The Corps Members of Deaconess Anne House from 2013-2022.
[St. Louis, MO – June 10, 2022] For the past 9 years, Deaconess Anne House has been a bright spot in our Diocese, offering young adults an opportunity to live and serve in an intentional community of spirituality and service in Old North St. Louis. As our four current corps members finish up a fantastic program year, leaders in the Diocese of Missouri are looking to the future.
The Rt. Rev. Deon Johnson, Bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, and the Executive Team of the Diocese, in collaboration with the leadership of Deaconess Anne House, have determined that DAH will use the ’22-’23 program year as a time of strategic visioning, and will not host a traditional cohort of corps members during this time.
Instead, Bishop Johnson plans to use the upcoming program year to discern and refine the Episcopal Service Corps’ role in our diocese (DAH is a branch of ESC). “We are committed to the future of young adult ministry in the Diocese of Missouri,” the bishop said. “This is the perfect time to intentionally strengthen the program in our diocese and beyond.”
While the Diocese of Missouri will miss the experience that a cohort of corps members brings to us and to the wider communities of the Old North neighborhood and the St. Louis region, we believe this intentional time of strategic re-visioning is necessary and appropriate for Deaconess Anne House to continue to grow in its mission in a changing world. The long-term effects of the pandemic are only just beginning to be apparent and its effects on the young adults in our applicant pool are significant. We believe that we need this year to understand what this generation of young adults is seeking, and to identify how Deaconess Anne House may best serve and support them.
We ask that you continue to support Deaconess Anne House as we move into this discernment year with your prayers, your financial contributions, and your time. The Deaconess Anne House community is what it is because of your participation. The Diocese of Missouri will keep you informed of what is discerned and how it will affect the future of the Deaconess Anne House program.
For more information about changes, to share you stories of how DAH has impacted your life, or to suggest ideas for how DAH may adapt and evolve to meet the emerging needs of young adults today, contact:
Janis Greenbaum, Director of Communications
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
email@example.com / 314-651-1843
Sermon by Corps Member Megan Oakes
on Luke 8:26-39 for Proper 7,
the Second Sunday after Pentecost,
on June 19th, 2022 at
Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO.
Demons are real. Maybe they aren’t like, scary ghosts that swoop around, with horns and stuff. I don’t really think that they’re lurking in the corner, out to get us if we listen to the wrong type of music, watch the wrong type of TV, read the wrong books. But they’re real, and they’re out there.
The man in today’s gospel was possessed with demons. They drove him out into the wilderness, they caused him to suffer, they caused him unimaginable pain.
And. The gospel says that “he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles.” It says that he wore no clothes, and had not for a long time. It says that he lived among the tombs - among the dead, pushed out of his own community because of his suffering, because of his uncleanness. Made more and more ritually unclean on account of his anguish.
Perhaps this man, who was filled with a legion of demons, wasn’t the only one in his community suffering from demonic possession. His demons might have been louder, might have been more disruptive, more gross. They might have been the kind that scares the nice people a little more, the people who don’t want to hear swearing and shouting and feel themselves dirtied by the other. But what sort of force causes someone to chain a person, a living human being? To try to keep them under control, to hold them still, to ~protect the community.~ What sort of entity would cause a community to run someone out, leaving them to sleep outside, without clothing, among the dead?
We could, certainly, call that a demonic force. But there’s something scary about naming this as demonic, pushing the definition out past the naked man, past the one we’d call weird. Because when we name the “nice” behavior as demonic, the behavior that keeps our communities as they “should” be, it forces us to call ourselves possessed. It forces us to see that we ourselves, and those we love, and those we worship with, are poisoned by the forces of the devil.
Bills that ban camping in public places, effectively criminalizing homelessness, aren’t passed, pushed for, or supported by people who look “scary,” who “look” like they might have a demon in them. They’re passed by our neighbors, our friends. They’re passed by the people that society tells us are nice, are good, are doing everything right. They’re passed by us.
Today we’re celebrating Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the announcement to enslaved Black people in Texas that the civil war was over and that slavery was abolished. This was over two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. It’s a celebration of freedom, of overcoming oppression. And. It’s a reminder of the quietness of evil, of the subtlety of demons. The same forces of silent evil, of not telling people of their freedom because it would mean relinquishing control, giving up sin. Continuing to exploit the lives and labor of thousands of people for personal gain, and still being able to re enter society after it with no repentance or change, because this sin wasn’t running naked or looking scary, it was insidious evil, committed by those who white society deemed, and continues to deem, the good guys. The demons are sneaky, and so obvious if you’re looking for them, if you’re the one suffering the consequences.
So what about now? Where are our subtle, societal, horrific demons now? We don’t have to look any farther than the nearest city jail to find out.
Chaining those up who somebody, some force, has said are bad, even when the crimes committed are things those with more privilege get away with every day, is evidence of the persistence of this demonic force. We might like to think our world now is more moral than the one Jesus lived in, or than America in 1866. We might like to think that we’ve progressed, that we’ve learned more, become more humane, become more ~Christian~. But even though we might have more distance from it, every day our government enacts the same brutality upon the most marginalized in our communities that this man’s community enacted on him. Our society now is riddled with the same subtle, polite, demonic possession that this man’s community was.
Jesus doesn’t join in this sin, this isolation, this ostracization. He doesn’t pass the suffering man by, doesn’t ignore or shun the man who suffers from more annoying demons, more scary ones. He doesn’t allow himself to be possessed by the demons that are all around in the community. He goes to the man, and tells the unclean spirit to come out.
There is already life among the tombs. This man is already out there. There is already life among the tombs, because there is already someone that God cares for among the tombs. And Jesus, in his love for the man, in his particular love for the one sheep who has gone afield over the 99, goes out to be with him, to heal him, and to free him. God shows to this man the same love that God has shown throughout time, the same love that God proclaims in our reading from Isaiah today, love that reaches to those who are among the tombs.
God is among the graves with the suffering man. God is no less with this man when he thinks that he is alone, only surrounded by the dead, than God is when interacting with him, loving him, face to face. God was with him the whole time. And then God comes to him physically, and sends the demons out from him, where they proceed to destroy themselves.
He is freed, and his neighbors, his friends, his community who sent him into the hills, sees it. They see the man, “clothed and in his right mind,” sitting at Jesus’s feet. And they are so afraid.
Why? Weren’t they afraid when he was full of demons, and if that was the reason, shouldn’t they be comforted now?
I think that they feared their own sin. The same demons that begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, the same demons that did not want to let go, do not want to come out of the people who punished this man, who feared him. They are afraid of the change that will take place - afraid of what it means for the demons that shape the structure of their society - of our society - to go away. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the question of what a world free from the powers of sin and death, of punishment and imprisonment, of DEMONIZATION would look like. And then, Jesus gets into a boat and leaves - but not without hope. Not without a continued reaching out, continued story, through the man who he had healed.
After the healing is complete, after the man is himself again, after he is freed from what tormented him - Jesus sends him back. He makes him an evangelist of his mission. He trusts him with proclaiming his own story, proclaiming what God has done for him. God makes this man, the one deemed unreliable, unclean, the one who is set out to proclaim his story. He makes this broken stone the chief cornerstone in ministering to this community, in sharing the good news.
There are demons, and they are real, and we can see them. And Jesus is continually reaching out, freeing people from them, offering to free us from them too, if we’re not too afraid. If we don’t send him away, scared of the disruption that his liberation offers, scared of seeing our own sin, our own society’s sin, face to face. Jesus is always there, offering this healing, offering to let our demons throw themselves off of a cliff, offering us a way back from the tombs, from our worship of death and sin. There is always a way back, if we’re brave enough to look at it. Amen.
A Sermon by Corps Member
Erin O'Rourke for the
Fifth Sunday of Easter,
May 15th, 2022 based on
John 13:31-35 at St. Timothy's
in Creve Coeur, MO.
Good morning everyone! My name is Erin, and this year, I’ve been serving as a corps member at Deaconess Anne House in St. Louis. I want to thank Rev. Camie for inviting me to preach this morning.
There’s a question I think about a lot: Since God loves us, what does this mean for the way we live? What should we do differently now that we’ve witnessed God’s love poured out to us through the life of Jesus?
It’s a huge question and it’s one that I definitely can’t answer by myself. Thankfully Jesus answers this question in our reading from the Gospel today.
To provide a bit of context, this portion of John’s Gospel takes place at the last supper-- Jesus’ last meal with his group of disciples on earth. Jesus knows that Judas has just left the group of to betray Jesus-- an act that he knows will lead to his death on the cross. However, rather than speaking to the group in anger or hurt, Jesus shares some final words with his disciples. He tells them that though he will soon be leaving them, their work of glorifying God on earth does not end. He gives them a new commandment about how to live in the world: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And at first, that commandment might sound simple: love one another. Easy, right? I love all kinds of things and people: I love coffee, I love sunny weather, I love my friends, I love my sisters.
But simple as that commandment might sound, Jesus isn’t calling us to love each other like we love mere things, or even as we might love our friends. He’s calling us to love each other as he loved us.
Jesus’ love for us is so great, that even as we crucified him-- sending him to a brutal death, he overcame that death and invited us into eternal life. Jesus’ love is so great that even as one of his closest friends betrayed him, he responded not out of anger, but with hope. Jesus’ love is so great that even as humanity continues to distance itself from God by destroying the planet and failing to care for the vulnerable, God calls us back, again and again, insisting that we can change and do better.
It’s an amazingly powerful love.
Now thankfully, Jesus doesn’t begin and end his talk of love there, leaving us to determine how we can interpret it in our life. Earlier that same evening, Jesus made his teaching about love concrete. He humbled himself and washed his disciples’ feet, telling them that if he, their Lord and teacher, washed their feet, they should also do the same to each other. Through these words and actions, Jesus shows his disciples that serving each other in small, everyday ways is an act of love.
At another point in the Gospel of John, Jesus also tells the disciples that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends-- which in his case literally means death. Yet, Jesus doesn’t only ask us to love our friends or even our families. No, he asks us to do something harder-- to love everyone in our community as he loved us, laying down his life for us.
When we take these teachings on love together, we learn that God is asking us to show care and concern for other people, in both big and small ways, taking the risk of loving even when people may not always show that same love back to us.
I’ve been grateful to have many people in my life who have shown love to me-- family, friends, and a partner. This year I also have experienced love in a different way-- in an intentional Christian community. Last spring, I graduated from college and decided to spend the next year living and serving at Deaconess Anne House in St. Louis. Deaconess Anne House is a program of the Episcopal Service Corps, where young adults commit to spend a year living together, praying daily, sharing meals, living under a rule of life, and serving at various local nonprofits and churches. In the months I’ve spent in this community, I’ve learned so much about how we can receive God’s love from others and show it to the people in our midst.
When I entered into community life, I knew I was committing to living alongside three near-complete strangers, as well as forming relationships with our director and deacon. Long before meeting each other in person, we had individually committed to living under a Rule of Life. Though we knew we’d write the Rule together, we had no idea what its specifics would be or who exactly the people we’d be keeping it with were. Our rule of life, based loosely on the rules that Benedictine monks use to order their communities, lays out the ways we live out our values through daily actions. As a community, we committed to a year of listening to God’s will in our lives and following it, living simply, and creating stability for each other.
These commitments have meant showing up for each other every day and serving each other-- through mundane tasks like sharing meals and chores, through shared acts of worship and daily prayer, and through committing to supporting each other on a deeper level-- through vulnerable sharing about our own faith, feelings, needs, and hopes for the future. These commitments have meant listening to the needs of the neighborhood and city around us and seeking to serve others with humility. We committed to spending at least this year prioritizing the needs of our community over our own needs, offering this year to each other as a chance to learn and grow in love together.
Just in the past few months, my housemates have driven all the way across St. Louis when I lost my keys at my placement site late one night, made time and space for me to rest in the midst of my first holy week working for a church community, and listened for days on end, asking thoughtful questions as I tried to sort out questions of vocational discernment.
In the beginning, it was hard to imagine what that might look like nearly nine months later. Together, we’ve gone through some amazing times, and some really hard ones-- we’ve cared for each other in times of illness and health, through uncertainty about the future, and figuring out plans for after our year together ends. We’ve been with each other through significant losses, and as we’ve made new friends and connections. We’ve learned how to respond when others go through stressful times, and how to communicate better about what we need from each other. We’ve also had support from so many people-- our director, Michaelene, and Deacon, Dayna, our host families, prayer pals, and parishes like St. Tim’s. All of these people and organizations showed us the meaning of community by coming together to teach us, welcome us, and show us ways of loving each other.
To me, being part of a community like this one means committing to showing love to others through our actions-- it means making a commitment to be there for other people.
Christian community is not limited to people who are able to live together as we do. While it might look different, as a church community, each of you also commits to certain ways of caring for each other and being there for each other. Each week in services, you pray for each other, and in so many ways you offer up your lives to each other. Maybe you’ve driven someone from church to a doctor’s appointment or surgery, brought them food when they’re going through a hard time, or cared for their child or pet in a pinch. In ways as simple as these, you can show God’s love to your family members, friends, neighbors, partner, and people you work with. You can show God’s love to people you never meet, by advocating for justice or creating a better world for people who come after you.
Of course, we’ll be in relationships with people who frustrate and annoy us, and with people we disagree with. Yet Jesus sets an example of how to handle this-- he loves humanity despite the many ways we turn away from God’s love. Jesus models staying in relationship with people who hurt him and holding others accountable to move toward a better world. In a similar way, we can’t back out of his command to love others, even when it is difficult.
When Jesus speaks to his disciples at the last supper, he invites us to care for each other, support each other, serve each other, and lay down our lives for members of our community. To me, that’s one of the most important ways we can live differently in light of God’s love for us. If God so loved the world that he gave his only son for us, who are we to stand in the way of showing that love to everyone we meet?
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.
A Sermon by Corps Member Erin O'Rourke for the First Sunday in Lent, March 6th, 2022 based on Luke 4:1-13 at St. Paul's in St. Louis, MO.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, we meet Jesus in the desert– he’s been led here by the Holy Spirit after his baptism. He’s just heard that he is “[God’s] son, [God’s] beloved, with whom [God] is well pleased”. And yet, the spirit has led him to a place of desolation– a place where Jesus is left with his own thoughts, no food, and the Devil– which all sounds like… the exact opposite of what we might think God wants for us.
The more I think about it though, the less surprising Jesus’s situation is. We too, have been told time and again that God loves us, and yet we find ourselves in a desolate place– a world where people make war, a country where government officials try to separate trans children from their loving families and call affirming healthcare child abuse, a community approaching a third year of living through a pandemic. It might feel like God has sent us, God’s beloved children, out into the desert with all the forces of evil.
Now interestingly, this story of Jesus being tempted in the desert was recorded in the Gospel, but Jesus was not with any of the disciples during this time. That would mean Jesus shared this story with his disciples later– he thought it was important enough for them to know. What makes this story so important that Jesus would bring it to his disciples, and they would think it sufficiently important to record? What does this story tell us about who God is, and what God wants for us in this season of Lent? Those are the questions that I’ll try to consider this morning.
So, going back to the desert– Why would the Spirit lead Jesus there? What if this time of temptation was really a time of discernment– a time for Jesus to make clear what he would and would not do in his earthly ministry. As young people, many of us may also be in times of discernment– about what to study, what to do after graduation, or how we want to spend the rest of our lives. We may also be considering how our faith as Christians factor into that. At this time, take a moment to consider something you might be discerning about, and if you like, share that with the group.
As we return to the Gospel, we see in Jesus some ways he aligns his life and ministry to God’s will, some of which may be helpful in our own discernment
Even in his weakened state after fasting for forty days, Jesus is able to confidently assert that he will follow God’s ways, even when the devil presents some convincing alternatives.
The devil offers Jesus opportunity after opportunity to glorify himself as an individual but not as God. He offers Jesus a chance to turn a rock into food for himself, a chance to seize power by breaking one of God’s clearly stated commandments, and a chance for Jesus to show off his own power over death as the son of God. In the final case, the devil even quotes a Psalm, twisting language that we associate with God to do evil.
Now, Jesus *can* do these things that the devil asks him to do– we see each time that Jesus feeds a crowd that he can work miracles with bread. Jesus tells of the coming kingdom of God, where God will usurp all earthly authority. And we see through his own resurrection, that Jesus has power even over death. But each time Jesus is presented with one of these choices, he decides to do otherwise.
When Jesus is presented with these so-called temptations, he has clear answers– each time, a no. He tells the devil, “not today, I’m going to follow God’s example instead”. He decides that he won’t do the things the devil offers to glorify himself but instead stays focused on his mission here on earth. If you look at the kinds of miracles that Jesus does go on to perform, they are always to glorify God, but also to help others– he makes food for crowds, he heals people who are hurting, and he dies to destroy the power of death over us all. You won’t catch Jesus doing something miraculous just to show off.
Each time Jesus says no to the devil, he also cites scripture. Though Jesus, being God incarnate, surely knows God’s nature better than any of us humans ever can, he cites familiar passages from the Bible to remind us how we can discern God’s will. Here, Jesus shows us how we can look at the stories people tell about God and the ways God has shown up throughout history to help to discern God’s will for our lives today. Familiarity with Scripture is one of the best tools we have as we try to determine what is “of God” and what is not.
But of course, just because God’s will is clear to Jesus, does not mean it is for us. Every day, people make choices to do things that bring them further from God– some clearly evil and sometimes simply mistakes. Since we are only human, it’s certainly harder for us than for Jesus to determine God’s will for our time here on earth.
This season of Lent that we’re entering into this week offers us opportunities to do that hard work of discernment. To determine what God wants for us– where we should say yes, and where we should follow Jesus’ example and give a resounding no, persevering in resisting evil. We’re invited to give up things that distract us from God’s ways, to simplify our lives, for now, knowing that we’ll have time to rejoice and celebrate later. We’re invited to enter deeper into practices of prayer and devotion and to learn from the times we’ve fallen short of God’s will for our life. And at those times when we fall short, God also gives us grace, and the opportunity to repent and return to the Lord. A chance to return to the good things that God wills for us by acknowledging our wrongdoing and making amends.
This is a beautiful opportunity, but it’s also hard work.
As some of you may know, I’m spending this year living in an Episcopal Service Corps community of young adults called Deaconess Anne House. Inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict, our community has a document called a rule of life, which lays out our values and the ways we live them out. Three of these values are Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life. Together, these values mean we try to listen and be attentive to the way God is working in our lives and be open to transformation. It means turning away from individualistic ways and towards communal or God-oriented ways.
To me, conversion of life means considering the ways my own actions affect other people– the ways I treat my housemates, family members, and friends as anything less than beloved children of God. It means noticing the ways I am complicit in doing evil, and to paraphrase Dorothy Day, trying to create a world where it is easier to be good.
One way my community works together toward conversion of life is through lots of shared prayer– each morning, my housemates and I gather as a community and pray morning prayer together, often the version from the Book of Common Prayer. Morning prayer involves reading from scripture and confessing our sins to God. While the specifics of confession are almost always silent, kept between me and God, this confession is a daily chance to consider where I know I can do better. Also, each Friday, our house does a form of the Examen, a form of prayer where we identify places where God has shown up in our lives in the past week, as well as regrets and grievances about times when God seemed far away. While thinking about sin and repenting might sound like negative things, for me getting to spend time with these practices has been life-giving, and they have also helped me to see the places where God is working in my life.
A lot of us might think of Lent as a difficult season to move through, especially when the past few years have already made us give up so much. I invite you to reframe this season of Lent not merely to be one of joyless penitence, but instead to be a season of prayerful discernment, of where you can more closely align your life to the good things God wants for all of us. For as Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel, God offers us something so much better than the self-glorifying or even self-destructive ways offered by Satan. God offers us a life of love for each other, a life of community, and eventually a way out of the desert, moving towards God’s kingdom on earth.
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.