You are invited to the dance … whatchya gonna do?

The keynote address at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, College Park, Md., at their Homecoming Dinner, 10 September 2011.

A story from the 2nd century after Christ, of two monks in the Egyptian desert:

 A disciple went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast and my little prayer. I strive to cleanse my mind of all evils thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?”Abba Joseph rose up and stretched his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He answered, “Why not be transformed into fire?”[1]

Why not be transformed … into fire?

• • •

My friends, how many times have we been like the disciple seeking guidance from the Abba? How many times have we said, “Now, what more should I do?”

The disciple kept all the rules of the monastic community, what he calls the “little” things – not meaning those things of minor importance but rather his private disciplines. He followed the rules set out for each monk: good works, hospitality, moderation of the mind and mouth, humility, obedience, communal living and communal property, stability … His “little fast” was eating two simple meals a day, less in Lent and Advent … His “little prayer” was the private prayer time each monk was enjoined to have daily … He did his best to cleanse his mind and heart of evil thoughts and intentions …

In other words, the disciple was as faithful as he could possibly be.

But he sensed … somehow … that there was something more. Or rather, that there was something missing.

So he went to the Abba, the abbot, of the monastery, to Joseph, a holy man, who led the monks, who directed them in the lives and prayers, a man, the disciple was certain, who would know what more the disciple could do.

The answer Abba Joseph gave was, most likely, not the one the disciple expected.

Because rather than focusing on yet another thing to do, Abba Joseph urged the disciple to focus on who he could be.

“Why not be transformed into fire?” the holy man asked.

And why not?

Why not be transformed into fire?

Why not become something entirely new, something possibly uncontrollable, something all-consuming, something passionate?

Abba Joseph didn’t tell the disciple he had to stop doing the “little” things, because Abba Joseph knew those little things were important. After all, who can argue with good works … hospitality … moderation of the mind and mouth … humility … obedience … communal living and communal property … stability (imagine what our world would be like if we practiced all those things every single day … intentionally)?

Who can argue with eating a little less … intentionally?

Who can argue with daily prayer … especially if it is intentional?

And who, pray tell, would ever argue with cleansing our minds of evil thoughts, or cleansing our lives of evil deeds?

So the abbot, you see, wasn’t saying: Stop doing these things.

Instead, he was urging the monk to let those practices take him to the next step, the next practice … to transformation.

Like the inhabitants of Jerusalem whom the prophet Jeremiah addressed, proclaiming, Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it …” the disciple was standing at a crossroad.

Do more?

Be more?

Focus on doing the little things?

Let those little things transform me?

Isn’t this the same place where we find ourselves this night, this night when you as the people of St. Andrew’s celebrate your Homecoming?

Isn’t this night a crossroads for you, as it was for the disciple, as it was for the inhabitants of Jerusalem?

You are gathered here this night to celebrate who you have been, and you are gathered there this night to consider who you might be.

Your parish has been here for 121 years. You began your life together in a small room over Calvert’s Hall, with a mission “directly related to serving the students of the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland at College Park.”[2]

You moved from Calvert’s Hall to a building that first was a tobacco barn, then a stable, then a Presbyterian church. You built this church in 1930, added a parish house in 1954, and built the parish hall in 1967.[3]

But this is not a night in which to focus only on what you have done.

And it is not a night to focus only on what you might do.

No, my friends, this night is the night for you to focus on who you can be.

You have done, and are doing, many marvelous things. You have taken, and are taking, care of the little things that are so important. You follow the little disciplines, you pray, you feast when you can, fast when you must, you provide hospitality, you pay your bills and you practice, as best you can, humility.

But still …

Is there something more?

Not something more that you can do …

But something more that you can be …?

• • •

Another story.

But first … some background.

For four years, I served as a missionary in Sudan, living in the town of Renk, in the northernmost portion of South Sudan, at that place where North met South, where Arabs met Blacks, where Muslims met Christians.

I arrived in Sudan three days before the peace agreement that ended Sudan’s third – and longest – and deadliest – civil war went into effect. I arrived at a time when Northerners and Southerners, Arabs and Blacks, Muslims and Christians still distrusted each other, still grew still in each other’s presence, still judged each other by the color of their skin, the language they spoke, the tribe to which they belonged.

The town of Renk, in the Diocese of Renk of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, was, throughout the 21-year civil war (the third, the longest, the deadliest civil war) a garrison town, meaning that at some point early in that war, the North took over the town, stationed thousands of Northern, Arab, Muslim soldiers (and their families) there, and made sure that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the army of the South, had no ability to function – or to fight – there.

Being a garrison town means that Renk grew from a small village of Southerners belonging to the Dinka tribe to a small town peopled by members of more than a dozen tribes from North, South, East and West.

Because each tribe speaks a different language, and each tribal language has up to 100 dialects, the most common language in South Sudan is actually Arabic. Not because the Southerners want to speak that language, but because the North forced that language upon them.

Which means that disparate peoples from all over Africa’s largest nation had only one way to communicate: in the language of the oppressor.

So when I arrived, on July 6, 2005, it was obvious to me that the language I most needed to learn was Arabic. Or, to be more accurate, Araby souk, known by linguists as Sudanese Creole. (In other words, heaven forfend we should bother to conjugate a verb!)

Speaking Arabic meant I could communicate with everyone.

But speaking Arabic also meant that I faced tough questions and uncomfortable moments.

Because I deliberately did not identify with any one tribe.

That’s the background.

And now, the story:

About three years into my service, I was sitting on a log on a dusty street corner in downtown Khartoum, then the nation’s capital, drinking tea. (Tea and coffee shops in Sudan are not like tea shops in the United States. We’re not talking about Starbucks here. There are no nice seats, no air conditioning, no espresso machines or milk steamers, no wi-fi … just low-sitting stools and logs, a charcoal fire, water purchased from the latest donkey cart to go by, powdered milk …)

Several young men, all from the Dinka tribe, became upset when they heard me speaking Arabic.

Why, they demanded – in English, no less –Why was I speaking that language? Why wasn’t I speaking Dinka?

Because, I replied, Arabic is the language most people understood in Sudan.

Did I even know Dinka?

Yes, I said – in Dinka. I know some.

After they berated me for not knowing Dinka, the language of the people where I lived, they challenged me: “To which tribe do you belong?”

Now, this might not seem like an important question here in the United States, but in Sudan, this is a loaded question … very loaded. Declare the right tribe, and you had friend for life, who would stick by you and defend you, no matter what.

Declare the wrong tribe, and you could find yourself caught up in a long-standing tribal or ethnic or blood feud.

So I thought carefully about my answer:

I belong, I finally said, to the tribe of God, to the only tribe that matters.

• • •

Far too often in our lives, when we find ourselves standing at the crossroads, trying to decide whether to go right or left, forward or backward, we fall back on our tribal ways. We rely on the practice of TAWADDI – That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It (you know the old Episcopal joke, right? Change that light bulb? Change that light bulb? You can’t change that light bulb! My grandmother gave that light bulb!)

But in doing so, we forget …

We forget that the only tribe that matters is the tribe of God.

The color of our skin, the language we speak, our gender, our sexual orientation, our ethnicity … none of those things matter. Not to God. Those things are but accidents of history.

Because to God, each of us is … and all of us are … beloved children of God.

Which is what we need to remember … when we are standing at the crossroads of our lives.

Before we can decide what to do, we need to remember who we are, and we need to remember whose we are.

We are beloved children of God.

And we belong to God.

We know that we are beloved because God says so. God declared, in the very beginning, that we were to be created in God’s image. And what is God’s image, if it is not first and foremost that of love?

Our creation is not a matter of God’s need, for we are not necessary to God. We know that because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we simply cannot be necessary to God. Which means that God wantedus, that God desired us, that God loved us into being.

And isn’t that wonderful news?

To know that we are loved … from before time began, throughout our lives, and until the ages of ages?

Isn’t that what we all are seeking?


Let me be clear here: I tell this to every infant, every child, every adult I baptize. The most important thing about you, the most important thing you’ll ever need to know in your life is this:

God loves you.

God … loves … you. And you. And you. And you. And you.

As I’m walking each infant, each child, each adult up and down the aisle after the baptism, this is what I tell them.

God loves you.

And don’t you ever forget that!

The most important piece of your identity is this:

You are a beloved child of God.

Nothing else matters. Nothing.

So as we stand at the crossroads of our lives, before we decide to left or right, forward or back, we know who we are – we are the beloved – and we know whose we are: We belong to God.

But … (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

This identity does not exist in a vacuum.

Our identity comes with responsibility.

Because, you see, we are Christians.

Meaning that we believe, we profess, we confess that we believe in a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe, we profess, we confess the community of God.

Which means that being created in the image of God means that we are created in the image of community.

We, my friends, are created in love and community to live in love and community.

And that, my friends, is our mission in life.

To live … in love … and community … every moment … of our lives.

• • •

When the prophet Jeremiah spoke of seeking the ancient paths, he wasn’t saying that it was time for us to go back to what so many call the “good old days” that weren’t really that “good.”

No, Jeremiah was telling the inhabitants of Jerusalem that it was time to go even farther back … to the days when the people knew they were God’s beloved, and lived as though they were God’s beloved.

Jeremiah was taking the people back to that time when the Lord proclaimed,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born, I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations. …”

Jeremiah is taking us back to the commands of the Lord:

“… for you shall go to all to whom I send you,

and you shall speak whatever I command you.

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth;

and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.

See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms,

to pluck up and to pull down,

to destroy and to overthrow,

to build and to plant.”[4]

Lest anyone misinterpret these powerful directions, take a moment to think about them.

The command is go into the world (a command that would be reiterated over and over again, culminating with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s command to do the same, at the moment of his ascension), the command to tear down that which gets in the way of God’s desires, God’s dreams for us so that in its place, we can build and plant that which fulfills God’s desires and dreams for us.

The late lay theologian Verna Dozier explained God’s dream for us; it is, she wrote, a dream of “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”[5]

A “good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”

Now, before anyone says (as one of my seminary classmates once did, with great disdain), “Friends? God wants us to be friends? That’s it?!” – he later was ordained), let me remind you: God’s definition of “friend” is not the same as that which most of us use for a definition.

Because when God talks about friendship, God is not talking about the casual acquaintance we may list among our friends. God is not talking about Facebook friends. No, in God’s mind, friendship, true friendship, comes when we abide with God and allow God to abide with us. True friendship is about living in God’s joy, which gives us joy.

On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples:

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. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.[6]

So for Jesus … for God … friendship is not some easy-going, casual, let’s- barbeque-on-the-back-deck-and-have-some-lemonade-to-drink kind of thing.

For God, “friendship” is about commitment to each other (“abide in me as I abide in you”[7]). It is about accountability (“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[8]). It is about love (“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”[9]) It is about obedience (“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”[10]) And it is, truly, about joy – the joy we take in each other (“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”[11]).

• • •

Another story:

In World War II, a musician by the name of Larry LaPrise served in the European Theater. After the war, he and some friends moved moved to Sun Valley, Idaho – before it became Sun Valley, really – to ski and sing and work the after-ski crowd in that gorgeous mountain setting.

LaPrise and his friends formed a band called the Ram Trio that entertained the crowds coming off a day of skiing. One of the songs he wrote – or so the story goes – is one that all of us know: The Hokey-Pokey.

You know this song, right? Most of us have sung it and danced to it, usually as kids and then again, for some unknown reason, at weddings.

It goes like this:

You put your right hand in,

you put your right hand out,

you put your right hand in and you shake it all about.

Then you do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around.

That’s what it’s all about.

And you know how the rest of the song follows:

You put your left hand in, then your right leg, then your left leg, then your right side, then your left side (and then, if you want to draw this song out to its extremes), you put your nose in, your backside in, and then your head, and finally … finally! What do you do? … You put your whole self in.

The words “Hokey Pokey” come from the words “hocus pocus,” which most of us know are the words you speak when you’re doing magic. The words “hocus pocus” comes from the Latin phrase, Hoc est corpus meum – “This is my body,” the words the priest speaks when he or she elevates the bread during the Eucharist. In the old days, when the priests would celebrate in great stone cathedrals, they would turn their backs to the people (because that was how it was done in those days), and sign the Mass: Hoc est corpus meum. Their voices would reverberate throughout the cathedrals, and as the echo moved throughout the stone churches and cathedrals, what they would be signing – Hoc est corpus meum – would sound like Hocus pocus (drawn out).

From that term – hocus pocus – LaPrise came up with the Hokey Pokey (although there are some who claim that the song and dance existed in England during the war). In 1949, LaPrise and the Ram Trio recorded the song (now later, there was a lawsuit from people in England who claimed it was their song, but the suit was settled out of court, and that’s another story), and the song soon became nationally known.

• • •

How many of you have ever been to a wedding or a party where the Hokey-Pokey was played?

And how many of you have been called upon to participate in this dance? You may not have wanted to participate, but heck, everyone else was up there, so why not? So someone from the dancing group comes along, and grabs your hand, or waves at you extravagantly, and pretty soon, you’re up there putting your right hand in, and taking your right hand out … right there with the rest of the folks.

Pulled in, whether you wanted to dance or not.

Being a beloved child of God, created in love and community to live in love and community, means that you have been chosen.

Remember the words of Jesus:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”[12]

God chose you … each of you … each of us … to participate in the dance, the perichoresis, of the Holy Trinity.

British theologian Alister McGrath defines perichoresis as that which “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of” of others.[13] Now, McGrath and other theologians use perichoresis to describe the interpersonal relationship of the Holy Trinity.

But since we are created in the image of the Holy Trinity, of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we, too, are created to dance in the what McGrath calls the ‘community of being’ … .”[14]

This dance, this perichoresis, is why we were created.

It is the very reason for our existence.

We who have been chosen are chosen, we are appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last … I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.[15]

This is our mission: to go into the world, to love one another as Christ loved us.[16]

As Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, as the living embodiment of Christ in this world, is about committing ourselves – every moment of our lives – to living out God’s desires for us.

Desires of friendship – true friendship.

Desires of love – true love.

Desires of community – true community.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Sister Joan Chittister, a well-known Benedictine nun, theologian, spiritual director, author, preacher and commentator, says it this way:

Thomas Merton spoke out against the Vietnam War. Catherine of Siena walked the streets of the city feeding the poor. Hildegard of Bingen preached the word of justice to emperors and to popes. Charles de Foucauld lived among the poor and accepted the enemy. Benedict of Nursia sheltered strangers and educated peasants. And so must we do whatever justice must be done in our time if we claim to be serious about really sinking into the heart of God. A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to the coming of the will of God everywhere for everyone is not path at all. It is, at best, a pious morass, a dead end on the way to God.[17]

When we are standing at the crossroads of lives, individually and as a community, trying to decide whether to go right or left, backward or forward, we are called, as beloved children of God, to always choose God’s path, the one that is for everyone.

We who are blessed, we who are chosen, we who have been consecrated since before we were born … we are standing at those crossroads right now.

We know that we are God’s beloved.

We know that we belong to God.

God is stretching God’s hand out to us … right now … right here … in this place, inviting us into the dance.

It’s decision time.

The question is,

Whatchya gonna do?

Are you going to get up and participate in the dance?

As you think about your decision, remember:

We are all on a mission from God, a “journey to the common good,”[18] as theologian Walter Brueggemann labels it, a “a trek that all serious human beings must make, a growth out beyond private interest and sectarian passion”[19] to all of humanity, not for our sake but for God’s sake.

It is not always easy – there will always be nay-sayers, even among us. Choosing the ancient path, the one that will give our souls rest, is hard in a society, a world, that is all about getting ahead, all about making sure that you have more than the Joneses, all about getting-mine-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-get-yours.

Nobel Peace Laureate and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking from his own experience about making the hard decisions and choosing the right paths, affirms for us that “the demonstration of love in action can take us to dangerous places. [But] our love and our own goodness compel us to make choices that self-preservation would eschew.”[20]

Or, if you like, listen to American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who says:

Whatever course you decide upon,

 there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.

There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe

that your critics are right.

To map out a course of action and follow it requires courage.[21]

But, Tutu points out, “the onerous duty of ‘doing good’ disappears once we recognize that we have no need to impress God with our success. When we really grasp our own goodness, we realize that we have no need to ‘buy’ God’s approval. We are already loved. We are already accepted. When we can accept our acceptance, the texture of life changes. The fear that has held us hostage will release its stranglehold on us.”[22]

So the question we face, as we stand at the crossroads, once again is this:

Whatchya gonna do?

• • •

Tutu ends his book with a love poem, from God, to us. I want us to listen to this poem, written by one of the holiest men of our time, speaking on God’s behalf:

You are my child,

My beloved.

With you I am well pleased.

Stand beside me and see yourself,

Borrow my eyes so you can see perfectly. 

When you look with my eyes then you will see

That the wrong you have done and the good left undone,

The words you have said that should not have been spoken,

The words you should have spoken but left unsaid,

The hurts you have caused,

The help you’ve not given

Are not the whole of the story of you.

You are not defined by what you did not achieve.

Your worth is not determined by success.

You were priceless before you drew your first breath,

Beautiful before dress or artifice,

Good at the core.

And now is time for unveiling

The goodness that is hidden behind the fear of failing.

You shout down your impulse to kindness in case it is shunned,

You suck in your smile,

You smother your laughter,

You hold back the hand that would help.

You crush your indignation

When you see people wronged or in pain

In case all you can do is not enough,

In case you cannot fix the fault,

In case you cannot soothe the searing,

In case you cannot make it right.

What does it matter if you do not make it right?

What does it matter if your efforts move no mountains?

It matters not at all.

It only matters that you live the truth of you. 

It only matters that you push back the veil to let your goodness shine through.

It only matters that you live as I have made you.

It only matters that you are made for me,

Made like me,

Made for goodness.[23]

• • •

So … let’s go back to the Hokey-Pokey. Think again about the last part of the song:

You put your whole self in,

you put your whole self out,

you put your whole self in and you shake it all about.

You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around.

That’s what it’s all about!

Participating in the dance … putting your whole self in … is a commitment not to silliness but to God.

It is a decision to walk in God’s ways and delight in God’s will to the glory of God’s name.

Whatchya gonna do?

Are you going to accept the invitation?

Is anybody willing to dance?

(Stand up … everyone dance … first verse and last verse of the song.)

It’s up to you, folks.

You’ve been invited into the holy dance, the dance of love and community.

Whatchya gonna do?



[1] From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Translated by Benedicta Ward. Cistercian Studies Series, number 59. This is saying 7 of Abba Joseph of Panephysis and appears on page 103.

[2] From “History,” St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, College Park,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jer. 1:4-10, NRSV.

[5] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1991), 125.

[6]John 15:12-15, NRSV.

[7] John 15:4, NRSV.

[8] Micah 6:8, NRSV.

[9] John 15:9, NRSV.

[10] John 15:10, NRSV.

[11] John 15:11, NRSV.

[12] John 15:16, NRSV.

[13] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, 325, emphasis added.

[14] Ibid.

[15] John 15:16-17, NRSV.

[16] John 13:34, Ephesians 5:2, NRSV.

[17] Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pa., from Good for the Soul,, sermon preached on 4 December 2005, accessed 9 September 2011, emphasis added.

[18] Walter Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good, 2.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, Kindle locations 432-433.

[21] This quote is thought to have come from Emerson, although no source can be found.

[22] Tutu, locations 2266-2269.

[23] Ibid, Kindle locations 2359-2385.

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

Be transformed!

Romans 12:1-8

A few weeks ago, I read Katheryn Stockett’s beautiful novel, The Help, which came out a couple of years ago and just this month debuted as a movie.

It’s a beautiful book, my friends, telling the story of women, white and black, in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963 and ’64, at the height of the civil rights movement. Despite the darkness of the story – and there was a lot of darkness at that time in the history of our country – it was so well told that when I finished, I simply … sighed … with satisfaction.

And then I heard that the movie was coming out and thought, “Hmmm. I think I want to see that.”

Until, of course, the movie actually came out, and the criticisms began to rain down as if from on high.

Yet another movie about white people telling black people’s stories, the critics said. Why do black people always need white people to speak for them? they asked. Don’t people realize that black people have voices too?

When I heard these critiques, I stopped for a moment and wondered: Have any of these people actually read this book?

Don’t they know that this book – I don’t know about the movie; I haven’t seen it yet – that this book is not just about a white woman telling the stories of black maids? That it is, in reality, a story about transformation?

Because that’s what the book really is, my friends. It’s the story of women – black and white – who in telling their stories realize that they are not bound by the story that formed them from before they were born.

It is a story about women – white and black – who realize they do not have to conform to the world in which they were born and raised.

In the telling of their stories, these women are transformed by the renewing of their minds – by the setting aside of prejudices and hatred and fear – so that they indeed can realize what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Help is the story of transformation from evil to good, from mistrust to love, from silence to bold proclamation.

And isn’t that what it means to be a Christian? To be transformed? To have our whole lives turned upside down and inside out so that we can then go out into the world and by our very lives, transform it?

Of course, you all don’t have to read this book or see this movie to know about transformation, do you?

For the past two-plus years, you’ve had Cynthia Gilliatt here with you as your priest, and if ever there was a person who refused to conform to the world, it was Cynthia. Like the women in the book, Cynthia refused to conform to a world that wanted to shut her down and shut her out.

I know the news of her death this week came as a shock to all of you, as it did to all of her friends and acquaintances around the Church. We had not known she was ill. We were not prepared for her death.

At Cynthia’s funeral yesterday in Harrisonburg, The Rev. Grace Cangialosi, a good friend and colleague, talked about Cynthia’s refusal to conform to the world., about her desire instead to not only be transformed by the Gospel herself, but to transform the world around her through the love of God in Christ Jesus.

And Grace talked about how Cynthia had paid the price for not conforming: About how the Church that ordained her would not let her serve fully as a priest for a long time, because … well, because, sometimes, the Church is stupid. Sometimes, the Church gets so caught up in the politics of the moment that it misses the person right in front of it.

Which is why, Grace said, Good Shepherd was so important to Cynthia – this place became a place for Cynthia to call home, a place for her to fully be priest, a place where you all were blessed to baptize two children, the grandchildren of parishioners, in a strong show of support for a couple who were concerned they might not be accepted everywhere by everyone. Those baptisms were holy for Cynthia, transformative, and she reveled in them.

•  • •

For the past five days, I have seen nearly 100 messages from people all over our Church, from all over our nation, through that lovely piece of social media, Facebook. All of the people talked about how Cynthia had transformed them by her presence, her courage, her grace. Cynthia, they said, lived what Paul wrote in this morning’s Letter to the Romans:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Peter Gomes, the late preacher at Harvard, called this passage “perhaps the most dangerous verse in all the Bible.”[1]

Paul, Gomes said, “is telling his readers not to do that which comes naturally to them. An invitation to nonconformity is a dangerous thing, and thoughtful nonconformity … is all the more dangerous because nonconformity is an intention … [that is] likely to get one into trouble.”[2]

Cynthia didn’t conform – and it got her into some trouble. She knew that. She knew she could have gone along to get along, but that’s not who she was.

Instead, she chose to not only be transformed herself, but to devote her life to transforming others, so that the will of God would reign on this earth.

It wasn’t easy – and Cynthia knew that.

But faithfulness isn’t always about “easy” – it’s about doing what is right. And that is what Cynthia did – what is right, no matter how much resistance she met along the way. And she did meet resistance, when the Church was being stupid, and she paid a price for living her life with integrity. But she never quit, and she never conformed.

• • •

I have to tell you, there’s a new acronym in the Church these days: TAWWADI. It stands for: “That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It.” It’s a phrase some Church leaders are beginning to use whenever they run into resistance to change, resistance to new thinking, resistance to transformation.

TAWWADI’s cousin is But We’ve Never Done It That Way Before – which makes for an unpronounceable acronym but means the same thing. It doesn’t matter which approach the resisters take – we’ve always done it that way, or we’ve never done it this way – the fact is, that kind of resistance most often is rooted in conformity, in going along to get along, in refusing to take the chance that perhaps – perhaps – God has a better way.

Cynthia knew that God had a better way – for her, and for all the people around her. She knew she was called to priesthood, and that as a priest, she could live out a sacramental life, a Gospel life, and thus transform the world.

Theologian Paul Hiebert could have been talking about Cynthia when he wrote:

“The gospel is about transformed lives. When we bear witness to Christ, we invite people to a whole new life, not simply some modifications of their old lives. This transformation is radical and total. It involves changes at all levels of their culture, including their worldviews. It also changes them physically, biologically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. This is the transformation that God works in them if they follow him.”[3]

Doesn’t that sound like Cynthia? Didn’t she invite people – didn’t she invite you – to a whole new, transformed life? She didn’t go along to get along – there was no TAWADDI in her life!

Because Cynthia was a Gospel person. She was transformed by it, and through it, she transformed others. And that’s quite a legacy to leave behind.

As you move forward, in these next weeks and months, with different clergy who will come to lead your services and care for you pastorally, I ask you to remember a few things:

First, I want to reassure you: Your bishop, your convocation dean and all of the leaders of this Diocese will be here for you. They will support you, they will care for you, they will love you, and they will help you move into the next stage of your transformed lives as children of God.

And second, please, I ask you – I beg you: Do not forget what it means to be transformed. For the last two-plus years, Cynthia Gilliatt has been with you, transforming you by word and deed. If you want to truly honor her, be as bold, as loving, as she was. Let the Gospel transform you, and then go out into the world, and transform it.

Tell the stories – tell your stories, tell Cynthia’s story, tell the story of you and Cynthia together.

Then tell the story – the story of God who loves you from before you were born, who loves you every moment of your life, and who will love you to the ages of ages.

Because in doing so, in telling these stories, you, like the women in The Help, and like Cynthia, will be transformed.


Sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., on 21 August 2011, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year A, in honor of The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Gilliatt, priest-in-charge who died on 16 August 2011.


[1] Peter J. Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. (New York: HarperCollins e-books),  Kindle Edition, 45.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Paul G. Hiebert. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Kindle Locations 4598-4600). Kindle Edition.


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

Blinded by the wrong vision …

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bailey’s Crossroads, Va., on the Third Sunday of Advent.

My friends in Christ, Father James has asked me to speak this morning to all of us gathered here, which means that part of this sermon will be in English, and part will be in Spanish. I need to tell you that my Spanish, while good, is nowhere near as strong as it could be … so I ask you to bear with me on that … please.

Mis amigos en Crist0, Padre James me ha pedido hablar esta mañana a todos los que estamos aquí reunidos, lo que significa que parte de este sermon sera en Ingles, y una parte sera en español. Perdoname, pero yo quiero ustedes sepan que mi español no es muy fuerte. Pero voy a tratar de ser claro para que puede entender lo que estoy tratando de decir, de acuerdo?

Bueno …

En el nombre de un solo Dios, Padre, Hijo y Espiritu Santo. In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

How often do we look at something and decide we know what it means, that we understand what we are seeing – only to discover, later, that we were wrong?

Con que frecuencia nos fijamos en algo y decidimos que saben lo que significa, que entendemos lo que estamos viendo – solo para descubrir, mas tarde, que nos equivocamos?

How often do we look at something we have typed on our computers and miss the typos?

For many years, I was a newspaper editor. Part of my job was to design  each page of the paper, to decide what story went where, what the  headlines would say, how big the pictures would be.

Cuando yo trabajaba como editor de un periódico, una parte de mi trabajo era diseñar cada página, para decidir qué historia fue que, lo que los titulares que dicen, lo grande que las fotos serían.

Every night, before we put the newspaper to bed (as we used to say),  several of us would gaze at the front page, reading every word of every  headline, desperate to make sure that there were no errors.

Todas las noches, varios de nosotros se vería en la primera página, la lectura de cada palabra de cada título para asegurarse de que no hubo errores.

But some nights, no matter how hard we tried, we would still get it wrong.

Pero algunas noches, no importa lo duro que lo intentamos, que todavía se equivocan.

Like the night there was a helicopter crash, and despite the fact that 10 of us – TEN of us – read the headline before we went to press, all 10 of missed the fact that I had spelled helicopter H-E-L-P-I-C-O-T-E-R – HELPICOTER.

Al igual que la noche que escribe “helicóptero” como “helpicotero.” Que era malo.

And then there was the lawyer in town whose name I could not spell correctly no matter how hard I tried. Every time I put Mr. Snyder’s name in a headline, everyone would look it over to make sure it was right. Yet … three times in one year, instead of spelling his name S-N-Y-D-E-R, I managed to make it –S-Y-N-D-E-R. Mr. Snyder later married my best friend … and told me I could NOT help with the wedding invitations, thank you very much.

O las tres veces que me indicación de su nombre un abogado de forma incorrecta en la pagina primera. Que era malo.

We all make these mistakes.

Todos cometemos estos errores.

We all look at something and decide – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously – that we know what we are seeing.

Nos fijamos en algo y decidir que sabemos lo que estamos viendo.

Many times, we are wrong.

Muchas veces, nos equivocamos.

Many times, we are only seeing what we want to see … not the truth that is standing right there in front of us.

Muchas veces, sólo vemos lo que queremos ver … no la verdad que está de pie justo delante de nosotros.

That is the problem from which John the Baptist suffers in this morning’s Gospel.

Ese es el problema de que Juan el Bautista sufre en el Evangelio de esta mañana.

John is in prison, put there by Herod for exposing the truth about Herod. He knows he’s in real trouble, and that he probably will die for having stood up to the powers-that-be.

Juan está en la cárcel, puesto allí por Herodes por decir la verdad … y Juan va a morir porque le dijo la verdad sobre Herodes.

In his last days, John seems to be trying to make sense of his life. He is, after all, the one who came before, to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. He is the one who told us – just last week, if you remember:

But one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.

Juan quiere dar sentido a su vida. Recuerde, él es el que proclama la venida del Mesías. Él es el que dijo, la semana pasada, recuerde:

Pero aquel que es más poderoso que yo viene detrás de mí, yo no soy digno de llevarle las sandalias.

And furthermore, John proclaimed as he faced down the St. John the Baptist Preaching (ca. 1650),

Pharisees and the Sadducees — the ones he branded the “brood of vipers”:                                Mattia Preti (1613-1699),

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Y además, Juan proclamado como se enfrentó a los fariseos y los saduceos – los que marca la “generación de víboras”:

Él os bautizará con el Espíritu Santo y fuego. El tenedor aventar está en su mano, y limpiará su era y recogerá su trigo en el granero, pero la paja la quemará con fuego inextinguible.

That was John’s vision of who the Messiah would be: a powerful person.

Esa fue la visión de Juan de que el Mesías sería: una persona poderosa.

That was John’s vision of what the Messiah would do: he would cleanse the earth of the unworthy ones, get rid of those who did not meet John’s high standards.

Esa fue la visión de Juan de lo que el Mesías iba a hacer: iba a limpiar la tierra de los indignos, deshacerse de los malos.

John had a vision, all right.

Juan tuvo una visión, seguro.

A vision of fire and brimstone, of judgment day, of the worthy ones being received and the evil ones cast out.

Una visión de fuego y azufre, del día del juicio, de los dignos de ser recibidos y los malos arrojados.

The problem was, John’s vision blinded him to the vision.

El problema era que la visión de Juan le cegaba la visión.

And because of that blinding vision of his own making, John, the last Old Testament prophet, could not see that the one he himself had proclaimed was right there in front of him.

Juan, el último profeta del Antiguo Testamento, no podía ver que la que él mismo había proclamado estaba allí frente a él.

He sent word to Jesus:

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Él le preguntó a Jesús: ¿Eres tú el que ha de venir, o debemos esperar a otro?

You know that Jesus had to be shaking his head when he heard this question:

Am I the one who is to come?


You’re my cousin!

You have seen what I have done!

The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have good news brought to them.

John … what more do you want?!

Ustedes saben que Jesús tuvo que ser moviendo la cabeza al oír esta pregunta:

¿Soy yo el que ha de venir?


Usted es mi primo!

Usted ha visto lo que he hecho.

Los ciegos ven. Los cojos andan. Los que tienen lepra son sanados. Los sordos oyen. Los muertos resucitan. Los pobres se les anuncian las buenas nuevas.

Juan … ¿qué más quieres?!

• • •

What more do you want?

How often is John’s problem our problem?

How often does our vision blind us to God’s vision?

We decide to see the world the way we want to see it.

But in doing so, we miss the world the way it is.

And worse, we miss the world that God wants us to see.

¿Qué más quieres?

¿Con qué frecuencia es el problema de Juan es nuestro problema?

¿Con qué frecuencia nuestra visión nos ciega la visión de Dios?

Decidimos ver el mundo como queremos verlo.

Pero al hacerlo, perdemos de vista el mundo tal como es.

Y lo peor, echamos de menos el mundo que Dios quiere que veamos.

God does not call us to see the world as we want to see it.

God calls us to see the world as it is.

And then … then … God calls us to see the world as it can be.

As God wants it to be.

Dios no nos llama a ver el mundo como queremos verlo.

Dios nos llama a ver el mundo tal como es.

Y entonces … entonces … Dios nos llama a ver el mundo como puede ser.

Así como Dios quiere que sea.

To quote Robert F. Kennedy (who was, actually, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw[1]):

Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream thing that never were and say, why not?[2]

God wants us to ask, “Why not?”

Roberto F. Kennedy solía decir:

Algunas personas ven las cosas como son, y se preguntan ¿por qué? Yo sueño cosas que nunca fueron y digo, ¿por qué no?

El Buen Señor nos quiere preguntar, “¿Por qué no?”

This is what you are doing in this parish right now.

You are looking at the world around you – at your immediate community – and you are asking yourselves, “Why not?”

Why not create a new vision for this parish?

Why not discern a new way to serve graciously your neighbors and all seekers who come through your doors?

Why not develop a neighborhood ministry that bears God’s hope to Bailey’s Crossroads?

Esto es lo que está sucediendo en este iglesia ahora.

Ustedes están mirando al mundo alrededor de ustedes – en su comunidad inmediata – y que se pregunten, “¿Por qué no?”

¿Por qué no crear una nueva visión de esta iglesia?

¿Por qué no discernir una nueva manera de servir amablemente a sus vecinos y todos los solicitantes que pasan por sus puertas?

¿Por qué no desarrollar un ministerio de barrio que tiene la esperanza de Dios a Bailey’s Crossroads?

In this discernment process, with your vision of embracing all people, you are living into God’s vision for what the world can be and should be.

Con su visión de abrazar a todas las personas, que viven en la visión de Dios por lo que el mundo puede ser y debe ser.

You are like the monk who went to Abba Joseph and asked, “What more should I do?”, to which Abba Joseph replied, as his fingers became like 10 lamps of fire,  “Why not be transformed into fire?”[3]

You are being transformed …

You are refusing to be like John, who in the isolation of prison let his vision imprison him.

Instead of being blinded and imprisoned by your own vision, you are opening yourselves up to God’s vision … of who you are … and of who you can be.

Ustedes están siendo transformados …

Ustedes se niegan a ser como Juan, que la cárcel que su visión encarcelarlo.

En lugar de ser cegado y encarcelado por su propia visión, ustedes están abriendo a sí mismos hasta la visión de Dios … de quien ustedes son … y de quién ustedes pueden ser.

In this season of Advent, we are called to set aside our vision of the world so that we can see God’s vision … a vision of incredible, radical, eternal love.

En este tiempo de Adviento, se nos llama a dejar de lado nuestra visión del mundo para que podamos ver la visión de Dios … una visión del incredible, radical, eterna amor.

We don’t want to be like John the Baptist, who was so focused on his own vision that he was blinded to the vision.

We want to see the vision, Jesus’ vision … of a world where the blind are made to see, and the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk, and the mute to sing with joy …  where the lepers are cleansed and the dead are resurrected and the poor do receive the Good News.

No queremos ser como Juan el Bautista, que estaba tan concentrado en su propia visión de que era ciego a la visión.

Nosotros queremos ver la visión, la visión de Jesús … de un mundo en el que los ciegos se hacen para ver, y los sordos oyen, y los cojos anden, y el silencio para cantar con alegría … donde los que tienen lepra son sanados y los muertos son resucitados, ya los pobres reciben la buena nueva.

That’s Jesus’ vision.

That’s God’s vision … for each of us and for all of us.

Esa es la visión de Jesús.

Esa es la visión de Dios … para cada uno de nosotros y para todos nosotros.

Now is not the time for us to blinded by what we have seen.

Now is the time for us to see what God wants us to see.

A vision of the world as it can be.

Ahora no es el momento de que cegados por lo que hemos visto.

Ahora es el momento para nosotros para ver lo que Dios quiere que veamos.

Una visión del mundo tal y como se puede.

Why not?

¿Por qué no?


[1] George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, 1921.

[2] Robert F. Kenney, speech at the University of Kansas, 16 March 1968.

[3] The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century, Thomas Merton, New Directions Books, Norfolk, CT, 1960, p. 50.

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