Today might be one of the most emotional church days of the year. It starts with a joyful parade, and is going to end with us condemning Christ to die.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem, Jerusalem that is the place of prophecy, Jerusalem that is the seat of the kingdom of Israel, and there is a parade for him. There are hundreds, thousands of people, people who have been hoping and waiting and praying for a savior for SO LONG, thronging around him, shouting ahead of him. There are palms and a donkey and a colt and cloaks being lavishly thrown on the ground by people who probably can’t well afford to do so. There is so much rejoicing.
This isn’t a party for no reason. Jesus isn’t just a random guy at this point. He’s been healing people, he’s been preaching, he’s been gaining followers. He’s been making the Roman authorities mad, making the leaders of his own community SCARED, challenging the Roman empire in ways that are just subtle enough not to get him killed immediately, but clear enough to get him on every single list imaginable. And now he’s HERE in Jerusalem, here to topple the whole thing. He’s here to put everything right, to be the king that everyone has been waiting for for so so SO long, here to end the colonial rule of the Romans, here to let everyone worship and live and love and not be burdened by unjust taxes and cruel soldiers and all of the indignities that come from the crushing weight of imperialism.
We already know what happens at the end of this. We can flip ahead in our bulletin to see the reading at the end of today’s service. We already know the service times on Friday, know the readings, know the gory details of the crucifixion. So what’s the point of this, now? Why is everyone celebrating, why does everyone think that they’ve WON when Jesus is just going to DIE on Friday?
And then here comes Paul, telling everyone that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It’s one of my favorite bible passages for reasons that are probably pretty clear as you look at me. But is what Paul’s saying even true, or just a cruel joke? Because looking around, it definitely doesn’t seem like anything has been broken down, like any of us have been made one in Christ.
In our world today, trans kids are being told very firmly that there IS male and female, and that any attempt to be who you are will get your doctors thrown in prison and your parents investigated by Child Protective Services. They’re being told that maybe everyone else has been made one in Christ, except for them, and that the state is going to punish them accordingly. Even if God doesn’t think there’s male or female, every single force controlling our world definitely does. And if you try to live like Paul’s letter is true, you’re going to be crushed, you’re going to be chewed up and spit out and live to regret daring to have any sort of hope that something as naïve and childish as all that could be worth basing a life on.
What’s the point of any of this hope, any of this rejoicing, if it’s all just going to end in death? Why would we rejoice, why would anyone welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem rejoice? Why would anyone feel hope reading Paul, or reading Isaiah, when none of this liberation seems true when we look outside?
Jesus KNOWS all of this. He walks into Jerusalem, in the middle of an excellent parade, knowing that later on, he is going to be walking these same streets with a cross on his back. And he still goes. Not even grudgingly, actively - he sends the disciples out to get the colt and the donkey, he sits on them (itself a performance, to sit on two animals, and not exactly a comfortable one!). He parades in willingly. There’s a certain tragic beauty in all of it, a completely grim, horrible one. God on parade, Jesus knowing that he is going to die in a few short days, and us on the sidelines stupidly cheering.
So why does Jesus do this? Why go so willingly, why sit in the hopelessness, why let us cheer him on and make fools of ourselves? And why does Paul proclaim all of these barriers and divisions to be broken down, when we can look around and see that they’re still there?
A few weeks ago, at the church we’re at most Sundays, Trinity in St. Louis, we gathered to write letters to the senators on the Seniors, Families, Veterans and Military Affairs committee, asking them to prevent Senate bill 843, a bill criminalizing providing gender affirming care to trans kids in Missouri, from leaving committee. It was beautiful. There were kids running around, their parents telling them about what we were doing, about their friends who the bill would affect. There were priests, still in various degrees of church vestments. There were drag queens and church ladies and a motley collection of young people, all focused on trying to convince the government to keep caring for our neighbors legal. We sat around after mass, handwriting letters on pretty, church stamped note cards, putting bible quotes into the letters, carefully stamping them. We wrote 108 letters. But the bill still left committee and is heading to the senate floor for a vote, with decent chances of passing.
Did it still matter that we wrote them, that we tried, if it’s just going to fail? The overwhelming, rational answer should be no. It’s an impractical project, it’s politically futile to write letters to a committee comprised of people who think trans children fundamentally shouldn’t exist, begging them to see the beauty of queer humanity. Except of COURSE it still matters.
It matters for the same reason that the incarnation does. It matters for the same reason that the crucifixion does, and it matters because, without the both of those, the resurrection that we celebrate next week could never occur.
It matters because the entire Christian story is focused around losing - around a horrible story of a brutally murdered messiah who everyone thought really could be it. It matters because Jesus walked into Jerusalem knowing that he was doomed to die, and sitting proud on the donkey and the colt anyways. God’s whole idea to become human and to live among us is absurdly impractical and was bound to result in failure anyway. And if we are to follow Christ, we ourselves are committing to a vision of the world that is bound to result in that same failure. And we are committing to try anyway.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Germany theologian and minister who was arrested and executed by the Nazis for conspiring to kill Hitler said “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is a grim picture of the world. But it’s also an honest one. And in this honesty, there is hope. If we see the suffering and sin around us for what it is, and see the truth that not only we, but God, are killed by it, then we can also see the resurrection that God brings forth from it.
In our call to die alongside Christ, in our experiences of pain and suffering, we can look and see that the God of all creation experienced this death with us. And we can look ahead, and see that in this death, there is a transformation, there is a breaking down of every oppressive system that kills us and our neighbors daily, we can see /tone shift/ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for we are one in Christ Jesus.
We can see that FINALLY, hope will emerge from hopelessness, death will emerge from life, and God does, and did, and will win.
Sermon by Corps Member Megan Oakes on Luke 6:27-38 for the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany on February 20, 2022 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal, MO.
Many of us have heard this Sunday’s gospel reading so many times, it can feel easy to tune it out. It’s one of those readings that feels like it’s at the core of Christianity, at the tip of everyone’s tongue when asked to name one of Jesus’s teachings. Loving your neighbor as yourself, the golden rule - it’s not just one of the things we hear over and over in church, it’s one of the first lessons we learn as children, often packaged nicely into a lesson about taking turns with toys. In many ways, it’s easy to lose sight of the radical nature of what Jesus is saying here. I know that when I first looked at this Gospel, I had no idea what I could even say about it - after all, isn’t it all right there?
This Gospel goes on past the first, more famous part, past the part that’s a little easy to oversimplify. Jesus says, after his famous instructions to love your neighbor and turn the other cheek, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.”
This bit’s a little more uncomfortable, a little less easy to wrap up nicely. So often, even things that do help other people are commodified and framed in terms of the
benefits they hold for the giver. This isn’t just about a free bumper sticker when you give to your local public radio station. To be honest, I’m not really sure if Jesus cares about that one. But it is about situations we encounter every single day. In fact, the transactional behavior that Jesus describes is at the heart of the entire structure of our society.
Jesus says to give to everyone who begs from you. But what about how it’s more efficient to donate directly to a charity, Jesus? What about how the person getting the money might spend it on drugs, or alcohol, or maybe they don’t actually need it at all? What if they waste MY money, what if they don’t make MY community any better in the long run? What’s in it for ME?
Or what about on a broader, more systemic level? Almost every government program that benefits the people is scrutinized, squeezed, and negotiated to reach the most precise group of people possible to ensure that there won’t be any waste, to ensure that nobody who might not really need help gets it. And we’d better make sure to add a work requirement to any new program, just to make sure that there’s SOME benefit to the taxpayer.
Maybe this type of denial of Christ’s teaching for us to love without expectation of return looks like not allowing diapers and formula to be purchased with EBT. Maybe
this denial of the command to love one another looks like restricting free at home covid tests to four per household, no matter how many people live there. Maybe this act of sin looks like disability payments with such strict income requirements that you can’t even get married if you depend on disability, because it’ll increase your income to a level that’s too high to get disability, but too low to survive.
So if the love that Jesus speaks of doesn’t look like our society, even the parts of it that are framed as compassionate social programs, what does the love that Jesus calls for, love that expects absolutely nothing in return, look like? What does love given freely, love given without guilt or shame or expectation look like? What does it even mean to love our neighbors in such a broken world?
It looks like God’s love to us. It looks like the most powerful force in the universe taking on fragile human flesh to be with us. It looks like God not asking if we’re worthy, if we’re going to make God’s love worth it. True love looks like God not leaving us when we screw up, sticking with us even through death and pain and suffering into the joy of resurrected life.
This doesn’t mean that God’s love for us doesn’t change anything, that it leaves us where we are. It means that God shows us love that blesses us even when we curse, that does good to us when we hate, that holds us even when we abuse and betray it.
Love transforms us. God’s love for us transforms us to try to love each other like Jesus calls us to. God’s love for us makes us see how broken our systems are. God’s love makes us see all of the walls that we have put up to try to stop love from reaching those we call unworthy, and shows us how love is reaching into those places most of all.
The love that Jesus talks about isn’t just a nice emotion. It’s a complete reordering of society. It’s not asking about the benefits of giving or of loving, but of doing it because that’s how God loves us, because we see the image of God in our neighbor, see that they are loved by God just as fully as we are. It’s about fumbling to try to love each other with even some small approximation of how God loves us. It’s about working to build a society where, as our psalm says today, “the lowly shall possess the land.”
The gospel is written for each of us as individuals, but as individuals who are part of each other, who fundamentally belong to each other. Our response to this gospel can, and should, motivate us to treat each other in our individual actions with the same love that God shows to us. But it should also motivate us to look at the world that we have built together, and to ask ourselves how we can collectively create a society that better reflects the love that Christ holds for us. A society that doesn’t ask who is worthy of compassion and of love, but asks how each of us can be more loving, more compassionate, with the understanding that each of our fundamental identities are rooted in Christ’s overwhelming, life giving, incomprehensible love for us.
Sermon by Corps Member Megan Oakes (middle) on Mark 10:46-52 from October 24, 2021 at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Florissant, MO.
In today’s Gospel, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, is sitting on the side of the road when Jesus, his disciples, and a huge crowd pass by. Once Bartimaeus finds out that the reason for the crowd is Jesus, he immediately, urgently begins to cry out to him, shouting “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
The immediacy of Bartimaeus’s shout creates an intense display of vulnerability for everyone watching. He can’t see Jesus, but Bartimaeus calls out to him, raising his voice to a man who he is identifying as the son of David. This identification of Jesus as the son of David is connected to the legacy of kings, and identifies Jesus as the fulfilment of the prophecy in the book of Samuel that proclaimed that a descendant of David would establish the Kingdom of God, and that this descendent would rule forever. And Bartimaeus is daring to cry out to this Lord, from the side of the road, in the midst of a chaotic procession out of Jericho toward Jerusalem.
Not only does Bartimaeus call out to Jesus and name exactly who he is, he also asks Jesus for mercy, recognizing his own need and crying out to Jesus for help. And because of this disruption, the crowd tries to silence him.
I wonder why those walking alongside Jesus ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, to not speak to Christ. After all, those following Jesus were not very likely to be that much more well off than Bartimaeus in many ways - they would have been a motley crew of ordinary people, living under an oppressive empire, and suffering their own experiences of marginalization, even though they presumably were able to see, and because of that ability, able to walk with Jesus instead of begging by the road. They *should* have been able to emphasize with Bartimaeus, because really, why would they be following Jesus if they weren’t also looking to be healed? How could they not see Bartimaeus’s need for healing as intrinsically connected to their own? And yet, the crowd’s immediate reaction was to hush Bartimaeus, preferring not to make a scene, preferring to keep everything in order, and to make sure Jesus could do what they thought he was supposed to.
I think that those in the crowd may have been confronted, through Bartimaeus’s cry to Jesus, with their own reluctance to ask for healing for themselves, and with their own fear of rejection by Jesus from that healing. Bartimaeus’s disruption made those in the crowd aware of their own needs, but rather than also asking for healing and mercy, the crowd silenced him. They had been following Jesus, but they themselves likely had not had the intimacy with him that Bartimaeus is asking for in crying out directly to Christ. Bartimaeus’s disruption makes them all “look bad,” that is, look like they too might be in need of healing, like their own brokenness might have to be on display like his is.
To me, this desire to hide any potential wounds rings true to my own experience. As much as I want to try to fix everything and make everything safe for other people and to talk big game about mutuality and care, I tense up when I need to ask for help for myself, or when someone assumes that I need help that I think I could get by without. I don’t think I ever could have had the bravery of Bartimaeus to cry out to Jesus for healing. I would have been too busy convincing myself that someone else deserved it more.
At the beginning of covid, I lost my job at school, and was placed in a tough financial place on a few fronts. I was incredibly stressed, and debating on if I should move back in with my parents to save on bills, even though my lease wasn’t over. I mentioned this to the priest at my church, and he offered me a paid position doing work as a sacristan, a position I had already been talking to him about taking for free. I needed that job, and yet, every single part of me wanted to refuse it. After many conversations, I accepted the job, and am still so thankful for it, as it allowed me to stay in Seattle until I could find another job that summer. Having the stability working as a sacristan provided me helped me to stay in community with the people I cared about, helped me to finish school, and took a ton of stress off my shoulders. And there is still a nagging voice in my head that tells me that the funds used to pay me could have been better used for another project, for another member, for someone else who had it worse than I did.
We create this same separation in our own lives as the crowd tried to create with Bartimaeus, categorizing some as those that need healed, and some as those who are better, who don’t have the same need for this healing. Even though it may be viewed as coming from a place of selflessness, of giving, this dividing up of ourselves as givers and receivers results in an understanding of the world that split us into useful and useless, whole and broken, good and evil. It creates power dynamics that only serve to drive us farther away from God and from each other. And it causes all of us to seek to deny our needs, our own hurt and brokenness, and through this denial, to deny the needs of others.
And how does this desire to separate worth from unworthy result in the silencing of those who are brave enough to cry out for help?
Our entire society is set up to silence. It’s set up to make sure that those who receive help are only those who are “really worthy” of it, with the goal of making sure that anyone who may not quite need the help doesn’t get it. This goal of silencing prevents many who need help from getting it, and prioritizes a false idea of worthiness over basic human dignity.
At the food pantry within the youth and family center, where I’m serving this year, one of the items that leaves our shelves the fastest is dish soap. Dish soap isn’t needed for survival, yet many people will ask for dish soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and other cleaning products before they even look at the food we have. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap – same thing.
The reason for this is that none of these products are covered by food stamps. Since the government says that toiletries and cleaning supplies aren’t needed for survival, they aren’t seen as worthy of government funding, even though they are just as important for day to day living. And so our center tries to fill in the gaps, gaps that have been left because our society has collectively decided that it is better to prevent anyone from getting too much, from being too comfortable, than to ensure lives of dignity for everyone. Just as the voice of Bartimaeus was seen as a distraction and not worthy of being heard by the crowd, so are the needs of the marginalized in our own society seen as a frivolous distraction, too unimportant for the busy decision makers of our world to pause, and listen to, and work to change. In our society’s categorizing of some needs as real, and others as frivolous, we have created entire structures of silencing.
When Jesus hears this disruption, he doesn’t ignore it, doesn’t tell Bartimaeus off, and doesn’t tell the crowd off either. The gospel says that he stands still, and tells those around him to call Bartimaeus over. He focuses his attention onto Bartimaeus, stopping his journey out of Jericho, stopping an entire crowd of people for the sake of one person who had the boldness to ask for healing. And suddenly, the whole tone changes. The people surrounding Bartimaeus tell him to take heart, and encourage him as he rushes over. Because of Jesus’s pause, the whole crowd turns its attention from the next thing to do to the man suffering right in front of them, right their with them in their midst.
When Jesus speaks to Bartimaeus, he doesn’t immediately heal him. Instead, he first asks him exactly what he needs, what he wants from him. And Bartimaeus, continuing his boldness and his openness, tells Jesus that he wants to see again. No frills, nothing extra, just one simple, impossible request.
And Jesus does it. Bartimaeus regains his sight almost immediately after asking to be healed. And then he joins the crowd surrounding Jesus, and follows him, out of Jericho, on to continue with Jesus on his mission of healing and liberation. The first action after the gift of healing is to go follow the healer. Bartimaeus immediately takes the action to walk with the one he named as the messiah. The first act after an individual is healed is to work towards a healed community.
If the crowd had its way, and Bartimaeus had not been brave enough to keep crying out, what would have happened? They would have walked on, passing him by, leaving Bartimaeus suffering, and the crowd secure in their belief that they had prevented a problem person, a person seen as a bother, from interfering with Jesus’s mission. They would have walked on, leaving a part of their community behind in Bartimaeus, sitting on the road. But they didn’t. Bartimaeus kept crying out, and Jesus heard him, and healed him. And the body of Christ forming around Christ found another part of itself.
Bartimaeus’s bravery in crying out for help, and his bravery in knowing his own need, helped reveal the Kingdom of God for the crowd that was following Jesus, and for those of us who hear this story now. Jesus’s healing of Bartimaeus is a miracle, but so too is the conversation they have before. A conversation where the son of God pauses, and hears the cry of the marginalized among the marginalized. A conversation where the need of one man takes priority over any other more efficient, utilitarian ways of solving the problems of the world. A conversation where an omniscient God asks what a suffering man needs and wants, rather than acts without relationship. A conversation where we see the dynamics of the kingdom of God at play.
If we really recognize and proclaim Christ’s healing message to the world, that requires us to also open ourselves up to that healing for ourselves. We cannot proclaim Christ’s healing for others without recognizing our own brokenness, and we cannot begin to heal ourselves without healing others.
Whether we like it or not, we are connected to each other, and proclaiming the gospel means living into that truth. It means that instead of coming forward with solutions, we, like Jesus, come forward with questions, asking what those we serve want us to do. It means that, like Bartimaeus, we see our own needs, and cry out for them, trusting that God values our dignity, and that there is abundance enough that everyone can live a life of dignity, even if our world denies it. It means that we denounce the structures that separate us from our siblings in Christ, and refuse to accept the lie that there is not enough for everyone, that some needs must be sacrificed for our society to run. And it means that, like the crowd, once we hear Jesus’s invitation of healing, we cease our own silencing behaviors, and start encouraging each other to cry out for help, from God and from each other.
Sermon by Corps Member Maddy Bishop on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
from June 27, 2021 at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO.
One of my favorite spiritual authors is Henri Nouwen. He writes a lot about the spiritual life, the ways of Jesus, and how Jesus’ own life is the model for how to live our own. I recently finished his book called, Letters to Marc about Jesus, and I can’t stop thinking about the chapter called “Jesus: the descending God.” In this chapter, Nouwen talks about just that, how Jesus is God descended from heaven to live among us. Jesus comes down to us not as the elite or the wealthy, but he chooses to live as a single man from Galilee with no prestige, no wealth, and no real power. I want to share with you a quote from that chapter:
“I said at the beginning of this letter that I wanted to write to you about the love of God become visible in Jesus. How is that love made visible through Jesus? It is made visible in the descending way. That is the great mystery of the Incarnation. God has descended to us human beings to become a human being with us; and once among us, he descended to the total dereliction of one condemned to death. It isn’t easy really to feel and understand from the inside this descending way of Jesus. Every fiber of our being rebels against it. We don’t mind paying attention to poor people from time to time, but descending to a state of poverty and becoming poor with the poor-- that we don’t want to do. And yet that is the way Jesus chose as the way to know God.”
I believe the heart of today’s epistle is pointing us to this way of Jesus. The way of living with utter disregard for relevance, power, and security by living among, caring for, and healing the most commonly avoided so that we all may know what real freedom is.
In this epistle, Paul is writing to the Christian community in Corinth. There is a bit of context that the lectionary leaves out so I am going to go ahead and read the reading again but with those earlier verses as well. If it helps, you can close your eyes and listen :)
We want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are struggling and they don’t have any money. As Paul is visiting the Gentile christians in surrounding areas, he collects money for the church in Jerusalem. He lauds the Macedonians for their generosity in the midst of their own hardship and makes note that the grace of God is evident in their selfless giving.The Macedonians gave what they could and some gave beyond what they could. They trusted that as was the case with the manna from heaven, “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” The Macedonian’s gave up of themselves--yes, in a real concrete way such as money, but I think the most important part is that it was monetary giving born from a place of letting go of their own self-importance in obedience to the flourishing of all people.
In verse 1, it says that “the grace of God was granted to the Macedonian church” and then a few verses later, “they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.” Because the Macedonians had first surrendered themselves to God, and then to their wider communities, the overflow of the Spirit in their life made manifest in this strange act of financial giving to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. And in verse 1, Paul calls this very act of monetary giving the grace of God made tangible. We are channels for God’s grace in all that we do, think, or say.
And now, at the start of our lectionary reading, Paul is talking directly to the Corinthians. He tells them that they’re doing really good work, they are overflowing in knowledge, in their faith, speech, and in the desire of the hearts for God--but they seem to be forgetting their kinship with the church in Jerusalem and need to translate their spiritual devotion to Jesus into material action with financial giving.
I wonder if the Corinthians, like many of us, were really grappling with the economic and material demands of following Jesus. There are many scriptures throughout the entirety of the Bible that require us to think seriously about how we spend our time, how many things we acquire, how much money we keep for ourselves, and to really investigate what is motivating our lifestyles.
And to choose the descending way of Jesus, to turn away from the temptations of affluence, power, and security for the sake of more honestly loving and living in solidarity with others, is really, really hard-- at least for someone like me with relative social mobility and ample opportunities to choose security, privilege, and my own comfortable bubbles. As Henri Nouwen said in his earlier quote, “every fiber of our being rebels against this way.” This way of Jesus is really, really difficult and it does require sacrifices from us.
But here is where I find the Gospel in this invitation to the descending way of Jesus. God’s incarnate life, in service to the poor and vulnerable, his death on a criminal's cross, and his quiet, mysterious, yet victorious resurrection offer us the chance to start really living and to truly be free, right now!
But free from what, really living how? Well, for me, it means being freed from the worship of the nuclear family, from conformity to white middle class values, and from the excessive need to amass and protect private property. When we surrender to Jesus the ideas, values, and material landmarks of success that our culture says you have to have to be happy and to fit in, when we surrender those motivations not only do we become free to actually love ourselves for who we are truly are (not just who the world wants us to be), we become channels in which other people experience the grace and freedom of Jesus Christ, who came not just to “save our souls” (though that’s part of it) but to completely transform the material, social, and economic conditions of this very world, here and now.
The gospel is freedom for ALL of us, not just for those of us who are marginalized, but for all of us who live under the tyranny of the Gods of American Success. Jesus frees us from all the forces in this world that want to distract us from our belovedness, from the belovedness of our friends, and from the belovedness of those completely unlike us. Jesus frees us from the lie that you have to get ahead, have lots of money, and be relevant in order to be someone of value in this world. When we surrender that lie, we come alive to God all around us and within us, and begin truly living.
As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?”
When we relinquish performative allyship, we gain the opportunity for an actual relationship.
When we surrender the idea of luxurious living, we lessen the distance between us and those who live on the streets.
When we give up the striving to be the leader in the room (or for me, the smartest person in the room), we make space for mutual respect and vulnerability.
When we give away our wealth, or take off the mask of perfection, or start hanging around people who don’t think, look, or talk like us, we can begin to hear the holy spirit telling us that we are God’s beloved, that we are loved just as we are. So we can quit the striving for perfection and chasing after material things that will never make us truly happy. When we come to trust that God’s love for us does not hinge on anything we can do or not do, we can show up in real solidarity, and go into the world in peace, at peace with ourselves and with God’s all redeeming love, to love and serve the Lord in all that we do. The grace of God will flow to us and through us, ministering not just to ourselves but in service to the whole world.
Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and the Spirit of the Lord is always with us. Let us go and be real and let us go and be free, for our own sake and for the sake of others. Amen.
Sermon by Corps Member Bryan Moore on John 2:13-22 from March 7, 2021, at St. Paul's-Carondelet in St. Louis, MO.
Good morning. Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Bryan Moore. I am a corps member at Deaconess Anne House here in St. Louis and I have spent the year serving at The Haven of Grace, a program for women who are pregnant and experiencing homelessness... And I am a born and bred Episcopalian from Columbia TN.
I’ll start off with a story of when I was a kid in the Episcopal Church. My church in particular is one of strong tradition. It is held together tightly by these traditions and it is a place where change comes slowly. This is a congregation that hasn't changed the paper coffee cups they get from the store in at least the past 23 years...
Being an acolyte in the church was a big deal where I was from. Our instructor was also a high school cheerleading coach. His name was Mr. Orman. He treated his acolyte job just like his job as a cheerleading coach. We would all have to be in sync, start walking in unison at the second verse, stop at just the right moment, and turn all together. Tie the knot on your belt this way, not this way. Hold the cross just so, etc... As a 10 year old, I must admit, it was not that fun. Sometimes the person who was supposed to fill in that week wasn't there and Mr. Orman had to find substitutes. And He would pop out the door right over there and then all the kids would immediately get down and hide in the pews. These are my main memories of going to church as a kid. I was so focused on when my que was and not messing up that I didn't have time to really focus on this Jesus dude who was supposed to be a cool guy. That seemed like a microcosm of the larger experience at that church.
I grew up there learning that church life seemed like it was more focused on doing what was right, coming in on que, blending in, doing my fair share, keeping the wheels turning in the church. Putting down MY set of cards on the table and saying look, here I am, a good Christian. It usually became a repetitive pattern. Doing the same things the right way every time Every Lent, Easter, Sunday school, and Christmas. MAKING IT A PATTERN, being on autopilot for every week. I still have this philosophy when I go to church. I look forward to being able to rely on consistency and enjoy the little comforts. The flowers on Easter, Silent Night being played at the Christmas service... Lenten suppers, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Etc... Recently in my year at Deaconess Anne House, I have discovered a different perspective through prayer, which I will get to later.
Let me say tradition and repetition are important and necessary to have an organization that stands to last. Foundations have to be built on something. Tradition and repetition help create sustainable practices and also help us make meaning. These rituals, practices, and patterns are unique to the church history. I will always remember going to church camp in the state of TN and being amazed that people who never knew each other worshipped the same way and out of the same Book of Common Prayer. We could share stories about similar joys and struggles. It was easy to develop relationships with these people. It felt like I already knew them. It is a denomination of strong broad community.
The Jewish people also had their own set of traditions, rituals, and practices that they enjoyed and did every year to worship God. Some of this tradition included moneychangers, bartering, and animals being offered as sacrifice. All of this was being done in preparation for Passover. This is where we enter in our gospel passage for today. Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes into the temple. In the temple, he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. And then, the next thing we hear, Jesus, making a whip of cords, drives all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. He went on, to meet their challenging question for a sign with a challenging answer: tear it down and it will rise again in 3 days. The people misunderstand and can’t foresee how the temple ended up being him - his body torn down in crucifixion and risen in resurrection.
Another challenging question that the gospel leaves us with today is, if Jesus were to walk in a church today, would he sit down to commune with people at the table or would he flip it in frustration? I don't know the answer but I think it is a healthy question to ponder. I can tell you from my experience that I have at times in my life become lost in the church, possibly suffering from burnout through trying to perform correctly and blend in or suffering from an unconscious auto pilot. Just going through the motions and not knowing why I am there. At times, I forgot I was there because I believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even though I said it every Sunday.
And what does that mean? What does believing even mean? I think it's different for every individual. It's a personal experience. For myself, I used to think that Jesus was this figure that you looked up to far above to worship and do good things for so that you could go to Heaven. I wonder if you have ever felt the same?
During my year at Deaconess Anne House, I have worked on my spirituality and now see Jesus more as a companion living within me, around me, and within other people along with the Holy Spirit.
The mind, the human mind, can only focus on so much. I learned that it is easy to get caught in the web of church business, traditions, and practices as well as career choices, hobbies and other interests, that I don’t take the time to process where I am seeing Jesus throughout the week and where my time needs to be served to grow spiritually. Jesus was a disruptor at that temple. He shocked his community. It eventually led to his death. He continues to shock the world. At Deaconess Anne House we have been studying what Jesus stood for and how he achieved his goals. He stood against injustice and was a champion of the poor and marginalized while also actively being among the poor and marginalized. It is a big difference helping the poor from a place above rather than a place beside. I pose a question…What causes would Jesus fight for today if he were here in the flesh?
Our traditions, practices, and daily business of life are important, challenging, and comforting but we cannot let them cast a web to where we can't look outside to what is going on around us and to where we can’t look inside to see what is going on within ourselves. I as a Christian challenge myself and invite others to share in the challenge to practice our traditions that have bound us together while also taking the time to look introspectively at what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means to us individually and as a community. What actions can we take to grow more with each other? And I believe leading by example is the best strategy for leadership and Jesus should be our leader! So again, I ask us to ponder, “What causes would he be fighting for today?” For those causes, let us be disruptors. Come out of our bubble of comfort and repetition and fight the good fight. The fight of Jesus. Amen.
In the name of the divine mystery, and the savior, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Hi, can I please talk to the person who preached yesterday at the crusade?"
"Yeah sure, I am the one, what can I do for you?"
"I would like to talk to a person who preached yesterday, not you."
"Yes, I know what you mean, I am the one who preached at the crusade yesterday. Don’t you trust me?"
"Of course, I trust you, but the person who preached yesterday had a red skin."
My friends, this is part of the conversation that happened a couple of years ago. It was me talking to someone I never met before. I had preached at the crusade on the previous day and the following day this person came to us asking to talk to a person who preached a day before not knowing that I was the one. This person refused to believe that it was me that he was looking for, because according to him the preacher had a red skin, and I have a dark skin.
Here we are on the transfiguration Sunday which some prefer to identify it as, “Quinquagesima” which is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, I wonder if that day I was transfigured just like Jesus. The gospel for today tells us about Jesus taking three of his disciple Peter, James, and John whom some call, “Jesus' best friends” and some say it could have been that they were the three most likely to get into trouble, so He kept them close to keep an eye on them. Jesus goes up to the mountain and he was transfigured before them.
The gospel according to Luke Chapter 9:28 tells us the reason why Jesus went up on the mountain – it says he went to pray. Verse 29 goes further and tells us at what time Jesus was transfigured. It says that Jesus was transfigured as he was praying. This takes us back to the book of Exodus 34:29-35 where the Bible tells us about another person who was also transfigured and gives the reason for his transfiguration. This was Moses. The Bible says that as Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. My friends it is very important to note that Both Moses and Jesus were transfigured when they had been praying, when they had been talking with God. There is a glory of God that we encounter when we pray.
As believers, I wonder how often we talk with God, do we pray only when we face trials and temptations? God needs to have a good relationship with their children, this relationship is built through prayer.
I think this is why Christ Church Cathedral has intentionally been offering several prayer sessions; Morning prayers on Facebook, Monday to Friday and the office of compline every weekday on Facebook Live. Let us make a good use of these prayer opportunities while they are still available especially at this Lenten season we enter.
According to the Wiersbe Bible commentary, “The word transfigured describes a change on the outside that comes from the inside. It is the opposite of ‘masquerade,’ which is an outward change that does not come from within.” This simply means that for the transfiguration to happen, the change must start from inside.
As we celebrate Black History Month it is my humble prayer that we may all be transfigured. We may all experience outward change that comes from the inside. As people of faith, we are all called to love and to do justice. This can be done if and only if we are all willing to be changed from inside, to be changed on how we live with our neighbors who do not look like us and how we embrace this beautiful diversity.
My friends, for so long some Bible passages like the gospel assigned for today have been used to separate white from black and to allot the white color with holiness, cleanliness, and anything good while on the other side the black color has been associated with darkness and anything that is bad or evil. Some other people decided to go far and created a white Jesus as a tool for the justification that one race is superior to the other.
I am from East Africa, in my country just like in many African countries, missionaries brought us this white Jesus, he was introduced to us and we received him without knowing that they were trying to win our psychology so that they can easily colonize us. The most popular Jesus’ film in Tanzania, the one that I used to watch since I was a kid (I am not watching it anymore) had a white Jesus and most of the images of Jesus in most of our churches were of white Jesus. As a kid this made me believe that Jesus was white, Yes, I also believed that even God was a white guy too and that made me believe that everyone who looked like Jesus was superior.
My friends, things like this have been done not by strangers, but by some of our fellow people of faith, it is the same Bible that has been used to justify what they do. It is our time now, for me and you to change this history. This change must start from within us. We cannot go to change the world if we, ourselves have not been changed from inside.
Someone has said, there are three groups of people in this world. The first group is of those who once they die their names die with them because they did not do anything that would keep their names alive when they are gone. The second group is of those who once they die their names will live for ever because of the bad things they did while they were alive, and the last group is of those who once they die their names will live for ever because of the good things they did while they were alive.
My friends, as we enter the Lenten season and celebrate Black History Month, I encourage you to spend time with God in prayer and be willing to accept the change within and then become the change in the world, to love and to do justice. Amen.
This song by Hezekiah Walker, “I need you to Survive,” explains everything about what I find rewarding about my placement site. I serve at Christ Church Cathedral as well as the Office of the Bishop. From the day I started serving with them, I have had the feeling of acceptance and love.
There might have been some differences between us, but they accepted me for how I am. I’m learning and make mistakes, they nicely correct me. I missed a meeting or two, they understood me. I have been allowed to attend some meetings and meet people that I never thought I would.
Dean Kathie is one of the priests in the diocese who has incredible experience in ministry and in church work. As a dean of a Cathedral, Dean Kathie has a very tight schedule, especially with what is going on right now with the pandemic, yet she and Janis, in the diocesan offices, have opened doors for me and they have always been available for me. To me this is nothing other than love, the love that Jesus taught us.
Among other things, I have led Adult forums, Morning Prayer and participate in the Sunday service at my placement site. In doing all this I have felt love from the members of the Cathedral as well.
I would like to end this reflection by quoting the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
Sermon from October 25, 2020, at St. John's - Tower Grove in St. Louis, MO. Given by Corps Member Maddy Bishop
Good morning, everyone! My name is Maddy Bishop and I am a corps member at Deaconess Anne House. Following an internship at Christ Church Cathedral in the summer of 2019, I joined this program in January of this year, getting about 6 weeks of time here before COVID hit. Yet, even with COVID-19, and all the curveballs that it has thrown, I have really come to love this city. The people of St. Louis and the Episcopal Church community here have taught me a lot about how to love my neighbor.
This summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, I joined folks from all across the country in protesting police brutality. There were many chants chanted that night, but there was one chant in particular that really struck me. As we walked down Euclid in the Central West End, folks standing on their balconies watching us walk by, we chanted “out of your homes and into the streets! Out of your homes and into the streets!” I found myself both choked up and deeply convicted. Sure, I was in the crowd. But in that moment it felt like the story of Jesus calling out to Peter in his fishing boat saying “Come, follow me,” and I was being asked to drop my metaphoric nets of individualism and comfortability and give myself completely to Jesus’s ministry, one that is already happening out there in the streets. This crowd of protesters, in the streets demanding justice, taught me a little bit more about how loving my neighbors means getting close and getting involved.
I was talking with my friend Will the other day and he said, “If you were to ask me what Jesus was all about, I would probably reference these verses. They are classic Jesus material.” These are some of Jesus’s most famous words, invoking us to love God and love people. But what does that even mean? What does it mean to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself? Will is right. These verses are classic Jesus, but they are also classically used as vague Christian platitudes.
I see unhoused folks forcibly removed from underpasses by St. Louis city government. Every day I drive by a whole block in my neighborhood that has been completely leveled to dirt. What was once filled with 100 year old homes that belonged predominately to black folks, was made imminent domain and bulldozed so that a new Geo-spatial government unit could be built, displacing countless families who had lived there for generations and furthering the gentrification of the North side. Just this week, another beloved business in St. Louis has closed due to COVID-19. One of the few remaining LGBTQ+ bars that served as a place of safety and refuge has closed for good.
So what does it mean for me to love my neighbor when I live safely and comfortably in Episcopal Church housing but drive by the same folks asking for money at a corner in my neighborhood? What does it mean for me to love my neighbor when every day I see the effects of racist redlining policies that have segregated the city and disproportionally affected people of color? I could go on. The list of injustice in our communities, cities and nation is long.
There are no easy answers to many of these complex issues, but I believe that Jesus’s call to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love our neighbors likewise, is a call to getting invested in these hard questions. These commandments are a call to specificity in loving our neighbor. We are to orient our lives Godward, and in doing so, Jesus moves us to address the injustice we see all around us. Perhaps Jesus knew that these commandments left a lot up to interpretation and personal experience, maybe he knew that the best way to teach us was by modeling for us how to love God and love our neighbors.
Jesus got very specific. Jesus didn’t write off the prostitute, nor begrudgingly dine with tax collectors. He made specific choices about who he spent his time with. Jesus lived his life with the “sinners” and the outcasts, the ones with whom religious authorities marked as unclean and with whom political authorities economically exploited. Jesus overturned the tables in Matthew 21 not out of a random bout of frustration, but in anger at the way the temple was being used as a place of scamming women. Women who were required by religious law to buy sacrificial doves in order to be made clean after giving birth. Jesus saw the way the money changers were raising the prices on these doves, Jesus noticed the systemic exploitation that was happening, and because he was living among the people and watching how It affected them, he sought to cleanse the system of its evil practices. Jesus got specific.
In a few months, we will celebrate the Incarnation, the event in which God became one of us, the moment when God became human and dwelt among humanity. God’s love for us became manifest in the Incarnate Christ, who in an act of solidarity with the poor and dispossessed, came and dwelt among the least of us.
I can’t help but think of the chants to “get out of your homes and into the streets,” and think of Jesus calling us out of our comfortability and into the places where God’s liberating love is already at work. Answering that call is scary and one that makes hard pressed demands upon our lives. God’s love got close in Jesus where he not only cared about the individual needs of people, but the systems that exploited them. So, our love for others must involve us getting close and invested, not only in service to others, but in working to end violent systems of injustice. I find comfort in Jesus, whose self-emptying, whose Incarnation and life lived among humanity, gives me the courage to open myself to the Spirit’s promptings and live as a Christian, a “little Christ” in the world.
To love our neighbors, is to love God. The righteousness that grows from loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, is intrinsically connected to the justice that comes when we are loving our neighbors and being in relationship with them. Raj Nadella, a professor at Columbia Theological seminary said, “One cannot be in right relationship with God unless one does everything possible to be in right relationship with one’s neighbors as well.”
Loving God with all our mind: studying scripture and letting it form and shape our lives
Loving God with all our soul: worshipping God and praying for others, (even our enemies)
Loving God with all our heart: being close to, and in mutual relationship with others, especially the least of these; All of this is in a symbiotic relationship with loving our neighbors. It is all one in the same. As theologian Cornel West said, “Justice is what Love looks like in public.” AMEN.
Sermon from June 3, 2018, at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO. Given by Corps Member Rebecca Cole
Hi everyone! My name is Rebecca, and I am one of the current corps members at DAH, and I am so pleased to be with you all today.
Starting summer before going into 7th grade I was lucky enough to get to go to a week long Episcopal Youth conference each year at Kanuga, a conference center outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina. It was always an extremely important time in my faith- a time to go to the mountains and out of the swamp that my hometown of Mobile, AL was in, and, as is important to many middle and high schoolers, a chance to be away from parents. Sorry Mom and Dad. We had relative freedom to explore the conference center, and it was so exciting to feel like I had at least a glimpse of life after turning 18.
If you have been to an Episcopal summer camp or youth conference, you have likely heard the hymn “Here I am, Lord” which is taken from both Isaiah chapter 6 and today’s reading in Samuel. We did this hymn little differently than many places do. The last night of the conference, we would hold a service, and we would play this hymn at the end, and everyone would take off their shoes, jump up and down, and scream the lyrics at the top of our lungs, either running towards the front and jumping around the altar, or even up and down on the pews. I know what you must be thinking, the conference center loved us.
It gets me thinking about how adament both Isaiah and Samuel were in their “here I ams”. Three times Samuel came running to Eli and said, “here I am, for you called me.” It reminds me of the times you have a conversation with someone and maybe they mumble their words, or maybe like me you don’t have the best hearing in the world, and after of couple times of asking “what did you say?,” you give up and kind laugh and say “mmhmm” or “that’s right.” I don’t know if this is a modern phenomenon, or if we are just trying to be polite by not asking people to repeat what they have been saying 5 times, but 9 times out of 10, whatever you come up with as a response is not at all an appropriate reply to whatever it is they are saying.
I think it is important to note though, that it seems to me that by the third time, Samuel is probably getting pretty annoyed. he starts out running toward Elil and saying “Here I am” and then transitions to simply getting up saying, in what I imagine is a rather exasperated voice “Here I am, for you called me.”
Annoyed as Samuel might be, he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t shrug it off. He trusts himself, and he is confident in asserting “I heard that” rather than just ignoring. I think it is important to note though, Samuel doesn’t figure this out on his own. Samuel hears the call, but he cannot figure out who it is coming from until Eli helps him out.
At Deaconess Anne House, we are very lucky in the fact that we get to meet with a spiritual director. If you are not familiar with spiritual direction, which I was not until this year, it is an ancient practice in which the director sit with the directee, and helps them deepen their spiritual life as well as figuring out how God is working in their lives. A lot of what we talk about in Spiritual Direction is “nudges” from the Holy Spirit. Things that you may not realize were God’s hand until you name them out loud.
When I was in college, I volunteered at a crisis hotline. During our training, the director of the center said something that has really stuck with me. People are experts o own lives: At the crisis center, we don’t tell people what to do or which decision to make. First of all, if you tell someone what to do, if they are anywhere as much of a contrarian as I am, their knee jerk reaction is not to do it. People usually already know the next steps. Our job is to help nudge them to name those things out loud. So that instead of saying “I know you’re failing a class so just to your professor and talk to them about how to bring your grade up.” You ask them, “if you had a friend who was in your same situation, what would you advise them to do?” Many of the times, people will name a course of action to help them cope with the situation they were in. It is amazing how much kinder people treat their friends than themselves. They knew the answer all along, they just needed someone else nudge them name what they already knew.
Similarly, Eli had to nudge Samuel- even though Samuel was the one to hear the voice, Eli had to talk to him about who it was from He had to guide him to help him realize it was not Eli to whom he should be saying Here I am, but God.
I suppose I am trying to make the point we have to constantly remind one another that God is working in one another’s lives. Not in a trite or dismissive way, but truly sitting with one another and allowing each other to name aloud where they are being called, and helping one another say “here I am” to God wherever He calls us.
Thoughts from 2017-18 corps member Kevin Rysted.
Begin Reflection Log: 31st minute of the 22nd hour of the 3rd day of the 4th month of the 19th year of the 1st century of the 3rd millennia of the Common Era.
"I feel that I am less productive on a day-to-day basis while in St. Louis. I feel my own need for outward accountability starting to manifest more seriously. I hope that God takes this moment to act because I will not resist change much longer. I could feel myself returning to my beloved self as I returned to Oklahoma over Spring Break--it is tough to love and accept yourself when your better self is so close by. Here is my attempt at a poem that expresses community's wins:
fear of rough water
brine and wave have damage shown
storm gives sights anew
Let it be known that this poem of my month is for outward digestion by my lovely audience as well as for inward digestion for my spiritual health."
End Reflection Log: 14th minute of the 23rd hour of the 3rd day of the 4th month of the 19th year of the 1st century of the 3rd millennia of the Common Era.