Bold new empire

Proper 6A (RCL); Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23.

     One of the differences between Morning Prayer and eucharist (besides the obvious) is that in the service for eucharist, the Collect of the Day comes right at the beginning of the service.  In Morning Prayer, it comes after the sermon, after the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  This morning, that’s too bad, because the Collect for today really sets up well what the Scriptures are about.  So, I’m going to read it here in the sermon.

     Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion:  for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.

     I could almost preach a sermon on the collect.  We pray, that through God’s grace, we might proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion.  Watching what has been unfolding on our streets over the last two weeks, I think this is a prayer for our time.  We need boldness to proclaim God’s truth, and compassion to minister God’s justice.

     This prayer sets up these scriptures perfectly.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus commissioning the twelve apostles, and giving them authority over unclean spirits, and power to heal disease and sickness.  Matthew introduces this commissioning with a statement about Jesus having compassion on the crowds, because there were like sheep without a shepherd.

     Matthew is saying more than it might look like on the surface.  He is quoting the book of Numbers.  Moses is worried that when he dies, the congregation of Israel will be like sheep without a shepherd, so he asks God to appoint someone to take his place.  God tells Moses to lay his hands on Joshua and give him his authority.  There is a great pun here that we miss in English.  In Greek, the name Joshua is Jesus.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Moses appoints Jesus as his successor.

     That pun is not lost on Matthew.  And now, Jesus, knowing he is going to die, appoints the twelve as his successors, and gives them his authority.  Jesus sends them out to announce a new empire.  As they traveled they were to heal the sick, raise the dead, and announce that the empire of God had come near.  It is not as clear in this passage as it is in other passages that the disciples were to eat a meal with those they healed.

     In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus sends out the disciples, he instructs them to call a sort of stone-soup meal in each town they enter:  eat what is set before you, heal the sick, raise the dead, and proclaim the kingdom.  When Jesus raises Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter, he instructs those standing by to give her something to eat.  The meal was part of the cure.

     The ancient world didn’t have the medical understanding we have now about how diseases work.  But they had a much clearer understanding of the social aspect of the disease process.  Some disease, like leprosy, cut people completely off from society, and so being brought back to the table would have been a powerful cure.

     One of the really tragic things about COVID-19, is that people who are really ill are nearly completely isolated.  We’ve seen images of hospital staff standing and cheering as someone is released from the ICU, overjoyed that the person is now back among loved ones.  Think of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s:  the social aspect of the disease was as bad as the disease process itself.  How many gay men died completely alone?

     I’ve been glued to my television these last few weeks, watching what is happening on the streets of our nation, and even around the world.  As nervous as I am about the possibility of these protests spreading the Corona virus, I am astonished at the outpouring of support for a movement against racism in our institutions.

     It would not be too much of a stretch to see racism as a social disease, and institutional disease, causing huge rifts in our social fabric.  I have been struck by the variety of people protesting.  In Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s death, white people joining the protests was newsworthy.  White people could get themselves on the front page of the newspaper by showing up at a protest.  In these most recent protests, it’s almost normal.  That’s a huge shift.

     Jesus sends out the disciples to cure the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead, and then proclaim that a new empire, the empire of God has come near.  Those early Christians were dangerous.  The Roman empire understood that their message called Rome’s authority into question.  If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.  Those first Christians were not made martyrs for being nice people.  They were a threat to the powers that be.

     I think we’re seeing something like this on our streets.  Certainly there is some bad stuff happening.  There has been looting and destruction, but a lot less of that than during Ferguson.  People are proclaiming a new order of things:  Black Lives Matter.  They are seeking to heal a very deep and very old wound in our nation.  They are proclaiming a new empire, one of hope, justice, and love.  They are seeking to bring those who have been excluded back to the table, or maybe to the table for the first time.  I think Jesus would recognize some of what is happening.

     And that’s where today’s collect comes in.  Moses passed his authority on to Joshua/Jesus, and Jesus has passed his authority on to us, the authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and announce a new empire.  He also tells us that we can expect opposition.  We will be called on to testify before powers and authorities, who might not like what we have to say.

     So, we pray for God’s grace to proclaim that truth with boldness, and to minister that justice with compassion.  We are going to need that grace to see the truth, in ourselves and in our society.  And we are going to need grace to proclaim what we see with boldness.  We are going to need grace to be compassionate with ourselves as we face an uncomfortable truth, and we are going to need grace to hear the anguish of those who suffer from this ill.  We are going to need grace to see justice done with compassion, welcoming those excluded to the table, rather than excluding them with force and violence.  We are the agents of a new empire.  God give us the grace to proclaim it with joy.

Let him go

Fifth Sunday in Lent, 29 March 2020, St. David’s Episcopal Church , DeWitt, NY, Dan Handschy

Lent 5A (RCL); Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

     I have to admit I’m finding it a little difficult to write sermons in this time.  There is a lot that looks bleak, and we all need a word of hope.  There are voices coming from every direction, some saying it’s dire now, and will get worse; others saying things will soon be better and we can go back to life as normal.  How are we supposed to respond?

     I think this pandemic is forcing us to realize that some things in the way we have organized the world will need to change.  We talk about ‘vulnerable populations’ as if they were something other than us.  And yet we know that if anyone has this virus, we’re all in danger of getting it.  We are far more connected than we like to think; we are not the rugged individuals we imagine ourselves, responsible only for our own well-being.  Now, we have to figure out how to reorganize society to make this so.

     Our Gospel reading for today is very confusing, but it may help us figure out how to think and live differently.  First of all, why does Jesus delay two days, when he knows Lazarus is dying?  And then, why does he grandstand when he prays – I know you always hear me, but I’ve said this for the crowds standing by?  We’ve had more than enough of delay and grandstanding.

     Both sisters, Mary and Martha, say to Jesus, with more than a hint of accusation in their voices, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I think we’re feeling the same.  Why is God allowing this delay?  Why don’t people get how serious this is?  Lord, if you had been here, things could have been different.

     So, for me, it raises the question, “What would things look like if Jesus were here?  What would be different?”  We could spend a whole lot of time on that question!

     When Martha comes to where Jesus is, she asks, she accuses, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again.”  She says, “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”  This is one of those classic examples of misdirection in John’s Gospel.  Jesus says one thing, and she hears another.  Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  She replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.”

     Again, she answers a question he didn’t ask.  She sees things in the standard way – the Messiah is coming, and everything will be all right.  He told her that the resurrection is already here, and it doesn’t look like she thought it would look.  It doesn’t look like we thought it would look.

     John wants to drive that point home.  When Lazarus comes out of the tomb, John tells us “the dead man came out.”  Lazarus is still the dead man.  And, he was wrapped in his grave cloths.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciple whom he loved went into the tomb, and saw the grave cloths all neatly folded up.  Lazarus’ is the resuscitation of a corpse.  Jesus’ is a resurrection from the dead.

     What does that mean for us?  Mary and Martha want things to go back to the way they were before.  They want the resurrection to look the old order restored.  John is telling us the old order has already passed away.  Jesus’ resurrection is something new.  When Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Jesus in the Garden, he tells her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet embarked to my father and your father, my God and your God.”  (I guess Jesus understood social distancing).  The resurrection looks like a journey toward God, not a return to old hopes.

     What are the grave cloths we need to take off of Lazarus to see what God has in store for us?  What does a new and fuller life look like?  What does it mean that if we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die?  What does it mean to say that when so many are dying?  And, we ask like the sisters, why were you not here?

     John wants to redirect our attention away from a return to the way we think things are supposed to be, and toward something unexpected.  For John the resurrection is not just the restoration of biological life, the resuscitation of a corpse.  Resurrection is instead a fullness of life.  John’s favorite phrase for it is, “the life of the ages.”  We tend to translate that eternal life, and think it means living forever.  What it meant in John’s time and Jesus’ was living a life in the coming age that God intended for all the world.

     We’re seeing some of what it is not.  It is not the hoarding of scarce resources, whether that be toilet paper or personal protective equipment for our medical workers.  It does not mean manipulating a crisis for one’s own interest, whether that be profit or political points.  It does not mean going about our business as if nothing were wrong, and not seeing the impact of our actions on others.  These are the grave cloths about which Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.”

     So, the opposite looks like resurrection – making sure everyone has what they need; living our lives as if everyone else’s life depended on what we do; accepting with huge gratitude what others, even those invisible others we would rather not see, do for us.  The resurrection looks like the whole Body restored to full life.  Our Diocesan vision statement is “A world healed by love.”  I think that pretty well captures what I’m struggling to picture for you.

     In the Apostles’ Creed, we say that we believe in the resurrection of the Body, and I think the pun is intended.  Not just this physical body, but the whole Body, the Body of Christ intimately interconnected, overlaid with a stunning network of relationships, joints, sinews, connective tissue, organs; nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, truckers, musicians, waiters and waitresses, that whole glorious Body raised to newness of life.  That is the life of the ages.

     Jesus says to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  The life we have in Jesus is a faint foretaste of that resurrection life.  The community we share with one another is the sign of that resurrection to the world.  And, oh, are we hungry for that now.  When we can get back together and sing ‘Alleluia,’ we will now more powerfully than we have ever known the resurrection of the Body.  That is the hope of Easter.  That is the life of Jesus in our midst.  Pray we hear Jesus’ words, “Unbind him and let him go.”

Living water

Sermon, Third Sunday in Lent, 15 March 2020, St. David’s Episcopal Church, DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Lent 3A (RCL), Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

     Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.  Have you ever noticed that in this story, Jesus never gets the drink of water he asked for?  That, if nothing else, should clue us in to the fact that this story isn’t really about water.  Something else is going on.

     I contend that this is a love story.  We have a woman and a man at a well.  If you’ve ever read the stories of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and let’s throw in Moses for good measure – you know that they all met their wives at a well.  When Abraham sent his servant back to his home land to find a wife for Isaac, the servant said to himself, the first woman I ask for water, and who gives it to me, that will be the woman for Isaac.  That woman was Rebekah.  Jacob said the same thing, and that woman was Rachel.  Moses met Zipporah at a well.

     In John’s Gospel, we’ve already had the miracle of changing water to wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  And last week, we heard Nicodemus asking how one could be born again.  Something weird is going on here.  And about Nicodemus:  he was a Jew, a Pharisee, he had a name, and came to Jesus by night.  This woman has no name, is a Samaritan, and meets Jesus at noon.

     Hmmm.  Jesus asks for a drink of water, and our unnamed woman launches into a speech about Jews and Samaritans.  They hated each other.  Jews considered Samaritans half-breeds, ethnically defective, worse than Greeks.  So, she is a bit surprised.  Jesus replies, “If you knew who was asking, you would ask for living water.”  Remember, Jesus has already changed water to wine, so we’re not talking about water here.

     She wonders if Jesus is greater than Jacob, whose well it is.  We know, of course, that the answer is “yes.”  Jesus tells her to go and call her husband.  She replies that she has no husband, and Jesus says that indeed, she has had five, and the one she has now is not her husband.  Many commentators have a made a great deal about her marital history.  She must be a woman if ill-repute.  That’s why she is at the well and noon.  But remember, there is more to this story than meets the eye.

     Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  It had been conquered in 722 by the Assyrians, who had deported 27,000 Israelites, and resettled a bunch of foreigners in their place.  That’s why the Jews (from the Southern Kingdom) consider Samaritans half-breeds.  The Babylonians had then conquered the Assyrians, and the Persians had conquered the Assyrians.  Then came the Seleucids, and finally the Romans.  Each of these empires had put images of their own gods in the Temple on Mt. Gerezim.  Count them.  That’s five different gods:  Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and the Seleucids.  The Old Testament often uses the image of God as Israel’s husband.  Five husbands.

     And finally comes Rome.  And Caesar is not really a god, despite his statue in the temple.  Now the picture is starting to get clearer.  In the middle of all this, the disciples come back and offer Jesus something to eat.  He points to the fields ripe for harvest.  What?

     Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and was not convinced about being born from above to enter the kingdom.  This unnamed Samaritan woman has a conversation with Jesus about water, Temples, and husbands, and wonders if he might be the Christ, the savior of the world (Caesar’s title, by the way).  John’s little beleaguered community had gotten itself thrown out of the synagogue, and now finds itself on the verge of welcoming a bunch of Samaritans!

     The book of Acts tells us that some of the first non-Jewish converts to the Jesus movement were Samaritans.  Here we have a story about how that happened.  And it’s a love story.  A man and a woman meet at a well, and she – the Samaritan woman – ends up marrying Jesus, accepting him as God.  And in the end, the people of the village believe for themselves.

     What does that mean for us?  Jesus’ disciples were startled that he was talking to a Samaritan woman, but no one dared ask him why.  They would have been shocked to hear the story the way we can hear it.  We’re the disciples in the story, I think.

     I love that our Presiding Bishop has asked us to think of the Church as the Jesus movement.  I’m not a real Jesus-y sort of person.  I grew up in a fundamentalist tradition, and people used to ask if I had a personal relationship with Jesus.  Being the snarky teenager I was, I used to answer, “I haven’t shaken the man’s hand, if that’s what you mean.”  Jesus as my personal lord and savior just doesn’t do that much for me.

     But what the disciples discover is that Jesus is already out there talking to unnamed Samaritan women who have had five husbands, while they’re worried about what to eat.  And Jesus meets her at the well, just like all of the patriarchs met their wives at wells, by asking for a drink of water.  Last week, we heard that famous verse, John 3:16:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

     For God so loved the world.  Here’s the evidence.  And maybe that water is love.  Jesus turned 180 gallons of it into really good wine at a wedding.  That will keep the village buzzed for weeks.  And this poor woman hasn’t had a lot of it in her life.  Not enough to even return to Jesus a short sip of the stuff.  If she knew who Jesus was, he would give her unending streams of the stuff, gushing up to eternal life.  That’s loving with wild abandon.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.

     That’s the content of our Gospel.  Love profligately.  Throw it away in great quantities.  Let it gush up to eternal life.  Bishop Curry, by calling us the Jesus Movement is reminding us that Jesus is out there asking the questions about God’s love, rather than worrying, like the disciples, what we are going to eat, how we’re going to pay the bills, can we keep the doors open.

     Look around you, says Jesus, the fields are ripe for harvest.  The trick is to throw God’s love all over the place, not worrying about they’re acceptable or not.

On the holy mount

Last Sunday after Epiphany

St. David’s Episcopal Church

DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Last Epiphany A(RCL); Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-20; Matthew 17:1-9

     The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is a very tightly packed little story.  The whole of Jewish tradition up to that time comes to focus on Jesus.

     The story begins, “After six days” or “Six days after these events.”  The six days refers to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.  Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain.  The passage we heard from Exodus tells us that when Moses went up the mountain, the cloud of God’s glory covered the mountain for six days.  Matthew wants us to think of the Exodus story.

     When Jesus is on the mountain, Moses and Elijah join him.  Both Moses and Elijah had mountaintop experiences themselves, one of which we just heard.  When Moses went up the mountain, he received the law.  In Exodus 24, which we just heard, he ratified the new covenant with God.  God had told the people not to come up the mountain, and instead build an altar at the base of the mountain.  The people then stayed on the plain, and ate a meal.  Seventy elders went up on the side of the mountain and ate, while Moses himself alone went to the top of the mountain.

     This is exactly the scheme of the Temple.  The people stay outside in the court, where the altar is.  The priesthood (the seventy) stays in the inner court, and the high priest alone enters the holy of holies.  Also, while Moses in on the mountain top, he receives the plan for the tabernacle – just this same scheme.  So, Moses represents both the law and the Temple.

     Elijah also had a mountain top experience.  You may remember the story.  Queen Jezebel had imported the worship of Ba’al into Israel.  Elijah challenged the 450 priests of Ba’al to a competition on Mount Carmel.  They set up an altar, and he set up an altar.  They prayed all day, but no fire descended.  He soaked his altar with water, and then prayed briefly, and fire descended and consumed his offering, whereupon he immediately slaughtered all 450 priests.

     Then he ran away, because Jezebel was going to kill him.  He came to Moses mountain and hid in the same cave where Moses saw the divine backside.  There was a storm and an earthquake, but God was in neither.  Then came a still small voice, saying, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”  Elijah made his complaint, and God said, “Return and anoint Hazael king of Syria, and Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha your successor.  Whoever Hazael does not kill, Jehu will kill, and whoever Jehu does not kill, Elisha will kill.”  Jeez, what a pleasant message.  So Elijah represents the prophetic and dynastic strands of tradition with Israel’s history.

     A cloud overshadows the three while they are on the mountain, just like the pillar of cloud overshadowed the tabernacle in the wilderness.  So we have the desert tradition represented here, as well.

     And then when the voice comes to Jesus, it quotes Psalm 2, which is a coronation psalm.  Ugh.  We are told that the nations are rebelling against the subjugation by God’s anointed, but God derides them.  The new king will smash them like an iron rod smashes pottery.  Here is the hope of vindication that runs throughout so much of Israelite literature.

     But the voice also quotes Isaiah 42:  Here is my servant, whom I uphold, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”  All of these traditions come together on the mountaintop.  And when the cloud lifts, only Jesus is found alone.

     In the wake of the destruction of the Temple under the Roman Empire, the question for Jews was “Who are we now?”  There was no more Temple to hold the traditions together.

     The little band of Christians, who were first of all Jews, answered this question is a very surprising way.  They were followers of Jesus, and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of all the various strands of tradition that made up the Judaism of their time.  They were saying that everything we can know about God and God’s interaction with us humans is revealed in this Jesus, who comes down from the mountain and heads straight to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified by the Roman power.

     So, what does it mean for us to say that everything we can know about God, we learn from this Jesus?  What do we know about God that no longer works?  What strands of tradition come together for us in this Jesus?

     We have not lived through a crisis as catastrophic as the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, but I think we live through events every day that challenge our orthodoxies.  We used to be able to think that this nation was a beacon in the darkness, that America represented the best hope for the world.  Given the turmoil on our southern border, given the way we treat the descendants of the peoples we enslaved, given the damage that we are doing around the world, in terms of climate change and economic colonialism, I don’t think we can think that any more.

     I think there are crises in our personal lives in little ways that challenge our orthodoxies.  If we live good lives, we think, God will be good to us.  Nothing bad will happen to those God loves.  Yet, we can see in our own lives that this is not always true.  Illnesses, deaths, grief of one kind and another happen all the time.  We might be inclined to ask, “Why, God?”

     What the transfiguration tells us that all we can know about God’s interaction with us messed up humans can be known in Jesus, who died on a cross.  God chooses to enter the human arena, the created world, in order to love it, and will accept into the divine self the very worst that we can do to another.  “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”  This Jesus, who will go to Jerusalem to die at our hands.

     All of this is revealed in blinding glory on the mountain top.  If we are to know God at all, we must make that journey to Jerusalem with this Jesus, the summary of all the theology in the world.  That’s why we read this on the Sunday before Lent, to draw our focus to this Jesus, who gives himself for us, so that we can know God.  There is no other way.

A greater righteousness

Sermon

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

16 February 2020

St. David’s Episcopal Church

DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Epiphany 6A (RCL)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

     The Gospel reading last week ended with Jesus telling us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We were left wondering what such a righteousness might look like.  Today, we have our answer.

     It was a standard rabbinic form of argument to list what other rabbis had said about a topic, and then conclude, “But I say to you.”  Rabbi so-and-so said.  Rabbi such-and-such said.  But I say.  What is remarkable in this passage is that Jesus isn’t listing what some other rabbi said.  He is quoting Torah, the text that rabbis interpret, and then adds, “But I say to you.”  That’s really bold.

     And then he ups the ante.  You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder.”  But I say to you that anyone who is angry at a brother or sister is liable to punishment.  How many of us have committed murder?  Not very many.  How many of us have been angry?  Every last one of us.  Yikes!  So, what are we supposed to do?  Jesus gives us the answer:  if you are making your offering, and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and first go be reconciled, and then come make your sacrifice.

     Sounds do-able, right?  Imagine you’ve just walked two days from Galilee to Jerusalem, leading your lamb for sacrifice.  Now, you’re going to walk four days round trip before sacrificing.  But notice what happens.  The restriction against murder is reasonably enforceable.  The restriction against anger is not.  But anger tears up the community that is going to eat the meal made by the sacrifice.  Jesus insists that the community be reconciled.

     That’s why the Peace comes where it does in the liturgy.  We are about to make our offering, so we confess our sins against God and our neighbor.  The absolution takes care of the sins against God.  The Peace reconciles us with our neighbor.

     The saying about divorce is also likely to make a number of us uncomfortable.  We live in very different circumstances that Jesus did.  His prohibition of divorce was meant to be a protection for women; divorced women had little standing in his world.  One of the rabbis who debated divorce allowed a man to divorce his wife for burning his dinner.  But Jesus takes things even a step further in the saying about adultery.

     In the ancient world only a married woman could commit adultery.  If she had sex with anyone other than her husband, she invaded his rights to know her children were his.  And the man involved was committing adultery against the husband.  But Jesus says, anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her.  Poor Jimmy Carter – he never lived that down.  But notice what happens here; it is the man who commits adultery, without the involvement of the woman!

     Again, Jesus turns the focus back onto life lived in community.  Adultery, as he found it, was reasonably enforceable.  It involved the violation of the husband’s property rights.  But Jesus refocuses the rule onto how we treat one another.  No one is to be treated as an object.  Everyone, even women, count in this new society.

     That is perhaps what the writer of Deuteronomy meant by saying that God was setting before us life and death, blessings and curses.  We tend to see the law as a code of things we shouldn’t do, with consequences for doing them.  Murder brings punishment.  But the intent of the law was to establish a livable society.  Since we can’t legislate what people think, we set consequences for bad acts.

     But if what holds a society together is only the fear of consequences of bad acts, society will fall apart.  There has to be some value in living together.  God’s commandments aren’t just “thou shalt not.”  We misunderstand the law if we make it into that.  So, Jesus radicalizes the law, and turns it into something that none of us can live.  No one can live without being angry.  None of us can live without, sometime or other, thinking of others and a means to our ends, as objects for our use.  No society has ever existed without divorce.

     That’s not the point.  The point is to show us that we cannot, on our own, create a livable society.  That requires grace, and grace is not something we can demand.  It can only be freely given and received.  I think that’s what is happening to our social fabric right now.  Many of us are coming to believe that the things society gives us are ours by right.

     In my ethics classes, I used to ask the students what a right is.  The Declaration of Independence says that God has endowed us with certain inalienable rights:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What does that mean.  The only possible definition of a right is an enforceable claim we can make against others.  That’s why American case law is based almost exclusively on suing one another.  That’s our way of determining what is an enforceable claim.

     But what an awful way to live – to be going to law suit against one another all the time.  Jesus radicalizes the law to show that none of us can live without grace.  The things community gives us are not ours by right, but by grace.  Think of the huge shift this would make in our way of thinking.  It would make us grateful for everything we have, and make us want it for others.

     Every time I come back from Africa, I am grateful beyond measure for running, drinkable water.  It astonishes me that I can turn on the tap, fill a glass, and drink it.  What grace.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do that?  Shouldn’t we want that, rather than allowing companies to have water for free, so they can put it in plastic bottles and sell it back to us?  Thinking about the law as restrictions on behavior makes us think, “What can I get away with?”  Thinking about grace makes us think, “What can I do for others?”  That seems to me the much happier way to live.

Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019

I didn’t preach on the shootings in New Zealand last week, so I was going to say something about it this week as it seems to fit with our Gospel lesson.  Haven’t we all been trying to make sense of that tragedy, trying to discern the reasons why it happened?  Just as the people around Jesus in Luke’s Gospel were discussing the folks whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices by Pilate’s actions.  We’re all trying to figure out why tragedies happen.  Perhaps you also heard about the Senator in New Zealand who got egged for suggesting that the fault lay with the people who were killed.  “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” said Fraser Anning.

It is a human thing to try and understand why bad things happen – to try to bring some order to a chaotic world or to help us feel safe.  We want to know cause and effect so that we can avoid the bad or somehow prevent it from happening to us.  There are all sorts of rules we give our children and loved ones to keep them safe.  Don’t cross the street without an adult.  Look both ways before you step out.  Don’t go for a run after dark.  Don’t drive through that neighborhood.  Don’t travel to that place.  We hope to discover the secret sauce that will protect us.  If we just do ‘x’, ‘y’ will never happen to us.

It is also a human thing to blame the victim for the evil that has happened to them.  If it’s the victim’s fault that the tragedy happened, then we’re probably safe.  If it’s the victim’s fault, then that lets us off the hook for not helping or not preventing or not stopping the bad actors.  She shouldn’t have been drinking…  the Muslim ‘fanatics’ should have been prevented from migrating to our country…  he was never going to amount to much anyway…  OR in the 1st century mindset:  they were terrible sinners and so God punished them.

Blaming the victims might make us feel better, but it falls short of how we ought to live as followers of Jesus. 

Life is full of difficulty – no one is immune.  To be human, to be born into this world, means that some things will go wonderfully well and some things will be awful.  Our world is full of illness, natural disasters, broken bodies, broken promises, mistakes and missteps, evil intentions and evil deeds.  And our world is full of life and love, full of incredible beauty, promises kept, honor and courageous actions, kindnesses and honesty.

As much as we would like to believe that only good things happen to good people, that only good things ought to happen to us, the truth is that difficulty is as much a part of our daily existence as all the goodness we experience.  Bad things happen.  Bad things happen to us, too.

Our lessons for today have some suggestions on how we ought to think about the trouble in the world.  First, let’s notice that Moses is called to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt because GOD SEES what has happened to them.  “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt,” God says to Moses. 

God sees what’s going on.  God knows the pain and struggle.  God knows the evil that has been done.  And God is calling us to join in doing something about it.

The people around Jesus were discussing the tragedies of their day – Galileans murdered while making their sacrifices in the Temple and eighteen people killed when part of the tower of Siloam fell down on them.  Jesus challenges them not to think that the people who died were somehow deserving of what happened.  They weren’t any more or less evil than his listeners.  Jesus tells them that they need to repent, they need to be ready, because the same fate awaits them. Don’t blame the victims for Pilate’s actions or the bad architecture of the tower. 

The second thing we can notice is that blaming the victims for the evil that befalls them reveals our lack of compassion.  What if, instead of blaming the vicitms, we saw ourselves in the lives of those who suffer.  What if we allowed ourselves to imagine how it feels to be them?  And what if we reached out in compassion and love?  An example of this also comes from New Zealand this week.  We saw pictures of the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in a hijab, mourning with the members of the mosques that were attacked.  There were pictures of New Zealanders who, on Friday, joined hands and stood outside mosques around the country to ensure that their friends and neighbors would feel safe at prayer. 

God sees what happens and has compassion.  We see what happens and we have compassion.  It’s another way of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Finally, that parable about the fig tree…  What does it mean when the evil befalls us?  Does it mean that God is angry with us?  Does it mean that we’ve done something wrong?  Was the tree bad because it wasn’t producing? 

Sometimes we do reap what we’ve sown.  If we’ve been less than kind, if we lie or cheat or steal, if we do not act with compassion when we see folks in trouble, then, yes, we may very well suffer for our own bad acts.

But I don’t think that’s what the parable is about.  Jesus has just said that God wasn’t punishing the Galileans who died because they were notorious sinners.  Jesus is less concerned about finding the cause of our calamities and much more concerned about growing our love and compassion for each other.  The tree isn’t bearing fruit.  The tree needs some tending to encourage growth – pruning and fertilizing.  That’s not punishment – that’s caring and loving.

When evil befalls us, when bad things happen, we have to decide how we will handle it.  We have to decide whether we will get stuck in that place and stop growing OR whether we will let the Spirit tend our hearts, prune out what we don’t need, feed our souls, so that we can begin to grow again.  Our compassion and love will allow us to empathize with those going through difficult times as well – we remember how it feels so we stand with others who suffer.

Bad stuff happens. God sees what’s going on.  God has compassion and calls us to have compassion as well.  Bad stuff happens to us. God sees and has compassion for us.  The bad stuff can prepare us for ministry and help form us into a people of love and compassion.  May we have soft hearts to respond to God’s call with ‘yes’ and become the loving and compassionate people God created us to be.  Amen.

Posted on March 28, 2019 By Kristen

Lent 2 March 17, 2019

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope? 

This time of year always reminds me of our family trip to the Gulf Coast in 2007.   It was at the beginning of Lent that we spent the week in Biloxi, MS, and I worked with Camp Coast Cares, an Episcopal – Lutheran Katrina relief agency for three days.  We saw first hand the destruction of that hurricane and how much remained to be done a year and a half after.  On Friday of that week, we drove over to New Orleans.  There, neighborhood after neighborhood stood abandoned.  Nothing appeared to be happening, no cleanup even begun.

Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the mess that natural disasters or our life situations give us?  What can we learn from today’s lessons about God and our journey through Lent?

Abraham, or Abram as he’s still known in our reading from Genesis, has already picked up and moved away from his hometown, family and friends in Ur of Chaldea.  He’s followed God into a new place where God promised to give him land and a family as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  Abraham obeyed, followed God.  But Abraham remains childless in our reading.  And every day he and his wife Sara get older and less likely to have children.  When God appears and makes the promise of children once again we can understand Abraham’s doubt.  Abraham makes his complaint to God and God makes a covenant with him in the style of the times.

There are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Abraham is not afraid of making his complaint to God.  He isn’t afraid of appearing doubtful.  We don’t have to worry about doubt either.  God knew Abraham, knew the promises that had been made, knew that the promises had yet to be fulfilled.  God wasn’t surprised by Abraham’s complaint.  What I like in this passage is that when God gives Abraham reassurance of the promise of children, Abraham’s doubts are relieved, Abraham believes, and God ‘reckons’ Abraham’s belief as righteousness.  God knows we need reassurances at times.  God knows that what we see in front of us is not always what we hope for.  God doesn’t think badly of us when we doubt – God reassures. 

I am sure that there were difficult times in this parish’s past.  You found yourselves in a place you had not wanted and weren’t sure you would move on from.  You were like Abram – following God into a new land and then not seeing the promises you thought God would fulfill.  There may have been doubt, and anger, and confusion.  But you were faithful and you continued to follow.  Every parish in our diocese, indeed, every parish and church has gone through moments when it seemed all was lost.  Every parish has gone through transitions they did not want to go through.  We can make our complaints to God.  God will hear us and reassure us, just as God did with Abraham.  And in time, God’s promises were fulfilled.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus shrugs off Herod’s threat.  I’ll be here today, and tomorrow and the next day, if he wants to come get me.  But he won’t.  I’m going to keep on working until it’s time to go to Jerusalem, Jesus says.

Again, there are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Jesus isn’t concerned about Herod coming to get him, to stop his work.  He’s not going to worry about tomorrow’s evil today.  He’s just going to keep on working today and tomorrow and the work will be finished when He gets done with it.  A lesson we ought to carry with us as well.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  God will take care of it, whatever it is.  In the meantime, our task is to keep on doing the work we’ve been given to do.  This is how a parish moves through difficult times – you just keep doing what you know you are supposed to do – keep giving, keep praying, keep figuring things out, planning for the future. 

These important points help us find hope, no matter what our present circumstance – voicing our complaints and fears, trusting that God will take care of our concerns, and keeping on keeping on. 

When we doubt – the One we turn to is the One who can reassure.  Doubting God isn’t the problem – doubting God and not going to God with our doubts is.  When we go to God with our problems, concerns, doubts, whatever, we give our relationship with God a chance to deepen.  When we turn to God, we are given the chance to see our situation the way God sees it – and that usually includes taking a long view of things.  God sees not only our present circumstance, but God will remind us of what has been and encourage us in what will be.

It takes all three views to move into the future – an understanding of where we are now, a remembrance of the past and a vision for the future.  This was brought home to me working in the gulf.  On Tuesday of our work week, I took a drive around Pass Christian with a group that included a woman who had owned a home in the community.  Where we saw empty lots and shells of houses, she saw and described to us what had been – antebellum homes, restaurants and shopping centers, churches.  Where her heart broke for what was, and some of us were discouraged by the current devastation, those with vision, those who were builders, imagined a future that would embrace and build on what was and what remained salvageable.

Abraham believes in God’s long view and God counts that as righteousness.  God will make things happen that fulfill the promises God has made.  Abraham is required to believe and, like Jesus in the gospel, to keep on doing what he knows he’s called to do.  Jesus also trusted God’s long view.  Jesus knew he had work to do and that God would take care of the future just as God had been with him in the past.

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the messes in our lives?  By remembering Abraham and Jesus.  By turning to God with our doubts and broken promises and taking a look at God’s long view.  God knows us, knows our past, has a vision for our future – knows what we have been and who we were created to become.  By going to God with our doubts and hurts and fears, God is able to strengthen and reassure us.  And then by just keeping on keeping on, we follow in Jesus’ faithful steps.  God will take care of the future, with whatever good or evil is to come.  Ultimately, we are safe in God’s kingdom.  In the meantime, we’re called to do the work we’ve been given to do, trusting that God will bring it all to right.  May we all be faithful.  Amen.

Posted on March 25, 2019 By Kristen

Lent I March 10, 2019

‘Lead us not into temptation…’ That familiar phrase from the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer is one we say at least once a week, if not more often.  Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by the devil our passage from Luke says – was he thinking of his wilderness experience when he taught the disciples his prayer?  Lead us not into temptation.

Our wilderness walk through Lent, our forty days of introspection and examination will always lead us into temptation, too.  Most days lead us into temptation even without the season of Lent, but at least during these forty days we ought to be more acutely aware of where our temptations lie and how we are handling them.

Because we are broken, because we are imperfect and our parents were imperfect, because we live in a world that is imperfect and broken, temptation surrounds us.  We aren’t all tempted by the same things – we are each usually tempted in the places we are most broken. 

If I am an alcoholic, alcohol is always a temptation.  If I’m not, alcohol holds no power over me.  If I was not loved as a child, I’ll look for love in all the wrong places.  If I wasn’t raised with healthy personal boundaries, if I was abused, I won’t know how to have healthy boundaries and abuse will tempt me.  It is in our broken places that we are most vulnerable and temptation will find its hold on us.

Where are those places in us?  Lent gives us the chance to examine those places where we continually fall down, where we continually do those things we do that we ought not to do, and fail to do those things we ought.  As we examine those dark nooks and crannies of the soul, it’s important to remember that those wounds, those vulnerable places need extra care and proper attention and love.

The Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan tempts him.  Where is Jesus vulnerable? What are his temptations?  And what can we learn about temptation (and resisting it) from his experience?

Jesus is on a fast, preparing for his ministry among us, knowing that his ministry will be a struggle.  He knows that the way ahead of him includes wandering from place to place with people who won’t really understand what he has to teach them.  He knows that he will have no home, that his friends will betray him, that he will suffer a painful death.  He knows that he is completely dependent on God to see him through all the challenges he’s about to face.  He is alone.  He is hungry.

How does Satan test Jesus?  By offering substitutes in those places where Jesus is vulnerable – his hunger, his loneliness, his need to trust God completely. 

Satan suggests that Jesus has the power to meet his physical needs in any way he chooses.  Satan urges Jesus to turn the stone into bread – and does it with a dig at the ego.  ‘If you ARE the Son of God…” Jesus IS hungry and he IS the Son of God.  The temptation is both physical and psychological. 

When Jesus doesn’t fall for that, Satan pushes harder – into the loneliness and misunderstanding that will be part of the ministry Jesus is taking on.  Say the word and you’ll be popular and important and powerful.  The world will be your oyster if you worship me, Satan suggests.

And finally, Satan pushes into the faith Jesus has that God will sustain him.  Prove that God will take care of you, put God to the test, jump off this place and let the angels catch you… 

Jesus is able to withstand all that Satan tempts him with.  How?  The singer/songwriter Rich Mullins says that Jesus did it by ‘quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil.’  Jesus responds to each temptation with a verse from Deuteronomy – he looks to Scripture for strength and guidance.  He refuses to set aside his future in order to change his current circumstance.  Jesus keeps his focus on God.  He doesn’t deny that the temptation offered looks good or claim that he’s not interested.  But he also doesn’t turn his focus from waiting on God to supply what he needs in the right way at the right time.

Each of us is tempted to do what is harmful to ourselves or to our relationships with God and those we love.  Each of us is tempted to ‘fix’ the broken places, our vulnerable places, in unhealthy and harmful ways.  Each of us can face down our temptations in the ways that Jesus faced his down.

Are you lonely?  Addicted?  Fearful?  Do you feel insignificant, overlooked, unloved, or small?  Search out scripture that speaks to your brokenness and then let those verses be your comfort, your strength, and your guide.  You are a beloved child of God.  There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that it can’t be faced with God by our side.  Search out others who can help you find healthy ways to heal the broken vulnerable places – support groups, therapists, trusted friends, a priest.  We are beloved children of God.  There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that can’t be faced with God by our side.

Take time this Lent – take time to think about and pray about those places where you know you are vulnerable. 

Ask God to help you discover your vulnerable places and then seek healthy ways of caring for those places.  We ought not sacrifice ourselves and our relationships by feeding our hungers inappropriately.  Like Jesus, we can learn to trust that God will walk with us through our present circumstance, that it will be all right; our future is secure.  Like Jesus, we ought not take our focus off of waiting on God to supply what we need – even though turning aside and giving in to temptation might feel good for the moment.

What tempts you?  What is the deeper hunger that your temptations mask?  How might we allow God to meet that deeper need, touch that deeper wound?  We are beloved children of God and with God all things are possible.  May we make these forty days a time of tender examination of our vulnerabilities and forty days of leaning on God for strength and guidance in avoiding temptation.  Amen.

Posted on March 14, 2019 By Kristen

Last Sunday after Epiphany March 3, 2019

What an odd thing to happen to Peter, James and John.   They follow Jesus up to the mountaintop and Jesus starts to shine.  Peter, James and John catch a glimpse of glory.

The three will need this vision of Jesus in all his glory to get them through the next part of their journey with Jesus.  A glimpse of glory, an inkling of the love and power of God, gives us hope when times are difficult.

When was the last time you were surprised by a glimpse of glory?  When was the last time you were confronted by the love of God or knocked down by the power of God?

These are not moments we can create.  These moments come to us when we don’t expect them. 

In 2008, we had neighbors who were going through an awful time.  The family included Mother, Father and only daughter, 18 yrs old.  Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer while Dad was battling a cancer for which they’d now done all they could.  His doctors weren’t clear on how much time he had left.  And their only daughter had just begun her first year of college.

A good friend of mine helped rally friends to bring food and watch out for them through those difficult days.  Now, Jane’s not sure that she believes in God, although she goes to church every Sunday and helps lead her church’s youth group.  But she decided that she would organize a prayer circle for the neighbors.  She doesn’t actually believe in prayer BUT she believes in sending positive thoughts and in the power of positive thinking.  She makes me smile.

So she invited a bunch of people – some who believe in God, some who don’t, some Jewish friends, some Christian – an Episcopal priest (not me, I couldn’t make it) – and some friends who are Moonies.  She didn’t know if anyone would come and she wasn’t sure what they would do if they did come to the prayer circle.

She wasn’t sure what would happen but what she did not at all expect was a glimpse of glory, an inkling of the love of God.  Fourteen people attended the prayer circle, bringng food and a guitar and prayers from their traditions, old hymns and ‘Cum ba yah.’  They prayed, they sang, and they thought positive thoughts.  They shared their hopes and wishes for the family.  They surrounded the family with love.  And they recognized they had entered sacred space – they felt the presence of the Holy.  It just all came together, she told me.  I don’t know how it happened.  I just know it happened.  They entered holy ground.

A few years ago, I visited with a parishioner who was dying of cancer.  I knew that my visit was probably the last time I’d see her.  What I didn’t expect in my visit was a glimpse of glory…  The woman knew that her time was short.  She was tired and in some pain.  And she was shiny – almost translucent – especially when we talked about what was about to happen to her in death.  ‘I’m so excited to see what comes next,’ she told me.  She was entering God’s glory and she was already beginning to glow.  I knew I was on holy ground, there in her hospital room.

Moses went up the mountain to meet with God.  In our reading from Exodus it says that when Moses went up on the mount and met with God his face would shine when he returned to the people.  He had to wear a veil because his face was so bright it bothered them.  He would take off the veil to go meet with God and then put it back on after he had explained to the Israelites what God had told him.  Moses shone because he had met with God – he’d had a glimpse of the love and power of God, a glimpse of glory.

Peter and James and John went up on the mountain with Jesus and Jesus’ face shone with the love and power of God, with the glory of God.  Peter tried to respond in the moment, but once God started to speak the disciples were terrified.  Matthew’s gospel says that they fell to the ground.  They had entered sacred space.  There was nothing they could do or say – they could only bear witness to the moment.  They didn’t understand what happened, they just knew it had happened.

I suspect that each of us can remember a moment when we knew we were on holy ground – a moment or a place where we experienced a glimpse of grace, a glimpse of the love and power of God.  Remember those moments.  Hold on to them.

We are about to enter the season of Lent – a wandering in the wilderness with Jesus in preparation for the glory of Easter.

But in a sense, this parish might already feel like you’ve entered the wilderness.  At our Annual Meeting we discussed the challenges we face in 2019.  We have many questions but very few answers as yet.  Wandering in the wilderness – yup, we’re familiar!

At least we know that the season of Lent is only forty days.  Our wanderings as a parish might take a bit longer.

I think Peter, James and John were given the privilege of witnessing the transfiguration so that they would not lose hope on their journey – wandering through those last days with Jesus, witnessing his betrayal, his trial, his crucifixion and burial.  Trying to make sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus and how to go on without him after the ascension.  Whatever else happened – they had had a glimpse of the love and power of God.  Peter never forgot.  We never forget those moments.

As we move through this season of wandering – through Lent, through the process of living into our future – let those transforming moments of grace carry you through.  Remember what your eyes have seen and your ears have heard.  God loves us.  God will never leave us.  God will be with us every step of the way on our journey.  God has dreams for us.  It will be all right.  May we find the boldness the Apostle Paul speaks of so that WE are transformed into the likeness of Christ from one degree of glory to another.  Amen.

Posted on March 7, 2019 By Kristen

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany February 24, 2019

What a week we’ve had – so much difficult news with difficult questions for us…  The Jussie Smollett case in Chicago, where an actor apparently staged his own beat down.  The news that the Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, mishandled a sex trafficking case when he was a prosecutor in Miami.  The Roman Catholic Church meeting to discuss sexual abuse by their clerics.  The tragic accident on 690 involving Coach Boeheim.  I’m sure there was some good news this week, but it mostly just hurt my heart.

The question I have had for most of this last week, as I listened to the news reports, is: What would justice look like in this situation?

That question – what would justice look like – was rolling around in my head as I thought about our lessons for today.  Joseph meeting his brothers and revealing his identity and Jesus continuing his ‘sermon on the plain’ and telling us to forgive, to pray for those who abuse us, to love our enemies.  Really Jesus? 

Doesn’t he realize that rogues and rascals will seize on these words and tell us that real Christians would forgive and forget and allow the abuse to stand?  That real Christians should not hold the rogues and rascals accountable because we aren’t supposed to judge?  That we should do good to those who stand with their boots on our necks because that’s what Jesus said to do?  Can we imagine that the stories we’ve heard this week will all turn out the way that Joseph’s did, that his brother’s selling of Joseph as a slave will turn out to be their salvation many years down the road and that the ending will bring tears of joy?

Bad things happen to each of us.  We’ve all experienced bad luck, bad timing, lost causes.  We’ve also experienced those moments when other people have caused us harm – sometimes unintentionally and sometimes with intent.  How do we respond?  What does justice look like for us?

I would be completely at a loss over Jesus’ words in our passage for today if I didn’t know the rest of the story, the other words and actions from Jesus.  It’s true that Jesus doesn’t resist when they come for him in the garden – he puts into action the words he preaches in today’s sermon.  And yet…  He really lives into the statement that we are to treat others the way we would like to be treated. 

So Jesus takes the side of the poor and the hungry, the sorrowful and all those folks on the margins.  In the beginning of his sermon he says that those folks will be blessed and have their needs met.  He condemns the religious authorities for their hypocrisy and the heavy burdens they lay on people.  Jesus calls them ‘whitewashed tombs’ in the gospel of Matthew, saying that on the outside they look beautiful, but inside ‘they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.’  He has compassion on the crowds who follow and those brought to him with illnesses and spends his time feeding and healing.

Another way of describing the life of Jesus is to say that he lives out the meaning of love.  He has overwhelming compassion for those who have need and righteous condemnation for the powerful that harm the weak.

Jesus asks us to live our lives with love – putting ourselves into the shoes of the other and responding accordingly.  ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ 

What would justice look like?  For those with power who abuse – Jesus condemns and so should we.  We should work to prevent those with power from continuing their abuse.  And at the same time, we must find compassion for the abused and the abuser.  We hold accountable AND we love. 

We have to figure out what it means to live out love in each situation we encounter.  We have to figure out how to love and hold accountable the rogues and rascals who use and abuse.  We have to figure out how to forgive and love those who harm unintentionally.  We have to figure out how to love ourselves when we fail to live up to our own standards and how to make our actions right with those we have harmed.  Compassion and accountability.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Live out God’s love.  There are no easy answers here.  The questions are difficult and the answers more so.  We cannot live out love on our own – we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength.  We have to be deeply rooted in God’s love for us so that we can show that same love to the world around us.

O Lord, send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which we cannot live as true disciples.  Amen. 

Posted on February 28, 2019 By Kristen