Our silence blinding noise
our haste a purpling bruise
our invention miscarried
justice moebius-stripped
our balance blurred and silver
leaving lightning after-burns,
devils dancing

our defence a deformed pitchfork
our hope embalmed
our light eclipsed
out darkness undermined
our world caught-mid-spin
neither void nor full
its gravity outsourced
your iron heart its pole

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Show me Jesus

This morning’s sermon featured congregational participation. We reflected mostly on John 12:20-33, with a little of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31:31-34

I spent a good part of the last three days at a conference called Evangelism Matters, hosted at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, and organized by the Evangelism Team of the Episcopal Church and Forward Movement. It was amazing: more than 400 Episcopalians gathered day after day to talk openly about evangelism! The Presiding Bishop was there, and the President of the House of Deputies, and many inspiring and informative people, one of our own parishioners included. Our own white church with the red doors was featured in word and image in one of the workshops.

More to the point, at a certain moment in the proceedings, I began to make the connection between what the speakers were saying – about telling our stories, about equipping one another for evangelism, about simply being real and being there for other human beings, those we are called to seek and serve as though they were Christ – I heard these messages and began to think about this time we have together, which led naturally to considering this morning’s gospel.

Jesus and his disciples were hanging around the outskirts of Jerusalem, waiting for the Passover to begin. Some Greeks – probably God-fearers, Greeks who knew and believed in the Almighty God – had heard about Jesus. They were curious, and a little afraid. One day, at the market or over dinner or sightseeing around the Temple, they fell into conversation with Philip, and quickly realized that this was someone who knew Jesus, someone with access to Jesus, someone who could introduce them to Jesus.

Too often, we seek that attitude of humility that denies that we have anything much to say, to offer, to one seeking Christ. But the fact is that we have everything that is needed. We have our own relationship with God, with Jesus, and we have one another. Philip was freaked out when the Greeks asked him to take them to Jesus, so he went right out and grabbed his brother for back-up. We have one another. We have a place and a community into which to bring our questioning friends, strangers, and Greeks. It’s ok not to know all of the answers. It’s ok to say, I don’t know, but sometimes I have found Jesus here, in the hymns, in the prayers, in the bread and the wine, in the solid shoulders of the person who sits in front of me on a Sunday morning.

Come with me, and I’ll show you.

You know what’s coming. Imagine that someone came to you, because they know from the coffee shop or from work or from walking the dog or from the bus that you go to a church, that you have some connection to Jesus. Imagine that they ask you, “Sir, sister, stranger, where can we find Jesus?” What would you tell them? What might you show them? Where would you take them? Who would you call for back-up?


For Jesus, the approach of the faithful Gentiles was a sign that the hour was indeed coming, was upon him when the new covenant of God would be forged through his own body, through his own sacrifice. The covenant that Jeremiah talks about is one in which we will no longer need to show one another the way to God through Jesus, because we will all know, equally and fully, the heart that God has placed within us. We will be one with God and with one another. This was Jesus’ purpose, and the approach of the nations was his sign that it was time for him to be raised up, in order to draw all people to himself.

This was a hard lesson for the Greeks, no doubt, who had arrived at a crisis in the story, a moment of drama that transcended their curiosity. It was harder still for Philip and Andrew, watching their beloved Christ move closer to the cross. But after he had been lifted up, their hearts, Jewish hearts, Greek hearts, hearts drawn to God were filled with more wonder than they had ever imagined possible, and they saw, and they knew, and they told the story to all who would listen, that Jesus is alive.

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First published at the Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul

Seventeen bodies.
Seventeen minutes.
In some places, they will wait longer: twenty minutes; thirty; because seventeen is too young to die; because they have had to grow old before their time; because there are too many more bodies.

Last week, the Episcopal bishops listened to a letter from the parents of a murdered child. They wondered aloud how many such messages they had missed:

We, the bishops of The Episcopal Church, wholeheartedly support and join with the youth in this call to action.
At the same time, we acknowledge that black and brown youth have continuously challenged the United States to address the gun violence that they and their communities are experiencing.  We repent that, as bishops, we have failed to heed their call. …
We will walk with the youth of the United States today and into the future in choosing life.

In biblical numerology – a fiery rabbithole – seventeen is the number of heads and horns of diabolical significance. It is the number of the day of the Flood.
But it also numbers the day on which the Ark came to rest, somewhere in the Ararat mountains.
Seventeen may choose its own significance.

When the Ark came to Ararat to roost, the journey was not over. The flood waters still covered the earth, consuming its breath; but life was ready to break the surface. After the waters had drained into the sky, the work of building a new civilization, renewing humanity’s stewardship of the life God had made for the world to live – that would be a work of trial, error, and repetitive, unrelenting redemption.

Seventeen is the seventh prime number: indivisible.
At ten o’clock on the fourteenth day of the third month of year two thousand eighteen of this portion of our history, twenty-eight days after seventeen of their generation died in one school, in one day, countless students will leave their classes, searching for one more word of covenant, one more promise of life redeemed from the chaos.

Pray for them, make way for them, make time for them, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Featured image: Hieronymus Bosch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Idols made of metal

The people sowed poison, and harvested snake bites, piercing their bodies without warning, without mercy. The answer to death, dictated by the divine, was to set up a serpent of bronze.

Fast forward a few millennia, at the speed of a bullet, biting metal piercing bodies without warning, without mercy. So the people set up a shrine to firearms.

God did not instruct the people of the covenant to make an idol of the snake that bit them. God did not simultaneously offer the second commandment and command the people to shatter it. Graven images of metal do not divert anyone from the grave.

The bronze serpent was not an amulet, but an icon of futility; an emblem of the impotence of evil in the sight of a gracious God.

The modern casting would be an AR-15 made into a museum piece, rendered harmless, useless, toothless by its irrelevance, not empowered by false reverence.

God has never asked us to acknowledge idols, and if we do, they are liable to come back and bite us. But we know a better way.

“Deliver us from evil,” we pray, not to a serpent or a sidearm of bronze, but to the living God who will not allow death the first or the final, who will not allow the dealers of death to utter the decisive word.


From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:14-16)

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Sinners at the cross of angry Jesus

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent, 2018

How comfortable are you with angry Jesus? Last week, he practically spat and swore at Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” This week, he is causing chaos and uproar in the Temple, whipping animals, shouting at people, making a mess, frightening the birds. Jesus is not afraid to experience the whole range of human emotion, including anger, including outrage, perhaps even outright rage.

Is that encouraging to you, or worrying? How comfortable are you with an angry Jesus?

It is easier, certainly, to be comforted by a Jesus who is angry with other people: cattle-drivers, money-changers. But when his disciples are also in the line of fire, then we get a little nervous.

Jonathan Edwards, eighteenth-century preacher of the Great Awakening, preached a famous sermon on Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, during which he gave his opinion that,

Yea God is a great deal more angry with great Numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this Congregation, that it may be are at Ease and Quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the Flames of Hell.

While I would not care to live entirely within the world that Edwards’ theology constructs, it is no doubt true that if the Incarnation were to have chosen this moment in history to happen, instead of the last decades of the Jerusalem Temple, that twenty-first-century Jesus would have found plenty that needed cleansing, plenty that cried out for overturning, plenty that definitely wanted driving out of the temples of our lives, and our sacred and civil religion.

[Of course, if the Incarnation had been delayed until now, our entire history of the past two millennia would be different, so I understand that the comparison doesn’t quite work …]

Take the Ten Commandments. If we were to apply a letter grade to our adherence to the Mosaic Covenant, I do not like our chances of passing.

Have no other gods before me. How do you think we are doing with that one? If the proverbial alien landed in one of our cities today, what would they observe to be the object of our worship, our obedience, our religion? Would it be God, or a gun? Our Father, or a flag? Christ, or hard currency?

Do not make for yourselves idols.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. During these past difficult days, I heard a modern-day American preacher give his opinion that the guns to which we cling came not of human invention, but a special, unique, American dispensation direct from our Creator God, in whose presumably armed and armoured image we are made; the same God who said, “for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning”. If that is not blasphemy, then I have lost track of what the word means.

It also covers idolatry. Back to Jonathan Edwards:

Natural Men’s Prudence and Care to preserve their own Lives, or the Care of others to preserve them, don’t secure ‘em a Moment. …. But the foolish Children of Men do miserably delude themselves in their own Schemes, and in their Confidence in their own Strength and Wisdom; they trust to nothing but a Shadow.

It’s also worth noticing that if you add Preacher LaPierre’s special gun dispensation to a few choice Stand Your Ground laws, then you have the perfect get-out-of-hell free card to exempt you from Commandment #6, Thou shalt not kill; or at least for a portion of the population.

As Kelly Brown Douglas, eminent Episcopalian and Womanist theologian writes,

Stand-your-ground culture reveals a nation that is actually at war with itself.

It is a culture that appoints its own saviours and demons, and arms them to the teeth.

I’m not going to go through all of the Ten Commandments because frankly, unless we can reconcile our fundamental issues with the first three and the prohibition on killing, not to mention loving our neighbour, I do not see a way for us to achieve any kind of passing grade.

As Jonathan Edwards reminded his audience of miserable sinners in Massachusetts and Connecticut,

Sin is the Ruin and Misery of the Soul; it is destructive in it’s [sic] Nature; and if God should leave it without Restraint, there would need nothing else to make the Soul perfectly miserable. The Corruption of the Heart of Man is a Thing that is immoderate and boundless in its Fury.

Which leads me back to my opening question: How comfortable are we with angry Jesus? Because I think that we have plenty of fuel here for his fury.

Oh, but here comes the twist, that pretzel in the logic and justice of God that is the form of the Cross. Here is the madness that undermines our clever arguments and justifications, which renders our judgement questionable, which redeems and refines our confusion.

Jonathan Edwards would have us believe that God is holding us “over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire,” and Wayne LaPierre would have us take up arms against bad guys and sinners, but the way of the Cross makes a mockery of us all, and especially of preachers.

By way of the Cross, in God’s wisdom, instead of striking us down, or burning us up, God has decided to die for us, to offer up, to lay down life itself, so that we might recognize that the way back to Godliness is one of self-sacrifice, of immeasurable love.

Jesus is angry because he cares, to cite a cliche. He is angry because it matters to him what we do next: whether we suffer the little children to live; whether we beat our swords into ploughshares; whether we continue to sacrifice our doves of peace on the altars of the money changers, or not. He is angry because with the pretzel logic, the foolish wisdom of the Cross, he would rather die than watch us kill one another.

Here is the way of the Cross, which is foolishness to Americans, with its naïve non-violence, its disarming innocence. Here is the way of the Cross, which is a stumbling block to revolutionaries, with its radical redemption even of the unrighteous.

The way of discipleship, the one that follows Jesus to the Cross, admits that we make Christ angry more often than we should. It accepts his judgement, receives his rebuke, prays for his cleansing as part of our direction and redemption.

Sinners in the hands of a merciful God, we may not need to fear Christ’s anger, but we should pay it heed, because it is part of our training in the way of the Cross, the way of life and love.

When his disciples remember the scripture, “Zeal for my Father’s house will consume me,” they might as well be talking of the temples of our bodies. Jesus’ passion for us, and for our salvation, is burning him up, and, if we let it, his passion will burn away the chaff that keeps our souls from a clear view of God and of God’s will for the world, to live in peace with one another and in harmony with Christ.

Sinners in the hands of a merciful God, may righteous anger infect our hearts. May the wisdom of sheer foolishness bring us courage, and drive out our tendencies to disappointment and dereliction. May the stumbling blocks which bring us pause and bruise us cause us only to turn back to God, and to the way of the Cross to which Christ has called us. May the peace which passes human understanding fill our hearts and minds instead with the love of God, and of God’s Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, preached July 1741, at

Wayne LaPierre at CPAC, February 22, 2018, via

Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black bodies and the Justice of God (Orbis Books, 2015) – in its entirety, a brilliant definition and indictment of the problem, and a hard but hopeful theological reflection on the redemption offered by the Crucified One

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Cleansing the temple

Christ, cleanse our temple courts
where money changes hands
to purchase  sacrificial lambs
offered on the high altar
hymned with thoughts and prayers
and the black sheep, tethered,
set aside for the devotions of
white-robed acolytes, while
mourners shuffle ceaseless intercessions
through a side door, out of sight

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St David’s

Sheer skyfall, blue to blue,
plumb-lined from the heavens to the deep
measures a cliff, eroded from creation,
where only dune-grass and sheep may grow,
miraculously rooted as the earth turns.

We set out on a narrow path
littered with diamonds until,
Our mother recalled us to the peril, now set between us,
a black and gold serpent basking under the pitiless sun.


Image: Adder, by Mick E. Talbot, used under Creative Commons license via

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