The Three Rs of Christmas

Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley, preached 12.24.21, Pine Ridge Episcopal Mission/St. Katharine’s, Martin, South Dakota

Do you all remember, way back when, when educators talked about school, they always mentioned the “three Rs”? You know, the three basics of what school was supposed to be about: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic? 

Heaven help you if you — like me when I was but a child of about 6 years — questioned your teacher the nun, wanting to know why the three Rs weren’t Rs, because even at that age, I was bold enough to declare,  writing starts with a W, not an R, and arithmetic starts with an A,  not an R. “Just what kind of education was I getting?” (Note: The nun did not take that question well — not at all!)

Well, today, this holy day when we celebrate again the coming of the Christ Child, I want us to talk about not the three Rs of education, but the three Rs of Christmas.

They are, quite simply:

Remembrance: This is the time each year when we remember this great thing that God did, Emmanuel, God with us, God choosing to be with us.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

  (Verse 1, Love Came Down at Christmas, Christina Rosetti, Hymn 84, Hymnal 1982)

We have to start with Remembrance, because on this cold, dark night, in the midst of a cold, dark world where coronavirus continues to rage, where death is all too common, where famine and war and in-fighting and out-fighting seem to be the rule of the day, we need to reach back into our memories and remember that indeed, Love came down at Christmas …

Theologian Madeleine L’Engle puts it elegantly in her poem First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace

He came when the Heavens were unsteady

and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came

to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,

to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

(Madeleine L’Engle, “First Coming,” published in The Ordering of Love, 2005)

• When the going is tough, by remembering, we are Reminded — reminded that once that love arrived on Christmas — in the form of a baby born in a stable to parents who were not rich, not famous, just plain old ordinary folks — that love isn’t going anywhere! As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “God is not finished with the world yet.” (The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Christmas Message 2021, published 17 December 2021)

“Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?”

  (Verse 2, Love Came Down at Christmas, Christina Rosetti, Hymn 84, Hymnal 1982)

Michael Gerson, a political columnist for The Washington Post, and political consultant in numerous presidential administrations, published a column on Christmas Eve, disclosing for the first time publicly that he has cancer and that treatments might be coming to an end. In his reflection on Christmas, with this knowledge, he wrote:

He is a God who goes to ridiculous lengths to seek us.

He is a God who chose the low way: power in humility; strength perfected in weakness; the last shall be first; blessed are the least of these.

He is a God who was cloaked in blood and bone and destined for human suffering — which he does not try to explain to us, but rather just shares. It is perhaps the hardest to fathom: the astounding vulnerability of God.

And he is a God of hope, who offers a different kind of security than the fulfillment of our deepest wishes. He promises a transformation of the heart in which we release the burden of our desires, and live in expectation of God’s unfolding purposes, until all his mercies stand revealed.

(Michael Gerson, “This Christmas, hope may feel elusive. But despair is not the answer,” The Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2021)

This is the reminder we need, this day and every day, that God does go to ridiculous lengths to seek us, and the God is a God of hope who transforms us and everything around us, because God isn’t finished with us yet.

• Once we remember that love indeed came down to live among as one of us, once we are reminded that no matter how hard life seems, how dark it is, that same love isn’t going anywhere, we are led to the third R, Response.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and neighbor,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

  (Verse 3, Love Came Down at Christmas, Christina Rosetti, Hymn 84, Hymnal 1982)

Theologian, educator and civil rights leader Howard Thurman in 1973 wrote “The Mood of Christmas,” which represents what our response to this great gift can and should be:

When the song of the angels is stilled, 

When the star in the sky is gone, 

When the kings and princes are home, 

When the shepherds are back with their flock, 

The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

(Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas, 1973)

This is how we are called to respond to this great gift that came to us, that comes to us, that will always come to us … to go into the world and do all that God asks us to do.

By doing the work of Christmas, all that Thurman listed and even more, can take place, can become true. 

God came to be with us as one of us in order to fulfill all of God’s promises. 

As Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman taught us in her poem for the inauguration last January,

    When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

    The new dawn balloons as we free it.

    For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

    If only we’re brave enough to be it.

(Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” poem for the Inauguration of Joe Biden, Jan. 20, 2021)

Love indeed came down at Christmas, and if we remember that, if we are reminded that that love isn’t done with us yet, if we respond by doing the work of Christmas every day of our lives, then, I pray, we will be the light that God is calling us to be.


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This and That: The meaning of the Eucharist

The Feast of Corpus Christi

20 June 2019

The First Eucharist Celebrated by

The Rev. Danny Lee Pegg

St. Luke’s Parish, Stone Cross, Sussex, England

The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley

Superintending Presbyter, Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West),  Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The audio version of this sermon.

In late Fall 2015, my bishop in South Dakota asked me if I would be willing to chat with a “tutor” (a what?) from Cambridge University in England who had a seminarian interested in coming to the Rosebud Indian Reservation to be my intern.

Danny Pegg and me at Canterbury Cathedral, after his ordination to the priesthood but before he celebrated Eucharist.

It was an odd request; I usually get my seminarians from American seminaries, and to be honest (and with great apologies, Fr. Danny), while I had at least heard of Cambridge, I had never heard of Westcott House. (And Fr. James,  before you get on your high horse about me not knowing Wescott, know that I never heard of St. Stephen’s House before last Sunday, even though I think I know where that might be located …)

Because I knew of Cambridge, I thought it might be worth a try, so I wrote to the tutor, whom I actually knew from my days as a missionary in Sudan, and soon enough, I was in conversation with this delightful young man who wanted to learn about Natives on Turtle Island and was willing to serve eight congregations in an extremely rural area beyond what we call the back of beyond. (We Americans are very good about being remote … and beyond the back of beyond is beyond even remote.)

Nine months later, Danny Pegg arrived on the Rosebud, and learned about all sorts of things, like how to drive for miles and miles from church to church to church each Sunday; how to stand up for righteous reasons against oil companies desecrating sacred land and water; how to put up a tipi as only the Lakota – what y’all refer to as the “Sioux” – can do; how to split firewood to care for grandmothers, and lead wakes and funerals and say prayers spontaneously and eat wojapi, a sort of fruit pudding that is, in Lakota culture, the food of Wakantanka, the Holy Mystery that is the Lakota name for God, and even how to eat a few other things that we won’t describe in detail here tonight.

Our time together is what led me to be with you tonight, as we celebrate not only Danny’s ordination to the priesthood on Sunday, but also his first Eucharist, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, the day we celebrate the institution of Holy Communion.

[Now, being an American, I know that I’m speaking to you in a somewhat foreign tongue, so I ask y’all to forgive me if on occasion, I use words that might not be in your English language.

[Like “y’all.” Which most people think means “you” plural, but really doesn’t. “Y’all,” where I come from, means one of you, or a few of you, or you in general, or “you” and your immediate kin.

[Where I come from, it does not mean “everybody.”

[That’s all y’all.

[I tell y’all this because at some point tonight, it’s going to be important, and all y’all will get it.

[(And yes, there will be a test on this later on …)]

Now, Danny asked me to come here tonight to preach because we had such a deeply important time together on the Rosebud and up protesting on the Standing Rock, a time that helped form him to be the priest he is to y’all – to all y’all – today.

And I am here because Danny knows how important the Eucharist is to me. I’ve been a priest for 21-plus years, and I have celebrated the Eucharist in great cathedrals and under thorn trees, in refugee camps and urban centers, with archbishops and refugee children, with my own kin (kin – y’all know that means me and mine, right?) – and with complete strangers, with freshly baked bread and fine port, and with animal crackers and undiluted fruit juice concentrate. I’ve celebrated in the backseats of cars on freezing cold days (as in, 30 below zero Fahrenheit), and on blistering hot days (as in, 105 degrees Fahrenheit). I have celebrated the Eucharist in just about every context y’all can think of, and a whole lot more y’all can’t hardly believe. (Translation: Unimaginable.)

And now, tonight, it is Danny’s turn.

It is his turn to do one of the holiest things he will ever do in his life – he will stand at that table, and he will hold up the bread and say, “Take. Eat. This is my body,” and he will lift the cup and say, “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant.”

He will say, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And when he does that, he will be changed … he will be a different person – to himself, to God and to all y’all.

Because let me tell you – let me assure you – y’all will never look at him in the same way again.

The one who celebrates the Eucharist, who presents to y’all and to God the bread and the wine and asks God to send down the Holy Spirit so that that bread and wine is not just bread and wine but is – in some way which we cannot and do not need to understand – the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ … the one who does that is not the same as he or she was before. He is different. He is set apart. By his very words and actions, he becomes a symbol of the holy to us.

That, my young friend, is what is about to happen to you.

It is a holy, dangerous and completely wild undertaking, and I’m going to tell you right now: Don’t you ever take it for granted.

Let me try to explain this holiness (not that we really can explain it, but Danny did ask me to come a very long way to be here, so let me at least try …)

You see this?

THIS is communion bread, what y’all’s priests refer to here as the concelebration host.

It is made up of wheat flour and water. That’s it. Wheat flour and water.

It is plain. It is dry. It goes bad quickly (just leave it sitting out in the air sometime, and you’ll see …)

This whole host contains, oh, about 40 calories.

That’s all it is.


And not the good chewy bread that fills your mouth and strengthens you and makes you say to your neighbor, “Now that’s good bread.”

It’s … plain.

THAT bread that we will have up there, at the altar, after Danny consecrates it?

It may look the same, but trust you me (that’s another Southern expression, trust you me…) IT. IS. NOT. THE SAME.

Because THAT bread is the bread of life.

THIS bread? Once it is broken, it will give you just enough calories, barely, to breathe. To literally breathe. Inhale. Exhale. That’s it.

THAT bread? THAT bread will give you enough calories, enough life, to change the world.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THAT bread? Move mountains.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THAT bread? Bring the dead to life.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THIS bread is like the manna that fell from heaven to keep the Israelites alive in the wilderness. And manna, my friends, is not really what y’all would call “bread.” Because manna is really nothing more than excretions from plant lice that live in the desert and feast on tamarisk trees. (Yes, the bread from heaven that kept the Israelites alive for 40 years in the wilderness was bug poop …)[1]

THAT bread? It will fill you and sustain you and strengthen you and give you the courage and endurance and everything else y’all will ever need to do all God is calling all y’all to do.

Do you see the difference?

THIS bread is nothing but a few calories that will allow you to survive for but a few short minutes. I could break it up and it would be, for us, just a snack.

But THAT bread – THAT bread is LIFE.

And once THAT bread is consecrated – not really by Danny, even though that’s what we say, but by God on high – it becomes the Body of Christ.

And THAT, my friend, is when the holiness happens.

NOT at the consecration – although that is holy in and of itself, and should never be taken for granted.

No. The real holiness comes when we, the Body of Christ, come forward as the Body of Christ to meet the Body of Christ in its most intimate form.

Let me say that again: The real holiness comes when we, the Body of Christ, come forward as the Body of Christ to meet the Body of Christ in its most intimate form.

What we are doing here especially tonight, on this Feast of the Body of Christ, is engaging in an intimate, loving encounter with love itself.

Which is why Danny can never take this for granted.

And it is why all y’all can never take communion for granted, either.

Because THAT bread is NOT THIS bread.

THAT bread is the fullness of all of the love that God has for each and every one of us, all the incredible, radical, wild, never-ending, world-changing, life-altering, life-giving love that God freely gives to each one of us.

THAT bread – taken, blessed, broken and given – is THE bread of life, THE bread of love, THE great gift that God gives us freely and recklessly, over and over again.

Now, let me ask y’all something:

Why do y’all think God gives us this bread, every single day, over and over again, whenever we want it, whenever we need it? You think it’s just because God wants us to survive one more day, to draw one more breath?


God gives us this bread so we can DO something with it!

It is not enough to simply come to church once a week and get our little nibble and then go home again and pretend that that’s that.

God gives us THAT bread so that we have the strength and courage and power and nourishment to go out into the world and do all the things that God is asking us to do:

To feed the hungry and Give water to the thirsty

to give Voice to the voiceless and hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind

To make the lame leap for joy and the dead come to life.

To set the prisoner free and include the excluded and touch the untouchable.

To love the unloved

THAT bread is so powerful that with it, you will change the world.

THAT bread will give you the strength to stand up to a world that says, “I got mine and I don’t care if you ever get yours,” and say in return, “Not today, Satan. Today everybody gets what they need, everybody eats, everybody is loved and welcomed and celebrated.”

So … let me sum this up for you:

THIS bread? A snack. And not a very good one at that.

THAT bread? Love. Life. Holiness.

Got it? Good.

Now, David, do me a favor and open those back doors, please. Let the world in for all of us to see.

And Danny, I need you come here please, to receive your charge:

My friend. My brother in Christ. You have been called by God to nourish and strengthen the people whom God has placed in your trust so that together, all y’all can go out into that world you see to do all that God calls all y’all to do. You are to do this through prayer, and through the regular feeding of your people. You listen to me, son: Do not EVER presume that you can do this easily. Do not EVER think you can fall out of bed to land at that table. Do not EVER believe you can simply say some pretty words and wave your hands in a pretty manner, and that that will be enough. You take this calling from God seriously, Danny. EVERY time you stand at that table – or anywhere else – you remember: This is holy stuff you’re doing. This is wild stuff. This is dangerous stuff. Because you, on behalf of God, are feeding God’s beloved children with God’s very self so that together, all y’all can do all the things God needs all y’all to do. You are playing with fire, son. So, please … be faithful to this call. Always.

You listen to me, son …

And now, my friends, I’m asking all y’all to stand, and to look out those doors into your world, as all y’all receive your charge:

My friends. My sisters and brothers in Christ. Y’all – all y’all – are the Body of Christ. Y’all are the hands and feet and arms and legs and heart and soul and mind and voice of the Risen Lord in this world. Y’all have been called to stand up in this broken, hungry, fear-filled world and proclaim God’s good news by word and deed. And as the Body of Christ, you are given the great gift of coming forward to meet the Body of Christ, to be nourished by the Body of Christ, to be strengthened by the Body of Christ so that all y’all can do everything Christ asks of you. Do not EVER presume that THAT bread is just a snack. Do not EVER come to the table willy-nilly. Do not EVER forget that y’all are playing with fire every single time you receive the Body of Christ. Go into your world, my friends, knowing that you have been fed with the very love of God, which y’all received as the Body of Christ from the Body of Christ. God needs all y’all in this world. So, please … be faithful to y’all’s call as well. Always.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, 1987, p. 9

The Rev. Danny Pegg celebrating his first Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
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Pentecost 2019: Today’s the day!

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Rosebud Episcopal Mission, Rosebud Reservation, on Sunday, 9 June: Today’s the day we get the power and the ability to do the work that Jesus has given us to do.


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