On Baptisms, Babies, and Blessings…

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Photo credit: Kim Edwards; reuse with permission only

I was never really a baby person:  I did not do much babysitting as an adolescent; except for my little brother, there were not a lot of babies around me growing up; and I was just never all that jazzed about babies.  They seemed delicate, loud, messy, and mysterious.  I never had maternal urges in early adulthood, and my friends found constant amusement in any scenario where the question arose about who should take care of a baby in a pinch – obviously, the baby should not come my way.  But the time my husband and I were engaged, we were not even sure we wanted to have children.

Then in my early thirties, a switch flipped and I realized, in fact, I did want children.  I still was not sure about other babies, but I was excited about my own.  But then a funny thing happened.  I was ordained a deacon when I was about seven months pregnant.  What I did not realize was once you are ordained, you handle babies a lot – in baptisms, in walking moms through pregnancies and births, and even in the receiving line at church.  Once I went through babyhood with my own daughter, and she was no longer at that lovely, innocent stage, I realized my vocation included mothering a lot of other babies.  It has become one of my favorite parts of ministry because it is a glimpse into the wonder and mystery of creation and the grandeur of our God.

So, you can imagine, when this pandemic hit, among the myriad reasons my heart hurt was not being able to interact with babies.  Our church had babies born during the pandemic and it killed me to not be able to welcome the baby at the hospital and give the baby and family their first blessing.  My heart ached to see baby photos on social media and know the babies were growing up without the church surrounding them in love.  But mostly, my arms palpably felt the absence of holding babies, swaying to keep them calm, and smelling their unique baby scent.

As we slowly come out of this pandemic, I am keenly aware of the privilege of holding babies again.  At a recent wedding I tentatively asked a guest, who I did not know, if they would like me to hold their baby to give them a break.  When they quickly passed me the baby, my face lit up.  Last Sunday, when I finally got to hold the baby we had prayed for all during her time in the womb, I was elated.   And as we approach two more baptisms this weekend, I could not be more excited to make those special connections – even though they are not really babies anymore!  One of the blessings of the rise in vaccinations is enjoying the sacred honor of touch, of experiencing vulnerability and innocence, and of redefining the boundaries of family.  This week I give thanks for the abundance of love and joy.  May you all find your own encounters with the holy this week!

Sermon – Genesis 3.8-15, Mark 3.20-35, P5, YB, June 6, 2021

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Last week we talked about the long journey we had made in the liturgical year that helped us get to Trinity Sunday.  After Trinity Sunday, we enter into the next long journey of what we call “ordinary time,” that time that stretches through summer and the fall when we settle into the stories about the life and ministry of Jesus.  In some ways, what happens in the Church is like what happens in the summer – we kick off our shoes, pull up a refreshing beverage, and settle into a good summer read.  The shift should be a palpable sigh of relief as we ease into the familiar stories we love.

Except, nothing about scripture lessons today is remotely relaxing – in fact, our Old Testament and Gospel texts do quite the opposite, making us tense with discomfort and anxiety.  We start with the story in Genesis, traditionally call the story of the fall.  Adam and Eve have already consumed the fruit from the forbidden tree, and today we hear the story of their being “caught.”  Right away, God knows something is amiss, and how do Adam and Eve respond?  In a comical exercise of finger pointing.  Adam blames both Eve and God:  Eve because she “made” Adam eat the fruit and God because God gave Eve to him in the first place.  Eve blames the serpent, recognizing she was tricked.  The curses from God fly:  on the serpent, on the land, and later in Genesis, on the man and woman and their habitation.  Historically, this text has been used to subjugate women, but most theologians know this story impacts all kinds of theological concepts – from our sinful nature, free will, promises of salvation, and the covenant.[i]  But you do not have to be a theologian to read this text and know that the finger pointing of humans when caught in sinfulness is not going to lead to goodness.

Then we get this strange story about Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  Jesus is simply sitting among the people and his disciples when things go crazy.  The scribes come and begin to proclaim that Jesus is possessed by Satan, and anything seemingly good Jesus is doing is rooted in evil.  Then Jesus’ own family assume he has had a mental breakdown and they come to restrain Jesus.  The people who should know and love Jesus best and the people who should be able to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit try to cast him out.  In response, Jesus rejects them all.  Instead, he professes to have no family except those who gather around him and do the will of God.  Jesus does not actually define what the will of God is, so we should be careful not to project our own notions of doing justice or serving those in need.  For now, being a part of the family of Jesus seems to involve sitting around.  As scholar Matt Skinner says, “The way into kinship—belonging—with Jesus is sticking around. It’s to acknowledge that you’ve been caught up into a new reality—this transformational alternate reality called ‘the kingdom of God’—and to hold on for the ride. That’s probably not the entirety of what it means to do or to accomplish or to commit to ‘the will of God,’ but it seems to be the biggest part, as far as Mark is concerned.”[ii]

Perhaps that is our invitation this summer too.  We are still invited to kick off our shoes, sit at Jesus’ feet, and pull up a good book.  But instead of rereading a comforting story, this may need to be a summer of reading the stories that ask us hard questions: of whether we are in right relationship with God or hiding who we really are; whether we are insisting on our own will or way instead of the way of Jesus; whether we are too restless to slow down and simply sit with the Holy Spirit.  In the flurry of regathering, of finally getting to experience some familiar practices like sitting in chairs [pews] we have missed, using our voices to sing [speak] among others, and seeing familiar friends and meeting new ones, we can miss why we love this community so much in the first place.  We can forget that Hickory Neck is a place we like to come because we are a community who does not let each other hide, who challenges one another to follow the way of love, who will remind us to slow down and listen for the soft voice of God.  Who we are and what this community does is the reason why we will continue to livestream services – so those who still need to be at home can be a part of us too, so those who are tending to life’s daily commitments can come back to the video for a good word, and so those who are longing for something more in life can get to know this Jesus – who redefines who is in and out – and sit at his feet with us.  Our experience this summer might not be one you were hoping for after a long, hard fifteen months – but I suspect this summer will be even better than you could have imagined.  Amen.


[i][i] James O. Duke, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 98.

[ii] Matt Skinner, “Stick Around,” May 30, 2021, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/stick-around on June 4, 2021.

On Being Normal and Other Longings…

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This Sunday, our parish is introducing two in-person worship services for the first time in fifteen months.  There is a lot about which to be excited!  We will be able to worship in our beloved Historic Chapel, which was not able to be used during most of the pandemic due to structural restrictions.  We will be able to sing congregationally, even if we have to keep our masks on for a little while longer.  We will be able to skip registration and check-in, we can sit wherever we want (you have no idea how hard such a simple thing has been for some of our parishioners!), and we can receive communion sitting right next to other people – some people we have loved and missed for a long time and some people who are completely new to us!  There are a few restrictions remaining, like masking, avoiding touch, and not being able to share a common cup, but we are okay with incremental change and so very happy for what we will get to experience this Sunday.

All that being said, you may have noticed I am being very careful to not say we are “going back to normal.”  Partially that is because we are not yet fully engaging in church as we once were.  And in some ways, there are permanent additions, such as livestreaming, that we never experienced pre-pandemic, that will be mainstays for us now. 

But the real reason I have avoided using the term “normal,” is because I don’t want us to go back to normal.  “Normal” in March 2020 meant a country deeply divided politically; neglecting, or downright oppressing, immigrants, the impoverished, women, and the LGBTQ community; and a deep unwillingness to talk about systemic racism.  Even our church was unwilling to fully embrace digital discipleship and evangelism.  I am not interested in returning to that kind of “normal.”

And so, although it may seem like semantics, we are introducing worship in a new way.  We are modeling all the goodness of things we once knew, and hopefully letting go of some of the things that needed to be let go.  We are holding fast to the things we loved during this pandemic – connecting to people who are far away, helping the less mobile feel a part of the community, and encouraging connection, even when the service times do not match your schedule.  And we are coming out on the other end as something different – with the same core values and passions – but expressed in a different way.  And for now, that, as God said in creation, is very good!

Sermon – Isaiah 6.1-8, TS, YB, May 30, 2021

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To understand the lessons we have heard today, we have to look at where we have been over the last liturgical year.  We started in Advent, anticipating the birth of the Messiah.  Then we journeyed through the actual birth narrative at Christmas, and continued to celebrate Christ’s identity as the Messiah throughout the season of Epiphany.  In Lent, we journeyed through the temptation of Christ, and narrated the reason for our need for a Messiah.  That journey continued through Holy Week as we walked through the crucifixion and death of Jesus, remembering how the story of Jesus is rooted in the historical salvation narrative from the beginning of creation, ending on the joyous resurrection of Jesus and the seven weeks of celebrating what the resurrection and ascension means for our everyday lives.  Last week, we welcomed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the disciples of Christ, that joyous, cacophonous celebration.  Finally, after that long journey we arrive at today, Trinity Sunday.

For many Trinity Sunday is one of the weirder Sundays of the Church.  Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in our calendar year dedicated to a theological concept.  Furthermore, the theological concept is one of the hardest in our faith.  Whole gatherings, like the one in Nicea, have happened just to hash out what having a triune God means, people have been labeled as heretics when they do not get it quite right, and authors have spent myriad pages trying to explain a concept that sometimes feels beyond words.  And that does not even include the number of parents and Sunday School teachers who have tried to make the concept of the trinity understandable to our youngest members – because, quite frankly, the concept is hard even for us adults!  And yet, at the conclusion of the long journey in the liturgical calendar – from Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, all the way to Easter and Pentecost – the church stops today and designates a day to celebrate the triune nature of God.  

Part of why we honor the Trinity this day is to give meaning to this seven-month journey – to answer the “so what?” of all we have learned.  Into that question, we read Isaiah’s call narrative from chapter six of Isaiah.  Now some scholars argue we hear Isaiah’s call story today because this passage was used in the early Church’s development of the doctrine of the Trinity.[i]  For me, that is not the most important reason we hear this lesson today.  Certainly, I want us as faithful disciples to understand the doctrine of the Trinity because the doctrine is unique among other faiths to our understanding of God.  But I am always more concerned about what you do with understanding than that you simply attain the understanding.  That is why I like this very human story about a reaction to God.  In Isaiah’s story, he is confronted with appearance of God – the majesty of God alone would be enough, but the appearance of seraphs, these winged snake-like figures – and the earth-shattering noise[ii] of their “Qadosh, qadosh, qadosh…Holy, holy, holy,” and the appearance and smell of smoke leave Isaiah utterly awestruck and keenly aware of his unworthiness.  Into that posture, and into Isaiah’s forgiveness, Isaiah has no other response when God asks, “whom shall I send to go out for us?”  The answer is simple.  Send me.

That is the “so what?” of Trinity Sunday.  Telling Isaiah’s story today helps us see the cosmically important reason why our own call or vocation is so important – not just that we have a job or purpose – but that our job or purpose is in response to the awesomeness of the Holy, Undivided Trinity – the fearsome, incarnate, mysterious revelation of the Godhead – three in one and one in three.  Every Sunday we send each person here and those gathered around the world through their screens out into the world to do the work God has given us to do.  That instruction is a commissioning and a blessing.  But today, we also honor how that work is a response to the awesomeness of our God.  We take all those powerful, sacred, quiet ah-ha moments we have had with God, and we take all those proddings from the Holy Spirit when we have felt like our gifts can and are being used for a great purpose, and we respond in the words of that old hymn, “Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!  God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” and we have no other words but, “Here am I; send me.”  Amen.


[i] Donald K. McKim, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 28.

[ii] Rolf Jacobson explains this understanding of the Hebrew words in the podcast, “SB607 – Holy Trinity,” May 19, 2018, found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/sb607-holy-trinity, as found on May 27, 2021.

On Tiny Perfect Things…

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I just finished up a movie called The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.  The premise is much like Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again.  But in this film, the two protagonists use their day of repetition to find tiny perfect things – an eagle grabbing a fish out of a lake, an elderly woman dancing about a game victory, a perfectly timed funny moment, a custodian sneaking on a piano, demonstrating his incredible hidden talent. 

These last weeks, I have been noticing a lot of tiny perfect things as we slowly make our way out of this pandemic:  a hug between vaccinated friends who haven’t seen, let alone touched, each other in over a year; watching kids play with bubbles, mastering not just blowing them, but popping them too; an outdoor wedding after a year of wondering if it would be possible with a long pandemic and the threat of unpredictable weather; being able to hold and bounce a baby after over a year of isolating newborns from all of us. 

We are approaching some of those tiny perfect things at our church as well.  Because we are loosening restrictions incrementally, we are not getting some magical “perfect” experience where everything “goes back to normal.”  But we are approaching a time where we can sit in pews that were off limits, where we can sing those songs and texts that have been spoken or been instrumental, where we can sit beside a friend whose physical presence we have missed, where we can receive the body and blood of Christ.  We still have to mask, and communion is being served in sealed plastic chalices – but there are tiny perfect things nonetheless. 

This week, I invite you to find your own tiny perfect things – tiny moments of grace.  Take a moment to watch children play in your neighborhood, see what wonders nature is up to, enjoy a bit of hearty laughter, or observe the way an older couple holds hands after what must be decades of marriage.  There is a lot of work to be done as Christ commissions us to go out in the world.  But what will sustain us in that work are the tiny perfect things that remind us of God’s blessing and grace that are there for us every day.  I cannot wait to hear what you find!

Sermon – Acts 1.15-17, 21-26, E7, YB, May 16, 2021

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I have sometimes daydreamed about the experience of liturgical freedom:  picking and choosing the scripture for a given Sunday (particularly when I need to address a specific issue), praying an extemporaneous prayer on a Sunday to address a certain topic in the church, or drafting our own liturgical experience to address a particular need.  However, as crazy as the idea may sound, I more often find freedom within our Episcopal constraints than within the endless possibilities of what could be. 

This past week was a classic example.  Last Sunday, totally unaware of the announcement I would be making on Tuesday, Bob preached about the invitation of the Resurrection being an invitation into discernment – discernment about what each of us needs to do to bring about the kingdom here on earth.  On Tuesday night, our regularly scheduled Discover Class topic, which was scheduled months ago, was focused on the structure and leadership model of the Episcopal Church, including who bishops are and how they are elected.  Then today, we get this lesson from the Acts of the Apostles in which Peter and the other apostles are attempting to replace the twelfth spot Judas left open through his death.  All that daydreaming about constructing our spiritual experiences went out the window this week when I remembered the Holy Spirit does a much better job at constructing those experiences than I ever could!

To say that this portion of the Acts of the Apostles is a divine gift is not necessarily because we happen to be talking about a bishop’s election this week just as the apostles are talking about an election of sorts.  In fact, what the apostles are doing is the opposite of an election.  No one asks Matthias or Justus to go through an interview process or offer their vision of leadership for the next decade.  Instead, their criteria are pretty simple.  First, the replacement should be someone who knows Jesus personally.  Second, they want to honor their ancestral roots in the twelve tribes of Israel – eleven apostles will not suffice.[i]  Third, their decision is rooted in prayer.  And finally, their decision is based on trust in the will of God.  Nowadays, we might think the casting of lots is a little too random and could lead to a poor appointment of leadership – I mean when was the last time we selected a Rector, Warden, or Committee Chair by flipping a coin?  But according to New Testament scholar Kathy Grieb, the casting of lots is “an ancient biblical practice for determining God’s will…”[ii]

Hearing about all the coincidences in our last week, from talking about discernment, to the structure of the Episcopal Church, to the selection of the last apostle, may be intriguing or even amusing, but may also leave you asking, “So, what?  What does all of this have to do with me or my experience of Hickory Neck, or even more broadly, with Jesus?”  As I have reflected on these coincidences – or as Carl Jung referred to them as instances of “synchronicity” or “meaningful coincidence”[iii] – I see an invitation for all of us from Peter.  First is an invitation to recall our identity.  We are a community whose historic identity has been about weathering change – whether it was the identity crisis created by the Revolutionary War, the replacement of a faith community by schools and hospitals for over a century, to reclaiming and expanding our land to become a church again, to surviving a global pandemic.  The possibility of a change in clergy – a very small possibility at that – does not alter the fact that we are a community rooted in Jesus’ love, shining our light on this Holy Hill for almost three centuries.  Second is an invitation into prayer:  prayer for the Hickory Neck Community, prayer for your Rector, and prayer for the Diocese of Iowa and the other candidates.  Our hurt, our frustration, our fear, and our joy can be left at the feet of Christ in prayer.  When given the space, prayer can do much more than we can imagine.  And finally, our invitation this week is to trust in God.  We may not always like what God does – I am pretty sure the apostles would much rather have not been trying to figure out a leadership model in Jesus’ absence.  But we do know that God is faithful, and, in time, God leads us to goodness and grace.  I do not know where the next couple of months will lead us.  But I do know if we can stay rooted in our identity, in prayer, and in our faith in God, we will come out stronger disciples for Jesus, strengthened to take on whatever “meaningful coincidences” the Holy Spirit throws our way.  Amen.


[i] Noel Leo Erskine, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 528.

[ii] A. Katherine Grieb, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 531.

[iii] Carl G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2012), 44, as cited at https://artsofthought.com/2020/05/30/carl-jung-synchronicity/ on May 14, 2021.

On Nudges and the Holy Spirit…

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Photo credit: https://www.ibelieve.com/faith/what-is-discernment-ways-grow-more-discerning.html

Discernment is a topic we talk a lot about in church.  Some of our most beloved biblical stories, often called “call narratives,” are about discernment.  They all have a pattern:  God calls the individual to some bold action, the person resists (sometimes repeatedly and comically), but when the person eventually acquiesces, God equips the individual for the work. 

I love these call narratives mostly because they are so human and relatable.  But I sometimes wonder if the dramatically entertaining nature of these stories makes us think “calls” are something that only happens to certain, singled-out people.  In truth, that is why we talk about discernment so much in the life of the church:  because we want people to know that discernment is not just about major life transitions.  Discernment happens repeatedly throughout life – sometimes at expected moments, like a school graduation, in response to a spouse’s new job, or even retirement.  But discernment also happens in the times when we are plugging away at the calls we have already discerned:  when a volunteer opportunity stirs something in us; when a friend makes an off-handed comment about a gift we should be honoring; or when we just feel a little discomforted but do not know why (as a spoiler, that discomfort is usually the Holy Spirit!).

In my ministry setting, we talk about discernment a lot.  It is the topic of one of the six sessions in our Discovery Class (a newcomer/confirmation class).  We talk about discernment from the pulpit – even when there is not some big call narrative in the lectionary.  We talk about discernment in Bible study, in pastoral visits, and even over coffee.  We have come to understand that “call” is not static, and that even within a call, or vocation, the Holy Spirit continues to move and nudge us in ways that enrich our own journey and the journey of those around us.  Following Jesus means just that – continuing to follow wherever he may lead.

This week, I announced to my parish that the Spirit had been nudging me too.  In this unique situation, it may be a nudge that does not come to fruition.  Even in those cases, God is doing something too.  But it may also lead to something new and different.  That is the risk we take when we listen to the Holy Spirit.  I cannot authentically encourage my community into constant discernment if I am closed to the possibilities of the Spirit – especially when I would be perfectly happy to stay right where I am.  And so, this week I join you in that gloriously off-centered life that is the life of following Jesus.  I do not know where it will lead, but I am grateful for a community who journeys with me!

On Barriers and Saying Yes…

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Photo credit: https://aleteia.org/2020/03/30/how-laypeople-can-baptize-in-an-emergency/

On Sunday, we heard the story of the Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.[i]  At one point in the story, the eunuch says, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  The question is simultaneously wonderful – how amazing to hear someone so inspired by the witness of Jesus that they want to baptized right away – and anxiety-making.  Episcopalians are very clear about our identity and our liturgical ways of doing things.  So certain is our identity, that I could imagine an Episcopalian responding to the eunuch, “Well, we need to sign you up for baptism class, and then find out when the next best baptismal feast day is on the liturgical calendar.  Once we get everything lined up, we’d be thrilled to schedule your baptism!”  Somehow, that response from Philip would not have made for such an enticing story about the power of evangelism and discipleship.

The eunuch’s words were ringing in my ears when I received a similar request recently.  One of our young parishioners lost her godfather to an unexpected death during COVID.  We were all devastated and grieved together.  But a few weeks ago, the family contacted me with a request.  They had already talked as a family about how her godfather would always be her godfather, even from heaven.  But they also wanted to appoint a new earthly godfather who could help their daughter grow in the life of faith.  And so, their question was, “Is there a way you can do that liturgically by Zoom?”

One answer could have been no; we do not have such a liturgy in our Prayer Book.  But the request was so pure and Spirit-led that I knew even a Prayer Book would not want to limit such grace and abundance.  And so, in consultation with some fellow clergy and liturgical resources, including the Book of Common Prayer, we cobbled together a beautiful liturgy.  We prayed for the godfather who had passed and the ways in which he would always be with us.  The godchild formally asked the godfather if he would be willing to be her earthly godfather.  We asked the normal questions we ask in a baptismal liturgy of the godfather, and then we all reaffirmed our Baptismal Covenant and prayed over the new “family” we had created – all via Zoom.  And although we were not in our beloved chapel, we created a profound, intimately sacred space together, where the Holy Spirit blessed us as a community.

When I think about those questions, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” and “Can we designate a new godparent?” these are questions of curiosity and longing.  These are questions inspired by those seeking Christ and wanting a deeper connection to God.  If this pandemic has taught us anything, we have learned the ways in which the Holy Spirit is unbounded and can act – whether in a building, alongside a road, or online.  This week, I invite you to ponder what limits you have placed around your own connection to God – what barriers or rules have hindered your connection to the sacred.  How might you begin lessening your grip to allow room for encounters with the sacred?


[i] Acts 8.26-40

Sermon – Acts 8.26-40, E5, YB, May 2, 2021

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As we continue our journey of Eastertide, we continue to explore the consequences of the resurrection on our daily living.  This week, we turn to the Acts of the Apostles, and the vivid story between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  What seems like a simple witness story, the apostle Philip teaching and converting the foreign eunuch, is not simple at all.  In fact, we learn from both characters, in very different ways, what posture toward God we should assume, what our responsibility to each other and the community of faith is, and what our response to the resurrection and one another can be.

Our first lesson from these two characters is what posture toward God we can assume.  Philip shows us the posture of responding to God, no matter what the instruction.  Philip is told by an angel of the Lord to go south.  There is no explanation about why he should go or what the itinerary will be, or why he should take the dangerous wilderness road.  Later, the Holy Spirit tells Philip to approach a quickly-moving chariot, containing a person of influence, who may reject this disheveled disciple.  Both times, Philip responds immediately, sprinting to follow the Spirit.  We see in Philip no complaining or whining to God.  Philip hears God’s word of instruction and Philip responds, no questions asked.

We also learn from the eunuch’s posture toward God.  The eunuch is a man of color, looking distinctly different from any Jew from Israel; he is a court official, a man of importance and wealth[i]; his sexual status has been altered, making him barred from the temple.[ii]  So this man, this unnamed eunuch, has both power and a lack of power.  But despite his exclusion from the temple, he is pursuing God.  And, despite his half-fulfilled experience in Jerusalem, he will not be deterred from seeking God.  This outsider by all other standards shows us the posture of constant, undeterred pursuit of God. 

After Philip and the eunuch teach us about the appropriate postures toward God, the pair teaches us about our responsibilities to one another and to the community of faith.  Philip teaches us of our responsibility to serve as guides to one another.[iii]  Imagine for a moment the best teacher you ever had.  Usually our best teachers are not didactic, but are more guides who are in the learning journey with us.  That is exactly what Philip offers when he sits beside the eunuch in the chariot.  He sits beside the foreign, castrated man, and treats him like an equal in the pursuit of following Jesus.  Philip teaches us that our work is to be guides with one another in this journey of growing to know God.

The eunuch teaches us a lot about our responsibilities toward one another too.  As a person of influence and power, the eunuch could have easily brushed off Philip, telling this dirty disciple to get away from his pristine chariot.  But instead, the eunuch is completely unafraid to ask questions.  He willingly admits he needs a guide, he wants to know how to interpret scripture, and he wants to know if he too can be baptized.  His willingness to question reveals a sense of humility and engagement, and a willingness to trust someone in the community to teach him.

After teaching us about the appropriate posture toward God, the responsibilities to one another and the community of faith, Philip and the eunuch finally teach us about what our work or response to God and one another can be.  Philip responds to God by proclaiming the good news.  This step is often the hardest for us.  When the time for proclaiming the gospel comes, we clam up, fear we are not qualified, or are afraid to come off as pushy or sanctimonious.  But Philip shares the good news by telling the eunuch about Jesus, sharing stories of Jesus’ historical ministry, his love for the poor, his death and resurrection, and then finally, how Jesus’ life can be seen in the whole of the salvation narrative.  Sharing the good news is simply a matter of telling a good story. 

Finally, the eunuch shows us the other requirement of faithful living – responding to the good news.  For the eunuch, he hears the good news, and he immediately responds by asking for baptism.  Our liturgy invites us into the same response every week.  We come together as a community; we hear the word of God – those stories that make up the whole of the good news; and we are sent out into the community – to love and serve the Lord.  Church is not just a place to come and feel good.  Church is also a place to be so filled that your enthusiasm for the good news that sends you out into the world with the work God has given you to do. 

This week, I invite you to take Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch with you out into the world.  Perhaps you will work on your willingness to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit; perhaps you will allow yourself to say aloud those questions that you hide in the depths of your heart; perhaps you will share the holy stories of the faith with another; or perhaps you will patiently sit with someone who is struggling with their faith this week.  Like Philip and the eunuch, who boldly go down to those baptismal waters, we too hold one another’s hands as we leave this space, facing the challenges of this world together.  Amen.


[i] Paul W. Walaskay, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 457.

[ii] Walaskay, 457.

[iii] William Brosend, “Unless Someone Guides Me,” Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 15, May 10, 2000, 535.

On Hugs and New Realities…

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Photo credit: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hugging-for-20-seconds-a-day-may-reduce-your-stress-2zck2d7h6

A few weeks ago, we met friends for an outdoor playdate with our kids and each other.  We had not seen them in a long time, and all of us had received one or both of our COVID shots.  Excited to see each other, there were lots of squeals and warm words of greeting.  Then my friend did something that shocked my system.  She came in close and said quietly, “I’m going to hug to you now.”  We were both masked and I have always been a “hug person.”  But when she pulled me in for a hug, I realized I have not hugged anyone outside of my immediate family for thirteen months.  I felt simultaneously anxious and comforted, tense and overwhelmingly relieved.  Feeling the conflicted reactions flooded me with a sadness for all that has been lost in this last year and a hopefulness for what is to come.

A year ago, I remember thinking that as soon as this pandemic were over, we were going to have a huge party at church.  As I think back to that sentiment now, I see how naïve it was.  I had no idea how long this would take.  I had no idea we would need vaccines, and when they finally became available, some people would refuse to take them.  I had no idea that even with adults fully eligible, children would not immediately be eligible for vaccinations.  I had no idea there would be no neat and tidy “end” to this pandemic.

And so, instead of a huge party, we are making tentative, slow steps toward a semblance of normalcy:  gathering for Eucharist, but socially distanced, masked and with only about 50 people; outdoor funerals with similar restrictions; thinking through modified baptisms and weddings that will not be the same, but at least can happen; carefully considering how we might sing together, following exceedingly stringent guidelines and regulations; and seeing faces we have missed all year, even if we cannot embrace. 

Watching all of this unfold in Eastertide somehow seems so appropriate.  We often think of Eastertide as the time we joyfully celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, a seven-weeklong party of sorts.  But that was not anything like what Eastertide was for the disciples.  There was fear, disbelief, confusion, denial, and hesitancy.  Even as Jesus offers his body as a proof text, the disciples are more often cowering in upper rooms than throwing parties in the streets.  Coming out of trauma – either of the death of your Messiah or out of a worldwide pandemic – is not instantaneous, straightforward, or clear.  This Eastertide, I have been especially grateful to journey through Eastertide with the disciples.  Somehow, their muddled, messy behavior has been a comfort and sign of solidarity during these strange times.  I hope you are finding similar companionship this Eastertide.  And if you want some modern disciples to walk with you, you are always welcome at Hickory Neck!