the altar as the congregation moves from where they have the service of the word to the table. And the saints are dancing, too—but at Gregory of Nyssa, they understand saints in a rather loose form, including both Hebrew Bible figures like Moses’ sister Miriam, and more modern, less overtly Christian figures like Caesar Chavez, and Charles Darwin, and John Muir; also Anne Hutchinson, and Mahatma Ghandi and Sojourner Truth. But they are all people whose lives point us towards the Beatitudes today: they were all people who are blessed. They were the poor in Spirit, they were those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, they were peacemakers, they were persecuted for righteousness’ sake. 

Martin Luther is one of the dancers on the wall at Gregory of Nyssa. Picture Martin dancing around the altar today. My husband Jonathan and I have disagreed about whether Martin Luther on earth had it in him to dance; Jonathan as a devoted follower of Luther believing that he knew what it was to dance around after a few cups of ale; I as an Anglican who knows more of Luther’s theology than hagiography seeing him as a rather sterner personage; when he says, “Here I stand, I can do no other” I believe him—dancing doesn't seem to follow that.  

But isn’t that what the communion of saints is about—we are liberated in Christ from our faults, from our inhibitions, and from our place in time, and set free to dance in an endless celebration. If the Holy Trinity dances in an endless circle of perichoresis, then surely we will dance as well. Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer and you and I and all those whose names we are reading today dancing and singing and praising with Christ at our center. It’s the vision we’re about to sing about in the final verse of “For all the Saints”… “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What are we afraid of?

"People don't fear change, they fear loss." the speaker at the Clergy Leadership Project told us the first week.  That rings true for me; people often don't want to be seen as obstructionist or against progress--but they also don't want to give up what they currently have. Not all change is for the better, it's true. But when we see things that are broken, it seems like change might be a movement forward.  Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it--a huge change, but one that resonates as a model for me when I think about change.  It's not abolishing what is, it's fulfilling that which in the present moment does not live up to the God's intentions for us. 

This was brought to mind by an article in the NY Times about school lunches today; surely the goal of healthier school lunches to reduce obesity and diabetes in children is a change we can all agree is good? And yet those who fear the loss of what those changes will mean--the potato industry, for one--are fighting hard to maintain the status quo.  There are a hundred semi-legitimate arguments for keeping things the way they are, but they all add up to no change, no hope for better health habits for kids, particularly those in poor areas who depend upon free school lunches.

And it's true in our economic system as well, as witnessed by the "Occupy" movement. Any change in the system would cause loss for someone, somewhere--and the most immediate loss would probably be for the very people who have the authority to make the change. But would those changes not ultimately benefit the very people who lose in the short term? If, say, CEOs and executives had lower compensation packages, and low-level workers were paid a living wage, would that not ultimately benefit even the wealthy, because the destablizing effects of poverty and societal anger would be relieved?

In the church, resistance to change is almost a punchline.  So many people in our church look at the two issues above and advocate for change--but when it comes to change for us, we dig in our heels.  Again, not all change in the church is for the better--but when we're faced with bleak statistics, big deficits, declining attendance and clunky systems, it seems like we may not currently be fulfilling God's desire for us, and it's time to re-imagine what that desire is. Since what we're doing right now isn't working all that well (see the bleak report from the national church here) it might be time to do things differently in places that are not flourishing.

So what are we afraid we will lose if we do that? Will it be our self image? Our jobs? Our security in having things stay constant? Maybe.  But maybe we should move ahead with the same courage (dare we say faith?) we would ask of the potato lobby or of investment bankers or others in financial services to bring about change that ultimately benefits all of us.  I believe Jesus calls us to seek a world  in which children's lunches are healthy; in which the economic system is fair and just; and in which the church is renewed and revitalized, attracts people who are longing to hear Good News, and thives on fulfilling God's mission to the poor and marginalized. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The greatest commandment

A sermon for Proper 25 A on Matthew 22:34-40 
“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I have a deep and visceral memory of hearing those words at church every week growing up on Sundays from the priests. Father Chillington, who was an ancient retired priest and read them in a shaking, gravelly voice; Dr. Tourigney, the founding rector, who declaimed them almost as a threat; Dr. Moore, who was an orthopedic surgeon and priest who I remember being very gentle. But no matter who spoke them, I remember that I loved them. The summary of the law is probably the first Bible verse I learned by heart—it’s a toss up between this and some of the “comfortable words” that were also used in liturgy each week.  

And they are our moral compass. We are as Christians fundamentally called to love God, and love our neighbor. 613 laws of the Old Testament are condensed by Jesus into two—and it’s not entirely clear whether that makes it easier or harder to follow. When our youth group was studying laws and commandments last spring, we recognized the advantages of having every aspect of your life clearly proscribed morally in the laws—look at the Leviticus text this morning, which extrapolates from “Love your neighbor” the specifics of how to do that: don’t hate your family, you’re responsible to let your neighbor know when he or she is sinning; and you shall not take vengeance against any of your people. But the very vagueness of the great commandment—and it’s really a single commandment because it’s impossible to love God if you hate your neighbor, and vice versa—requires us to again and again hold our actions, our thoughts, and our practices up against them and ask, “Does this help me love God? Does this help me love my neighbor?”

One of the questionable moral practices we’ve let Nathan do is watch TV. I’m not sure that watching TV helps him love God or his neighbor better, but if means I get a relaxed shower in the morning while he’s watching TV, I know that it helps ME love God and my neighbor better. 

We own only one DVD of a cartoon, and it’s the Pixar movie, “Up.” Nathan has grown obsessed with it and in the last month I have probably watched significant parts of it about 15 times. It’s one of the most amazing movies about love that I’ve ever seen. The first 10 minutes or so tells the love story of Ellie and Carl, from meeting when they’re about 8 until Ellie dies when they’re old and gray. I’ve probably cried 13 of the 15 times I’ve seen those first 10 minutes now. But then the rest of the movie goes beyond romantic love into love of neighbor, love of place, love of nature, and fidelity to all of them, as Carl takes off in his house lifted up by thousands of helium balloons with a young stowaway, Russell, to search for Paradise Falls, the South American icon he and Ellie had always dreamed of visiting. Misadventures ensue, during which Carl’s tag line is “None of my concern…la la la!” regarding the boy, the dog and the bird who quickly come to depend upon him. But it’s when he discovers that it is his concern that he finds joy again.  

Ellie, after her death, ends up becoming the divine character—Carl talks to her, looking up at their house as it floats over them, and reads her holy book, a scrapbook of “Stuff I’m going to do” she began when she was a child. He starts judging his actions by what Ellie would think. And what he discovers is that Ellie wants more adventures and happiness for him than he does for himself. When he is being a curmudgeon and rejecting the love of the boy, the dog, and the bird, he’s not really loving Ellie—Ellie had longed for a child, and seems to have been some sort of zoologist. It isn’t until most of the way through the movie that Carl finally embraces the boy, the dog, and the bird and in addition to giving him the strength for the big comedic finish, it allows him to let go of their house, the icon of the past that he’s been clinging to throughout the movie, as powerful an act of oblation and self-offering if I’ve ever seen. 

So if it’s in loving our neighbor that we truly love God—and Ellie—then who is my neighbor, and how do I love them? When Jesus answers that question in the Gospel of Luke, he does so with the parable of the Good Samaritan—the notion that our neighbors are surprising is part of the gospel. In the “world is flat” culture of the 21st Century, our neighbors are not just those in geographic proximity to us, but pretty much everyone in the world, because what we do here impacts them, and vice versa. Our neighbors are in Mlowa Barabarani, Tanzania, at the Church of the Epiphany in Qatar, and everywhere in between.

But in this vast and impersonal city, I wonder if it might be good to take the neighbor concept in the opposite direction. Who is physically your neighbor right now? If you’re sitting in a pew with a family member, skip over them—who are your nearest neighbors in front of you, behind you, and to your side? In thinking about it this week, I noticed that while at coffee hour people often talk mainly to their friends in the congregation, but when I look out here from the pulpit, I see that people don’t necessarily sit near their friends. Do you know the name of the people around you? Do you know their profession? Do they have children? What drew them to Epiphany? What draws them to God? What is their favorite moment in worship? Their least favorite? Favorite Bible story?

It is one thing to love our neighbors that we don’t know. That’s more of a moral position and an attitude. It’s a lot harder to love people we know, because people we know are imperfect, and it’s risky to love people—they may disappoint us, they may betray us, or they may love us back, which might be the riskiest outcome of all. But Jesus commands us to love, Now even God can’t command our emotions. But God can command our actions. God can command us to make the effort to love—it may not get to our heart, but at least with our mind and our soul we can work at loving.

I think, overall, Epiphany is a very loving church. But it’s time for us to grow. And that means loving new people. I know that some of you will hate this, and I’m sorry, but I beg you to play along for the sake of the community because your presence is a gift to us, maybe more than you know. I would love it if during the Peace today you didn’t just say “Peace” to the people around you. Introduce yourself—even if you think they know your name. And share something with them—favorite Bible story, if you’re up for a challenge, answer Jesus’ question today: “What do you think of the Messiah?”. But make that first act of love, which is to say that you are my concern. Who you are matters to me, and the better I know you, and the better I love you, the more I can love God with all my heart, my soul, and my mind. In these eight years with you, the more I have gotten to know each of you… the more I have loved you, and I have faith that you do—and will—love each other as much as I do. And that will bring us closer to God.

A friend’s preaching today on a quote from Dorothy Day, the Roman Catholic holy woman of the 20th century that I’d like to close with, and let you stew on for the rest of the day: "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." Let us love God deeply.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"In the fullness of time..."

My sermon from this morning, on Isaiah 25:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14

Let’s spend some time with Isaiah this morning. Welcome to the Ancient Near East, and I want to give a little historical and theological context. In the eighth century before Christ, what we think of today as Israel was divided into two Jewish kingdoms: the northern part, encompassing 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, was known as the kingdom of Israel and the southern part, centering around Jerusalem, was known as the kingdom of Judah. And in the 8th century BC, the Empire of Assyria conquered the kingdom of Israel. The kingdom of Judah paid tribute to Assyria to maintain its independence. This lead to spiritual and economic conflict, and is the context for the Isaiah reading today, because the tribute to Assyria—at least in how it’s remembered in the biblical account—came not from the wealthy residents of Judah but off the backs of the poor. For 150 years, Judah bounced back and forth between political independence and subservience, between spiritual fidelity to Yahweh and worshiping other Gods, and between following the law and caring for the widow and orphan and vulnerable and oppressing and cheating them. A series of prophets—including Isaiah, but also Micah and Jeremiah—warned the leaders of Judah repeatedly that not being faithful toYahweh would result in the destruction of Jerusalem itself—at least for a while. Faithfulness to Yahweh was defined in two ways: one is faithful temple worship and the other which is sort of the outward and visible sign of faithfulness to the law is justice and care of the poor. Eventually the warnings come true: Babylon gobbles up the Assyrian Empire, and finally conquers Jerusalem in 587BC, sending the Jews into exile in Babylon for 70 years… until the Persian Empire gobbled up the Babylonian Empire and liberated the Jews and bankrolled their return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. Which held up until the Greeks took over… and on and on the rise and fall of empires go. 

But each time, the biblical theological understanding is that the invading army—when they are successful—is acting on behalf of God and as a corrective to the linked fundamental sins of the society: not faithfully worshiping Yahweh by their failure to follow the law and consequently oppressing the poor. 

Today’s passage from Isaiah is a poem celebrating the destruction of a city… but which city? One commentary I read this week suggested that it is deliberately vague so that it could be interpreted as either about Jerusalem or about Babylon. In one case the chosen people of God are the oppressors; in the other they are the oppressed. In either case, the city is turned into a “heap” because of its oppression of the poor, and the promise that follows the destruction is of the restoration of the poor to fullness via a heavenly feast, and the transformation of suffering and death into joy and life. It’s important to remember that God doesn’t just destroy, God also feeds, nurtures, and builds up, always in favor of those who are in need.

But systemically, the renewed vigor never lasts. Rereading the history this week I was struck by how again and again there was this renewed hope that finally Judah and Israel were on the right path—a new king, a renewed interest in scripture, a spiritual and political reformation that brings the people closer to God… but it never lasts. Greed always comes back, and for every King Josiah who rediscovered the book of Deuteronomy and renewed Temple worship, there is another king who lines his pockets with bribes and worships Baal at the high places. Which almost makes me want to despair. But the flip side of that is that the oppression never lasts either. Whether through divine intervention, compassion on the part of leaders, or self-interest, the pendulum always swings back in scripture to liberation of the poor. 

10 days ago I was at my final week at the Clergy Leadership Project up in Connecticut, and one of our speakers was Josh Ruxin, who does development work in Rwanda and occasionally blogs for the NY Times. One of the resources he introduced us to was which is an amazing online resource where you can look at animated graphs depicting the advance—and decline in some cases—of per capita income and life expectancy by nation over the last 200 years. I highly recommend checking it out. There are a lot of variables to look at—child mortality, age at first marriage, number of children per family, HIV rates—it’s fascinating to see the trends by nation and continent. You see the effects of wars, epidemics, vaccines so clearly—and you also see, so clearly, the “gap” of the title of the project: all the nations at the bottom of life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa except one and that one is Afghanistan. There’s Sub-Saharan Africa at the bottom, and then a gap, and then everywhere else in the world. 

 But like the saga of empires surrounding Isaiah’s prophecy, the statistics don’t only show bad news. Since we’re talking about Carpenter’s Kids today, I looked specifically at Tanzania’s track on the wealth vs. health graph. Like most African countries, life expectancy increased dramatically after World War II, and then in the 1990s declined significantly as the HIV epidemic took hold. But from 1999 to 2009, life expectancy in Tanzania surged up from 50 to 56 years on average, putting it in the upper tier of Sub Saharan life expectancy, even though was a significant drought in the country during the last two years recorded. It’s still five years below the lowest life expectancy of anywhere else in the world except Afghanistan: next lowest in the world is before-the-earthquake Haiti at 61 years. But it’s better than it was. Life expectancy in the US is 79, for comparison—pretty good, although 79 is also life expectancy in Costa Rica and Cuba, so we don’t exactly tower over the rest of the developed world. There was Good News in Liberia, too from the Gapminder stats—since Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became President in 2006, life expectancy and incomes have risen steadily—they’re up to 59. Peace, education, food and access to health care make life better and longer. 

Here at home, we are finally seeing headlines about poverty more frequently, and I hope you’re reading them and learning about the gap here, so I don’t want to over play it, but just as an example, at our homeless feeding program, which usually sees about 100 people, and for us 120 is a “big” night, 10 days ago we had 152 people show up to eat on a Wednesday, and for the first time, we weren’t able to feed everyone because 10 people left before we could get them down to eat in shifts, so we only actually fed 142. Which is still a record.  

That’s what the Kingdom of this world looks like. The gospel parable today is about the Kingdom of Heaven. But the two are not separated by much. Roman Catholic liberation theology speaks of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” The idea is that because Jesus and the prophets repeatedly speak up on behalf of the poor, culminating in Jesus’command that “what you did for the least of these, you did unto me,” that is the ultimate standard by which any individual and any society are to be judged. That is certainly evident in the Isaiah passage, and it comes through again in today’s gospel reading when those who have been invited to the wedding banquet—the people of power—reject the invitation, and it is literally the people who are on “the streets” who are invited in their stead. The word that is translated “streets” in the Gospel, is the Greek word hodos, which is usually translated “way.” As in “I am the Way, the truth, and the life” or the word that early Christians used to describe themselves: they were “followers of the way”. The people who are brought in to the wedding banquet are both good and bad; rather like people anywhere.

 Our Stewardship theme this year, chosen by John Oudens and Susan Keith (and not by me!), is “In the fullness of time…” It’s a phrase from Eucharistic Prayer B: “In the fullness of time, bring all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters.” It’s the phrase that, the first time I ever celebrated the Eucharist, the day after my ordination to the priesthood, brought me to tears because saying the words made me realize—as if for the first time—that I believed it. As a Stewardship theme, my first thought was that it might be too abstract, but the more I thought about, it, the more perfect it sounded. The fullness of time, the kingdom of heaven is not now—obviously, the wedding banquet is not going on right now, the poor are still poor, both at home and even worse, overseas. Death has not been swallowed up in our earthly lives—people suffer and die needlessly every day. And yet the fullness of time is now: there is no time other than the present moment when we are not just to pray, “thy kingdom come” but to act as if the kingdom is now here so that we may glimpse it and so that the world might believe. Now is the fullness of time when the Church of the Epiphany is showing to the world that it cares for the poor. Now is the fullness of time when we are called to be generous, for those of us who have been given wealth to share it, for those of us who have been given power to use it wisely and compassionately, and for those who are in need to receive with gratitude rather than shame. Now is our fullness of time to act together, with the wisdom and passion and integrity of Josh Ruxin, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the other Nobel prize winners, to care for God’s poor and hungry so that we can say with Isaiah:

It will be said on that day, 

Lo, this is our God;
we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Following Jesus, not leading him

Last week I attended my final week of the Clergy Leadership Project, a four week program designed to foster excellence in ordained leadership in the Episcopal Church.  It's a good program, and I found what I learned in it provocative and challenging. But my reflections on the final week brought me back again and again to a question I asked the very first week, over 18 months ago:  "Shouldn't we have classes on followership?" It was dismissed--an idea that didn't "gain traction" in the parlance of the adaptive leadership model we were being taught.  "Who wants to say they're a follower?  Where's the future (and money) in classes in how to follow?  How will you get a job if you say you prefer to follow?" 

Well, as Christians, our primary identity is to be followers of Jesus.  We don't lead Jesus, we follow Jesus, and when we stray too far on our own, it is Jesus who seeks us out and draws us gently back into the herd.  Clergy and lay leaders walk that deliberate line where we lead human groups and institutions but have to be 1) conscious that we do so while still maintaining our idenity as a follower of Jesus and 2) able to discern when we are called to lead and when we called to support the leadership of others.

Again and again this week, priests offered up ideas to the whole group:  we were a pretty creative bunch, but most of us are used to being the type of person other people listen to. Again and again, the ideas hung out there for a few minutes, and then faded away as the next person offered their idea.  We all knew what it was to be leaders and to initiate ideas--what we lacked was the ability to support someone else's idea and help bring it to fruition.  Does that sound familiar in the global and ecclesiastical context?

It may be true that no church is going to call a priest who does not claim to be able to "lead" a congregation--and it's also true that there are plenty of institutions that in attempting to turn away from hierarchical leadership models have ended up with a morass where no one is in charge and nothing gets done.  I am not in any way opposed to having strong leaders in the church.  But we don't all have to be leaders all the time, and the skills of how to be a good follower are what we are desperate need of learning today. 

The image of the yoke is one that I find very compelling for leadership; I wrote the following definition of leadership the first week of CLP:

"Leadership is bearing the yoke with others. Leading, pulling, stopping, being bound by those to whom we are yoked, and sometimes being pulled.  Listening to the driver who is directing us, trying to discern their commands for our team and follow.  Hoping to reach the barn with our load intact."

So when someone finally offers the "Clergy Followership Project" I will be first in line to sign up. 

All of this is perfectly summed up in the amusing voiceover to the following video:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Walkabouts in the Diocese of New York

The priests' listerve of the Diocese of New York has been mildly abuzz with a discussion of our upcoming election of a Bishop Coadjutor. The Committee to Elect a Bishop presented a slate of five candidates, to which have been added two additional candidates by petition.  However, the Committee has decided not to allow the candidates by petition to participate in the official "walkabouts" whereby candidates are able to appear before regional groups of the diocese, articulating their vision for the episcopate, and respond to questions.  The bulk of online commendary is in favor of allowing all candidates to participate, a position I am writing to agree with and expound further in the hopes of changing the collective mind of the Committee.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a individual who nominated one of the candidates who was selected for the final slate by the Committee; but I write today as a priest of the diocese who hopes to serve a bishop whose election is upheld by the whole diocese, and whose election is not tainted by feelings that the process was unfair. 

The event of an Episcopal election is one where we affirm seeing the Holy Spirit at work. The Holy Spirit has given this diocese seven candidates (so far) for Bishop Coadjutor, and if the Holy Spirit makes the process a little more messy than we might like, then we need to respond with flexibility.  One of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit is that she draws us along paths that are unexpected and challenging.

The walkabouts are not a canonical requirement--they are a means through which the Committee decided to allow for face to face engagement between members of the diocese and the candidates for bishop. So it would be a change in policy, not a suspension of a canon, to allow all candidates to participate.

At first, allowing candidates who are nominated by petition to participate in the walkabouts appears to be an act of generosity on behalf of the Committee--they will potentially have greater exposure and a larger platform to share their vision for the diocese than they might have otherwise.  I know and admire both candidates who have been nominated by petition, and I would like to be able to see them in the context of the other episcopal candidates so that I can better envision them not in their current roles but in the role of a potential bishop. 

However, it is also holding them to a more rigorous standard than they might encounter encounter in a set of alternate walkabouts.  Standing in front of the diverse members of this diocese for seven three-hour sessions spread over four days is a daunting task, and probably a very good initiation into the life of a bishop of this diocese. 

Delegates--particularly lay delegates, but also clergy delegates--have many claims on their time, and it would be far more efficient to attend a single walkabout than two walkabouts.  If delegates felt they only had time to attend a single walkabout, no matter which they chose, they would be missing the experience of a rich group of candidates, one of whom might ultimately be their bishop. 

I pray that we may see the seven candidates not divided into "the committee's candidates" and "the petition candidates" but as a single group: they are the candidates for Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York, and one of them will be elected to serve neither the Committee nor just those who signed a particulat petition but as bishop of the whole diocese.

The official walkabouts are for the whole diocese, and as such are the best location for our future bishop to engage with his or her people so that the people can make an informed choice and hear the will of the Holy Spirit.  For that to happen, all the candidates need to be present, so I pray that the Committee will reconsider their position.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I am Epiphany

Our wonderful Youth Group made this video to introduce people to Epiphany--check it out! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Honest Labor of Faith

A sermon for Proper 20 A on Matthew's version of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

In your mind’s eye, put yourself on the playground in elementary school. It’s time for PE. Kickball is the activity. The teacher has chosen two team captains, and they’re picking teams. Do you get picked first? In the middle? Second to last? Or were you last?

Who got picked last in elementary school? In my school it was the kids who were small, unathletic, and unpopular—particularly girls, though there always were the boys who got chosen after all the girls who were particularly picked on. You could be unpopular, but if you were strong and athletic, you got picked earlier (that was me). And you could be lousy at sports, but as long as it was one of your friends who was doing the choosing, they wouldn’t leave you to be chosen last because they knew it was humiliating. 

Now reread the Gospel lesson about the laborers who are being chosen at various times during the day. If you had a vineyard that needed tending, who would you choose first? Probably the strongest, right? It’s what I’d do. Once the first few groups get chosen, who is left behind? Who is that 5pm group? Probably the frail, the old, the sick, the disabled—maybe even a few women who needed to work? Some of them were probably people who couldn’t have worked for a whole day, even if they’d been chosen at 6am. But finally the owner of the vineyard comes to them, and hires them, too. Imagine being the feelings of being chosen last on the playground magnified a hundred times, and tie into it the pressure to feed your family. Imagine the relief when you finally did get chosen. 

 And then he pays them “the usual daily wage”—enough for someone to feed their family for a day. It is what they need; perhaps not what they have earned—the laborers who have labored all day are quite clear about that. Those who were chosen last have not earned it. But it is still what they need, and the landowner, in his generosity, chooses to give them the full wage.

Why does the landowner keep coming out to the marketplace and hiring more workers? It’s not at all clear in the parable, but consider this interpretation: perhaps there was just too much work to be done for it to be completed by those who were hired first. Later in the day, the landowner realized he needed more workers, so he hired the next group. And on and on. Even with only one hour to go, a few more hands might make all the difference. 

 That sounds like a parable about the church as well as the kingdom of heaven. Those who have labored all day are strong and vital and necessary to the growth of the vineyard. And they need to be thanked. So if you’re one of the first people “hired” at Epiphany—thank you. Good news: by God’s grace, you are being given salvation for your faith. So are the people who have been “hired” more recently—or who maybe haven’t/won’t/can’t work as hard. By God’s grace, they are also being given salvation. But the vineyard needs all its laborers, and I don’t think it’s quitting time yet, so there are still people who haven’t yet been hired yet. There are people here who are among the first; and there are people here who were hired during the middle of the day. But no one here has been chosen last. Even if this is your first Sunday here, you’re not being chosen last. Because our work is not yet done—every pew is not yet full—the Good News has not be shared as widely as it needs to be—there are still poor and hungry people living on the streets—there is so much to be done! And we need more laborers to do it.

“Why are you standing here idle?” asks the owner of the vineyard. “Because no one has hired us,” comes the reply. Because no one has asked them to work. How many people in this city would like to be invited into a community like Epiphany, to be asked, “Do you want to work? Do you want to labor in Christ’s vineyard?” To me, laboring in Christ’s vineyard means to work—hard—at being a Christian. To learn, to study, to show compassion, to love, and to give thanks. I believe that there are people who do want to be asked—who need to be asked—to do this work, but don’t know how to begin their labor. And there is no advertisement or website or blog that can compete with a friend’s invitation. 

And like the parable, people are hungering for the honest labor of faith. People are broken, people are afraid they don’t have enough to provide for themselves spiritually. They have been left behind by old institutions and alienated by people who would not let them work because of their perceived frailty. And left to themselves, they turn to books and self-help and a variety of things that are not bad in and of themselves but which are no substitute for the rough and tumble and depth of a real church family, where people love you and argue with you and there are things you love and things you hate and somehow it all ends up being more than the sum of its parts because of Christ’s presence. 

You should only make that invitation if you believe that this community is a place for all of those things—leaning and compassion and love and thanksgiving. But if you do believe it, ask with confidence. Remember how it felt in elementary school when you were finally chosen—what a relief. Someone wants me. I have my team now, my community, I know where I belong.

This Sunday, since it’s homecoming, is an opportunity to remind yourself of all the ways in which people at Epiphany do work in the vineyard. They’re not all for all of us—working a full day does not mean belonging to EVERY committee and every ministry at Epiphany. But it’s a chance to learn what other people are doing, and hear about how Epiphany is laboring in our portion of the vineyard. Listen to what pastoral visitors do. Talk to Janette about the challenges facing our homeless feeding program these days. Learn from our youth group about what Christian life is like for teens and tweens today. Go to the choir and music table and get a flyer on our concerts and invite friends to come share in God’s gift of music. Find out what the Altar Guild does—one of the least noticed but most crucial ministries in this parish. And if that’s a vine that you’d like to try tending… let them know. The harvest really is plenty here, and the laborers really are.. I wouldn’t say the laborers are “few” but I would say that the laborers are “just barely enough.”

And finally, at the end of the day, everyone gets paid the same. Everyone is loved equally by God. Which is hard. We like to believe we’re special—and we are special!—but so is everyone else.   

Jonathan and I conceived Nathan through in vitro fertilization, and on the day they implanted the two embryos in me Dr. Chung handed me a photograph of the two embryos in the petri dish just before they had implanted them. He pointed out that one had six cells and the other one had eight cells, and then proceeded to explain that the one with six cells was actually more advanced than the eight celled one because of something about how the cell walls looked. Or something. Anyway, when I was along with my picture of my potential children, I was struck by what an amazing privilege it was to see a first baby picture long before birth and long before an ultrasound. But it was also fascinating that I felt like the doctor was already telling me that one was better than the other. So I looked at the picture and said aloud, “I love you both the same.” I didn’t care if one had more cells than the other, or if one was more “advanced.” They were my hopes, the answer to my prayers, and I loved them.

God loves us all the same and we are God’s hopes, and the answer to God’s prayers. Whether we’re first or last, we are God’s beloved children. God never gives us less than we’ve been promised, and we’ve been promised salvation. So let’s go to the vineyard, and let’s get to work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A sermon for the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001

“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

This passage from Romans is my good news today: that whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord, who is the Lord of both the dead and the living. That all those who died ten years ago today belong to the God who loves them, and their lives were—and are—precious in his sight. It’s the faith that inspires the words of a hymn like “O God our Help in Ages Past” which we’ll be singing at the end of the service today:

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. 
Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

The hymn, the biblical texts, the good news again and again: God is our help, our shelter, and our refuge; for yesterday, today and the future. It’s also the hymn I played and sang upon entering St. Paul’s Chapel on September 13, 2001 when we opened it for the first time to begin the relief efforts there that lasted so many months. I walked into the strange stillness of that room—a tiny bit of dust was the only sign of what had happened, and the noise from the pile was cushioned by the walls—and Lyndon Harris and I lit the candles on the altar. Then I took up a hymnal from a pew, went over to the piano and sat down, and I played and sang with Lyndon all six verses of O God our Help in Ages past. IT was a way of hallowing the space and rededicating ourselves to our faith in the Christ who knew what it was to suffer—and there was so much acute suffering going on in our city and our nation in those days—but who also was the incarnate reminder that in death life is changed, not ended, and that resurrection follows death. And it articulated my faith in a way that I couldn’t myself at the time—I was beyond words, unsure of what I was feeling, but the suffering and faith experienced by Isaac Watts nearly 300 years ago inspired this text that leapt through the centuries to become my words, my faith, for an event completely unimaginable to the author. When we finished singing, we got to work—bringing food, coffee, listening ears and participated in the national—and international—witness of strength and courage and self-offering in the face of a tragedy of such a magnitude.  

I really don’t want to preach about forgiveness today, even with it being the focus of all three Biblical texts. Who am I to talk about forgiveness when I didn’t lose a spouse or family member or close friend? And is ten years really enough for wounds to heal enough to begin to even hear the word? And most of all—how do you talk about forgiveness in the absence of any repentance or apology on behalf of those who sinned?

But I’m a priest of the church that follows Jesus Christ, who cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” from the cross, and who taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Sometimes God leads us places we don’t want to go—and if we only believe in the words we pray when they are easy, then why are we here? So today we hear a gospel that commands us to forgive: not just seven times but seventy seven time. Are we really to forgive as many as 2,977 times?

Feeling my own limitations this week, I sought a definition of forgiveness from an expert. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the book, No Future Without Forgiveness in 1999 after his experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and spending time with Rwandan genocide victims and survivors—and perpetrators—of terrorism in Northern Ireland. He speaks—to me—as one having authority when he says the following: 

“In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget. On the contrary, it is important to remember, so that we should not let such atrocities happen again. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously and not minimizing it; drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.” (No Future Without Forgiveness, pg. 271.) 

When I consider forgiveness as “drawing out the sting”, as picking off the bee sting that is still injecting poison into myself long after the bee is dead, then it becomes something that I remember I want. In that sense, forgiveness has nothing to do with the sinner—the bee is dead and gone—and everything to do with the healing of the one who is offering forgiveness. And that sounds like something we need. Ten years on, as a culture and nation, we have not healed. We are still suffering, and we are still dying. And if forgiveness was about the perpetrators, about redeeming them in some soft and fluffy way, maybe we would be right to scorn it. But if it is about our own healing, if we need to forgive not for them but for us that sounds like today’s Gospel. God is the judge—not us—and we show mercy not because it helps the other (although it may) but because it helps us. It allows us to heal, it allows us to stop being poisoned by other people’s sins, and it allows us to step forward on a different path.

And that does not depend upon the perpetrators or their representatives. Archbishop Tutu again: 

“Does the victim depend upon the culprit’s contrition and confession as the precondition for being able to forgive? There is no question that, of course, such a confession is a very great help to the one who wants to forgive, but it is not absolutely indispensible. Jesus did not wait until those who were nailing him to the cross had asked for forgiveness. He was ready, as they drove in the nails, to pray to his Father to forgive them and he even provided an excuse for what they were doing. If the victim could forgive only when the culprit confessed, then the victim would be locked into the culprit’s whim, locked into victimhood, whatever her own attitude or intention. That would be palpably unjust.” (No Future Without Forgiveness, pg 272)

God is just. And our salvation does not depend upon the people who sin against us. It depends upon God alone, the God who is the God both of the dead and the living.  

The living continue to live: I was reminded of that last night—and in the days preparing for this sermon—preparing for the blessing of the civil marriage of Dinushka de Silva and Nikkya Martin, which I did last night. I was preparing for the pain of this morning, and the joy of last night at the same time, and that seems to be to be a lot like most of life; there is always joy somewhere, even in the midst of suffering and tragedy. And it made me reflect upon how that is true even for September 11, 2001 for me, because that’s the day I met Jonathan, my husband. I showed up at Chelsea Piers, where they had set up a huge triage facility and operating theater and we were setting up chaplaincy for that, and he was there. He recounts that when I arrived, I immediately took charge and set him home—I told him at what time to return. But in the haze of the day, we noticed each other, and it meant a lot later to each of us that we truly saw each other on that day. 

Under the shadow of thy throne thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Good news: did Jesus sin?

My potentially heretical sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 from yesterday.

A  Mexican woman comes up to an American clergyman. She says, in broken English, “Sir, please help me and pray for my daughter, who is sick.” The minister responds, “No, because you don’t belong in this country,” and calls her a slang term for a female dog. 

Did the minister sin?
I would say, “Yes.” He has stereotyped this woman based upon her accent and looks and dehumanized her. He has not loved his neighbor as himself. He has fallen short of the mark. 

So since that’s basically what happens between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in the Gospel this morning, where do we go from here? If this story was about anyone other than Jesus, we would say that the Rabbi in question had sinned, repented because of the woman’s tenacity, and had some sort of conversion experience where instead of seeing a “dog” he saw a mother, a woman, a child of God.

But this is a story about Jesus, the one who we say did not sin. So either: what Jesus does in this passage is not a sin, or Jesus, in his humanity, did sin. Gulp. 

 This is the point in which on something other than a hot steamy summer Sunday, I would bring up Anselm and his work Cur Deus Homo, “Why the God-Man?” which explains in great detail the necessity of a sinless Jesus for our salvation. It’s hot, we’ll save Anselm for another day except to point out that while the church has never actually settled on one single answer to the question of exactly how it is that Jesus saves us—is it his incarnation? His death? His resurrection?—the notion that Jesus must be a perfect and sinless offering is in a lot of them. 2000 years of orthodox Christian theology will agree that Jesus did not sin. In the Anglican tradition, we always point to Scripture, tradition, and reason as the three legged stool on which we base our faith; tradition is clear on the question of Jesus sinning, and the rest of the Gospels are pretty clear too, except for this story (I’ve always felt that Jesus’ sassy response to Mary and Joseph after he hides out in the Temple for a few days in Luke’s gospel to be an expression of adolescent sin). 

But this is one of the sticking points in understanding Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. How human can Jesus really be if he did not know what it was to sin? Is not sin one of the fundamental characteristics of human beings? We all do wrong—from a startlingly early age, as I discovered with Nathan the first time that I realized that he was telling me a lie. If Jesus did not know what it was like to do wrong, and to need to repent and seek forgiveness, could he really claim to be human? Or is it the temptation to sin—which Jesus resists—the fundamental human characteristic, and our inability to resist temptation is what separates us from Jesus in both human and divine forms?

I don’t want the heresy police out after me this week—especially now that all my sermons are going up on the blog and are available for curious bishops to read. But if we do look at the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, and identify that if we saw someone doing exactly this today we could consider it to be a sin, there is actually some very good news for us in that, and the good news is this: 

The church of 2000 years ago did not believe that to dehumanize a foreign woman was a sin, so there was no conflict between this passage and the doctrine that Jesus was fully human except in his sinlessness. Nor did the church of 1000 years ago, or even the church of a more recent era. But today, the church has finally realized that women are, indeed, human, and are indeed a neighbor worthy of love and respect. So while it did not appear that Jesus sinned to the church of yesterday, in the eyes of at least this church leader, it looks to me like he did.
And that is good news for the kingdom of God. We still have a long way to go in recognizing women’s ministry in the church, and in reducing discrimination and prejudice based upon ethnicity and religious heritage. But look how far we have come. A story in which it never occurred to anyone in the Church that Jesus might be doing something sinful comes down to us today and we say, “How could they not see it?” The revelations of the Holy Spirit did not stop 2000 years ago, they continue today, and will continue into the future, as we get nearer and nearer to Truth. 

And there’s even more good news, because look what happens in the second half of the story. Jesus knows he was wrong. How many of us, when confronted with someone who is holding up the mirror and showing us our sin, actually have the maturity and the grace to change? I don’t usually—at least not in the moment. Maybe after a day or two of reflection, I’ll realize I was wrong, but in the moment, I’m much more likely to get defensive. If someone were to accuse me the way the Canaanite woman accuses Jesus, I would disagree—say that she’d mis-interpreted my remarks, or that it wasn’t that she was a Canaanite, exactly, but that she was hitting me up for help in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or something. Jesus doesn’t do that. He hears her, he sees her, and he realizes he was wrong. And then he makes it up to her. “Woman,” he begins—she’s not a dog any longer—“Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Elsewhere in the Gospels, the disciples ask, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus teaches them the Lord’s prayer. Today I almost want to ask, “Lord, teach us to sin.” Teach us how to sin and repent and restore that which we have taken away by our sin immediately. What would a world look like in which this was how we handled sin? Where when we have been sinned against we confront it instantly but with humility. And when we are the sinner, we hear the confrontation and respond with maturity and grace and restore that which we had taken away.

We would have to know who we are: beloved Children of God. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is able to respond so quickly to the Canaanite woman’s accusation—he knows who he is. He is God’s son, the beloved, as the voice from heaven said at his baptism. He knows that even if he admits his sin and changes his mind, he will still be God’s beloved son. 

Do we know that in our hearts? Do we believe that if we admit our sins we will still be loved, still find grace, and actually find forgiveness? Or is it easier to keep denying our sins so that we can feel better about ourselves—to believe that we’re not one of those people who sin, we’re one of the good guys. Hear Paul’s letter to the Romans today: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” All are sinful, all require mercy, and all get mercy. Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free, Canaanite of the 1st Century, American of the 21st Century. We just have to believe it as much as that woman who confronted Jesus, and it will be done for us as we wish. Amen.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Leap of Faith

My sermon from Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Facebook status update last Sunday night, after all the celebrations for Andrew’s retirement in the morning, was: “The training wheels are off.” It’s a leap of faith for me to be your priest-in-charge, and I know it’s a leap of faith for you as we chart this new course together. I have this sense that if I just keep pedaling and don’t look down and it’ll all be fine.  

Which might have been good advice for Peter this morning. I always think of this as the Wile E. Coyote gospel story—you remember Wile E. Coyote from the old Roadrunner cartoons, who would run out over the edge of the cliff and keep going until he noticed that there was nothing underneath him, and then hold up a sign that said, “Uh-oh!” or something and then plummet to earth. Peter is fine until he begins to think about what he’s doing, and realizes that he’s actually walking on water, and only then does he begin to sink. You really can do amazing things when you don’t know that what you’re doing is impossible. You really can do amazing things when you have your eyes fixed on Jesus—but when you take your eyes off of Jesus, you might start to sink. 

The most memorable leap of faith I ever took was when I celebrated taking the General Ordination Exams while I was in seminary with three of my classmates. Strapped to a large Brazilian man, I got into a tiny airplane with a friend and a pilot, circled up for 10,000 feet, and then jumped out. I was attached to the Brazilian, and he was attached to the parachute. There’s a picture in my office, if anyone doubts that I was so stupid as to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. But when I and my friends—all priests now—landed, we laughed about what a wonderful sermon example this was going to be for all of us. It was an act of faith—in the Brazilian, in the airplane, in the skydiving company, and I suppose in God, tangentially, for good luck rather than bad luck. But I didn’t feel like a person of faith while I was doing it. I was terrified, (there was video of this, but my parents taped over it!) very pale, shaking, and spent the entire plane ride afraid I was going to fall out, and then realizing the irony that I was paying quite a lot of money precisely so that I could fall out of the plane. But once we got out of the plane, especially once the free fall was over and we were floating slowly down to earth held up by the parachute, was exhilarating.

We tend to think that faith is a feeling of peace. I always think of people on TV, saying that they have faith so they don’t have to worry about disease or terrorism or whatever, and they always look sort of holy, very serene with their hands clasped together. And I’m not exempting myself from this—I have been known to say to people, “Have faith.” But faith isn’t something you have, it’s something you do, and acting on faith sometimes feels like and looks like stupidity. Faith is getting out of the boat and walking on the waters towards Jesus. Faith is jumping out of the airplane with only a Brazillian and a parachute to save you. Faith is moving on in the life of a church after a beloved rector leaves. It’s terrifying, and even if Jesus is standing there saying, “Do not be afraid,” the adrenaline and the fear kick in naturally. In my experience, acting on faith is scary, not peaceful.   

Peter is the one who takes the big literal leap of faith today—he’s the only one of the 12 disciples who gets out of the boat. He’s kind of showing off, and then gets humiliated out on the water. That’s Peter’s way. But look at what happens to the other eleven: they stay in the boat and watch Peter and Jesus, and then acclaim Jesus as the son of God when he and Peter return. Seeing someone else act on their faith can give you faith—the guys in the boat do not walk in the water, but what they see happen between Peter and Jesus illuminates who Jesus is for them.  

We don’t always have to be the person getting out of the boat or jumping out of the plane to inspire our faith in God. Sometimes we just have to be watching for others. What are the faithful acts you’ve seen that have helped your own faith to grow? Who are the people of faith who inspire you—who in-Spirit you? 

Thinking this week about people who inspire me, one who came to mind was the Rev. Altagracia Perez in LA who was sent to St. Phillip’s church in South Central LA basically to close it down, but who revitalized it and bridged the elderly historic African American congregation who commuted in from Compton and the Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants who actually lived in the neighborhood. She never gives up when fighting for the poor, sometimes sounding like the persistent widow in the Gospel in her confidence that Jesus came to liberate us from poverty of spirit as well as poverty of pocketbook. When I want to give up, and say something is impossible—Altagracia reminds me to keep fighting; and she reminds me of the communities in which I found my calling to the priesthood which is so very different from the comparative safety of the Upper East Side. The Rev. Rob Schwartz and his wife, Jeanne, are out on the Standing Rock reservation in the Dakotas, leading churches that bear no resemblance at all to ours beyond the name “Episcopal” as he preaches hope and good news in the midst of a community rent by poverty, addiction, and suicides—which at the same time is obviously a community he loves deeply and finds incredibly beautiful. I think of Pastor Noah Daudi in Tanzania, a priest to a parish, a husband, father, and grandfather, and the man who runs the Carpenter’s Kids—and the Diocesan retreat house. All with grace and gentleness—I can’t imagine being in charge of three institutions at once, but Noah does it with God’s help. 

These are real examples, now, of what’s going on with the Gospel today with people acting on their faith. People who have gotten out of the boat, and are walking towards Jesus, confident that if they start to sink, Jesus will immediately grasp their hand and pull them up again. “Immediately” is a big word in the Gospel—Jesus does a lot of things immediately, one of them today. The second Peter cries out for help, help comes immediately. “Lord, save me!” I’m sure that Altagracia and Rob and Jeanne and Noah have all cried out those words. They’ve all needed to be saved.  

We need to be saved too. We cannot save ourselves—no matter how hard we try, no matter how fast we pedal to try to just keep going. It takes Jesus to hold our hand and pull us up. It takes Jesus to get into our boat and still the storm so that we can go where he is leading us. And to let go and let Jesus save us takes a lot of faith. It takes trusting God as much as I trusted that Brazilian who jumped out of a plane with me. We will doubt, we will be afraid, we may look crazy.. but if we act on our faith, we will be saved. Amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The "Ernie Hunt" Martini and other discoveries

The just-retired Rector has left most his books here; I'm going through them, keeping what I want, putting significant items in the parish library, and putting  the rest on tables in the back of the church. Epiphany has been transformed into an outpost of The Strand for a while, with miles upon miles of mostly theological books free for the taking. 
I am now a huge advocate for e-books.  This explains why most parish libraries are about 44 years out of date, and makes me realize that my love of books is going to end up someday, like Andrew, adding to a huge recycling pile.

But there are treasures--a 19th Century folio of Shakespeare's works; old Prayer Books; biblical commentaries...

...and the Epiphany Family Cookbook.  I'm a big fan of parish cookbooks because they're always full of recipes with bacon and cream and canned goods--things I would never cook without a history lesson to guide me. 

No one bothered to put a date on the cookbook--no doubt, everyone who got one knew when it was published, so why waste the ink? (The same people who carefully labeled the photos of retired rectors except for the 2nd and 3rd most recent--everyone knows who they are, so why give them a name?) It was sometime durign the tenure of Ernie Hunt as rector, though, because he is the one man to have a receipe in the book. Page one, under "Appetizers and salads," the Ernie Hunt martini. (Do the olives make it a salad, or is it an appetizer?)

And it's weird.

Two jiggers of vodka.
1/2 ounce gin.
Drop or two of Dry Vermouth.
Lots of ice. 
Shake.  Do not stir. Add lemon peel or three olives.

A martini with vodka AND gin?  Heresy.  I know Dean Hunt--he preached here just two weeks ago--and I would never have thought it of him.  But I'm a little curious. Some evening, when I have no where to be the next morning, I may test this out.  An innovation from the 1980s Episcopal Church--the era when Epiphany had its first woman priest.  It's just research, after all!

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Nascar, teach us to pray..."

I've had my giggle over Pastor Joe Nelms' prayer to open yesterday's Nascar race--if you haven't seen it, it's a nice "joy-break" in your day.

But the prayer--humorously--makes me ask, "What should we pray for? And how should we pray for it?"

Because, secretly, I like this prayer. 

I like that it's specific. 

I like that it's--so far as I can tell--honest. 

I like that it's said in the language of thanksgiving for all God's gifts. 

I like that it's an homage to Talladega Nights, one of my favorite movies with another similarly memorable prayer.

I like that it encompasses everything from the personal to the global. 

I can't remember who taught me that when we want to learn how to pray, we should begin with things that are simple, perhaps even trivial, but honest.  If we want to find a parking spot, we should pray to find a parking spot.  If we want our nasty co-worker to get what's coming to her, we should pray for that.  We might feel more virtuous if we prayed for world peace, but praying for world peace, frankly, might not be honest for us--world peace would require significant change in how we handle difference in the world, and that change would be unpleasant for most of us.  So pray for what is true.   Parking spots.  Petty revenge. GM parts and Sunoco fuel.  There's plenty of precedent for this in the psalms, which frequently pray for the destruction of our enemies. 

And then, when we have trained ourselves to pray for what is honest, expand.  Move from parking spots up to "Lord, help me have a difficult conversation with my loved one." Still honest.  But a little less trivial.  Pray for the nasty co-worker to have a conversion experience, rather than justice.  Maybe it will open the door to compassion on our side too.  Stay honest.  And expand to thanksgivings--what are we grateful for?  What is the "smoking hot wife" in our lives that we want to celebrate?  Again, don't worry about being shallow--just be conscious of your gratitude.

Over time, maybe we'll take another leap towards selflessness.  Praying for others, and not just ourselves--still honestly.  Giving thanks for experiences that have taught us, even if they were unpleasasant at the time.  Praying for the ability to change and grow so that praying for aspirations like world peace will be honest. 

But for now, I give thanks for my church, my apartment, my "smoking hot" husband and my son. I give thanks for the people I work with every day, and pray for consolation for the people in Norway who have suffered the loss of loved ones.  I pray that people who commit violence in the name of their religions truly see what they've done someday.  And I pray that the Vestry meeting tonight will go well.  In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Consider the artichoke...

My homily from July 17, 2011

Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel to “consider the lilies of the field” as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Given the gospel parable today about the weeds and the wheat, (and giving credit to Jonathan for coming up with this idea) I invite you today to “consider the artichoke…” 

Jonathan grew up in a family in which artichokes were weeds—they are thistles, after all. A fresh artichoke never made an appearance at his dinner table in Monmouth, Illinois, and if there were canned artichokes available they were something to be avoided. I grew up believing artichokes were a delicacy—an opportunity not just for a tasty treat, but for the exciting grown-up feeling pyrotechnics of lighting the candles beneath the fancy little butter-melting dishes my mother got for their wedding. 

So who decides what a weed is, and what is desirable? What was a thistle in the eyes of Jonathan’s parents was a delicacy in the eyes of my parents. Dandelion greens are trendy in salads—but not on lawns. Time and place seem to have something to say about how a weed is only a weed in the eyes of the beholder--Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” 

There was an interesting article in the Times sometime in the last week about how certain invasive species are being sort of repurposed into food; lionfish, which are eating the native species of fish in the waters of Florida are being hailed as a substitute for grouper, which is being overfished; the same is true for Asian carp in Lake Michigan—they’re being promoted as a tasty and eco-conscious substitute for Chilean sea bass.

In the parable, the weeds are very clearly bad—sown by the devil, and all that. But I think there can be a more generous reading when we put ourselves in the parable, that doesn’t deny that there is evil, but gives us a healthy skepticism about putting ourselves in the place of God. 

“The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Last week we had the parable of the sower, and who we are in the parable was pretty well explained: we were the dirt. This week it’s a little less clear—are we the wheat? The weeds? The slaves? What is clear is who we are not: we are not the reapers. We are not the ones who are called to discern what is a weed and what is grain. 

And the fact that the weeds are mixed in with the grain need not be proscriptive for us in discerning every time we meet someone, “Gee, are you a weed?” Good and evil, weeds and wheat, are mixed in the field, and that is true within each one of us. There is no person in this room who is pure weed, and there is no person in this room who is pure wheat. We’re mixed. 

And might that cause us to be more forgiving of ourselves? I know what some of my own personal weeds are. I don’t like them. I’ve tried to uproot some of them—that tends not to be effective. I don’t mean to say that we should just tolerate our sins and our fault, but there comes a time when we have to have faith that even if I cannot overcome my sins and failings, God and the angels can. And when it is harvest time, they will separate out the bad from the good, OR, maybe it will become clear that what I’ve always thought of as weeds are really more like artichokes, and that although they have thorns and thistles, once you pull them off, inside there’s a really tasty heart.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Prayers for a departing Rector

I wrote these for our celebration of Andrew's ministry in May; we may or may not use them again on July 31, his last Sunday, but thought they'd be a good model for anyone who is in the position of celebrating the ministry of someone who is leaving a congregation. The concluding prayer is adapted from the BOS.

Prayers of the People
Gracious and loving God, we give thanks for the ministry of the Rev. Canon Andrew Mullins as Rector of the Church of the Epiphany for the last 13 years.  He is retiring, but his ministry here will continue through the lives he touched while serving here.  Let us join in prayer with all those who have found a glimpse of divine love in Andrew’s ministry as pastor, priest and teacher. 

For all the strangers and newcomers he welcomed, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For all those he has baptized, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For the children who have been educated at the Day School he founded, and in the Sunday School he supported, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For those he visited when they were sick, sad, or lonely; and for those in crisis who came to him for his wise counsel, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For all those he has married, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For those he has comforted in their grief at the death of a loved one, and for the resurrection and hope he has proclaimed in the midst of grief at funerals, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For all those who have found aid through his commitment to Epiphany’s outreach to the world, especially those at our Homeless Feeding Program and the Carpenter’s Kids in Mlowa Barabarani, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
For the wider church, and his contributions of time and talent to the Diocese of New York and the Anglican Communion, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
And most of all, for the vision he had of a church that could thrive and flourish and be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.
A time for prayer, either silently or aloud
Almighty God, we thank you for raising up among us faithful servants of your Word and Sacraments.  We thank you especially for the ministry of Andrew Mullins among us, and the presence of his family here.  Grant that both he and we may serve you in the days ahead, and always rejoice in your glory, and come at length into your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.