The Grace of Seasons…

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Photo credit: Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly. Reuse with permission.

I have been working on some continuing education classes for about a year and a half.  I just had a three week break and during that time was able to quickly read three fluffy novels.  The funny thing is, during that same time, I kept watching friends talk about the most recent book they were reading and feeling jealous, thinking, “I never have time to read!”  But I realized during this break between semesters that I will eventually have time and I do still love to read; this is just a season of life when my reading is a little limited to the academic variety. 

That realization got me thinking about seasons of life.  I remember a season with newborns when I did a ton of reading because I was hooked up to a breast pump for about 2 hours a day.  I remember a season before COVID when I traveled distances for meetings and was able to catch up on podcasts and phone calls, feeling more knowledgeable and caught up on the day’s news.  I remember multiple seasons of parenthood when I thought I would never survive something, only to look fondly upon that season later. 

Our faith journey can be a lot like that too.  We all have seasons – seasons when we feel a bit too busy for regular church attendance (thank goodness for those recorded livestreams!); seasons when everything is clicking and some piece of scripture we read totally connects with something happening in our life; and seasons when we are too angry, sad, or unsure to even engage God in prayer.  The nice thing is when we can recognize that we are in a season, we can remember the hard stuff will not last forever, and good stuff will change and shift into new and different good stuff. 

I do not know what kind of season you are in right now.  Maybe you are in a season of grief, of feeling a lack of control, or in a rut of what feels like failures.  Maybe you are in a season of new life, of exciting possibilities, of new opportunities.  Maybe you are in a season of stability and are hoping nothing rocks the boat.  I invite you to talk about that season with God.  Whether you need to curse the season, give thanks for the season, or plead for a new season, somehow just naming the experience of the season is enough to lift its power and help you see grace in it.  That is my prayer for you today.

Sermon – John 17.20-26, E7, YC, May 28, 2022

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On this last Sunday of Eastertide, we finally arrive at what is referred to as the High Priestly Prayer in John’s Gospel.  We have heard the stories about the empty tomb, Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, stories about how they are to be a people of love, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  As our final lesson, as is true for every seventh Sunday in Eastertide in the three-year lectionary cycle, we hear the final prayer Jesus says before his trial and crucifixion.  In this year’s section of the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus asks for one thing:  unity.  He prays the disciples and all the people who will become believers may be one.

As I have watched our country over the last week, we as Americans, and most definitely we as followers of Christ, have been showing anything BUT unity.  You would think a mass shooting of children would have brought us together.  And maybe for a moment, we were united in action – deep grief and despair at the loss of young life.  We all seem to be of one mind in one area only – that none of us wants our young school children to die.  But as soon as the tears subside and we open our mouths, any conversation about what our response should be sends us flying to opposite camps, no one staying in the same room to talk about a uniting action to protect life.

I have always been so very proud of the ways that Hickory Neck is a place where people of all political persuasions gather at a common table.  You only need to take a look around the bumper stickers in the parking lot to know we are not of one mind when talking politics.  But we are of one mind about Jesus – and so we sit next to people who likely voted for a different political candidate than we did, we pray next to people who go to opposite rallies than we do, and we kneel at the altar rail, rubbing elbows with someone who we, outside of church, might refer to as “those people.”  I cannot tell you the number of people who have asked me, “How in the world can you do that?  How do you even preach the gospel in such a diverse room?”  Usually my answer is pretty simple – we focus on what unites us – the one thing we all long for:  a place at the Table where all are welcome.

Now, I say that all that time, and usually people leave me alone about that answer.  But I think secretly, they are thinking, “Ok!  That sounds all well and good but just wait – there is no way you can keep up that ruse.  Something is going to give!”  And in many ways, they are right.  We live and witness in a precarious reality.  That’s why I think what Jesus does in this prayer today is so very important.  We often define “unity” as everyone being of the same mind.  But that is not what Jesus means in John’s gospel.  As scholar Karoline Lewis explains, “Their unity is not a made-up concept but is based on the unity between the Father and the Son.  Answering the question of what this unity looks like gives us the definition of what unity is.  For this Gospel, unity with God means making God known.  [Unity] means being the ‘I AM’ in the world.  [Unity] means knowing that, in the midst of all that would seek to undermine that unity, you are at the bosom of the Father.”[i]

So how can we be the “I AM” in the world?  What does being at the bosom of the Father look like when we all want to protect life but cannot seem to find a way forward?  Scholar Meda Stamper qualifies that unity comes through love.  She says, “This love clearly cannot depend on feelings of attraction, desire, affection or even liking.  [Love] is a behavior-shaping attitude toward the world, which is both a gift we cannot manufacture and a choice to live into the promises of that gift that is already given.  We cannot paste [love] onto ourselves.  Like branches of a vine, we live in something larger than ourselves, in which we are nurtured to bear fruit by the Spirit dwelling in us (about which we read in the Pentecost passage for next week).  But because we are more than vines, we also become more loving by choosing to follow Jesus’ model and teachings (13:14-15) about what love is: tending, feeding, bearing witness, and breaking barriers for love—societal barriers and also barriers we set up for ourselves, including some that we may think make us rightly religious but which do not make us loving.”[ii]

The way forward to be a people of unity through love starts here at Hickory Neck.  We certainly have taken the first step by assembling a group of people who are united in relationship with God even though we are not united in political persuasion.  But that is the tremendous blessing:  we have a place to start.  The only way we are ever going to make our way to the unity Jesus wants for us is to gather in our dis-unity and find a way forward through our relationships.  The reason we are facing a carbon copy of Sandy Hook ten years later is because we never sat down with people of a different mind about gun control.  We simply did what we always do – we divided into camps about the right solution, and then locked horns in a stalemate that led to little change.  Our gospel this Sunday invites us into a different way.  Our gospel invites us into true unity through our relationship with God and one another.  Only when we agree to not just rub elbows at the altar rail, but also rub elbows at houses of legislature will we find a way of tangibly witnessing the love of Jesus  – so that we are one as the Father and Son are one.  Amen.


[i] Karoline Lewis, John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2014), 213.

[ii] Meda Stamper, “Commentary on John 17:20-26,” May 29, 2022, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/seventh-sunday-of-easter-3/commentary-on-john-1720-26-5 on May 27, 2022.

How long, O LORD?

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Photo credit: https://www.kcrg.com/2021/11/08/prayer-vigil-planned-fairfield-high-school-spanish-teacher-found-dead/

Early this morning, I put my middle schooler on a bus.  She still lets me take her to the bus stop (as long as I stay in the car).  Everyday I pray as the 20 kids board the bus that they will be kind to one another and to themselves.  They are long-time experts in active shooter drills.  We acknowledge them, but I tend to minimize them because their normalcy breaks my heart. 

Later this morning, I put my second grader on a bus.  We still hold hands on the walk to the stop, she still plays with her classmates once we arrive.  Almost 30 kids board the bus everyday – from tiny kindergarteners to lanky fifth graders.  She is becoming an expert in active shooter drills too.  But because she is the age of some children who were shot to death yesterday in Texas, I couldn’t help calculating that the number of kids who didn’t come home last night in Uvalde was about 2/3 of the children on our bus.  I kept thinking about how sad my second grader is for school to be ending soon because she loves her teacher so much – and how traumatized my daughter would be if her teacher had died shielding my daughter and her classmates.  The more I picture standing outside that school waiting for news of my child’s fate, the closer I feel to crumbling in sobs of grief.

Yesterday, I did what we always do after a tragedy.  I quoted scripture on social media in the wake of the news.  “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen!  ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Habakkuk 1.2)  This morning as the bus pulled away, those words echoed in my ears, “How long, O LORD?” 

The response from God was stark, “I don’t know.  You tell me!”  I cried out to God yesterday and this morning for help to end this awful system of violence. In response, God reminded me I am God’s feet and hands in this world.  If I want the violence to stop, I can and should certainly pray.  But my prayer must in part be a prayer to summon political courage to actually do something.  And not just for me, but for all of us – those who would have us get rid of every gun in this country and those who would fight to the death for their guns – and everyone in between.  This problem is for all of us.  We are all to blame for massive shootings.  How?  Because in doing nothing, in finding no common ground at all, we are simply praying until the next massive shooting happens.  Whether you need to imagine your own children or your own childhood teacher in the faces of those who have died, allow the utter sorrow and pain to pierce your soul today so that tomorrow you do something – anything – to make a change.  And if you really want to make an impact, find someone whose opinion on gun control is different from yours and start talking about what you can do together to make a change.  That’s my prayer for us today.  That we start answering the question, “How long?” with “I change it today with you.”

Sermon – John 13.31-35, Acts 11.1-18, E5, YC, May 15, 2022

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Every three years, the entire Episcopal Church gathers for what is called General Convention.  Eight lay and ordained people from every diocese in the Episcopal Church and all the bishops gather in two houses to pass legislation that will govern the whole of the church.  Issues range widely, from authorizing new liturgies, to promoting social justice issues, to human resources issues for clergy and lay staff, to who will guide and govern the church.  One topic that is coming around again this year is whether the Episcopal Church should remove the baptism requirement for the reception of Holy Eucharist.  Even though practices range pretty widely, technically the canons of the Episcopal Church reserve communion for those who have been baptized.  The issue is highly contested, has been written about widely, and I could spend a whole hour teaching on this topic.  At the heart of the debate are issues of belonging, identity, hospitality, and evangelism.

 As I have watched some of the initial debate heat up in the Episcopal Church, I marvel at how, as much as the Church has changed over the years, much remains the same.  After Jesus’ ascension, and as the disciples and apostles began to spread the Good News far and wide, Peter and the other disciples begin to debate the issue of membership – whether uncircumcised Gentiles could become full members of the body of Christ without being circumcised.  In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the story of how the apostles call Peter in and question his fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles.  Peter launches into a story about a vision he had and what God said to him about “membership” in the body of Christ.  After hearing Peter’s testimony, there is silence.  The weight of such a change hovers in the silence – issues of belonging, identity, hospitality, and evangelism hanging in the air.

So much about this story today is human.  Time and time again, from the beginning of time, we have debated who is in and who is out.  There are benign ways and malicious ways of defining those boundaries, but ultimately those boundaries help us know who we are so we understand who we are not.  We agree to a set of behaviors and activities every time we reaffirm our baptisms.  Clubs and civic groups have criteria for admitting members.  Colleges have criteria for who can be a student, and what can get you expelled.  Even retirement communities have rules about what age you can be before you can move into the community.  But the malicious ones are trickier.  Redlining is a practice that has kept people of certain races and ethnicities from owning homes in certain areas.  Women are unable to serve as ministers in certain faith traditions.  LGBTQ identifying individuals were denied the same spousal rights and parenting rights as straight individuals.  The question becomes how do we define who we are and what we are about without harming or maligning others?

Some have argued Jesus gives us the answer in John’s gospel today.  Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  The instructions sound simple enough.  Our Presiding Bishop preaches nothing but the gospel of love.  But the instruction to love one another so people will know we are disciples does not make the issue of membership simple.  I love my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters but that does not make them Christian any more than their love of me makes me Jewish or Muslim.  I remember in seminary an interfaith dialogue between our Episcopal Dean and a Muslim leader in the community.  When they were establishing the ground rules for the conversation, the Muslim leader said, “We both enter into this conversation with deep respect for one another.  But for either of us to say that we are not trying to recruit the other would be a lie.  Of course I want you to become a Muslim:  I would not be a good Muslim if I did not think being a Muslim was the right path.  The same is true for you.  If you are not trying to convert me, I would wonder about the ferocity of your faith.”

What the texts do today is invite us into a challenging space.  By telling us to love one another, Jesus is not telling us that love denies who we are.  Likewise, by the disciples arguing about who can be Christians and who cannot, and coming to a conclusion that the Holy Spirit is doing something new does not mean that the disciples are diminishing their identity or the identity of the community.  Peter does not water down the gospel.  He simply invites the disciples to reconsider who could ascribe to that gospel.  What these two texts do together is remind us that loving one another means both holding fast to the gospel, while trusting the Holy Spirit enlivens the gospel.  The two texts together remind us that loving one another means we can be both generous and orthodox.  The two texts together remind us that loving one another means we can say yes and no, and find a gracious gray area where love abides.  What Jesus simply asks is that in the silence of the question – the silence that stood between Peter and the disciples before they made a decision – we allow love to do love’s work, so that our discernment of the Spirit can flourish.  Amen.

Sermon – Acts 9.36-43, John 10.22-30, E4, YC, May 8, 2022

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The imagery from scripture today is so powerful that the fourth Sunday in Easter – in all three years of the lectionary cycle – is unofficially called “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The metaphor of God as our shepherd is strong in the church; most of us know the image from the twenty-third psalm we heard (sang) today, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Jesus refers to himself as the shepherd in John’s gospel three times in chapter ten alone, including in today’s text.  The Good Shepherd text from John is often read at funerals.  The Good Shepherd lesson in Godly Play is one of the most popular – and likely what our children are hearing today in Children’s Chapel.  Even the National Cathedral has a Good Shepherd Chapel.  The carving of Jesus holding a sheep in the Chapel is so beloved the hands and arms of Jesus are a different color stone because so many people have laid their hands on the statue as part of their private devotions in the Chapel.[i]

Countless artists have rendered paintings, sculpture, and stained glass of Jesus with a lamb over his shoulder or cradled in his arms.  But the vulnerability of the sheep Jesus holds makes me uncomfortable, not comforted.  I know this confession says WAY more about me and my extreme desire for independence and control.  Lord knows we all have seasons in life when we need to be scooped up by the shepherd – the last two years of pandemic and national turmoil being a classic example.  But I would much rather be a shepherd for others than to be shepherded. 

I think that is why I liked last week’s gospel so much.  Over the charcoal fire, Jesus offered Peter reconciliation asking him three times whether Peter loved Jesus, and then telling Peter to feed his sheep.  As we talked about last week, Jesus told Peter he would have to reimagine discipleship, and become the I AM, the good shepherd, for Jesus in the world when Jesus could no longer play that role.  As much as we independently minded disciples might prefer this commission, feeling a sense of empowerment over vulnerability, this new role will not be easy.  Anyone who has raised a child or watched a child grow over time knows there’s a point in their development where we can no longer scoop them up when they are in the middle of a meltdown.  No longer able to physically overpower them (or throw them over your shoulder like those beautiful paintings show Jesus doing), we must find other ways to get through the meltdown to the other side of wholeness.

That is why I am so grateful for our story from the Acts of the Apostles today.  If we Jesus is inviting us to be the good shepherd in his stead, and if that does not mean literally wrestling sheep (or toddlers…or people who act like toddlers), what does being shepherds mean?  Peter shows us through his encounter with Dorcas, also known as Tabitha – depending on whether you were using the Greek or Aramaic of her name.[ii]  The reading from Acts tells us Tabitha is a disciple of Jesus – in fact, she is the only woman in scripture to be labeled a disciple.[iii]  We are also told she devotes her life to good works and acts of charity.  Her shepherding discipleship is so powerful that when she dies, disciples send for Peter and tell him to come at once.  Widows – the most vulnerable of society – regale Peter with stories of Tabitha’s faithful leadership, showing him the garments Tabitha had made for them – garments they are literally wearing today!  Peter, understanding that Joppa needed Tabitha’s ministry a bit longer, raises her from the dead so that she can continue her work of shepherding a little longer.[iv] 

Now I know some of you may be thinking, “I don’t want to do so good of a job of discipleship that I can’t be left to die in peace when my time comes!”  Fortunately, most of us will not be that good!  But what our scripture lessons today are inviting us to do is to consider where the world’s (or even our immediate community’s) greatest needs and our greatest gifts intersect – and then how can we use that intersection to be Christ’s disciple, or shepherd, for those around us.  How can James City County or even how can Hickory Neck, use our help to show the love of Jesus to a world that would really rather not be scooped up in loving arms?  The work is not likely to be glamourous – manhandling sheep and making clothes for those who need them is not glamourous work.  But shepherding done well is the kind of work that builds up others, that makes them so whole and full of love they are willing to testify to that love – and hopefully become shepherds themselves.  Being a shepherd is not about control or power, but instead about mutual journey and care.  If that statue in the National Cathedral is any evidence, we all long for loving shepherds in our lives.  Our invitation this week is to see how God can use us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with others and help them, and consequently ourselves, find refreshment.  Amen.


[i] As explained by the Rev. Patrick Keyser in the Cathedral’s video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=263&v=ERQAL9j6xvQ&feature=emb_logo, April 29, 2020.

[ii] Robert Wall, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 2 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 429.

[iii] Wall, 429.

[iv] Stephen D. Jones, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 2 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 431.

Sermon – John 21.1-19, E3, YC, May 1, 2022

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One of the things I found fascinating about the pandemic was the coping mechanisms people developed.  For some coping took the form of fitness or wellness – instead of exercising a couple days a week, a daily run or walk was the way many kept their sanity.  For others, picking up new hobbies, like baking bread, did the trick.  We even had shortages of flour and yeast so many people were baking.  For others they turned to less healthy outlets – shopping (online, of course), drinking one more glass of wine, or binge watching one more show, sacrificing sleep and anything else productive.  All those coping mechanisms did just that – helped us cope with a world that was falling apart around us.  And since we could not control the availability of vaccines, the mandates for masks, the requirements to isolate, what we could do was the familiar – go for a run, use our baking skills, escape into the familiar.

Coping is exactly what Peter does in our gospel lesson today.  His world has been upended, his hope destroyed, his shame irrecoverable.  The finality of the cross breaks him, the empty tomb leaves him dumbfounded, and the resurrected Lord standing with his wounds before him has him in shock.  And so, he mumbles to the other disciples, “I am going fishing.”  The other disciples go with him – likely relieved for the sense of familiarity, grateful for something to do that they are actually good at, and likely a bit afraid to stay where they are doing nothing. 

We did a similar thing here at Hickory Neck during the pandemic.  In March of 2020, as the bishop was closing all church campuses for the first time, I was in a hospital waiting room, cancelling a Vestry Meeting, messaging our staff, and trying to listen to post-operation care for my daughter from the nurse.  The world was imploding and like a dazed Peter I said, “Let’s worship anyway.  I mean, I know how to use Facebook Live.”  And so that is what we did:  we worshipped online – not just one day, but every day; we offered pastoral care – not in person, but on the phone, by text, by email, and by card; eventually, we figured out how to help others and began offering to pick up groceries, care for the sick remotely, and deliver prescriptions. 

But a funny thing happened along the way.  As we dove into our coping mechanisms, albeit in creative ways, we started reaching new people.  When Pop-Up Prayers started, people we had never met before – sometimes people who are literal next-door neighbors – started tuning in to our prayers.  People who had always wondered about us were finally able to take a peek without having to cross our threshold; and they liked what they saw so much they started coming in person long before our longtime members ever did.  People who moved here during the pandemic and were longing to find a new community of support were able to come here – either virtually or masked and distanced.  They were willing to sacrifice discomfort just to find a sliver of comfort here.  What initially felt like a coping mechanism suddenly transformed our ministry altogether.

One of the more dramatic parts of today’s gospel is the conversation between Peter and Jesus over a charcoal fire.  The only other time a charcoal fire is mentioned in John’s gospel is the one Peter warms himself by as he denies Jesus three times.  In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Peter denies that he knows Jesus; in John’s gospel, he denies his very discipleship.[i]  “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” was the question they had asked him three times.  And so, Jesus asks Peter three questions as a mirror to those three questions Peter was asked.  Many scholars argue this interaction is Jesus’ way of forgiving Peter, or Jesus’ way of reinstating Peter as a disciple, or even Peter’s rehabilitation after a failure of loyalty.  But as Karoline Lewis argues, “None of these summaries adequately recognizes the significance of Jesus’ request of Peter.  Peter is not simply restored to his role as disciple, but he will have to imagine discipleship in an entirely different way.”[ii]

Our work this week is to figure out how, in the midst of a post-pandemic Eastertide, how are we being invited to redefine our discipleship.  I know as we have returned to the altar rail and begun to share the common cup, many of us have sighed with relief.  Some of us have been begging to drop the annoying gift of Zoom, and some have wondered if we really have to keep thinking about livestreaming everything.  And yet, when Jesus asks Peter to feed his sheep, “Jesus essentially asks Peter to be the good shepherd for the sake of God’s love for the world when Jesus cannot be…the demands of discipleship take on a more acute and critical role.”  In other words, as Lewis says, “Jesus is asking Peter to be the ‘I AM’ in the world.”[iii]

That is our invitation too.  Just this week I experienced two church and diocesan meetings where people would not be able to participate without Zoom.  Just this week, I visited and spoke with suffering parishioners who said the livestreamed services are their lifelines right now.  And just last week, a visitor explained how perusing our website helped in the decision to take the next step through our door.  This pandemic has stretched us, challenged us, and invigorated us.  But the reward of getting through to the other side is not to go back to “normal.”  The reward is we have learned a new way to be disciples of Jesus – and Jesus is asking us to consider how we – corporately and individually – can be the “I AM” in a world that wants to know God.  Jesus promises today to help us along the way – showing us where to cast our nets again, feeding us abundantly, and reminding us again and again how to be love in the world.  Our invitation is to consider how Jesus is already transforming our coping mechanisms into gifts of love for the world.  And then, in our discomfort, to stand up and follow him.  Amen.


[i] Karoline M. Lewis, John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2014), 255.

[ii] Lewis, 256.

[iii] Lewis, 256-257.

Sermon – Luke 24.1-12, EV/ED, YC, April 16, 2022

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For anyone who has grown up where there is significant snow or ice, you learn a new way of walking during wintery weather.  You cannot just boldly and carefreely step out of the house or car.  You learn a technique that admittedly looks silly from afar but can save many a bruised bottom.  You sort of extend your leg and toe and test out the asphalt.  If that feels steady, you put more of your weight on the foot.  If you are not entirely sure, you can lean back a bit to keep search for an ice-free zone.  Like I said, the technique looks a bit ridiculous, but saves you more often than not.

I have been entering into this new era of pandemic in the same tentative way.  Much of our life has begun to resemble what we remember as “normal”:  no masks required in most places, the elimination of social distancing, the occasional handshake or hug – even the church has reintroduced the common communion cup.  But even with all the changes, I still feel a deep-seeded hesitancy in my being.  I thought when all these things changed, I would want to party and celebrate.  Instead, I find myself leaning back and tipping my toe into the new normal.  My body has been on a rollercoaster for far too long to trust this new, exciting time.

A similar thing seems to be happening in our Easter story today.  The women are initially terrified about the news of the empty tomb.  As they remember Jesus’ foretelling of the event, they excitedly embrace the resurrection – only to have the disciples not believe them.  Peter must go see the empty tomb for himself before he will believe the women.  But his response to the empty tomb is to go home – amazed, certainly – but quietly returning home.  They are not singing the alleluias like we do today.  They are not running around town sharing the Good News.  The are gingerly dipping their toes into Christ’s resurrection, still not sure they can trust the joy of Easter.

Sometimes we are like that.  Last night, we spent an hour retelling the salvation narrative of God – story after story of God’s faithfulness and commitment to save the people, no matter how grave their sinfulness or disloyalty.  Last night, we reaffirmed all the good things about our baptism – the very things that make us faithful Christians – even though we struggle everyday to live into our Christian identity.  Today we are saying countless alleluias, proclaiming the tremendous news of the empty tomb, despite the fact we have sometimes felt far away from God during these last two years.  We are in this sacred place together with people who believe, or want to believe, maybe in new garb, maybe with festive meals waiting for us, and yet there is a hesitancy deep inside us – an unwillingness to fully let go of the weight of all that has been in our lives and believe the alleluias our liturgy has us say.

For us, today, the promise is we are in good company.  What God does in the resurrection of Jesus is unfathomable in Jesus’ day – of course the disciples thought the women were telling an idle tale (and their doubt was not just because they kept forgetting Jesus treated women as equal leaders).  When you have watched your whole life crumble, every dream of what you thought life with Jesus would be disintegrate in 24 hours, pivoting to news this tremendously good is not easy.  And besides, there is a lot more to happen – appearances by Jesus, more teaching, and finally the empowerment to share the Good News from the Holy Spirit.  The toe dipping into Easter joy today is totally reasonable and human.

So is your toe dipping today.  If you are not ready to throw off your outer garment and shout at the mountaintops, “Jesus is Risen!  All is well in the world!” that is totally reasonable and human.  The Church is here to keep telling you the story, to send women with a fantastic tale, to remind you hope is still possible, and joy is inevitable.  But the Church is also here to sit with you in quiet rooms, holding your hand, and whispering Good News until you are ready to step firmly onto the ground without hesitation.  Spring has melted the ice, Easter has brought promise, and Jesus lives.  We are here to take the first steps together.  Amen.

Sermon – Luke 19.28-40, PS, YC, April 10, 2022

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When I was in third grade, I had one of those classic rite-of-passage moments.  The day started out simply enough.  At school, my friend, Buffy, who normally sat right behind me, was out sick that day.  On the way to lunch, another friend, Holly, lamented how much she missed having Buffy there.  I agreed, but casually mentioned that I was getting more work done because Buffy was not distracting me by talking so much.  The comment was a rare, blatantly honest statement about how, although I loved my friend Buffy, Buffy did tend to talk a little too much.  That moment of rare, brutal honesty cost me dearly.  That night, Holly called to tell me how upset Buffy was that I said she talked too much.  I was devastated and embarrassed.  I could not believe Holly had betrayed my confidence and told Buffy what I said.  Now I was forced to call Buffy and figure out how to meaningfully apologize:  a tall order for a third grader.

What I remember most about that interaction is the presence of my mother.  Before I got up the courage to call Buffy to apologize, I came to my mother weeping.  I was weeping out of remorse, I was weeping out of embarrassment, and I was weeping because I felt like I had no legitimate excuse for my words.  How could I keep Buffy as a friend with her knowing how I felt about her talking habits?  My mother stood by my side, encouraging me to face my fears, assuring me everything would eventually be okay. 

As I look back at that day now as a parent, I can only imagine how my mother must have felt.  She must have felt awful for me, knowing how painful removing one’s foot from one’s mouth can be.  She must have known this kind of grievance could take a long time to forgive, and I would have to maintain a tone of repentance, without the assurance of forgiveness.  She must have anticipated how difficult my apology would be and how vulnerable offering that apology would make me.  But my mother must have also known all of those experiences are a part of growing up and being in relationship with others.  She could not navigate my mess for me.  She could not take away my discomfort.  She knew I just needed to go through the experience, and would be transformed in the process.  I remember my mother being infinitely supportive; but years later, I imagine my mother must have felt helpless as I navigated the realities of growing up. 

In some ways, I think Holy Week leaves us with the same sense of helplessness.  We would love nothing more than to finish our worship today with Jesus’ story on that blessed Palm Sunday.  Everything is there.  The prophecies are being fulfilled:  Zechariah already foretold of how the Messiah would come triumphantly, but humbly, riding on a donkey.[i]  Everyone is already singing those words from the Psalms, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  There is no mistaking the pieces of the puzzle are all present – the people finally understand Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and they lay down their blankets to celebrate their king.  We should be able to say, “The End,” and all go home, ready to celebrate again next week. 

Unfortunately, we do not get off so easily.  Like a mother who wants to shield her children, we want to shield Jesus and ourselves from the pain that will come this Holy Week.  We want to skip the Passion Narrative – or at least save the narrative for Good Friday – delaying the inevitable.  But our liturgy today does not let us avoid the uncomfortable remainder of the story.  I have long been told the reason we read the Palm Liturgy along with the Passion Narrative on Palm Sunday is because so few church-goers actually attend Holy Week services.  But I think there is more to today’s liturgy than cramming everything into one Sunday.  I think we hear the Passion Narrative with the Palm Liturgy because the Palm Liturgy can only be understood in light of the Passion.  If we try to claim victory today with our palms, we miss the work of the Messiah.  We forget the rest of prophecy if we stop with the palms.  The palms simply mark our acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.  The Passion gives us the consequences of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

Using the parenting lens this year has helped me with my normal discomfort on Palm Sunday.  Normally, Palm Sunday makes me feel like a failure.  Here I am in one moment singing, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” joining the festival procession with my palms, and the next moment shouting “Crucify him!”  This liturgy always makes me feel like a failure.  But the parenting lens changes things for me.  If I think of this day not as a failure on my part, but as the experience Jesus must live through in order to free us from our sins, somehow, I feel less impotent.  Somehow, I am better able to sit with Jesus today, knowing I cannot change his journey, but also knowing his painful journey will lead to greater things.  Without the recognition of Jesus’ identity in the Palms Liturgy, and the shameful death of Jesus in the Passion Narrative, we cannot get through to the other side – to the Easter resurrection that awaits us. 

So today, we take on the role of supportive parent.  We sit in the kitchen, pretending to read a magazine, while intently listening to the painful journey of Jesus.  If we are good parents, we let the drama unfold as the drama needs to unfold.  But we also keep watch, waiting to be called into the fray to offer our love and support.  We cannot control Jesus’ journey, and in the end, that is for the best – because the end of Jesus’ story is much better without our meddling anyway.  Amen.


[i] George W. Stroup, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 152.

Sermon – Luke 13.1-9, L3, YC, March 20, 2022

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As I have been watching the news about Ukraine, I find that I am in equal measures blown away by the fortitude and commitment of Ukrainians – who by all accounts had no chance in beating powerful Russia, and devastated by the suffering of Ukrainians – starving and trapped inside surrounded cities, attempting to protect children by writing the word “children” outside a safe house, only to have that safe space bombed, and even having maternity wards being fair game for destruction.  As my heart ached the question, “Why?” this week, I was so grateful when I read today’s gospel and see those gathering around Jesus asking Jesus the same question.

In Luke’s gospel today, the people come with two concerns to Jesus.  They want to know why Galilean Jews have suffered at the hand of Pilate, and why many were killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed.  I feel a solidarity in their painful questions, and I have a hopeful longing when Jesus opens his mouth.  But what comes next feels like Jesus has not heard us at all.  In answer to their question of why there has been suffering, Jesus tells this story:  Once upon a time, there was a fig tree that was not bearing fruit and had not borne fruit for three years.  Fed up, the vineyard owner decided to cut down the unproductive tree.  But before the vineyard owner could touch the tree, the gardener made one last plea.  The gardener asked for one more year.  In that year, the gardener would dig around the tree, spreading manure at the roots of the tree.  If after a year of such care the tree still did not produce fruit, then the owner could chop down the tree. 

Now maybe you hear Jesus’ parable today, and you can immediately see the correlation between the question why there is suffering in the world and the parable of the unproductive fig tree.  I was not so lucky this week.  In fact, I found myself staring blankly at this text for days.  Certainly, I understand the question the people ask, since I have been asking that same question for weeks.  And I think I somewhat understand the parable – I mean, what better parable for Lent than one about repentance.  But what I did not understand was why Jesus told this parable to answer our question of why there is suffering in the world.

Fortunately, I stumbled on the work of a biblical scholar.  She describes the idea by poet and healer Pádraig Ó Tuama of the “Buddhist concept of ‘mu,’ or un-asking.  If someone asks a question that’s too small, flat, or confining, Ó Tuama writes, you can answer with this word mu, which means, ‘Un-ask the question, because there’s a better question to be asked.’  A wiser question, a deeper question, a truer question.  A question that expands possibility, and resists fear.”[i]  I think what the poet and the scholar are pointing to is a little like that movie The Karate Kid from the 1980s.  In the movie, the main character wants an old man to teach him karate so he can stand up to the high school bully.  And so, what are the first things the old teacher has him do?  Paint a fence, wax a car, and sand a wooden walkway.  This desperate teen asks for help, and at first glance, the wise teacher is responding in a totally disconnected way.

Of course, in the movie we learn that the teacher’s method is anything but disconnected.  Painting, waxing, and sanding all incorporate the skills needed to master karate.  Jesus is a similar sensei in his telling of this cryptic parable.  In order to help us shift our work of repentance on this third week of Lent, when we ask why, Jesus says “mu.”  As Debie Thomas argues, Jesus “…says “mu” because “why” is just plain not a life-giving question.  Why hasn’t the fig tree produced fruit yet?  Um, here’s the manure, and here’s a spade — get to work.  Why do terrible, painful, completely unfair things happen in this world?  Um, go weep with someone who’s weeping.  Go fight for the justice you long to see.  Go confront evil where it needs confronting.  Go learn the art of patient, hope-filled tending.  Go cultivate beautiful things.  Go look your own sin in the eye and repent of it while you can.  In short: imagine a deeper story.  Ask a better question.  Live a better answer.”[ii] 

Jesus is not unfeeling about our angst about suffering in the world.  I suspect Jesus is grateful for our empathetic hearts.  But this cryptic parable this week is meant to shift us a quarter turn so that we move out of empathetic paralysis and into repentant productivity.  We learn from the parable we will not do this work alone.  We unproductive, rooted trees cannot exactly fertilize and aerate our own soil.  God, the gardener, who graciously asks for more time, will do that work as we focus on moving from being empathetic fig trees with no sustaining fruit, to humble, repentant fig trees who work on improving our own sinful behavior before becoming overwhelmed with the rest of the sinful world.  God will likely have to shovel a lot of manure to help transform our unproductive soil.  But as we weep with others, grab our own spades, confront evil in our own life, and fight for justice through hope-filled tending, we begin the work of asking better questions and living better answers.  Amen.


[i] Debie Thomas, “What Are You Asking?” March 13, 2022, as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2944 on March 19, 2022.

[ii] Thomas.

Sermon – Luke 13.31-35, Psalm 27, L2, YC, March 13, 2022

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When you listen to enough sermons in the Episcopal Church, you will eventually realize the preacher is using a set of lessons from what we call “the lectionary.” Unlike in other denominations, the Episcopal preacher doesn’t really get to go “off script” or preach a particular passage to promote an agenda.  And if you have visited other Episcopal Churches, you quickly learn that we all use the lectionary – whether you watch the broadcast of the National Cathedral or the broadcast of Hickory Neck, you will hear a sermon on the same scripture lessons.  But what you might not know is that within the lectionary there are two “tracks” – one where you read through the Old Testament in a semi-continuous way, and one where you jump around in the Old Testament to allow all the readings to have a similar theme as the Gospel.  Hickory Neck is currently following the thematic readings track.

What is interesting about that thematic track is you would think the Old Testament readings and Gospel would be similar.  But this week, the reality is quite the opposite.  In our Psalm today, we have the ideal follower of God.  The psalmist proclaims things like, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” and the Lord will “hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock,” and “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path” and finally, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  The psalmist is a faithful follower of God, totally leaning into God for strength and protection, trusting in the Lord’s goodness, wanting to keep learning and being led.  The words of this psalm indicate a confidence in God, a trust in God’s protection, and reliance on the Lord.

And yet, everything in the Gospel text depicts followers of Jesus that are anything but confident, trusting, and reliant.  As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, we hear a lament so profound as to cause shame and a sense of failure.  Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  As one scholar describes Jesus, “He longs and grieves for his lost and wandering children.  For the little ones who will not come home.  For the city that will not welcome its savior.  For the endangered multitudes who refuse to recognize the peril that awaits them.  His is the lamentation of long, thwarted, and helpless yearning — ‘How often have I desired to gather you.’”[i]

Jesus’ lamentation describes the very opposite of the followers in Psalm 27.  Whereas the psalmist has confidence, trust, and reliance, the followers of God in Jesus’ day are lost, mistrusting, and defiant.  In this thematic year of the lectionary, how do we hold these contradictory images in tension with one another?  The reality is the two are not all that different.  In fact, I wonder if our work this Lent is in confessing the ways in which we are those lost, mistrusting, defiant chicks, fighting against the care of our mothering God so that we can be the followers of Christ who can profess psalms with confidence, trust, and reliance. 

This week, I invite you to consider the ways in which you are running away from your protective mother hen Jesus.  How are you fighting against Jesus’ care, Jesus’ love, and Jesus’ grace?  Who in your life is offering you care, love, and grace that you are resisting:  maybe because you do not like to be vulnerable, or you do not like to admit your need, or you just do not like other people in your business?  That care, love, and grace is coming from all directions, and our invitation is to simply say yes – to let ourselves be gathered in by this community and those who love you.  And if that hurdle is just too high this week, perhaps your invitation is to read Psalm 27 every morning this week – and nights too if you need – maybe even singing the Taizé song, “The Lord is my light,” until the repetition convinces you – so that the words of Psalm 27 no longer feel aspirational and become truth.  That way, the next time someone needs you to gather them in, you will have a psalm you can share with the authenticity, grace, and love that has been shown to you this week.  Amen.


[i] Debie Thomas, “I Have Longed,” March 6, 2022, as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2944 on March 12, 2022.