What if we were to listen …?

A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, on Sunday, October 24th, 2021: Year B Proper 25. Readings include the healing of Bartimaeus and Jeremiah’s oracle of hope.

Jeremiah has spent years of his life, his health, his freedom, his being warning and lamenting and prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of all but the poorest people to Babylon, but it was never because he had lost faith in God’s mercy, trust in God’s faithfulness, confidence in God’s loving-kindness toward the people whom God had called together.

In the midst of it all, Jeremiah erupts with this oracle of hope, this affirmation of the endurance of God’s commitment to, God’s covenant with, the people who have put their trust in their Creator.

It is not the stuff of unrealistic optimism. The remnant that Jeremiah prophesies returns not in triumph – they are slow and prone to stumbling – but they are together. They return weeping, but God, their God, accompanies them with consolation. All of their troubles are not yet behind them – they return to a city razed to the ground and robbed of its Temple – but like the shepherd of the Psalms, the Lord will lead them beside calm, cool waters, even as they traverse the valley.

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, whose name means “honour”, called upon Jesus, the Son of David, for healing and restoration. The people at first tried to quiet him; they did not understand yet God’s capacity for renewal, even resurrection. As soon as Jesus called to him, though, they became his cheerleader, changed their tune as though they had been rooting for him all along. Jesus not only healed Bartimaeus, but he opened the eyes of the crowd to the indiscrimination of God’s outpouring of grace and mercy. But it was Bartimaeus who followed him up toward Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus persisted and was heard and healed. The people of the exile remembered their God and they were led home. The people who stood on the sidelines, who did not believe that hope was at hand, were flustered by the unexpected answer of Jesus to the call for a blessing, a miracle. Somehow, even as they lined the streets he was to walk through, they failed to expect very much of him.

Do you ever wonder what happened afterwards, to Bartimaeus? Now that he was following Jesus with his eyes wide open, did the people listen to him any more kindly, or were they still telling him to be quiet, not to disturb their peace?

A few days ago, in an elevator, I found myself a little cornered by a gentleman who wanted nothing more than to share his faith that in God, all things are possible; that in Christ, forgiveness is abundant; that in the Spirit, we can find our salvation.

He was the sort of person that might make a stranger nervous with his intensity and his forthrightness. He was in a way like Bartimaeus, with his socially awkward outburst of belief in the power of Jesus Christ. “People say that he is dead,” he said, “but look, he lives in me! Look into my eyes, the windows of my soul!”

What could I say to him, Bartimaeus with his eyes wide open and his heart set on Jesus?

This time yesterday morning, believe it or not, I was standing outside the birth home of Martin Luther King, Jr, in Atlanta, Georgia. The buildings in the historical district surrounding his home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father each once preached remain closed because of the pandemic, so I stood out on the sidewalk.

I stood out on the sidewalk like those people surrounding Bartimaeus. I stood outside like the people who told Dr King [who followed Jesus with his eyes wide open] to be quiet, to rein it in some, not to disturb my peace, with the people who would not listen to the urgency of his message until it was, to the eyes of the world, too late.

If only we could have spared the grief of wife and child, parent and sibling. If only more of us had listened instead of telling him to “be quiet”.

The stories of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of blessed Martin, of Jesus, are a rebuke to those of us who would rather not be disturbed by the inbreaking of God’s justice, the kingdom of heaven.

We may well ask why, when Bartimaeus cries out from the roadside, we had not already found him medicine, sustained him in safety, instead of telling him to be quiet. Wherever injustice is administered and healing is hard to find, the gospel challenges us to do better at living and loving and listening. I live under the rebuke of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of Martin.

But God will do good despite us. God will bring the remnant home, will walk beside the weeping with consolation. Jesus will bring hope and healing to the hurting, and he will confound those who say, “Be quiet! Don’t bother the Lord with your troubles. Don’t bother us either.”

But God will do good. Sometimes the call to us is simply to recognize the unexpected goodness of God and to follow it. To be patient, knowing that even in our weeping God is with us to console us. To walk in consolation beside others who are weeping. To sustain the hope of those looking for Jesus rather than to quash or to quiet it.

As much as I wonder what happened to Bartimaeus, I wonder, too, what happened to the crowd. Did anyone else have their eyes opened that day to grace? Did anyone else turn to follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, to the Cross and its confounding, the day of Resurrection?

Jeremiah spent his life, his freedom, his political capital, his health, and his strength on prophesies of warning and oracles of lament. Yet he knew that God is faithful, that God is good, that no matter the trials and temptations, the troubles and the turmoil, God cannot help but to do good to God’s people. In the midst of it all, he could not help but prophesy hope.

Because God will do good, with or without us. And blessed is the one who has their eyes open to see it.

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Repentance

To repent is
in some small, frayed
way to unknit
the fabric which has
woven my portrait in
such intricate and 
fascinating, colourful 
and false threads, 
pulling on the lie,
knotted and crinkled,
winding it back into
a small, dyed ball,
a little planet ready
to be moulded into
something less 
deceptively complete,
waiting with the patience
of yarn in a bowl
for the hook and the
needle, for the hands
of the Creator
to guide it into
re-presenting
(the image of)
something true


This piece first appeared at the Episcopal Cafe

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What would St Luke say?

Luke, the Evangelist, is also known as a physician. It is with care and curiosity that he records the events of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; it is for the healing of the spirit, soul, and body that he shares the good news of Jesus Christ with his patients, those hungry for salvation.

As we remember Luke this year, we may consider all of the healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, assistants, and orderlies who are stretched and stressed even more than many of the rest of us by this extended pandemic and its toll. We may wonder, with our guide, whence relief is to come.

Luke believes deeply in the power of Jesus’ name to heal and to restore the people. He also believes in the strength of community to amplify and to extend that power, that name. It is Luke who describes the cacophony of Pentecost, the communal care of the first churches, the intertwining visions and prayers and partnerships of those willing to spread the Gospel.

We are a community, not only within the church but around the world. There is nothing like a global pandemic to demonstrate how dependent we are on one another for our health, for our comfort, for our peace of mind and body.

Luke, physician and evangelist, knew the importance of the health of body and spirit alike, and the ways in which scientific wisdom, the understanding of the workings of creation, of creatures, of ourselves, reveals its Creator’s glory. 

What would St Luke say about getting a booster for the COVID19 vaccine as available? Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that he, in sympathy and solidarity with his physician colleagues and support staff would welcome it. Perhaps it is not too forward to imagine that he would promote every measure to keep his community safe and well and together, to relieve the burdens of those who care for the health of others, and to increase the common good. 

Collect for St Luke (BCP, 244)

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Follow

A sermon for the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. The gospel is the exchange between Jesus and the person sometimes known as the “rich young ruler”

This man and Jesus have to have had some history together. Their exchange echoes conversations that they have had in the synagogue and across someone’s dinner table. The man is caught on the cusp of conversion but, like many of us, he doesn’t really want to change. “What is it that you want from me?” he is asking Jesus.

And Jesus responds that he wants nothing from the man, only that he should follow the commandments of God, the commandments to love, to their logical limit, and that he should embrace the call to conversion that the Spirit has placed in his heart.

The episode ends in mutual sorrow. Jesus had come to love the man, and although he knew that the call was too much for him, he hoped against hope in his heart that at the last minute, the man would take the plunge and follow. The man had come to desire Jesus, and although he knew that his way was too much for him, he hoped at the last minute that Jesus might give him some other side route to salvation, and to face-saving.

There is so much anxiety in today’s gospel passage. The man is anxious not to lose Jesus; Jesus holds all the worry-burdens of love; the disciples are anxious about what this all means for them – will they lose the return on their investment, the all that they have put into following Jesus? Well, that depends what it is that they expect.

Contrary to the prosperity preachers, the blessings of God are not necessarily riches or ease of life, property, or influence. The ways of the world, especially of economic covetousness and corruption, do not bring the peace that passes all understanding.

It is difficult, I confess, to stand and preach this gospel from a place of relative ease in a country of relative wealth and damning inequality, in a church that has enjoyed some status through its generations, and that is not itself lacking in financial security, despite the day-to-day anxieties of the operating budget. This gospel is a challenge.

A person came into my office during this past week, while I was marinating in today’s readings: Amos with his scathing prophesies against the grasping great, and Jesus’ gentle admonishment of the man who was on the cusp of conversion. The person in my office had a lot to say about the churches and how they should carry on their business and what the money that you contribute on a Sunday and on other days of the week should be doing for the people, for the poor, for the good of God’s commandments, although they didn’t say it quite that way. The person had little faith that we were not using it rather for ourselves.

Now, I get to see almost all of your acts of generosity, large and small, as they pass behind the curtains. I know what some of you have given up in terms of respect and relationship to confess yourselves as Christians. And Jesus tells that you will not lose your reward, nor your recompense, for all that you have done for the sake of the gospel and to follow God’s commandments to their logical and loving conclusion.

But the person in my office, coming at that time and in that strange way, made me wonder whether they were sent as a prophet not to the individual person on the cusp of conversion, but to the church, to the parish, to the community.

Amos and the prophets, after all, were sent to preach to those in charge, not to each individual, but to the nation and its representatives. You have to wonder, if this country were to decide, as some already declare, that it was in fact a Christian entity, and if its elect were to hear the commandment to give up its wealth and its advantages to serve the poor and follow Jesus, what on earth would that look like?

More practically, the person got me to wondering: In the past several weeks, we have heard from a variety of people who have looked upon our church building and seen possibilities for ministry and service to the community that we may have room for.

We have heard from someone who wants to provide before and after-school accommodations for older children; from an organization that houses refugees and knows that we have an empty apartment; from a congregation, dwindled in size through the pandemic to a handful of faithful adherents, looking for just some small room to worship.

I do not know, yet, what will be practical and what will be reasonable for us to do in response to these overtures of interest. We hardly fill up our building at the moment, at this moment. You know that we have a new preschool tenant starting up, and that will be an adjustment because it is not the same program that was here for generations. I don’t know, yet, what will be workable, but our Vestry is working on those questions, and we will want to hear from you, too.

It doesn’t feel as though Jesus is asking us to give everything up, to give anything of much away, except a little access, a little exclusivity? But I have to confess that, at this moment, after that visit, it feels to me personally like a call to some sort of conversion, to some fresh thinking about how we can use spaces we no longer fully fill out for ourselves in partnership with other agents of the gospel, who see us, perhaps, as rich in resource, and as a sign of God’s providence.

Can I be honest? It feels risky even saying any of this out loud. But again, nothing is decided upon: I need your wisdom at least as much as the visitations of strangers. And I know that in each moment of decision and conversion and steadfastness, that Jesus loves us, and looks upon us with every affection, and wants us to succeed in following him, wherever that may lead us.

The man in the story is caught on the cusp of conversion, teetering on the brink of repentance, swaying toward Jesus but anchored by the lifestyle he has always known, the way it has always been.

And Jesus looked at him, and loved him, and wanted nothing more than to set him free. “Follow me,” he said. “Follow me.”

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To become whole

A sermon for the service of Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, including the Blessing of the Animals, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. Readings include Genesis 2:18-24


I heard not long ago of someone in this developed and modern country who had managed to grow all the way into a college-level anatomy course with the ingrained and erroneous belief that men and women have a different number of ribs, based on this story of Genesis.

But that is not what the text teaches. It is not what the Bible says.

These verses have been used to diminish the equality of women, and of those of genders other than male; but that is not what the text teaches. It is not what the Bible says.

The Revd Dr Wil Gafney explains in Womanist Midrash,

“It is curious; the animals are created with the ability to partner and mate; yet the adam is singular, pluripotent, but singular.”[i]

In other words, God has created the human complete in itself, and expects it to find its place in creation. 

Yet the human, the adam, is unsatisfied. It envies, perhaps, the animals. So God, ever provident, divides it into two.

Again, Gafney translates for us,

“God puts the creature to sleep and divides it in half … Rabbi Samuel ben Nachman taught that God split the earth-colored adam into two equal portions.”[ii]

Only after the division of the adam into two are the creatures called man and woman for the first time. Despite what the translators of the court of King James have led generations of English-speaking Christians to believe, these biblical origins of humanity are radically whole and equal and encompassing, before we were divided into binaries.

What would it take, do you think, for us to become whole again?

While the human was still in its whole and singular state, God did something remarkable. God delegated to the human the naming of every living creature on the earth: the dogs, the cats, the cattle, the fish, the duck-billed platypi, the pelican. God gave to the human the ability to define and to describe the creatures, and to choose how to be in relationship with them.

And God fully expected that the human would live in partnership with the animals, and find common cause with them, in the tending of God’s creation.

I heard this past week that the Department of Fish and Wildlife of this country alone declared more than twenty species of birds, animals, fish, and one plant extinct. Climate change, pollution, habitat erosion, human selfishness have wiped entire expressions of God’s creative diversity off the face of the planet.

What would it take, do you think, for us to become whole?

Genesis gives at least two answers here. 

One is covenantal love. The author looks at the example of two humans promising themselves to one another in marriage and describes them as becoming through that covenant of love, “one flesh”; as though they are restoring the wholeness of the first human. This, by the way, does not depend upon the gender of the people participating, since the first, whole human contained all genders in itself. Remember David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and their promises to be part of one another’s story, one another’s lives. It depends rather upon the self-giving, union and reunion, that the covenant implies. The covenant of love explains why we feel empty, as though a part had been torn out of us, when we lose the loved one to death or separation; it is as though we were divided into two pieces of clay.

God has also invited the human to make a covenant with each of the living creatures with which they share the earth: naming them makes the human, makes us responsible for their care and nurture. Some of us have brought particular creatures here for blessing today, that we have named and claimed and promised to care for, and we know how strong those bonds are; we are bound by the covenant, the promise, we have made to love them. But our covenant with creation is older and broader and deeper than these bonds of love. If we were to live into our covenantal responsibility for all creation, perhaps we would see fewer creatures go extinct; if we were to model the covenant of love that God has invited us into.

Because that is the second answer given here in the early chapters of Genesis to how we may regain our wholeness. It is God’s mercy, God’s providence, God’s loving kindness that plants the garden and sows the seed and humours the human, dividing it in two so that it may live in relationship with its mirror image, which is the image of God.

The stories of how we came to be divided, from creation and from one another, contain within them the seeds of our reconciliation. They are stories not of a descending order or unequal ribcages, but of the wholeness for which God created us, and the covenants of care, the covenants of love, which God has given us as a framework for understanding our relationship to one another, to the world, and to God.

It is into and out of love that God created us, and it is out of love that God sent Jesus Christ to be among us and to live for us the way of love, the way of wholeness, and it is love that will make us whole out of all of our diversity and encompass all of our humanity: love for the creation in which God has given us our place; love for one another; love for God, who is love, who has embodied love, who hates nothing and no one that God has made, as it is written in the Wisdom of Solomon:

“Because the whole world before you is like a speck that tips the scales, 
and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground.
But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.
For your immortal spirit is in all things.” (Wisdom 11:22-26,12:1, NRSV)

Amen


[i] Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 20

[ii] Ibid, 21

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Little lower

God forbid that I should meet
an angel face to face: the many eyes
would terrify, the beating wings
might stop my heart; how would
I hear their, “Do not fear,”
let alone what may follow?

Send me instead the dragonfly, fierce
but fragile, anointing the surface
of the water with love; yet who am I to curate
the messengers of God, although
you have made me wonderfully and
fearfully a little lower than the angels?

My eyes are short-sighted, my words fumbled,
my wings, the costume of childhood nativities,
were only ever clip-ons; God forbid
that I should meet an angel face to face,
let alone courageously proclaim to
the other, “Do not be afraid.”


Michaelmas, 2021
See: Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 10, Hebrews 2, Psalm 8, Psalm 139, etc

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Envy is the enemy of the gospel

A sermon for Sunday, September 26 at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid. In the readings, disciples of Moses and Jesus object to unauthorized deployment of the Spirit. In the news, images of border patrols chasing immigrants with horses, and yet more gun violence in our streets and stores.

It is no accident that it is just after the disciples’ argument over which of them might be the greatest that they fall into this dispute about who has the right to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. They have not yet learned the lesson that Jesus tried to teach them through the child. They have not yet realized that it is better to heal the world than to wield power over it. “If we can’t lord it over one another,” they reason, “we can at least set ourselves up over and against the rabble that surrounds us!” Envy is a powerful and unhelpful human emotion.

But Jesus is not threatened by the idea of sharing his power and influence. He is ready for the salvation of the whole world, by all means and all messengers that will bring the gospel, the good news of God’s Christ, to bear upon those who need it. He is there for the casting out of demons, and the recovery of life and hope. He is not afraid that his name will lose its power if too many people confess it.

Jesus’ namesake, Joshua, was jealous for his own gift of anointing when Moses shared his prophetic spirit with the seventy elders. When the young men, Eldad and Medad, expressed the same spirit, Joshua asked Moses to stop them, since they had not been explicitly invited to prophesy as the seventy had. But Moses, like Jesus, had insight into the abundance of God’s grace, and knew that it cannot run out by being shared; nor will it be suppressed by our stinginess.

Envy is the enemy of the gospel and a stumbling block to grace. Jealousy for our borders makes us cruel. Fear of running out of freedom and opportunity for all makes us selfish for our own. The fragility of our own status, as believing ourselves to be beloved of God and of one another, cracks open our relationships too easily, and leaves us with sharp edges.

We see its fruits in the whips of the overseers, transported from another century into our own, we could barely believe our eyes, and yet our hearts knew the truth, and were in some cases complicit.

We see envy’s rotten fruit in the violence that stalks our own streets, and the suspicion which divides a neighbour from the love that they are owed.

We see it in systems of supremacy that, loudly or subtly, prop up the privilege of those who have it and close the doors against those who do not, instead of dismantling the scaffold that keeps an uneven and unequal edifice propped up.

But Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

And Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Whoever is not against us is for us. The people who have come to our borders because they believe that they will find some good here, who believe in the good things we say about ourselves, they are for us; and should we turn against them?

It is no accident that this situation occurs right after the disciples’ dispute over who is the greatest. Nor is it any great coincidence that it occurs not long after they failed to cast out the demon from a boy tormented by it, whose father appealed to Jesus for help. The disciples are stung by what they cannot do and jealous of those to whom it seems to come more easily. Their sense of inner greatness is fragile and they are vulnerable to envy.

But they have the privilege that is like no other. They live and breathe and eat and walk with Jesus, the Christ. They know him like no one else. They are part of his morning prayers and his desert retreats and they witness his miracles and they watch him sleep. They will become his church, and they will prophesy, bringing the truth of the gospel to the ends of the earth. They will be salted with fire, with the fire of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost. All except the one whose envy gets the better of him, who betrays the grace of God for a handful of silver and the gratitude and contempt of the authorities.

In the letter of James, it is written,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. … For where there is envy and selfish ambition there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (James 3:13-14, 16-18)

Jesus tells his disciples, whose direct spiritual descendants we are, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Have salt in yourselves, knowing the worth that Christ has placed upon you and within you. Put no stumbling block before justice, and do not seek to cast out mercy, do not be jealous for God’s loving-kindness, but have peace in the knowledge that God is love.

We have privilege like no other. We have the Body of Christ among us and within us, and we are a part of him. We need no selfish ambition to make ourselves great when we have the great commandments, to love God with all of our being and our neighbours as ourselves, to sustain us and to guide us; when we have the love of God within us and among us, salt in ourselves.

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” said Moses. Have salt in yourselves, and prophesy peace.

 

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Who is the greatest?

A sermon for Sunday, September 19th, 2021. Readings include Psalm 54 and Mark 9:30-37


“They argued with one another who was the greatest.”

Who is the greatest? Does the Episcopal Church preach greater truth than the Baptists? Are the Cleveland Browns greater than the Houston Texans? Does God love America more than Afghanistan, or China? Would our democracy indeed elect the Unnameable God, or the Christ, to preside over even the kingdom of heaven?

When Jesus asked his disciples what they had been discussing, they didn’t like to answer, because they knew that it would only lead to more awkward questions. They were afraid to ask him what he meant about going to Jerusalem and dying there, and the ultimate victory of life over death, of love over power. And so he took a child, not his, and set it in the midst of them, and bid them welcome it, accommodate it, serve it.

Sometimes, we feel awkward baring our questions and doubts, arguments and emotions before God. We pretend that we can hide them, but Jesus knew what his disciples were debating, and he answered them anyway. If we were raised not to answer back to our parents, nor to show anger to our elders, we might not dare to face God with our grief and our frustration and our pain. Yet the one who formed us knows us, inside and out, as it says in the Psalms (see Psalm 139).

Sometimes, when people find it difficult to know how to pray difficult and dangerous emotions, I send them to the Psalms; “every emotion is covered by them,” I tell them, “and you can borrow the words of our spiritual ancestors – the words of the Bible, authorized for use in conversation with God – to cover your own experience.”

The flipside of that is that I am not always comfortable praying the Psalms when they express emotions that I do not want to experience, or admit to.

Take today’s reading from Psalm 54. In the version offered by our Book of Common Prayer, verse seven invites God, orders God, to render evil against my enemies. It is not my understanding that God creates or commits evil, even at my most earnest request.

I consulted a few translations and commentaries. Some have the same squeamish response as I do, and translate the evil as coming from my enemies: “[God] will repay my enemies for their evil” (NRSV). Another introduces some divinely-appointed karma: “Let evil recoil on those who slander me” (NIV). Yet another calls the evil that is called down, “pay back”.[i]

Perhaps it is ok for me to pray after all, then, since payback, or vengeance, is the remit of God, and not of me; perhaps offering my secret impulses of anger and resentment back to God for divine discernment and judgement, giving them to God to sort out, is a good call. And if someone else happens to be praying the same verse against me, then it is in God’s hands.

Because I am no greater than my enemy; I am no more beloved of God than my neighbour; I am created no closer to the image of God than the face that I love the least. 

The disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant, and they were afraid to let on to him what they had been arguing about, and after all this time in his company, how could they not trust him yet with their doubts and their discomfort and their souls?

So he took a child, and placed it among them, and bid them welcome it.

Children are always asking questions. They will ask Jesus why, and they will ask follow-up questions, and they will not be satisfied until he has laid out for them the whole plan of heaven, to redeem and restore the world, the creation, our humanity to what God intended for us when God looked upon us and called us good.

And the child will ask us why we are arguing over who is the greatest, and what greatness means, when God is in all and over all, and God’s love is made manifest in the childhood, the humanity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And when we are afraid to ask God the hard questions, or afraid to share with Jesus the doubts and dangerous emotions of our hearts, he welcomes us like little children, asking out of our ignorance and innocence, and he answers us with his embrace.

For God does not render evil, but renders evil moot, and answers even death with the irrepressible life of the gospel.

If we are, in fact, no greater than our enemies; no more beloved of God than our neighbours; if we are created no more closely upon the image of God than those whom we personally would like to love the least; if all of that is true, then neither are you any less, in the sight of God, than those who are greatest in the eyes of the world. And the least of us is welcomed, as God’s own child, into the heart of Christ’s embrace.

Amen


[i] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A translation with commentary, Volume 3, The Writings (NY: W.W. Norton, 2019), 138

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Opportunist

Robin alighted as soon as I mowed the first swathe of grass, 

an aspiring scavenger sifting the cuttings for prey.

Undeterred by the turning blade, it tilted an eye 

as though to say, we are not so different, you and I,

pretending greatness all while devouring

the remains of a fallen creation.



This Sunday’s Gospel reading wonders about the true nature of greatness …


Image: American Robin by Ken Thomas (detail), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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But who do you say that I am?

This poem was first published at the Episcopal Cafe


When Christ confronted the demons, they cried out
in loud voices and with forked tongues,
“We know who you are, Holy One, Son of God,
hope of the nations and light of the world!”
And he bid them be silent. [i]

Some said he was a prophet.[ii]
Some said he had a demon.[iii]
Some said he should not go around saying
that the Son of Man must suffer,
but he had already had that conversation
with the devil in the wilderness;
he recognized the forked tongue twisting in Peter’s mouth.[iv]

“Who do you say that I am?” he asks us,[v]
and it is not enough to recognize,
to idolize,
to pay homage with forked tongue and fractured loyalties.

It is not enough
to say who he is, unless
we will become whom he has called us to become.

The rich will hunger to turn over tables,[vi]
the joyful will drown out the songs of the stones,[vii]
the hawks will hang up their talons
and eat olives offered by the dove,[viii]
the princes and powers will burn their thrones to
warm the hearts of the people.[ix]

“A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.”[x]The body bending under the weight of grief,
slung crosswise along the shoulders,
will find a lighter yoke in love.[xi]

“Who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
You are my way, my truth, my life.[xii]
If I am slow to follow, wait for me, reach back to me.
If I am hard of understanding, be patient with me.
Bind my heart to yours, that I may hear the rhythm of your passion.
Let the rest be silence.




[i] See Mark 1:23-26; [ii] Mark 8:27-28; [iii] Mark 3:22; [iv] Mark 8:31-33; Matthew 4:5-7; [v] Mark 8:29; [vi] See Luke 1:53; John 2:13-18; [vii] See Luke 19:37-40; [viii] See Isaiah 11:7; Genesis 8:8-11; [ix] See Luke 1:52; [x] Psalm 51:17; [xi] See Matthew 11:29-30; [xii] John 14:6

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