Tongues of teachers

Isaiah 50:4-9a | John 13:21-32

God, Isaiah tells us, has given us the tongues of teachers, so the question we have on this Wednesday night in Holy Week is this:

What are you going to teach?

What word are you going to give to sustain the weary?

God has told us the Good News that he wants proclaimed. He has given us the words that need to be spoken, especially in this intense period of time, when we are about to face our deepest fears and experience our harshest terrors and most intense grief.

God has called us – each and every one of us here – to speak the truths that need to be spoken, to proclaim the grace that so many are dying to hear.

This is our holy calling, something of which we need to be reminded in this Holy Week.

For God gave us the tongues to teachers in order that we may speak God’s message of love and reconciliation, of justice and peace. God has given us the tongues of teachers so that we can proclaim to the world, to all of God’s creation, God’s dream for us, a dream of lives lived in love, not hatred; of lives filled with enough instead of lives lived in desperation; of fairness for all the people, and not just the select few.

We have been given the tongues of teachers so that we can teach

… even if it costs us … our jobs, our homes, our families, our freedom, our lives.

And God knows, it will cost us to speak God’s word to the world. We know that it will cost us … because we know the world (and sometimes, remember, that means us) does not want to hear God’s message, does not want to listen to what God wants, does not want to live in love or peace, and refuses to give justice, or even just enough, to those in need.

Jesus knew this particular truth. He knew the powers-that-be did not want to hear what he had to say, because then the powers-that-be wouldn’t be in power, would they? For they would have to give up all that they had in order to received all that God had to give.

So Jesus knew what was coming – he told everyone repeatedly that he would die for what he proclaimed, for what he represented, for what he was.

Facing his death, knowing how awful this whole sad affair would be, Jesus said “Yes” to God. Knowing that it would be painful beyond belief, that he would suffer beyond endurance, he still said, “Yes.”

The Lord God opened his ear, and he was not rebellious, he did not turn backward.

Even when he was betrayed by one of those whom he had called to discipleship.

And this is our call in Holy Week as well:

To be faithful, even when we feel betrayed.

Even when we are mocked.

Even when the world rejects us, spits on us, tries to beat us down.

We have nothing to fear. Isaiah assures us of that, proclaiming:

Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

God has called us – each of us and all of us – to proclaim God’s word, God’s will, God’s dream for all of God’s very good creation.

The Last Supper by Simon Ushakov

Our call, especially in this week, this holy week, when much of the world is either looking for chocolate eggs and giant white rabbits or is too frightened and weary to do much of anything but cower in despair, our call is to stand firm in our faith, to proclaim the Word and the love of the Lord to all people, to do the right thing no matter what.

It’s a weary world out there right now, folks. Trust me – bad news batters us daily, the economy scares us, our enemies are trying to terrorize us into submission.

God is calling us to sustain that world.

God has equipped us to do so.

So in this Holy Week, be strong, speak boldly, and live in the love that God has given us.


A sermon preach on Wednesday in Holy Week, 20 April 2011, Year A, at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Burke, Va.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Walking in death to life

Maundy Thursday in Haiti:

Dear Friends in Christ:

In Haiti’s epicenter, anywhere you walk, you are walking in death.

Everywhere you step in earthquake-devastated epicenter of Port au Prince and Leogane and the surrounding areas, your feet get dirty. There are few open spaces left, and what once was open is now filled with tents and tent cities. There is little sanitation. Garbage is picked up some days, but piles up most others. The rains sweep everything down the streets and sidewalks: raw sewage, mud from the crumbled buildings, the decaying remains of those who died and who have still not been found, still not been uncovered in the rubble.

If any one group of people need their feet washed, especially on Maundy Thursday, it is the Haitians, for they walk in death every single day.

But foot-washing — a part of the Christian tradition that comes from the Evangelist John’s description of the Last Supper, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples — is not a tradition in the Episcopal Church here. I’m not certain why it isn’t, I simply know that when I asked, “Do we wash the people’s feet here?” I was told, “No.”

I wish that were not so, because right now, Haitians need that foot-washing.

Not just because they are walking in death.

But because I think that most Haitians – those living in tents and tent cities, and those who are in their own homes – need the rest of the world to bathe them in the same love in which Jesus bathed his disciples’ feet.

The standard explanation of the foot-washing scene in John’s Gospel is that Jesus wanted to show how far he was willing to go to be a servant to his disciples, to set an example for them, so that they in turn might be servants as well.

But I have always believed that there is so much more to the story than simply example-setting. I believe that Jesus got on his knees and washed his disciples dirty, smelly, probably ugly feet — that terribly despised portion of the body that most people really don’t want to have washed in public  — I believe Jesus did this as an act of pure love. I believe Jesus took each foot and caressed it, rubbed it, washed it clean, and gently rubbed it dry out of pure love.

And if anyone needs to experience that kind of gentle love, it is the Haitians. They have suffered so much for so long, and then have been torn asunder physically, emotionally and psychologically by this earthquake. Now, the very ground on which they walk is filled with death. What would it be like, I asked the small congregation gathered for Maundy Thursday services at St. James the Just, if we were to have OUR  feet washed, and then were to go across the street to the Tent City where approximately 6,000 people are encamped, and wash THEIR feet? What would happen if we were to show to all those in such great need the same absolute, tender love that Jesus showed to his disciples?

We don’t do foot-washing in Haiti — at least, not yet. Pere David Cesar and I talked about possibly introducing the service next year.

But right now, I said, I think it’s something that Haiti desperately needs: Gentle, tender, pure love. Each of us, I said, needs to take the love of Christ that we feel — however big or small — and share it, gently and tenderly — with those who need it so much more.

When Jesus got down on his knees, I said, he did it out of love. And that very act alone changed the world.

We, too, I said, can do this. We can get on OUR knees, figuratively and literally, and in doing so change not just Haiti, but the world.

I don’t want to walk in death any more. The Haitians don’t want to walk in death any more. What they want — what they NEED, right now — is to walk in love.

What better way to show that love than to have our dirty, smelly, ugly feet washed, and then to wash the dirty, smelly, ugly feet of others?

That kind of love, that kind of willingness to lessen ourselves so that others may be loved and may find life — THAT kind of love changed the world once, and it can change the world again.

I really wanted to wash some feet tonight, and I wanted my own feet washed, in the pure, tender, gentle love of Jesus. We did so figuratively. Hopefully soon, we’ll do so literally as well.

Blessings and peace in this Holy Week,


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

We are remembered

Wednesday in Holy Week in Haiti:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

On Palm Sunday at St. James the Just, during Communion at the English service, I introduced the congrgation to Taize music. “Do you know ‘Jesus, Remember Me?'” I asked. Most shook their heads no, so I sang that beautiful and haunting piece, the quotation from the thief who was crucified next to Jesus, one time through.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

By the second time through, the congregation, many of them first-time visitors, mostly aid and relief workers, had picked up the hymn. By the third time through, as Pere David Cesar, the priest in charge, and I distributed the bread and wine, the congregation had figured out how to harmonize. They sang softly and beautifully as they recieved the body and blood of Christ, making that holy meal even holier.

Tonight, Pere David and I broke bread together again, this time at a local hotel. Pere David, who is director of the Holy Trinity Music School and the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, is a faith-filled man who glorifies God especially through his music. He is an accomplished musician, teacher, and priest. When the earthquake struck, he was in his office, and helped lead several people to safety as the building collapsed around, over and under them.

We talked about music throughout dinner, sharing stories. Me, I don’t know much about music. I can’t read it, don’t play an instrument, and am hopeless at counting. But I love to sing, and I truly love chant. Taize is part of my prayer life, and since the quake, I’ve had one Taize piece in particular running continuously through my soul: “Oh Lord, hear my prayer, oh Lord, hear my prayer, when I call answer me. Oh Lord, hear my prayer, oh Lord, hear my prayer, come and listen to me.”

I told Pere David about that chant, and showed him my Anglican rosary, which James, a new friend at Trinity Cathedral in Miami, gave me as a gift a few weeks ago. “I sing my prayer on this rosary,” I told Pere David. “It centers me in God.”

At some point, Pere David and I talked about using Taize again at our Maundy Thursday service tomorrow evening. He instantly translated the chant into French, and we decided to introduce Taize into other services as well.

Then, as I described the Taize community to my friend, and how it is a healing place for people from all over the world – and how I hope to go there one day – we began to dream of using a form of Taize to help Haiti heal from its wounds. We dreamed of building a labyrinth, with a garden and trees and the brilliant flora of Haiti, with a small waterfall, and of teaching people healing songs and chants at this new place of which we dreamed.

Haiti needs healing. It needs rebuilding. In the new creation that already is taking place here, we dreamed, for a few hours, of how to not only renew the land but renew the people.

The people here already are devoted to and dependent on God. God is alive and well and at the center of most people’s lives, especially in these dark hours. Music is an important aspect of their lives as well. Perhaps, we thought as we broke bread and shared dreams, we could take the most important part of people’s lives – God and music and prayer – and bring them together in a new way, to help us heal even more.

One thing we do not have to dream about: Jesus does remember us in Haiti.

Blessings and peace in this holiest of weeks,


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

‘No more of this!’

Palm Sunday in Haiti:

Coming back to Haiti once again, I can already see some of the changes that are taking place. More rubble is being removed, more streets are open, more people are out on those streets trying to reconstruct their lives.

But I can also see what is NOT changing: Collapsed buildings still predominate, some with the bodies of our people entombed forever. The Tent Cities are still here, and with the rains now upon us, and still very little sanitation, the risk for disease is increasing constantly. Our children are not yet back in school, because it’s too dangerous. There is still not enough food, or clean water. Lord knows people are trying — the churches, aid organizations, the government — but it’s not enough. And after a while, “not enough” is simply hard to understand, hard to see, hard to live with.


Our Palm Sunday services at St. James the Just were beautiful. We had many visitors at our English service this morning, from all over the world. Despite the lack of a bulletin — the printer isn’t working, alas — we still managed to do the service with holiness, especially when we sang together. Some of our first-timers have gorgeous voices, and the harmonies were marvelous. I preached, using a line from my friend Meredith’s sermon: “No more of this!” That’s what Jesus said when one of his disciples cut off a servant’s ear in a misguided effort to defend Jesus. I wasn’t slated to preach, and pastedGraphic_1.pdffound out only about two minutes before the service. But my friend’s sermon, especially that focus on “No more of this!” kept ringing in my head and heart. So I preached about what Bishop Duracin keeps saying: This is our new creation here in Haiti. No more of the old ways of doing things! No more going hungry because we don’t have enough food, or money to buy it. No more dirty water to drink, because the water system doesn’t work. No more premature deaths because of a lack of medicine! Jesus didn’t die to leave us in the same old life, I said. He died to give us new life — so no more of this! Since so many of our visitors are aid workers, who have moved far from their homes to come help Haiti, I told them that this was their new life, too: That that is the purpose of Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter itself. No more, I shouted!

And then some of the same old life crept right back in. This afternoon, at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church up the mountain, the Ste. Trinite Philharmonic Orchestra gave a Requiem Concert for the members of the Music School and Orchestra, and friends of both, who died in the earthquake. pastedGraphic_2.pdfOne of my colleagues, the Rev. Randall Chabot-Stahls, who helps lead the English service at Ste. Trinite, was sitting next to me when he discovered the name of one of his friends who had died on Jan. 12. Randall had been trying to reach his friend, but hadn’t gotten through. His tears lent a special poignancy to an already poignant service. I, too, discovered the name of one more person whom I had not seen, but for whom I held out hope.

Such is life in Haiti now. You keep hoping that people from whom you have not heard have simply lost their phones and don’t know your number. You keep hoping to hear good news. But then the same old kicks in, and you find out the bad news, and you have to figure out how to go forward, how to mourn, how to tell your story and then live with it. It is only the hope we have in the Resurrection that keeps people going here … there’s nothing else but that hope.

And that’s what the concert gave so many of us today, hope. Hundreds attended, and all of us drew strength from the beautiful music, from hearing the Orchestra perform and the Petits Chanteurs sing. We listened to Faure and Bach, to De Lalande and Mozart, to Dickens Princivil’s soaring “Transitions.” We listened and wept and smiled and applauded and in the end realized: No more of the old ways! We have new life, and that new life will sustain us, despite all the difficulties that we still face in Haiti.

As we move through Holy Week in this hard place, we are holding on to the hope that we have in Christ, the hope of the new life that we face, and that we have. As long as we keep that hope in front of us, we can say, with all the power of our lives, No more!

I ask your continued prayers for the people of this place, so that we can draw strength from your strength.

Blessings and peace,


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter