Don’t be surprised by the storms we encounter when we take the Gospel to the regions beyond.

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Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of GalileeThis weekend as we observe Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time in American history, and celebrate the month long observance of Pride, we have a Gospel reading about the storms on the Sea of Galilee. 

Tertullian first noted that these storms arose as the disciples were crossing to Gentile lands, under the control of the Roman Empire. He remarked that the Church in those days experienced conflict and persecution as it sought to include people who had been previously excluded from the promises made to the Children of Abraham. I find that his wondering about that image till have power and meaning today as our denomination and others work to bring people previously excluded from the full participation in the Church and in Society into new and restored relationships.

Jesus is with the disciples in the boat as they cross the stormy sea then and Jesus is with us now. And still we struggle with having faith to believe that his presence provides all that we need when the winds howl and seas surge.

God is making the Kingdom manifest, not us.

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97E1AA18 6D26 4947 9DE2 C8EE63AFA7ECOne of the basic teachings of Christianity is that it is Jesus who saves us from the consequences of our misbehavior, from our sins. We can not, and do not save ourselves. That’s both deeply freeing and very hard to internalize. Even though I know it I still act as if I don’t really believe it – and believe that if I just work hard enough, I can manage my salvation.

There’s a similar thing that I hear lately in the Church regarding the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the manifestation of God’s Reign on Earth. It seems that if we just educate people properly, or do the right things for the environment, or use the right theological formulas to explain doctrine, we can by our efforts make God’s Reign real.

We can’t. And we aren’t expected to either. We are charged with announcing it, and we are charged with discerning how and where it is present, but we are not expected to grow it into reality by ourselves. That’s God’s work, not ours. It’s freeing to realize that – and to recognize that the reality of the Kingdom or the future of the Church is not dependent on our efforts.

The more we align ourselves with God, the more Creation is returned to its original intent.

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The great warrior alexander LThis Sunday’s Gospel begins with people trying to understand how Jesus is able to cast out the spiritual powers that have rebelled against God. People try to understand what is happening in earthly terms, in light of their experience in a created order that has gone sideways from God’s original plan. And when they do that, they fundamentally miss the point of what is happening.

The key to understanding this parable (as Jesus describes it) is to keep in mind the pleas of the Hebrew people to the Prophet Samuel many years prior to Jesus’ actions. In those days the people beseeched God to grant them a King – so that they could be like all the other nations of the Earth. God and the prophet try to explain why this is not good for them, but they insist, and the story of the nation takes a complicated turn away from the path they had been following.

But it’s the idea of a nation ordered on a hierarchy of power that helps unlock the deeper meaning behind what Jesus is telling the people of his day – and ours.

God loves us. There’s not much we can do about that except accept it.

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A heart made out of water splashes H7EhCZg0Jesus came into the world proclaiming God’s love and not God’s condemnation of the world. We humans are exceedingly good at condemning ourselves and each other – particularly the people we know, or at least think we know. But God’s not human. And our ways our not God’s ways.

This Sunday, rather than preach on the ancient doctrine of the Trinity as the revealed truth of God’s nature, I’m taking a different tack. As we emerge from the pandemic and start to count the cost, I’m seeing people who are exhausted, bitter and cynical about many things. That’s understandable. This has been a hard time and we have all borne difficult burdens, some more than we thought we could manage.

And in times like this, when we’re at the end of what we think we can endure, rather than trusting in God’s love, we turn on ourselves and our neighbors. So this Sunday’s Gospel, an odd one to my mind for Trinity Sunday, spoke to me more of the truth of God’s love for us than it did as a way of opening up the mystery of the Trinity.


The Wind of God in 2021

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Kiel weekA year ago we had dreamed of reopening congregations in Rhode Island on the Feast of Pentecost. But it was not to be. But this year, in 2021, on this Feast Day, the Governor has removed our restrictions on gathering so carefully and deliberately, the day has come. It will be a while before things seem more like they did prior to the beginning of the pandemic. But the Spirit of God has brought us to this day and we can all rejoice that it has arrived.

Rhode Island takes sailing seriously; very seriously. And if you’ve sailed at all you know how important it is to pay attention to the wind, to the shifting directions and the sudden changes in speed. It seems to me, on this Feast of Pentecost, that we can meditate on the lessons learned on the bay and apply them to the life of our congregations. If we can pay as close attention to the Holy and Divine Wind of God as we do in a sailing race, then we can move outward on the waters, retelling a hurting world that God is active and present to them.

The early Church cast lots to choose a successor apostle. Would we?

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IMG 1060What I find fascinating in this week’s reading from Acts is the way they decided to chose the next Apostle, and the faith that they displayed in so doing.

First, they began to prepare for the future. (Twelve was an important number, but it stopped being the defining number. Apostles were killed, or died. New Apostles emerged or were elected. The Way of Love began to spread.)

They believed that they had a future. They didn’t hunker down waiting for the end. They believed that they had a message to share, and they were willing to give their lives to spread that good news.

And they were willing to trust in God that whoever was chosen, God would supply whatever they lacked. 

That’s a sort of faith we don’t see often today.

This is my commandment, that you love one another

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A heart shape made out of paint splatters H7qtiRbg0This week, a familiar Gospel reading is paired with the US observance of Mother’s Day. It’s a brilliant match, one that I wished happened more often as the secular occasion helps to illustrate more deeply the message that Jesus gives to his disciples the night of his betrayal and arrest.

Mother’s Day has a complicated history here in the US and I suppose that is paralleled by the complicated emotions that Mother’s Day brings up in many of us. But if we can keep our attention on the love that Jesus is commanding us to have and use our best experiences of our relationships with our mothers, or those who were like mothers to us, we can go deeper into both the holiday and the teaching.

Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you…?

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CIMG0793Jesus describes himself as the True Vine in this week’s Gospel reading. And he says that if we abide in him, then we can ask whatever we want and we will receive it. And yet, for most of us (all of us?) that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Perhaps what we need to focus on is not our fear that somehow we are failing God and will be cut off. Perhaps what we need to focus on is learning to abide in Jesus, who is the vine, without whom we can not bear fruit – in other words – have our petitions granted. If we love what Jesus loves, then we shall ask what he would ask. And on the day when we do that, our request is granted because it is as if he asked the Creator for us, on our behalf.


Jesus the Model and Noble Shepherd

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Good shepherd 02b closeSome Sundays of the liturgical year have names that relate to the lessons that are (or were) traditionally read that week. This Sunday which is just such an occasion, is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear Jesus describe himself as the Good Shepherd of the flock that he has come to call into being.

While there are many traditional ways of understanding this particular image, there might well be meaning that would resonate with the people of Jesus’ day and not with us. It’s striking to me that the early Church didn’t represent Jesus on the Cross at all. (That’s the primary way we present him now.) In the first centuries Jesus was often shown as a young man with a lamb on his shoulders.

This was clearly an important aspect of how the early Christians understood the Incarnation. To understand it, we should look back to the ways that Shepherds were used to describe other aspects of social life in those days. It turns out that the image is commonly applied to kings, pharaohs and emperors. 

It’s that observation that forms the core of this week’s sermon.

The wounds remain though the new life begins

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Graphicstock rescue worker at destroyed forest as an effect of strong storm in high tatras slovakia SAen0X43 bBoth Luke’s and John’s Gospels include accounts of the resurrected Jesus appearing in the Upper Room to his disciples and showing them the wounds that his transformed body still carries. The wounds on the transformed person signify many things. Among others, they show us that this is the same person who suffered and died. And, they show us that this body is a new creation, which exists in a different way than the old body did. 

But the wounded risen One also helps us to understand that the pain we experience is not erased when the joy of Easter breaks upon us. The wounds remain though they and what they signify is transformed in the Creation.