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

Sermons and audio

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.

Sermons and audio

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

This is a hard. Yet, what else do we have? These are the words of life.

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Samui sea with cloud before rainingThe Messiah is telling us things we didn’t anticipate. This isn’t about subduing the enemy. This isn’t about being exalted and having the world serve us. This isn’t about the arrival of a paradise that grants us everything we think we’ve ever needed.

This is about dying for others. This is about giving your body so that others can live. And this is about accepting that sort of sacrifice from others on your behalf. Even when you don’t want it – or secretly – don’t believe you deserve it.

When things start to fall apart, God arrives but tells us something we didn’t expect – and expects us to do something we aren’t sure is going to work at all.

Do you really believe you can change the nightmare of so many people’s lives by loving your neighbor? Really change things? Or is that a pipe-dream? Nice words for the saints, perhaps the clergy, but not realistic at all.

People are people after all. They’ll do things in their own interest. You can’t depend on them to do the right things for others. We need deterrents and rules. We need to clear-eyed real politic.

But that’s not what God says. God says this will work. God says this is the way out of the maze, out of the trap, out of the fire.

When you’ve tried everything else, why not give this a shot?

Encourage one another, lest we lose heart

Current Affairs / Rhode Island

Encourage definition closeup showing motivationFrom our diocesan newsletter this week:

Usually, this time of year, I’d be writing a message encouraging you to unplug and relax in these final days of Summer. But this year, as much as we wanted to do so, national and global events and the resurgent pandemic make all that feel impossible. The sad truth is this is the second summer in a row that we can’t take a breath.

This long slow series of emergencies is taking a horrible toll on us. I hear from many of you that you’re close to giving up. I get that. I do. And you have no idea how much I want to promise you that it’s going to get better soon. But I don’t know that anyone can say that right now because few of us would believe it.

Most of St. Paul’s letters contain calls to the community to encourage each other and lift each other. To me, for a long while, that seemed a lovely sentiment but kind of an obvious thing to say. Well, it’s not so obvious today. And I have a better grasp of why it’s essential.

As Christian people, we make vows to be light and salt to the world around us. The world around us needs us to do that today. And with all the weight of the news pressing in on us, it feels like we’re in danger of losing our saltiness.

My friends, do what you can to encourage one another in these last days of this summer. We need each other – and together, we can manage to hold on to our faith and not lose heart. It’s important. The world needs us to do for it, what we need to do for each other.

Was the Manna a miracle?

Sermons and audio

Gathering of the MannaThis week’s sermon is a bit of a sidebar. We’ve been hearing St. John’s account of the feeding of the multitude and the explanation that follows by Jesus to the gathered crowd. We’ve talked about how this miracle signifies the return of the manna. And that people were looking for that as proof that the Messiah had come. But we’ve not talked about manna and what it was.

There are multiple natural explanations for the manna in the desert. There are Bedouin tribes that will sell you modern manna in the Sinai today – claiming it is the same thing that the Israelites ate during the Exodus. The most compelling natural explanation for the manna is the result of a bore attack by insects on the desert Tamarisk tree. The sap which flows through the tree’s wounded bark congeals into a sweet buttery substance that is a staple of the local diet.

There are natural explanations for the flocks of quail around the camp of the Israelites too. Migrating flocks of quail, fighting the wind currents over the Sinai peninsula, will frequently land in large numbers, exhausted to rest before returning to their flight. Such exhausted quail are easy to capture. It’s been a common occurrence in the region for a long time.

If there are natural explanations for things that the Bible describes as miraculous, does that mean the Bible is wrong? Well, that depends on how you understand “miraculous”. Many have pointed out the timing of the event is the miracle, not the natural event itself. Or perhaps, more importantly, the miracle is in the eye of the beholder. You can choose to see miracles all around you – and rejoice in the presence of God, or you can reject them and insist that they carry no meaning or significance.

It seems to me that the choice you make about such things colors the way you perceive your life and the world around you. One of my literary heroes, Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, chose to believe in meaning and transcendent beauty in his story – and it made a profound difference in others. For myself, I choose to be part of Team Puddleglum. Perhaps you do too. (You can read about Puddleglum and his choice in CS Lewis’ book “The Silver Chair”.)