Mercy

Learn what this means, he says: 
I desire mercy, not sacrifice
But mercy, pitiless in its command, 
requires the sacrifice of satisfaction, 
Schadenfreude, 
vengeance. Righteous 
indignation; 
the bitter little consolations 
that coddle a sore, soured, soul.

It makes one wonder, 
honestly, 
if he truly, truly understands 
the meaning of either Word.


Year A Proper 5, Sunday, 11 June 2023: Matthew 9:9-13,18-26

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The Visitation

I love that, for a moment, you embraced, 
neither wondering how the other came to be 
in her loosened state, knowing 
next to nothing of the contractions to come, 
spasms of envy slaughtering the innocents 
and the barely belated, cruel blows which would fell 
them both, whom you had sheltered 
with your bodies. I love that, for a moment, 
fear was masked by morning sickness, 
mourning by the interruption of a dove 
bearing witness that a shiver can be ecstasy, 
the skip of a heartbeat, love 
instead of danger, the leap of a womb, joy 
among the relentless tug and snag of life, 
its swelling bruise a blessing.


This post also appears in the Episcopal Journal

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Pentecost 2023: Would that all of God’s people would prophesy!

Moses said … “… Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”(Numbers 11:29)

Oh, but God has put the Spirit of the living God into every last person God has made; we are imbued with the breath of life, which is the Holy Spirit. It’s what the old story from Genesis means, in which the human being, the earthling, Adam was fashioned out of the earth itself, creature of creation, and brought to life by the breath of the Divine, binding our lives to God’s forever.

It is when we remember that connection, as close as our own breath, when we lean into it, when we listen for the whispers or the roar of the wind, the gales of the Holy Spirit and join our voices to them, that we prophesy.

And what will we prophesy? Prophecy, remember, is not fortune-telling. It is not about seeing into the future so much as it is gazing into the mind of God, and telling what you see. 

When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit over and into his disciples, he said, “Peace. Peace be with you.” He spoke of forgiveness, of the terrible responsibility that we have for forgiving one another, of forgiving ourselves, rather than retaining our sins, as he has forgiven us of all of our betrayals; of reconciling ourselves to one another, as he returned to them even from the dead to speak peace into their fearful hearts; of loving one another, as God has loved us.

Is this what we prophesy among the people? Peace and penitence, forgiveness and reconciliation, the love of Jesus? Is this what we prophesy among all the people?

Or are we like Joshua, jealous of the spirit of others, hoarding our power, our privilege, our authority, our prophecy – which is not ours, for all that comes from God belongs to God? 

Even Joshua, who would become a leader of the people, had much to learn about the Spirit of the living God, who will not be subject to our direction or discretion or defined limits, but blows where she will. But Moses said to him, “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!”(Numbers 11:29)

Of course, Joshua’s jealousy also meant that he missed Eldad and Medad’s prophecy. He was so busy policing who could prophesy and where they could prophesy and how they could prophesy that he forgot to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit emanating from these two men who had as legitimate a claim on the voice of the Spirit as anyone else with breath.

The thing is, when we don’t listen to the voices that we have not authorized, or asked for, or that we have already dismissed, we miss the fullness of the Spirit. Worse, we reinforce a status quo that is as we have made it: unequal and unfair, racist, ableist, ageist, sexist, where some voices, however loud they get, are dismissed for disturbing our peace and quiet. But ignoring the inconvenient prophets will not bring about peace and penitence, forgiveness and reconciliation, the beloved community filled with the Spirit of God.

Medad and Eldad were not silenced. Peter, when the people grumbled and dismissed the disciples as drunk and deluded, said, “Nah, the bars aren’t even open for brunch yet!” They knew that they had their commission directly from the Holy Spirit. And I wonder what it was that Eldad and Medad were saying to the people in the camp, the ones getting on with their daily lives, prophesying in the midst of them while the elders and elite were pontificating from the outside.


  • [the congregation was invited to prophesy at the prompting of the Spirit]

Do you notice that John’s version of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, happens not at the festival of weeks, fifty days after Easter, but on the evening of the Resurrection itself. The disciples are back in the same upper room where they had supper three days earlier, and they are afraid, because of all that has happened: the arrest, the injustice, the execution, the blood and the pain and the threats of persecution; and Jesus comes to them, and says, “Peace be with you.”

For John, the coming of the Holy Spirit is indivisible from the joy and the hope, the impossible astonishment and the healing of the Resurrection. It is new life. Just as the Spirit of God breathed life into the Adam at the beginning, so now the Spirit of the living God makes all things new, witness and evidence of the Resurrected life of Christ, and in Christ. For the powers of death are no match for the life of God. The doors, the barriers that we set up between us will not keep out the Spirit of God. There is no keeping the Holy Spirit in her place, because her place is everywhere. And this is good news for all of God’s people (and we are all God’s people). Amen.

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Ascension (2023)

With skin like an apple streaked with red,
weathered toward ripeness, her hair
a wood-stained frame for the pearl earring,
moon to her sun, the woman
in the seat in front never turned her face
to me but from the tilt of her brow,
parting corner of her lips escaped
her longing and her hope as we watched
the great heron diving upward,
wings wide, beak and feet outstretched,
feathered corpus fixed against an empty sky

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Christ, our true Mother

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which this year coincides with international Mother’s Day


In today’s first reading, Paul is in the heart of the classical world, the seat of learning and philosophy, the seed of so much that continues to influence our lives today. And among the idols, he has found an altar dedicated to an unknown god – the “just in case you missed one” altar. I know whom you are missing, Paul tells them, although you cannot cast an idol of the true, living God.

The world will always create idols and define good and evil by its own imagination, which makes it hard to know who to trust, where to turn; but Jesus tells his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

You know my way.

The commandment he gives is love, not of idols, but of God first, and of the image of God in every single, every last, every lonely person. The image of God which is not an idol, but a glimmer of glory, sometimes hard to see because we dress it up like an idol, mistaking the reflection for the original. We are like the child who reaches for the wrong hand in line at the supermarket, the false mother our distracted imagination has created. We do have a tendency to trust demigods instead of God for our salvation. We are not so far removed from the Athenians.

We mistake God for false idols, and we love them instead of our true Love. And then, we try to mould humans into the forms we have set and created for them, instead of recognizing in our beautiful biodiversity and cultural range the unlimits of God’s creativity, and loving all aspects of God’s image in them.

But disobedient children that we are, Jesus, whom Dame Julian of Norwich called our true Mother who carries us always,[i] tells his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

You know that I don’t dwell on Mother’s Day in church. It’s painful for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. It isn’t a festival of the church, and it wasn’t designed to celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ – but given that Jesus himself has given the opening this morning, telling us that he, our true Mother, will not leave us orphaned, perhaps this is the moment to acknowledge that if we are to keep his commandments, truly to love God, our first Mother, and to love one another, all of God’s children, to create fewer orphans ourselves, then we should support safer mothering.

For example, our nation is the worst place in the over-developed world to have a baby in terms of health outcomes. That is a travesty. Just so that we know that this is a product of our broken systems, our wrongful idolatry of wealth and whiteness, the health outcomes for babies and birthing parents of colour are even worse than they are for white families

If we were to undermine our national racism and undergird those most in need of healthcare and help, we could change that.

But the number one killer of pregnant and post-partum women in this country is not obstetric complications. It is homicide. Mostly by intimate partners, many with a gun.

I told another parish this week that even that tray of cookies for the women’s shelter at Christmas is violence reduction, because when we support women’s efforts to get out of abusive relationships, we save lives. We leave fewer orphans.

If we were to undermine our national idolatry of violence as a social tool and undergird efforts to remove lethal weapons from those with a track record of abuse, we would save lives. We would leave fewer orphans.

If Mother’s Day were a day to observe the commandments of Christ, our true Mother, to love God and to love one another as Christ has loved us, we would leave fewer orphans.

And if Mother’s Day is painful for you, I am so sorry. I remember the first one after we lost our first pregnancy. Knowing that Christ is her Mother, too, helped me to know that she was in safe and loving arms, even if they weren’t mine. But grief abides, I know. Lean on Jesus, lean into the heart of God. She will hold you. She will not leave you orphaned.

I imagine the Athenian in the marketplace of idols like that child in the supermarket, searching among the shrines for the right god, the right hand to hold, lost among the monuments to human pride, stumbling across the altar to the unknown god, and weeping, because he doesn’t know where else to turn.

And Paul says, “What you do not know, I have seen. And this God will not leave you bereft, or lost, or alone.”

For Christ is our true Mother, and She will not, has not, does not leave us orphaned.

Amen.


[i] “and our Saviour is our Very Mother in whom we be endlessly borne,[254] and never shall come out of Him.” Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love Digireads.com. Kindle Edition.

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One or the other

One says,
Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb;
another,
Thou shalt not covet the livestock.

One says,
Give as good as you get;
another,
Do not repay evil for evil,
but overcome evil with good
.

One says,
I’d rather be sent down by twelve
than carried out by six
;
another,
It is better to suffer for doing good
than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ
also


This Sunday’s readings include verses from 1 Peter 3: “It is better to suffer for doing good … than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered … the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:17-18)

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Many dwelling places

A sermon for the fifth Sunday of Easter and the fiftieth anniversary of a marriage


Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

We read this Gospel at funerals, and we find comfort in the idea that God has room for us beyond the realm that we can see, but what if that is not all that Jesus was talking about?

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and again, because we have been thinking about mansions beyond the sky, we are again looking for our stairway to heaven. But Jesus was pretty grounded, if we read the Gospels; so again, what if we are missing something?

None of this takes away from the knowledge that God has our loved ones in hand whether they are living or have died, nor does it take away the promise that one day we will see God face to face for ourselves. But what if we didn’t have to wait?

When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he is inviting his disciples to see through his relationship to God the kind of relationship they could have. That does not mean that no one else has a relationship with God: Everyone is made in God’s image, and God cannot help but love us; I am not afraid for those who do not know God through Jesus. 

But Jesus is offering something here beyond price, beyond imagination: to know God as intimately as Jesus knows God. To know God as Jesus relates to God as his Father. To see God as Jesus sees God, the true image, unfiltered and unfaded. To dwell in the presence of God as God dwells in Jesus.

And still, the disciples struggle to see it, and so do we. So we wait, for mansions beyond the sky, and the face to face meeting with our Maker.

But Jesus has said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” and God’s realm is not restricted to heaven. God’s reign is not delayed by our disobedience. God’s reach is not foreshortened by our short-sightedness. God’s home is among mortals, says the Revelation (Revelation 21:3).

So what some if the many dwelling places that God offers us are to be found here, and now? What if some of them are not even places? Could, for example, a marriage be a dwelling place?

This morning, as well as the Resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we are celebrating the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Bill and Nancy. Fifty years is a dwelling. Talk to them at coffee hour and you’ll hear all about the places they have dwelt, and the homes they have built for family and for strangers alike: cathedrals of faith, houses of art, communities of connection. Their home that has opened its doors to people from afar. The dwelling place where they gather still with generations of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, drawing them near. Yes, a marriage can be a dwelling place.

Yesterday saw another auspicious occasion for celebration: it was Bill’s birthday. I love when wedding anniversaries coincide or are close to birthdays, because both celebrations mark the passage from one dwelling place to another. 

And yes, here was another celebration going on yesterday, which I didn’t get up to watch, but I read afterwards some lines from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon. He noted that the vocation of a monarch – and I would add, any vocation worth having: the vocation to marriage or parenthood, to a career or an avocation to service and creativity, to ministry in the church and in the world, to being a good and solid friend – any vocation that is rooted in love is rooted in God, who loved the world so much as to become incarnate, to dwell among us, to show us the way of love. Jesus, who was never married, nor crowned a king except with thorns, but who knew how to love: he is the way, the truth, the life of God laid out for us.

There is more; there are many rooms, Jesus says, in God’s house: room for all of God’s children to roam and find their place. In God’s home and heart are many dwelling places, and sometimes we need more than one in a lifetime, if we are to grow and become the person God intended us to be.

A piece of music, or of other art, a poem, a prayer, a new name, an old memory. These can be places in which to dwell a while or longer, seeking and awaiting, expecting the face of God. 

The changing face of the water on the lake or the ocean or the sky: these can be places to dwell upon, to contemplate the mercy and the endless grace of God.

Beside still waters, in green pastures, even in the valley of shadows: wherever we dwell, God will find us, and dwell with us. Isn’t that what the life of Jesus meant, that God’s dwelling place is among mortals?

Isn’t that why he told his disciples, “You know the way”? Because he is the way, and the dwelling place, and in his life, we see God.

Even if nothing else holds, or when it does; when other shelters fall apart around us, and when we find ourselves in love; whenever we dwell upon Jesus, we will find ourselves at home in the heart of God.

Amen.

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Many dwelling places

There was a hill covered in cloud
that resisted the imprecations of the wind
that tossed the crows about and hurried us
to shelter beneath a bare crag, eroded
by the dwelling of the centuries,
bodies it had harbored, of beast
and being alike; in its lee grew
heather the colour of a womb;
in its shadow, water carved a valley,
filled it with the bones of the mountain,
moss and green pasture, streamed on tripping
and weaving, always toward the ocean
and its intimately, earth-embracing,
endlessly hospitable horizon

______________________________

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.” (John 14:2a)

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Unhinged

I am a gate, I swing
this way and that, inviting
you to step into my dance,
leading with the song
you have heard before:
creak and sigh of hungry
humanity herded like sheep
by fear and faith by turns.

I turn upon my hinges,
beckoning. Will you
pour oil upon the nails
that pin them to the wood,
take hold the crossbar,
follow me through and through?


John 10:7-10: So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

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The road to Emmaus

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

________________

We’ve all been there – seen the person across the street, or through the window of a passing bus, disappearing around a corner whom we know it couldn’t be, because we buried them. We buried them. But if they were to approach us on the road home from the funeral, or the next day as we tried hard to remember the words of consolation that had accompanied our alleluias to the grave – what then would we think?

And what about Jesus? Last week, we talked about how difficult it was for Thomas’ friends, Jesus’ friends, to persuade the grieving disciple that the Lord had risen, that Jesus is alive! Now, here is the Christ himself, walking alongside Cleopas and his companion, and even that is not enough for them to see and know that resurrection is real – at least, not yet.

It’s worth perhaps noting here that while Cleopas’ companion remains unnamed, and in other sermons I have offered the name Fred to fill in the gap, and St Cyril of Alexandria decided that it was a man called Simon, one of the seventy sent out by Jesus during his mortal lifetime, some scholars think that this companion was Cleopas’ wife, and that her name was Mary, and that she was one of the women who stayed at the Cross, and watched the burial, and may even have come early on Easter morning to the empty tomb.

All of this, all of this witness and proximity to the truth, and still they could not quite see it, could not quite grasp the reality of the resurrection, the new and enduring life of Christ. They struggled to see through that window that the Cross breaks into eternity.

This week, the news has been grim. In Akron, the trauma of last year’s killing of a young, black man came back to haunt a city in a hail of bullets captured on video and legally excused. Teenagers were shot here, there, everywhere by people who could or would not see them as lost innocents, as children who had lost their trail of breadcrumbs in the forest we have planted.

We’ve all been there, too, haven’t we? Found the wrong house, tried the wrong door handle in the parking lot – right colour, wrong car; got lost and tried for a quick turnaround in someone’s driveway. One of my own children, in a trip across the country, waiting for their companion in the car outside a convenience store; someone jumped into the back seat, said, “Oops!” and jumped out again. And we laughed about it.

Just last night, coming out of Giant Eagle, I walked right up to the wrong bright blue car. The thought of what could have happened next is exhausting, even for me, with the privilege and protection of white skin and middle age.

That child, the young, black boy we first heard about last week, went to three houses looking for help after he was shot in the head before he found someone to take pity on him.

Look, I want to stop talking about these things. I really do, but they will not stop happening.

It makes me wonder, if the risen Christ stumbled through our doors, unexpected and unrecognized, visibly wounded in his head and his heart and his hands, how would we treat him? As a victim of our human violence, or as a threat?

As long as we are so afraid of one another that we cannot envision a stranger without rhyming them with danger; so long as we arm those fears with deadly weaponry, with too little caution or consequence, so long will these things keep happening, and injuries from being shot will remain the leading cause of death for children and teens in America.

Cleopas and companion – let’s assume for today it was Mary, his wife – were approached on the road out of Jerusalem by a stranger. It is safe to assume from other accounts we have read that this stranger was marked by the wounds of crucifixion – they may have wondered how it was that he survived, escaped; what it was he had or had not done to get himself nailed to a cross in the first place.

These were difficult times, and the place has never stopped being dangerous.

But Cleopas and Mary, rather than shying away from the stranger, pretending a stone in a shoe to shake him off, or telling him simply and harshly to leave them alone, instead entertained his inane question: What’s wrong? Well, what do you think is wrong? Have you not heard the news lately?

Instead, they invite him into their grief, their uncertainty, their doubtful hope after the empty tomb, their fear of being broken-hearted once again if the stories of sightings of the risen Christ were wrong.

They let the stranger share with them his faith, his understanding of the story of God, and how it began, and where it is leading them, and suddenly here they were, at the intersection of that story and theirs, and they had the choice once more to let him go, but instead they took the next step, and invited him into closer companionship with them.

And you know what happened next, and how Jesus broke the bread, and how they saw in that moment the rift between mortality and eternity. They saw through the window of Jesus’ humanity the divine in whose image we are made.

And what if instead they had feared the stranger and run him through with a sword or a spear, metal piercing his already pierced flesh? If they had not risked a little love in the midst of their confusion, they would not have seen his eternal life. But because they were willing to share with the stranger their story, and his, along with their bread, they found themselves suddenly and unmistakably in the presence of God.

Peter advised the people, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” (Acts 2:40) And in the letter written in his name, it tells us how: “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

The news these days is exhausting, and so instead we come and sit a while, and ask Jesus if he will not please stay a while with us, breaking bread. And will we know him when he comes to us?

Blessed are those who love the one whom they have not recognized, but in whom they discern the image of the living God, which is the design for our humanity. Blessed are they, for in doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it, and others, Christ himself.

Amen

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