Celebrations and challenges in Egypt

My friend and fellow missionary, The Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, has written an eloquent piece on Episcopal News Service about what is going on in Egypt, where he is serves, particularly between the Muslims and Christians. Paul-Gordon, a mission partner with The Episcopal Church, is an author, Episcopal priest and interfaith advocate serving as the rector of St. John the Baptist Church in Cairo.

Paul-Gordon writes especially of how he is called to help facilitate dialogue and understanding between the two faiths and Egypt struggles to live into its new identity. He speaks, too, of how he helped the United Nations organize a recent meeting of the most influential religious leaders, Muslim and Christian.

The article begins:

Celebrations and challenges: Muslims and Christians look toward the future in Egypt

By Paul-Gordon Chandler, March 28, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] Against the background buzz of the now-familiar sound of army helicopters flying overhead, it is an interesting time to pull aside from all that has recently made this region seem like the “Wild East” to reflect on Egypt’s present situation. On Friday, March 25, we celebrated the two-month anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian uprising, popularly known as the “25 January Revolution.” We have indeed witnessed history. And it has been a time of profound emotion, full of exhilarating highs and exhausting lows.

In contrast to the protests all over the Middle East, such as in Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia and Yemen, Egypt’s context is unique in that up to 10 percent of its population is Christian, mostly from the historic Coptic Orthodox Church founded by St. Mark. In the heat of the revolution and during its ongoing aftermath, this significant indigenous Christian presence has paradoxically allowed both for opportunities of unity and significant tension. If I had to sum up our recent experiences in the last two months, it would be in two words: celebrations and challenges.

There is so much to celebrate. In addition to the obvious new freedoms that exist due to the overthrow of the oppressive regime, the revolution has brought about a new and profound interfaith spirit among the youth. Time and time again, thousands of young Egyptian Muslims and Christians have taken to the streets together, first to protest the repressive system, and then to celebrate their victory. The scenes are moving, as Egyptians wave flags and carry banners depicting the cross and crescent embracing, with slogans such as “The crescent and the cross are one. We are all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian.” Around the country, Muslim imams address religious harmony and the importance of unity in their Friday sermons.  In the now world famous Tahrir Square, Muslims and Christians have prayed together for the unity and safety of Egypt. In essence the Egyptian revolution ended up as a summons to national unity, thereby condemning religious sectarianism. It has been deeply inspirational.

To read the rest of his post, click here.

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Let’s be scandalous!

John 15:12-17

Ba ism al Ab wa al Ibn wa Roho al Kudus, Allah wahed.

En nom de Dieu unique, Pere, Fils, et Sancte Esprit.

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the morning of Feb. 23, 1992, I was received into The Episcopal Church at St. George’s, Arlington. I had first come to that parish more than a year before, full of fear and trembling, for I was born and bred to the Roman Catholic Church, raised by Dominican nuns, trained by Jesuits priests, and I knew, on that first day I entered St. George’s, that what I was doing was a sin. I was turning my back on my heritage, my ethnicity, my training and my faith as a Catholic to worship – fully and freely – in a Protestant church.

On that morning in 1992, I listened carefully as The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, preached about what it meant to be a Christian.

“To be a good Christian,” he said, “you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

To be a good Christian – one who lives fully into the scandalous message of Jesus – you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

You are boundlessly happy, my friends, because God loves you, and what more could you possibly want to know, to experience, in your life? Isn’t that what we all want to know: That we are loved, from before time until the ages of ages?

The good news that Jesus brought in his scandalous message is just that: You are loved. I am loved. Each of us is and all of us are loved. Which makes us happy.

You are to be entirely fearless because the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will, one day, wake up and have breakfast with Jesus. And isn’t that what we pray for each time we pray the Nicene Creed? That we will have breakfast with Jesus?

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message is that because we are loved, we will indeed have breakfast with Jesus. So be fearless!

And you are to be always in trouble because, let’s face it, Jesus was always in trouble. It’s why his message of unconditional love was so scandalous. The sermons he preached – “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – the miracles he performed – raising the dead, curing the sick, restoring lepers and shamed women to full membership in their communities – the parables he told – And who is your neighbor? – the people with whom he spoke and ate – the Samaritan woman at the well, Wee Zaccheus the tax collector – all of that was troubling to the powers-that-be, because the powers-that-be don’t like surprises, they don’t like having the apple cart (OK, it was probably a date cart) upset, they don’t like it when someone comes along and challenges the way things are. Because when the way things are are thrown out of whack, the powers-that-be no longer are in control, and that is very, very scary – for them.

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message was so troublesome that it cost him his life – and it is going to cost us ours as well, if we listen, if we act.

But not to worry: Because we are loved from before time began to the ages of ages, and because we will have breakfast with Jesus, so ….

Let’s get in some trouble.

Let’s be scandalous!

You know what the most scandalous thing was that Jesus said?

Listen, my friends … listen:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. … You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit …


Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown?

Will you let my Name be known?

Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?[1]

This is our call in life, my friends: Following Jesus, who is calling us – each of us – by name, asking us to go to places we don’t know – far away or close by – so that God’s love can be shown, so that God’s name can be known, so that God’s life can be grown.

And that, my friends, is scandalous!

Because it means that if we are faithful, we will end up in places we have never been (Samaria? Sudan? Haiti? The poor side of town? The other side of the tracks?) … we will meet people we never thought we would meet (The Samaritan woman at the well? The poor? The sick? The disenfranchised? Those people?) … we will let God’s name be known (as St. Francis is alleged to have said, “Preach the Gospel always … if necessary, use words.”) … and if we do all these things, God’s life, God’s love will be known.

Are you ready to live your life in this way?

Are youeach of you and all of you – ready to be scandalous?


Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?[2]

If we decide that we are ready to say “Yes!” to Jesus, to answer his call, to live scandalously, upsetting the apple carts and overturning society’s ways – ways that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, ways that deny basic medical care to people, that leaving people starving when our storebins are overflowing – if we’re ready to do all this, then indeed we will live scandalous lives.

Mother Teresa, who knew a thing or two about being scandalous (touching the untouchables, welcoming the unwelcomed, loving the unloved),

Mother Teresa

offers us this advice:

The good you do today (she said) may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.

I can assure you: The most radical thing we can do in our lives is to love. The most dangerous action we can take is to love. The most scandalous deed we can perform is to love.

But … radically, dangerously, scandalously loving one another as Jesus loves us is exactly what we are called to do … no matter how hard it is, no matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter what other people say, because really, in the end, the only thing that matters is love.

Doing this will not be easy. We will try to love, and find our love rejected. Others will heckle us and wonder if we’ve lost our mind and our way. We will be accused of tilting at windmills and called Pollyanas. But we know what Jesus is calling us to do, don’t we? We know that we are the ones who are called …

… to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute sing, and the lame leap for joy! And yes, we are called to raise the dead, and to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year, to set the prisoners free!

In this case, with this charge, it really does become all about us, because Jesus is talking to each one of us. This is not a message for the guy next door, the stranger down the street or around the world. This is a message for us.

The Rev. Dr. Peter J. Gomes

Peter Gomes understood that. Listen to what he has to say on this subject, this subject of God calling us:

The question should not be “What would Jesus do?” but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.[3]

God is calling us. God is telling us – again and again – that we are not created to live in a world where the people are hungry, either for food or for love. We, my friends, are created in the image of God, which means that we are created to live in love in community.

Being created in the image of God means, first and foremost, that we are created in the image of love. We know this because we know that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, yes, but we cannot possibly be necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does … not … need … us. Therefore, God must have wanted us, God must have desired us, God must have loved us into being.

And being created in the image of God means that we are created in community because we are Christians, and in our understanding of the Scriptures, of the Word of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit never work apart from each other. Since we are created in God’s image, we are created in the image of community as well.

Which means …

… That we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

Pretty scandalous, eh?

To have our whole lives dictated by the fact that like it or not, we are created to love? That we are created to love in community?

Now we could, if we wanted, be like one of my favorite literary characters and say, “It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffing slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

Because this is a seemingly overwhelming call that God is issuing to us.

It is hard to be brave …

But … unlike Piglet, we are not very small animals.

We are God’s beloved.

And we have a job to do, a mission to undertake: We are to love one another, not as just we love ourselves (trust me, on those days when I do not love myself, it is terribly easy for me not to love my neighbor!), but to love one another as Jesus loves us!


Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the pris-’ner free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?

And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?[4]

Living scandalously, is not, as I said, easy. But it is our call, it is, in fact, the very reason for which we were created, it is our mission in life. This is why God put us on this earth: to live in love and community, which is a very scandalous thing indeed.

I want to leave us tonight with a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero, the holy man of El Salvador who put his life on the line – and who lost his life

Archbishop Oscar Romero

– because he dared to live a scandalous life, siding with the poor and downtrodden, challenging the powers-that-were in El Salvador to do the right thing all the time. For his courage, he was killed while celebrating the Eucharist – literally while elevating the wine and saying, “This is my blood” – on March 24, 1980.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for all of us:

It helps, now and then (he said) to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for us is my prayer for you:

Go forth from this place, my friends, and be scandalous.

It is what Jesus wants.


A sermon preached during the Preaching Mission: The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, at Grace Episcopal Church, The Plains, Va.,

28 March 2011.


[1] Will you come and follow me … (v. 1) Words from the Iona Community © 1989 GIA Publications

Music Mary Alexandra, John L. Hooker, © 1996

[2] Ibid. (v. 2)

[3] Peter J. Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, page number uncertain.

[4] Will you come and follow me … (v. 3)


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Being known … and still loved

Stephen Broadbent's "Samaritan Woman at the Well," sculpture at Chester Cathedral, England. Sculpted in 1994.

How often have we looked at someone and in that one look, made a snap judgment, placing that person in her place because of the way she dresses, deciding that because he is so good-looking, he must be a good guy?

And how often have we had someone take one look at us and make a snap decision about who we are, because of how we look, where we are, how we act in that one second of our lives?

“You could just tell that she was …”

“I knew just looking at him …”

Snap judgments, we call them.

No matter how many times we discover — later on — that we were wrong, that the scruffy-looking one had a giant heart for helping others, that the good-looking one was really a cad, we still make snap judgments about people all the time.

The first day I dared to venture out on my own in Haiti – completely on my own, with only my newly learned Creole and my bravado to accompany me – I made it only one block before I was surrounded by Haitian men.

“Miss! Miss!” one very tall man yelled. “Buy my painting?”

Soon every single one of these men was saying the same thing: “Miss! Miss! Buy my painting? No, buy mine! I give you a very good price. American money, no problem!”

These men, who had never seen me before and who presumed that because I am white I was (a) American, (b) rich, (c) willing to part with my money, and (d) willing to part with way too much of my money because I was (a) American and (b) rich, made a snap judgment about me. They never asked my name. They never engaged me as a real person.

To them, I was merely a quick buck – a buck they desperately needed, to be sure, so that they could support themselves and their families – but a buck nonetheless.

When Jesus and the Samaritan woman met at Jacob’s well in Sychar, there was a whole lot of snap judging going on.

The woman made snap judgments about Jesus:

•Just another man used to ordering women around;

•An outsider (she didn’t know him, and trust me, in small villages, everyone knows everyone);

•A Jew (most likely because of his dress and perhaps his accent – otherwise, Samaritans and Jews pretty much looked and sounded alike);

•And therefore an enemy of sorts (Jews and Samaritans hadn’t gotten along for almost 600 years, ever since the Babylonian exile – it was an old theological argument about whose worship was better, purer, truer, more faithful …).

The disciples, who show up a tad later in the story, made their own snap judgments about the woman:

•A woman and therefore a lesser human being (sorry, ladies, that was a fact in the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth);

•An enemy of sorts (remember what I said before about Samaritans and Jews – we’re talking about almost six hundred years of enmity here …);

•A brazen woman (men and women did not speak to each other in public if they didn’t know each other, and since Jesus was their Lord and Teacher, she obviously must have been the one to initiate the conversation, which only a brazen woman would have done);

•And an outsider in her own village (she was drawing water alone, something that women do in groups for all kinds of reasons, the first being the community that forms when people are doing arduous work together).

And Jesus? Well, he, too, made a snap judgment. But his was of a different sort, for he looked at this woman and instantly – instantly – saw who she was and what she was:

Jesus took one look and knew that she was a beloved child of God, in need of all the love and affirmation that only God could give her (because, obviously, her community wasn’t showering her with its love).

It was Jesus’ snap judgment that counted in the end … that overruled the snap judgments of both the woman and his disciples, that declared that despite what the woman thought of herself, despite what the disciples thought of her, despite what anyone thought of her, this woman was a beloved child of God.

So this woman, who came to the well to slake her physical thirst – to satisfy her need for actual water – ended up having her spiritual thirst, her need to be known and loved, satisfied instead.

She already was known – oh, my, was she known in Sychar. Everyone knew that she had had five husbands and was now living with another man – without benefit of marriage. Everyone knew that obviously, she had sinned in some way, for why else would she have been widowed so many times, or divorced so many times, or some combination thereof? And everyone knew that since she by living with a man without benefit of marriage, she obviously was a sinner!

But she didn’t want to be known that way. I mean, who would? Who wants to go through life having others look at you and find you wanting, in just a glance? Who wants to be thought of as a lesser human being, as a sinner, because of circumstances beyond your own control? Who wants to feel unloved in a world in which love is in such short supply as it is?

This Samaritan woman at the well? She was dying of thirst for a little bit of love. And here comes Jesus – an outsider himself, traveling through a foreign land – who looks at her and instead of finding her wanting, knows her to be a beloved child of God, loved from before time until the ages of ages.

He knows her story, he knows her life, so well … he knows that what she wants more than anything else is to know that she is loved, despite the circumstances of her life, despite any choices she has made, despite any sins she has committed. Jesus knows that God looks at her and makes God’s own snap judgment: I love you.

My friends, the bad news is: God knows you. God knows everything about you … everything.

The good news is: God knows you. God knows everything about you … everything.

And God still loves you.

Exactly as you are …

Even when you make mistakes …

Even when you sin …

Even when others do not appreciate you …

Even when others shun you …

God still loves you.

The only snap judgment that God makes about us – about each of us – is that we belong to God. And because we belong to God, we are known … and in that knowing, we are loved.

You want to slake the thirst you have, that we all have, to be known and loved?

Well, know this:

God knows you and God still loves you.

Now, I don’t want you leaving this place today and going home saying, “The Episcopal preacher at church said today that we can do whatever we want, because God loves us.” No! Don’t say that, because God does judge us! God has high standards for us. God’s desire, God’s dream for us, is that we become the people God has created us to be: People who love. People who love God, people who love each other, not just as ourselves (that’s hard enough to do on the days when we love ourselves, but on those days when we don’t love ourselves? Well, on those days, it’s really easy not to love our neighbors), but as Jesus loves us.

Which means that God wants us to live our lives as God’s beloved children in God’s community of beloved children.

Not by looking at each other and making snap judgments based on societal standards that could not care less about what God wants.

Not by shunning each other.

But by caring for each other.

By loving each other.

It’s a tall order, isn’t it? To love one another as Jesus loved us, as God loves us?

Living lives of love means that we have to stop making snap judgments and start living in community. We have to talk with each other. We have to listen to each other. We have to get to know each other, not on the surface, not by our looks or our dress or the color of our skin or our accents … but deep down, by our stories.

Because only then can we really know each other. Only then can we really love each other.

• • •

Patrick, Frantzy and Tony Fleresca, my good friends in Haiti.

Those young men on the street in Haiti, the ones who surrounded me and tried to sell me their paintings, who viewed me as nothing more than a quick buck to be made?

Their names are Frantzy. And Tony. And Patrick. And Enil and Hercules. And Ernest and Salwa and the other Enil …

After I convinced them that I was not going to buy art from them, that I lived there now and was not a rich American tourist or aid worker but a missionary and priest, we started to get to know each other. We told each other our stories. We began to look out for each other. We began to take care of each other.

When we stop looking at each other as objects and start getting to know each other, start learning each other’s stories … well, that’s when we begin to live into the image in which God has created us, an image of love and community.

Trust me:

God knows our stories.

And God still loves us.

And if that knowledge doesn’t slake your thirst, doesn’t satisfy your deepest needs, I don’t know what will.

We are known.

And we are loved.


A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Lent, 27 March 2011, Year A, at Bensalem United Methodist Church, Bensalem, PA.

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Build up, build up, prepare the way

The Episcopal Church Foundation announced today that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, retired Primate of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is joining the call to “build up, build up, prepare the way” for the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church in Haiti. Having served in Haiti for nearly a year, this effort is near and dear to my heart and, I hope, to yours.

The announcement:

FOR INFORMATION:          Teresa S. Mathes, Episcopal Church Foundation

717-599-0627  TMathes@EpiscopalFoundation.org


Archbishop Desmond Tutu Endorses

The Episcopal Church Rebuild Our Church in Haiti Appeal

March 23, 2011, New York, NY – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has issued a statement in support of the efforts of The Episcopal Church to help the

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Diocese of Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake through its Rebuild Our Church in Haiti appeal.

Archbishop Tutu stated:

“We are all God’s children and we must be one. For this reason I am proud of my sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church who are joining as one to help their sisters and brothers in Haiti rebuild the church that has helped them endure such difficult times. There is no “conservative” or “liberal” in this project. There is no rich or poor. There is one community of faith joining hands across a continent to raise up a new place for hope to dwell. I honor the church-wide effort to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince; it deserves our wholehearted and generous support.”

Rebuild Our Church in Haiti is a church-wide appeal that seeks to engage Episcopal dioceses, congregations, and individuals in helping the people of Haiti to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.  Already gifts have been received from 70 dioceses, and congregations are spearheading local efforts to raise funds.

“The support of Archbishop Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate and internationally recognized advocate for human rights, will inspire and energize Episcopalians who are participating in the appeal,” said Donald V. Romanik, President of the Episcopal Church Foundation which is coordinating the appeal.

Ms. Barbara Byers, the Diocesan Coordinator for the Diocese of Southern Virginia noted that “we are honored and delighted to learn of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support of this effort.  We are truly one church, joining as one to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti.”  The Very Rev. Stephen Carlsen, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Indianapolis (Diocese of Indianapolis), which has announced a joint matching gift with Trinity Wall Street, NYC (Diocese of New York) of $500,000, said, “Archbishop Tutu’s support will help inspire us all to respond to the challenge of rebuilding the Church in Haiti.  This is our chance to come together – across the country, around the world, from all ends of every spectrum – and answer this simple, clear call.”

The Baptism of Our Lord mural at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port au Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake.

For more information, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/haitiappeal or contact Terri Mathes at tmathes@episcopalfoundation.org or 717-599-0627.


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The MDGs: This is God calling!!

Keynote address for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia’s Millennial Development Goals Day 2011

One of the reasons I believe I was asked to be your presenter this morning is not just that I served as an Appointed Missionary in Haiti, nor that I served as an Appointed Missionary in Sudan … but because I have lived at the other end of the MDGs, the Millennial Development Goals, that I have seen the power and the hope that come from these goals, and that I can stand here, as a witness to tell you:

It is good.

It is good … that we gather here this morning to learn more about the MDGs, to spend time together discerning how we can help meet these goals, to network with each other so that our efforts are not overlapping or duplicated.

It is good … that we are listening to God’s call to us, through Moses and the Law and the Prophets, through God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whom we follow.

It is good … that we center ourselves in this call, and discern how we are to live our lives through that call, not just until 2015 (which the United Nations set as an initial deadline when it developed this program), but for all of our lives.

Yes, indeed, my friends, it is good that we are here this morning, listening to God’s call to us.

Before we go any farther, I want to show you a movie on the MDGs, an overview, if you will, with all the statistics you will ever need to know. Afterward, I want to take some of your questions and see if together we can answer them, so that all of us have a common understanding of the goals and of what we as a community of God’s beloved children are attempting to accomplish. If someone could turn off the lights, please?

(Show Achieving the Millennial Development Goals – movie on YouTube)

Now, let’s spend some time on this idea that the Millennial Development Goals are God’s call to us.

To understand this better, let’s go back to the beginning, back to before there was a need for these goals, back to when God first called us.

In the beginning, after God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them – the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the cattles of the land – God created humanity. God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;” … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.”

Theologically, this means that being created in God’s image is the imperative behind our involvement in the MDGs, for to be created in God’s image is to be created first in the image of love, and what are the MDGs if not a visible sign of God’s love for all of us? We know that the first image of God is love because we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us but we are necessary to God, for God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God wanted us, that God desired us into being, that God loved us into being. So the first image in which we are created is one of love.

Because we are Christians, the second image of God in which we are created is one of community, for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit never act independently of each other. In our reading of the Scriptures, all three persons of the Trinity are present from before the beginning, and they always work together. Which means that we are created in that image, the one of community, as well.

So what it all boils down to is this:

God created us in love and community to live in love and community.

And does that not sound exactly like the MDGs?

Isn’t living in love and community exactly what the MDGs hope to accomplish?

If you spend any time at all in the Scriptures, you will see that God indeed intends us to fulfill everything that the MDGs call for:

End poverty and hunger? How often does God call us to care for the needy, to not reap to the very edges of our fields, or gather the gleanings of our harvests, but instead shall leave them for the poor and for the alien? (Lev. 23:22)

Universal education? Does not God say that we are to put these words of God’s in our hearts and souls, that we are to teach them to our children, talking about them when we are at home and when we are away, when we lie down and when we rise? (Deuteronomy 11:18)

Gender equality? I know … there are many who would claim that the Bible says nothing about women being equal, but those who say that seem to ignore the fact that when God created humankind in the first chapter of Genesis, God created them, man and woman, in God’s image. I can’t give you a better example of all people being created equal than that.

Health care for both mothers and children, and combating HIV/AIDS? These are calls for basic health care for all people, especially for those who are considered the least of our brothers and sisters. God is clear that we are to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst – in essence, to care for those whom society has deemed lesser. And hard as it is for us to hear this, in much of the world, women, children and those infected with HIV/AIDS are considered to be either lesser creatures or outcasts. Isaiah told us, and Jesus repeated it to us, in case we weren’t quite clear on the concept, that we are to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute, that we are to make the lame leap for joy and yes, we are to raise the dead. Clearly God wants us to perform miracles … health care for mothers and children and those infected with HIV/AIDS in many countries – including our own, by the way? – that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Sustaining the environment? Did not God tell us to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over it and over all of God’s creatures, and does not dominion really mean not that we are to lay waste to creation or harm God’s creatures, but rather that we are to be good stewards of creation?

And finally, global partnerships. Is this not what it means to live – truly live – into the image of God in which we are created? To live in love and community?

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking, wrote:

We have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to God too—that’s what we have to tell finally. We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us. We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of some grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own. And who knows but that in the end, by God’s mercy, the two stories will converge for good and all, and though we would never have had the courage or the faith or the wit to die for him any more than we have ever managed to live for him very well either, his story will come true in us at last. (p. 89)

We are called – and we are capable – of working miracles of love and healing in this world. We have it in us to bless each other, those whom we know and those whom we have never met and will never meet.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?

The fact that we don’t know the people we are asked to help?

The fact that we probably never will meet them?

Never mind the fact that this whole MDG thing is so darned huge – so overwhelming – that it’s hard to wrap our hearts and minds and arms around it. (Face it: We are talking about changing the entire world here … the MDGs are probably the boldest vision ever set forth by the United Nations, by the 181 nations taking part in the program, which means that basically, this program is humongous.)

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep the momentum going on a project like this because we don’t know the people. We don’t know their names. We don’t know their stories. And because we don’t know their names or stories, there is a tendency to let our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are related to us not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, to let all of God’s beloved children, slip onto the back burner of our lives. Without names, without stories, it’s hard to connect.

And if we can’t connect, we certainly can’t live as fully as possible into the image of God, can we?

One of the main questions we have to answer, not just today but every day of our lives, is how we are going to help make God’s dream – which theologian Verna Dozier identified as “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky” – how are we going to make that come to fruition if we don’t know with whom we are walking under those friendly skies?

For many of us, these goals are, as I said, just too darned big. We want to take part … we want to make an impact … but … but … how? We’re just a few people (in the greater scheme of things) and there is so much need … what are we to do?

The best way to approach the needs of the world is to forget that these are the needs of the entire world, to stop thinking we need to save the world (that’s already been done, my friends, 2,000 years ago, outside the gates of Jerusalem) and to concentrate on what we can do, individually and corporately.

Remember, our mission is to live in love and community.

So let’s figure out how to do that … how to live in love in the community we have been given.

We are called to approach caring for all of God’s beloved children – no matter where they are, no matter their tribe or color or race or language or gender or faith – with the advice of Mother Teresa (a woman who knew something about taking on seemingly impossible tasks) ringing in our ears:

The good you do today (she said) may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.

In other words, do not worry about saving the world — that’s already been done, 2,000 years ago, on a Friday afternoon, about 3 o’clock, outside the gates of Jerusalem. Worry only about doing your part to live in love and in community, for that is how God created you.

A life well lived is not a life of complete and total success my friends. It is, rather, a life of trying. A life of falling down and getting back up. It is, most of all, a life of loving.

The MDGs? They’re not so much about success as they are about love. About loving others whom we do not know and might never meet, about building up community, about re-orienting the world away from power and dominion to love.

So how do we do this? How do we handle this monster task, with all its frustrations?

Listen to the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church of Harvard University, who preached:

The question should not be, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me to do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semidivine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live into the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.

God is not asking us to do impossible things.

God is asking us to do the simple things: To live in love and in community – which is why we are created! This is our mission in life. The MDGs? Those are just one path among many that we can take as we strive to do that which Jesus asks us to do.

We cannot, in our short time together today, answer all the questions, raise all the money or solve all the problems that the MDGs face.

What we can do together this day, however, is meet some people. We can meet each other, and we can meet people who are on the receiving end of the MDG work we do.

In other words, let’s make the MDGs personal.

Instead of approaching them as this humongous set of ideas and instructions that no one, not even a government, can fully embrace, let’s approach this the way God does. Let’s look at the situation through God’s eyes.

Let’s look at the people.

(Show movie, Not Strangers, But Friends – link to the movie)

(Narration to accompany the movie:)

The people you are see here are my friends – and through me they are your friends … in Sudan, in Haiti, in Honduras. They are people who have benefited from your generosity.

I want you to know:

Every time you go a fund-raiser for the MDGs, however you do it and for whatever goal you have chosen, you are not raising money for a stranger. You are raising this money

for a friend.

The people you see in this movie? I have lived with them. I have broken bread with them. We have worshipped together. We have laughed together. We have cried together. They are my family. And because I know them, and you know me, you know them as well.

Some of these students? They receive their education through your generosity … through your support of various organizations and churches. Some of these children attend schools sponsored by UNICEF. Some of them receive food from the World Food Program. Many of them have received help directly from your parishes.

These women? Many of them received help from parishes in this diocese, including for a microfinance project. And your support of health clinics.

Every time you give in a way that is connected to the MDGs, you help these people and so many others just like them.

These are not strangers.

These are your friends.

(End narration.)

I want to be crystal clear about one thing:

God is calling us to live in love.

God is calling us to live in community.

God, who called us into being because God wanted us, desired us, calls us to live in “ a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.” A

And the only way we are going to be able to do this is if we all decide that God is right, that God knows what God is doing, and that it is possible to make sure that the hungry are fed and the thirsty given water and the sick have medicine and that our children are educated and HIV/AIDS is finally, finally, finally at least controlled until it can be wiped out … that we remember that God made each and every one of us, that God called each of us into being, that we are all members of God’s beloved community, which means that we are all equal, and that we will thrive only when we all work together, and finally, that we show respect to God for the wondrous things that he has made, including this fragile earth, our island home.

In Washington, D.C., between the end of the Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery, there is a memorial to the Seabees, the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, who build things under fire and in horrific conditions because that is what they do: they build.

At the base of the memorial, you will find this motto:

With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once;

the impossible takes a bit longer.

My friends, God has given us the skills we need to do everything that God has ever asked of us. Nothing is impossible with God, and God makes sure that in the end, nothing will be impossible for us.

We have the gift of faith.

We have the gift of courage.

We have the gifts of foresight … and planning … and imagination.

The MDGs are difficult – no doubt about it.

Impossible? So what? That just takes a little longer.


• • •

Millennial Development Goals Day Keynote Address, 19 March 2011, The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Waynesboro, Va.

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Are you willing to die for Jesus?

John 3:16

For the last 10 days, we all have watched with great horror and trepidation the terrifying events in Japan.

A 9.0 earthquake, 100 times worse than the earthquake in Haiti.

A tsunami that breached every wall built to defend against it.

Entire small towns literally erased from the face of the earth.

Up to 17,000 people believed dead, some washed out to sea, never to be found.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced, without sufficient food, water, medicine, or shelter.

And, of course, the nuclear power plants that are melting down, or in the process of melting down.

Fukushim Daiichi nuclear power plants

The rods that cannot be cooled.

The breaches in the containment walls for spent fuel.

The rising radiation readings.

Not only the Japanese but the entire world lives in fear of the latter. Scientists around the world are warning that the radiation will spread, not just across the Pacific to the United States, but from the United States over the Atlantic to Europe.

And yet … there are stories of redemption and hope coming out of Japan as well. Stories of babies being rescued days after the quake, of families being reunited, of those thought lost at sea forever found. And today comes news of a 16-year-old boy and his 80-year-old grandmother being rescued after being trapped in the ruins for nine days.

But the most powerful story of all is that of the nuclear power plant workers, engineers and others, who have volunteered – volunteered – to go back to work, to step into the infernos of radiation hell, risking their lives so that others might live.

Just last Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported a Twitter message “by a woman who Tweeted with pride – and anguish – that her father, just six months from retirement, had decided to offer his help.”

““I fought back tears when I heard father, who is to retire in a half a year, volunteered to go,” the message read.

““He said, ‘The future of nuclear power generation depends on how we’ll cope with this. I’ll go with a sense of mission’ … I’ve never been more proud of him,” she added.”[1]

Her father, 59 years old, who worked for the nuclear industry for four decades, is willing to go back into the inferno, where the radiations readings are rising and a total meltdown is feared, so that others might live.

Risking your life to give life to others is the focus not only of this morning’s passage from John’s Gospel, it is the focus of our lives.

We hear of the brave nuclear power plant workers and we are in awe – Oh, my, we think. How brave they are. They are sacrificing for us!

But do we think the same when we hear this morning’s Gospel? Are we in awe when we hear of the sacrifice God made for us? The sacrifice where God sent himself as a sacrifice for us?

Go anywhere in the world where the Gospel is known, and this is the passage you will hear preached, over and over again.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

It is the best known, most-quoted verse in the entire Bible.

But are we in awe of that verse and what it means to us? Is the news of God’s willingness to sacrifice for us as awe-inspiring as the news of Japanese nuclear power plant workers’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for us? Does it make us fall to our knees in gratitude, or jump with joy for the good news that it bears?

There’s no doubt about it, my friends: We are hearing good news this morning!

And anywhere you go in the world, you will hear people proclaiming it to us.

Because it speaks truth.

Because it gives hope.

Because it has power.

Notice, if you please, that never once does God ask us if we want God to give us this incredible gift.[2]

Just as God never asked Abram if he wanted to go on a journey to a strange place (with no directions, no end point, just “the land that I will show you,” and no, you can’t have a GPS to guide you, because it hasn’t been invented yet!), God never asks whether we wish to be saved, whether we wish to have life eternal.

God simply acts.

God sends his Son, his only-begotten Son, to be born as one of us, to live as one of us with us, to suffer as we suffer, to rejoice as we rejoice, and to die as we die … and not as we die, because Jesus died for us.

It is an incredible sacrifice that God makes …

… because God loves us.

Each of us and all of us.

From before time began to the ages of ages.

God … loves … us.

Now, we could, if you wanted, spend some time discussing Nicodemus, the Pharisee and leader of the Jews who came in fear and trembling to meet with Jesus in the dark of the night, wondering whether this rabbi was the one for whom the Jews waited.

Or we could, if you wanted, spend more time debating how to translate gennethé anáothen, which could mean “born again,” “born anew” or “born from above.” (Trust me, this is a matter of great debate to some Christians. There are thousands of Christians out there who will tell you that if you are not “born again” according to their definition, you are not a Christian, and you are going to hell!)

Or we could, if you wanted, spend even more time talking about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness and how the Son of Man has to be lifted up as well, and debate whether that is allegorical or metaphorical (I am well aware that I am on a university campus, and these kinds of discussions take place all the time).

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to this passage, this story of Nicodemus’ fearful visit to Jesus in the middle of the night.

But those, my friends, are nothing but side paths to take if we wish to avoid the main point of this passage, which is this:

God loves us so much God that God sacrificed his Son –God sacrificed himself! – for … us!

When we focus on this – on God’s willingness to sacrifice for us – when we go down this path – we end up in a very hard place.

Because then we have to ask ourselves several questions, questions that are hard, questions that make us uncomfortable, but ones that we need to address if we indeed want to be true disciples of Jesus.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is this:

Do we believe that God loves us?

Do we?


If we answer yes to that, we have to ask ourselves a second one:

Do we believe that Jesus died for us?

Do we?

Do we really believe that Jesus died for each of us, personally?

These are important questions, because if we answer “Yes” to those questions, then we have to confront the big question, the question of our lives:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are … we … willing … to … die … for … Jesus?

Because, my friends, that is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. That is what it means when we say we want to follow Jesus.

God loves us so much that without asking us, without so much as a by-your-leave, God sent his Son, his only Son, to die for us.

And God wants to know:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving God with all our heart and soul and strength so that we can really love God?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving our neighbors, not just as ourselves – because trust me, there are days when I do not love myself, and those are the days when it’s easy for me not to love my neighbor either – but as Jesus loves us?

… If we are willing to do those things – to set aside our pride, our envy, our anger, our greed, our need to be right all the time, our feelings of superiority …

… If we are willing to put those down and walk in love as Christ loved us, to respect the dignity of every human being, to love our enemies, to care for the weak, cure the sick, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute, to make the lame leap for joy, to set the prisoners free, to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year …

… If we are willing to do all those things, to, in essence die to our old ways, die to the ways of a society that does not care about the weak, that offers them up as sacrifices so that it can have more, more, more!

… If we are willing to do all this and more, all for the love of God, then … then! … we can answer: Yes.

Yes, I am willing to die for Jesus.

Because Jesus died for me.

Make no mistake.

God is not asking us whether we want to be loved.

God is not asking us whether we deserve to be loved.

God simply … wildly … radically … inexplicably … inexhaustibly … love us.

So much that God sacrificed his beloved son for us.

Are we willing to do the same?

Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves – for each other and for God?

Those nuclear power plant workers who are walking into the hell of failing nuclear reactors right now? They are doing this, they are sacrificing themselves, so that we might live.

Would we be willing to do the same, to sacrifice ourselves for others?

God sacrificed God’s self for us so that we might have life eternal.

Are we willing to sacrifice … for God?


A sermon preached on the Second Sunday in Lent, 20 March 2011 Year A, at R.E. Lee Memorial Parish, Lexington, Va.

[1] Entire story found at http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/japanquakenuclearvolunteers by Agence France-Presse, 17 March 2011.


[2] From Like It or Not!, Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, on WorkingPreacher.org,

http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=463, posted 13 March 2011.



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Emulating Joseph

The Feast of St. Joseph

Today in our service, we are gathered to honor St. Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord, about whom we know so very little.

Joseph has always gotten something of a short shrift in the Gospels. He’s not mentioned often – 18 times total, more than half indirectly; he never gets to speak … and then he disappears.

But there are some things we do know about him:

•We know he was of the right lineage – Luke says he was of the House of David and a son of Heli, Matthew places him squarely in the lineage from Abraham to David to Jesus.

•We know he built things, that he was a carpenter – Matthew and Mark tell us that, at times obliquely.

•We know he lived in Nazareth – Matthew and Luke say he raised Jesus there, John says he came from there, a reference apparently made so that the disciple Nathaniel can disparage that mountaintop village.

•We know Joseph was a righteous man – Matthew’s Gospel stresses that, both directly: Joseph was a “righteous man,” and indirectly, through the stories Matthew tells us.

•And we know that when God spoke to him through God’s angel, Joseph was obedient. Three times, the angel delivered God’s instructions: Once when Joseph learned that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant, and not by him; once when the angel told him to flee to Egypt, because Herod was on a murderous bend; and finally when the angel told Joseph it was safe to return to his homeland, that Herod was dead and the child entrusted to Joseph was safe. Three times, Joseph listened. Three times, Joseph obeyed.

So although we might not know much of Joseph, and although we never get to hear Joseph’s story (although the legends about him are legion – really, you could spend hours on the Internet reading things about Joseph, all of which are speculation), there are many similarities in our lives to his:

•Like Joseph, we, too, are of the right lineage, because we have been baptized into the Body of Christ, and thus are heirs of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

•Like Joseph, we, too, are called to build — to build up the Kingdom of God in God’s very good creation.

•Like Joseph, we, too, are called to be righteous people, to live in right relationship with God, to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways, not for our own glory, but for the glory of God who loved us into being.

•And like Joseph, we, too, hear God speaking to us, giving us specific instructions that God asks us to obey.

(Now, about that Nazareth piece? Not so much in the way of similarities … not unless you are from one of the many places in the world called Nazareth, which not many of us are, I suspect …)

But setting that minor detail aside, what we end up honor and indeed celebrating this day is this:

God has chosen usGod … has chosen … us … to carry out God’s dreams and God’s desires in God’s very good creation.

God is speaking to us … through all of God’s various messengers … and asking us to listen.

God is entrusting to us, God’s beloved children, the love and care of all of God’s beloved children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are related to us not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism.

Take note, please, that the requests that God made of Joseph?

The request to keep Mary, even though she was pregnant and not by him?

The request to protect the newborn child, by fleeing to Egypt?

The request to return to the land of Israel, so that the Scriptures could be fulfilled?

All of these requests were hard ones. They were difficult.

But they were not impossible.

Refusing to set aside Mary even though the Law-with-a-capital-L said he should do so, to save his honor and punish her for her iniquity … that was difficult. If Joseph knew she was pregnant, you can be sure that others knew as well. His honor was on the line. The Law-with-a-capital-L was at stake.

But Joseph listened to God, not to man, and did the right, the honorable, the loving thing.

Hard, but not impossible.

We are called to do the same: to do the right, the honorable, the loving thing.

Fleeing to Egypt to avoid Herod’s troops? Who wants to leave your homeland, to be a stranger in a strange land, where you know you will be despised and treated poorly?

But Joseph went anyway, in order to protect his wife and the child entrusted to him.

Hard, but not impossible.

We are called to do as Joseph did: To go to the place that God will show us and stay there as long as God needs us there.

Returning home so that the Scriptures could be fulfilled?

I suspect this one was not as hard, that after two years in a strange land, Joseph was more than ready to go home, so this one was probably not as hard, probably did not seem as impossible.

But regardless of the difficulty, Joseph obeyed. He took his family to Nazareth, which decades later would be derided by the disciple Nathaniel, apparently because it wasn’t such a great place to live after all, and certainly never had been mentioned as blessed or as the place from which the Messiah would come.

And in this case, we, too, are called to emulate Joseph, to once again pick up our lives and go again to the place that God sends us, not necessarily to Nazareth but certainly to the place God needs us to be so that the Scriptures can be fulfilled.

In honoring Joseph this day, my friends, we are making a commitment – a commitment to live lives of obedience and righteousness, a commitment to listen to God.

Because God is speaking to us. God is telling us what to do: to live lives of wild, radical, inexplicable, inexhaustible love.

We can debate how to do this until the cows come home, go out and come home again, but in the end, that’s what it all boils down to: Loving.

Our call this day is to be more like Joseph, who heard and obeyed and worried not about how famous he would be, about what he might get in return for his faithfulness, and less like those who argue, who debate, who endlessly question what to do and why and how.

I know Joseph gets short shrift in the Scriptures. He doesn’t get to say anything. He only is asked to listen, and then to act.

But his actions speak louder than his words.

My prayer for all of us this day is that we will become more and more like Joseph, that we will listen more and speak less, and then act upon the instructions God has given us, trusting that God indeed knows what God is doing.


A sermon preached at the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia MDG Day 2011, 19 March 2011, on the Feast of St. Joseph, at St. John’s, Waynesboro, Va.

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Who and whose are you?

Matthew 4:1-11: A bilingual sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Whenever I read of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, of Ha Satan, the Adversary, tempting Jesus with food, with great spectacle, with power, daring Jesus to become someone he is not,[1] I think of TV commercials.

Siempre que leo de la tentación de Jesús en el desierto, de Ha Satanás, el Adversario, tentando a Jesús con los alimentos, con gran espectáculo, con el poder, atreverse Jesús a convertirse en alguien que no es – pienso en comerciales de televisión.

The Temptation of Christ, Ary Scheffer, 1854

I’ve never liked most ads on TV. The ones that are trying to sell me something? They drive me nuts.

Nunca me ha gustado la mayoría de los anuncios en la televisión. Los que están tratando de venderme algo? Me vuelven lo.

“What?” I think to myself, “do these people think I’m stupid? Do they really think I’m going to fall for their tricks?”

“¿Qué?” Creo que a mí mismo “¿Estas personas piensan que soy estúpido? ¿Realmente crees que voy a caer en sus trampas?”

You know the commercials I’m talking about, right? The ones assuring me that if I buy their products, I’ll be richer, more popular, thinner, sexier, “in”?

Ustedes saben los anuncios que estoy hablando, ¿verdad? Los asegurándome que si puedo comprar sus productos, voy a ser más rico, más popular, más delgada, más sexy, “en”?

So I reject their advances. I turn off the sound. I refuse to be drawn in by an advertisement that promises more than it can deliver, that tries to divert me from the fact that not only do I not need that which they are selling, not only do I not want that which they are offering, I do not believe them.

Por lo tanto, rechazar sus avances. Puedo desactivar el sonido. Me niego a ser atraídos por un anuncio que promete más de lo que puede dar, que intenta distraerme del hecho de que no sólo no hace falta que los que están vendiendo, no sólo que no quiero que los que están ofreciendo, yo no les creo.

Because I know that most advertisers are not telling the truth. They are bending the truth, trying to make me believe that if I buy what they’re offering, I’ll be someone I am not.

Porque yo sé que la mayoría de los anunciantes no dicen la verdad. Se trata de doblar la verdad, tratando de hacerme creer que si yo compro lo que están ofreciendo, voy a ser alguien que yo no soy.

To me, most advertisers rank right up there with Ha Satan, the Adversary who tried to dare Jesus to be someone he is not.

Para mí, la mayoría de los anunciantes en el mismo escalafón con Ha Satanás, el Adversario que trató de Jesús se atreve a ser alguien que no lo es.

Because I know that driving the fastest, biggest, most expensive car in town won’t make me a better person.

Porque yo sé que la conducción más rápida, más grande, más caro coche de la ciudad no me hará una mejor persona.

So what if my hair has turned grey? I don’t need to color it to be me.

¿Y qué si mi pelo se ha vuelto gris? Yo no necesito el color a ser yo.

And frankly, I like the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth – they say something important about me.

Y francamente, me gusta la líneas de expresión alrededor de los ojos y la boca – se dice algo importante acerca de mí.

I do not believe the advertisers because I know who I am – I am Lauren, a beloved child of God.

More importantly, I know whose I am – I belong to God.

No creo que los anunciantes porque yo sé quién soy – Soy Lauren, una hija amada de Dios.

Más importante aún, yo sé cuya soy – Yo pertenezco a Dios.

So my answer to all those Tempters out there?

Away with you, Satan!

Así que mi respuesta a todos los tentadores por ahí?

Vete, Satanás!

Jesus didn’t have to face television advertising in the days when he walked the earth. But he did have to face Ha Satan, the Adversary who tried to tempt him into becoming someone he was not.

Jesús no tenía para hacer frente a la publicidad televisiva en los días en que estuvo en la tierra. Pero sí tienen que hacer frente Ha Satanás, el Adversario que trató de tentarlo para convertirse en alguien que no lo era.

Satan tried to tempt Christ, James Tissot, 1895


Immediately following his baptism in the River Jordan, immediately after hearing God confirm who he was (the Son of God) and whose he was (God’s beloved, in whom God was well-pleased),[2] Jesus went out into the desert. That’s what people did in those days, when they wanted to get closer to God. They turned heir backs on the hurly-burly of their lives and spent some time alone, doing their best to come face to face with God.

Inmediatamente después de su bautismo en el río Jordán, inmediatamente después de escuchar a Dios confirmar quién era él (el Hijo de Dios) y que cuya (de Dios amado, en quien Dios estaba muy complacido), Jesús se fue al desierto. Eso es lo que hizo en aquellos días, cuando quiso acercarse a Dios. Se volvieron la espalda heredero en el bullicio de su vida y pasó algún tiempo a solas, haciendo todo lo posible para encontrarse cara a cara con Dios.

After 40 days and 40 nights all alone with God, when Jesus was at his weakest, the Tempter, Ha Satan, showed up.

Después de 40 días y 40 noches a solas con Dios, cuando Jesús estaba en su más débil, el Tentador, Ha Satanás, se presentó.

And what did he do?

He didn’t just tempt Jesus.

He called Jesus’ very identity into question!

¿Y qué hizo?

Lo hizo no sólo tentar a Jesús.

Llamó identidad de Jesús en tela de juicio!

If you are the Son of God[3] turn stones into bread, so that you may eat.

If you are the Son of God[4]throw yourself down and let the angels catch you.

If you will fall down and worship me[5] I will give you power and dominion over the whole world.

Si eres el Hijo de Dios … las piedras se convierten en pan, de modo que usted puede comer.

Si eres el Hijo de Dios … lanzarte hacia abajo y dejar que los ángeles te atrapen.

Si se va a caer y me adoras … yo te daré poder y dominio sobre todo el mundo.

Silly Satan.

Satanás loco.

Did he really think he could get Jesus to give up his very being, just for a little bread, a little thrill ride, a little power?

¿Realmente cree que podría conseguir a Jesús a renunciar a su propio ser, sólo por un poco de pan, un paseo de emoción poco, un poco de poder?

Denying Satan, Carl Bloch, 1850

Jesus’ answer to the Tempter – Away with you, Satan! – is the original model for the “Just Say No” campaign, the campaign to which all of us are called in this holy season of Lent.

La respuesta de Jesús al Tentador – Vete, Satanás! – es el modelo original de la “simplemente decir que no” de campaña, la campaña a la que todos estamos llamados en este tiempo santo de Cuaresma.

Yes, my friends, it is the season of Lent, the 40 days and 40 nights in which we are called to Just Say No to the things that tempt us away from God. This is the time of year when we as Christians are specifically called to do as Jesus did, to turn our backs on the hurly-burly of our lives so that we can focus – really and truly focus – on who we are and whose we are.

Sí, mis amigos, es la temporada de Cuaresma, los 40 días y 40 noches en la que estamos llamados a decir “no” a las cosas que nos tientan lejos de Dios. Esta es la época del año cuando nosotros como Cristianos están especialmente llamados a hacer como lo hizo Jesús, a su vez en la espalda en el bullicio de nuestras vidas para que podamos centrarnos – real y enfoque realmente – en lo que somos y que nos pertenecen.

Now I know that Lent is not a popular season. It is not, as commentator David Lose says, something we look forward to, like Christmas. (Who asks, he points out, how many days there are until Lent?)[6]

Ahora yo sé que la Cuaresma no es un tiempo popular. No es, como dice el comentarista David Lose, algo que esperamos, como la Navidad. (¿Quién pregunta, señala, ¿cuántos días hay hasta la Cuaresma?)

Indeed, Professor Lose believes that because Lent is not popular, it is in trouble.[7]

De hecho, el profesor cree que perder porque la Cuaresma no es popular, Cuaresma tiene problemas.

It is in trouble, he says, because “it feels like this strange, weirdly anachronistic holiday that celebrates things we don’t value and encourages attitudes we don’t share.”[8]

Tiene problemas, dice, porque “se siente como esta fiesta extraña, extrañamente anacrónico que celebra las cosas que no valoramos y alienta actitudes que no comparto.”

But Lent doesn’t have to be in trouble.

Because Lent is really God’s gift to us.

Pero la Cuaresma no necesita tiene problemas.

Debido a que la Cuaresma es realmente un regalo de Dios para nosotros.

It is a gift because it gives us the time to think again, to know again, that we are beloved children of God, that we belong, from before time began until the ages of ages, to God.

Es un regalo porque nos da tiempo a pensar de nuevo, para saber más, de que somos hijos amados de Dios, que nos pertenecen, desde antes de los siglos hasta que siglos de los siglos, a Dios.

Lent is our time to say “no”… “no” to all the things that get in the way of knowing God’s love, that get in the way of our delighting in God’s will and walking in God’s ways.

La Cuaresma es nuestro tiempo para decir “no” … “no” a todas las cosas que se interponen en el camino de conocer el amor de Dios, que se interponen en el camino de nuestro deleite en la voluntad de Dios y caminar en los caminos de Dios.

Lent is our time to reject that which tries to redefine us, to reject the false advertising of our lives – the advertising from outside us that says, Just do this and you will be … famous, rich, happy, thinner, sexier, “in.”

La Cuaresma es nuestro tiempo para rechazar lo que nos trata de redefinir, de rechazar la falsa publicidad de nuestras vidas – la publicidad de fuera de nosotros que dice: Haz esto y serás … famoso, rico, feliz, más delgado, más sexy, “en.”

It is our time to reject those things that challenge our very identity, that draw us away from identifying ourselves first and foremost with and by God.

Es nuestra hora de rechazar las cosas que desafían nuestra propia identidad, que nos alejan de la identificación de nosotros mismos, ante todo, con y por Dios.

• • •

When I was in Sudan, in an area dominated by one tribe but populated by 15 other tribes, I frequently was asked, because tribal identification is still so very important in that war-torn country, “What tribe do you come from?”

Usually, my questioners wanted me to identify with their tribes, with the Dinka or Nuer, with the Shilluk or the Moro.

Cuando estaba en el Sudán, en una zona dominada por una tribu, pero poblada por 15 tribus otros, con frecuencia se le pidió, porque la identificación tribal es todavía tan importante en ese país devastado por la guerra, “¿De qué tribu vienes?”

Por lo general, mis interrogadores querían que se identifican con sus tribus, con los Dinka o los Nuer, con los Shilluk o los Moro

But I had friends in each of those tribes, and I refused to identify with just one of them.

Pero yo tenía amigos en cada una de esas tribus, y se negó a identificarse con uno de ellos.

It took me a while – a couple of years, actually – but one day, confronted yet again by an aggressive questioner, I heard myself answer:
“I belong to the tribe of God.”

Me tomó un tiempo – un par de años, en realidad – pero un día, se enfrentó una vez más por una pregunta agresiva, me oí responder:

“Yo pertenezco a la tribu de Dios.”

In truth, that tribe – God’s tribe – is the only tribe that counts. And we all belong to it.

En verdad, esa tribu – tribu de Dios – es la única tribu que cuenta. Y que todos pertenecemos a la misma.

The color of our skin? Our country of origin? Who our parents are? The language we speak? The clothes we wear? The jobs we have (or don’t have)? The world may think these things matter, but they do not.

They … do … not … matter.

El color de nuestra piel? Nuestro país de origen? Quiénes son nuestros padres? El idioma que hablamos? La ropa que usamos? Los puestos de trabajo que tienen (o no tienen)? El mundo puede pensar que estas cosas son importantes, pero no lo hacen.

Ellos … no … estan … importa.

The only thing that matters is that we belong to God’s tribe, the tribe of beloved children, created in God’s image, loved from before time until the ages of ages.

Lo único que importa es que pertenecemos a la tribu de Dios, la tribu de los hijos amados, creado a imagen de Dios, amado desde antes de los siglos …  hasta que las edades de las edades.

This holy season of Lent?

It is our time to discover anew our membership in that tribe.

Este tiempo santo de Cuaresma?

Es nuestro tiempo para descubrir de nuevo nuestra pertenencia a esa tribu.

We are not defined by what we own.

We are not defined by what we wear … or what we eat … or how powerful we are in this life.

We are defined only by this:

We are God’s beloved children.

Wordle art of this sermon, courtesy of wordle.net.

And we belong to God.

No están definidas por lo que tenemos.

No se define por lo que usamos … o lo que comemos … o lo poderoso que estamos en esta vida.

Nos están definidas por sólo por esto:

Somos hijos amados de Dios.

Y nosotros pertenecemos a Dios.

If we want to enjoy this gift that is Lent, we will have to be strong. We will have to turn our backs on the temptations that lead us astray from this tribe. We will have to reject the false advertising that says we can be something we are not. We will have to renounce those things that rear up their ugly heads and keep us from seeing God, and seeing ourselves in God.

Si queremos disfrutar de este regalo que es la Cuaresma, vamos a tener que ser fuerte. Tendremos que dar la espalda a las tentaciones que nos llevan por mal camino de esta tribu. Vamos a tener que rechazar la falsa publicidad que dice que puede ser algo que no lo son. Vamos a tener que renunciar a esas cosas que se alzan sus cabezas feas y nos impiden ver a Dios, y vernos a nosotros mismos en Dios.

This is our time. Our time to be with God. Our time to revel in God’s closeness. Our time to open ourselves up – completely and intimately – to the God who created us in love, the one who loves us now, the one who will love us forever.

Este es nuestro tiempo. Nuestro tiempo para estar con Dios. Nuestro tiempo para deleitarse con la cercanía de Dios. Nuestra tiempo de abrirnos – completo e íntimamente – al Dios que nos creó en el amor, el que nos ama ahora, el que nos va a amar para siempre

The next time someone tries to tempt you away from God? Tries to convince you that you are not popular enough, thin enough, sexy enough, “in” enough? Tries to sell you a faster car, a cooler phone? Tries to tell you that you are not eating in the right restaurants or working in the right offices?

Do what Jesus did:

Renounce them! Tell them to go away!

La próxima vez que alguien trata de tentarlo lejos de Dios? Trata de convencerlo de que no son lo suficiente popular, lo suficiente delgada, lo suficiente sexy, lo suficiente “en”? Trata de venderle un coche más rápido, un teléfono más fresco? Trata de decirle que usted no está comiendo en los restaurantes de derecha o de trabajo en las oficinas de derecho?

Hacer lo que hizo Jesús:

Renunciar a ellos! Dile que se vayan!

Because those people? They are not telling the truth. They are Tempters. Adversaries. They stand against God.

Debido a esas personas? Ellos no están diciendo la verdad. Ellos son tentadores. Adversarios. Ellos están en contra de Dios.

Instead, listen to God, who says to you:

You are my beloved. I created you because I love you.

Closeup of the Creation of Man, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

And you belong to me … from before time began … until the ages of ages.

En cambio, escuchar a Dios, que te dice:

Tú eres mi amado. Te he creado, porque Te amo.

Y tú me perteneces … de antes de los siglos … hasta que las edades de las edades.

You belong to me.

Tú me perteneces.


Bilingual sermon preached on the First Sunday in Lent, 13 March 2011, Year A, at St. Paul’s, Bailey’s Crossroads, Falls Church, Va.

[1] Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair Luther Seminary, “Into Temptation,” via WorkingPreacher.org, posted 7 March 2011, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=462

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lose, “Into Temptation.”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Professor David Lose, “The Trouble (and Blessings) of Lent,” on The Huffington Post, 7 March 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-lose/why-lent_b_830968.html?ref=fb&src=sp#sb=1522119,b=facebook.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.


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Get your Lent on!

Updated …

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day season of Lent, the time when as Christians we are asked to step back from the hurly-burly of our lives to reflect on our relationship with God and the knowledge that indeed, we are dust, and to the dust we shall return.

For many people, Lent is a time of fasting: from chocolate, cigarettes, meat, alcohol, you name it. With the rise of social networking, many are now choosing to fast from Facebook and e-mail and Twitter as well, because, as some have said, any of those things is addictive and therefore gets in the way of their relationship with God. Others are using Facebook especially for their prayer time. One person suggested that as you go through your Facebook feed, you stop and pray for each person who has posted. That’s sacramental networking on a massive scale.

But for others, Lent is an opportunity to go out into the world and preach the Gospel in new or alternative ways.

St. Edward's Episcopal Church, San Jose, Calif.







Exhibit A: Playing with words

My friend Tom Sramek Jr. is rector of St. Edward’s Episcopal Church in San Jose, Calif. Look at what he posted on his parish’s sign out on the street. (And “yep,” he says, “it’s on both sides.”) According to Sramek, his “facebook friends” made him do it. If so, those friends should be thanked, because this is a creative way for going out into the world and letting people know, “Hey! Something important is happening today. Get in here!” Now that approach may not work for everyone; I’m certain there are some who are scandalized by this delicious play on words. But some days, that’s what it takes to get people’s attention. Some people say it’s being cute – or worse, too cute – but in reality, all we’re doing is taking what people expect to see, changing it just enough for their subconscious to take note, and bingo! We’ve gotten the message across. We’ve preached, sometimes in very short form, the Gospel. I’ve often advocated that we engage in word play in our advertising: Holding a midweek service at 12:12, for example, instead of 12, or 12:05, or 12:15. People expect the latter times; 12:12 throws them for a loop, which means they notice, which means they think about it, even for a nanosecond, which means they’ve at least seen the invitation, which is Good News indeed.

Exhibit B: Hitting the streets

From a variety of sources comes the news of parishes taking their ashes to the streets. No, this is not some big protest by uptight Episcopalians who object to using cute phrases for advertising. This is the Church at work in the world. This is the Church recognizing that the world cannot always come to it, and that frequently, the Church needs to go out into the world.

The Rev. Emily Mellot, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Lombard, Ill., imposes ashes on the streets of Lombard. (Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Chicago)

The Diocese of Chicago has an Ashes to Go initiative, which started a few years ago and in which my friend Lane Hensley participated last year when he was rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Ill. The initiative focuses on going to where the people are on Ash Wednesday – in this case, commuter rail stations, Starbucks and other businesses and business areas – and offering to make the sign of the Cross on their foreheads with ashes. More than two dozen parishes in the Diocese of Chicago are participating in this effort, according to Episcopal News Service.

Now Lane is rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., and he’s taking his ashes on the road there, too. Hensley’s goal: Reaching out to those “who aren’t members of a church, or maybe have been members but pulled away for whatever reason.”

“The ashes,” Hensley told the Desert Sun newspaper, “are indicative of our admitting that we understand the futility of our existence and that we’re not self-sufficient or masters of our own fate.”

The Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion distributed ashes this morning in the streets of South Orange, N.J.

In San Francisco, as Sara Miles writes for EpiscopalCafe.com in this morning’s Daily Episcopalian, members of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church are going out into their neighborhoods, bringing ashes and prayers to all whom they meet. Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry and Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa, as well as an accomplished author of several books, including Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion and Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. Read her books and you’ll see that she knows a thing or two about going into the world.

From her column this morning:

“We touched the foreheads of commuters, and the gang kids on the corner, and little children, and a bunch of obnoxious drunks. I was pausing to impose ashes on an older lady when some guy pulled up in a truck, put on his blinkers, and threw open the door — “Oh! can I have those? Wait, my mom is in the back seat, can you go give her some?” Deb led me into the library, and a librarian said “I saw your sign that said forgive more. That’s what I need in my life right now. I need to forgive more.” At the taqueria, a cook said, “Oh…did you come because you knew we couldn’t get to church, so you came to us?” Deb was transfixed. “It’s so intense,” she told me. “Whenever your fingers touch the forehead, it’s like time stops, over and over and over.” Deb stood watching, her mouth open, in the Italian bakery, as a big woman in an apron, holding a three-layer birthday cake in her arms, leaned over the counter toward me. The woman closed her eyes and said, quietly, “Please.” I told her she was dust. We walked through an alley, where a teenaged drug dealer grinned at us and lifted his cap to show the cross already marked on his forehead. “I never thought I’d be walking along the street censing trash cans and storefronts,” Deb said. “and so many people would come toward it.” I know,” I said. “I think people might want a lot more church than we generally give them.”

Many people can’t get to church on Ash Wednesday; they work, they have to go to school, they have no transportation, their lives are too busy, they don’t know what Ash Wednesday is or why they should participate. But when the Church goes to those people where they are, and offers them that moment of sacramental living, lives change.

Our mission as beloved children of God is not to sit inside our churches and wait for people to come to us. If you build it, they will come hasn’t worked for the Church for a very long time. Instead of waiting, let’s get our Lent on by going out into the world. The people are there, and if the events described above are any indication, they need us.

An update from Palm Desert, Calif., via the Palm Desert Patch:

Guard Boots Rector, Pastor From Gardens On El Paseo

The clergy were ushering in the Lenten season by putting ashes in the sign of the cross on foreheads of willing passerby.

A Palm Desert Episcopalian priest and Lutheran pastor administered ashes to about 200 people Wednesday along El Paseo on the first day of the Lenten season, but not without some trouble.

The Rev. Lane Hensley of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and Pastor Derek Fossey of Hope Lutheran Church started at the Gardens on El Paseo, but quickly were told  by security personnel they were not welcome as the area is private property.

“I asked if it was OK to do this in the courtyard area,’’ Hensley told Patch.com, adding that he brought the tradition to the desert for the first time this year from his parish in Chicago.

Ashes are traditionally put on the foreheads of parishioners as part of Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the first day of Lent, the 40-day preparation in protestant and Catholic churches for Easter Sunday, April 24.

Being asked to leave didn’t stall the men, who went along other parts of El Paseo.

“Many of the employees of the stores came out to receive ashes,’’ Fossey said, adding that people, even non-Christians, seemed to enjoy it.

“People would pull up and ask if I could give them ashes in the car,’’ Fossey said, adding he happily obliged.

Toward the end of their rounds just before 2 p.m., Hensley and Fossey were on the sidewalk near the True Religion store when another guard asked them to leave, saying even that area was private property.

“Where does the property end?” Hensley asked.

“The property ends at the stoplight to the stoplight down there,’’ the guard said, pointing from San Pablo Avenue to Larkspur Lane.

The men wrapped up the event, but not before a dozen more people asked for the ritual.

After the priest and pastor left, a guard who only identified himself as a supervisor said he did not have a comment on the church leaders being barred from the sidewalk along the Gardens.

“See these bricks right here. Does that look like the sidewalk across the street?” he said before threatening to call the police if Patch.com’s reporter did not leave the sidewalk.

Sara OFlynn, marketing director for the Gardens on El Paseo, said she had no comment.

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Listen! Listen! Listen!

Matthew 17:1-9

Icon of the Transfiguration by Andrei Rublev (1405), now located in the Moscow Annunciation Cathedral

When Peter and James and John went up the mountain with Jesus that long-ago-but-memorable day, they literally had no idea what was about to happen.


They thought they were going to pray. After all, that’s what Jesus regularly did, and so for them, this was just another day following their teacher and Lord.

But, really: They had no idea what was in store.

Up they go, and boom! Jesus is transfigured right in front of them! His face shines like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white, and right there stand Moses and Elijah, chatting with Jesus!

You know that was a surprise. You know this was not on their agenda for the day. (Take a walk with Jesus? Check. Climb the mountain? Check. See Jesus transfigured? Huh?)

But the surprises didn’t stop there.

Because just as Peter in his great excitement was babbling away – “Lord, this is great! Let me make three little houses for you …” (perhaps to fix Jesus, Moses and Elijah in that moment?), just as he was reacting as only Peter could react, God spoke.

Now remember:

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God speaks to people all the time.

But in the New Testament, in the Gospels, God only speaks a few times (one of them being up on that mountain, when God interrupts Peter to proclaim Jesus as God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is most pleased).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commands all the time (often on a mountain – remember Moses and the 10 Commandments?)

But in the New Testament, God only commands once.[1]

Only one time – right here, right on the mountaintop – does God issue a commandment:

Akouete![2] Listen to him!

Like the commandments of old, this is not a suggestion. This is not God saying, “Hey, you know, when you’ve got a moment, I’d really like it if you’d pay attention … but only if you want to.”

This is not God throwing a hissy fit like a little kid who’s trying to win an argument on the playground and whining: Listen to me!

This is God in all of God’s glory – remember Jesus’ shining face and dazzling clothes? Remember Moses? Remember Elijah? This is God on high booming out (because you know God wasn’t namby-pamby here):

Akouete! Listen to him!

Not “Listen to me,” but “Listen to him.

If ever you have wondered whether Jesus was the real thing … if ever you wondered – and many have – whether perhaps we got it all wrong, that perhaps Jesus is more of a prophet and less the Son of God … now’s the time to pay attention.

Because right now, in this moment, on this mountaintop, God is making it crystal clear:

This is my son.

He is my beloved.

And you had better for darned tootin’ listen to him!

• • •

For the last eight years, the non-profit organization StoryCorps has been collecting the stories of Americans “of all backgrounds and beliefs.”[3] The stories are great; I listen to them on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday. But to me, what’s more important than the stories themselves is the idea behind StoryCorps:

Listening, StoryCorps proclaims, is an act of love.

Listening … is … an act … of love.

That’s important for us to remember, because, you see, we are created in love. Remember, we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. So God must have wanted us. God must have desired us into being. God must have loved us into being. So we were created in love.

And this command, Akouete? Listen to him?

This command is our blueprint for how we are to live in the image of God in which we are created. It is our blueprint for how we are to love.

I have something to tell you ... will you listen?

If we want to be faithful servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, if we really want to live our lives as God would have us live them, we … need … to … listen … to … Jesus.

Listening is how we love.

When we listen, we are loving God.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as Jesus loves us.

The great 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich once proclaimed that “The first duty of love is to listen.”[4] That duty comes from God’s direct command, not through prophets and apostles, but from God on high to the actual witnesses – Peter and James and John, who heard God speak to them, who heard God say to them, Akouete!

And now, today, on this last Sunday of Epiphany, with Lent beginning in just three days, God is speaking to us.

God is commanding us: Akouete! Listen to him!

And if we are wise, if we are caring, if we are faithful, we will listen.

For when we listen and are wise, we can see what is happening around us, and figure out what God wants us to do about it.

When we listen and are caring, we can build the relationships God is calling us to build, with God’s beloved children.

When we listen and are faithful, then … and only then … can we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

What it all boils down to is this:

Listening is an act of love … so listen up!

We already know what Jesus wants us to do … because he’s already told us. But sometimes, we need to listen again, because sometimes, once is not enough.

So what is it that Jesus wants us to do?

Feed the hungry. Give water to the thirsty. Make the blind see … the deaf hear … the mute speak … the lame leap for joy.

When we listen to Jesus, what do we hear him saying to us?

Live lives of love.

Live lives of wild … radical … inexplicable  … never-ending … love.

This is our mission in life, my friends. This is why God created us: to go into the world and love … just as God loves us … wildly, radically, inexplicably, eternally.

But … we say … but … this is hard! How are we supposed to love like this? We don’t know what to do? (And yes, all of us say this, all the time … because loving like this really is hard and we really do need a set of directions, we really want to see a blueprint before we begin.)

The good news is, God already has told us what to do and how we are to do it. God has already given us the directions and shown us the blueprint.

Step one: We listen.

As a missionary – I served for five years overseas on your behalf (all Appointed Missionaries represent the entire Episcopal Church, not just our own dioceses, which means that I was your missionary) – I can tell you that listening is key to serving.

Listening is how we learn of other's needs, desires, joys and sorrows.

Wherever I have served, particularly as a missionary – in Kenya, Sudan, Haiti, Honduras, Appalachia or Pine Ridge, in homeless shelters and food pantries, with poor, inner city residents and rich suburbanites – I have learned that when I listen to the people of God, I hear the voice of God. I hear Jesus’ commandment to love.

And this call I hear?

It’s not just mine. It’s a call to all of us – because all of us are God’s missionaries in God’s very good creation.

How many of you are Episcopalians? Did you know that the legal name of our Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America? That we made that change in 1821? And that we made that change in our name because we determined then that we were going to a Church that went out into the world and preached the Gospel, and if necessary (as St. Francis is reputed to have said) using words? Which means that all of us here are missionaries.

So all of us are sent forth into God’s world, not to speak, not to tell others what to do, not to be so all-fired certain that we are right and everyone else is … well, they’re just delusional!


God tells us: Akouete! Listen to him!

Listen to Jesus as he tells us: Love your enemy. Tend the sick. Visit the prisoners. Bring joy to the sorrowful. Give courage to the fearful.  Feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute and dancing to the lame!

Jesus has told us … in no uncertain terms … what he wants us to do. Jesus wants us to love!

And the first act, the first duty of love is to listen.

Not just to the people we love, not just to the people we know. No! We need to listen to each and every one of God’s beloved children, because God doesn’t discriminate. In God’s very good creation, there are no us’s and them’s. In God’s very good creation, no one gets voted off the island!

Only when we take the time to listen to God’s beloved children, only then do we hear their joys and sorrows, their dreams and disappointments, and their hopes and their desperate desire to know that they are loved, that they are the beloved.

Make no mistake, my friends:

God is speaking to us. God is on this mountaintop with us, right here, right now, and God is telling us – in every way possible – that our call is to love.

So listen up!


A sermon preached on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, 6 March 2010, Year A, at St. Stephen’s, New Hartford, NY, and St. John’s, Whitesboro, NY.

[1] Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks Christian Resources, Matthew 17:1-9, Transfiguration of our Lord, Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A,  http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[4] Paul Tillich, German-born American Protestant theologian (1886-1965), in a story about Tillich, as quoted in O Magazine, February 2004.


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