Sunday, August 2, 2020

God Acts out of a Place of Abundance - Feeling and Feeding

Sermon for August 2, 2020
Proper 13A – RCL Track 1

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21


Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


This Sunday we heard the Story of the feeding of over 5000 people.  A story that is very familiar.  If you google for images related to the story, which I frequently do to see if there are good public domain images I can use for programs, we find thousands of images.  Images that range for written icons, to paintings by the old masters to children’s coloring pages.  It is a story that we both know well and at the same time find incredulous.  Really – Jesus fed 5000 men, along with the women and children, with five loaves of barley bread and two fish – perhaps two fish would do if they were the leviathans that the psalmist mentions God creating for sport.  But more likely they were two tilapia!


But before I get to the feeding part of the story let’s start with the feeling part of the story.  We are told that Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  We don’t here why unless we back up.  Jesus has just been told that his cousin John the Baptizer was executed.  Jesus felt deep emotion, a deep sadness and deep pain at his cousin’s murder so he withdrew – as we see Jesus do at other times of trial and tribulation, to mourn and to pray.


It is in his grieving that he arrives at the deserted place to find that the crowds have followed him on foot.  The crowds are clamoring to hear the good news of God’s Loving Kingdom, the crowds desire healing of their infirmities.  And Jesus is moved.  His emotion is not one of anger for being interrupted in his grieving but he has a deep compassion for the crowds.  He has a deep love for God’s creation.  Jesus’ emotions go from a deep grief to a deep compassion. 


Jesus shows us God’s ability to feel emotions.  This, for me is part of why the incarnation is important, it shows us that God is a God who cares for creation.  A God who is moved by the death of John the Baptist, a God who is moved at the death of a child and raises her up.  A God who can enjoy the love and happiness at a wedding party, a God who has compassion of the sick.  All this helps me realize that our emotions, our feeling are God given tools to help us spread the Love of God in our world.


This is Good news, and perhaps not so good news sometimes.  Rolf Jacobson, a professor and preacher from Luther Seminary that I follow said, “Why is it good news? Among other reasons, because it means that when we suffer and raise our prayers and groans to God, we can rely on the fact that God will hear our words, see our suffering, and that God will care—God will feel compassion for us.

(Incidentally, it might also be bad news for us, because to the extent that we oppress others or contribute to their suffering, it will also mean that God will hear their prayers, see their suffering, and show compassion on them ... which might mean God will move against us.)[1]

After a day of healing and teaching it is getting late and the disciples who are with Jesus in this deserted place recognize that it will soon be dinner time and the people will be hungry.  There was no nearby supermarket – or any kind of market to procure food.  So they tell Jesus what any good event manger who did not plan on a dinner event would do,  they advise Jesus to disband the group and send them on their way so they can get their own food. The disciples are acting from a place of scarcity.  They only have enough food for a few so send the many away.

Unfortunately our society tends to live into this place of scarcity.  It is one of the factors that drives systemic racism.  There is only enough privilege and power for a few so we need to demean and crush the others to preserve it for ourselves.  If we let others join the banquet there will not be enough food for us.  We will go hungry. 

But that is not God’s way.

Jesus operates from that place of abundance.  Jesus tells the disciples that the crowds can stay and that they can feed them.  I can just imagine their faces.  Feed them with what?  We have Nothing they say. Only a little bread and a couple of fish.  Not nearly enough to feed 5 to say maybe up to 10,000 people

I looked at a party planning website and calculated that to provide one sandwich – with cheese and meat -  to feed 5000 it would take 400 loaves of modern bread, 400 pounds of sliced deli meat and 300 pounds of sliced cheese.  A whole lot of food.  More food than most of can imagine producing in the middle of nowhere.  So if there was a women or a child for each of the men present it would take at least double that amount of food to give them each a single sandwich – let alone give them enough to each be full.  That is literally over a ton of food to feed the crowd!

Jesus, who has been feeding the crowds spiritually and emotionally now tell them to sit on the grass while he prays and gives thanks for five loaves of bread and two fish.  I can imagine there were more than a few skeptics that the little amount of food being blessed would be feeding all of them.  Perhaps they thought it would feed the inner circle and that they were just witnesses.  But a miracle happened.  Jesus told the disciples to break the blessed bread and to feed the people – and all ate their fill.  And there were leftovers! 

Several years ago I visited the spot that tradition says this miracle took place on the banks of the sea of Galilee.  There is a wide gently sloping area that people could gather.  It may or may not be the actual place but since about the 4th Century pilgrims from all over the world have come to remember and give thanks that Jesus could indeed feed the world.  I found that place to be a thin spot.  A place where I could feel the strong presence of the Holy.  God was present at that site and it gave me goose bumps.  It opened my heart in a way that other lake side views did not.

There is something very holy about making room for the other.  There is something holy about feeding those who are hungry – both spiritually and physically.  A holiness that I feel when we are able to make communion together.  A holiness that I feel when we gather on Wednesdays to break bread at communion and then feed lunch to the hungry.  More than one time on a Wednesday I have seen the looks on the faces of the wonderful folk who provide the meals as they are sizing up the number of folk in the church and thinking that they don’t have enough to go around.  Only to find that we did feed the crowd and did have leftovers!

God feels and God feeds.  God empowers us to feel and feed too.  And during this pandemic we have to find different ways to feed each other until we can safely gather again.  We can feed each other by reaching out and listening to the fears and anxieties of those who are isolated, those who are at risk of severe illness.  We provide communion when we pray for a just society where all of God’s beloved children are invited to the table.  We are at God’s table when we work to end systemic racism.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, in his sermon for Pentecost said, “If I make room for you, and you make room for me, and if we will work together to create a society where there is room for all of God's children, where every human being, every one of us is treated as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God, where everybody is loved, everybody is honored, everybody is respected, everybody is created as a child of God. If we work together to build that kind of society and don't give up, then love can save us all.”[2]

The miracle we remember today is one of making room for the other.  A miracle that shows how a mindset of abundance will feed the hungry.  A miracle that shows us that there is no scarcity in God’s kingdom, a kingdom we pray will be on earth every time we have a service and recite the Lord’s prayer and ask that God Loving Kingdom come be among us just as it is in heaven. 


We are called to act out that miracle today.  To make room at the table for those who have been excluded from the table.  To call out the systemic racism that believes that there is too little power and love to go around.  To call out the hunger in our world that sees only five loaves of bread and two very small fish.  To see that we do have enough to share.  And in that sharing we will discover the communion that we long for with God.  A communion that is accessible even when we are apart.


I pray this week that we can find ways to open our hearts to feel the pain and grief in our world. I pray that we can find ways to take action to eradicate the structures and institutions that create and enforce inequity and racism.  I pray that we can find ways to help the sick and suffering – following God and science to end this pandemic so that we may come to a time when we can physically share in God’s communion and feed the hungry. 



Sunday, June 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Sermon for Trinity Sunday June 6, 202St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to mea. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Trinity Sunday is not a day for me to preach!  I failed in trying to explain the relevance of the Trinity in 1500 words on my General Ordination Exams, the GOE’s – or God’s Own exam as some have jokingly referred to it.  In response I was told by the commission on ministry that I should read another book on the mystery of the Trinity.  Perhaps it is God’s holy humor that has be standing here – a trinitarian humor!

With all that has happened in the past two months – and especially in the past two weeks it does not feel like a time to preach a sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity, a sermon sure to make all of you tune out and tune into another service.  It is a day that feels like I should stop right now for the 8 min 48 seconds of silence to remember the life and cruel killing of George Floyd.

Systemic racism is nothing new.  It has been a part of our dominant culture for years – indeed centuries.  On Friday we attended a zoom birthday gathering for a dear friends 100th birthday.  One of the participants asked him of his earliest memory growing up in Sacramento.  He said that his earliest memory dates back to when he was two or three – living at 14th and W.  His memory was of the KKK burning a cross in the vacant lot across the street from the house.

Trinity Sunday is usually a Sunday when the readings are not that helpful.  The lectionary committee struggles to find trinitarian references in our scripture – so we get the version story of creation where we hear God say that humanity was created in the plural “Our Image”, and the only trinitarian reference in Matthew from the final farewell to the disciples.

However this Trinity Sunday the lessons speak to be about a way to see through the terrible devastation of a pandemic and the horrors of systemic racism and injustice.  And the extreme reaction by some law enforcement to peaceful protests that included the removal of peaceful protesters, including clergy, who were offering water and medical supplies, from historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for a photo op.  A photo op that has been criticized by both the progressive side of our church as wells as the conservative side.

David Lose, a preacher I follow, said in his reflection for Trinity Sunday: the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the massive and world-wide protests that has sparked – not to mention that we’re still coping with a pandemic that has now claimed more than 100,000 lives in the United States and countless more around the globe – the Trinity has never seemed so unimportant or irrelevant.


Except if there is one thing that seems important and concrete and meaningful about the Trinity, it’s the idea of relationship. Particularly as we – ourselves, our congregations, our communities – seek to move into a future that aligns more closely with what we believe deep in our heart God wants for us, then it matters a great deal that we affirm that God is, at heart, inherently, undeniably, and inextricably relational.[1]

These lessons provide a lens in which we may be able to envision a way to work to bring about God’s dream as expressed through Jesus – when he commands us to love God and to love all people, and to spread that love to all nations – not some people, all people, not some nations but all nations.

In our story of creation I take comfort that God sees all of creation as Good.  As creation unfolded the refrain we hear is that God saw each creation and that it is Good.  Indeed in the end God says that creation is Very Good.  Humanity – in all its varied expressions:  races, gender identities, liberal bias, conservative bias, all was created to be very good.  All was created to be in the image of our triune God.

In our very creation God commands that we be stewards of creation.  That we be in relationship with God and all of Gods good creation.  A command that we have failed over and over again.  In response to our failure God has sent prophets and wise women and men to call us back. 

To call us to recognize our systemic failures that treat others as less than fully human.  To repent the societal failures that lead to others being treated as less than fully human.  To call for change that recognizes that God sees that all creation is good.  A God that calls us to remember, to insist that, Black Lives do matter. 

We are reminded to say that in the story of the good shepherd – the story of God going after the one that was missing from the flock.  A popular meme of the story of the Good shepherd has the “lost” sheep saying that she was driven out of the fold – she did not run away.  Jesus reassures us that those society casts out matter – and with the horrifying murders of people of color in our society at the hands of authority – we need to be reminded that Jesus tells us that Black lives matter and we need to stand with Jesus and say that Black lives matter until our society lets people of color back into the fold.

In our Patron Saint’s second letter to the Corinthians Paul closes with “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  Paul emphasizes that God’s dream is for us to live in peace and when we do the God of peace will be with us.  I want to be clear that this is not a call for the protests to end.  The protests are calling for peace and reconciliation.  The protests are prophetically calling us to hear the words of Micah “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Calling us to hear the words of Isaiah "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

Paul is reminding us that God is calling us into a relational faith. A faith that calls, no demands, that we see all of creation as very good.  A faith that calls us to break the bonds on injustice, to call out the systemic racism that has allowed predominantly white churches like ours to flourish for centuries. 

Elizabeth Kincade, professor of Christian ethics and moral theology at Nashotah House Seminary said in her editorial in the Living Church on the photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church:

However, while it is easy to condemn the violation of the message of the gospel that the photo-op represents, it is important for the Church to remember that the reason the President chose to appear in this way is simple and utilitarian: this type of appropriation of the Church has worked in the past and he thought it would work now. As abhorrent as his actions are, they only worked because in the past we, as the Church, have failed to rebuke and challenge exactly this type of appropriation and have not made it clear that we choose justice and love over safety and power.

White Christians are responsible because we have let the president and other Americans believe that the Church was the building, rather than people of God on the move with those in the square. There are many ways that the Church in America needs to repent, change, and grow, many of which the protests across our country are making plain. The president’s shameful demonstration throws into bold relief another area of needed repentance. We have allowed the powerful to believe that not only can the things of God be co-opted to promote injustice, but that this is what we want. We must ensure that this never happens again, by making clearer than ever before whose servants we are and which way we follow.[2]

Which brings me to our Gospel reading.  Jesus promised that if we make disciples of all nations Jesus will be with us to the end of the ages.  To be disciples mean a relational faith, a faith that recognizes the image of our trinitarian God in each person.

It can be a comfort to hear that Jesus is with us when we suffer.  These words have been a comfort to those who are being oppressed.  I have been comforted by God’s presence in hard times.  I have been comforted and upheld by prayer when I had cancer, when my mother died and in many other times.

There is an unfortunate  flip side that we Christians in power have misused the statement that Jesus will be with us to the end of ages.  We have used it to say that Jesus is on our side – and by implication not on someone else’s side.  We co-opt Jesus as our ally in oppression at our peril.

Matt Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary said we should:

… approach Trinity Sunday with repentant and humble hearts, for a theology that is Trinitarian, confessing faith in a Holy, self-giving, and immanent God, can never become smug. Trinitarianism rules out pretentiousness.

Too often we take Jesus’ pledge I am with you always in a presumptuous way. We assume “I am with you” means Jesus is saying, “I am on your side” or “I will follow where you lead.”

The blood of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, [Stephon Clark],and too many other black bodies is crying out to God from the ground. So too are the lonesome remains of people of color whom America is offering as sacrifices to COVID-19.2 It is past time for white preachers in particular to take another look at the “with” in Matthew 28:20.

Instead of reading “with” as an endorsement of our self-serving ideologies or an assurance of personal comfort, let us take it as a simple claim that Christ is always present around us, calling to me from among “the other.” In that call I experience judgment but also invitation.

Christ beckons us out of our own fortified assurances. You have heard his voice again, probably more loudly than usual, during the past one or two weeks.

Christ continues to cry out in agony, cast out to die in abandonment.

That cry, that presence of a suffering God, must pull and not repel us.

Christ continues to show up among the outsider and the oppressed. Christ continues to surrender his own advantages and privileges, urging us to join him.

Will we be with him?[3]

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Holy Spirit is Clamoring to Get our Attention

Sermon for Easter 6 2020St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

[The sermon can be heard on St. Paul's Facebook page here The sermon begins at about minute 24]

Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Today our Gospel lesson is a continuation of what we call Jesus Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is talking to the disciples on the last night he will be present on that side of resurrection.  He knows that the coming days will be tough.  He knows that the disciples will feel abandoned by God.  He knows that they will need someone to walk with them.  Someone who can open up the events that will happen during Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.  Jesus promises the disciples - and us – that he will send another advocate – the Holy Spirit – to walk with us through our journey.

In John’s Gospel the word that is used for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete –which translates  advocate.  Jesus says he will send another advocate – because Jesus was the advocate to the disciples before the crucifixion.  Jesus physically walked with them opened their eyes to God’s dream. 

What do you think of when you hear the word “Advocate?

When I think of an advocate I think of someone interceding for another.  A friend of mine has served as a court appointed advocate for foster children.  She has helped get them into college, taught them to drive (she is a brave women!), and worked the system to help them succeed as they age out of the foster care system.  I have been a health advocate for both a dear friend and for my parents.  I worked to intercede with doctors and the health systems to make sure that they are acting for the patients benefit – especially when they have been unable to advocate for themselves.

It is easy then to see the Advocate – paraclete – the Holy Spirit as one who will intercede on our behalf with God the Father.  But that is not the kind of Advocate that Jesus was for the disciples and that is not the kind of Advocate that the Holy Spirit is for us.  Jesus was the kind of Advocate that opened the eyes of the disciples to see God’s dream for the world. 

David Lose – a preacher I follow said: “At various times across church history, and in various traditions of Christianity today, it may be tempting to imagine that, defined this way, the Spirit’s role is to intercede for us before God. The Spirit, from this point of view, is one who pleads our case that, though we have fallen short, yet because of Jesus and his sacrifice we deserve to be forgiven. But the picture of God this implies – God as needing to be persuaded to love and forgive us – feels so foreign to John’s confession that “God so loved the world that God gave the only Son…” (3:16).

So perhaps it’s actually the other way around. Perhaps it is the Spirit who intercedes on God’s behalf before us. That is, perhaps the Spirit is the one who comes to remind us of our identity as children of God, as sheep who recognize the voice of our shepherd, those for whom the good shepherd lays down his life. Because, Lord knows, that can be a hard identity to hold onto, a hard identity to believe is really ours, especially when we are stressed or frightened, unsure about our future and it feels like everything has been turned upside down.”[1]

My encounters with the Holy Spirit have absolutely been the kind that opens my eyes and heart to see God in our world.  The Holy Spirit is walking by our sides and helping us see things differently – not as our world sees them but as God sees.  I like the word John uses – the advocate because the Spirit certainly can push us to see more clearly the Way of Love.  She can push us out of our comfort zones to get us to recognize how to keep Jesus’ commandment – the one he said we need to keep for the Spirit to enter into our lives – If we Love God and Love our Neighbors and ourselves we will find the Holy Spirit is with us.  Opening our eyes to the scriptures, opening our eyes to the truth of the Love that God has for all of God’s creation. 

During this strange time when we are worshiping apart we can feel like we have been orphaned – we can feel like we are not only physically isolated but socially isolated.  It is times like this that we can wonder where our God is in all of this sickness and death.  I see it on the news – the people who are clamoring to “return to normal”.  And on the other side the people who tell us that we need to get used to a new normal as the COVID-19 virus is going to be around for awhile.

During times like this the Holy Spirit is clamoring to get our attention.  She is there trying to get us to see what God’s love looks like during this time.  As we look forward to a time when we can worship together She is telling us that Love looks like being apart for a time.  Love looks like taking actions that protect the vulnerable among us instead of writing off the sick and elderly as collateral damage to our economy.  The holy spirit is opening our hearts to see that while we may be physically distant that we can still be socially cohesive.  She is leading us to connect in new ways that show our love for each other.  She is reminding us to reach out using the technology that we have to make sure our friends are ok.  To make sure our families are ok.

We need to be careful how we reopen our churches to worship together.  It has been documented that several church functions have been “Super Spreader Events” – In Sacramento County one church was a hotspot and a two members died from the virus before the Shelter in Place order was put into effect.  On the news last night, and in the paper today,  I heard of a church in Butte County that held mother’s day services and now 180 people have to self isolate because one of the congregation tested positive the next day. So how we open matters.  How we do things will be different.  And we are still figuring out what that will look like.  We need to figure out things like how to we disinfect the church between uses – is there a way to clean the pew chairs between uses?  Is there a way to set up the sanctuary so that family groups can sit together and be six feet away from other groups?  How do we welcome the stranger and the hungry into this place?  What will feeding the hungry look like?

I have many questions and few answers.  I feel the pull of the Holy Spirit advocating for me to see all of this through the eyes of God’s Love.  The Holy Spirit is calling us to think about how we can share communion again – in a way that expresses Love of God and Love of neighbor.  God the Holy Spirit is calling us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls our names, leads us to good pastures and warns us of danger – dangers that are both visible and invisible. 

What does God’s love look like right now for our churches?  It is not prematurely opening up our sanctuaries and inadvertently becoming a super spreading event.  God’s Love right now is calling us to continue to gather for worship on YouTube and Facebook live.  God’s love is calling us to social cohesion though the use of zoom coffee hours, and other zoom events as well as phone calls, text messages, and facetime.  God’s love for us is calling us to love our neighbors by taking prudent actions to keep infections low.  To plan good risk management.

I spent a good deal of my career in the business of looking at risk management in water quality.  I know that it is impossible to have zero risk.  In a regulatory setting I looked at balancing the risk of various chemicals versus the need for good sanitation and disposal of waste water.  We looked at protection for vulnerable populations- both people and wildlife. I manage my risk right now by doing things like checking my temperature, staying at home – except for essential travel – which includes helping stream the Sunday services from St. Paul’s. 

There will come a time when we can return to church that looks more like what we were used to.  But Love means that we wait for that until it is safe.  Love is telling us that in the immediate future we will continue to be streaming services – and in the intermediate time we may come to a point where we can have small groups worship – with physical distancing – no hymn singing and other precautions while still streaming the services.

The Holy Spirit has certainly shown our church that we have  been called to use technology to stream our services for those who can’t gather – She has shown that we can reach people who are unable to attend in person, either due to physical ailments, inability to travel, or due to scheduling conflicts in meaningful ways.  I see a time when we show our love by streaming our services to those who cannot join us along with sending Eucharistic Visitors to bring communion in the form of bread and wine. I am confident that we will meet again in person – just as I am confident that we have discovered – out of necessity a new way to reach out when we cannot gather in person. 

I rejoice that the Holy Spirit has pulled our worship out of a model that was rooted in past centuries of in person gathering to see that God’s Love can be in the form of the Facebook live or YouTube stream. 

In these difficult times, times we feel isolated and alone we long for an advocate to walk along side of us.  In a time when so many people are unemployed and worried about when the economy will come back we look for an advocate who can open our hearts to God’s dream of love.  A time when we need to wear masks when we cannot stay physically distanced from others– not for our protection as much as protecting others in the event that we become asymptomatic carriers we need the Holy Spirit to remind us that Love looks different right now.

The good news is that we have that advocate.  When we open our eyes, heart and soul to look through God’s lens of love then we will find that we are not alone.  The Holy Spirit will be there opening our hearts to see God in our world.  And as we will remember in two weeks, at the feast of Pentecost we will find that the Holy Spirit will drive us out of our locked rooms so that we can find new ways to celebrate the way of Love.  

[1] Http:// accessed May 16, 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Jesus Walks with us on our Road of Lament.

Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2020

Now on that same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

I have to tell you a secret.  The gospel this morning is one of my absolute favorite bible readings (I’m probably not supposed to have favorites but…) – The two post resurrection readings that I love the most are this story – the journey of Cleopas and his friend to Emmaus accompanied by Jesus.  The other one is what I love to call the barbecue of the beach.  Some people call it the story of Peter’s Primacy but I like the barbecue on the beach.  You know the one where the disciples have gone fishing only to come back to shore and find the resurrected Jesus preparing a breakfast for them over a camp fire.  I also like the story of Thomas because he is so like me in wanting to see proof – at least the science geek part of me.  But I love these stories. The revealing of Jesus to his disciples in ways that we can literally taste.

In both stories, this one and the barbecue of the beach, the disciples are downtrodden.  They are sure that this whole new movement that they were part of has come to an end.  It seems that they are ready to call it quits.  To go back to doing whatever they did before they followed this itinerate Rabbi. Heading back to Emmaus, or in the other case going fishing.

Cleopas – and his companion, …the fact that Luke does not name the companion drives me crazy by the way.  But is this case not knowing the identity might be a way to enter into the story.  Perhaps we can imagine that we are the other disciple.  We could read the Story that Cleopas and Rik, or Cleopas and Lynell, or Anne or any one of us are on that road to Emmaus.  We can imagine being that other disciple because we have been, or are, on that road. 

That Road filled with despair over the events that have taken place.  Only wanting to talk through it and try to make sense of it.  With the required physical distancing many people are walking a road of despair.

I have a long time friend – one I have known since kindergarten – who is a nurse in New York City.  She usually works in the pediatric Oncology Ward at Sloan Kettering in New York – as well as being an on-call Nurse Supervisor at a small Long Island hospital. She has told me that because no one is allowed into visit patients that the nurses and some of the doctors have been the only ones around the dying.  They have been using facetime on their personal phones so that families can say goodbye.  Some of the nurses and doctors have even been offering the prayers of last rites for the dying.

My experience has not been that extreme.  I am still able to see my dad because I am logged at his care facility as an essential caregiver.  But it was hard when we was recently taken to the ER and ultimately admitted not to have anyone there.  We were lucky – he was not hospitalized due to the COVID-19 virus but due to heart issues and now has a pacemaker and is doing well.  But I still miss our family gatherings – and it is looking more and more like we may have to postpone my sister’s wedding.

There was another poignant moment this week when a Facebook memory from five years ago popped up.  It was a picture of me holding one of my former employee’s very young baby.  This employee’s wife recently gave birth to a new baby and they told me that they would love to have a picture of me with their new baby to match the one with their now five year old.  But it will have to wait.  Wait until it is safe for us to gather once again.  Safe for me to get my baby fix.

In hard times we can take comfort in returning to things that we love to do.  I have many friends who have been baking all kinds of breads and treats.  And then posting pictures on Facebook – which is not helpful when I am trying to continue of a weight loss program!  We also find it helpful to be in community with like-minded people.  Many of us need to talk out the difficulties. 

That is what is happening on the Road to Emmaus.  Cleopas and his companion are trying to make sense of Good Friday as they walk.  And they find themselves with a third companion.  A companion who asks the open ended question.  A question that lets them empty their concerns.  And in response Jesus gently reminds them of all that he had taught them.  Jesus gently reminds them of all that they had learned from the Prophets.  He opens their hearts to the truth.  And yet they still do not recognize that it is Jesus.  Their grief is too great. 

Matt Skinner, a preacher I follow said, “I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.

The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.”[1]

When they reach their destination that trickster Jesus makes as if he is continuing down the road.  And as good Jews the two offer hospitality because it is getting dark.  They are thankful that this stranger has listened to them and allowed them to see their hurting hearts and to provide some healing.  And as they sit down to dine Jesus did something very familiar – one of the last things he had done with his disciples.  He broke bread.  And in that instance their eye were opened and they recognized that the God of Love had been walking along with them. 

Sometimes it is hard to see that the God of Love is with us.  When we are in the midst of despair it can be hard.  During this time of physical distancing it can be hard to hear God.  Hard to see Jesus walking the road with us. We are social creatures.  We worship together, we dine together, we make sense of the world together.  And now this worldwide Pandemic has physically isolated many of us.  As a worshipping community we desire to leave lent behind us and to gather and shout our alleluias.  We desire to gather together and break the break and drink from the cup. 

It is strange preaching with three other people in the church and a green light of a web camera.  It is hard not to see the reactions of all of you as I preach.  IT is hard not to be able to give out bag lunches to our homeless neighbors.  It is hard not to sit down and provide food for the hungry after our Wednesday and Sunday services. 

What comforts me is seeing that God is indeed walking with us through this difficult time.  I see it in the number of people that we are able to reach on a Sunday through the imperfect live streaming of services – something we are working at getting better.  I see it in the acts of kindness that people are doing for each other.  I see it in the miracle of technology that allows us to virtually gather for coffee hour, to see each others faces.  I see it in being able to continue to take yoga classes – don’t worry we are not breaking the rules.  Yoga is not in person but also in a zoom community. 

This Easter is not like any other that I have experienced.  This Easter we find ourselves on a Road to Emmaus – we see empty churches, empty restaurants, and empty freeways.  We may even have gotten to the point where we don’t want to hear another press briefing or read anymore news until we are free of this pandemic.  We are isolated in ways that many of us have never experienced.   Like Cloepas and his companion we are on a journey of lament. 

Matt Skinner reminded me that “Lament takes time. And sometimes lament is the journey that leads us [...] to recognition and new life.

That new life walks alongside us, patiently, whether we know it or not.”

The good news is that we will gather together again.  The good news is that the God of Love is patiently walking this journey alongside us – even if we don’t realize it.  God’s incarnation means that we can be sure that God knows the grief of walking alone.  God knows the tomb that isolation can feel like.  The God of Love will accompany us on this journey and be there to warm our hearts and open our eyes when we least expect it.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

My Song is Love Unknown

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2020

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

Today marks the entrance into the week we call Holy.  We started today with the remarkable entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a colt.  Jesus enters as a king – but with a twist – instead of riding in on a war horse with his army he comes in on a colt – or other versions say a donkey.  He comes in on a creature that is not fit for a worldly king and instead of an army he is accompanied by a rag tag group of disciples. Disciples who were fisherfolk, tax collectors, those who were formally so sick they had to be shunned, and women.  As he enters the crowds gather and cover his path with their cloaks and with branches, and shout “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  A line filled with foreshadowing comes near the end of our reading.  It says that when Jesus entered into Jerusalem that they whole city was in turmoil.  A turmoil that will ultimately lead to his death. 

As we celebrate our yearly remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry our world is not normal.  Because of the stay at home orders we did not gather in person in the garden.  We did not have the blessing of the palms and the procession into the church.  We are missing one of those days that we let people outside see us as we worship God.  For the past several years starting our worship outside on Palm Sunday has been a wonderful bookend to starting Lent with Ashes to Go.  To be outside and let the world that passes by this corner know that the God of Love is here.

This year it is very quiet on the corner of 15th & J. Few cars and few pedestrians.  At church there are just four people spread out to maximize physical distancing.  Today is different.  Our routines are disrupted. The way we do church is disrupted.  The way we shop is disrupted.  We are staying at home so that people will live.  We are physically distancing when we walk or go to the grocery store to keep ourselves and others from getting sick.

Nonetheless we are celebrating Palm Sunday.  If today is like the last several weeks our livestream of the service will reach far more people than our normal Sunday.  As of this writing we reached 369 people last week, and the week before 600 people.  In this time of disruption we are still being the church – perhaps we are being the church better now that we have for years.  We are no longer on auto-pilot but we are having to think about and reinvent how we worship in community.  We are being invited to create a space in each of our homes that we can use to focus our prayers during this Holy Season.

Our Jewish sisters and brothers are also facing Passover, which starts this Wednesday, without their communal Seder dinners.  But Passover will still be celebrated.  Just as we will remember Israels deliverance at the Great Vigil they will still remember the exodus and Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  In her Shabbat d’rash Rabbi Mona Alfi at Congregation B’nai Israel reminded her congregation that in their remembrance they will still read about the plagues that afflicted Pharaoh and Egypt.  In her Shabbat reflection this week on the upcoming Passover she said  “At Passover we are reminded that to avoid the 10th and final plague – the death of the first born, we were commanded to stay inside, and to mark our doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb, so that the Angel of Death will know to pass-over our houses.

Once again, we are commanded to stay in our homes so as to avoid the Angel of Death. But it is important for us to remember that while now is the time for physical distancing – we must not succumb to social or emotional distancing. We must continue to reach out to each other, not in person, but on the phone and the internet, to offer comfort, hope and help when needed, to those who need us. So that the plague of loneliness and depression does not strike us down as well.”  A good reminder for all of us.

After the liturgy of the palms our Sunday switches from being Palm Sunday to being Passion Sunday.  We just read the shorter version of the Passion according to Matthew.  We read the shorter version because we are few to share in the reading.  We read the shorter version because it felt right to do so this year.  This was not the year for a passion play.  It was is a year to get to the essence.  I invite you today to read the longer version as part of your personal reflection time.  It starts on the 15th verse of the 26th chapter of Matthew and goes until the end of the 27th Chapter. A lot was left out of the shorter reading.

But don’t worry!  This coming week we will still have time to remember the events that we left out of todays reading.  On Maundy Thursday we will gather together to remember the institution of communion, The Lords Supper at the Last Supper, we will gather on Good Friday and recall the betrayal of one of the disciples and the arrest in the Garden.  This week that we call Holy provides us good time to reflect and recall the final events of Jesus time as fully human on this fragile earth.

 But today we are going to the essence of the passion.  The trial and crucifixion.  We heard that when Jesus breathed his last the curtain in the temple was torn in two, the earth shoot, and the rocks where spilt in two. 

Our time of physical distancing and being at home gives us a unique opportunity to set time aside to remember.  To find ways to be the church that we are called to be.  To create that space in our lives for God to call to us in our time of need.  To hear God calling us to be apart for a season so that we can celebrate once this pandemic is under control.

We heard in our passion reading that the tombs were opened just as surely as our time of physical distancing will end.  Easter and the Empty tomb will be celebrated this year – as it is every year.  It will be different this year.  But we will still remember the love that refuses to die – the love that could not be killed on the cross.  The love that is still calling our names and reminding us that God calls us to worship – not in our building but to worship differently. 

Rabbi Mona Alfi, in her d’rash reminded her congregation that ”Passover reminds us that suffering is part of life. But so is celebrating. We tell the story of Passover in good years to remind us to have compassion for those who suffer all around us, from modern day plagues and because of the hard hearts of modern day pharaohs.

And we tell the story of Passover in our difficult years to remind us that redemption is always possible, and that there is always something to celebrate. On our tables, the food we eat reminds us that the bitter and the sweet are of often intermingled, and the stories we tell remind us that just as our ancestors suffered and prevailed, so will we.” And we will prevail in our celebrations.

On Ash Wednesday we were reminded by the prophet Isaiah that what God desires a worship that is not in a building but one that takes care of those in need.  God, through the Prophet Isaiah said:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
This Easter we will celebrate – we will celebrate in community but in a different way – with livestreaming.  And we will remember our call to continue with the worship that God desires.  To continue to be messengers of the Love that refuses to die.

Today we will end our worship with part of my favorite hymn in our hymnal.  My Song is Love Unknown.  It starts:

My song is love unknown,
My Savior's love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh, and die?

On this week that we call Holy I invite you to remember the Love that will not lie.  The Love that continually calls us.  I invite you to find  new ways to make this week Holy.  To gather with us as we live stream the services.  To find time for quiet reflection – to reflect on the greatest gift given to us, and is continually offered to us  – the Love of God.