Tag Archives: Year C

Radical Lives of Proclamation: Sermon #2

This semester I am taking a new preaching course at YDS titled : REL 830 – Radical Lives of howard-thurman-bu-photo-services
 with new YDS professor Dr. Donyelle McCray.  As part of our work we have to preach two sermons in class that have been inspired by someone we have studied the week we preach or the week before. Yesterday (Thursday, 27 October 2016) I offered my second sermon of the semester, and I took my inspiration from Howard Thurman.  Below you can find a copy of the manuscript as well as a recording of the sermon.  For my scriptural text, I used the Gospel for Proper 26C (Luke 19:1-10).

Assignment Description: Two 10-minute homilies. Allow the visionary assigned for the week or previous week to inspire your approach to hermeneutics, form, delivery, or shape your spiritual preparation process. Plan to discuss the visionary’s influence in class after you preach. Complete the sermon self-evaluation (available on ClassesV2) within one week of delivering your sermon.

Inspiration: In reading Thurman’s meditations and sermons, I found myself drawn to his care for the person’s soul.  It seems to me that by constantly focusing on the actions we are called to take, we can ignore what is going on internally.  Given the nature of this parable from Luke’s Gospel, and its place in the larger Lukan narrative, I felt this was an excellent passage to explore this theme of looking inward. 

Final word: I missed the opening of my sermon (the introduction to the meditation), so while that is not included in the audio it is included in the manuscript below.  

This afternoon, I take my cue from Howard Thurman, and begin our time of prayer and reflection with a meditation. This meditation was written by Thurman and coincides with his first sermon on the Temptation of Jesus. In this meditation Thurman highlights the important message that we encounter today in Luke’s Gospel.

Let us pray:

READ HOWARD THURMAN MEDIATION (The Meditation is found in Temptations of Jesus, you can listen to an audio recording of Thuman giving this meditation – along with other parts of the service from Marsh Chapel (Boston University), 1962 – here.  The meditation comes immediately following the opening musical offering).

Given the state of our world, the state of our country, the state of our community, it is easy to understand why so many preachers have been focusing on what we are called to do as Christians. Given this historical moment combined with Luke’s narrative, the hallmark of which is the Great Reversal, it is important that preachers have been drawing our attention to what we are called to do – to how we are called to participate in systems of reconciliation and justice, how we are called to participate in bringing down systems of oppression and violence, how we are called to be part of God’s work in the world.

For the last year we have been journeying through Luke, where time and time again, parable after parable, we have been exhorted to participate in the work. We’ve heard about economic justice, we’ve heard about familial relationship, we have heard about healing the sick, we have heard about welcoming the outcast into the heart of the community.   This is the doing we are called to participate in. But, it seems to me, if we stop there, if we only focus on the doing, we miss out on a deeper message in the text.

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we find ourselves in a particular point in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. What we have been hearing for the last couple of weeks marks the final stage of Jesus’ journey. Just a few verses ahead Jesus will enter Jerusalem for the last time, that great city which is the place of the greatest reversal of all time – the place where death becomes a means of life. As such, Jesus is taking the opportunity in these final parables, to direct the attention of his followers to something different. These parables shift in focus. We hear not about what we are called to do, instead we hear about what is to be the core of our life: that which is to be the center of our very being.

Today we hear the story of Zacchaeus, and if you’re anything like me you hear in the back of your mind that old Sunday School song – Zacchaeus was a wee little man. It is tempting with these familiar stories to see them the way we have always seen them. To think of this parable the way we learned it as children. If we are intentional and look deeper we will find that there is more to this story than a short man who cannot see through the crowds.

In order to more fully understand what Luke is drawing our attention to here, we must view this parable in relationship to the parable we heard last week – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In that story we hear the importance of being honest with ourselves and with God: of not puffing ourselves up, not falling to the sin of pride, not saying to God “Look how awesome I am.” We are encourage to take the position of the tax collect, to focus on the one thing the Pharisee – that good and faithful servant of God – is missing: need for God in our lives. And so last week we were called to be open and vulnerable with God. To say, God I need you, God I am broken, God I am hurting, God I am a sinner in need of redemption. When we trust in the mercy and loving kindness of God, we are able to get up off our knees, to stop beating our breast, and stand up right in the presence of God. And it is from this posture that we meet Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector, he is a rich man, and reviled by his fellow Jews. He achieved his wealth by taking advantage of his neighbors, and colluding with the Roman Government. There is no question why the crowd grumbles at the fact that Jesus has invited himself to dinner with Zacchaeus. But this is not the behavior we see in Zacchaeus in this passage.

Out of some deep desire to see Jesus, Zacchaeus makes a fool of himself. Imagine a grown man, with some public and important job, running through a crowd and climbing a tree. Zacchaeus does not care how foolish he looks, he is going to climb that tree – nothing is going to stop him from seeing Jesus.

When the moment comes, when Zacchaeus finally sees Jesus, he is filled with joy. We read in scripture that Zacchaeus was happy to come down from that tree and stand face to face with God. In that encounter, Zacchaeus experiences his own reversal. He recognizes the ways he has fallen short, he does not try to justify his actions and behaviors in anyway. Instead he joyfully proclaims his plan for restoration – to give away half of his possessions, to repay anyone he has defrauded four times what he took.

Zacchaeus takes the position of the unnamed tax collector from last week’s parable and takes it a step further. He does not approach his honest vulnerability with God in some depressed way – Zacchaeus joyfully admits he is a sinner. It is because of this openness, because of this joy, that Zacchaeus goes home justified – that Zacchaeus experiences salvation.

Before us in this passage is the invitation to be like Zacchaeus. To be honest before God, to admit that we are broken, hurting, sinful people – and to do so with joy.

Thuman in his meditation highlights this openness. Thuman reminds us that we are not to hold anything back from God. That we are to look within ourselves and offer every fiber of our being – every aspect of our life – to God, to use how God will for God’s work in the world. We our to empty ourselves completely to the mercy and loving kindness of God. When we are in service to God, when we are obedient to the call of God, that is when we experience perfect freedom. That is when we are justified, that is when we stand upright, when we encounter the living God face to face and experience something of salvation.

Today we look inward, and pray about what it means to be instead of what it means to do. Today we ask ourselves, have we admitted that our spiritual vision is limited? Today we ask ourselves, when was the last time we delighted to seek God? Today we look inward and ask ourselves, where are we lost and where do we need to be found?

When Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “come down from that tree,” Jesus is saying to each and everyone of us, “come down, come here, come closer.” Jesus is waiting, waiting for us to come with joy, waiting for us to greet him, waiting for us to continue this journey to Jerusalem with him. It is a long and hard journey, but if we persevere and reach that final destination we will experience salvation. We will witness death being destroyed once and for all, we will gain life in more abundant ways than we can ever ask for or imagine, we will receive wholeness and restoration. And that is why we offer our unceasing thanks. Thank is why we are joyful


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Sermon: Proper 25C

The following sermon was preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Sunday October 23, 2016 (Proper 25C).  There readings can be found here, and you can listen to a recording of the sermon below or by heading over to The Redeemer’s website.  This sermon was preached without a manuscript, but the cartoon outline is included below.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.


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Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The following is the sermon I preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Sunday 21 August 2016.  The lessons can be found here (note: we used Track 2).  You can listen to the sermon below or you can head over to The Redeemer website and listen there.  

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on my experience working as a hospital chaplain as part of my Clinical Pastoral Education experience. As I think patience visits and our educational seminars there is one theme that stands out as more pervasive than any other. That theme is a question – a one word question at that – why? why-in-japaneseTime and time again in my clinical work a patient would ask, “why is this happening to me?” In our educational seminars my supervisor and peers would ask me, “why did you do that?” Each and every morning as I entered the hospital I would ask myself, “Why am I here?” Why questions, it seems to me are inherently messy, often with complicated answers, and can lead us to become defensive. And yet, why questions have the capacity to be invitations to understand a situation, to experience the world, in new ways.

For generations people have had to struggle with why questions, and the communities and people we encounter in Scripture are no exception. This morning, through the invitation unlocked in why questions, we have before us a reminder, a warning, and a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that can only be achieved through relationship with God.

Today’s lesson from Isaiah comes from the concluding chapters of Isaiah in a section biblical scholars refer to as Trito Isaiah or Third Isaiah. Scholars understand this section to have been written after the people of Israel have returned from the Babylonian exile. While they have returned home, things are not as they had hoped they would be. Even though they have returned from exile, they are still being oppressed. For centuries they have heard promises of God’s liberation, and yet they still long for it. They wonder, “why have God’s promises not yet been fulfilled.” As a way of trying to make sense of what is going on in their lives, they start relying on themselves for answers, they begin to blame other people, they turn away from God, and worship other gods and participate in pagan rituals.   What we hear this morning, is God calling out to the people of Israel and reminding them to turn back towards God. If the people of Israel refrain from blaming others, if they stop speaking evil, if they reach out and care for those in need, if they delight in God, then – and only then – will their suffering end. Then their light shall rise in the darkness and their gloom be like the noonday.   For it is only by living into the fullness of their covenanted relationship with God that they will experience the liberation and transformation they desire.

For the last couple of weeks the lectionary has taken us through the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter was a sermon sent off to some unknown community as a source of encouragement. It is written relatively late, and so the community the author is writing to is actually the second generation of the Church. This is a community that has been waiting for the second coming of the Messiah, something they thought was going to happen immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not only were they still waiting for the second coming, but they were also beginning to feel isolated and separated from the society around them. They were beginning to be persecuted for their faith. I can imagine members of that community wondering in anguish, “why is this happening to us.” I can imagine them beginning to doubt, beginning to wonder if this was all worth it.

What we have heard in these last couple of weeks from Hebrews are words of encouragement in the example of great pillars of the faith. We heard that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We heard of the great faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We heard that by faith in things unseen the people passed through the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho came down. This week, that reminder has transitioned into a word of warning.

It seems that the writer to the Hebrews is saying to them, if all of these people, these generations, can stay faithful to God so can you. But, you have to make the decision to stay faithful. Here is where the warning comes in: “see that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!” Be warned what will happen if you reject this relationship with God that has been offered, be warned if you reject the message – the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus – for the same God that dwells in the heavenly Jerusalem, that offers love and mercy freely to all the faithful, is the same God that made the great prophet Moses quake with fear.

The why question in today’s Gospel from Luke, leads us to experience, to get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

7db92078caa776bd26e366c775ed71a9Following the healing of a woman on the Sabbath, Jesus is met by the leader of the synagogue who was absolutely outraged. The leader of the synagogue was outraged, not because Jesus healed this woman, but because he did it on the Sabbath. The synagogue leader was trying with great intention and sincerity to live his faith with integrity. The Sabbath, as we were reminded in this week’s parish record, is a gift from God – it is a day of hallowed rest on which no work is to be done. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments and is a sign of the covenant God made with the people of Israel. In other words, keeping the Sabbath is serious and important business. So when the synagogue leader sees Jesus breaking the Sabbath he cannot help but cry out, “Why are you doing this?” In responding to this question, Jesus rebukes the synagogue leader and invites him and all those around him to be witness to something new that God is doing amongst them. In healing this woman, Jesus gives a glimpse of the kingdom of God – a Kingdom where all people are set free of the things that hold them down, oppress them, and cause any sort of illness or suffering. In the Kingdom of God, the relief of the suffering, the liberation of the captive, is not held off until tomorrow, it is done immediately. This liberated Kingdom life is the ultimate end of our journey of faith. It is the pinnacle of our relationship and life with God. It is that which we long and hope for above all else.

We have before us this morning an invitation that serves as a reminder, a warning, and a foretaste of our relationship with God. And yet there’s more.

In this invitation, in these lessons, there is one more vitally important detail about our relationship with God. Each one of these lessons directs us to the worship of God. For it is through worship that we fully enter into this precious relationship.

As the people of Israel in Isaiah are reminded to once more draw near to God, to delight in God, to seek after God, they are reminded that the way they live into their relationship with God is through honoring God in worship and praise. God cries out to them, “if you refrain from trampling the Sabbath . . . if you honor it, not going your own ways . . . then you shall take delight in the Lord.” If you worship God, you will experience the liberation that you desire.   Worship is our way of returning to God when we have fallen short and not lived into the fullness of our relationship with God.

The warning given in the Letter to the Hebrews today concludes with the command to worship. The writer says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” Relationship with God is not something to be entered into lightly, and the same is true of our worship. If we dare to be in relationship with this all powerful, all knowing, awesome God then we must take this relationship more seriously than any other. As worship is our entry into this relationship, we must enter worship with all seriousness, care, and intentionality.

In all of today’s lessons, there is one person who truly understands the magnitude of encountering God and how to appropriately respond. We hear very little about the unnamed woman in Luke, she does not say a word, and the narrator tells us she only does three things: she appears, she stands upright, and she praises God. She recognizes that without asking for it, she has entered into a profound relationship of liberation with God, and her only response is to shout for joy, her heart full, and offer praise.

Worship is our entry, renewal, restoration, and perfection of our relationship with God. It is through worship that our lives are broken open and healed, it is through worship that we are called to go out and care for all of God’s people in need, it is through worship that we are strengthen and prepared for kingdom life. The worship of God is the one thing that separates faithful people from the rest of the world. It is the very heart of who we are, and as faithful people of the Anglican variety the pinnacle of our worship is the celebration of the Eucharist. For in the Eucharist time stands still. The past, present, and future are all aligned as one participating in the praise and worship of God – perfecting our relationship with God. It is in these moments – however brief they may be – that the Kingdom breaks open the darkness of our world.

Saint Augustine once wrote of the Eucharist, “become what you see, and receive what you are.” He reminds us that it is our duty to gaze upon the gifts of bread and wine on the altar. For as we do that, as we behold the Body and Blood of Christ in our midst we are empowered to become the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. This is what worship and relationship with God is all about. To be transformed, to be liberated, to be Christ’s body in the world around us so that we may be part of the work of transforming the world and liberating others.

If we can do this; if we can approach our worship with the utmost seriousness, integrity, and joy; if we can open ourselves to the healing touch of God that invites us into relationship, then we will be like the unnamed woman. Then we will be able to stand upright, to praise God with every fiber of our being. Then we will be able to gaze upon the very face of the life giving, liberating, and living God.


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Sermon: Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

The following is the sermon I preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Sunday 31 July 2016.  The lessons can be found here (note: we used Track 2).  You can listen to the sermon below or you can head over to The Redeemer website and listen there.  

I preached this sermon without a manuscript, but I did have an outline.  But, this was no ordinary outline.  During my CPE unit this summer I have gotten into something called Process Cartooning.  For whatever reason, a cartoon was the only way I could get my thoughts to come together.  So included below is a picture of my cartoon.  Enjoy! 


Yup, this is my outline!

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Sermon: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

With CPE, I have gotten a little behind on posting here.  So today I’m doing a little catch up and posting my two most recent sermons.  

St. Mark

This sermon was preached at St. Mark’s Warwick on Saturday, July 2 and Sunday, July 3.  The lessons can be read here, and the manuscript is copied below the audio link.  



Lately I have been thinking a lot about how hard it is, how demanding it is, to be a follower947742 of Jesus. As I continue my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, as I prepare for my senior year of seminary, as I reach new milestones in the ordination process I cannot help but think, “What, in God’s name, have I gotten myself into?!” On good days I am energized by the challenge, and on not so good days I find the burden completely overwhelming.

As we have been reading our way through Luke this summer, particularly these past three weeks, I am uncertain if these passages are supposed to be comforting or troubling. Since I know some people have been on vacation these last couple of weeks, I want to take a step back and look at the narrative progression that is taking place.

Two weeks ago we heard proclaimed the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. We heard the story of a man plagued by so many demons that they go by the name legion. In an amazing, awesome act of power, Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a heard of swine. In that instant this man – one who has be exiled to live in the tombs among the dead, to be alone, naked, vulnerable, and violent – is restored to health and is seen in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus. When the town’s people see this miracle that has taken place they are plagued with fear. They rush and gather the people in the city and in the countryside and they come back and demand Jesus to leave their community. They are unable to accept the radical, restorative, transforming love of God.

Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem – Jesus setting his face towards the Cross. In the first half of the reading, we hear that the people of the village in Samaria do not accept Jesus – and while James and John want to call upon God to rain fire upon that village – Jesus rebukes them and instead he simply leaves the village without another word. He wastes no time and continues on his journey to that great and holy city.

The Gospel passage continues to describe the conversation that ensued along their journey: A conversation that includes incredibly harsh words from Jesus. We hear Jesus say, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” We hear Jesus say, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We hear Jesus say, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” There is incredible urgency. There is no second chance. Jesus is clear, get on board or be left behind.

Building on this narrative of radical transformation, rejection, and urgency we come to today’s reading from Luke. What we hear from Luke today is incredibly important in Luke’s Christological and Eschatological narrative – in other words Luke’s story about Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. We hear of transformation, hospitality, vulnerability, rejection, urgency, and judgment.

The first words of this passage make clear one of Luke’s most important points: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him.” The Lord did not appoint Peter, the Lord did not appoint the twelve, the Lord appointed seventy others. This number is incredibly important, and holds great significance not only for Luke, but other parts of Scripture as well. In the Book of Genesis – the 10th chapter to be more precise – all the nations of the world are listed. There are seventy in number. This is why Luke uses this number. Seventy is the number of the nations of the world, it is the number that represents all of humanity, and that is what is so important to Luke. For Luke, the message of Jesus is not for a small, specifically chosen group. The mission of Jesus is not just for those who wear fancy robes and have the best seats in worship. Salvation and the mission of God are for absolutely everyone – they are gifts freely given to all of humanity. Luke highlights this point over and over again in the Gospel and continues the motif in his second book the Acts of the Apostles where the followers of Jesus are sent out to “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So when the Lord appoints seventy, the Lord is appointing messengers to the whole world.

These messengers have a very particular charge and warning. Jesus says to them, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Jesus is warning them that they will be rejected; that this road is hard, demanding, and dangerous. While in the Kingdom of God the sheep and the wolves will lie down together, the Kingdom of God is not yet.

Not only will this journey be dangerous, they are also required to rely solely on the generosity and hospitality of others. They cannot take anything with them; they cannot take anything with them that will allow them to accumulate support or possessions. They are to stay in one place and only eat what is set before them. They are completely and totally vulnerable and at the mercy of those whom they visit. Ultimately the way these seventy are treated has eschatological implications for their hosts. For those who accept the disciples and the message of Jesus that they bring – they will be rewarded for the Kingdom of God has come near. And for those who reject the loving message of God – beware because the Kingdom of God is at hand.

As the Kingdom comes near there is great urgency for “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are full.” God has provided for an amazingly abundant harvest – a harvest beyond our wildest dreams. And yet, there are not enough people to do the work of harvesting. There are not enough people to spread the Good News of God to all the ends of the earth. So we are to pray for more laborers. We are to welcome everyone into our midst – particularly the least and lost of our society. For it is only when we are all united together in our diversity – it is only when the seventy are appointed – that the Kingdom of God comes near.

As laborers sent out into the harvest, we often face the same dilemma that Paul writes of in his letter to the Galatians. We set up boundaries and divisions between “us” and “them,” between those who are in and those who are out. We create litmus tests as a way of determining who is worthy to be harvested – who is worthy of the radical, restorative, transforming love of God. What Paul makes clear, is that our litmus tests are total garbage. Paul preaches the same message that Luke does – all of humanity is worthy of the divine grace of God. It is easy for the Galatians to fall away from the gracious nature of the Gospel; just as it is easy for us to fall away.

When we fall away we must remember that everything is a new creation. All things have been made new through the power and light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It is only when we accept that fact that we will experience true freedom: freedom from oppression, violence, and hatred. Freedom from putting ourselves first at the expense of others, freedom from the burden of a zero-sum society where the only way I win is by you losing; Freedom from the shackles of individual-selfishness so that we may truly be members of the Body of Christ. For true freedom only comes from complete and total vulnerability, trust, and obedience to God.

There is a daily meditation I subscribe to from the Society of St. John the Evangelist titled, “Brother, give us a word.” Each meditation is a few sentences in length and focuses on the meaning of a single word. Yesterday’s word was Body, and this is what Br. Mark Brown writes:

We pray as a body, on behalf of the body. The prayer Jesus taught us is an “our, us, we” prayer. “Our Father . . . give us today . . . forgive us as we forgive.” In our prayer we lift up the whole human condition, from one end of the spectrum to the other. We pray as a body – we are a body.”

Like today’s Gospel, Br. Mark reminds us, that Jesus calls us to be part of the Body. To come together, to pray, participate in the Sacrament of his Body, and to be sent out as part of the seventy. To proclaim his radical love to the world – to preach, teach, and heal; to bring comfort to the comfortless, to be beacons of hope in a dark and scary world.

Dear people of God, I stand before you and ask you the same question I repeatedly ask myself: “What, in God’s name, have we gotten ourselves into?”

We have gotten ourselves into the greatest journey we could ever be part of: A journey that will push us to the boundaries of our very limits, a journey that will be filled with transformation, urgency, rejection, and judgment. In God’s name we have gotten ourselves into proclaiming what the world cannot give: true peace and perfect freedom.







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Sermon: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

With CPE, I have gotten a little behind on posting here.  So today I’m doing a little catch up and posting my two most recent sermons.  

This sermon was preached on Sunday June 19, 2016 at St. Columba’s Middletown, RI.  This parish, by the way, was originally known as the Berkeley Memorial Chapel named for Bishop Berkeley (the same person for whom my beloved seminary is named).  You can read the lessons here.  This sermon was preached without a manuscript.  




Altar and East Windows at St. Columba’s  





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Sermon: Pentecost Year C

My sponsoring rector has been abundantly generous in inviting me to preach at our parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  He has made sure I have had great lessons to work with and am preaching days I have not preached before.  Continuing this trend, he invited me to preach on Pentecost (May 15, 2016). 

Below is a copy of my manuscript, and you can find the lessons here (we used Acts and Romans).  You can listen to a recording for the 10am Liturgy through the media player below or over on The Redeemer’s website.  



One of the greatest challenges, and ultimately the great gift of seminary, are the moments when what you are learning confronts and conflicts with what you have always believed to be true. It is the encounters where the old and new can no longer coexist together. Over the last two years I have watched countless friends and classmates enter into these struggles – these crises of faith – and emerge on the other side; the old being cast down and replaced by a new and deeper understanding of God. In the last week, I 20120513144615!Icon-Pentecosthave realized that today, this great feast of Pentecost, is one of my crossroad moments. In struggling to craft this sermon, I have come to know that what I thought I knew about Pentecost can no longer stand with what I understand to be true about the Christian life.

Growing up, Pentecost was one of my favorite days in the life of the Church. This excitement had nothing to do with the fact that everyone wore red or any liturgical pageantry, but had everything to do with coffee hour. You see the parish I grew up in celebrated this principal feast day as the birthday of the church – so coffee hour was one big birthday party. There were balloons, we sang “Happy Birthday,” and blew out candles on not one but twelve birthday cakes. My foundational experiences of Pentecost were happy, joyous, sugar fueled, parties.

This foundation was further built upon when I had the opportunity to travel to Taizé, France at the end of my freshman year of college. As I journeyed to Taizé I was convinced that I would finally understand what the Pentecost moment was all about. Over the course of my weeklong pilgrimage, I gathered with hundreds even thousands of other people to worship in the Church of Reconciliation. Each day our number grew larger and the cacophony of voices increased. There we were, worshipping in the Spirit, each in our own native tongue. You could feel the Spirit at work in that place. It was a warm, embracing, joy-filled Spirit. Young people from around the world – separated by boundaries of geography and language – praising God with one voice. To add to this, the week I was there was mostly windy and rainy. I thought I had it all. I had experienced Pentecost – the wind, the multitude of voices, the Spirit descending on the people of God. So I entered seminary, believing Pentecost to be a fun, exciting, party of love and worship.

But as I read today’s lessons, as I listen to John’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, those are not the words that come to mind. Instead, I think of intense intimacy, unsettling peace, terrifying transformation, subversive behavior, and unceasing fire.

What we just heard from John’s Gospel is a testimony to the profound intimacy of God. Just as we heard last Sunday, we hear again today that Jesus and the Father are one. That God the Father sent Jesus – who is God the Son – into the world, that all people might come to believe and know God. With the incarnation came a promise that God would dwell with God’s people forever. Today we hear again of that promise, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This Advocate is God the Holy Spirit. So when God the Son is no longer physically present among us, God the Holy Spirit comes to be present to us and to dwell in each and every one of us. It is this same abiding Spirit that is going to reveal to us everything that we need to know, because the Spirit of truth brings Jesus to mind, the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. Or succinctly as Gregory of Nazianzus profoundly wrote, “we receive the Son’s light from the Father’s light in the light of the Spirit.”

The concluding sentences of today’s Gospel reading jump ahead a few verses in John’s narrative, and, according to the lectionary, are completely optional. We hear these concluding words from Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The peace proclaimed in this Gospel, is not the type of peace that the world proclaims: a peace championed by celebrities and imagined as children singing in harmony and unity. The peace of God, to quote Hymn 661, “it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.” It is the peace that changes everything we think we know. It is not some comforting imagine, but unsettles all that has become stagnant and transforms it to the way God intended in creation. It is this transformation, this marvelous peace of God that we are called to pray for. This transformation is at the heart of the Acts of the Apostles.

In Acts we hear of the flashy, intense, and action packed descent of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” These closest followers of Jesus were hiding, trying to stay safe. After witnessing what happened to Jesus, they were understandably terrified that the same would happen to them. And all of a sudden, there came the sound like the rush of a violent wind. How completely terrifying – that in this place they thought was safe, they would be overwhelmed by a deafening and violent sounds that seems to come out of nowhere. God the Holy Spirit did not descend upon them like some cute little bird, but rather came crashing in shattering the World as they knew it. All of a sudden they began speaking in every language imaginable – languages they never spoke before.

This transformation, this descent of God, was not something to be confined to those in the house, but quickly spread throughout Jerusalem. We hear that a bewildered, amazed, and astonished crowd came and gather to figure out what was going on. And as each person heard the mighty acts of God proclaimed in their native tongue those feelings only intensified. Some tried to figure out what had happened, while others mocked and scoffed – writing off this transformation as if the apostles were a bunch of drunken fools.

Then Peter steps up and begins to preach as a way to explain all that is happening. “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you supposed, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” When I stop laughing at Peter’s insistence that the twelve could not be drunk because it is nine in the morning – because no one has ever been drunk at that hour – I can not help but wonder more seriously, “what would it take for the world to be so surprised, bewildered, astonished, and amazed by our actions that the only logical conclusion would be that we have had a little too much to drink a little too early in the day?

What would it look like, if we stepped outside our perceived houses of safety and proclaimed the righteousness of God in the world around us? What would it look like if we – as exemplified in Paul and Silas last week – praised and worshipped God in such a way that walls came crashing down? What would it look like if we actually believed that “a hundred men and women turned the known world upside down,” even more to the point, what if we believed that it could happen again?

This is why the Holy Spirit descends on that Pentecost day, and this Pentecost day, in such a terrifying and startling way. Because the Spirit of truth dwells in us so richly that if we truly believe we will do greater things than Jesus himself.

The world in which we live is torn apart by useless division and senseless violence. If the Pentecost event teaches us anything, it is that these divisions can and will be cast down. If one hundred people turned the known world upside down that Pentecost day – why can’t 50 turn Providence upside down this Pentecost day? If the prayer and praise of Paul and Silas casts down the prison wall, why can’t our prayer and praise break down the wall between the East Side and Camp Street? If God has created us to be at unity with God’s self, why can’t we get out of God’s way and be open to receiving the Spirit of God?

On that great and glorious Pentecost day divided tongues as of fire appeared among them. By the preaching of all, hearts were set a blaze. As long as fire gets the fuel it needs, it can continue to burn without end, but without fuel the fire starves and quickly extinguishes itself. Today, that fire has arrived at our door. The Holy Spirit has descended upon us and transformed us into fuel to keep that fire burning.

The life of discipleship is hard and it requires much. In fact it requires everything. This day we celebrate is not a glorified liturgical birthday party. It is God fulfilling God’s promise – that the Holy Spirit will be our advocate and guide here on earth as we strive to build the kingdom of God. On this day God equips us to do the impossible – to follow the God who took on our mortality so that we might take on God’s immortality.


Renewal of Baptismal Vows. Photo by Dan Harvey

In a few moments we will recommit ourselves to this work as we renew our Baptismal Vows. With that renewal and with being nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist we will go forth from this place as a living Pentecost moment: to share in the intense intimacy of God who is three in one and one in three, to be unsettled by the peace of God and shaken from our complacency, to stand unafraid of the awesome transformational power of God, to act in a way that is so subversive to the ways of this world people think we are drunken fools, and to share the light of Christ that burns so brightly in our hearts that it sets this world on fire.


“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” It is time for us to prophecy, it is time for us to dream, it is time for us to get to work and do the impossible.



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Sermon Easter 7C : Last Sunday at Trinity Hartford

Below is the copy of my sermon from my final Sunday at my internship parish Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford CT.  The lessons can be found here.  Here’s the audio so you can give it a listen.  .  

What a day this is.


Giotto, The Ascension 

Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, otherwise known as the Sunday after the Ascension. Just a few days ago, on Thursday, the Church celebrated one of the seven principal feasts – one of the seven most important and special days of the year – the feast of the Ascension. Given this is the Sunday after the Ascension, it seems to me that to truly understand all that we have just heard we need to take a step back, and think together about what exactly happened on that great and glorious Ascension day.


There’s an old story told by one of the desert fathers. No one really knows where the story comes from, but some say that St. Anthony told it to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nyssa told it to St. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus as they sat around the campfire. I do not know the facts behind this story, but it is certainly true. Following in their footsteps, I want to tell you an Ascension campfire-story:

As Jesus began to rise, John just could not bear it. He reached up into the cloud and grabbed a hold of Jesus’ right leg, refusing to let go! To make matters worse, when Mary saw John’s plan, she too, jumped up, and grabbed hold of Jesus’ other leg. His glorious exit ruined, Jesus looked up into heaven and called out, “Okay, Father . . . now what?”

A voice came out of the clouds, deep and loud like the rumbling of thunder in the distance. “Ascend!” the voice said.

So Jesus continued to rise through the air, dangling John and Mary behind him. Of course, the other disciples could not bear to be left behind either, so they too jumped on board, and within moments there was this pyramid of people hanging in mid-air. Then, before anyone really knew what to do next, all kinds of people were appearing out of nowhere – friends and neighbors from around Galilee, people who had heard Jesus’ stories, people whom he had healed, people whom he had fed. They, too, refused to be left behind, so they made a grab for the last pair of ankles they could see and hung on for dear life. Above all of this scuffling and scrambling the voice of God kept calling out, “Ascend!”

But then suddenly, from the bottom of the pyramid, there came the piping voice of a small child.

“Wait!” he shrilled, “I’ve lost my dog! Wait for me.” But Jesus couldn’t wait. The little boy wasn’t going to be left behind, and he was determined that his dog was coming with him. So, still holding on with one hand, he grabbed hold of a tree with the other, and held on with all his might. For a moment, the whole pyramid stopped dead in the air, but Jesus could not stop. The ascension had begun, and God was pulling Jesus back up to heaven.

It looked as if the tree would uproot itself, but then the tree held on, and it started to pull the ground up with it. The soil itself started moving up into the sky. And hundreds of miles away, where the soil met the oceans, the oceans held on. And where the oceans met the shores, the shores held on. All of it held on. As Jesus ascended into heaven, he pulled all of creation – everything that ever was, everything that is, everything that will ever be – Jesus pulled it into heaven with him.

This story expresses in beautiful imagery the words of my favorite early church theologian, Athanasius, who says more profoundly than I could ever muster: the divine becomes human so that the human can become divine. This is what Ascension Day is all about. In fact, this is what the incarnation is all about. That one day thousands of years ago, God took on the frailty of our human flesh – God became human – so that we might ascend with God back to heaven and be transformed into the fullness of our own creation. In the Ascension the incarnation cycle is completed, but it is not finished.

This morning we hear from the Gospel of John, just how serious God is about being in relationship with us. We hear Jesus pray, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus passionately and earnestly prays to God that we might be at unity with each other and with Jesus so that we might also be at unity with God the Father. Jesus prays for all of this so we might be able to see, know, experience, and share in his glory. But Jesus’ glory, particularly in John’s Gospel is a complicated and difficult thing.

As we look at John’s Gospel, and the placement of this passage in John’s large narrative, we see these are Jesus’ final words before the account of Jesus’ betrayal. We are reminded that Christ’s glory is inseparable from Christ’s suffering. We come to know again that Jesus’ glory can only be seen from the cross. As we step back and look at this narrative it is clear that this deep and abiding intimacy with God is rooted in the cross and endures through suffering. This is the life we are called to as followers of Jesus. Luckily, we are not the only ones who have been called.

In today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles we hear of Paul and Silas, out proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus in Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman Colony. This passage contains two very different encounters that reveal something to us of the nature of our unity with Christ and the journey to which that unity calls us.

First, Paul and Silas encounter a salve girl who makes a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. Acts tells us of their encounter with the girl, but the important part of this story has nothing to do with the girl: it has to do with her owners and their response to Paul and Silas.

When the slave girl’s owners find out what Paul has done they are furious, have Paul and Silas seized and bring them to court where they are charged with disturbing the peace of the city. They are charged with being subversive to the public order. So they are flogged, they are beaten, and thrown in jail.

The charge brought against Paul and Silas is strikingly similar to the change brought against Jesus. They are changed for disrupting the status quo. They are charge for breaking down a system of oppression and setting the captive free. For that liberating and life giving work they are punished – and punished harshly. There is a reality for us in this experience of Paul and Silas. When we do the work of Christ there is a cost. Indeed unity with Christ – that very unity Jesus begs the Father to give us – has throughout history often meant suffering at the hands of unjust powers, for the sake of love – for the sake of integrity. Being in unity with God through the person of Jesus means we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Gospel: we must be willing to face unknown hardships and sufferings for the sake of the cross. But, suffering never has the last word.

As Paul and Silas are in jail they have another important encounter. As they sit in jail, as they sit broken and bruised, they prayed and sang hymns – they worshiped God all night long. Their worship was so powerful that it caused the earth to quake and all in the prison were set free. Yet, they did not leave – instead they save the jailers life.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the jailer says to Paul. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And without delay the jailer and his whole household we baptized. Because of the worship and witness of Paul and Silas this jailer’s life was save and transformed. This is our chief responsibility to gather in prayer and song and worship God in such a way that lives are saved.

There are many problems in this world: release needs to be brought to the captives, justice to the oppressed, and peace to those ravaged by conflict. As important as these actions are, they are only a part of a higher, more important action, the saving action of a sovereign God who enters our humanity to take it up and redeem it to its final destiny.

This time of prayer and worship is a time to clarify our values and motives, and to see all we do and all that we are in light of the gospel message. As we gather at this holy table to time stands still. Everything that was, everything that is, everything that will ever be comes together in this moment as simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. Past, present, and future unite to sing the praises of God. As we receive this most blessed sacrament we, in the words of Augustine, becoming what we receive. We are receiving the physical manifestation of our unity with God – we are receiving the redeeming and life giving, sustaining, and nourishing meal of God.

Though this sacrament of praise and thanksgiving we stand with Paul and Silas, who in the face of suffering never stop their worship of God. Their praise shakes the foundations of the prison – doors are opened and chains are unfastened. When we gather at this table this is the same worship we are called to. We are called to stand in the midst of our suffering, our doubt, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty and worship in such a way that shakes the foundations of the world so that all those held captive, all those in chains, are set free.

Do you feel that? The spirit is at work in this place. Wherever the Spirit moves, the work of worship and witness by faithful people brings freedom to all who believe. Trinity Hartford this is your call. To praise God in such a way that walls of division come down, that chains break open, and all people are set free in the name of Jesus.


with The Rev’d Don Hamer (rector, Trinity Hartford), April Alford-Harkey (Postulant for Diaconate) and her ministry dog Sandy.  Photo taken by George Chien

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank each and every one of you for an amazing year. I have learned so much, tried on new things, and come a little closer to understanding what it means to be a priest. I want to offer my particular thanks to Don who has so graciously and generously taken me under his wing and walked with me as I continue my journey to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church.


As Jesus, in Luke’s account of the Ascension, departs from his disciples he blesses them, they worship him, return to Jerusalem with great joy, and continually bless God in the temple. If I may be so bold as to speak on behalf of April, as we depart from you this day you are blessing us. You have and will continue to be a blessing in our lives, and we can only hope that you feel the same way about us. But, it is time for us to take the paths that have been set before us: to go forth from this place continually praising God. While we may be in different places we are all united by that same song of thankfulness and praise that makes eternity stand still. That God loves us so much, that God became what we are so might become what God is.

Beloved children of God; keep the faith, stay strong, and do not give up. Most importantly never stop worshiping because when you do; that is when they earth stops shaking, that is when transformation ceases, that is when lives are no longer saved.


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Sermon: Wednesday of Lent 5

Continuing the catch up game.  

I had the opportunity to preach at the Wednesday evening Eucharist during the week of Lent 5 (March 16, 2016) at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The readings can be found over on The Lectionary Page, and you can listen to the recording here.  Note, this sermon was preached without a manuscript.  


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Sermon Lent 5: St. Matthew’s Wilton

I’ve been pretty bad about getting things up here lately.  Posting a few things so I can catch up.  First up my sermon from Lent 5. 

On Sunday March 13, I once again had the honor of preaching at St. Matthew’s in Wilton, CT.  The readings can be found over on the Lectionary Page, and the audio recording is over on SoundCloud.

Yesterday morning I was driving in Attleboro, Massachusetts with my mother and my wife. As we were driving along we came across a construction site for a new strip mall, and as is true with most construction sites, there were signs advertising the new building project. But there was something different about these signs. You see there used to be a Lutheran Church where this new strip mall is going, and the construction company decided to use the old church signposts to hold up their signs. So these tall white wooden signposts, that used to advertise service times and Vacation Bible School, now hold a big blue sign with bold yellow letters that read “Coming Soon.” And right above those words, right above “Coming Soon,” stands a large gold painted cross. To my eyes it seems that the construction company was not advertising their newest project, they were advertising Holy Week – Coming Soon to a Church near you!

Today we keep the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the final Sunday before Holy Week begins next week with Palm Sunday. Our Lenten journey is quickly coming to an end, and so we shift our attention to the Triduum Sacrum – The Three Holy Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter. As we turn our attention to the realities of the liturgical calendar the Gospel also makes a shift and draws our attention towards Jerusalem. John uses the passage we have just heard to make this shift.

There are few passages in all of scripture that are packed with as much beauty and truth as this anointing scene in Bethany. In order to glimpse the truth and beauty of this intense and intimate scene, we must unpack these eight verses of Scripture. By breaking open this text we get a glimpse of the truth of Jesus, the reality of the road ahead, and we gain a deeper understanding of our role as disciples of Jesus.

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany.”

These words set the scene of today’s reading and draw our attention to the Passover and to Bethany.

The celebration of Passover is a major theme in John’s Gospel. Throughout the entirety of John’s narrative the Gospel writer uses the Passover as a way of shaping the identity of Jesus. In John’s Gospel Jesus does not celebrate the Passover as much as he is the Passover.

Unlike the other Gospels there is not one Passover in John’s narrative, there are three celebrations of the Passover each revealing something about Jesus.   In the first Passover found in chapter 2 we learn that Jesus’ body is the temple that will be destroyed as raised again in three days. In chapter 6 we hear of the second Passover where Eucharistic language is revealed to us as Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.” The third celebration of the Passover begins with today’s Gospel reading. This Passover sets in motion the Last Supper – the Final Discourse of Jesus. It is in this celebration of the Passover that Jesus will die, that the temple will be destroyed, that all who have and will participate in the body of Christ will gain eternal life. This Passover celebration is the culmination of all other Passover celebrations.

The Passover is not the only thing we read about in this opening half sentence, we also learn that Jesus has come once again to Bethany. He is not just anywhere in Bethany, he is at the home of his dear and beloved friends: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. This residence is the closest thing that Jesus, the Messiah who has nowhere to lay his head, can call home. So when he arrives home they give a dinner for him.

This dinner is no ordinary dinner, it encapsulates, in a single meal, the life, death, and ministry of Jesus. This gathering represents an earlier meal; it represents a sign of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom; and it foreshadows Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. This is a meal served by Martha; Martha who a chapter earlier in John’s test offers a supreme confession of the faith. This meal is shared by many around the table including Lazarus; Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead and is trying to figure out how to live his resurrected life. And at this meal Mary shows that she understands fully what is about to happen.

We read in the text that “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.” This is the primary action of today’s Gospel text. It is an extravagant act of devotion in which Mary does not say a single word. There is no great profession, there is no witty retort, there is only a simple, yet profound action that reveals more about Mary and her faith than words could ever express.

Mary’s actions, this incredibly intimate moment with Jesus, make clear that Mary comprehends and accepts what Peter and the other disciples could not: the death of their master, Messiah, and friend. As John’s Gospel continues it becomes evident just how much more Mary gets it as compared to the actions and behavior of Peter – the rock of the Church, the one to whom the keys of the kingdom of given, the one who really should understand. But he does not and Mary does. So she takes this moment to offer extravagant and costly compassion, generosity, praise, and thanksgiving to God.

It is this gift that Mary gives to Jesus that he will next give to his disciples when he kneels down and washes their feet. Here arguably more than any other place we see the holy act – the chief marker of the disciples’ life – of washing and being washed.

In washing and being washed in the waters of Baptism, in washing and being washed in the extravagant waters of compassion for and service with others, in being washed in the blood of Christ the nourishment of eternal life.

As this extravagant act of devotion takes place, Judas steps into the scene. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” It is important to note that, while this story also appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, John tells it very differently. In Matthew and Mark the objection does not come from Judas, it comes from the disciples’ and the woman washing and anointing Jesus’ feet goes unnamed. By naming Judas as the objector, along with his parenthetical commentary about Judas, John is depicting this troubled disciple as moving from the light to the darkness.

Now in all fairness to Judas, his question is a reasonable one. What Church serious about Discipleship has not, does not, struggle with the tension between money spent on beautiful acts of worship and money spent on behalf of the poor? Who has not figured out how many more sandwiches could be made instead of buying that new chasuble, or by replacing that old chalice. It is only by John’s added commentary about Judas, that he is a thief and betrayer, that leaves the reader to call into question why Judas would rebuke this abundant act of worship.

Just as quickly as Judas asks the question, Jesus rebukes him saying, “Let her alone.” Jesus not only comes to her defense in this response, but the defense of all voices and all gifts that have been shut out by the Church. He comes to the defense of all those who are not deemed unworthy by our standards and says “Leave them alone. Let them offer their gifts.”

The second half Jesus’ rebuke concludes today’s Gospel text: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” These are words the Church has used both to justify and to condemn complacence towards the needs of the poor.

Stanley Hauerwas, prolific theologian, helps frame and makes sense of this statement: “the poor that we always have with us is Jesus. It is to the poor that all extravagance is to be given.” The true Church always has the poor in its midst, always treasures the life of the poor. So the same extravagance we offer in worship and praise to God should be offered in service to those left out and left behind. It is rather fitting that woman – one viewed as the other – gives us this great example of worship and service.

With this instruction, with this statement of the finality of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we return to where we began. When Jesus says, “But you do not always have me,” he is turning the disciples, he is turning those gathered for that meal in Bethany, to Jerusalem and the Cross.

So much more could and has been said about these eight verses from John’s Gospel. In them we learn the fullness of John’s image of Jesus; we are pointed to the final and most important days of Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage; and we learn something of how we are supposed to be in the world.

In Seminary I have learned the good Anglican theology of the both/and. While I generally use this to justify having both cake and ice cream and parities, it is more appropriately used to define our realities as disciples of Jesus in light of Mary and Judas.

In the person of Mary of Bethany we are given an example of Christian discipleship that is an act of adoration of and gratitude to the one whom alone is holy: to the one who offers us the most extravagant of all gifts. In the person of Judas we are given an example of Christian discipleship in which God makes righteous those who have rejected and betrayed Jesus. This paradoxical reality of being both Mary and Judas point to the truth of God’s grace: this grace is for everyone the faithful and the unfaithful. When we hold these two images together we learn that while we strive to be like Mary, there is still hope for us when we are like Judas. Frankly as humans, we are generally more like Judas than we are like Mary.

Before us today, as we prepare to embark on the most important week in Christian life, there is an invitation. We stand in the midst of a broken, hurting, and dark world. A world where political discourse is marked by violence, a world where we get ahead at the expense of others, a world where there is no place for love and extravagant generosity because fear and scarcity rule the day. As we stand in the darkness we are invited to walk this holy pilgrimage with Jesus. We are invited to accept the extravagant gift of the other in our midst. We are invited to take hold of the truth that no matter how hard we fall, no matter how badly we fail nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are invited to step out of the shadow of death and embrace the life-changing, world altering, light that beams so brightly from the wood of the cross.

I wonder what would the world look like if we accepted this invitation?




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