Homily: Lent 1B

The First Sunday in Lent (Year B)
First Congregational United Church of Christ
Montevideo, Minn.

Grace to you and peace from the One who bears our burdens and forgives our sins. Amen.


This morning marks the first Sunday in Lent; the first of several Sundays where we put aside the dazzling whites and the sustaining greens of Epiphany and Ordinary Time and exchange them for the subdued penitence of purple; the first Sunday wandering with Jesus in the desert; the first Sunday in the slow pilgrimage to Easter.

Lent is many things to many people.

Many of us grew up associating Lent with the ancient tradition of giving something up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this week yet, “What are you giving up for Lent?” (Coincidentally, studies show that the top four things people give up for Lent are chocolate, social media, alcohol, and swearing; I fit right there, I’m giving up Facebook.)

While most of us are familiar with the idea of “giving something up,” some of us might take a slight twist and “take something up”; that is, start or deepen a prayer practice, read the Bible more frequently; spend time serving those in need, writing letters to legislators.

All of these traditions–both the giving up and the taking on–are good traditions, but they’re not the whole Lenten story. If the point of Lent was simply to “give something up,” then we surely wouldn’t devote six weeks to it and so drastically change our way of worshiping during that time. No, indeed, Lent is about more than giving up chocolate or spending more time reading scripture.  

The holy season of Lent commemorates Jesus’ forty days wandering through the desert, facing temptation, and emerging with greater clarity and deeper purpose. Lent is a period of becoming prepared. Lent makes the bold claim that life is difficult–that the Christian life, the faithful life, the life of community is difficult–and that preparation is necessary in order to more deeply and effectively engage. Without Lent, we would eventually hit a spiritual wall and crumble.  

Lent is also about covenant, about promise. The ancient church marked Lent as a period of preparation for Baptism which always happened at Easter. Candidates for Baptism–both children and adults– would spend the forty days leading up to Easter studying, reading, praying, learning, integrating, serving in order to more faithfully make promises at their Baptism.

These various meanings of Lent converge in today’s readings from Scripture. We’ve got two “big picture” stories here: Noah and the ark and Jesus in the wilderness. We could spend days and days unpacking each of these stories and applying them to our lives today. So I’ll draw our wonder to the story of the Ark.

The story of Noah and the Ark is tragic. It’s absolutely tragic. The ending is good, as we know — the rainbow sits in the sky as a sign of God’s love for us–but the lead up to the rainbow is absolute tragedy.

Not so many verses after God has created the whole world–has given life and breath to everything living, to every plant and animal and person–God is seen destroying the whole world save dear, old Noah; his family; and two of every animal. This kind of behavior is hard for us to stomach. We spend so much time talking about God who is just, God who is loving, God who is merciful. And, indeed, God is all of those things. But God is also sometimes heartbroken.

The story goes that, after many years, the whole of creation had become corrupt and violent. All of creation. Not just the people or the animals. But the whole of creation was so strongly bent toward violence that God’s own heart broke. And, how does God react when God’s heart is broken? Are we not made in the image and likeness of God? How do we tend to react when our hearts are broken? With profound sorrow and deep anger.

In response to God’s heartbreak–that God’s beloved creation, that the very world that God created and called good had become corrupt and violent and perverted — God responds with anger. God cannot imagine moving forward with God’s creation, with the world God created–and so God washes everything away.

Everything, that is, except for dear, old Noah.

Noah is the saving grace in this story. Noah who was righteous. Noah who kept the commandments of God. Noah who cared for the poor and took care of those in need. Noah who picked up his trash. Noah who smiled when he walked down the street. Noah who baked brownies for his neighbor. Noah who prayed for his enemies. Noah who was in relationship with God.

Because of Noah’s faithfulness, God spared creation. God wipes out those whose hearts had become too stained with violence, but God does not end life. God’s anger and sorrow is abated because of Noah’s goodness, Noah’s willingness to be in relationship with God even after God does something which is so hard to believe, so hard to affirm.

And Genesis tells us that God sets the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of God’s promise to never destroy life again. The rainbow is not put in the sky to remind us that God won’t do this horrible thing. The rainbow is put in the sky to remind God that God has promised not to do this horrible thing.

And so what does a rainbow and an ark and a flood have to do with Lent? And more pointedly, what do any of those things have to do with our lives right here and right now?

We’ve experienced a great tragedy this week, haven’t we? It seems like we experience great tragedies every week, every day, and probably even every hour. But in particular, we experienced yet another school shooting (that’s the 18th school shooting this year, for the record.) Surrounding all of this tragedy is death and destruction, violence and perversion. We might be tempted to say, “God! How can you let this happen?” That’s a natural temptation, of course. It’s hard to imagine how bad things can happen to good people; how God could let something like this happen. If that’s where you are this week, don’t feel bad about that. You’re in good company.

We’ve only to look at the sky after the rain to remind us that evils like gun violence, like homophobia, like racism, like classism, like sexism are not the work of God. God made a promise to Noah to never be the cause of destruction ever again. Indeed, great evils are proof that our human nature is cyclical. Once more our hearts are stained with violence, tarnished with corruption, marred with sin. Once more, God’s heart is broken.

But instead of acting out of anger or sorrow–as is natural, as we might be doing this week–God’s choice today as it always has been since that day when God turned a bow upside down and put it in the heavens–is to love.

Love is difficult. I don’t think I’ve shocked anybody with that statement. Love is difficult. The easy response in the face of evil and injustice is rage and anger and wrath. The easy thing in life would be to just plow through anybody who gets in your way. The difficult response is to love those who get in your way; to love those who try to subvert you; to love those who would do harm to you.

Love is difficult. Love takes work. Love takes practice.

When we were washed in the waters of Baptism–when God claimed us as God’s own forever, we made promises–or, if we were too young to make those promises, had promises made on our behalf. In Baptism, we promised to love our neighbor and to love God; we promised to live lives of justice and peace; we promised to honor and respect the dignity of every person.

The simple reality is that sometimes we fail. Sometimes we fail a little bit and other times we fail a lot. Sometimes individuals fail and other times the whole of humanity fails. When we allow the love of guns to overpower the love of children; when we spurn another person for their sexuality or gender identity; when we pollute the earth; when we declare war or allow war to be declared in our name; when we discriminate based on race or gender or class or ability–when we do any of these things which distance creation from the creator, we fail.

Lent is our invitation to wholeness, our invitation to respond as God has chosen to respond, not with anger or wrath, but with love.

We wander through the desert with Jesus during these 40 days in order to deepen our relationship with the God who loves us, the God who created us, and the God who always chooses us. We prepare our bodies, our minds, and our souls for the great festival of Easter where the veil between heaven and earth was forever split and God’s presence among us became permanent. We offer up some things and take up others in order to deepen our intimacy with God and, in truth, with one another.

Our invitation this Lent is to dig deep in the covenant. To look to the sky and remember that God is doing God’s part. To look to the sky and ask, “Am I doing my part? Am I doing my part to cleanse my heart and purify my soul? Am I doing my part to end violence and hatred and injustice?” Am I doing my part? Amen.


Homily: Advent 4B

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Cathedral Church of Saint Mark
Minneapolis, Minn.

“Annonciation,” S. Marie-Dominique Miserez, OP

In the name of the +One
who whispers salvation into the ears of children
and who fills the wombs of old women with prophets. Amen.

I should begin with a simple preface: a word of profound thanks for being here this morning. As you’ve no doubt noticed, today is a curious day liturgically.

We begin this morning with the Fourth Sunday of Advent–blue vestments, four candles around the Advent wreath, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”–and we end tonight with the vigil of Christmas–festival white vestments, the bishop celebrating, brass carols, as many candles as this old cathedral church can muster.

When the day is split liturgically like that, it’s easy to lose steam, both for those up front and for those in the pews. But you’re here, each of you. And that’s important.

You might be exhausted from your holiday shopping or cooking.
You might be lonely this Christmas, the first after the divorce or the breakup or the death. You might be anxious about celebrating something new, nervous about incense, terrified of this new belief being born inside of you. And all of that is important too. So, again, profound thanks.

I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for a brief moment. Picture, if you will, your home. Really and truly picture it. Imagine what it looks like. Picture what it’s made out of. Picture the wood beams or the poured concrete, the steal nails or the paint. Picture the neighborhood, the backyard, the front porch. Picture the roofing, the siding, the gutters.

Feel free to open your eyes again.

Perhaps you thought about your current home. Or your childhood home. Or your neighbor’s home which you covet, even though you’re not supposed to covet your neighbor’s anything. Or your old college dorm.

Or perhaps you’re without an image. Perhaps you don’t have a home. Perhaps you’ve never had a home. Perhaps you’re between homes. Perhaps also you’re thinking about the Cathedral or another church. Perhaps you’re thinking about the library. Or your health club. Or your gym. Or your favorite coffee shop. Or nestled up next to your beloved.

No matter how you engage with it, the image of “home” is very potent in our daily lives.

We often hear, whether or not it’s true, is that everybody and everything should have a home. Commercials for humane societies implore us to give that cute puppy or kitten a home. Entire shopping malls are populated with home decor and home improvement stores.  Political candidates at every level talk about making homes more available or more affordable. Archives vie to be the homes of great writers or thinkers or inventors.  The Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Saint John’s Johnnies have their homes at great universities (while the St. Thomas Tommies have their home at an ~okay university.)

Home. A potent image, not only in our daily lives, but in the life of God’s people. The people of God are a people perpetually in search of a home. From their expulsion from the Garden of Eden to Hagar and Ishmael being dismissed by Abraham to the Exodus out of Egypt to the Exile in Babylon.

The people of God–those with whom God has entered a covenant, a relationship, a promise to ensure flourishing and joy and obedience and love until the end of ages–those people–we— have always been in search of a home.

When we drop into the reading from Second Samuel, the people of God are experiencing a moment of temporary reprieve from the wars and pilgrimages which have defined their collective life for many years. David is on the throne as the King of Israel, the dreaded Philistines are defeated, and the Ark of the Lord is finally enthroned in the holy city of Jerusalem. It seems, if even for a moment, like the people of God have found themselves a stable home.

Which prompts David to turn his well-meaning gaze on God.

David decides that, now that the people of God have a home, so too must God. David informs the prophet Nathan of his plan to build God a grand temple, a refuge from the wilderness of being carried back and forth, back and forth; a respite from the transitory life of living in a tent. A sanctuary which cannot be moved, no matter who attacks Jerusalem. Like the King’s own palace, a temple of stone and cedar and jewels and gems.

But God does not want a home of stone or cedar. God does not want a home adorned in jewels and gems. This morning’s Gospel shows us that God desires a home made out of flesh. God desires to live permanently, to dwell in perpetuity, among humanity, among you and I. Palaces of stone and cedar–palaces like this cathedral church– can protect kings, says God, but not the King of Kings.

While God has spent the duration of human history traveling in a golden box or showing up in clouds or burning bushes, God expresses God’s most intimate, most profound desire in this morning’s Gospel: “Blessed are you, Mary, for you will conceive a baby and that baby shall be God.”

This is the most central tenet of the Christian faith. Not the crucifixion, not the resurrection, not the ascension. All of those are vitally important, but it is here, this morning, in the Annunciation that we are offered salvation, that the fruits of “the Fall” are reclaimed: it is the Incarnation which unites all of humanity–all of humanity, the good, the bad, the ugly– into one sacred human family, baptized firsthand most importantly  through the life-giving waters of Mary’s womb.

God promises through the Archangel Gabriel that God will take up residence in a particular way in the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God expresses God’s desire to take on flesh and blood, bone and muscle, doubt and despair, and the whole range of human emotions and experiences in the womb of a pregnant virgin.

Claiming her own full agency as a human being and as a woman, Mary questions the angel and gains clarity on God’s invitation. Meek and mild images of Mary with folded hands and eyes cast up to heaven are anything but biblical. We are given in the Annunciation an image of a young woman who is able to withstand an angelic encounter, of a young woman who is confident in her own self to question even God’s archangel, of a young woman who insists on her right to full bodily autonomy. A young woman who is a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. A young woman who is the mother of all humanity. A young woman who is an advocate for the oppressed. A young woman who is the very dwelling place of God’s own presence. A young woman who the Queen of Heaven and the Co-Redemptrix. A young woman who is surely a friend of God and a prophet.

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart taught that, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” While Mary’s resounding “yes!” enabled God really and truly to be born among humanity, to set up God’s house in a particular way among us, the same invitation is made to each and every single one of us every day: Come and let me be born in you. Come let me take form in you. Come let me grow in you. Come let me become flesh and blood, muscles and tendons, emotions and feelings in you. Come and give birth to God.

We give birth to God anew whenever we assume Mary’s posture of risk and vulnerability. Whenever we say “yes!” to God’s invitation, whenever we offer our own bodies in the service of the marginalized, whenever our voices are lifted for justice, whenever we honor the beauty of our own bodies, whenever we recognize the blessedness of all humanity, whenever we ponder God’s word deeply in our hearts.

For all it’s joy and expectation, Advent is still a season of penance, a season of stripping away the excess in order to make room for the necessary. The invitation then–as heralded by all of the  Advent prophets, by Nathan, by David, by John the Baptist, by Elizabeth, by the Blessed Virgin Mary– is to consider: in a few short hours, when God once more makes God’s arrival in this world in the form of a helpless baby born on the margins of society. Will you be ready? Will your heart be ready? Will your soul? Will your body? Are you prepared to be a house of flesh for the king of kings, a temple for the Holy Spirit? As the Collect implores, is your conscience purified? Have you turned from sin and wickedness? From the things which prevent all humans from living a full flourishing life of joy and delight?

Our cry this Advent is, as it always will be until the end of the ages, “Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Come in power, come in strength, come in forgiveness. Come. Come and take up residence within us and among us. Come be born in us, come be born from us, come be born for us. Come. Come. Amen.



Homily: All Souls Day

The Feast of All Faithful Departed
2 November, 2017
The Cathedral Church of Saint Mark
Minneapolis, Minn.

In the name of the One who breaks all chains and sets all people free. Amen.

Those of you who are “regulars” around here or any other liturgical church might be familiar with the word “Triduum.” It’s Latin for “Three Days” and it’s most often applied to the three days between Lent and Easter, that is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The Paschal Triduum, the three days leading up to Easter. They are days that often get swallowed up between the depravity of Lent and the mirth of Easter. They are three unique days unto themselves and yet they form one, solid, liturgical whole. One liturgy is celebrated during the Paschal Triduum, but it is stretched out to three days. You’ll notice this March that there is no dismissal at the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, no dismissal at the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday, ad no dismissal at the Proper Liturgy on Holy Saturday. Three days, one liturgy. Three persons, one God. Like most things ecclesiastical, it’s cyclical and repetitive and symmetrical.

Tonight marks the end of another Triduum of sorts, sometimes called Allhallowmas or Hallowtide. All Hallow’s Eve (Hallo-ween), All Saints Day proper (which we will celebrate at this Cathedral and at most Episcopal churches on the upcoming Sunday), and–tonight–All Souls Day. As the Paschal Triduum is appropriately marked in North America during the spring–when life around us is bright and beautiful and, like Christ during the wee hours of Easter morning, is waking up to new life–then it is even more appropriate for Hallowmas to be kept during the fall, when the weather is damp and cold, when the trees are becoming more and more bare, and everything around us is inching ever closer to death.

Christians have been marking these holy days for time immemorial. From the very beginning, Christians have been praying at the graves of the dead. The Early Church celebrated the Eucharist quite literally surrounded by their faithful departed in the catacombs. A practice arose in the middle ages and still continues in all Roman and some Anglican churches to include a small relic of a saint–a fragment of bone or cloth or maybe even a tooth–in every altar in every church. Medieval monasteries kept a book of the dead and placed it near or on the altar during celebrations of the Eucharist so as to unite their celebration of the Eucharist with the Heavenly Banquet which their loved ones were perpetually enjoying. Even today, the Episcopal Church not only remembers fondly, but also prays fervently for those who have died because, as the Prayer Book states, “we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.”

This is a holy night and we are surrounded by holy people from every time and place. You might say that tonight–that the whole of the Hallowmas Triduum–is a “thin place.” The early Celts understood certain places and times as especially holy. They called them “thin places,” that is places where the fabric between this life and the next was especially transparent. This is not the stuff of superstition. No, the early Celts were not practising or even encouraging mediums or seances or speaking from beyond the grave. They simply recognized the biblical fact that our God is the God of the living and not the dead.

It is this fact that St Paul drives home in his letter to the Thessalonians. “But we do not want you to be uninformed…about those who have died,” writes the apostle to the church at Thessalonica, “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Because Jesus died and rose again, Paul continues, we are confident in the hope that our beloved dead will also rise in Christ. It is this hope which allows us to gather in this church on this night and resist the powers of death and the grave.

Although it does not perhaps seem like it, our gathering this night is a protest. It is a solemn act of resistance. Whenever we gather at the altar or the font–whenever we break bread or baptize babies, whenever we anoint the sick or call down the holy spirit, whenever we ordain deacons and priests, whenever we absolve sins, whenever we marry lovers, whenever we offer prayers and sing hymns and light candles–we protest the very powers of death itself.

There is an ancient Christian doctrine called the “Harrowing of Hell.” Although we rarely talk or think about it, we reference it every Sunday at the Eucharist and every day in the Daily Office. There is a line in the Creed which we will soon profess that reads “He [Christ] descended to the dead.”  The Creed doesn’t tell us what Christ did among the dead, but the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church spent plenty of time preaching on it and the text of our choral Requiem imagines it.

But what is it?

A friend of mine–an Episcopal priest and a former seminary dean–told the story of spending one Holy Week–the Paschal Triduum–with a community of Orthodox monks in Greece. He told us of the terrifyingly beautiful  liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. He spoke of the serene silence which penetrated the whole monastery. On Holy Saturday, he told us, he was awoken in the early, early hours of the morning to a blistering noise coming from the church. Fr. Britton flew out of his room to investigate and found the monks–these men who have devoted their lives to stillness and contemplation–milling about the church banging pots and pans, pounding their choir stalls,  throwing laurel leaves all around the church, and yelling “Victory! Victory!”

The monks were celebrating the Harrowing of Hell. Although Jesus had not yet risen–it was only Holy Saturday morning, not Easter Sunday–the victory of Easter was won. Death and all its powers were squashed. Jesus, descending to he dead, had broken the chains of hell and set free all held in death’s captivity. Death and hell and all the powers of darkness had been kicked in the teeth by the God who could not be kept down, the God who, as the Prayer Book states, “alone fighteth for us.”

Although we do not (often) run around the Cathedral yelling “Victory!” or throwing laurel leaves on the floor, we participate in this protest against death and darkness whenever we celebrate Christ’s own death and resurrection. Death–and hatred, bigotry, war, racism, homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy, injustice, and all forms of evil are subdued by Christ’s own death and resurrection. Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us, Alleluia.

Death has lost, friends, and this is good news. The best news, even.

If death has lost and Christ has won–if we protest against death daily–then why did it hurt so profoundly when my own great-grandmother died? If death has lost and Christ has won, why did it hurt so profoundly when your mother or your neighbor or your child or your teacher died? If death and evil and hatred are vanquished, why does it hurt so profoundly when eight people are plowed down on a city street in New York?

Death has lost, friends, but it does not go down without a fight. Whenever our loved ones give up this life and move ever closer to their resurrection in Christ, we are left here in this life.

We are left to sort through the pain and the memories and the heartache and the loss and the grief. We are left to contend against death’s vestigial powers: hatred, oppression, war, white supremacy. We are left to deal with our own sinfulness and brokenness. We are left to mourn and, in time, to move on.

But as Paul reminds us in his letter to the Thessalonians, we are left with hope. We are left with the hope that, while the death of our loved ones is a mixed emotional bag of hurt and fear and anxiety and grief, we are never truly alone. Our hope is in community, our hope is in Christ. We are left clinging to community, clinging to grace, clinging to the Eucharist, clinging to the font, clinging to one another. Amen. 

Homily : Lent 2A

Nidaros Lutheran Church (ELCA)
Clitherall, MN
Gen. 12: 1-4a; Ps. 121
Rom. 4:1-5, 13-17; Jn 3:1-17

L + J

Who are you?

Who are you?

(This isn’t just the guest preacher forgetting your name.)

Who are you?

Who. Are. You?

That’s the question we are asked this morning. Who are you? Who am I? Who are we together?

Who and what and how we are in Christ is important. Our identity matters.

We meet our old friend Abraham this morning, but he’s going by a different name : Abram –an older name, the name he wore before he encountered the living God. A name that was attached to a sense of place: a geographic place, a familial place, a spiritual place.

What does your name say about you and your place? Your place in your family? In your church? In your community? What does your name communicate about your identity?

My last name – Maynus – is Irish, but it’s not the name my ancestors carried with them when they arrived in North America all those years ago. Their name then was McManus.

In the old country – in Ireland –  McManus meant something. It signified that they were from County Roscommon, that they had old Viking blood in their veins, that their ancestors fought in the Battle of Clontarf.

When the McManuses arrived in the New World – in America – however, it communicated something different. It let people know that they were Irish and that they were not welcome to apply for jobs, for apartments, for financial assistance from the government or the community. It let people know that they were Roman Catholic and that they lived by a different set of principles and practices. It let others know that they were immigrants and were virtually without support in the New World.

And when they dropped the “Mc” and added a “y” – that also communicated something. They communicated that they wanted a new start, that they did not want to be known by their Irish heritage, that they were now Episcopalians and not Roman Catholics, that they were now red, white, and blue Americans.

Our names communicate who we are. They also communicate where we are from.

Where are you from? Where are you from?

Lutherans are a proud people. You all are proud of your heritage and all that communicates. (I know this to be true – not only was I baptized Lutheran, but I listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” religiously!) There was a time not so long ago – I’m sure some of you remember this – when you could tell a person’s heritage from their parish. In my hometown of Montevideo, this is most certainly true. The high church Swedes went to Salem Lutheran, the low church Germans went to St. Paul’s Lutheran, and the middle of the road Norwegians went to Our Saviour’s Lutheran.

In Minneapolis, where I now live, there is a Lutheran church just down the block from me called River of Life – they are neither Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, nor German. They are primarily Liberian, from Africa. And they’re just as Lutheran as the day is long.

Where we are from communicates something about our values, about our presuppositions, about our proclivities. Where we are from matters.

Our names communicate who we are – and from where we are – and they also answer whose we are.

From whom did you come? Who gave you birth? Who raised you?

My mother was not in the picture growing up. My identity as a person – as a man, as a Christian, and as a future priest– is shaped by the fact that I was raised by a single father who was, himself, raised by a single mother. It opened me up to new insights and experiences and blinded me from some others.

Who birthed us and raised us communicates something about our identity, about our world view, about our own aspirations. How – and by whom – we were raised matters.

Who and how and where we come from matters.

Our identity gives us purpose – it gives us a framework for interacting with the world, both the good and the bad. It grounds us and gives us a base of operation.

We are who we are largely because of our identity. Take one piece away – who or how or why or to what end – and you will upset the entire fruit basket.

Can you imagine how Abraham – still Abram actually – must have felt when God – the God of Creation – boomed out from the sky: “Go from your country and your kindred and your house”? God asks Abram to leave everything – everything he knows, everything which grounds him, every single part of his identity, and go – go to a strange land, to a strange people, with nothing but a promise from a strange, though compelling God.

We see that this is in God’s character. God is always doing this – asking people to leave everything and move toward something new. After all, isn’t that what happens to Nicodemus in the Gospel?

Nicodemus has an identity – a strong identity, a firm identity, an identity which communicates power and authority and knowledge and stability. He is a Pharisee, the elite of the elite, a leader of his people, with a resume a mile and a half long.

And Jesus – who has nothing but a rock, solid trust in the Father – tells Nicodemus that the only way to salvation is by being born from above. To see the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells Nicodeumus, you must be born again.

Nicodemus would not have heard that phrase – “born again” or “born from above” – with 21st century ears. He would not have heard Jesus asking him to pray a particular prayer in order to be saved.

No, Nicodemus heard Jesus – heard this charismatic preacher – asking him to become a baby again, asking him to defy everything he knew about logic and order and biology.

We know, of course, that Jesus is not speaking literally – that Jesus is not suggesting that Nicodemus crawl back into the womb, and be birthed physically. Jesus speaks of birth by water and wind, by Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus asks Nicodemus – as God the Father asked Abram – to give up everything – everything they knew, everything they cherished, everything they believed, everything which gave them purpose and mission and identity – to give it all up and to follow, to become like a baby

We know all about this, don’t we? About new life by Baptism and the Holy Spirit. We know what it is like to be a baby – if not actually a baby, figuratively one, somebody who is new to the faith, new to the Church, new to the world.

When we baptize a baby or an adult into the Church, we are affirming what Jesus promises in this morning’s Gospel: that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world so that those who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

When we are born of water and the Holy Spirit – when we are washed in the font and sealed with the cross of Christ – we receive salvation from a God who is so spectacularly loving that he offered his only Son to teach us how to live and ultimately to die for us.

We receive the promise made to Abram, the promise made to Nicodemus: salvation through faith.

But how do we live lives worthy of salvation? How do we show the world – show those outside the Church, those still living in the night – what it looks like to be recipients of the salvation promised to us?

The Baptismal liturgy gives us a hint. When you bring your babies to this font to receive God’s gift of salvation, you are entrusted with certain responsibilities:

To live among God’s faithful people
to bring the child to the word of God and to the holy supper
to teach the child the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Commandments
to place in the child’s hands the holy scriptures
to nurture the child in faith and prayer (1)

All of these things are done to a certain end: so that your child might learn to trust God, to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace.

This is what the Christian life looks like – to proclaim Christ, to care for the world and all of God’s people, and to work for justice and peace. This is what it means to be part of the Covenant, to be on the receiving end of God’s salvation.

But we don’t always do those things do we? That’s the whole point of Lent. We sometimes mess up. Sometimes we mess up a little and sometimes we mess up a lot. But the point is that we mess up. On Ash Wednesday, we are marked by ashes and reminded that we are on the fast track to death. That’s human nature. We live right now and soon we will die.

But what comes after death? What is the point of this Christian journey, this movement from Baptism to burial, from womb to tomb?

What comes after Lent? After Ash Wednesday, after all the purple, after all the penance and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, after the crucifixion?

Easter. New life. This is the final destination of the Christian journey, the new land to which Abram was called, the new life to which Nicodemus was invited.

We are called to new life, to live in the light of the Resurrection.

This is our identity as Christians – the Resurrection is our name, it is our location, it is where we have come from and it is where we are going. The Resurrection matters.

But we sometimes need to be reminded of these things. We need to be reminded how to love and trust God, how to proclaim Christ, how to care for others and the world, how to be merciful and just.

Lent is that reminder. We throw ourselves into the Scriptures, we pick up a new practice or leave something behind, we might even fast. We gather together as the people of God and we hear the stories of Jesus in the desert last week, of Nicodemus in the night this week, and the Samaritan woman at the well next week.

We don’t get to Easter without Lent, we don’t get to the Resurrection without the crucifixion. When we sin – even when we do it boldly – we are confident in God’s salvation.

Lent is our annual reminder that who we are matters. For “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


(1) Adapted from the baptismal liturgy in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.


Homily : Polycarp

Mary, Mother of our Redeemer Chapel
Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary
The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp
Pss. 17, 63

Just over a month ago, several of our classmates — along with 100,000 other Minnesotans and million of others worldwide — demonstrated in the streets as part of the Women’s March, a movement both unto its own and in response to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. Surrounded by the rich diversity of humankind — people of all genders, all ethnicities, all political backgrounds, all sexual orientations, all levels of ability — I was struck by the sheer power witnessing. Hundreds of thousands of people — all kinds of people — showing up, moving their bodies, and crying out for justice. Not charity. Not equality. Justice. Witnessing for justice.

We don’t really like that word — witness — do we? It smacks of proselytizing. At worst, it conjures up images of forced conversions under colonialism, as was done — and is still being done — to our indigenous siblings right in our backyard. At best, on the other hand, the word “witness” calls to mind the missionaries of certain denominations pedaling around on their bicycles or knocking on our front doors– harmless and quaint, but ultimately inconvenient.  In any case, I think we struggle to conceive of ourselves — you and me —  as witnesses.

We’re happy to be missionaries — or rather, we’re happy to do mission work. We’re willing to go to North America or Asia or Africa on behalf of our congregation or denomination or order. We’re happy to help clean up after hurricanes or teach children living in poverty. We’re even more happy to simply write a check to Catholic Charities or Jesuit Relief Services and call it a day.

But ask us to witness — much less witness for Christ? — no way. We’re not like that. We don’t do those sorts of things.

Yet that is our calling as Christians, as followers of the martyred Christ. Called to witness for Christ — to make the bold claim: if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar can’t be. If Jesus is Lord, then the President of the United States can’t be. If Jesus is Lord, then injustice, then death, then disease, then the grave can’t be.

And there is dear, old Bishop Polycarp, doing just that. Witnessing that Jesus is, indeed, Lord.

That is, after all, what the archetype of the martyr does. She witnesses. She points to something bigger than herself and, when pressed to the extreme, offers herself up for that thing which is ultimate.

Polycarp’s death is recorded by his followers in graphic and fantastical detail. [Sit back, close your eyes, and picture the dearest, most tender old man bound and standing before the Roman governor, resplendent in his purple and his laurels.]

When the Roman magistrate asked the old bishop to renounce Christ — to proclaim the genius of Caesar, to send the Christians away — he responds so tenderly: for eighty six years — for my entire life — I have known Jesus and he has taken such good care of me. Why in the world would I reject him now?

Polycarp surely knew the consequences for his act of defiance.

“I’ll send you to the wild beasts,”  says the magistrate. “To the lions and the bears who will rip you to shreds.”

“Do your worst,” says Polycarp.

“I’ll burn you alive,” says the magistrate. “You’ll roast so slowly that you feel more agony than you could ever possibly imagine.”

“Go for it,” says Polycarp.

“I’ll order you nailed to the stake so that you’d don’t try to escape,” says the magistrate.

“No need,” says Polycarp. “I won’t resist. You can do what you want to my body — send me to the animals, burn me at the stake, whatever — but you have no power over my spirit.”

And so the magistrate does just that. He orders the old bishop to be burned to the death.

But the magistrate’s flames don’t work — not only do they not kill the saint, they make a sweet fragrance — and so a soldier’s dagger fells the kindly old bishop.

The blood which falls from Polycarp’s wound is enough to quench the fire raging around him. “The blood of the martyrs,” writes Tertullian a couple of generations after Polycarp “ is the seeds of the Church.” From martyr’s blood springs community.

Polycarp’s people — the good Christians of Smyrna — gathered around their slain bishop — united together as Church — and collected from the rubble of the execution, fragments of the saint’s bones, the first instances of venerated relics in the Christian tradition. And they committed themselves to gathering annually on this date — on their bishop’s “birthday into heaven” — to commemorate his witness and the Resurrected Christ to whom he always pointed.

And so do we, all these centuries later. We gather together as Church — as a richly diverse people; as people of all genders and orientations and ethnicities and political backgrounds — and we remember saints like Polycarp, like Catherine of Alexandria, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer — saints who shed their blood witnessing the supremacy of Christ over all earthly rulers, over the injustices of their day, who shed their blood calling the Church back to itself, calling the Church to get out of bed with evil, calling the Church to be Church.

I suspect that most of us are not called to offer our own blood as “seeds of the Church” — anyway I pray that I’m not! — but then how are we called to witness — both as individuals and as a community? How are we called to be like Polycarp, like Catherine, like Bonhoeffer and offer ourselves up pointing to Christ crucified and risen?

We are called — each of us, all of us, together and separate —  to proclaim with our whole lives — bodily, emotionally, politically, socially, sexually, academically, physically — that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Because…if Jesus is Lord, then nothing else can ever be. Amen.

Homily : Advent 2C

Mary, Mother of our Redeemer Chapel
Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary
Baruch 5:1-9

In the strong name of God : + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The holiest person I know is a gentle, generous nun living in the intercity of Minneapolis. A few of you here have met Sister Mary Margaret and can also attest to her holiness. Sister Mary Margaret is not holy because she lives a life of deep contemplative prayer (although she does), nor is she holy because she has mystical experiences (although she has.) No, Sister Mary Margaret is holy because of her deep, deep love – a fierce, passionate love – for humanity.

This extraordinary women finds God nowhere as clearly as she does in the regular, every day experience of human life. As a contemplative nun, as a nurse, as a neighbor to the poor and the marginalized, as a lover of souls, Sister Mary Margaret has seen the broken, the doubting, the healed, the hurting. Not only has she seen them, but she has lived with

them and among them. God, for Sister Mary Margaret, is found in the gritty, messy stuff of humanity.

Whenever I would go to Sister Mary Margaret in fear or despair or doubt or brokenness or plain, ol’ stubbornness (and you all know I have plenty of plain, ol’ stubborn moments), Sister Mary Margaret’s quick, prophetic response was predictable: “You might not be enough for yourself or anybody else, but you’re enough for God. And that’s enough.”

You. Are. Enough.

In your doubt, in your despair, in your affliction, in your joy, in your hurt, in your fear…You are enough for God.

God comes to the Hebrew people – living in exile, living in fear, living in despair – and speaks to them through the prophetic words of Baruch.

And God says to Israel the same thing as Sister Mary Margaret said to me: You are enough.

How often have we neglected the powerful ministry of this pulpit? How often have we forgotten the prophetic power of this altar? How often have we used our pulpits and tables and fonts and classrooms and social media to hand over the garment of affliction, the clothes of sorrow? How often have we failed to recognize God’s profound and unabashed love for us? How often? How often? How often have we preached or taught or tweeted that God’s love has conditions? How often?

Today, Baruch calls us to recommit ourselves. We must put on, ourselves, the garments of righteousness – right relationship, loving relationship with God. We must put on, ourselves, the crown of God’s glory, which Irenaeus says is the human person fully alive. We must do this. But we must also – and always – remind others to do the same.

We must say to ourselves and to Israel, to the Church and to the World: Arise! Stand upon the height! Take off your garments of affliction and put on the beauty of a lived relationship with God; put on the crown of God’s glory ; tattoo on your arm – in big, bold, flashy lettering – RIGHTEOUS PEACE, GODLY GLORY. Israel – Cody – Louise – Anthony– Saint John’s School of Theology: You. Are. Enough.

God – the Everlasting ; the one who flattens mountains and levels valleys; the one who offers shade and salvation – has clothed you, wrapped you in God’s own robe and placed God’s own crown upon your head. You are enveloped in love by God. Enveloped in your brokenness, in your anxiety, in your disbelief, in your rage, in your injury, in the messy stuff of humanity.

You are enough, people of God. Perhaps not for yourself or your professors; perhaps not for your family or your Church. But you are enough for God.

You belong to God. To the God of Baruch, to the God of Sr. Mary Margaret, to the God who takes you as you are ; to the God who summons out what you shall be ; to the God who has set a seal upon your heart and who lives within you. You are enough. Amen.

Reflection: Life in Community

This reflection was originally offered on Holy Thursday as part of Seeing the Word’s Lent reflection series. It was originally partnered with an illumination from the Saint John’s Bible. Seeing the Word is a ministry of Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary and the Saint John’s Bible.

Ask any monk or nun to name the best and the worst parts of their religious life and you’ll get the same answer: life together in community.

Community can be difficult, regardless the form it takes. Living together, studying together, working together, praying together takes an immense amount of work. In an age, such as ours, which prides itself on individualism and uniqueness, it is often—always, even!—a real challenge to share space with another.

On the other hand, there is something absolutely holy and formative about community. When we live intentionally with other people, we privilege the needs and desires of others before our own. Not because our needs and desires are wrong or harmful or selfish, but rather because the experience of the whole is more important than the experience of the individual. Living in community allows us to step back, to take check of our lives and the lives others, and to respond with spiritual detachment. We become detached from our own agendas in order for collective wisdom—always inspired by the Spirit—to emerge. Our weaknesses are met by others’ strengths. Our gifts build up others’ weaknesses. Individually, we are small players in an awfully large and daunting game. In community, we have substance, we have gravitas, we have a body.

And Jesus had a body. In fact, Jesus’ body has been, is, and continues to be of absolute importance for Christians. Our God is the God who took on our human flesh, who was born of a woman, who was raised in a family, who engaged with others, who lived a human life, who died, and who rose again. Ours is a God who looks like us, who is re-membered, re-fleshed in every human being.

And that is the real gift of community: when we live together, study together, work together, pray together, we do so surrounded by God incarnated in the other members of our community. God makes Godself known—physically, literally—in those with whom we share our life.

This is the gift the Church gives us today: a vision for a incarnated community—a community who prays together, serves together, holds life in common together, breaks bread together. We gather tonight in our churches, monasteries, and cathedrals to begin practicing the good, hard work of living together in community. We will break bread together, pray for the world together, give to the needs of the poor together, and wash each other’s feet.

And, as a community who shares life together, we will move into the darkness of Holy Week. We will clear the altar tonight, removing the candles and cloths and contending with a naked and broken table stripped of everything comfortable, everything sacred. We will take the Eucharist from its usual place of reservation and move it—together, in procession—to a temporary place of holding, a place removed from the heart of our liturgical life.

The only way we can contend with Holy Week—the awful crucifixion, the terrible rejection, the silent abandonment—is to come together around the altar of a God who, in a few short days will smell like fiery hell and musty tomb, but who tonight smells like soap and oil and bread.

Prayer: Justice, BLM, & Forgiveness

This prayer was written for a community liturgy of reconciliation in a neighborhood following the police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Good and gracious God,

Author of life and lover of peace—

We come to you this day with heavy hearts.

Our neighborhood is under attack by those who would do harm to black bodies, by those who are threatened by the flourishing of black lives. We look to those sworn to protect us and we find no help. We turn to those elected to serve us and we find no consolation. Injustice, it seems, lurks around every corner, up every street.

Not only that, but our world is in distress. Violence is our daily bread, hate our overflowing cup. We have taken our pruning hooks and turned them back into spears, our ploughshares beaten back into swords. We continue to study war upon war upon war.

Children—right here in this neighborhood and around the world—continue to starve. Women are raped and beaten in our homes and on our streets. Boys and girls are bought and sold on the market, their innocence crushed, their futures in jeopardy.

Our earth also continues to groan, burdened unnecessarily by our greed for resources, wealth, and property.

How long, O God? How long will you leave your people to wander in the wilderness of sin and injustice, hatred and despair?

Save us, O Saving God, for our hopes are lost unless they are found in you. Forgive us, O Forgiving God, for our hearts are weighed down heavily with our own sins and the sins of many others.

We turn to you, Liberating God, for you are rich in love and you forgive us time and time again. And we say, “Forgive us, O God.”

For the times when we have been violent in our actions, our words, or our thoughts: Forgive us, O God.

For the times when we have chosen not to listen to one another: Forgive us, O God.

For the times when we have not taken good care of the earth you have entrusted to us: Forgive us, O God.

For the times when we have hindered another’s growth: Forgive us, O God.

For the times when our words and our actions contributed to injustice: Forgive us, O God.

For the times we turn to sin rather than community to satisfy our loneliness: Forgive us, O God.

For the many times we have failed to live into our calling as children of God: Forgive us, O God.

You are quick to forgive us, O God—+Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—for you are light and those who dwell in you are the children of light.

We make our prayer in the name of the One who breaks all chains. Amen.

Prayer: Leadership

God of all ages

—of yesterday, today, and tomorrow—

you raise up great leaders in every age

so that your people might be guided

through the trials and travails of this life.


You established a holy nation

by creating a covenant with Abraham and Sarah,

promising that their descendants

would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky.


When Israel was in bondage,

you raised up for us Moses, Miriam, and Aaron

to be lawgivers, prophets, and priests,

the deliverers of your people from Egypt

and into the Promised Land of milk and honey..


You sent the prophets

Isaiah, Micah, and Amos

to preach justice to your lost people,

restoring the dignity of Israel

and safe-guarding the Covenant.


When you were preparing to enter into the world

and pitch your tent among us,

you brought forth Mary,

who would become your Mother and ours,

and called her to sing of true, earth-shattering justice.


In the fullness of time,

you sent your Word, Jesus who is Christ,

into the world to take on our flesh

and show us the depth and breadth

of your saving love.


[When your Church was rife with division

and the people no longer knew you,

you sent Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal

to call all Christians back to you

and remind them of their dignity and holiness.]


No longer able to abide your children living in slavery,

you raised up Martin, Rosa, Malcom, Sojourner, Frederick

and countless other prophets, sages, activists, and leaders

to call your people into the light of truth

and the tender embrace of justice.


Continue to raise up for us, O Liberating One,

prophets, priests, pastors, leaders, and shepherds

to guide your people into the new and brilliant future

which rests in the loving palm of your almighty hand.


We make this prayer through the same Jesus,

son of Mary, brother of the poor,

father of the orphaned, lover of peacemakers,

who lives and reigns with you and your Holy Spirit,

one God in forever and ever. Amen.

Prayer: Intercessions for Advent I

N.B., the liturgy for Advent I in the Book of Common Prayer features themes of light and darkness, hence the thematic elements of this bidding prayer. Adaptations could be made for individual circumstances (for example, changing “rector” to “vicar” or “pastor.”)

D: Deacon or other prayer leader
P: Presider or other prayer leader
A: All

D: Of your charity, I bid you pray for our world.


P: Holy God, the whole world rests in your hands. As evil threatens to cover the world in darkness, shed the light of your justice and dispel all fear. Shed your light on [N.], our president; on our courts and legislatures; on all world leaders; and on all who seek peace and prosperity in the world. We ask this through Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace.

A: Amen.

D: Of your charity, I bid you pray for the Church.


P: Holy God, you come to us in Word and Sacrament. Encourage in us a fervent love for your holy Church. Enkindle a holy flame in the hearts of Michael, our Presiding Bishop; [N.], our Bishop; Francis, the Bishop of Rome; and all those who serve you in the Church, so that, by their guidance, your people will come to know you and love you. We ask this through Jesus Christ who is our High Priest.

A: Amen.


D: Of your charity, I bid you pray for our parish and our city.


P: Holy God, you call all humankind to live together in unity. Inspire the inhabitants of [town] and the parishioners of [parish] to put aside differences and celebrate the common good. In your compassion, bring together under one banner of justice [N.], our mayor and our city council; [N.], our rector; [N.] and [N.], our wardens; and all members of this parish community. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ who is the Great Unifier.

A: Amen.




D: Of your charity, I bid you pray for the sick, the infirm, and for those who suffer.


P: Holy God, you are the sweet balm in Gilead. Strengthen with your presence those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, especially [N, N.] Give wisdom, skill, and compassion to all those who care for the ill and infirm. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ who is the Suffering Servant.

A: Amen.



D: Of your charity, I bid you pray for the departed.


P: Holy God, you defeated death forever. Receive into your eternal presence all those who have died, especially those buried from this church [Namely, N.,N.] . Hold in your kind embrace those who mourn and those who are unable to mourn. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life.

A: Amen.