Jesus comes to bring a new kind of community, one built on a foundation of love.

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Group of people showing the heart shapeJesus is asked by two of his disciples to “do for them whatever they ask of him.” What they specifically want is to be given higher status than the others in the community. Jesus uses the moment as an opportunity to teach a foundational truth.

He summons the whole group of disciples as they climb up the road to Jerusalem, and tells them that their relationships going forward need to turn from a self-centered focus to other-centered focus. He tells them that they need to put others first if they themselves want to have higher status in the new community.

That needs to be unpacked a bit, and it needs to be understood within a context of mutual submission to each other, but his charge is the foundation of the community that will spread like fire throughout the world after his Passion.

In this week’s sermon I spend some time talking about why living into this new spiritual discipline is so hard, and why it’s so important.

Wealth confers powers we are not morally ready to receive.

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Golden coinsIn this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life. (Interesting way of putting it.) Jesus tells him to obey the moral law. The rich man professes that he has always done so.

Jesus, lovingly, tells him that to be perfect, he must give away his wealth. And the young man is shocked and leaves, unable to do so.

It isn’t the wealth per se that is the problem, at least when you read the rest of the scriptures, it’s the danger that the wealth posses to our souls. Wealth gives us the power to do things that we would not otherwise have. And we rarely use that power well. In truth, we use that power in ways that unthinkingly harm others.

The connection between Ancient Aliens and White Supremacy

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Religion / Science

Mayan mystery pyramid SBI 300085679I’ve wasted some afternoons binge watching the TV series Ancient Aliens on Hulu over the past few years. It seems like a harmless “what if” exercise. And it’s fun when in a particular episode I’m introduced to some new site or artifact that I’d not heard of before. But I do notice that if I know something about what’s being presented, the information shared is not very robust and often weirdly wrong.

In an article in Sapiens by Stephanie Halmhofer, the weirdly wrong part is more harmful than you’d guess. It’s connected to a world-view that heightens “White” culture and diminishes others:

Did Aliens Build the Pyramids? And Other Racist Theories:

Pseudoarchaeology is useful to white nationalism specifically because it casts doubt on the achievements of BIPOC communities, opening the doors to rewriting history through a white power lens. The SPLC has noticed this and written about connections between pseudoarchaeology and far-right ideologies such as antisemitism and white nationalism. White nationalism is a pro-white racial ideology that shares many interests with white supremacy, such as anti-immigration stances and beliefs that the interests of white people must be placed first.

White nationalists also encourage enhanced protections and rights to defend what they see as the “purity” of the white race, a pseudoscientific concept built on extremely reimagined views of history and genetic ancestry. A core belief of white nationalism is a conspiracy theory referred to as the “great replacement,” which suggests a “white genocide” is happening: that white people are nearing extinction and need to be protected.

(BIPOC is short hand for Black and Indigenous People of Color)

Do follow the link above and read the whole article. It’s worth your time.

Science is often warped, like Religion, to support systems of oppression and to marginalize some people to the advantage of others. This article reminds me that when I wonder why something is popular and wrong at the same time, there’s often deeper reason – and generally not a nice one.

Jesus points us again and again to the deeper reality that surrounds us. And by so doing, give meaning and context to our lives.

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Vvv 0216 img 0104 71When Jesus is asked a question about the rules regarding the breaking of marriage vows, we neither fully understand the context of the question nor the intent of the questioners. But Jesus, in his response the question, seems to ignore both and answers in such a way as to get us to the deep meaning of marriage itself.

Jesus’ answer to a question about divorce looks to another part of Scripture to make sense of the meaning of an obscure teaching of Moses’. And he points us to the mystical reality of God’s Creation and God’s intent in the act of creation, by the way he constructs the answer.

This is common with Jesus and his teaching. Rather than rise to the bait of a questioner and become embroiled in a sectarian theological dispute or be forced into a political camp, he invites us to see a deeper reality that takes away the barb of the question entirely.

This week, I invite you to reflect on the infinite value of every human being, each one created in the Image of God, and each one beloved of God. And to remember that you too are both beloved and made in that same image.

Let’s try something new. Let’s put aside that which divides us and recognize Christ in each other.

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IMG 0513Here’s my challenge to the church around the world today. How about if we call a truce? The world is on fire, it is being flooded and the climate is changing. The people are homeless and searching for a place to take them in and as they seek, they’re being persecuted when they ask for help. The hungry and the lonely are struggling. There’s an ongoing world-wide pandemic.

There’s so much need. What would it be like if we worked beside, or in concert with people who have called us names in the past? What if we forgave them, and showed them our faith by the hard work of our hands and our backs to respond to the needs of the world. What if we coordinated and stopped competing?

To be clear, I’m saying this to myself and my people as much or more than I’m saying to anyone else.

You should notice some new video in this week’s sermon. We are in the process of restarting the virtual worship ministry of St. John’s Cathedral in Providence. The images from the sermon are taken from the Cathedral close in Providence. There’s more to say about this and some new exciting things coming. Please keep watching! (And hold us in your prayers.)

Every human being is made in the image of God, and thus is infinitely valuable.

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Children running on meadow at sunset SBI 300996173Jesus is the most complete image of the fullness of God that we as humans can comprehend. Jesus came to serve us, to die for us, and thereby to restore us to the original relationship with had with God in the beginning.

If we want to follow Jesus, we will need to put aside any sense of our own entitlement or idea that we are somehow more worthy than any other person. (And the converse is true as well. Because we are made in the image of God we are worthy of love and respect too.)

It’s disheartening how often we as humans miss the mark on this. We miss it in our common political life and we miss it in our religious life. But take heart because the disciples and the early followers of the Way missed the mark as well, and Jesus loved them and the Spirit transformed them into something new and wonderful. We have every reason to hope that the same transformation is happening in our lives as well.

An Empire unlike any earthly one

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Cross on a hill SBI 300278687God’s Realm, Jesus’ Kingdom, is different than the earthly ones. It isn’t different because it’s unreal, otherworldly or some sort of fairy tale. It’s different because it’s built on a radically different foundation. Liberation and Peace come not through military triumph, but through love, service and self-sacrifice. It’s the essential characteristic of the God we worship. It’s fitting that the cross has become the symbol of our faith.

God’s love is self-sacrificial. God’s love is outward directed, not inwardly directed. God isn’t insisting on self-homage. God is asking us to follow – because that’s the only way to truly have life.

Jesus travels to the regions beyond and something surprising happens

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The Canaanite or Syrophoenician woman asks Christ to cure Wellcome V0034860People on the margins seem to have a different relationship with God, with Jesus, and an ability to presume upon that relationship, than do the rich and the powerful and the well connected.

This seems obvious, and unsurprising given the way that the whole of Holy Scripture speaks of God’s special love for the poor and marginalized, but in the Church today, we still seem surprised when we encounter it.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been pressured by people who want to use their money or their power as a tool to get their way in the Church – or I suppose with God.

All of this is illustrated in the Gospel reading this week as we hear of Jesus’ encounters with people in the regions north of Galilee, where the people who oppress his community are found.

Do not use the Bible to prove the wrong point

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In this week’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders of his community. He is speaking within a context different than ours to a people who were facing challenges that we are not. His words to the religious leaders, while sounding harsh to our ears, are not that different than the sorts of sustained critiques that they leveled against one another.

In the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has just fed the multitude in the wilderness, signifying the long awaited return of the miracle of the manna and the return of the promised prophet like Moses. He next demonstrates that he is more than just a great prophet by walking across the storm tossed chaotic waters of the sea. In this week’s reading he is presenting a new moral insight to people he came to save.

Vvv 0216 img 3882 1692This short section of conflict seems to present an outsider disputing with the learned experts. But without the context you miss the larger point. Instead, I’ve heard these sorts of conflict stories used to support the argument that the knowledge of the experts can not standup to the wisdom of the commoner. (That’s a common trope in American culture, and it’s a trope at the heart of much of the political division in our country these days.)

But that’s not what this story is about. And to misuse it to support of general skepticism of expertise takes us to a place today where people are rejecting three or four decades of research into mRNA vaccine technology and trying to cure COVID by taking medicine meant to de-worm horses and cattle. The biblical stories are powerful and transformative. But they are not easy to understand or self-evident. They need to be studied, discussed in community, and lived into over time if they are going to have the power to save us from sin and death.

Statement regarding the new statue of Blackstone in Pawtucket

Current Affairs / Reconciliation / Rhode Island

My statement regarding the statute of the Rev. William Blackstone in Pawtucket RI:

It was with surprise that we learned today of the William Blackstone statue erected in Pawtucket. It is regrettable that such a monument would be approved and given municipal funding without seeking more input from our Indigenous neighbors. Colonizers like Blackstone are a troubling feature of our American history, and we would do well to reflect on the opinions of those who were on this land before us when considering public commemorations. We can only hope that this statue does indeed spark more conversation and a deeper look into the wrongdoing of the past, as the organizers of this effort say is their intent.

William Blackstone was a priest in the Church of England, precursor to the Episcopal Church in America. The “Doctrine of Discovery”, the outlook which allowed Blackstone and his followers to take this land from its inhabitants, was repudiated by the Episcopal Church at its General Convention in 2009