A hymn in response to gun violence.

Feel free to sing, share, etc (you can also sing it with your favourite LM hymn tune). Message me if you’d prefer it as a pdf. I’d love to hear from you if you do sing it – or even hear a recording. And if you have been affected by gun violence, my prayers are with you.

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(A conversion) not (of St Paul)

No lightning bolt
nor sudden fall
but the gentle tap-tap
of mercy raining
like hoofbeats
like heartbeats
over the umbrella
of consciousness –
Who are you?

You sang,
my pied piper;
I was powerless
not to follow;
you led my soul
astray, and it has never
(it has rarely)
looked back to see
the salt flats
of life without
You.


This poem first appeared at the Episcopal Cafe in the Episcopal Journal

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Fishing

A sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Epiphany 3: Matthew 4:12-23. In our prayers we remembered those killed, injured, and terrorized by another mass shooting overnight, this time during celebrations of the lunar new year in Monterey Park, CA.

______________________

Once upon a time a hundred years ago when I was about nine or ten, I embarked upon a fishing trip off the west coast of Scotland. The sea that summer day was white and gray, the spray was cold and constant, and I think that may have been when I found out that I suffer terribly, horribly from sea-sickness.

For all that, I can’t bring myself quite to wish it hadn’t happened, or that I hadn’t gone, because a couple of hours in, at our furthest point from shore, we saw suddenly a pair of pilot whales breaching. It really was the most amazing thing. It was almost like looking into another world, and if I’d stayed safely back on dry land, I would have missed them. Worse still, I might never even have known what I was missing.

All of which is to say that if Jesus comes by and invites me on a fishing trip, I’m going to be torn. I know that there is going to be deep and abiding misery: look at the garden, look at the cross; look at John’s imprisonment and the people who wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff; look at his own words, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Look at the storm, and the disciples’ terror: “Master, do you not care that we are perishing?” There will be sea-sickness.

And yet there will be, too, those glimpses into another world. Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop. Jesus preaching in the synagogue, “Here, today, the words of the prophet are fulfilled.” The healing miracles, the victory over demons and death, and that other scene on the beach, after the cross, after the disciples have come home here once more to Capernaum, to the Sea of Galilee, and to their nets, when they come ashore in the morning light and find Jesus and the fire and the food, and he calls to them to catch one last harvest before sending them back once more to Jerusalem.

How much of this do Andrew and Simon anticipate when Jesus comes to them in the morning as they fish from the shore? This is after John the baptizer has been arrested and imprisoned; Jesus has withdrawn north to Galilee, and so, it seems, have these two, whom we last met down by the Jordan river, when they were disciples of John who turned to follow the stranger whom John called the Lamb of God, whom Andrew already recognized as the Messiah.

After John was arrested, they returned to Galilee and to their nets. They must have lost track of Jesus when he went into the wilderness alone after his baptism, during those long days of fasting and temptation. And here he is, back as if from the dead, and once again, they follow him.

They know that following will not protect them from the world, any more than putting out to sea shelters them from the storms that follow the water. There are still fevers that put fear into a community; Simon Peter’s mother-in-law nearly died of one, before Jesus lifted her up and set her back on her feet – remember that story? Not everyone in town got so lucky.

There are still harsh words from those who don’t understand the lives they lead, the choices they make to leave the traditions of their fathers, to leave father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, to walk away first to follow John, and now this other, this Jesus, this dangerous preacher. “Shake the dust off your feet,” advises Jesus, but it’s not so easy. Mud sticks, and dust gets in your eyes.

There will be worse to come, from the Romans, in due course. Following will not save them from seeing their loved ones die, nor from burying them.

Jesus is not taking them out of the world, but into it. He calls them away from the nets and the open water, and promises to make them fish for people. He is calling them back into community, but a community centred no longer on survival, but on salvation. And they follow.

Julian of Norwich, medieval mystic, in one of the visions granted her at death’s very door, saw herself walking as it were upon the seabed, and she understood from that “showing” that if one were to walk with God, in the plain and certain sight of God, that person would not only be safe in body and spirit from the weight of the ocean and its depths, but they would know greater peace and comfort than anyone still on dry land, safely and ordinarily ignorant of the ever-tending mercies of God.[i]

There have been times, to be sure, in the past few years filled with fevers and violence and more when we have felt at sea, or underwater, or worse. But then there are those moments where we see into another world, the world as it might be, the world as God wants it to be, with all of God’s heart, with all of God’s might, with all of God’s life. The moments when we recognize that here is the Messiah, that God is with us, that God is calling to us, in the midst of the everyday, after the arrest, in the midst of the fever, in the wake of bad news or good; that Christ has come to find us, to feed us, to save us.

That when we are farthest from the shore, glory will still breach the surface.


[i] “One time mine understanding was led down into the sea-ground, and there I saw hills and dales green, seeming as it were moss-be-grown, with wrack and gravel. Then I understood thus: that if a man or woman were under the broad water, if he might have sight of God so as God is with a man continually, he should be safe in body and soul, and take no harm: and overpassing, he should have more solace and comfort than all this world can tell. For He willeth we should believe that we see Him continually though that to us it seemeth but little [of sight]; and in this belief He maketh us evermore to gain grace. For He will be seen and He will be sought: He will be abided and he will be trusted.” The Second Revelation, Chapter X, “God willeth to be seen and to be sought: to be abided and to be trusted.”

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, edited by Grace Warrack (digireads.com, 2013), via Kindle

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Leading cause

I saw the eagle twice today;

once above the middle school

pinned out against the sky,

spread upon the wind,

a standard flying;

then again a vision

hunched over the cemetery,

image of an angel,

ugly crying.

__________________________

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the US

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What’s in a name?

A sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A


A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name, and we talked about what it meant for Jesus to be given a name that means Saviour: what it meant for him, what it means for us. 

This Sunday’s readings call us back into the contemplation of names; or they did for me. The prophet writes, “While I was in my mother’s womb, God named me,” and he links that to his call, to prophesy, to proclaim to the people the faithfulness of God. Isaiah’s name means, “[God] is Salvation.” Was his name itself a prophecy, a promise, a call?

We read, too, the epistle from Paul, who was once called Saul; who embraced another name as part of his new vocation to preach good news to the nations, to the gentile world. 

Then there is this Gospel, in which Jesus meets Simon for the first time, and without hesitation (apparently) looks at him and sees the rock, his rock, Peter. 

Peter wasn’t always rock solid. He had his moments of fear, of confusion. When he tried to walk on water, he sank like a stone, or he would have, if Jesus hadn’t been there to hold out his hand.

But in this moment, Jesus calls him, names him, prophesies that this will be the one against whom the first generations of the church will crash and clash; who will stand firm, and found a community that will build upon the Gospel, and bring the good news of the salvation of God, Jesus, to a new world.

We talked a little at Bible Study this week about what it means for Jesus to call Simon Peter. What he might call one of us, each of us, if he were to name our call to discipleship, if he were to prophesy about our ministries, if he were to offer us a name to live into, to live up to.

Take a moment to consider that: by what name does God know you? By what name, into what name does God call you? What does that tell you about the path of your discipleship, about the ways in which you are called to live into the Gospel of Christ?

In today’s Gospel, John calls Jesus by a new moniker: the Lamb of God. Is it a prophesy? Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Here is the scapegoat, the one who takes on the curses that this world offers and removes them from the faithful community, through the cross, through the tomb.

Here is the lamb of sacrifice, the Passover of our God, who marks us safe from the angel of death, and leads us to new life beyond the sea.

In today’s Collect, he has yet another name: the light of the world. Here is the one who saves us from the weight and drag of the “mire and clay”, who pulls us out of deep waters when we are sinking, who does not let the world drown in its own sin.

Here is the Lamb of God. The disciples of John heard him say it, and they turned immediately and followed him. Jesus saw them following and asked them what they were looking for. And when they stayed with him, and when they told their friends and family about him, and when Andrew went and found his brother, and brought him to Jesus, Jesus looked at him and named him, called him, claimed him as his rock.

By what name does he call you? And will you follow?

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A star that never burns out

A sermon for the Sunday of the Epiphany, 2023


At the Epiphany, God revealed Godself to the nations, to us, to the world. But we are no longer the outsiders; Christendom has become the establishment, the seat of power. Things change, empires shift, history shuffles the players. God remains true, and unhidden, if we will but look for the Christ-child.

Whenever we read the story of the unveiling of the Messiah to the gaze of the world, we read, too, of the willful and deviant way in which Herod receives the news. 

Because Herod had everything that he needed to hear from God. He had the same revelation that the magi received, the natural phenomenon of the stars in the night sky, interpreted by some as omens; he could have heard the music of the spheres, but he was afraid, and the harmonies soured in his ears.

Herod had the scriptures, the prophets of the Lord, the ones who foretold God’s coming in peace, in mercy, to hasten the salvation of God’s people and their reconciliation with God and with one another; the dawning of a new light, as different from day and night as darkness of the ocean depths is from the stars of outer space.

Herod had the community of faith, to parse and discuss and pray and to apply the scriptures to their current situation: Here, they said, Bethlehem is the place. There is where we will find the Emmanuel of God, the good shepherd, the anointed one.

This is the good news of the boundless riches of Christ’s grace, writes Paul; the mystery of God’s mercy, revealed “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10) 

And instead of hearing good news, and celebrating with his scribes and recognizing the glory to which he had been called – nations shall stream to Zion, wrote the prophet, and here was Herod’s Great Temple to welcome them – instead of living into the revelation that had been opened to him, instead of accepting the role of that had been offered him, of ushering in the new messianic age as architect of his worship and protector of his person, Herod chose destruction. His is a cautionary tale amidst the strange and foreign joy of frankincense, gold, and myrrh.

The star contains within its fiery heart the flaming gas of the Hindenburg; the clouds that obscure it are full of the tears of the innocents and their mothers terrorized by Herod and his historic descendants; revelation is not always received, and even wisdom may be misapplied. 

This week, a ceasefire was suggested to mark the birth of Christ in the east; the suggestion was not taken. 

Back here, as we marked the feast of the Epiphany, a six-year-old got into a fight with his teacher and shot her. Where do you think a six-year-old got that idea, or the means to make it real? What does it say about us, our received wisdom about the rights that bind us to violence; how can we receive the revelation of God’s incarnation in a child, when we allow for this new and twisted massacre of the innocents?

This week, in our world, leaders made fools of themselves and one another. It’s a good thing that we do not elect our god. We Christian churches amongst ourselves cannot agree half the time on what it means to follow Jesus, what it means for us, what it means for the world.

Yet it is “through the church [that] the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known,” writes Paul. Which means, church, that we have work to do: work of discernment, work of prayer, the work of declaring peace on earth and making it real; the joyous journey of making known to the world the munificence of a God who was born king of the stable, lord of the manger, hope for the world.

We may have begun this year a little weary from our worldly journeys. But this feast, the Epiphany, God’s revelation of Godself to the nations of the earth, to the people of east and west, to the uninformed and the interested, the powerful and the poor, the wise and the fools who do not know God; this is our feast day. It is ours to celebrate, and it is our calling.

Herod was afraid of what the birth of a messiah might mean for his way of life, his compromises with the Caesars of the world, his great legacy. But God reveals Godself in love, in humility, in vulnerability, so that we may be in awe, but not afraid.

The magi were drawn far from home, pilgrims to a strange land, where they may have received an uncertain welcome; the king met with them in secret, there was subterfuge and whispering. But when they reached Bethlehem, they knew that they had come home. They unpacked their treasures, and left their hearts open on the floor before the cradle, the manger, the messiah.

The wise ones came seeking Christ, but the foolishness of God is famously wiser than the highest wisdom of humankind (1 Corinthians 1:25). In God’s foolish wisdom, God came looking for us, in the form of a child, in self-revelation, through the stars, through the scriptures, through the discerning community of faith.

Ninety-five years ago, the parish of Epiphany came together to seek and serve Christ in this place. They had everything they might need. We still do. While things change, empires shift, history shuffles the players, God remains true, and unhidden, if we will but look for the Christ-child.

The world still sometimes seems impervious, even opposed to the messages of mercy, the humility of incarnation, the love of God, peace that surpasses understanding, but we are not, are we?

So be of good courage. Follow, not the flaming ball of gas, but the light that is Christ: the embodiment of the love of God; the innocence that is wiser than our wiles, the grace that journeys with us, washes our feet when we are weary, feeds us when we are hungry, encourages us where we are faithful; the star that never burns out.

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Follow the star

But what if I have spent too long 
staring into space longing for a sign

What if the mystery were here all along 
in the tall grass of childhood 
the stumbling steps of grief 
the sudden sharp discovery underfoot 
that all is not yet seen 
the dizzying descent of life into earth 
disturbed by the late winter planting

Light from the star is too long arriving
Mined from the mundane hope is arising

_________________

Photo credit: Edward Hughes. First published at https://episcopaljournal.org/follow-the-star/

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The priest

Leave your prayers here with me,  
not because I can answer them –  
you and I know better –  
but to slip on like borrowed shoes  
before I cross the threshold

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Holy Name

A sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name, 2023. Luke 2:15-21, Philippine 2:5-11


On the eighth day, the day of circumcision, the Child was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel of the Lord before he was conceived; before he began the journey of incarnation.

The naming of any child is a solemn and joyful affair; it says something about their identity, their family, their history, and their hopes. They called the child, Jesus, because he would be our saviour.

His name means saviour, and it has been his name since before his journey into his humanity began. The eighth day marks a new beginning, after the work of creation, after the sabbath rest, the rest of time begins on the eighth day, along with all that is to follow. But he has been our saviour since before time, and will be forever.

Some years ago, someone called the church to ask what we were about, what we were like, what we believe. “But, you do believe in the salvation, right” the caller asked me. “Of course,” I replied, “and if you come to visit, we can have a much deeper conversation about what that might even mean.”

By the way, my final answer to all who call to ask about us is to come and visit; it’s the best way to find out and feel out who we are as a church community. I hope that in this new year some of you will find ways to invite those you know who are curious, seeking, cynical, or spiritual to come with you to find out how we find our way to Jesus.

But back to salvation: there are a number of theories about what salvation is and does and how it takes place. I am not the final authority on any of them, but I am persuaded by some more than by others.

I am least persuaded by the argument that innocent blood is necessary to justice. I have a feeling that that calculation is one of our own invention, rather than the work of a merciful and creative God. Take Cain, for instance. When he committed the first murder of the Bible, against his own brother, God did not avenge Abel even with the guilty man’s life. As disturbing the murder and as angry as God was, still, in banishing Cain, God set a mark of protection upon Cain, so that no one could take revenge against him. God interrupted the nascent cycle of violence; God was merciful.

What if Jesus is saving us from our tendency to shed innocent blood, or any blood; from our temptation to sacrifice others on the altar of our own sin or self-righteousness ?

That leads us to another theory of salvation, of atonement, to use another theologically loaded word. It suggests that rather than appeasing the forces that require sacrifice, that require blood for justice, Christ defeated them upon the cross, subverting them and using their own means to further the ends of God’s justice, which is mercy; by harrowing hell and hollowing it out; by rising to life again, defeating death. 

But Frances Young, in Can These Dry Bones Live?, wonders, since we are still battling evil, since sin and death are still so clearly with us and among us, how we can appropriate hope, or hope enough, from a victory that is already won, when we feel ourselves too often still to be in the midst of the battle.[i]

How, in other words, is Jesus saving us now, today, from sin and from death, which we see all too clearly at work in the world about us?

But what was born for us was not a theory of salvation, but  Jesus, our saviour. He was named as our saviour before his conception, before his journey into humanity, before death was even possible. It was not only that final passion of the cross that saved us; it was this, the new birth in the borrowed side-room, the covenant of God’s promise, the naming of God’s hope for God’s Son, God’s hope for humanity.

Jesus is our saviour through it all, from birth to death and beyond. From before birth, and all of the accidents and awful things that may befall; from beyond time, where the communion of saints gathers in endless and joyous praise of God who has saved them even from the grave. By crucifying sin and suffering within himself, so that we can bear our own sin and agony and know that God is with us, that God has not forsaken us.[ii] At least, that’s one theory.

There is another question, which may be a whole other sermon, and that is, what has Jesus saved us for?

Back in the day, when a saviour was announced to the people of Judea, they thought inevitably in terms of the routing of the Roman empire, the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a power to be reckoned with. And yet we have seen that this was not the kind of saviour Jesus turned out to be. If he defeated the Roman empire (and the Revelation of John said he would), then it was by laying the seeds of a new kingdom, a new way of living and believing and hoping in the world that would take some time to come to harvest, just as a child takes time to grow, to grow into their name; because the way that God loves us is not as a dictator loves his people for their usefulness, or as an authoritarian loves them for their loyalty, or a narcissist for their adulation, but God loves us as a child delights to love, indiscriminately.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), so that we, who are made in the image of God, do not exploit our privilege but empty ourselves, becoming humble, giving ourselves fully to that image of God, so that instead of the powers and the principalities, instead of empires and armies, instead of death, we should bend only to the name of Jesus, the saviour, who is our way, our truth, our life, the life of God incarnate, Jesus, our Emmanuel:


Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.[iii] 

Jesus, our Saviour, named by the angels before we were ever born.


[i] Frances Young, Can These Dry Bones Live? An Introduction to Christian Theology (Pilgrim Press, 1993), 39

[ii] Again, I am indebted to Frances Young, op cit.

[iii] Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley, altered by George Whitefield

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The Innocents

From behind the page their cries
muffled by millennia
seep through

Where, we ask, is God?
There swaddled tight
smuggled out into the wilderness

What good, we ask, is a God
who bleeds when the sword
lays open a mother’s heart?

What use dreams
against the pre-dawn invasion
of the fever-soaked tyranny of grief?

But the child is calling
again from behind the page
which turns and turns

searching not for the God-with-us
but like a lost and wailing lamb
for a way to make peace with God

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