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Responding like the Shepherds

Christmas Eve, 2011
Luke 2:1-20


This is an odd time of year. There is such an intense build up to Christmas – the stores marketing all the things we need to buy in order to prove our love to people, the pressure from our families to spend more time with them or from our kids to get them this or that, the barrage of holiday gatherings and events. Sometimes it feels like the world is screaming for our attention from so many directions that it’s easy to miss the miracle that we celebrate tonight.

I found myself more frustrated by the world’s hijacking of Christmas than usual this year. The newspaper has been my particular area of anguish lately. First it was the Macy’s ads that caught my eye – the ones telling us to “Believe” – but as far as I can tell, even Macy’s isn’t sure what we should believe in beyond spending money. Then the Bloomingdales’ full-page ads that assault us with their “Nifty Gifty” ideas, none of which cost less than $50. But it isn’t just the ads and the buying frenz…

The Mystery is All Around You

December 11, 2011
Advent 3, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-3

I know I mention the stories from our Godly Play Sunday School a lot in my sermons, but it really has been a great treasure trove of theology for me. Maybe it’s like that book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, where Robert Fulghum shows how kindergarten laid the foundation for everything that is essential for us as adults (sharing, working well with others, cleaning up our own mess, being patient, and my personal favorite “being aware of wonder”). Sometimes the simple but well told stories, and the quiet beautiful metaphors are just what I need to think about something that I feel like I already know in a new way.

So I’m going to share with you my newest favorite piece of theology from Godly Play by showing you something that the kids do each week of Advent.

During Advent, we are getting ready to enter the mystery of Christmas by lighting candles. Each week, we have a chance to become part of the story. The first ca…

Countdown to the New Year!

November 20, 2011

Christ the King Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25:31-46

Today is the last Sunday of the season after Pentecost. It’s called either “Christ the King Sunday” or its more PC version “Reign of Christ Sunday.” Advent starts next Sunday, and with it the beginning of a new Church year. So maybe we can think of our celebration brunch later this morning as a sort of New Year’s Eve party for the parish.

I always feel surprised and a bit overwhelmed on December 31 as I think about New Years’ resolutions, so I think it is very kind of the Church to give us an entire week to get ready for the beginning of the new liturgical year. I sometimes get ready for a new year in three parts – past, present and future. I look back at where I was when the year began and think about all that has happened -- what has gone well or maybe not so well. And I think about who I am now and what is important to me. And then I think about what I would like to add or change in the coming year –…

Not to prejudice anyone against Paul, but...

October 30, 2011
20 Pentecost (Proper 26), Year A
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
I looked back and saw that today will be only the third time in my five years of preaching that I’ve preached from the Epistle reading (the reading that comes between the Old Testament and the Gospel readings). I’m generally much more attracted to the stories and characters that we find in the Old Testament and Gospel stories, so that’s part of the reason. But it also has a lot to do with Paul, who we have to thank (or blame, depending on your perspective) for so many of our Epistle readings. I find him wordy and preachy. Plus there are all those offensive pieces, like the bit about how women should submit to their husbands, and how women shouldn’t teach or speak or wear pearls or braid their hair in church. (When I was in seminary, I had great fun foiling Paul by braiding my hair and wearing pearls to read that lesson during morning chapel.)


Our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians doesn’t…

Returning from Shrine Mont

The clergy retreat at Shrine Mont was wonderful -- the Diocese of Virginia is so kind to take us away from the world for a few days. 

The weather was perfect until it was time to leave anyway, and it seemed to be peak season for fall leaf-looking.  There's nothing like driving by cows munching green grass by streams surrounded by mountains covered with orange and yellow leaves to help you realize you are leaving the busy-ness of normal life behind. 

It was great reconnecting with colleages and having a few days where I had no real responsibilities.  And even better to have a handful of hours specifically set aside to get reconnected to God. 


As I walked the beautiful labyrinth at Shrine Mont, I was confronted with how much I'm currently prisoner of my packed schedule and penchant for multi-tasking.  I made it to the center decently well, noticing the fallen leaves on the dirt paths between the rocks that make up the guiding lines of the labyrinth.  I reflected for a while o…

Headed to Shrine Mont!

Tomorrow the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia head to Shrine Mont for our annual clergy retreat.  We get there Monday afternoon and stay until noon on Wednesday.  It is such a gift - a time that I would never be able to take for myself without feeling terribly guilty even though I know how absolutely necessary it is for my job (and much more for my soul).  It's always a big hassle getting ready - finding childcare for all those extra hours, writing detailed lists of which child to schlep where when, trying to think in advance of what will need to happen.  But as soon as I'm there all that floats away so quickly.  (The subsidized massages the Diocese sets up for us doesn't hurt!) 

I'll report back after Wednesday....

In God we trust. Well, sort of...

October 16, 2011
Pentecost 18, Proper 24, Year A
Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus watches me when I work.

I should probably explain that a little. I have an icon of Jesus near my desk that is written with a technique that many icon writers use so that it feels as if the eyes of the subject are following you. Some days, I look over and Jesus seems calm and understanding. Some days he seems sad. Some days hopeful. And so as I was thinking about our Gospel for this morning, I looked up and saw what I could imagine might have been the look on Jesus’ face when he was confronted with the Pharisees in our story this morning. Knowing, amused, and maybe a little sad.

There’s no question that the Pharisees in our Gospel story are snakes in the grass, plotting to entrap Jesus so that he will be taken away by the authorities and no longer be such a thorn in their side. The intentions behind their question for Jesus are not pure and holy, to say the least. And yet their question for Jesus …

Entering the Wardrobe

15 Pentecost, Proper 21, Year A
September 25, 2011
(Exodus 17:1-7, Matthew 21:23-32)

Can you imagine someone running into St. Aidan’s right now yelling insults about our worship and our faithfulness and trashing the place? Well, that’s pretty much where the story begins in our Gospel reading for this morning. It’s Monday of Holy Week. Just yesterday, Jesus stole a donkey to ride into Jerusalem in a parade of palm branches. When he got to the city, he headed straight for the Temple, the center of Jewish religious life, and started knocking over the tables of the money changers and chasing out the merchants. He called the Temple a “den of robbers.” Unsurprisingly, this did not win him many friends among the chief priests and proper religious people. This was an incredibly busy and important (not to mention profitable) time in the Temple – almost Passover! And there was Jesus, interrupting their work, turning their temple into chaos, insulting them.

And then Jesus had the nerve to come …

Ten Years Later - Time for Option B

September 11, 2011 Pentecost 13, Proper 19, Year A
Matthew 18:21-35

Where were you on September 11?

It’s one of those days that people of a certain age will always remember where we were when we first heard, and there aren’t too many of those.

Holden and I were on our honeymoon and had spent the day exploring Rhodes, Greece. We had returned to the cruise ship before it was set to sail. I was lying on the bed in our room, thinking about taking a nap, when Holden, who had been doing a load of laundry, came rushing in with the news of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. We turned on the TV in time to watch in horror as the second plane hit. Then to hear about the Pentagon, concern over possible explosions on the National Mall and at the State Department, and another hijacked plane that was unaccounted for, and finally the awful sight of those towers falling. We spent the rest of the afternoon glued to CNN along with the rest of America, trying to figure out what had ha…

80s Music to the Rescue

Pentecost 9, Proper 15
August 14, 2011
Matthew 15:10-28

Who here remembers the Mr. Mister song called “Kyrie eleison”? I was in 8th grade when it came out. Apparently the band member who wrote the words was inspired by singing the Kyrie in his Episcopal Church as a kid: "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison." It means: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. It probably sounded a lot like the one we sang at the start of our service this morning.

As a cradle Episcopalian, I was one of the few in my peer group who had any clue that the words to the #1 Billboard song meant “Lord, have mercy.” I distinctly remember giggling when instead of singing “Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel” my friends belted out “Carry a laser down the road that I must travel….” I always felt like I had a secret insight on the song – like it had a deeper message that was just for me.

The chorus especially spoke to my teenage angst, I think:

Kyrie eleison down the road…

Dreams and Rock Shrines

July 17, 2010
Pentecost 5, Proper 11, Year A
Genesis 28:10-19a – Jacob’s Ladder

It might be because I am not the best sleeper, but I have very vivid dreams. Most of them are anxiety dreams, unfortunately. At least every few nights I dash out of bed thinking one of the kids is in danger and I need to save them – last night Maya was about to fall down the stairs. Once I had this horrible dream that Holden was cheating on me and I woke up incredibly angry with him and couldn’t shake the feeling for hours. Often the dreams are just silly and make no sense – like the kind where you dream about one person but you somehow know it was really someone else. Every once in a while, though, my dreams are gifts from God. I feel a little uncomfortable saying that out loud, frankly, but I absolutely believe it.

And so I appreciate Jacob’s experience that we read about this morning.

Granted, Jacob is not the most sympathetic character. Many of the great forerunners of our faith were not. Last week we…

The Sower in Action

July 10, 2011
4 Pentecost, Proper 10
Matthew 13: 1 - 9, 18 – 23

I considered reading just the first part of the Gospel and not the ending because I think the ending throws us off track. The ending of the reading, with its ostensible explanation of Jesus’ parable of the Sower, seems to fly in the face of everything Jesus was about. He so often spoke in parables because he wanted his listeners to really take in and think about what he was saying. Jesus rarely made things easy for his listeners. He wanted them to get inside the stories he told, maybe even to be shocked by them, but to come away with lots of questions and keep pondering them for their lifetimes. But instead, the early church couldn’t resist throwing an answer in there. Most commentators agree that this interpretation of the parable that takes up the second half of our reading this morning is a later addition. It’s an explanation of the parable that suited the Church in the time and place where it found itself. And it’s ce…

The Comfortable (or Not-So Comfortable) Words

July 3, 2011
Pentecost 3, Proper 9, Year A
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

(I ended up not doing my sermon from the pulpit, so it wasn't exactly this, but close enough.  With some quiet for reflection after the questions.)

Our Gospel reading for this morning includes the passage commonly known, in the Episcopal Church, anyway, as the “comfortable words.” “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

These are beloved words, and they are comfortable words. So reassuring. Such an open invitation. They are words for all of us who have experienced weariness (running from morning ‘til night, striving, schlepping, organizing). They are words for all of us who carry heavy burdens (care of a loved one, painful memories, sickness, fears, heartbreak, yearnings). These are words that promise …

Now it's your turn!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our plans to change things up a bit at St. Aidan's.  For the last three weeks, we've spent the first half of the service, The Liturgy of the Word, in a modified "choir" style seating, with rows of chairs facing each other and a big aisle in the middle. 

Then the entire congregation came up to the Altar and stood around it for the entire Liturgy of the Table. 

As with any change, there were a few logistical difficulties, especially for the first part of the service.  It was hard to know where exactly to process, where John and I should sit to officiate, where readers should stand since we had no ambo, where to keep the Gospel book.  But, for me at least, there were also some wonderful high points.  I loved reading the psalm responsively and hearing the voices echo back and forth.  I loved when the kids were part of my sermon on Pentecost and it felt like we were gathered in around them. 

I loved our youth service on Trinity Sunday with t…