The Miracle of Sufficiency

by Dr. Sam Laurent, Campus Minister of the Episcopal Center at Duke

Jesus is not in the mood to face the crowds. It takes a lot of energy to be Jesus, to give of yourself and your energy and to face the demands of a crowd whose need for healing knows no end. Jesus has just gotten word that John the Baptist, who baptised him and prepared the way for his ministry, has been beheaded under the authority of Herod. The first verse of this passage is clipped by the lectionary, so you may not know that this is immediately after John’s death. In full, the verse reads “now when Jesus heard this he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” He seeks solitude because he grieves. This is a personal loss for Jesus, and perhaps a moment when the violence that awaits those who speak truth to power comes into clearer focus. 

So he retreats. Perhaps he seeks the clarity he found in his 40 days in the desert, galvanizing his resolve and his vision for ministry. In the face of John’s gruesome death, we could easily understand needing time to regather oneself. Perhaps it was pure grief. Compassion is the noblest and best virtue, but it’s absolutely exhausting, too. To care about people is to eventually grieve them, and Jesus cared very much about John the Baptist. 

Whatever his inner state, we can imagine Jesus was not thrilled to see the crowds coming down to the water. I’m going to run the risk of speaking for all of us and say we can imagine his exhausted sigh even more easily now, 4 months into our pandemic distancing. Each day’s news only seems to increase the grief and forestall the much-anticipated return to normalcy. Just a quick break from the constant virus anxiety would be so nice. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is hurt, and he wants a brief break from being the public-facing branch of the Trinity. But the crowds were relentless. Such is the suffering of the world.

Deep in my quarantine-weary bones, I yearn for Jesus to row close to shore, respectfully tell the crowd to come back later because he needs a nap, and row back out. But people needed healing. His compassion got him into this situation. So he healed them, and that’s the part that amazes me. All day, apparently, he healed them, for evening fell and the crowd was still gathered, here in this deserted place. 

Remember the mustard seed from last week, or better yet, the yeast that leavens bread. Unseeably small granules that as a collective breathe out and inflate loaves of bread. This is literal inspiration, the blowing-in of life from the tiniest corners of the creation. Jesus, one person amidst the crowds, is building the kingdom of God one person at a time. One touch, one kind word, one assurance that God sees and loves this particular life. Each healing another pocket of lightness, breathing the Spirit into God’s people, leavening the common life.

And so it is evening and they sit, in their multitude, here by the water in the deserted place with only two fish and five loaves. The disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds home, lest they go hungry, but he instead asks for the food to be brought to him. This is the familiar part, where Jesus somehow feeds the masses—five thousand men, plus women and children whom God numbered but the Bible didn’t—let’s say ten thousand people, a little more than Cameron Indoor holds, with two fish and five loaves. 

It is not just a magic trick. This is an expression of the way of God’s abundance. Bread, the most fundamental of foods, is usually involved in these things. Think of the manna in the desert, bread falling from the sky. Think of the last supper and our ongoing observance of it in our Eucharistic feast. The loaves and fishes are infinitesimal compared to the material hunger of the people gathered, but the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed or like baker’s yeast, and somehow, the food is enough. When all had eaten, the leftovers filled 12 baskets. The small dinner became a manifestation of abundance. All were filled, and there was still more.

I urge you not to spend too long wondering about the exact mechanics of the feat. The Bible is not much of a technical manual. Instead, notice the extremes of scale. Jesus and the crowds. Five loaves, two fishes, and ten thousand hungry souls. The seed and the plant, the yeast and the bread. It was an instance of the kingdom of God. Jesus and the food were too small in the face of the need, and yet they were enough.

Our fatigue in this season is well-earned. It has been a hard year. It has been a hot summer. We are becoming more and more aware of the injustices in our society and of our failures to contain the COVID pandemic. As a parent and a campus minister, my life is shaped on two major fronts by the decisions of schools, and I feel rather powerless in the face of it. Things happen, and I make tentative plans to deal with them until the next thing happens. Trying to connect with incoming students and care for returning students is real work in reasonable times, and it feels like playing frisbee in a hurricane right now.

I am—and I bet you are, too—in a particularly good place to resonate with the smallness and fragility of the mustard seed or the yeast cell. If there is one thing worth highlighting about the kingdom of heaven this week, let me submit that it is that in the face of monolithic forces like injustice and hunger and suffering, the kingdom of heaven comes as one person at a time, one seed, one cell at a time, and it is somehow sufficient. Jesus was enough for the day. The food was enough for the evening.

And by God, we are enough for the present moment. None of us are called, on any particular day, to singlehandedly turn the tide of the pandemic. None will achieve racial justice alone. That’s not how things work. We are called to make it through each day and to risk getting our hearts broken. The most impressive part of the story, to me, comes when Jesus had compassion for the crowd amidst his own grief. His sufficiency was a given. His presence was a miracle. The kingdom of heaven is sufficient. Jesus’ willingness to extend the kingdom of heaven to the crowds is amazing. 

Jesus was willing to let the world be the world and to care for the people in front of him. That he did until the end, and that we can practice. When the scope of things, the very bigness of our problems, paralyzes or numbs you, you can follow the example of Jesus. You are enough. The Spirit moves through you, and through those you love, and though you cannot fix every problem you touch, you are enough for today,. You will be enough for tomorrow. You are like the mustard seed, like the microscopic yeast. Great things unfold downstream of the small ripples we make today. To find the energy to answer the call each day is the true spiritual task of these times. The practice of compassion, of sharing God’s love, is enough, and will see us through. Love will suffice.

AMEN

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Being the Field | July 26, 2020

By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

May only God’s Word be spoken, and only God’s Word be heard.

Jesus is a funny guy. Do you ever think so? 

Like in today’s Gospel reading, he is throwing parables fast and furious at the crowd:

“Hey Y’all, get this! The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a great bush. It’s like a pinch of yeast that makes great big loaves of bread. It’s like a treasure buried in a field. It’s like a pearl you’ve been searching for your whole life. It’s like a net overflowing with all kinds of fish. Do you get it, everyone? Do you understand?”

And the whole crowd said, “Sure.”

But really? Really? I cannot imagine that everyone understood what Jesus meant. 

Perhaps no one wanted to look dumb in front of their neighbors. Or perhaps they were just ready for Jesus to move on to another topic. 

Or maybe they were hoping the dinner break would come as soon as this session ended. 

Whatever the reasons, everyone said they understood. And we are left to figure out what it all really means.

I have talked with you before about how the Bible is sometimes called the Living Word of God. How we can read the same passage year after year, and it can mean something different to us each time. How the wisdom of the Bible can speak to and inform just about any circumstance we find ourselves in.

And today I am looking at this set of parables in the midst of a pandemic. I am looking at them through this place of weakness and separateness and loneliness and frustration. I am looking at them with an inability to fix the problems before us today. 

And so, looking at these parables in July of 2020, I see us right there in the midst of the parables. 

Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, I feel like I am in a place in these parables where I have never been before.

The pandemic of 2020 is like a mustard plant, just barely breaking through the ground, after a great deal of effort. The pandemic of 2020 is like flour and water in the first minutes after yeast has been added, when no growth, no life is yet happening. The pandemic of 2020 is like a field, lying fallow, changing hands from one owner to another. The pandemic of 2020 is like a vast ocean in which maybe, somewhere in the vastness, there is a pearl of great price. The pandemic of 2020 is like a net in the water, churning with fish but not yet gathered. 

The pandemic of 2020 is an uncomfortable place to be. It is a deadly place for many. The virus is killing people, and giving other people long-term health issues. Anger and violence are killing others. More and more people are living with deep depression and anxiety. Polarization is breeding distrust and us versus them thinking. The pandemic of 2020 is not a good place to be.

We are in a time of change, a time of revolution, a time of no-longer and not-yetness. I don’t like it.

And yet, in the midst of where we are, there is something good and holy and right from the past. There is some potential for hope, that is within this terrible time of in-between.

And yet, in the midst of where we are, there is something good and holy and right calling us into the future. There is some future hope that is within this terrible time of in-between.

And so, in July of 2020, I realize that I am not the seed or the the yeast or the treasure or the pearl or the net. I am not the grand mustard bush, or the fulsome loaf of bread, or the treasure, or the worth-it-all pearl, or the basket of fish. 

No. In the midst of this pandemic, I am the in-between. I am not what I was in the past. I am not what I will be in the future. I am not who I thought I was. I am not who I want to be. But I am. I am within the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is within me. And the Kingdom of God continues to make this current life valuable. The Kingdom of God proclaims that every life, every moment is of infinite worth. 

And so I sit here, in the in-between time, not useless and hopeless. But waiting. Pregnant with potential. Beginning to feel the sun on my face, the leavening working, the spade cutting through the earth, the shell being found, the pull on the net. And I look and I listen and I pray. And I weigh my gifts and my abilities against the needs around me. And I know that I will be changed. And I know that I will continue to be stretched, I know that I will need to offer gifts I did not realize I had.  

And I have faith that pretty soon, or sometime in the future, it will be time again. Time to grow towards the sun. Time to rise with abandon. Time to reveal the treasure. Time to beautify the world. Time to feed the hungry, and return what is not of use.

The kingdom of God is within us and around us. It is OK if we are not living into our full perfection and greatness every day of this pandemic. It is OK, for now, to simply be the sprout, be the flour, be the field, be the ocean, be the potential; and to watch, and to wait, and to hope and to prepare for that moment when we will again be called, transformed, into greater ministry, greater connection and greater life.

Each of us who are just getting by, surviving but not thriving, lying fallow and watching and waiting will be invited again to be active participants in God’s dream for our world at different times and different ways. First, we will see new layers of brokenness in our world. And then we will feel a need or a capacity within us to DO something. To participate in bringing about God’s desire for this creation.

Our praying in stillness will become praying in action. The potential of God’s hope for each one of us will become manifest through our lives as we participate in the healing of our world, as we participate in demanding and working for a more just and equitable world, as we begin offering ourselves and our gifts in new and surprising ways.

Sooner or later, and repeatedly, this world will provide you new opportunities to use your faith and your abilities to make this world a better place, to align it more closely with God’s desires. If you are already there: God bless you, and God strengthen you. But if you feel stuck in a place that you have never been before, hold on to these parables. Hold on to them as a reminder of that seed, that yeast, that treasure, that pearl, that fish, that nugget that is within you.

Rest and wait, watch and listen, prepare to be changed. Hope for the future, And BE the hope for the future.

I speak in the name of the One, Holy Triune God. Amen.

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Grace and Hope in Wheat and Weeds | July 19, 2020

By the Rev. Kate Spelman

In all honesty, this has not been a great week for me. Nothing’s wrong, and honestly, nothing in my life has changed from last week. It’s just that some weeks I feel almost OK about living through a pandemic… And sometimes I just don’t.

My wife can actually tell that I’m not doing well by the fact that I had found and printed a new meal planning worksheet, and already picked out most of what we’re going to be eating next week – including snacks! – by the time Wednesday rolled around. See, when I’m anxious or feeling pessimistic, I like to put things on calendars or planners or spreadsheets. I exert some control over the present by exerting some control over the future. Which is supposed to make me feel better.

That’s why I think it’s the work of the Spirit, and not just your rector’s vacation schedule, that brought me to this Matthew passage this week.

This is one of those parables about “the kingdom of heaven”: Jesus tells a story about a householder who plants good things in their field, but an enemy came and sowed bad things by night. The servants are aghast and offer to go through and rip out the weeds. But oddly enough the householder tells them not to. He says “that’s not a job for you, and not a job for today.” Things will be sorted out at the end of the harvest. Someone else will come and separate the weeds from the wheat.

Several verses later, in what most scholars agree is probably a later addition – that is, a passage written by the evangelist but probably not spoken by Jesus – we get a neat explanation of how this parable is about, well, church. Which we all know to be true – you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose… but you can’t pick who sits next to you at coffee hour or chats you in the Zoom.

I think though that this is a narrowing of the parable, which is meant to apply much more widely than just to the church. When Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like…”, he means “this is how God deals with all of creation.” As much as this applies to the church, it also applies to our world in general and to ourselves. Judgement belongs only to God, as it was in the beginning and evermore shall be.

I speak of the beginning of things, because I actually think that this parable is also a retelling of the very beginning of things. This bit of Matthew 13 retells the story of Genesis 1 – the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Because this is exactly what God is doing in the person of Jesus Christ – re-telling the entire story of creation. That’s why Paul, elsewhere, calls Jesus a new Adam, a new creation.

In Genesis 1, God planted nothing but good things, but then the enemy comes and sows the seeds of doubt in Adam and Eve’s hearts. Because here’s the big parallel – neither in the garden of Eden, nor in the householder’s field, were the servants of God without work to do.

Adam and Eve weren’t just relaxing in Eden. God had assigned them to be the stewards of creation. And that wheat won’t grow itself – the servants of the householder will still need to nurture the wheat to make sure it survives to harvest time. They will need to be stewards of this crop for it to survive long enough for the reapers to tell it apart from the weeds.

The trouble in Eden begins when Adam and Eve want to do more than what they are given to do. When their role as stewards isn’t enough, when they want the same kind of knowledge that God has, to have the knowledge and the judgement between good and evil.  I believe it’s precisely that temptation that the servants face in this parable. They want to take on the role of judging between weeds and wheat. And they’re shut down there.

I don’t think this parable calls us to relax so much as refocus – to remember our roles as stewards of creation, but not owners. We are made to tend to what is in front of us, and indeed what is within us, without passing judgement on it or trying to sort out what will be revealed in God’s good time. And to find hope in the fact that all will happen in God’s good time.

See, if we believe that God controls the narrative maybe we can even look forward to the next chapter. Or even to the final one, where God’s righteous judgement is realized and our righteous work comes to completion.

Now, one major difference between the original story of creation, and this re-telling of the narrative in Matthew’s Gospel: we know how Genesis ends. (Spoiler alert – not well, in case you somehow missed that.) But we don’t know what these servants do after the parable ends.

I wonder what you think. Did they manage to tend the field, grumbling as they went about watering weeds and wheat? Or did they shrug and try to find the beauty in how they grew together? Maybe I’m just optimistic, and choose to believe that they did, and, maybe, even, that their lives and characters were enriched by it. That they learned to see beauty in how the two plants grew together.

But this parable is more than optimistic – it is hopeful.

This parable reflects the hope that Paul tells us is ours in Jesus Christ, the hope that all the world is being redeemed. That God is the author of this story, is telling this tale, and that when we turn the last page and close the book, we will see that this has been a love story all along – a romantic comedy, not a tragedy. It’s this hope that allows him to hear the groanings of creation, even if they sound like death gasps, are really the sounds of new and abundant life being birthed. 

Paul’s hope is so much more than optimism, because it is grounded in trust. In the trust that, even though we cannot see or predict – let alone control! – the future – we can rest in the hope that it is in God’s hands.

And… if all of creation is being redeemed, I wonder: can we even believe that the weeds will be redeemed? Is it possible that on the last day, the weeds, even those planted around you right now, will have grown together with the wheat, and that both will bear fruit? That’s the annoying part of grace, it is so often the surprise or twist ending at the end of the story.

So by all means – I encourage all the healthy coping mechanisms you need. We all gotta eat, and I now have a meal plan. But I want to make sure – that when that coping mechanism fails, or is taken away from you – when you ask God for something more and God says, “not a job for you, not a job for today.” That when that happens, you are left with hope. Hope not just for today, but for today – hope that all of this, weeds and wheat, are in God’s hands. The hope that is ours in Christ, ours in our faith, promised to us in our baptism. Hope that the God of all creation is redeeming all of creation. Amen.

Sermon for Youth Sunday | July 12, 2020

By El Nealson

“Lord, may the word that goes out from my mouth not return to me empty.”

Often these past months I have found myself praying something similar to this:

May I say words. May I say the right words. May they bring abundance, may they bring joy and peace. May they bring equality and justice.

Honestly, I’ve probably asked a bit too much of my words these past weeks. Yet, the words of this prayer bring some strange comfort to me. If you don’t know, in one month and 6 days I will be starting classes in college. And I am excited. And terrified.

I will be leaving my Saint Luke’s community for months, with no clear time of goodbye. No final hugs or words of advice. For over a decade, St. Luke’s has been my spiritual home. I am endlessly grateful for this. St Luke’s has given me love, lifted me up, steadied my faith, fed my spirit, and taught me lessons about kindness and acceptance that nowhere else could have. Truthfully this reminds me of our first reading today. St. Luke’s has sent out their word to me. Filled me with its wisdom, love and compassion. And now I go out. I am the word now. And in the coming months or years I will go out, to share the harvest of faith and kindness and caring that St. Luke’s has nurtured within me. I will return this harvest to the world not empty but full and hearty. 

But this lesson seems to also resonate within humanity. I’m not sure if you have ever heard the phrase “are you picking up what I’m putting down,” but this sums up the passage fairly well. In these times we often find ourselves at a loss for what to do in regards to COVID, and in regards to the shocking inequality and injustice that plagues our nation. Yet, this passage keeps coming back to my mind. I know I’m not alone in feeling helpless. I am just one person. So I feel I cannot dismantle an entire system of hate. But we together are many. If we continue to send out our word, hopes, joy and strength into the world, educate ourselves, and others, to reach out to others, do whatever we can.

One way I’ve done this is through my work on the board of InsideOut, a local queer youth led nonprofit. From classes on how to better our futures as queer people, to how to fight systems of oppression. From our yearly queer prom, to workshops on how to create an anti-racist Pride club in your school. We work to break down barriers and systems if oppression in our world wherever they exist. And the returns are numerous. My harvest appears in the smiles of other youth as they experience a loving space, the shouts of my peers as we call for greater equity, and from the fact that we are all living. Pushing on. In a world where even that can be difficult for queer youth. I’ve also done this through my work at HUGS Camp, a camp put on by the Episcopal Diocese of NC, where people of all abilities are able to share in the Kingdom of God. 

There are so many ways to send out your word and answer God’s call. Attend a racial equity training here in Durham, go to a protest on a cause you believe in, donate to a local nonprofit like InsideOut or the Durham Crisis Response Center. Write to a politician, or write to a youth who you think needs some encouragement. Get involved in HUGS camp. And please, please vote. In summary, do something. 

If we wait, not in silence and stillness but in power action, then one day, after much persisting, our  word will get through, it will come back with harvest and bounty. “The mountains and the hills before us shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The Lord will see it as a memorial to our love of God.  In such a broken world, we have no choice but to keep raining our power, our joy, our hopes, and our protests upon this Earth until we see the harvest.

So thank you, St. Luke’s, for teaching me and so many others how to be kinder, compassionate, loving people. For teaching us to be strong, and accept nothing less than radical welcome. To be determined knowing GOD is with us. You’ve taught me that if I keep putting down love and joy and hope, one day, it will be picked up.

Finally, as a recent high school graduate, I have one piece of homework to give you today. As you listen to the song my family sings in the service today, I entreat you to listen to the words. How has God called you? How will you answer? How will you return the harvest? And how will you send out your own gifts?

Freedom for All | July 5, 2020

By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.

The 4th of July always brings out complicated feelings in me. 

I am grateful for the freedom I have, and the ease I have living in this land. And yet, I cannot feel my freedom without also remembering the genocide of those who first lived on these lands. 

And I cannot feel my freedom without realizing how much of what we have was built from unpaid labor- -by owning other human beings. 

I cannot enjoy my freedom to live my life in this land without acknowledging that so many others in this very same country do not have the same freedom I do to move safely and undisturbed.

I was deeply touched by an item from National Public Radio this week. They gathered several descendants of Fredrick Douglass to read his speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” It is a powerful reminder to us, 170 years later, that there is much work still to do to provide freedom for all in this country. 

Perhaps you watched this video too. I invite you to listen (or listen again) in the context of worship. Let’s listen together, and then I will conclude with some reflections:

https://www.npr.org/2020/07/03/884832594/video-frederick-douglass-descendants-read-his-fourth-of-july-speech

Fredrick Douglass wrote this speech for the white people listening to him in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852. He said, “the freedom gained is yours.” Yes, that is the rub for me. I am so very thankful for the freedom that was gained in 1776 for male, white landowners, and for the freedom that has trickled down to me because of my circumstances of birth. But there were so many who were not freed in 1776, and so many of our neighbors in this land today are still not free in the way I am free. 

In the 1970s, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since [Black women’s] freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”[1] 

In 2020, I would edit their statement to read, “If Black trans women were free, it would mean we would all be free, because that freedom would necessitate the destruction of all of the systems of oppression.”

Jesus came to destroy ALL of the systems of oppression. We are called to join Jesus in that mission to destroy all of the systems of oppression. And until all of our systems of oppression are destroyed, the 4th of July is both a joy and a sorrow in my heart.


[1] https://americanstudies.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Keyword%20Coalition_Readings.pdf

Prophecy in the Time of COVID | June 28, 2020

by Phillip Bass

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be
acceptable to you O’ Lord. Amen.

On this Sunday last year, I stood among those gathered together at St. Luke’s, and shared a sermon in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. If you will remember, those were the riots that sparked a new era in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights in America and around the world. And, today, June 28, marks the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ+ Pride parade. On June 28, 1970, that first parade, then called the Christopher Street Liberation Day, took place and pride parades have occurred every year since, in growing numbers around our country and our world. When I spoke last year, we were gathered together, we sat next to one another, passed the peace, shared coffee, and greeted one another with handshakes and hugs. I miss all of these ways of being present as a body and I deeply miss all of you. But, the events of 2020 have simply not allowed for us to be together in the ways we previously enjoyed. And, just like St. Luke’s campus, many Pride parade routes will be empty today. And, I speak to you virtually, and not in our shared St. Luke’s home.

None of us knew one year ago, what dramatic changes would take place in our lives within the coming months. None of us were aware of our coming exile. We had no idea that in one year we would be socially distanced to protect ourselves and those we love from an invading virus. None of us knew that we would be driven into our homes for months on end to stay safe and that during this time we would not gather together again as a body. Nor did we know that we’d lose hundreds of thousands of lives both around the world and here at home. When I spoke on this Sunday last year, I spoke of Holy Chaos; the idea that there are times in history when the status quo can no longer be endured. I spoke of there being times in life when the ways things always have been can no longer be and of times when we are forced into something new. I reminded those gathered that in these times of Holy Chaos, we must lean into our righteous anger, rely on mercy, and to seek the justice that creates Holy change.

In reflecting on the experiences of 2020, I, personally, have been challenged to look within myself and question why it is easier for me to celebrate the changes that have occurred through the lens of history than it is to embrace the change that is occurring in the here and now. Why is it easy to look back on eras before I was even born and perhaps even romanticize parades, protests, marches, and riots? But, somehow, in our new reality, in our current exile, I find myself struggling with some of the same.

I’m sure that many of you are aware of the ReOpenNC rallies, where fellow North Carolinians have demanded the end of our COVID socially distanced exile. Likewise, I’m sure many of you have listened to the scientists and medical experts who tell us to Stay Home. Perhaps you have found ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but wrestled with ideas surrounding defunding the police and the destruction of property. Voices everywhere are telling us what to do and what to believe. Who are our prophets?

Who do we listen to? How do we know who to believe? I have come to realize that it is easy to appreciate the challenges of the past because I have benefited from them. And, I have found that I wrestle with some of the movements of our current age because they threaten my sense of comfort and my privilege. It would be easier to listen to the false prophets who promise a return to normal and who tell me what I want to hear.

Our 2020 experience of discomfort and displacement is not so different from what we hear in today’s reading from Jeremiah. Today we find Jeremiah prophesying to Jerusalem. Speaking in the Temple, he warns the people of their own coming exile. Scholars tell us that our reading today gives us a glimpse of history that falls somewhere between the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597, but before the ultimate devastation of 587, when the prophecy of exile was fulfilled. At this time, the inhabitants of Judah were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to live in Babylon by the conquering army. And, over the following years, many other Jews fled the captivity of their land to seek refuge in other surrounding kingdoms.

Interestingly, Jeremiah was not prophesying alone. Our reading today reminds us that there were other prophets, telling the people what they wanted to hear. You see, Hananiah was also present in the Temple. And, while Jeremiah was warning those present to prepare for the coming exile and to accept the reality of their experience, Hananiah was prophesying a return to the status quo. Just prior to our reading today, we hear Hananiah promising the return of those already exiled during the first Babylonian attack back to Jerusalem within the next two years. One prophecy said, Stay home, prepare, and be safe. The other said to return to the status quo and go on about your life as if the exile was not currently present, because surely it is ending soon. These sound very familiar to the voices of prophecy we hear today. And like us, the people of Jerusalem had a choice. Their way of life, very much like ours, was under attack. They were being divided, some had already been sent into exile, most were fearful of the future, and no one had any idea how long their experience of chaos may last. So, it was easy to grasp onto the voices of false prophecy that provided comfort and a promise of the return to normalcy.

So, how do we know who to believe today? Well, Jeremiah gives us an answer. Our reading tells us that, “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” Our reading makes it clear that we recognize the prophecy of truth when we hear a promise of peace. But, let’s be clear. Peace is not the same as the status quo. And, peace may not always look like what we would consider peaceful. Too often, in our own comfort and privilege, we have mistaken normalcy for peace. But those who are not so comfortable and those who are without privilege would certainly disagree with us that our normal is peaceful. For some of us, our current COVID exile feels new and frightening. It feels as if forces beyond our control have driven us out of our temple, our home of worship, our businesses, away from family and brought our normal lives to a halt. But far too many among us have long been in exile, struggling for a living wage for their work, fighting for access to healthcare, longing to read their own stories in our white washed history books, waiting to marry who they love, and striving to achieve true equality. Our exile is not new. COVID has simply opened the eyes of many of us to the exile that was already present.

Far too many among us would understand the reality of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah did not promise an immediate return to Jerusalem for those exiled, nor did he prophesy an imminent end to the time of Holy Chaos. But, Jeremiah did go on to foretell of a time when life would be disrupted, when powers would be overturned, and when eventually, the relationship between God and God’s people would be righted. Jeremiah promised the end of exile and he promised a time of peace.

Before going any further, I need to pause and make one thing very clear. God does not cause pandemics, nor does God create systems of division, oppression, or exiles in our world. But, God is present with us in them. The same God that fed the Israelites wandering through the desert, that made a covenant with Noah in the form of a rainbow after the exiles and isolation of his time in the arc, that was present with God’s people during the Babylonian attack, and the God that was present in Christ on the cross, is the same God that is present with us now. God is with us in the midst of our exile and our time away from St. Luke’s and from one another. And God is with us in our time of Holy Chaos, just as God was present at the Stonewall Inn 51 years ago, and as God was present with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the thousands and thousands of others who lost their lives to systems of oppression and racism and hatred. God has not abandoned us and God is continuing to offer us peace. Our Christian story tells us that even in the midst of exile and chaos, God is in the business of redeeming and bringing peace to God’s people! So we are challenged to listen for those speaking the language of peace. We are challenged to listen for those speaking truth and to not take the easy path of those prophesying falsely.

We don’t know how long this exile will last, but we are called to be active participants in God’s Holy Chaos and in God’s peacemaking story. We will know what peace looks like, when we recognize in the prophecy or in the action of another, a love for God, a love for one another, and a love of self. Peace involves listening to those who do not yet know peace. Peace requires questioning the status quo. And peace always looks like love. It will require those with power stepping out of their places of privilege and those who have been exiled far too long to step up into power. This kind of peace, God’s peace, looks like all of us working together to create equality and to restructure the social, political, health, racial, and other systems we return to when our exile has ended. And those peacemakers, those prophets of truth, may not look like who we expect them to be. Some prophets of peace wear uniforms, some wear badges, some are in hospitals, and some are in the streets, some carry protest signs, while some tear down monuments of oppression. We will recognize them when we step back from our places of comfort and privilege and witness them loving god and loving neighbor in their work together. This is the work we are called to undertake during this time of Holy Chaos.

I do not know when we will be together again physically as one body at St. Luke’s. But, I do know that whenever we do, it will not look the same as it did one year ago. Signs of peace and loving one another will look much different. If we truly love God, and love neighbor as ourselves…if we truly seek peace, then our signs of that peace will look like wearing face masks, refraining from hugging, not sharing coffee, or even sitting close to one another. Signs of peace and love may even include staying home to protect and love those most vulnerable among us. It will look like small gatherings, handfuls of St. Lukers being together in small amounts of time. COVID 19 has not gone away. Voices of prophecy that tell us to leave our homes and get back to life as we knew it or as we want it to be are nothing more than false prophecies. As peacemakers we must listen for new ways of expressing our Christian love to one another and we must be open to learning new ways of sharing life together, even when it is uncomfortable to us.

If we need an example of what this may look like, I invite you to pay close attention to the movements taking place in our society. Watch and listen to those prophesying peace. We may not have Pride parades this year. But, we do have people in the streets; brown people, white people, queer people, Christian people, Muslim people, Jewish people, all varieties of God’s people coming together demanding inclusion for those who have too long been exiled among us. I’ve witnessed Black Lives Matter protesters marching alongside protesters with rainbow flags, who stand next to protesters carrying Trans Rights Banners with raised brown fists. God’s people are finding new ways to come together to end social exiles. And we are challenged to do the same.

I am grateful for our current prophets; Our Bishops, Sam and Ann, and others from our Diocese who have been working tirelessly to ensure that we will be together again when it is safe to do so. I’m grateful for our clergy and vestry who continue to explore new ways for us to be together and to carry on with our lives of faith as one body, even as we are physically separated. And I am grateful for those out in the streets, in the hospitals, and in their homes reminding us what holy chaos, and love, and peacemaking look like. God is present with us in our time of exile and God will be present with us in the newness of the life we discover when our current exile ends. And I pray God be with you all until we meet again.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Setting Down Privilege to Pick Up the Cross | June 21, 2020

By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.

This morning’s Gospel reading from the 10th chapter of Matthew is a rough, combative passage.
It is a call to resistance and perseverance. It is a passage for a time such as this, June of 2020, as we are deep in a global pandemic and a national awakening about systemic racism. This passage is for now.

Jesus tells his disciples, “So have no fear of [those who will speak against you]; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”…“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”…“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…” “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Oof. I want my mild-mannered Jesus back. I want that Good Shepherd, the Holy Comforter, the Prince of Peace. And yet, those are only a subset of the names for Jesus. They do not portray the totality of who Jesus is and what he came to do. Today we hear from Jesus: Strong Tower, the Deliverer, Lion of Judah. Jesus is railing against the Empire here. He has come to remind God’s people of how God envisioned the world: That we were created to live in right relationship with God and with each other; that God created enough for all — if only we could not be selfish; that God’s world is one of equity and justice, not of division and malice. Today’s reading is part of the rally cry of Jesus for his faithful followers to get worked up about all that is wrong in this world, and to stand up against the status quo.

I have had a very comfortable life. I have been blissfully ignorant of so much of the inequity and brokenness in our world. I have been able to ignore most of the injustice in our world because it didn’t seem to have a direct impact on my own life. Or more accurately: I have had the privilege to dip in and then dip back out of any movements or actions or working for change as I had the time or inclination. Over the years, I have made signs and joined protests and gotten energy from doing some good thing, and then I’ve gone right back to my studies or my family or my work when they needed my attention or when the movement got too intense.

This part of Matthew’s gospel is asking something else of me, of all of us. Here, Jesus is telling his followers that committing ourselves to following God’s ways is a commitment with consequences. Jesus is telling us that when we commit our lives to God, we will sometimes live
and act in ways that will offend other people. We will sometimes be compelled to take principled stances that invite vilification from others. We will sometimes be put in a position where keeping the peace with family means rejecting God’s call for the redemption of the world –and Jesus encourages us to stand with God in those situations even when it means a rift in the family system.

We need to hear this message from Jesus today. Because we are all in the mess and the muck right now. Most every one of us has at least one family member who thinks somewhat differently than we do about Black Lives Matter, or about the rights of LGBTQ people, or about climate change. And we all have friends and family members who think differently about wearing masks and the need for social distancing. These days, there are so many wedges between relationships. There are so many external forces working on those wedges to divide us.

As followers of Jesus, our first reaction to these wedges is to be repairers of the breach. It is God’s deepest desire for us to be in right relationship to God and to one another. And so often, the work that we have to do as Christians is to get back into right relationship where it has been broken. But sometimes the work we have to do as Christians is to drive that wedge more deeply between us and someone else. If that other person is doing harm because of their behaviors or their beliefs, and we have done all that we can do to reason with them and to walk alongside them encouraging them to turn towards the loving, liberating, lifegiving ways of Jesus…well, then that is where the sword of Jesus comes in. That is where, like in last week’s reading, we shake the dust from our shoes and turn our back on that relationship.

We, as followers of Jesus, must invest our energy and our will into relationships with the power to transform and heal. We must expend our life in ways that further God’s desire of equity and justice in the world. And so, when an unhealthy relationship is sucking all of our energy away from this good work, it is time to set that relationship down and move on. To turn once again to investing ourselves and our lives in the hard, transformative work that is in front of us right now.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus tells us to pick up the cross. Now remember, in Jesus’ day, the cross was an instrument of the state, used to keep people in line. The rich or elite
were never crucified — only those with little power and no wealth. So those with power or wealth in that society? They could easily ignore the cross. They had privilege which allowed them to walk right on by, any time they wanted. Today, in 2020, I have that same privilege.

And lots of you do, too. I’m a white, straight, cis-gender, fairly mild-mannered woman. I have a steady income and a safe household and a good support system. I can choose to walk on by cross after cross after cross. And, in fact, I have walked by so many crosses in my life that were invisible to me because of who I am and how I move in this world. I simply did not see the injustice going on all around me. But this hurting and broken world needs me, and needs you, to start looking more closely to see those instruments of oppression in our own world. Jesus needs us to not look away, but to set down some of our privilege in order to pick up that cross. Jesus
needs us to invest ourselves in this work of transforming brokenness and bitterness into healing and hope. Sometimes this work is putting our bodies on the line and standing with those who demand justice. Sometimes this work is telling your family you will not be bringing your children to visit anymore because of the hate speech your family uses. Sometimes this work is packing boxed lunches for people who don’t have enough to eat. Sometimes this work is spending an hour on the phone with your proudly redneck brother-in-law as he shares a story about putting away his confederate flag and getting to know his new black coworker.

Do not look away from the crosses around you. Do not turn your back on Jesus the Strong Tower, the Deliverer, the Lion of Judah. Do not believe that God does not need you as a healer in this broken world. Invest in the hard work of striving for justice and strengthening life-giving relationships.

I speak in the name of the One, Holy Triune God. Amen.

Sermon | June 14, 2020

By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.

Today’s gospel reading is Matthew 9:35-10:23. It begins with Jesus going to the surrounding cities and villages, proclaiming the good news and healing the sick. 

But there was too much work for him to do, so he commissioned his apostles, gave them power to heal, and sent them out to continue the work. 

All three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke have a story about Jesus commissioning his followers, giving them power, and sending them out to other towns and villages.

So, this story is told here in the 9th and 10th chapter of Matthew, but also in the 6th chapter of Mark and the 9th chapter of Luke.[1]

Each of the Gospel writers tells this same story in a particular way, in a way that will be most meaningful to the people who would first hear their gospels. 

One part of this story that is unique to Matthew’s re-telling is that Jesus instructs his disciples to only go to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew is writing to faithful Jews. Matthew wants his Gospel to help these faithful Jews understand that Jesus is actually the messiah who has been proclaimed again and again in the Old Testament, and that following Jesus is the way to be a faithful Jew. 

So here in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus tells his apostles to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew is making a point about who he believes is ready for the message the apostles have to share. Matthew’s gospel is for the Jewish people, and so the work that needs to be done in Matthew’s gospel is with Jewish people. Matthew has Jesus say, “You will not go through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” 

I used to think “You will not go through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” meant that Jesus did not understand how long it would be until his second coming and the world is made right once and for all.

But maybe Jesus did understand. Maybe Jesus was thinking about the other side of things — how very, very long it will take before all of God’s people actually understand God’s message. That it will take not decades,not centuries, but millenia, for God’s people to understand God’s intention for love, and justice, and equity, to rule the world — and for all God’s people to actually live that way.

Lord knows there is plenty of brokenness in this world. 

We could drop ourselves anywhere in this world, and have enough brokenness to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. In fact, it is pretty easy to do this. We at St. Luke’s go to Belize and we see how far our dollars can go to help kids get educated, and have access to healthy food, and have just the most basic medical care. We look at Minneapolis and Louisville and Washington, and all over. And we we see so much brokenness. 

But Matthew’s take on Jesus sending out the apostles is that there is plenty of work to do close to home. And that resonates with something I’ve been hearing from several of you over the past few weeks. Several of you, in one way or another, have asked me to help you find ways to talk with people you care about. To talk about the difficult topic of systemic racism and what is happening in the world today. Our reading from Matthew’s gospel today reinforces that call you are feeling: to focus on what needs to change in our own metaphorical house, with ourselves, and with our own family, and with our friends.

This moment in time gives me such hope. White people, who know we are not yet perfect, are reaching out to learn new skills and do hard things, to talk to other white people about the very sensitive subject of systemic racism. We white people–while we are still imperfect–are facing our own brokenness and working at amendment of life. 

And ALSO, we are not waiting until we ourselves are perfect before we engage others we love in the difficult work of re-learning so much of what we thought we knew about our own nation and the way the world works. And just like Jesus commissioning the apostles to go out into the surrounding villages to heal and cast out evil, I do believe that the conversations we white people will have with one another will bring about healing.

I do believe our conversations will cast out evil. I do believe our conversations breathe new life into our deeply broken and sinful world. Because these difficult conversations help us see anew. They shed light onto that which has been festering for hundreds of years. They bring harsh truths to light, and an invitation to change our thoughts and our behaviors. They bring an invitation to yolk ourselves to Jesus in the difficult but important work of living lives that proclaim God as a loving, liberating, life-giving presence in our own lives and in the world. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sends his apostles out to the neighboring villages of people who were like them. Today, this moment, June of 2020, Jesus is sending out his white followers to talk to other white followers–to people like us. To have difficult, uncomfortable conversations. To name and confess the ways we ourselves have been wrong. To name and confess the ways our society has been built to benefit people who look like us. Thankfully, there are a whole lot of people who have been doing this work for a good long time, and we at this moment are able to jump into a stream that has grown strong before us.

Many have already taken the Racial Equity Institute or have participated in a Groundwater presentation. And there is so much more! Our Friday announcement e-mail has announced the five week online course “My Work To Do”[2]. Another fabulous resource is the 21-day Racial Equity Challenge[3].  And there are so many other resources out there, too.[4] 

Some of you are writing and reflecting on your growing understanding of whiteness. Some of you are using role plays to practice for upcoming conversations with family or friends. Some of you are widening your circle of friendship and news sources so that you are better able to see the world from another perspective.

All of these are actions that follow in the footsteps of the apostles, sent out by Jesus in today’s gospel of Matthew. We have been given the charge to heal, to cast out evil, and to proclaim God’s presence among us. Even in these strange times, especially in these strange times, we all have our work to do. Each person is called to their own way of proclaiming the truth of God’s loving, liberating and life-giving presence in our world. 

Give thanks for those who have come before us. Get strength from those who have been called to walk beside us. And give hope to those who will come after us.

I speak in the name of the Holy Undivided Trinity, One God.  Amen.


[1] Mt 10:1-4, Mk 6.7-13, Lk 9.1-6

[2] MyWorkToDo.Com

[3] https://www.eddiemoorejr.com/21daychallenge

[4] https://padlet.com/nicolethelibrarian/nbasekqoazt336co

Trinity Sunday in the Midst of Pandemic | June 7, 2020

By the Rev. Lizzie McManus-Dail

Gospel text: Matthew 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday, the feast in the church year where we honor our Triune God and task preachers, like myself, to explicate just exactly how we worship One God in Three Persons.

And the most elegant way I’ve ever heard the Trinity explained was by my liturgy professor, Nathan Jennings, who said: “God is one, but never alone.”

God is one, but never alone. God is a diverse, distinct community, and God is one.

So what does this doctrine that God is one and a community at the same time have to teach us? What does this doctrine mean when I stand here, in an empty sanctuary, talking to you as you shelter-in-place in the middle of an actual plague? In the thousand miles I drove to get here from Texas, we passed city after city where smashed windows were being boarded up as grief and rage and pain poured out in our streets in protest. I’ve seen tear gas and bullets tear through people and communities – again – this week.

So what exactly does the doctrine of the Trinity have to say right now?

My friends, the Trinity has everything to say right now: and it comes when Jesus tells his battered and doubtful disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.

Our Gospel text picks up after Jesus has been raised from the dead, and the disciples – who have just witnessed their Messiah being executed at the hands of the state – stand in wonder and doubt on a mountaintop, surveying all that is behind and all that is before and Jesus says:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations.

This text has been abused in the two thousand years since Jesus spoke these words to justify all kind of colonial horrors – claiming that it was God’s will, for example, that black people be kidnapped and trafficked into slavery for hundreds of years.

So what do we now do with Jesus standing on a mountain telling us to go make disciples of all nations?

I think we first need to understand: our salvation is not individual. God is one but never alone – and neither are we.

Though Christianity is often the first to forget, we are a religion that is to the root about being communal over and against being individuals, we are interwoven – our identity is in Christ, and Christ is also in and is the Trinity. Our Triune God is a God of messy, inexplicably intertangled connection.

And so, therefore, are we. Jesus taught us we are the BODY of Christ. We are blood and bone and skin and sinew connected to one another.

When one person cannot breathe, the whole Body is suffocating. The Black Lives Matter movement is teaching us that beloved children of God are suffocating. And if white folks like myself do not feel this pain – if we cannot understand how black suffering demands our disarmament, surrender, and solidarity – than we have forgotten what the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:

“the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.”

God loves us as a body.

And because God loves us corporately, as a body, as individuals whom God made in community and to be community, that also means our responsibility is shared. We are not just expected to love our neighbors and enemies, we are held accountable for their actions and inactions, too.

There is nothing about being a Christian that is merely “personal” or “private.” Jesus does not say convert individual souls, Jesus says go to the nation – to the powers and structures that claim autonomy, go to the borders drawn between my children – go there because what God is doing is bigger than any one person.

And this is why our antiracism commitments right now cannot merely be about sentiment or the idea of loving people.

Because after telling the disciples to go to all nations, Jesus says, tell them to OBEY my commandments.

There is a simplicity to the commandments Jesus tells the disciples – and us – to obey: love each other and love God.

But if that simple commandment were easy, the whole Bible would be about 3 lines. The rest of the story – the messy tales of prostitutes and criminals and ethnic minorities being invited into the heart of God’s purpose and mission, the stories of the worst sinners being the most faithful disciples, the story of Jesus dying for his friends – that’s where love has feet. That is where sentiment turns into solidarity.

That’s where the messy reality of love incarnates in the Body of Christ breathing here on earth.

To love someone is not an abstract, distant action. Love is fleshly, loving someone can hurt us because love makes us vulnerable, and love means we invest in people – our time, our money, our hearts, our stories, our concerns, our joys, our lives.

Just as GOD is one but never alone, a diverse community but one God, we are a diverse one Body.

Jesus did not say, go ye therefore into all nations and say you love people, turn around, and leave before you offend anyone. No. Jesus said  go ye therefore into all nations and MAKE DISCIPLES.

Being a disciple of Jesus involved a lot of things for the eleven to whom Jesus first spoke these words: giving up your money to the collective cause of redemption. Hosting dirty strangers in your houses. Washing feet. Befriending and lauding people whom your mother and father had raised you to be fearful of.

My friends, if love does not cost us something, then we are probably not being the disciples Jesus calls us to be.

Love is costly. And that is why we need God. As much as we are a religion of community, we also still need to talk to God, ourselves, in prayer. When love costs us – when we feel shame, anger, pain, grief – that is when you turn to the Spirit and say “I need your help.”

And we see this specifically in antiracism work – whether it is internalized racism against yourself as a black person or person of color, or the work of us white folks to undo the systems of oppression we create and benefit from – antiracism work will make you feel shameful, ugly, guilty, and pained.

Racism – and all the evil of this world, all the forces of oppression thrive off of the lie that we are alone. That you are uniquely awful, uniquely unwanted, and therefore you by yourself must fix it.

God tells us we are loved, we are interconnected, and that God will be with you through the end of the age. God is with us corporately and God is with you – as you are, right now.

Yes, we are all sinners. But sinning does not make us special. We carry this together. We confess our sins together. God is one, but never alone.

Some of us – especially us white folks – we need to carry more to unburden our black siblings and our siblings of color. We need to confess our sins of racism. We need to sit in the harm we’ve caused, lament for it, reckon with our own power and our own immense capacity for harming one another.

And then, we need to get to the work of reparation.

I don’t think God wants you to stay in a place of shame, partially because shame brings all the focus in on ourselves, and the work we are called to do is about others. But more deeply still, our Triune God is a liberator. God breaks down the prisons we put ourselves into in our minds and God will break open actual prison doors to set captive people free.

And, ultimately, remember what Jesus says: all power and all authority in heaven and on earth rests in God.

All power ultimately is God’s.

We are called to do justice, now. We are called to love mercy, now. We are called to walk humbly with God, now. But we do this in the knowledge that the evils of racism, misogyny, heteronormativity, transphobia, classism – these are veneers of power. These evils will crumble in the hands of our almighty God even though right now they are putting up one hell of a fight.

But we know. We know who has the ultimate authority, the Three-in-One who will bring all worldly power to its knees.

And that is our God. And isn’t that good.

Amen.

Celebration and Lament | May 31, 2020

By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber

Today is Pentecost, the third biggest Feast Day in the church year.

We have Christmas, when Christ was born. And Easter, when Christ conquered even death.

And Pentecost, when Christ’s followers were given the Holy Spirit and the Church was born. 

This is a major feast day.  A day of holy obligation to celebrate.

And yet…This week.  How can we celebrate after this week?

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined with faith leaders from many traditions around the United States to name this weekend as a weekend of public lament.  This week, we climbed past the milestone of 100,000 deaths in the US attributed to COVID-19. 

This week, too, we have been confronted with images that leave no doubt about the deep brokenness of our world. 

We saw a video of white woman in Central Park calling the police on a black man who simply asked her to put her dog on a leash. 

And we saw a white police officer in Minneapolis cause the death of a black man during an arrest for passing a counterfeit $20 bill. 

How can we Christians celebrate after a week like this? 

Well, we celebrate because it’s our Holy Obligation. 

We Christians are no slouches to paradox.  

Every year, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus knowing his gruesome death awaits.

Every year, we mourn the death of Jesus, knowing that death does not win in the end.

We Christians proclaim that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine at the same time.

We know that we, each one of us, are both–at once–sinners and saints.

We Christians have had much practice at holding two irreconcilable ideas in our minds at once. 

And so, this Pentecost, we Christians both celebrate and lament. 

We point to the goodness in the world with one hand and point to the brokenness of the world with the other. 

We affirm the goodness of the world by sharing heartwarming stories, and pictures of the beauty around us, by offering kind words and reaching out in love as we can. 

And we also lament in both words and actions.

We reach out to those who are in grief during these lonely days, offering them our prayers, our connection, and our actions.

We take steps to better understand how racism has molded our own lives. And we make changes in our lives so that we more fully respect the dignity of every human being[1]

That is how we both celebrate God’s presence in our life and live out lament, at the same time. 

In a few minutes, the St. Luke’s community will be gathering by Zoom to celebrate the birthday of the church, and to begin to imagine together what a re-birth of the church might look like in the time of COVID. 

The time that we have been away from one another so far this year because of the pandemic is roughly about the same amount of time as that between the crucifixion of Jesus and Pentecost, (give or take a few weeks). 

These two time periods, both this year in 2020 and two millennia earlier, have been times of intense crises. 

These have been times when our community fabric has been stretched to the breaking point. 

These have been times when simply making it through the day is success enough. 

But then, and now, it is time to begin rebuilding our world. 

A new and different world. 

A world that is not turning out the way we had hoped and imagined. 

But this is our world.  This is our current reality.  And this is our future to build. 

There were several options for this morning’s lectionary, and I made sure that we read the story from Numbers today. 

Remember?  Moses has chosen 70 elders to get some of God’s Spirit to help Moses do God’s work? 

And that morning when they gathered, 68 of the chosen plus Moses were there at the tent. God took the Spirit that was with Moses, and shared it with the others. They all received the Spirit,

and they all prophesied. 

But 2, 2 who had been chosen, or some reason stayed back at the camp and they did not join the others at the tent. And these two who stayed home? They, also, received the Spirit of God. They, also, prophesied right in their homes. 

And this story has profound and important implications for us as we begin re-imagining Church. 

In the Olden Days, the Pre-COVID days, we Episcopalians imagined that gathering for worship—to sing and take communion and hug one another at the peace — that is what we did.

That was the “right” way to do church. 

And if you were unable to get to church for an extended period of time, we could send out Lay Eucharistic Visitors to take you some communion as an extension of our community worship.

But now, post-COVID, we are going to have to re-imagine what it means to be church, what it means to “do church” in the next few years. We are not going be able to gather and sing, that’s pretty clear. We are not going to be able to catch up at coffee hour or exchange hugs across the aisle and across the generations. 

“Being church” is going to be profoundly different than what it was before COVID.

Our reading from Numbers reminds me that God Shows Up — not simply in the places where people gather, but God Shows Up in the people God calls–no matter where they are. 

Our reading from Numbers reminds me that we are not required to gather together in one place in order to receive God’s Spirit or God’s Blessing or God’s call on our lives. 

God can meet us where we are. And that is true on every level. God can meet us where we are: in the midst of grappling with the realities of racism that built our country and continue to fester today.

God can meet us where we are: As we mourn the 100,000 people who have already died from COVID in the US and as we grieve that so many more will join this number in the coming weeks and months.

God can meet us where we are: When all the old “containers” of what church meant have been brokenand we are invited to rebuild a whole new kind of church and a whole new way to live in community. 

We are Christians. We know how to do this. We have been formed by paradox.

Join me in proclaiming the messiness of life. Join me in proclaiming both lament and celebration this Pentecost weekend. 

Expect God’s Spirit to be with you this day. Expect God to surprise you, even in your own home. 

God is there. Imagine what that means…

I speak in the name of the One, Triune God.  Amen.


[1] https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234