A cup of boldness, courtesy of the Trinity

The other day, I went to Starbucks – that was no surprise, because y’all know that I love Starbucks and that I go there because I love their chai lattes. And you know that whenever I come out here on Sundays, I stop at Starbucks multiple times along the way. So my going there the other day normally wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Except for the fact that the other day, I went there not just for my chai, but to take a stand.

You see, there is a group called the National Organization for Marriage, which is so anti-gay marriage that it organized what it called a “DumpStarbucks Day” because this group is upset. Really upset. Why? Because Starbucks has had the audacity to offer health benefits to its employees’ domestic partners.

NOM’s response to this offer?

It wants Starbucks punished.

So it started a Facebook page, “DumpStarbucks Day,” and asked people to boycott Starbucks on Wednesday last week.

Of course, a slew of my friends, who support gay marriage, among other things, were outraged and expressed that outrage on their Facebook pages, which meant it showed up on mine, and finally, after seeing all kinds of references to this, and wondering why my friends would support an attack on Starbucks, I checked out the whole thing and came away thinking, “Really? NOM is outraged that Starbucks treats its employees and their loved ones well? Hmpph! Not gonna let that happen!”

So on Wednesday, I made a point of going to Starbucks, where they know my green cup (if not me) quite well, and after I ordered, I told the barista I was there to support Starbucks against the DumpStarbucks movement.

Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained it to her, and reiterated that I was there to show support for her employer.

“Someone has a problem with Starbucks giving us health benefits?”

“Not just you. But domestic partners as well,” I said.


I had to explain that domestic partners frequently but not always are gay, which is when one of the other customers piped up: “What? Some group is objecting to what?”

So I explained – again – the whole idea, and that I was there to support the company, and that I would be back later in the day, to really show my support, and then the barista asked, in great confusion,

“Why would anyone care who Starbucks gives benefits to? What business is it of theirs?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“It’s nobody’s business but Starbucks and its employees,” the customer said.

And then the barista asked: “Is this group Christian?”

“Yeah, that’s what they claim,” I said.

“See, that’s what I hate about churches,” the barista said. “I hate it when they … they …” She was literally stumbling over her words, trying to figure out how to express what it was that she hated.

“Hijack your faith?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she said. “I hate that.”

“Me either,” I said. “As an Episcopal priest, I can tell you: This is not what Christianity is all about.”

The customer chimed in again: “My dad goes to this church in Fairfax, the Unity church,” he said, “where they welcome everyone, and they relate their faith to what’s happening today, instead of just telling us what was said thousands of years ago.”
“You gotta make the faith relevant to our lives today,” I agreed.

We talked for probably another 10 minutes, ending with me inviting people to The Episcopal Church (alas, I had to tell them the commute to Blue Grass was pretty long), and then I headed on to my appointment.

Afterward, I thought about how, in that short encounter, we – the barista, the other customer and I – had formed a community. Just for a short time, yes, but a community nonetheless.

And isn’t that what we’re talking about when we talk about the Trinity, the feast we celebrate today?

Aren’t we talking about community?

Because isn’t that what the Trinity is all about? Community?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The way we read the Scriptures, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always work together … in the beginning and from the beginning. You never find two of them off working while one stays behind, drinking a martini. The Trinity is a community, and it is always together.

And remember, my friends, this is the image in which we are made, the image of God, which is one of love and one of community.

Which means that we are created to live in community just like the Trinity.

• • •

I can tell you that there are many, many of my colleagues this morning who claim that you cannot explain the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who say the Trinity is a mystery and we are not made to understand mysteries, who allege that anyone who even tries to explain the Trinity is … well, is a fool. That really, we are all like Nicodemus, confused and wondering what the heck Jesus is talking about in the depths of the night.

To which I reply: Anyone who cannot explain the Trinity isn’t really trying, and that to fob the whole thing of as some sort of inexplicable mystery is … well, let’s just say it’s foolish. Because we are not Nicodemuses! We, my friends, are God’s creation, made in God’s image. And we do not need to stumble around in our faith and say, “Well, I can’t really explain the Trinity because it’s a cosmic mystery”!

Because the Trinity is, in its most basic form, nothing more – and nothing less – than community.

So let’s get the basic explanation of the Trinity out of the way so we can get to the heart of the matter, OK?

See this blue water? This is God the Father, the one who created us not because we are necessary – remember, we are not – but because God loved us into being. (pour water into glass bowl)

See this yellow water? This is God the Son, the one who lived among us as one of us, who laughed and cried, who celebrated and suffered, who died for us. (pour water into bowl, making water turn green)

See this red water? This is God the Holy Spirit, the advocate who comes to us to lead us, guide us, give us the breath to be bold in our faith. (pour water into bowl, making water turn amber)

Now … you tell me … which one is which?

Can you separate God the Father from God the Son from God the Holy Spirit?


That’s because you can’t separate God into pieces. You. Cannot. Separate. The Father. From the Son. From the Holy Spirit.

Three in One. One in Three.

A community.
Because, my friends, that’s the Trinity … an inseparable community that you can’t really tell apart and can’t possibly tear apart, always together, always united, always in love with each other.

And we, who are created in the image of God, are created in that image of community.

Which means that wherever we are, we need to be in community.

But we can’t simply show up and hope community somehow magically “happens.”

We, created in the image of community, have to make community.

We have to work at community.

And just like the community in whose image we are created, we have to be bold at community-making.

Because God the Father certainly was bold in creating us and inviting us  –inviting us! – to love one another and ourselves and God, knowing full-well that we might just turn down that invitation, but boldly taking that chance anyway.

Because God the Son certainly was bold in everything he did, preaching, teaching, healing, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute and making the lame leap for joy! God the Son was bold in choosing not only to live for us but to die for us!

And God the Holy Spirit? Oh, my gosh, the Holy Spirit is nothing but boldness personified, inspiring us – literally, giving us breath! – guiding us, giving us the right words to speak, helping us choose the right actions to take. Oh, my, the Holy Spirit defines boldness!

This bold image of the Trinity is the image in which we are created! To be bold in our community!

• • •

I read an article yesterday by a church musician named Nicole Keller, who was lamenting the fact that so many Christians seem to give up on their faith.

“… I believe that there is no such thing as a non-extreme Christian,” she wrote on her blog, Under the Cassock.[1] “Christianity,” she says, “is a radical faith, even in its utmost humility. … [T]he core of Christianity includes bringing Christ to those who do not know him by showing them who he is. That doesn’t mean I have to go door to door like our Mormon friends … It could be as basic as helping a random stranger pick up the groceries they (sic) dropped in the parking lot, bringing up your children to be faithful Christians, or feeding the poor at the local soup kitchen – that’s living the Gospel, baby,” she writes. “But along with those actions we must be willing to admit openly, when necessary, that we do them because our faith inspires and requires us to do so with a loving heart.

“Is that really so hard?” she asks. “When someone asks me, ‘Why are you helping me” I can simply say ‘because my faith inspires me to love those around me.’ … It is simply showing them who I am.”[2]

And who we are is a people created in God’s image of community … and not just any community, but a bold community, willing to go out and live our faith and willing to go out and proclaim our faith!

This is what the Trinity is all about …

Boldly living …

Boldly proclaiming …

We are not nice – we do not love one another – just “because.”

We do so because we are created and commanded to do so.

So when you think about the Trinity, here’s what I want you to think about:

Not that the Trinity is some inexplicable mystery about God that will only be fully explained once we reach the Omega of this life so we can get to the Alpha of the rest of our lives.


The Trinity, my friends, is the very essence of our being that empowers us to boldly live and boldly proclaim our faith every moment of our lives, with every person we meet, in every thing that we do.

So the next time you stop for that cup of coffee, make sure you get the bold kind. The kind that builds a community (even for a moment) in the image of God.

Live your faith boldy. And then talk about your faith boldly. Be clear with people: Whatever kindness you are doing, whatever blessing you are bestowing, whatever love you are showing, you are doing so because you are created in the image of God.

Don’t be Nicodemus, showing up in the middle of night, filled with fear and confusion.

Instead, just be who you are.

Bold children of God.


Sermon preached on the Feast of the Trinity, Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 3 June 2012, Year B.

[1] Nicole Keller, “Saving The Church From Itself,” Under the Cassock blog, 2 June 2012, http://underthecassock.blogspot.com/2012/06/saving-church-from-itself.html.


[2] Ibid. All emphases original.

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Cleansing love

John 15:1-8

This morning’s Gospel is one of those difficult passages in the Scriptures to which we need to pay a great deal of attention, because over the years, it has been translated, quite loosely, to mean, “My way or the highway.”

This passage talks about pruning, about cutting off, the branches that do not produce well. It is a passage that many preachers, and many churches, have
used – and we all know this – to say, “This is the only way to interpret the Scriptures, and if you don’t agree, you need to leave.”

Jesus is talking about being the vine, and us being the branches, and that branches need to be pruned so they can produce better, and those that do not produce will be cut off and cast into the fire.

Far too many people in our lives have used it to justify their “My way or the highway” approach to life, and to faith.

But John never uses the word “to prune” in this passage.

John, who is so elegant, so deliberative in his writing, who so carefully chooses each word in order to make a point, actually uses the Greek word katharei, which means “to cleanse.” Not to “cut,” but to “cleanse.”[1]

And if you pay attention to John’s Greek – and we should, because it is beautiful and John knew exactly what he was doing with his choice of words – you don’t end up with being cut off and cast into the fires of eternal hell. We know, from the Scriptures, that God has no intentions of casting us into the fires – not if we accept his love. Paul tells us that, doesn’t he? Paul is the one who tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing.  So if nothing can separate us, where do people get the idea that they can do so, that they can preach, “My way or the highway”?

Instead, what John is talking about here is being cleansed.

Cleansed of all the things that get in the way of living in love and living in community.

• • •

Many of you know that I own a townhouse in Alexandria, which I have rented out for years, because I’m a missionary. But when I did live there, I had beautiful rose bushes. Actually, they were more climbing vines than bushes … vines that grew and spread, and which I intentionally tied up against my house, framing the breezeway that led to my front door and my back porch.

Over the years, those vines grew and grew, held up by an intricate web of string and nails and poles and ties, all so that my roses could bloom gloriously … for three weeks at the beginning of May.

That’s it. They appeared in early May, spread gloriously for three weeks, and then they faded away.

For six years, I tended those vines, mainly by using more and more string and twist ties to form the vines into bowers that framed each end of the breezeway, so that’s what I did.

One of my neighbors kept telling me that the roses

would be better off, would bloom more gloriously, if I pruned them each year. And by “pruning,” I mean cutting them way, way, way back.

Finally, I agreed, and went out there with my cutters, and … I just stood there. I could not bring myself to do this.

So I went to my neighbor, to Gray, and said, “You do this. I can’t cut them.”

And oh, my, did he cut them back. He cut and hacked and trimmed and pruned, and it go to be so painful that I couldn’t watch any longer. I simply turned my back to him and let him do what was best for the roses.

When he was done, I turned around and looked, and all I could say was, “Really?”

I felt like I had cut myself off.

Of course, the next year, those bushes blossomed like crazy, and I had roses all over the place and it was lovely. But I did not have the bowers any longer, because the bushes had been cut back so much.

That’s the problem with pruning, isn’t it? You cut away a lot because it’s supposed to be good, but sometimes, the good that you get isn’t the good you want, and it doesn’t achieve what you want it to achieve.

That’s why John doesn’t talk about “pruning.” He’s talking about cleansing. And we need to remember that.

• • •

This morning, as I was trying to get here (having started a bit late, having wandered slooooowly through Staunton on what I thought was a shortcut, and having been stuck behind two trucks whose drivers didn’t seem to know the mountain roads and at times dropped us down to 12 miles per hour), I felt that need to be cleansed.


You know what it’s like to come across the mountains, twisting and turning, up the mountain, down the mountain, through the forest, up the mountain, out of the forest, down the mountain.

When I first fell in behind these trucks, and realized how slowly they were going (and how much I have become accustomed to driving over the mountains to get here), my first reaction was, “Well, spit.” Which quickly accelerated to, “Really?” Which in turn, as we sloooooowed down to those 12 miles per hour, to, “Really?!?!” I could feel the anxiety building up in me, feel the frustration, even though I had already called Caroline to tell her I would be late, even though I knew you could start the service by yourselves, even though I knew that all would be well.

I was getting angry.

And I needed to be cleansed of that anger.

I needed to relax, to simply drive, to remember what it was like the first time I drove out here, at night, not knowing the roads, with a pickup truck on my tail the whole way. I needed to realize what it was like to be the driver of that pickup, frustrated that I wouldn’t go faster, and wouldn’t pull over because I didn’t know where to do so.

We all have moments when we need to be cleansed as well.

When we feel that we are not loved enough.

Or appreciated enough.

Or that we are alone.

Or that the fates have conspired against us.

When we’re told that what we believe is wrong. That we need to leave, to quit, to go away, because we don’t fit in anymore.

When someone says to us, “You are out. God doesn’t love you.”

Or, “You are out – because you are wearing the wrong color.”

Or, “You, Caroline, don’t belong, because you are sitting at the piano, instead of in the pew.”

We all know this, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you, this is not what the Gospel says.

Because John doesn’t use the word for pruning. He’s talking about cleansing.

From the Greek word katharei we get the English word catharsis, which according is an emotional release or purification, a purging. We’ve all had, or know people who have had, cathartic experiences – through grief or great pain – and when we think of the word in this way, we realize: Jesus isn’t talking about getting cut off. He’s talking about us being cleansed of that which is harming us, paining us, grieving us.

Not quite the same thing, is it?

Being cut off is harsh. It separates us from the love of God, which we know isn’t possible for, as Paul tells us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Being cleansed? Well, that’s a whole ’nother story, one that implies love, because only someone who loves us enough will bother to clean us.

So instead of spending this day thinking about what we need to cut out of our lives, so as to avoid being cut off and thrown into the fire, we get to spend our day concentrating on what we would like to have cleaned off in our lives, where we would like clean up our own acts, so that we can indeed to do that for which we are created …

Which of course is to love.

God loves us enough to cleanse us.

So that we can love in return.

Because it is in loving that we bear fruit.

Love is what counts … not just us being love, but us loving others.

Cleanse Your Spirit by Cathy Beharriell

And we can’t do that to the best of our ability until we clean out the stuff, the junk, that gets in the way of love.

So think about it: What do you want to get rid of? What do you want God to cleanse in you?

And how will your life change when whatever it is that needs cleansing is gone? Will you be able to love more? Will you be able to bear more fruit? Will you be able to be the person God is calling you to be, the person God created you to be?

It’s not about pruning, folks. It’s not about cutting off.

It’s about being cleansed.

So we can bear fruit.

So we can love.




Sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 6 May 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.


[1] Rev. Peter Woods, Methodist minister in South Africa, “The catharsis of not cutting, “ The Listening Hermit blog, http://thelisteninghermit.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/the-catharsis-of-not-cutting-easter5/


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Bringing in the sheep …

John 10:11-18

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, your patronal feast day, when we celebrate the fact that Jesus has proclaimed himself as our good shepherd, and the fact that we have said “Yes” to Jesus’ proclamation.

Now, we could spend the whole morning talking about sheep and how cute those little lambs are, and dispelling the myth that sheep are stupid (they’re not and we know it. Goats are stupid; sheep are smart), and how much we don’t like being called sheep, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But you all know sheep, because so many of you raise them here. For y’all, sheep are, for the most part, a commodity, a way of making a living. And those of you who have been shepherds? Or who know shepherds? You don’t need me to explain sheep to you.

So instead, let’s talk about wild sheep.

I was shocked to discover how many kinds of wild sheep there are out there.

There are the ovis ammon, the wild sheep of the semi-desert regions of central Asia; these are the ones known as Marco Polo sheep

… the ovis vignei, or the urial, the bearded reddish sheep of southern Asia.

… the Dall sheep, also known as the ovis Montana dalli, which are the large, white, wild sheep of northwestern Canada and Alaska …

… the Ammotragus lervia, the Barbary sheep of northern Africa …

… the ovis Canadensis, also called the Rocky Mountain bighorn and Cimarron, which are the wild sheep of mountainous regions of western North America with the massive curled horns …

… and the ovis musimon or moufflon, the wild mountain sheep of Corsica and Sardinia.

That’s a lot of wild sheep. I actually didn’t even think of some of them as sheep until I looked them up. To me, Bighorns are bighorns, not sheep.

And who watches over all these wild sheep?

Well, there’s the Wild Sheep Foundation … the Grand Slam Club … the Eastern Chapter Wild Sheep Foundation, the Idaho Wild Sheep, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Bighorn Sheep Society of Idaho, the Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council, the Wild Sheep of North America – Bighorn Institute, the Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, and the Washington Wild Sheep Foundation. And those are just the groups that I found. Lord knows how many other groups there are out there, watching over these sheep in one form or another.

Why do these wild sheep need these groups to watch over them?

Because they don’t have a shepherd.

Because while wild sheep are communal … they stick together, they raise each other’s lambs … they have no leader. There is no one ram or ewe to guide them.

There is no voice calling them. No one feeds them. No one waters them. No one guards them against predators.

Wild sheep are on their own.

So on this Good Shepherd Sunday, perhaps we need to pay less attention to Jesus’ proclamation that he is our Good Shepherd (because we’ve already agreed to this), and more attention to his proclamation that there are other sheep out there – wild sheep – who do not yet belong to his fold, and that he’s going to bring them also, and they will listen to his voice.

Today’s Gospel, my friends, is not about us.

It’s about all those wild sheep out there …

… and the fact that Jesus is actively looking for them.

Lord knows, those sheep, those wild sheep, need to hear Jesus’ voice right about now.

Think about all the voices that abound in our society … voices singing their siren songs about getting ahead (and leaving others behind) … that make impossible and irrational promises (does anyone here really believe a car will make you sexier? A car?) … that spew hatred and condemn civil discourse …

It’s no wonder so many sheep are wild these days.

It’s no wonder that the latest surveys show that more and more young people in this country claim to be “spiritual” and not “religious.” How could they be anything but “spiritual and not religious” when the only voices they hear are ones of discord and discontent, of maliciousness and hatred, of vituperative dismissal of anyone who dares to disagree with the speaker?

With all that negativity being spewed about, how is it even possible for Jesus’ voice – the voice of God proclaiming, “I love you” – to be heard?

You all are the Church of Good Shepherd, nestled in this little valley town (town? village?) of Blue Grass, in Highland County, hard up against the West Virginia border. What are you doing to make Jesus’ voice heard?

This is your call, in this time and in this place. This is why you are called the Church of the Good Shepherd – to make the Good Shepherd’s voice heard, above all the babble and nonsense that fills our ears every moment of every day.

It is all well and good for us to say, “Well, we have a good shepherd. We have the Good Shepherd.” But if all we do is rest on our laurels and never do anything with this knowledge, we’re in trouble. Because Jesus is clear: There are others who do not belong to the fold, and he fully intends to go get them as well, so that they, the wild sheep, can hear his voice over the cacophony that threatens to deafen us today.

As one of my favorite theologians says, “This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ – to remind each other of God’s promises and speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other … [so that] we’ll find the courage to [speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace] to others in our lives as well.”[1]

And we are the ones who are to be his voice … in this time, in this place.

We who already belong to the fold are to stand up for Jesus always, to invite others in … sometimes by speaking Jesus’ words of love, sometimes by living Jesus’ life of love.

We have to live our lives in such a way that others who have not yet heard Jesus’ voice can hear it through us and say, “I want what you’ve got.”

With all that we are and all that we have and all that we say and all that we do, we are the ones called to love in truth and in action, every moment of our lives.

Bringing in the Sheep by Ted DeGrazia

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, y’all’s patronal feast day. It is a day – the day – to celebrate the fact that we have the Good Shepherd in our lives, who knows us each by name, who calls us, guides us, feeds us, waters us, loves us.

It is also the day when we are called – specifically – to go into the world, to find those wild sheep who are hearing a plethora of voices but not the voice, and to be that voice to and for them.

Because believe me – there are wild sheep out there. Jesus is looking for them. And he’s counting on us to bring them home to his fold.


• • •

This sermon was created via discussions with my friends The Rev. Laura Minnich Lockey, Betsy Heilman, Amber Parsons-Zack, Laura Lynn Batelli and Kathleen Merrill Jackson.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.

[1] David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Abundant Life,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=581


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