Prepare the Way for Peace


“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. I have always misunderstood these words. Maybe they became so familiar that I just didn’t hear them. Somehow, I’ve always heard these words as God desiring to comfort God’s people. On some level, I suppose this is true. But these words were spoken by God to the prophet. Isaiah was told to comfort God’s people, to reassure them that God had not forgotten them and that in the present moment there is a call to “prepare the way of the Lord.” The prophet seeks to comfort the people by calling them to action. Get ready. Do it now.

The systemic issues of U.S. society are numerous, though many continue to live in denial. If you’re awake and paying attention, it’s impossible to miss the ubiquitous racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other fear-based divisions among us. They are all tied together and are now being exploited by (and for the benefit of) those in positions of power who trade in fear mongering and hate-filled oppression. Into the miasma of fear and hatred God speaks: Comfort, O comfort my people. For my sake, remind them that they are loved and forgiven, and could start living in this truth at any time. To do that, tell them to prepare the way for me. Bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly to allow justice to yield equity throughout creation.

I hear the charge to the prophet and the call to the people now in the particular context of the many, many #MeToo stories. Stories shared by white women, women of color, poor women, wealthy women, trans women, lesbian women, bi-sexual women, famous women, able-bodied women, women with disabilities, Christian women, Muslim women, Jewish women, Wiccan women, healthy women, women who live with physical or mental illness, and all other women. Misogyny crosses all racial, economic, religious, and health barriers. We’ve all heard the public stories as one after another powerful man comes under fire, some responding with appropriate apology while others continue to live in denial. There are the lesser known stories that flow through social media feeds. And there are the stories being told that involve pastors and church elders. How can any of us preach peace when we live in a culture that excuses rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse of power as normative. Why are so many people surprised when another politician, entertainer, or pastor is named as a perpetrator? Why are so many of us reluctant to accept the stories women tell as real and true?

Comfort, O comfort my people.

I was raised to be a victim, and I am not alone. I was nine the first time I was sexually assaulted and I didn’t dare tell anyone. My mother would not have believed me. She believed that women were to blame when they were assaulted. She saw it as a woman’s place to give a man what he wanted. Unfortunately, this remains a commonly held point of view. And it became mine for a long time. When I was raped at nineteen by someone I knew, I believed it was my fault and didn’t say anything about it to anyone for years. I had no way to know any different.

From the age of nine on, sexual harassment was a daily event. There were wolf whistles and cat calls as I walked the school hallways or passed construction sites or shopped at the mall. I remember the high school teacher who made inappropriate remarks about my “voluptuous body.” Then there was the boy who broke up with me after a few months of dating because I wouldn’t have sex with him. And the college professor who invited me to sit on his lap when I commented on the fact that it was cold in his office. And the member of the first youth group I had responsibility for who just kept asking me out over and over again for the entire year I worked at that church. And the seminary professor who never focused on my face and somehow always contrived to touch me inappropriately. Later there were the parishioners who hugged too closely or repeatedly asked me out or made comments about the way I buttoned “too many buttons” on my blouses or made it known that they preferred shorter skirts. And I cannot leave out stalkers who showed up at my house uninvited and unwanted, refusing to leave. There were others, too. I was often told by adults who noticed what was happening to ignore all of this unwanted attention. Sometimes my mother even told me to “enjoy it while it lasted” because someday I would be too old for men to find me attractive; I should be flattered that men let me know that I was attractive.

On the other hand, church was a safe place for me as a child, and I’m thankful that I was not victimized in this way by any church leaders or clergy. Yet, some of them did contribute to my victim-identity by their lack of support for me as a woman. When I told the man who was the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary, he said, “To be a DCE (Director of Christian Education)? I had grown up a little by then and said without hesitation, “No. I want your job.” While in seminary, I was visiting the college I attended and met the campus chaplain who had been hired after I had graduated. When he asked what I was doing, I told him that I was in seminary. His response was, “Why would anyone who looks like you want to go into ministry?” I was left speechless by the ignorance of this stranger.

Since then, the most frequently asked question from male colleagues upon meeting them remains either, “When will you finish seminary?” or “Is this your first call?” Right. After decades of fumbling for an appropriate answer, I turn the question back on them. I refuse to be the victim I was taught to be. “Comfort, O comfort, my people” becomes “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

A voice cries in the wilderness…

The way of God does not include condoning rape culture. It does not include treating women as sex objects. It does not include dismissing women as somehow less capable than men. It does not include remaining silent when women are being raped, assaulted, abused, or dismissed. It does not include making excuses for men who abuse their positions of power. It does not include blaming victims. It does not include continuing to raise girls to be victims (or boys to be perpetrators for that matter).

What shall I cry?

This second Sunday in Advent is the Sunday of Peace. How do we prepare the way for God while there is so much fear, anger, and judgement everywhere? We begin with ourselves. Our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our churches. We acknowledge how we have participated in the misogyny that permeates our culture. We question the values that have been handed down to us and ask if the way we treat one another honors God, ourselves, or our neighbors.

Perhaps we even begin to recognize that this call to the prophet Isaiah to comfort the people of God is a call we all need to hear. Are we speaking tenderly to one another? If we can hear that in God’s words to Isaiah, then perhaps we can also hear that it is up to us to make a way for God’s presence, God’s peace, to be experienced in the world.

Advent is not a season meant for individuals to engage in spiritual house cleaning. It is a season for faith communities to wake up to the ways in which we have been complicit in denying God’s presence, the ways we have worked against bringing the Realm of God closer. Advent is a time to join hands with our neighbors and recognize the strength found in community that will allow us to claim the liberation that has happened, that is happening, and that will happen again.

Perhaps the apocalyptic proclamations of shaking up the world can be a predictor of God’s people finally coming together and ending the hate-filled, fear-directed ways we separate ourselves from our neighbors. God has already broken into the world. Isn’t it time we live accordingly?

God is here.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Advent – December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

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A Fragile Flicker

Advent was kind of a mystery to me as a kid. I liked the candles and the music, the special services, and the hanging of the greens. But Advent as a season of waiting, preparing, anticipating was lost on me. It just meant that Christmas was close, and that was a good thing. My junior year in high school, the seasons of the liturgical year became much more meaningful for me, starting with Advent.

As a high school junior, I was planning to graduate in the spring so in the fall I was cramming in SATs and colleges tours so I could make a decision about where I wanted to go. My life was complicated by depression and an eating disorder for which I had been hospitalized that summer. I had hopes for junior year that weren’t particularly realistic. These included that I would be “cured” and suddenly be happy and popular, and that I would have a boyfriend and be the “normal” high school kid I thought I was supposed to be.

By the time November was coming to an end and Advent was beginning, I realized that nothing had really changed. I was still depressed, terrified of gaining weight, and decidedly not whatever my definition of normal was. I felt hopeless and the world around me seemed to reflect that sense of hopelessness. If you’ve ever been to Cape Cod in the winter, then you know that it tends to be gray – gray fog, gray sand, gray trees, gray, rainy days. Where would I find hope?

Then the first Sunday of Advent came and the candle of Hope was lit. It occurred to me then that God might be offering something different, a small flicker of possibility that God had little to do with the pain that defined me at that point in my life. Of course I have no memory of what the scripture readings were that year, but as Isaiah cries, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” I hear the same yearning I felt in my sixteen-year-old self. That sense of exhaustion and frustration with the way things are and the desire for the tiny flame of Hope to grow until the world is warm, welcoming, and transformed.

At sixteen I was consumed by my own suffering and in desperate need of the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love Advent promised those who journeyed to Bethlehem. These days, my own suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of peoples and nations around the world. Isaiah’s words speak of a yearning for God to act, for God to forgive God’s people and free them from their self-centered sins. The world is not so different now, is it?

While I do not believe that the struggles of the world are because God is angry and distant, we do need to repent for our self-focused sins.  The state of the world isn’t because God has turned away from God’s people. It is more that we have turned away from God.The hospitality God asks of God’s people has not guided God’s people for a long time. We are caught up in a system that deifies money and power and fails to recognize justice and hospitality as holy mandates. God isn’t going to tear open the heavens and come down to save us. That’s already happened. We know what God would have us do. We know what brings salvation. When will we live into what we have already been given?

Throughout history, we, as the people of God, have needed the reminders of the Advent Season more often than not. This is one of those years that we need to remember that God has little to do with the pain of the world. God is waiting for us to light the flames that will create change as the flame is passed from one person to another.

Are you feeling that the starless, cloudy nights and the gray dreary days confirm the despair in your heart? Is the future we are imagining defined by the limits of our experience? Then it’s time to do something different. It’s time to light the candle of Hope and cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy so that we can see the Hope will light the path to Bethlehem. Once the candle is lit and the journey has begun, then anything becomes possible because we will have lifted our heads enough to see the plight of our neighbors. We will see their faces lit by the fragile, flickering of Hope and remember that this is where God is. Right here, on the journey with those who suffer and those who reach out with kindness and compassion to share the load.

May we all wake up in time to begin the journey that starts out in the light of Hope.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

For further sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Advent – December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

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A View from the Edge

Several years ago I had the privilege of leading a mid-week retreat on Star Island. The island is about 10 miles off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire and it is a beautiful place, rich in history and tradition. It is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is the perfect place for a retreat. I was there twice to lead retreats and the island has a permanent place in my heart.

Overall, the place is pretty rustic. There is running water and electricity, but nothing is fancy. The island is home to more seagulls than can be counted and muskrats that are heard more than they are seen. It’s possible to walk out to the far edge of the island and sit on the granite cliffs and believe that you are the only person in existence. The waves crash, the winds dance, the gulls cry, and heaven is made manifest on earth. There is no place like it.

One of the traditions of the island is the viewing of sunrise. I’m not a morning person and the idea of getting out of a warm bed just to watch a sunrise always seems ludicrous to me. But one morning I made the effort. I pulled on warm clothes, grabbed my flashlight and headed to the east side of the island. Muskrats scurried off the path, making rather loud splashes into the nearby pools of water. One startled me by running right over my feet, ensuring that I was awake enough to experience the sunrise.

I stood on the granite shore with other sunwatchers. And I waited. All of a sudden there was a scarlet line of light separating ocean from sky. The red brightened into orange and reached further up into the night sky. Seals poked their heads out of the water as if to pay homage to the spectacular rising of the sun. It was worth getting out of bed for. I’ve never seen another sunrise quite like that one that began with bright red searing across the horizon. Such a sense of wonder and power and peace flowed through me in that early morning. I came away feeling like all things would come right for me, for those around me.

As we come to the edge of the liturgical year, I can’t help but remember that Star Island sunrise. Standing on a granite edge, waiting for morning light to clear away the darkness. Advent is so close, with its watching and waiting and preparing for the coming of the Light. We anticipate the first hint of light, yearning to feel the hope it will bring. Yet, we know there is so much hidden in the night, so much that threatens to overpower the tiny flickering flame of hope. Perhaps you are with me in wondering if this night will ever end.

Matthew’s gospel is written for us who wait in the deepest hours of the night. The parables Jesus tells in this gospel are more prophecy than descriptive. When the “Son of Man comes…” is a pretty strong cue that what follows has yet to take place. In this case, a king will separate out those who care for the vulnerable and those who do not. I’m not so sure it’s the king doing the separating as it is we ourselves pulling away from the flock simply by maintaining an inward focus. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers needed to do then, and now. The writer of Matthew’s gospel made it abundantly clear. You cannot claim faith and then keep it hidden or live in such a way as to not see Christ in “the other,” particularly the very vulnerable other. Claiming the name of Christ and not bringing love and compassion into the world will lead to a place where it is impossible to see and the most dominant sounds are weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is quite the prophecy. We tend to busy ourselves with counting up our good deeds or claiming the role of the one needing visiting when we encounter these verses from Matthew. We seldom hear it as a call to action, a call to create a future where Christ returns as we embody Love for those who live in despair, isolation, oppression, captivity, sickness, and other places inhabited by vulnerability and need. A call to action that will mean shifting the world from what it is into the possibilities God creates.

We are on the edge of the season where we remember, celebrate, and honor the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We can choose to hang out and watch for the displays of holiness that may or may not be visible from where we are. Or, we can choose to be the displays of holiness that the world desperately needs. That streak of scarlet across the night sky was something to witness. What if we each become that streak of scarlet in the life of someone else, that herald of a new day when all things are possible and hope returns to the world?

RCL – Year A – Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

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Mind Your Own Talents


I remember very vividly the first conversation I had with someone about gender identity. I had just come out as a lesbian (I later came out as bi) and had lost my job as a consequence. The day I was packing up my office, I met a person in the outer doorway as I carried my boxes to my car. This person unexpectedly admitted to me that they were not comfortable in their body and wanted desperately to know what it felt like to have a female body. They described, at length, the desire to know what physically, outwardly being a woman felt like. I think what I managed to say was something like, “I’m sorry you’re having this struggle. I’m not sure what to say.” I was not at my pastoral best in that moment, nor did I have any understanding of what it might mean to be trans*. No one had ever shared such thoughts with me before this. To be honest, I’ve thought about this person often over the years and wish I’d been in a better position to respond with compassion and understanding.

Years after this first rather awkward conversation, I worked in a psychiatric hospital and listened to the medical and clinical staff argue about the treatment of trans* patients. Many of them were stuck in the old days when being trans* was considered pathological. My job as chaplain was to advocate for patient’s rights. I did this to the best of my ability. Over my six years at the hospital, attitudes changed and a person’s gender identity was beginning to be considered in terms of a patient’s comfort rather than as a symptom of their illness.

Now I pastor a church that welcomes trans* people into the full life of the community. And I have to admit, that it was a steep learning curve for me. I had to face my own discomfort with asking about pronouns, and with the use of gender-neutral pronouns. I listened as individuals described in significant detail their gender confirmation surgery and all that that entailed. I’ve listened to the stories of those who are marginalized by society and, often,  the larger queer community. And I’ve allowed those stories to touch my own.

While I cannot pretend to know what it feels like to be trans*, I do know what it feels like to be on the outside of community that is always lumped together. We talk about LGBTQ+ community like it is a unified whole, but there are divisions. As a bisexual person I have seldom found acceptance within the queer community. My sexual orientation has been called into question by more than one person. It’s hurtful and frustrating. If this is the case for me as someone who is bisexual and cisgender, how much more painful and frustrating is it for trans* people who have their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression called into question?

I’ve also watched the struggles my wife has gone through. She is cisgender but has masculine characteristics. She has been questioned on her choice of public restrooms and, on one notable occasion, assaulted by a woman who felt the need to verify my wife’s gender. There are no circumstances in which this kind of fearful, judgmental behavior is acceptable.

In addition to these things, on some level I know what it is like to feel animosity toward one’s own body. While the struggles of someone with an eating disorder are not those of someone who is trans*, that sense of hating one’s physical appearance, of feeling betrayed by one’s body, of the internal identity not matching the outward appearance, translates to a certain extent. I have, on a very deep level, developed empathy for the trans* people I have come to know and love. It is this empathy that allows me to listen, to hear the pain and the joy, and to celebrate the beauty and wonder that God creates in each human being.

I share all of this to raise the question of judgment. In the parable of the talents, judgment only came from one place. Those who were given talents didn’t bicker with each other, or criticize each other on what they did with what they were given. Their only responsibility was to use the talents to the best of their ability and in a way that was pleasing to the one who had given the talents. What the others did with what they were given, wasn’t any of their concern. The one who had given the talents was the only one who was in a place to express approval or disapproval. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all keep this in mind.

When it comes to gender identity and gender expression, this is between the individual and the One who created them. The rest of us should only offer support and love, without judgment. It is not our business to judge another person for how they embody the person God created them to be. It is, however, our business to embody Christ for one another. Oh, and it’s our business to make sure we are fully embodying the person God created each of us to be as well.

As Transgender Day of Remembrance nears and the knowledge that 25 trans people were murdered in the U.S. alone in 2017, this parable reminds us to pay less attention to the way other people embody themselves. Moreover, we ought to be asking ourselves if the way we inhabit our bodies is pleasing to the one who gifted them to us. Perhaps if we shifted our focus in this direction, then we would be in better shape to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When it comes to the church, I often say, “as with one, so with all.” This means that if one person struggles with something, The Body of Christ struggles. So when it comes to our trans* siblings in Christ, I will say this: The Body of Christ is trans*. Isn’t it time we responded with love, with respect, and in celebration of the giftedness of the church as it truly is?

RCL – Year A – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017
Judges 4:1-7 with Psalm 123 or
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 with Psalms 90:1-8 (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

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Naptime is Over


Mental illness crosses all human barriers. No one is exempt. Wealth can’t buy its way out. Power cannot force it away. Religion cannot keep it at bay. It isn’t contagious but everyone is potentially at risk. Usually, its causes are biological, genetic and often emerges as an individual comes to adulthood. It can also be triggered by trauma or acute stress. There’s no guarantee that any of us will escape a challenge to our mental health. The statistics are clear: one in five adults lives with a mental illness. Whether we admit it or not, mental illness touches all of us – directly or in a loved one.

Let’s not be deceived when the media or the President blames mental illness for mass murder. (The other piece of this that I will not address directly in this essay is that only white shooters are described as being mentally ill; everyone else is labeled as a “terrorist.”) Other countries have people who live with mental illness, but the U.S. has the highest rates of mass shootings. We have a problem, and mental illness is only a small part of it. Easy access to guns is another part of it, perhaps a bigger part. But the underlying issue is our culture of violence.

This culture that endorses violence as entertainment, as a way to resolve conflict, as a way to express anger, as a means of controlling others, and so many other, more subtle aspects of society, now wants to place the blame on those who have historically been victimized. Racism is a form of this violence. Misogyny is a form of this violence. Rape culture certainly is. White supremacy had a hand in creating this culture. And, I hate to say it, but Christianity has helped to shape it as well. Was it not human fear and intolerance that nailed Jesus to the cross? And the name of Christ has been used to justify centuries of violence and injustice. Why have we not learned a better way?

Yes, the Bible is full of stories of violence. Tribal warfare justified by vengeful gods. Society has changed since then. None of us needs to conquer the peoples living the next town over in order to survive the winter. We understand that human beings are all created in the image of God. We have heard Jesus repeat the Jewish mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves. Nowhere does Jesus say that we are to blame the vulnerable for the ills of society. Nowhere does Jesus say that we have the right to kill those we perceive to be different. Nowhere does Jesus say that it is good to kill those who offend or frighten us. In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said something about turning the other cheek and forgiving more times than we can count?

If we want to feel safe in our homes, on our streets, in our schools, in our shopping centers, in our movie theaters, at our sporting events, and in our houses of worship, then we need to make changes. First, we need to change the way we think about violence. It should not be entertainment, especially for young or vulnerable minds. It should not be in our every-day vocabulary. “Killing” something should not be a positive term, ever. Chocolate cake shouldn’t be something we’d “kill” for. We should never “threaten” to kill someone if they do something we don’t like. How much has violence become normative in our lives? When violence is not normative, then people who experience mental health crisises, are less likely to be violent.

While we are seriously contemplating the ways in which violent words, action, and entertainment have infiltrated our lives, then we can think about who we “blame” for the violence on our streets. No matter who we name, we have such a small piece of the systemic puzzle. Remember that racism and white supremacy bred this culture of violence. White, powerful men endorse rape culture. Bullies always blame those they perceive to weaker. So before we blame those who have long been victimized, we must take a good long look in the mirror. Our silent or ambivalent or passive acceptance of “the way things are” has significantly contributed to the violence in society.

Now we must seek to see the human being in all others we meet. If we see them as human beings, then it is more likely we will see Christ in them as well. When we see all human beings as equally valuable in God’s sight, then we can find the motivation necessary to address the brokenness in our society. We can stop living in fear. Love makes violence far less accessible. If we stop living in fear, it won’t be so easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we need guns to protect ourselves. If we stop living in fear, we can remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and make it much more acceptable and accessible for those who experience symptoms to get necessary treatment. If we stop living in fear, we will stop excusing police officers who kill people of color. If we stop living in fear, we will stop denying the story of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. If we stop living in fear, we can unclench our fists, roll up our sleeves and get to the work of justice that Jesus calls us to do.

If we keep living in fear, we will be haunted by the words of the prophets. We will keep running from the lion and the bear, only to be bitten again and again by the snake. Our festivals, our worship, our sacrifices will continue to mean nothing to God because justice is not rolling down and righteousness is not flowing. Wisdom will not find us and our lamps will remain unlit.

We have long since fallen asleep. It’s time to wake up, fill our lamps with oil, and follow in the way of Christ. We’ve been asleep for far too long.

RCL – Year A – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

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Accepting the Prophet


As I write this, I am sitting in the airport in Denver, CO. I have just completed a series of speaking engagements in which I addressed clergy and lay people from several faith traditions on the topic of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. I am exhausted and energized all at the same time. My mind is full.

Earlier this week, I was in Live Oaks, FL finishing a week of CREDO, a clergy renewal program. This program was preceded by other mental health ministry work in a different part of Florida. My body does not know what time zone it is in.

In the midst of these adventures, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination on November 1st. I’ve had thoughts about this, so many thoughts! The church of today is not the church my seminary years prepared me to serve , but I knew that was going to happen. I can also say that the shape of my ministry is nothing I could have imagined. My spirit breathes in these blessings.

With all of this swirling around me, I have been reading the words of Micah. He speaks words of caution to the false prophets, the prophets who do not live what they preach and strengthen the power of the oppressors. No one likes to listen to prophets. It’s too easy to say that their words do not apply to us. They must be meant for someone else. But are they, really?

I think Micah’s words are just as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken aloud. There are plenty who preach peace and make war on the poor. There are many “who abhor justice and pervert all equity” in the name of God. I’ve probably participated in these activities more than once. You probably have, too. The relevant question now is: Are we still sewing seeds of division and destruction that will only strengthen those whose hands and lips serve only the powerful, the wealthy, and the oppressors?

I remember the saints who shared their faith with me, those who have died and those who still live. Sometimes it seems that their faith was simpler than mine, easier to live out, less complicated to preach. However, if I am honest and I pay attention to the prophets of ancient Israel, serving God by serving our neighbors, by caring for the vulnerable among us, has never been easy and it’s never been welcomed by those in power.

I keep thinking about something I read in seminary that may or may not have been written by Walter Brueggemann. In the book or essay, pastors were described as being prophets, priests, and poets. I was comfortable with the role of poet. I made my peace with the role of priest. I have wrestled with the role of prophet. Who listens to prophets? Who likes to hang around with prophets?

After 25 years, I have embraced this role as well. Being a prophet is a challenge. But if we don’t listen to the prophet voices among us, calling us to find new ways of being church, church will continue to take on the look of the ruins of Jerusalem. So, church, who are we serving today? Do we seek to bring Love, Hope, and Healing into the world? Or do we seek to preserve the status quo?

RCL – Year A – All Saints Sunday – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – November 5, 2017

Joshua 3:7-17 with Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or
Micah 3:5-12 with Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

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Holy Re-Form-ation

2017-10-23 07.57.16.jpg

“You are holy because the Lord your God is holy.” I’ve been unable to let go of these words since reading them in Leviticus a few weeks ago. They followed me to my meeting with my spiritual director where I continue to struggle with the constant critical voices in the back of my head (though not as loud as they used to be, I’d like to be rid of them entirely). They pursued me through a meeting of the Mental Health Network Board of Directors where we reviewed the work we have done this year and set goals for the year to come. They whispered to me as I walked through sunrise on Venice beach. They continue to call to me as I am at CREDO, a clergy renewal retreat. “You are holy because the Lord your God is holy.”

2017-10-25 17.28.08.jpgYesterday, I spent some time sitting in a field with colleagues as we shared bits of our journey. In the middle of our circle, I saw a tiny white flower growing amidst all the blades of grass. Some might rush to say that this flower is a weed and ought to be removed from the grassy field. I saw the simple beauty. That flower never questions its beauty. It never sought permission to grow and flourish and bring joy to those who took time to notice something so small, so perfect, so unexpected. If I could live as this flower does – never questioning my simple beauty, never seeking permission to grow and flourish and share joy – I might be able to see my life. You know, the life I have that is so small, so perfect, and so very unexpected. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.2017-10-25 12.09.06

The trees here in Live Oaks, Florida are draped with a mossy looking vine. Both trees and vine are unusual to my northern eyes. Yet, they are beautiful and graceful in the breezes, lending a bit of a feel of ancient wisdom and witness to this place. These trees wear their mossy drapes without judgment. They do not ask if they are too fat or too thin. They do not wonder if they are keeping time with the wind. They do not ask to set their roots in the soil and bring grace to the landscape. If I could live as these trees do – not criticizing myself for being too fat, not trying to control the rhythyms of my life, not seeking permission to bring grace to my landscape – I might be able to embody wisdom and witness without hinderance. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.

2017-10-23 07.50.56.jpgA crane on the ground is an awkward-looking creature. It’s legs and neck seem too long and thin for its body. But when it takes flight it transforms into a creature of wonder and awe. Flying through the morning mist, the white cranes call to one another. I hear a song of freedom and a celebration of wings. The crane does not question her value, her purpose, her worth; she just flies, and swims, and walks as need directs. If I could live as the cranes do – reveling in the awkwardness of my body, singing a song of freedom and celebration of wings, never questioning my value, my purpose, my worth and just flying, swimming, walking as need directs – I might be able soar through the mists as a creature of wonder and awe. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.2017-10-16 17.04.02.jpg

Now I sit in the afternoon sun hoping, praying, I will hold onto this gift of holiness, never letting it slip through my fingers to puddle on the floor around my feet. I want to embody this gift always. If I can hold onto the wonders of holiness that God has given to all of us, I can live a life of beauty, wisdom, and wonder. I can silence those voices that still whisper that I am not good enough as I am when I am too tired to keep them quiet. I can honor this body I have been given even though my heart rate is too slow, my autonomic nervous system is out of whack, my diet is limited by factors beyond my control, my thyroid doesn’t function on its own, and my extremities turn blue in the cold. Even with all these things (and a few others) I am still “fearfully and wonderfully made” and have so many gifts in this body of mine. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.

As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, may the re-formation of the Body of Christ continue. I will pray for you to know the gift of holiness that is ours. Pray for me, too. We are holy because the Lord our God is holy. May we all have the courage and strength to accept this amazing, loving, merciful gift we have been given!

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Reformation Sunday, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 29, 2017
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 with Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 with Psalm 1 and
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe


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