Sermon – Jeremiah 31.31-34, Psalm 51.1-13, L5, YB, March 18, 2018


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As we heard our psalm today, you may have thought the psalm sounded familiar.  And you would be right.  Just under five weeks ago, we said this exact same psalm on Ash Wednesday.  After we were invited into a holy Lent – one of fasting, self-examination, and repentance, and ashes were spread across our foreheads, we said this psalm.  “Have mercy on me, O God…For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…[I have] done evil in your sight…” we confessed.  We begged God to create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.  I wonder how saying these words again, just several weeks later, feels today.  Perhaps after weeks of following your Lenten discipline, you feel closer to that clean heart and renewed spirit.  Maybe you are making your way out of Lent and the repetition of Psalm 51 feels unnecessary because you have completed your repentance work.  But maybe Psalm 51 feels unattainable, because your sinfulness feels like something you cannot shake.

If you are in the latter category, and if, in fact, you are beginning to wonder if you will ever master this sinfulness thing, take heart.  I actually say verse eleven of this psalm every time I celebrate the Eucharist.  Week in and week out, whether we are in Lent, Eastertide, or Ordinary time, even after I have prayed and confessed with the community, before I approach the altar to celebrate holy communion, I say these same words, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Whether in a season of penitence or not, whether I have already celebrated Eucharist two times earlier in the morning, I still pray Psalm 51.11, longing for the God of mercy and hesed, or loving-kindness, to create in me a clean heart.

That is why I think the beginning of our liturgy was so hard today.  As part of the penitential order, we prayed the decalogue, or the ten commandments.  With each commandment, we responded, “Amen. Lord have mercy.”  Reading the decalogue in scripture, as we did just a few weeks ago in Lent is a bit different – somehow having them in paragraph form makes them more palatable – with only certain commandments jumping out at us as areas of improvement.  But praying them is more difficult.  With each commandment receiving a closing petition, the idea is hammered home – we struggle with every last one of these commandments.  Now I can imagine what you are thinking – but I have never murdered.  While that may be true, the poor and the oppressed die every day because no one cares enough to change policy or ensure each person gets help.  Or maybe you are muttering that you have never put any gods before our God.  But we commit idolatry every day when we believe money or even we ourselves are in control instead of our God.  Each petition we pray in the decalogue reminds of how deep and diverse our sinfulness is.

But here’s the funny thing about those commandments – the Israelites could not follow them either.  The Israelites had been rescued from slavery and protected relentlessly.  Once the Israelites were finally in safety and heading to the Promised Land, God created a new covenant with the people.  God sent Moses up the mountaintop and had Moses write the law on tablets – the law that would guide the people into faithful, covenantal living.  But before Moses could even get down the mountain and deliver the covenant to the people, they had already created the golden calf – an idol in the place of God.  They people would struggle so much with the ten commandments that a whole generation of God’s covenantal people would not be allowed into the Promised Land – not even Moses himself.  Although God intended for the decalogue to shape the lives of the people and to create the boundaries for the covenant, and although none of the petitions are all that unreasonable, yet still the people would break their covenant with God time and again.

We are just like our ancestors.  I was just retelling a parishioner this week about my Lenten discipline in college.  You see, in college I picked up a bit of a potty mouth.  It got so bad that my freshman year, I decided to charge myself a quarter for every curse word I uttered, with the plan of giving the proceeds to church on Easter.  By the end of week two in Lent, I had to reduce the fee to a nickel because I could not afford the fee!  And the funny thing was that every year in college was the same.  “This year!  This year I will master my filthy mouth.”  And every year I would have to reduce the fees.  We are creatures of habit, masters of repeated sinfulness, just like our ancestors.

That is why reading Jeremiah is so powerful today.  Jeremiah writes in a time of desperation for the people of God. The Babylonians have razed the temple and carried King Zedekiah off in chains.  Effectively, the Babylonians have “destroyed the twin symbols of God’s covenantal fidelity.”[i]  Sometimes we talk about the exile so much that I think we forget the heart-wrenching experience of exile.  Being taken from homes and forced to live in a foreign land is certainly awful enough.  But the things that were taken – the land of promise, the temple for God’s dwelling, the king offered for comfort to God’s people – are all taken, leaving not just lives in ruin, but faith in question.  But today, in the midst of the physical, emotional, and spiritual devastation, Jeremiah’s reading says God will make a new covenant.  God knows the people cannot stop breaking the old covenant, and so God promises to “forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”  Instead of making the people responsible for the maintenance of the covenant, God goes a step further and writes the law in their hearts, embodies God’s way within the people.

The words of Jeremiah in the section called “the Book of Comfort,”[ii] and this new covenant by God, show a God whose abundance knows no limits.  God offers this new covenant to a people who surely do not deserve another covenant.  God has offered prophets and sages, has called the people to repentance, has threatened and cajoled, and yet still the people could not keep the basic tenants of the covenant established in those ten commandments.  But instead of abandoning the people to exile, God offers reconciliation and restoration yet again.  And because God knows we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, God basically says, “Here.  Let me help you.  Let me write these laws in your hearts so that you do not have to achieve your way into favor with me, but you will simply live faithfully, living the covenant with your bodies and minds.”  And when even that does not seem to work, God sends God’s only son.  God never gives up on us or our relationship with God.  Even all these years after Christ’s resurrection, God is still finding new ways to make our covenant work.

I have had parishioners attend two services in one day – maybe they were a speaker at two services or maybe they sang in two different choirs.  Invariably, one of these multi-service attendees will ask me, “Should I take communion again?  I shouldn’t, right?”  I always chuckle because I have to remind them that I take communion three times every Sunday – sometimes four or five if I take communion to someone homebound on a Sunday.  I confess all those times, I pray all those times, I say those words of Psalm 51 all those times, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Lent is the same way – sometimes we are confessing multiple times in one day.  Sometimes we need to say the decalogue, and we need to confess our sins, and we need to hear Psalm 51.  And before we go to bed, we may need to confess to God again.  We do all those things with confidence because our God is a god of mercy, hesed, and restoration, always looking for ways to renew God’s covenant with us.  God’s persistence with us is what inspires our work this Lent.  So yes, create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us – every week, every day, every hour.  Amen.

[i] Richard Floyd, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 122.

[ii] Jon L. Berquist, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 123.


On Being Called by Name…


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Photo credit:

In my line of work, my female colleagues are widely divided on what we should be called.  You see, for years in the Episcopal Church, the male priests were “Father so-and-so.”  In formal writing, it was “the Rev. so-and-so.”  But in the Episcopal Church, priests are not called “Rev. so-and-so” because the word reverend is an adjective, not a noun, and most Episcopalians cannot stand by grammatical errors.  Episcopalians also do not often use “Pastor so-and-so,” as it is considered too protestant.  So, that leaves Episcopalians in a bit of mess with titles for female priests.  Many have taken to calling women “Mother so-and-so,” to create a sense of parity between male and female priests.  But some women despise that address.  And so, female priests tend to be all over the map about what they prefer – from no title at all (simply using their name given at baptism) to Mother, to Reverend (conceding to the grammatical error for the sake of convenience), to Pastor.

So, when I was asked at my local yoga studio what I was called professionally, I had to chuckle.  I told them when I use a title, I prefer Mother Jennifer.  But that I answer to almost anything – Mother Jennifer, Rev. Jen, Pastor Jennifer, or just Jennifer.  But this past week, I added some new favorites.  A toddler in our parish was watching on online broadcast from church.  When her dad asked, “Do you know who that is?” she replied, “That’s Mama Church.”  Just last week, as our ecumenical brothers and sisters helped us host a winter shelter for the homeless in our community, a Roman Catholic volunteer was talking to my husband.  When she realized who he was she said, “Oh, your wife is that little spitfire thing!”

The funny thing is that despite our baptized names, I think we are all living into identities throughout life.  Sometimes we will only be known as our child’s parent – “Simone’s Mom.”  Sometimes we are known by our profession title – Doctor Smith, Nurse Johnson, Professor Green, Colonel Davis.  Sometimes we take on a funny nickname from a particular stage of life – I’ll let your memories recall a few of your own.  What we are called creates meaning, purpose, and identity throughout life.  And sometimes we have nicknames that we do not even know about – whether it’s “spitfire” or something else.

One of the things I love about church is that we work hard to know each other’s names:  sometimes the ones we are baptized with, but sometimes the funny, the serious, and the beloved names.  Those names can make us feel known, loved, and affirmed.  But mostly those names in church remind us that we are known by name by someone else:  our God.  I like to think God is able to hold all our names in tension:  the funny, yet embarrassing ones; the honorific ones; the ones that remind us of our call; the ones that reveal our relatedness.  God knows us better than any one name can contain, and yet I imagine loves every little nuance of our names.  I wonder what names in your life could stand to be let go, and which names invite you to be someone powerful and life-changing.

On Prayer and Connection…


, , , , , , , ,

When I was in college, I was involved in the Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist Campus Ministry.  We gathered every Sunday night for fellowship, a program, and worship.  One of the student leadership roles was the “student pastor” – basically a student who volunteered to be a pastoral presence in the community.  One of the student pastors during my time in Wesley would always carry a small notebook to our Sunday gatherings.  When we got to the time of open prayer requests during worship, he would write notes in his notebook.  Initially, the practice struck me as odd.  What was he writing?  What did he do with those notes?  Assuming he used the notes for his personal prayers that week, did he use them as a checklist?  I never got up the courage to ask any of my questions, so I was left with a bit of skepticism and suspicion.  But also, a little bit of hope – even if he did not use the notes for his prayer life, at least whatever requests were mentioned seemed worthy of his writing them down.

This Lent, I realized that I have basically and unintentionally started doing something similar.  We are trying a new ministry this year at Hickory Neck where each week, 3-6 parishioners or parish families received a postcard from the clergy.  The postcard basically says “I am praying for you this week, and if you want to talk or have coffee, I would love to meet with you.”  Knowing how caught up in the busyness of life I can get, I decided to put the names of those for whom I am praying as an appointment on my calendar.  Everyday, I get a little ping on my phone, reminding me to pray for a specific set of people.  Meanwhile, our church is also hosting a Facebook Live broadcast of compline, or evening prayers, once a week.  In the morning, we put a post on our page, asking for prayer requests, and during the broadcast, people can also submit requests through the website.  This week, I have been using those petitions as another addition to my metaphorical prayer journal.

What I am learning from the two practices, and also incorporating into my prayer life in general, is a more intentional practice of prayer.  When a parishioner tells me about a concern during coffee hour, or when someone drops by my office with a concern, instead of just praying for those concerns as they come in, I incorporate them into my prayers throughout that week.  These practices are having the consequence of making me feel much more connected with my faith community, with the community beyond our church, and with God.  What are some of the practices you have picked up lately – intentional or not – that have brought you closer to God, the church, and the community?  Is there some small change you can make in your daily routine that might help you strengthen those connections?  I look forward to hearing your reflections.


Sermon – John 2.13-22, Exodus 20.1-17, L3, YB, March 4, 2018


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s gospel lesson is one of those lessons in Scripture that is so vivid we find looking away difficult.  All four of the gospels have this story, and three of the gospels use this story to convey Jesus’ righteous anger about how the practice around temple worship and obligatory sacrifice has led to monetary abuses.  Matthew and Luke even have Jesus calling the whole enterprise a den of robbers.  The story evokes images of Jesus flipping tables, or in today’s version, swinging around a whip like Indiana Jones.  We often recall this text when looking for evidence of Jesus’ righteous anger at injustice.  We are so familiar with this text we can almost hear the sermon about a call to justice in our heads.

But this week, the gospel has been speaking a different sermon to me.  You see, John’s version of this story is a bit different from the other three gospels.  First, John places this story in a very different place in his narrative.[i]  Unlike the other gospels who place this story toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John places this incident in the second chapter, right after the miracle in Cana.  And in John’s version, Jesus does not lay into the moneychangers in quite the same way.  Instead of financial injustice, Jesus seems more concerned that those gathered have missed something critical – in the obligatory administering of sacrifices at the physical temple, they have missed the fact that God is no longer tied to the location of the temple – and instead is found in the temple of Jesus’ body.  For John, the incarnation, the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, is central to the entirety of the good news and in this story specifically.

I realized this week that when I think about the Incarnation, I immediately think of the baby Jesus.  Somehow, like a child you do not see for a few years, my image of Jesus incarnate gets stuck in the manger.  And because the adult Jesus sometimes feels so superhuman, I forget about the earthy, gritty flesh of his body – the body that touches to heal, stoops down to wash feet, eats and drinks with others, cries wet tears, and breathes a last breath of the cross.  In coming to know the Messiah who heals, teaches, brings about justice, and is transfigured before the disciples, I forget the enfleshed Jesus – the human body in which God dwells – the only temple we need to draw nearer to our God.

We are in a season of flesh.  Lent is that season when we experience Jesus in deeply enfleshed ways.  What our disciplines or our practices do for us in Lent is help us remember that we are a people of flesh and our God was willing to take on that flesh to transform our lives.  We do not often talk about the profound reality of an enfleshed God, but I stumbled on a hymn this week that opened up the reality.  Brian Wren’s hymn Good is the Flesh says, “Good is the flesh that the Word has become, good is the birthing, the milk in the breast, good is the feeding, caressing and rest, good is the body for knowing the world, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.”  The hymn goes on to say, “Good is the body, from cradle to grave, growing and aging, arousing, impaired, happy in clothing, or lovingly bared, good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, Good is the flesh that the Word has become.”[ii]  Now I do not know about your own spiritual journey, but I do not think I have ever heard Jesus’ flesh being described so vividly.  The closest I have come has been in imagining the vulnerability of that enfleshed body in the cradle.  But capturing what being enfleshed means for all of life – from cradle to grave – somehow opened up John’s words about the temple of Jesus’ body.  God takes something we often associate with sinfulness – and transforms that flesh into something good.  “Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,” are powerful words that shift how we experience the fullness of Christ’s humanity.

Once we reconnect with the goodness of God’s flesh – the incarnation of Christ – then we begin to see all of Jesus’ ministry not stuck in a manger but immersed in the flesh of life.  Karoline Lewis reminds us Jesus’ fleshy life was important, “Because a woman at a well, whose body was rejected for the barren body it was, experiences the truth of neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem; because a man ill for 38 years, his entire life to be exact, whose body has only known life on the ground, is now able to imagine his ascended life; because a man born blind, is then able to see, and to see himself as a sheep of Jesus’ own fold; because Lazarus, whose body was dead and starting to decay, found himself reclining on Jesus, eating and drinking, and with his sisters, sharing a meal once again.”[iii]  Not only is Jesus’ incarnation good, making flesh good, Jesus’ ministry is about blessing, healing, and restoring physical bodies.

Once we connect with the goodness of God’s flesh, and the power of Jesus’ fleshy ministry, we are forced to see something we do not always feel comfortable with – the goodness of our own flesh.  Now I do not know about you, but my experience in church has not been one in which the church tells me how good my body is.  In fact, today’s inclusion of the ten commandments usually reminds me of the opposite – of the myriad ways my body is sinful:  from the words that come out of my mouth, to the ways in which I hurt others and take things with my body, to the ways in which I covet things and other bodies.  And those sins do not even touch the ways in which I learn the message that my body is imperfect – how my body is not the right height or shape or gender, how my body is not fit or strong enough, how my skin color, hair, or nails are not quite the ideal.  But if God takes on flesh and says, “Good is the flesh,” and if that enfleshed God engages in a ministry of blessing flesh, then surely part of what we remember today is how good and blessed our own flesh is – how God made our flesh for good.

Now, here comes the tricky part.  Once we realize “Good is the flesh,” that ministered to the flesh, that our flesh is beautiful and revered, then we are forced to make yet another leap – that the flesh of others is also beautiful.  Those bodies we would like to subjugate, regulate, and decimate are no longer able to be separated from the goodness of God’s flesh or our own flesh.  Barbara Brown Taylor argues in An Altar in the World, “‘One of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours.’  In other words, once I value my own body as God’s temple, as a site of God’s pleasure, delight, and grace, how can I stand by while other bodies suffer exploitation, poverty, discrimination, or abuse?”[iv]

This week, we enter that kind of work.  As we welcome guests through the Winter Shelter, we affirm the goodness of all flesh – of God’s flesh, of our flesh, and especially the flesh of those who have no shelter, who work hard all day but cannot secure housing, who live lives of uncertainty, of insecurity, of scarcity.  Once we recall the incarnation of Christ, the dignity of our own incarnation, our work immediately becomes to honor the incarnation of others.  We certainly accomplish the work of honoring flesh this week through the Winter Shelter.  But as we keep walking our Lenten journey, we will struggle with our bodies.  Even our collect today says, “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”  But our invitation this Lent is to also struggle with claiming our body as good – and using the goodness of the flesh to bless other flesh.  Our repentance this week is not just of the sinfulness of the flesh, but we repent this week of the ways in which we do not honor how “Good is the flesh that the Word has become.”  Amen.


[i] Joseph D. Small, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 92.

[ii] I found this hymn in the commentary by Debie Thomas, “The Temple of His Body” February 28, 2018, as found on March 1, 2018.

[iii] Karoline Lewis, “Body Zeal,” February 26, 2018, as found on March 1, 2018.

[iv] Thomas.

On Finding the Holy…


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


“Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross,” by G. Roland Biermann.  Photo taken by Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street.

It was a pretty simple question.  “How is your Lent going?”  What was not simple was my answer.  As a priest, I feel like my answer should have been, “It’s going really well,” followed by a list of things I am appreciating about the season.  But this year, I have been having a hard time finding my Lenten rhythm.  Part of the reason is that I scheduled a brief vacation right at the beginning of Lent, experiencing a powerful Ash Wednesday, but missing the first Sunday in Lent, the beginning of our digital Compline offering, and our first Wednesday night of worship.  Being away also meant that I got off-schedule with our family devotional time at breakfast.  Meanwhile, the book I planned to read with a book group for Lent got lost in the mail and had to be reordered while my fellow readers got ahead of me.  I had expected to re-center at our Lenten Quiet Day, but that had to be cancelled.  And so there I was on Sunday, left with this question about Lent, feeling like my Lent was not really off to a good start.

Part of the challenge for me is that I am a creature of habit.  I like routine and order.  I am able to focus more clearly when life is ordered in a regular pattern.  I think that is why I like Lent so much.  Lent encourages us to find a regular pattern – whether we have given up something daily, we are reading something devotionally each day, or we are praying at a particular time.  Regular services are added, or maybe we just commit to not missing any of the Sundays in Lent.  Regardless of our practice, the whole purpose of Lent is to create a rhythm for six weeks that deepens our relationship with Christ, and draws us out of sinfulness and into repentance and renewal of life.

But the more I thought about the question about how my Lent was going, I realized that perhaps the disorder of my Lent is forcing me to find the holy outside of the construct of patterns.  So, yes, the book I wanted to read did not arrive on time; but its delay meant that I more fully enjoyed my vacation and was not distracted during my “away” time.  Yes, I missed several routine things in the first week of Lent, but I also got to experience some incredible things while away – seeing the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for the first time, stumbling into a city-wide Stations of the Cross designed by artists in New York City, finding beautiful religious artwork in churches and art museums, and even unexpectedly enjoying a midday Eucharist with my husband – something that never happens in my normal routine.

This year, I am beginning to think my new Lenten discipline might be finding the holy in the disordered chaos of life.  It means I have to pay attention to the little moments of life where God is trying to break in:  the blessing of a glass of wine with friends, the pure joy of a three-year old laughing, the sacred experience of holding a newborn baby, the power of a hug as someone’s eyes well up with emotions of fear or grief, the sacred invitation into pain as someone texts, calls, or emails what is on their mind.  It is possible that I will regain some semblance of Lenten order as Lent goes on.  But if not, I am feeling especially grateful for the ways in which God is present every day, even when I do not feel like I am making room for God.  So, I suppose my new answer is that my Lent is going really well.  How is your Lent going?

Sermon – Mark 8.31.38, L2, YB, February 25, 2018


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last week, as Lent Madness started up, the first matchup was between Peter and Paul.  Our family had a lively debate about which saint we preferred, including how cool it was for Paul to change his mind so radically.  But I advocated for Peter because I love how human he is – always being both the Rock on which Christ will build his Church, and the “Satan” who gets so tripped up in his own desires that he forgets what Jesus is trying to do.  Sometimes Peter’s praise and condemnation happen within verses of each other.  Today is just such a day.  In the few verses before the gospel reading from Mark we heard today, Peter boldly professes that Jesus is the Messiah when none of the other disciples are able to do so.  But then today, as soon as Jesus starts talking about suffering, rejection, and death, Peter slips again.  Like a celebrity’s manager, Peter quietly pulls Jesus aside to remind him that talking about suffering, rejection, and death is not going to help his ratings with the crowds.

I imagine many of us here have had similar conversations with God.  Like Peter, we have taken certain risks in our lives to follow Christ.  We have been mocked by non-believers, we have had to defend our God when the news feed seems to suggest God is absent, we have given up countless invitations for brunch or simply sleeping in because we agreed to read scripture in church or teach Sunday School.  We have taken jobs out a sense of call or we have loved an enemy when we did not want to love her.  We have made sacrifices for our faith.  And like any relationship where we have committed time and energy, we become invested in the outcomes.  So, when someone does not recover from an illness, or when a child is lost too soon, we get angry with God.  When another shooting happens, or when we hear reports of genocide, we voice our frustration with God.  Even when we follow politics, we become convinced that God would want a particular outcome or a particular party to win.

But here’s the trouble.  You see, when we follow Jesus, when we give up things and commit to the relationship, we become invested.  The process is natural – any relationship in which we commit our time is one in which we become invested in the results.  But that is the scary thing about following Jesus.  Not only does Jesus want us to follow him, Jesus also wants us to let go of control in the relationship.  That’s where Peter stumbles today.  You see, he is a faithful follower of Jesus.  But somewhere along the way, his faithfulness is not offered out of a total trust in whatever Jesus has to offer, but is rooted in a conviction that Jesus will behave in a particular way:  the conquering Messiah – the one who will bring redemption.  His rebuking Jesus is because what Jesus says today does not jive with his expectations of the Messiah.  And because he has a relationship with Jesus, because he is invested in his relationship with Jesus, he tries to exert his will over Jesus – to convince him to look like the Messiah he wants.

I once served at a parish that had a longtime missional relationship with a village in the Dominican Republic.  When I got involved with the program, the relationship had been floundering.  The church had worked with the village to build a community center.  Once that was done, not wanting the relationship to end, the church tried some other efforts, including microfinance and teaching different industries.  Most of those efforts failed, and the teams that would travel to the village began to feel like they were wasting their time or were doing busy work.  The more the church tried to control the relationship, the less satisfying the relationship became.

I remember on one of our last nights in the DR talking to the local priest.  I shared with him our concern – that we feared the relationship had accomplished all it could and everything we were trying to do in the village was forcing the relationship to be something the relationship could not be.  The priest understood our predicament, and gave us his blessing to do whatever we needed to do.  I went home convinced the church would gracefully end the relationship.  Instead, years later, I found out the relationship was still going strong – but not because the church had done something.  Instead, when the church was finally willing to let go, to stop trying to control the relationship, and force their own outcome, the relationship took off.  The village came to the church with a new proposal.  Instead of one more coat of paint, or one more attempted microbusiness, the village wanted to build more buildings.  But this time, the buildings would not just service the village – they would serve as a high school for the region.  Last I heard, the government finally noticed what the village was doing, and began to support the school with infrastructure and teachers.

What the church had to learn, what we need to learn, what Peter eventually learns is taking up our cross to follow Jesus means being open to death.  Perhaps that sounds obvious to those of you who have read Jesus’ words time and again.  But this week, when I think about what being open to death means I think Jesus means being open to the death of our self-interest – of our will – of our desperate need for control.  Once we allow that to die, we start to find life – life in Christ as Christ would have us live life.  We find ourselves able to keep our minds on divine things, not on human things.

This past week of dealing with the aftermath of another school shooting, I have been struggling.  Every time our country faces another mass shooting, I feel like I need to do something, to change something, to push our leaders to do something different.  Every time we face another tragedy, I join Christians in prayer and grief.  But, as one Christian theologian points out, “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.”[i]  And so this week, instead of just looking to like-minded people about what to do or whom to blame, I tried something else.  I called up a friend who has very different feelings about these things and asked him to help me understand his point of view on guns in our country.  Instead of trying to convince him of my view, I let go of my own stuff, and listened.  When I let go – when I was open to the death of my self-interest or longing for control, I found that we got a lot closer to a common solution.  We began to discover ways forward.

And then, as I found myself loosening my own grip on a solution, our young people started speaking up.  Instead of the adults in this country trying to tell students how to feel or behave, the students began to teach us.  If we can deny ourselves, let go of our death grip on this issue on either side, our young people are inviting us into a new way of entering this problem – of listening differently to one another and responding in a way that transforms both sides of the aisle.

I cannot imagine a better time for us to grapple with our relationships with God and with one another.  Many of you have already shared with me the ways in which you have taken on Lenten disciplines to help you deepen your relationship with Christ.  What Peter’s experience this week invites us to consider is how we might not simply deepen our relationship, but also how me might cede our self-interest in our relationship with Christ – not simply following Christ, but letting go of how we think that journey should look; not simply taking up our cross, but being open to the fact that we do not know what that will mean or what we will encounter.  If we can engage in that kind of relationship with Christ, then we might just be able to engage in that kind of relationship with one another – no longer maddeningly holding on to what we want in our relationships, but trusting that God is working among us when we let go.  Then we are finally taking up our crosses and following Christ – together.  Amen.

[i] Attributed to Miroslav Volf by Kirsten Powers, “Why ‘thoughts and prayers’ is starting to sound so profane,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2017,, as referenced by Karoline Lewis, “Open Speech,” Feb. 19, 2018,, as found on Feb. 22, 2018.

Sermon – Mark 9.2-9, TRNS, YB, February 10, 2018


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of months ago, we entered into a new liturgical year.  When Advent started, we began another year of discovery, this year focusing on Mark’s gospel and Mark’s depiction of who Jesus is and what that depiction means for our journey with Christ.  Back in December, we began the journey with the very first words of Mark – the first verse of the first chapter of Mark.  Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Now, I never thought much of Mark 1.1.  The line, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” has always sounded to me like, “Once upon a time…”  But we know that Mark is the shortest gospel, and that Mark is the tightest writer of Jesus’ story.  So, what I should have remembered is that Mark does not throw away words.  Mark would never introduce his gospel with “Once upon a time.”  As a writer who does not mince words, instead Mark tells us everything we need to know about Jesus in one simple sentence:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So what does Mark tell us, and why I am taking us back to the beginning when our assigned reading is about the Transfiguration?   Because we need Mark’s first words before we can understand anything as dramatic as the Transfiguration.  When Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark tells us right away who Jesus is:  Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is the Son of God.[i]  Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is the Son of God.  First, Mark tells us Jesus is the Christ:  the Messiah, the person the people of God had been awaiting, the victorious redeemer of the people, the mighty restorer of the kingdom of God.  Since that day in December when we heard this brief introduction by Mark, we have been celebrating the Messiah.  We heard of a mother, shepherds, and kings who reveal this truth to us – a Messiah is born.  Then, Jesus is baptized, and disciples follow him, and miracles happen.  In Mark’s gospel, when Jesus asks who the disciples say that Jesus is, Peter boldly proclaims, “You are the Messiah.”  Even today, as Jesus’ clothes turn dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appear, we are filled with anticipation:  this is what we have been waiting for – Jesus the Messiah!!

And yet, somehow in the birth stories, and the epiphanies, and the dramatic healing stories, we forget the other half of Mark’s introduction:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  You see, Mark needs us to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.  But Jesus is equally something else:  the Son of God.  Now the Son of God is not just an honorific title.  Mark tells us something powerful when Mark tells us Jesus is the Son of God.  If you remember, in a few chapters beyond our reading in Mark today, Jesus will tell that familiar parable of some wicked tenants – tenants who are entrusted with the Master’s vineyard, but who kill the son of the landowner when the landowner sends his son to collect the harvest.  The Son of God is not a title of honor so much as a reminder of what will happen to Jesus.  The Son of God is destined to lay down his life for the people of God.  Jesus is the suffering servant we hear about in Isaiah – the one who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that new life might come.

So what does any of this have to do with the Transfiguration?  Pretty much everything.  You see, in this victorious Messiah-like last epiphany moment before we head into Lent, when the disciples are so overwhelmed by the drama of their Messiah gathered with Moses and Elijah, God says something simple to the disciples, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”  You see, just days before the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter had insightfully proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah – the same thing that Mark proclaims from the beginning of Mark’s gospel.  But Peter forgot the other part of Mark’s introduction.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus is both the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God, the suffering servant.  Jesus is always both.

I remember in my very first interview with the Commission on Ministry – the group who helps those discerning a call to ordained ministry – in that first interview, the Commission asked me this question:  Who is Jesus to you?  I remember at the time thinking what a weird question that was.  I mean, we have the whole of the New Testament that tells us who Jesus is.  But since I was sitting before a body of people who could determine my fate, I figured I had better come up with something better than, “That’s a weird question.”  And so I started to ramble on about the things that were enlivening my faith journey – Jesus’ preference for the poor, his passion for justice, and his call to being in community.  Not once did I remember Mark’s simple words – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.  I did what Peter does today – what we all do in our faith journey.  I looked at Jesus and pulled out the stuff I liked:  the advocate for justice.  Peter pulls out what he likes:  the Christ, the victorious Messiah.  But what the Transfiguration today reminds of is that we can never pick and choose what we like about Jesus.  Jesus is always both the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God, the suffering servant.

So why does any of this matter?  Well, in part, this fundamental clarity about Jesus is important because we are at a fulcrum in Mark’s gospel.  We have journeyed with Jesus, experienced epiphanies, ascended the mountain and seen the radiance of our God.  All of that excitement could lead us to think we have arrived, that our victory has already come, that Christ is simply the Messiah. The temptation is for us to linger on the mountain, to stay with the Jesus who makes us feel good, who makes us feel powerful, who makes us feel victorious, who dazzles us with shiny clothes.  And in some ways, that is what today is all about.  We celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration because we need to know Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah.

But as we begin Lent this week, we descend this mountain and walk our way to another mountain – the mountain of Calvary that reminds us of the other truth of Jesus:  that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to redeem us through the darkness of the cross.[ii]  Even on the mountain of Transfiguration, God reminds us of this truth.  God does not shout to the disciples, “Jesus is the Messiah!!”  Instead, God whispers the gentle reminder, “This is my Son, the beloved.”  Even God knows we will want to linger on the goodness of who Jesus is – the brilliance of a Messiah.  But as Mark tells us from the beginning:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus is both the Christ and the Son of God.

This week we will begin the long journey of Lent.  We will be reflecting on our relationship with Jesus, our failings and faults, and our gifts and goodness.  The work will feel hard and tedious at times, and on those days we are feeling particularly low, we may want to have Jesus the Christ stand up for us, and bring in a mighty victory.  But as we walk from today’s mountain to Good Friday’s mountain, we also hold in tension with Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Son of God.  In our weakness, we find a savior who is also weak.  In our dark days, we find a savior mired in darkness.  In our despairing, we find a savior lost in despair too.  Jesus’ identity as the Son of God gives us as much comfort as Jesus’ identity as the mighty Messiah.  When we hold all of who Jesus is in our hearts, we can be more tender with all of who we are.

I am eager to walk the Lenten walk with you.  I am eager to hear about your struggles and victories, your darkness and light.  I am eager to be surrounded by a community of people working through valley of two mountains so that we can come through the redemption of the resurrection.  Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration offers you sustenance for the valley, fuel for the work, fire for the renewal.  This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, the son of God.  Amen.

[i] This understanding of Jesus’ identity was presented by Thomas P. Long at a lecture on February 9, 2018.

[ii] The idea of framing Lent between two mountains come from Rolf Jacobson, in the Sermon Brainwave podcast, “#585 –Transfiguration of Our Lord,” February 3, 2018,, as found on February 7, 2018.

Sermon – Mark 1.29-39, EP5, YB, February 4, 2018


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the things I love about the Bible is that the Bible never makes you feel wholly comfortable.  You can always find a comforting passage – a victorious song from Isaiah, soothing words from a psalm, a story of encouragement or inspiration about a beloved character.  But as you read Holy Scripture, you can almost as equally find passages that make you bristle.  This especially happens when you follow the lectionary, because, much to the chagrin of your preachers, you cannot pick and choose what texts you like.  And so, you open up the assigned text and your modern sensibilities say, “Whoa!  Hey now!”

Today’s lesson from Mark hit me that way at first glance.  Jesus has had a pretty full day.  On the Sabbath, Jesus and the disciples go to the synagogue and Jesus teaches with an authority that amazes those gathered.  He rids a man of an unclean spirit, and the people marvel again.  Jesus leaves the temple and goes to Simon Peter’s house.  Before he can even sit down, the disciples tell him that Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever – which, in those days, is a dangerous condition.  Jesus goes to her, offers her his hand, she rises, and is healed.  And this is the part where I bristle.  The text says, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

The timing of this text could not be worse.  Our country is in the middle of a complete reevaluation of the treatment and role of women.  Just a few weeks ago, women around the country, and even here in Williamsburg, marched to protest the ways in which women are being treated and the ways in which legislation is affirming that treatment.  This year, Time Magazine chose the women of the #metoo movement as their “Person of the Year.”  These Silence Breakers are women who have begun to take a stand against sexual harassment and assault.  The magazine’s selection was timely, as story after story continues to break of prominent men are accused of mistreating and assaulting women.  Even our political elections are seeing more women running for office, including three graduates from the Naval Academy.[i]  In this season of women and men calling our country to examine the role and treatment of women, the last thing I wanted to hear was a story about a woman whose immediate reaction to a miraculous healing and resurrection is to go into the kitchen and serve the men.  She does not join the four disciples as part of Jesus’ entourage; she does not sit with Jesus and learn more from his teachings; she does not become an evangelist of the Good News.  The text simply says, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

One of the tricky things about reading Holy Scripture is how to interpret scripture in the context of our modern sensibilities.  In my last year of seminary, I decided to write my thesis on the book of Ruth for this same reason.  Here was an entire book on women – a rarity in scripture.  The first three chapters of the book show women of agency and power, who make their way, even in a world where widows have very little power.  Even Ruth is described as a woman of hayil, a Hebrew word reserved almost entirely to describe men of great power and military prowess.  And what happens to this mighty, powerful woman?  In the final chapter of the book, men determine Ruth’s fate, she gets married, has a child, and the child redeems her mother-in-law.  This character who speaks throughout the book is rendered voiceless throughout the last chapter.  It took me a year of wrestling with this book to realize that my modern lens and interpretation of the book of Ruth prevented me from understanding how Ruth’s fate does not mitigate her hayil, her power in the story.  Reading Ruth would never translate the same way to modern ears.  Ruth’s story is still a story of empowerment.  But in order to hear that empowerment, I would need a deeper understanding of the cultural context.  And I would need to be open to other messages from the text – not simply what I wanted to hear and have affirmed to my everyday life.

A similar reality is true in today’s reading from Mark.  This is not a story about a woman’s role or a woman’s expected place with Jesus.  This is not a story about the differences between men and women in the kingdom of God.  This is not a story about gender and discrimination.  This is a story about discipleship.[ii]  The past three weeks we have been talking about discipleship –  how discipleship is discerned within community, how discipleship involves sacrifice and a response to Jesus, how discipleship involves a sense of immediacy.  Today’s lesson reminds us that discipleship is also about service.

Simon’s mother-in-law does not recover from an illness and immediately begin to serve Jesus out of a sense of gendered identity.  She immediately begins to serve Jesus because, through her healing, she understands a key component in discipleship:  service. This is something the disciples will not learn until many chapters later, when Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”[iii]  Two of the same disciples who are there this night of the mother-in-law’s healing, James and John, after ten chapters of following Jesus think discipleship means power and privilege – sitting at Jesus’ left and right hand.  But Jesus, the mother-in-law, and countless others show the disciples that discipleship is about service.  Discipleship is about what we reaffirm in our baptismal covenant – to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

This story is not a story about gender and the role of women and men.  This story is about discipleship.  Now, for those of you who may still feel dissatisfied, what is interesting in this story is that in a room full of men, the woman is the one who actually understands what Jesus is all about.  We see that point even more fully when Simon Peter approaches Jesus later as Jesus is praying.  The text says, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.”  Scholar’s argue that Simon did not simply “hunt for” or look for Jesus.  The implication of the Greek word here is that Simon vigorously looked for and approached Jesus with the intent of forcing Jesus to get back to work.[iv]  Simon misunderstands Jesus and the work of discipleship; Simon’s mother-in-law does not misunderstand.  But taking this story to be a feminist text of the women getting it and not the men is probably reading too much into the text too.  This is a text about one disciple getting it – getting it to strong degree.  In fact, the word used for “service” here, is the same root of the word for deacon.[v]  The service of the mother-in-law is akin to the work of deacons in the church.

I do not know where you find yourself in this text today.  Maybe the text is reassuring because you have made your life of discipleship about the service of the kingdom.  Maybe this text is reassuring because you understand that sometimes you do not always get the message, and yet you can still be disciples.  Or maybe this text is reassuring because you are grateful to be surrounded by disciples on various points of the spectrum, who are all figuring it out.  The point is – this is a reassuring text.  This passage from Mark is not meant to be a text for bristling, for defensiveness (on either side), or for creating a sense of failure.  This is a text which reassuringly reminds us that we are all on a journey to understanding discipleship and becoming more faithful disciples every day.  This text reminds us that we need each other: men and women, old and young, married and single.  Together we help each other walk with Christ.  Together we teach each other the work of discipleship.  Together we do the work of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Amen.

[i] Michael Tackett, “From Annapolis to Congress? These Three Women Know Tough Missions,” January 28, 2018, as found at on February 2, 2018.

[ii] Karoline Lewis, “A Call Story,” January 28, 2018, as found at on February 1, 2018.

[iii] Mark 10.45a.

[iv] Daniel J. Harrington, ed., The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 2 (Collegeville, MN:  The Liturgical Press, 2002), 87.

[v] Gary W. Charles, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 335.

On Remembering You Are Dust…


, , , , , , , , , ,

As a priest, I find Ash Wednesday to be the most difficult celebration of the Church.  One might think funerals are harder; but by the time we get to a funeral, the loss has already happened, and the people are gathered for a celebration of life and resurrection.  But Ash Wednesday is much more challenging.  The liturgy is the most honest, vulnerable, and sobering of our liturgies.  We gather in community, stripping away all appearances of success, faithfulness, and achievement, and we confess our deepest failures and separation from God – as if standing naked before our Lord.  And then, a priest rubs gritty ash upon our foreheads, and tells us, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

As someone who has experienced the worship from the pews, I know how powerful the liturgy is.  It’s as if the Church says to us, “I know everyone out there thinks you have it all together.  But we both know the truth – that you have a long way to go before you have it all together.  They see your strength and power; I see your weakness and vulnerability.”  The intimacy of the liturgy, experienced within a community of people going through the same exposure, can be both unnerving and deeply comforting.  Out in the world, we are alone, trying to prove ourselves.  Inside the church walls, we are together, admitting we cannot prove ourselves.

As a priest, I have the privilege of guiding people through that powerful experience.  It is so powerful, that I sometimes struggle to perform the actions the liturgy.  As I say those words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” I know that I am saying those words to a preschooler, who does not fully understand death; to a woman who has battled breast cancer and is in remission; to an elderly man who may be closer to death than we want to admit; to a widow or widower who lost their spouse earlier in life than they should have.  The weight of that pronouncement is palpable every single time I say it – and it makes my own mortality that much more real.

If you have not yet received ashes today, I encourage you find a church or Ashes-to-Go station.  It is a tremendous gift to be seen as you truly are, and to kneel alongside others who are trying to be faithful to the charge God has given us.  And if you cannot make it today, know that the entire season of Lent is available to you to continue the journey of remembering you are dust, and finding purpose before you return to that dust.

On Making Mary Moments…


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Photo Credit:  Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly, January 26, 2018

Over a week ago, I received a call that my grandmother was approaching death.  The suggestion was if I wanted a last visit, I should come sooner rather than later.  Looking at the week ahead, I realized I could go with my children last weekend with minimal impact to their school schedule or my own work obligations.  I was not sure what to expect – whether I would be able to have meaningful conversation or even eye contact with her, or especially how my three- and eight-year olds would respond to her in her current state.  At some point, a family member pastorally suggested I not come, knowing how hard such a long journey for such a brief visit would be.  But something kept pushing me to go, even if the journey seemed fraught with potential difficulty.

There were things that did not happen.  We did not have one last, long, meaningful conversation as I had with my other grandmother.  My grandmother was much too weak and her thoughts much too confused to answer any of my lingering questions about our family.  My children did not get to interact with my grandmother extensively.  They had beautiful moments of tenderness with her, and they played nearby, but they also needed to be kids and move.  I did not leave with a sense of real closure.  No one really knows how long she will be able to thrive.

What did happen was a much clearer understanding of why Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet, while her sister Martha busied herself with the duties of the home.  For full confession’s sake, I am much more like Martha most days – I am always washing one more dish or finishing one more piece of laundry instead of playing with my kids or hanging out with my husband.  But sitting beside my grandmother, holding her hand, realizing all the things I was not getting, I came to see the beauty of presence.  I do not think I have ever just been still with my grandmother.  I have never looked into her eyes for an extended period of time without saying anything.  I am pretty sure I have never just held her hand.  In the midst of all that could not be said, I felt a different kind of closure.  I could finally see in my larger-than-life grandmother her vulnerability, her desire to love, her humanity.

I left my grandmother last weekend wondering if I might be able to create more space for Mary-type moments in everyday life.  Whether I might put my phone away more often at home and be more present with my family.  How I might stop worrying about my to-do list, and spend more open time with our staff and parishioners.   Whether I might write that note to a suffering friend instead of letting the thought pass.  What Mary-type moments have been missing in your life lately?  When was the last time you sat at the feet of Jesus, or sat at the feet of the holy in others, and stayed for a while?  What might you need to do this week to find your own Mary moment?  I look forward to hearing about your reflections.