The Connection Between Litha and John the Baptist

It might seem odd to some that a Christian minister would write about celebrations such as Litha. For a while now, I have felt a connection between the Celtic Wheel of the Year and the feats and festivals of the Christian Church. I see nothing antithetical to the Christian practice. In fact, the celebration of the earth and all she has to offer is very Christian.

After the creation of humanity, God placed humanity in charge of, or as caretakers of, creation. It is a misnomer and a bad translation that led to this idea that humanity had dominion over creation and could thus do whatever humanity wanted. That very idea has brought us to the state we are now in. Mother Earth needs healing from all that humanity has done to it.

Litha celebrates the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Where I live, we call this the first day of summer when it is mid-summer. There will be 15 hours of sunlight on this day, but starting tomorrow, the days will become shorter as we begin the march toward winter. We have reached the height of summer.

There is a connection between feasts and festivals of the pre-Christian time and contemporary Christian feasts. In the 4th century, the Christian church designated June 24th as the feast of St. John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke records that John, the cousin of Jesus, was born six months before the birth of his famous cousin. As we do, we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, placing John’s birth during mid-summer.

Professor Éamonn Ó Carragáin of University College Cork makes this connection:

“By the sixth century, this solar cycle was completed by balancing Christ’s conception and birth against the conception and birth of his cousin, John the Baptist. Such a relationship between Christ and his cousin was amply justified by the imagery of scripture. The Baptist was conceived six months before Christ (Luke 1:76); he was not himself the light but was to give testimony concerning the light (John 1:8–9). Thus, John’s conception was celebrated on the eighth kalends of October (24 September: near the autumn equinox) and his birth on the eighth kalends of July (24 June: near the summer solstice). If Christ’s conception and birth took place on the ‘growing days’, it was fitting that John the Baptist’s should take place on the ‘lessening days’ (‘diebus decrescentibus’), for the Baptist himself had proclaimed that ‘he must increase; but I must decrease’ (John 3:30). By the late sixth century, the Nativity of John the Baptist (24 June) had become an important feast, counterbalancing at midsummer the midwinter feast of Christmas.”

St. John came to prepare the way for Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel was read, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). John understood that his light had to decrease for the light of Jesus to increase. The summer solstice celebrates the time when the light starts to decrease, moving towards yule, or the winter solstice, when the light begins, once again, to increase.

I think it is easy for those who follow Jesus to fluff off these pre-Christian festivals as pagan nonsense; however, if we look closely enough, we can see traces of our theology in understanding these so-called pagan rituals and celebrations. Our ancestors, in faith, were connected to the land in ways that we should strive to regain. If we understand our role as caretakers of creation, then getting in touch with that creation would be a worthy first step.

Out of Chaos

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Matthew 28:16-20

Today, the Sunday following Pentecost is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday. If we did not confuse you enough last week with talk of Spirits and whatnot, this Sunday, we confuse you even more with a doctrine that people have been trying to explain since the 1st century. Is there any wonder the Gospel passage contains the phrase, “but some doubted.”

Looking through the pages of Scripture, we cannot find literal examples of the Trinity, the idea that there is one God with three distinct persons, God, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, since the 1st century, this idea of how God relates to the Son and to the Holy Spirit has been used, but it was not until the First Council of Nicaea in 324 that the so-called Doctrine of the Holy Trinity was established. Do the math; it took three centuries to come up with and 18 centuries to try and explain it.

Now, I am not going to wade into the waters of trying to decipher this for you, I do not truly understand it, and we do not have that kind of time. However, I think it is essential to know that we, as a denomination, and I, as your pastor, are Trinitarian Christians. I believe, as the Creed says, there was never a time when the three did not exist. They were all present at Creation and continue to work in the world today.

But there are some, perhaps some of you, that doubt, and as we heard from the Gospel of Matthew this morning, doubt is not a bad thing. Doubt allows us to ask questions. Doubt pushes us beyond what we might have been taught in Sunday School. Doubt equals growth. But doubt only truly works if you ask those questions. So go ahead with doubt but ask your questions as well.

The first place in Scripture where Trinity is encountered is at the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the creation story. Today, I chose a different translation than the typical, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” These few words fit the idea that God created the universe, ex nihilo, out of nothing. That one day, God decided I needed a universe, snapped his fingers, and created it.

I chose the more nuanced “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.” As I understand it, this is closer to what the Hebrew text says.

Since I do not read Hebrew, I asked for a ruling from my friend Rabbi Erick Berk at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, who wrote, In the Hebrew, in my opinion, it’s more literally something like, “In the beginning, God having created the heavens and the earth — and the earth was unformed and void [confusion and chaos], with darkness over the surface of the deep….”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

Almost every civilization has a creation story, which is not unique to the Judeo/Christian context. However, in all the other creation stories, Creation happens out of violence. The other creation stories are stories of the destruction that precedes the Creation. What is presented here has to be destroyed and annihilated before the Creation of something beautiful can take place.

The Genesis story is a story of reconciliation. Opposites exist alongside one another: order and chaos, land and sea, heavens and earth, light and dark, fish and birds, male and female. Yet, the existence of one does not subjugate or eliminate the other but co-exists in a reconciled balance that God repeatedly affirms as “good” and, finally, as “very good.”

So, before the Judeo/Christian understanding of Creation, the world existed, and God brought order out of chaos. God confronts chaos, a universe that cannot find peace and rest, and brings what the universe longs for, not in some sense of existential eschatological supremacy but rather in the sense of a calming presence that has not come to condemn but to reconcile.

The importance of using “when God began to create” is to show that Creation, as we understand it in the traditional formula, has not ended but continues. Ordering of the universe did not take place in six days, either literal or otherwise; the ordering is continuous, ongoing not only in the world around us but also in us.

As I have said before, Scripture is neither history nor science but a record of a people’s faith journey; as such, the stories contained are there to help them, and by extension us, make sense out of that journey. Many forms of literature are included in the pages of this book, and Genesis is poetry rather than history.

Each stanza has a matched pair except for the 7th, which is humanity’s response to Creation. 1st and 4th = God creates Day/Night and celestial bodies to rule them. 2nd and 5th = God creates sky and waters, and then the inhabitants of each. 3rd and 6th = God creates sea and dry land, and the vegetation, animals, and humanity, who “have dominion.” Neither dominates the other. Instead, they exist in a sort of symbiotic relationship where one needs the other and vice versa.

In the 31st verse, we read, “God saw everything God had made: it was supremely good.”

This good is not a moralistic good but rather an intrinsic good. All of Creation is good. God has blessed all of Creation, and not part of Creation exists separate from God; Creation and the Creator are connected. Light is connected to the tides, which are connected to the plant, which are connected to the animals, which are connected to humans, which are connected to God. There is no isolation in Creation.

So, what does all this mean for us?

God is not some distant ogre sitting on a cloud smiting things. Regardless of what you hear from the evangelicals and the TV preachers, God truly loves us just as we are. Of course, God desires that we change and live to our fullest potential, but God does not judge when we fail; we do that.

From the very beginning, God came in peace, not in violence. God came in love to order all things and to reconcile all things. God came to teach us how to live with one another, not in the sense of hierarchy or one is better than the other or more superior to the other, but rather how we can live together in a relationship and need each other to flourish.

God loves all of Creation and makes room for those who doubt. Notice from Matthews’s Gospel that the believers and the doubters worshipped together; there was room for everyone. Seekers, doubters, and believers are all welcome at God’s table, where we work together rather than against each other.

I mentioned that God did not finish Creation on that six-day; instead, Creation is an ongoing action, which is essential. The idea behind this story of Creation is not to prove or disprove anything. The idea is that God came and brought chaos into order, and God continues to do that on a personal level.

God can bring order to whatever chaos rages inside of each of us. All we need to do is ask. But, unfortunately, many of us grew up with an image of God that was, what can I say, less than helpful to our long-term mental health and spiritual growth. We grew up with this idea that we had to be afraid of God, and if we did not fit into a particular mold, we would be sent damnation in the fires of hell. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.

In a few moments, we will gather around this table, this table that was and is the greatest expression of love. We share the common elements, invite the Holy Spirit to come and bless them, and share them equally, and there is enough for all.

Jesus came not to condemn this world we live in nor to condemn us but rather to show us a better way, the way of Creation, the way of reconciliation with all, and how to live with and love each other. The story of Creation and the story of Jesus are connected by love. For God so loved the world that God did not leave us alone but is right here with us to bring us peace and comfort.


I have set my rainbow in the clouds

June is Pride Month, and I have been thinking a lot about the symbols used during this time of the year. Of course, the most common symbol is the rainbow.

The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by artist, designer, Vietnam War veteran, and then-drag performer Gilbert Baker. He was commissioned to create a flag by another gay icon, politician Harvey Milk, for San Francisco’s annual pride parade. The different colors in the flag were meant to represent togetherness since LGBTQ folx come from all races, ages, and genders, and rainbows are both natural and beautiful.

There is also a theological meaning behind the rainbow that might surprise some folx.

The rainbow appears in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 9. There are countless creation stories in history, many of which predate the Judeo-Christian ones that many of us will be familiar with. One of the common threads woven through all these stories is a narrative about a flood.

Many of these stories also have a hero, a person or person at the center of the story that saves all of creation from the wrath of the flood by placating the god or gods of the day. However, the God of Genesis partners with humanity and even creates a covenant relationship and promises never to destroy humanity in this way again.

To be reminded of this new relationship, God wanted a symbol, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Gen 9:14-15)

But there is a problem. In Hebrew, the language Genesis was written in, has no word for rainbow. Instead, the Hebrew word used is “bow.” The Hebrew Bible uses the word “bow” 70 times in reference to bows, arrows, and archers. Very early translations, including the King James Version, use the word “bow” rather than “rainbow,” as we have come to know the passage.

Theologian Benjamin Cremer states that the word ” bow “profoundly paints the picture of God laying down God’s weapon against the world. God is disarming God’s self.” Cremer posits that the archer’s bow is facing toward heaven and that “Not only is God laying down the weapon of destruction, but God is saying, ‘I will take the destruction upon myself instead.'”

In this context, then, the bow, or rainbow, is a symbol of peace, a symbol of nonviolence, and a symbol of solidarity with all of humanity. With this symbol, God says that the covenant relationship is a promise to handle things differently moving forward. The Creator has made a covenant of love with creation.

Yesterday, I posted a saying on my Facebook feed, “This pastor loves you. But more importantly… God loves you, and always has, and always will, now matter what you may have heard or been taught.”

Happy Pride Month!

Strawberry Moon

The names of each month’s full moon come from various sources, including Native American, European, and Colonial American. June’s full moon, appearing in the night sky on June 3rd, carries a symbolic and spiritual meaning coming from the Lakota, Ojibwa, and Algonquin peoples.

June’s Strawberry Moon most likely refers to the time of the year when the berries begin to ripen. The Strawberry Moon is a celebration of the short strawberry harvest. It is also the time of the year when animal babies start to be born. June is also the month of the Summer Solstice, and we turn the page to another season.

European settlers often called this moon the Rose Moon or the Honey Moon in reference to the marriage custom of drinking Meade at weddings that often took place during the month of June.

June is a month that celebrates fertility and growth, with the world coming into bloom after a long winter sleep. My wife and I recently planted our garden as the soil finally warmed enough to keep the new plants warm during nighttime.

From a spiritual perspective, our energy is on the rise. We may start to feel more energy coming from the sun as we begin to shed those winter layers and allow the sun to beat on our skin. In addition, the transition in seasons brings longer times of daylight which draws us out of doors and helps to replenish the Vitamin D that was lost during the cold months of winter.

We are reminded to harness this energy for our creative purposes, but we should get out and smell the booming flowers, if your allergies allow for it, and breathe, take some time to relax and love ourselves. The Strawberry Moon is also a time to focus on our growth through patience and mindfulness. Look to realign yourself and return balance to your life through your spiritual practices.

This is the time to enjoy the natural world and, like the ripening berries, those things in our lives that we have been working on that just might come to fruition during this time of the year.

Let us pray:

May the blessing of light be upon you, light on the outside and light on the inside. With God’s sunlight shining on you, may your heart glow with warmth like a turf fire that welcomes friends and strangers alike. Amen

He Breathed on Them

Acts 2:1-21

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley attended a meeting at Aldersgate, London, where he received an assurance of his New Birth. This was a pivotal event in the life of Wesley that would eventually lead to a movement called Methodism in England and North America.

Wesley had been feeling a bit down on that day in May of 1738. The Spirit had stirred him to preach a more robust, more enthusiastic Gospel message that had been all but rejected by his Anglican brothers and sisters. So he reluctantly attended that meeting at the Moravian meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London. There, he felt a strange warmth in his heart and soul.

He described the event in his journal:

“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

On October 11, 1962, in Vatican City, the newly elected Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with the words, “it is time to open the windows and let the fresh air in.” John felt that the Church had become stagnant and closed to what was happening in the world around them. He thought that the Church was out of touch and that the Church needed to get off the sidelines and into the world in hopes of making a difference.

It was too much for some, and for others, it was not enough. But like Wesley’s experience in 1738, this experience of John in Rome was the spark that lit the fuse of Reformation. Reformation usually happens when we humans get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit run things.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. We had come 7 Sundays of 50 days since Jesus’ Resurrection, and today, Jesus’ promise is fulfilled when he said he would send another after him, the one who would be a comforter and give them strength for what lies ahead.

We heard from Luke, the writer of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of how they were all gathered in the Upper Room. It is supposed that this is the same place where they gathered after the Crucifixion and where Jesus appeared to them. But there they were, gathered. It had become their custom to do so. Then, suddenly, there was a sound like a great “rushing of wind” filling the entire house.

After the wind had ceased, fire descended and hovered over their heads, and it was at this moment that the Holy Spirit arrived.

In Judaism, the Holy Spirit is the divine force, quality, and influence of God over the Universe or over his creatures. In Trinitarian Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In Islam, the Holy Spirit acts as an agent of divine action or communication. In the Baha’i Faith, the Holy Spirit is seen as the intermediary between God and man and “the outpouring grace of God and the effulgent rays that emanate from His Manifestation.”

But this is not the start of the Spirit’s work in the world. If we go back to “in the beginning,” we encounter the Spirit a few times. During the early stages of creation, the Spirit hovers over the water, and after God creates humanity, God breathes into humanity’s lungs God’s “ruach elochim,” the very breath of God. God creates, but it is the Spirit that animates, that gives humanity its purpose, and that is what we see here.

Sure, the Apostles have done some pretty cool things up to this point. We hear stories of Peter healing, and people want to be near him, hoping his shadow will fall upon them and heal them. But what is coming next for them will be greater than all that has come before.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that they spoke in tongues after the Spirit came upon them. Now, a great deal of time and energy has been spent trying to figure this out. I know people who claim to be able to “speak in tongues,” but they always manage to leave out one thing, the interpretation of what is being said.

When the Apostles were able to speak in various languages, others were able to understand them. Now, we have to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and the story of the Towe of Babel. You will know the story. The inhabitants of Babel wanted to build a tower so high it would reach God. God does not want this to happen; he “confused their language” so they would no longer be able to work together. At this time, anyway, everyone spoke the same language. My guess is it was English; I mean, why wouldn’t it be?

But I digress; language was confused, but in this act of the Holy Spirit, the language was no longer confused. Each person heard the message in their own language, and they understood it. Was Peter speaking multiple languages? No, certainly not. Peter was speaking in whatever language Peter spoke, probably Aramaic; however, all those listening could hear him and understand. No longer was the message of Jesus reserved only for the Jews; the message of Jesus was now to be universal, for all the world to hear and understand. The Spirit has not just descended upon the Apostles but upon all of those present.

But what or who is this Spirit?

As we have already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is not just reserved for Christianity. However, in Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, not in a hierarchical sense that any one of them is greater than the other, but rather three distinct persons or personalities that all share the same essence. Don’t worry if you don’t understand; people have been fighting about this for centuries, and we will certainly not crack that code today.

It was, in essence, anyway, three words about the Holy Spirit that divided the Universal Church between East and West in the 11th century. The words “and the Son” relate to the progression or who the Spirit proceeds. Does the Spirit come from God alone, as those in the East profess, or does the Spirit proceed from the Son? But, again, we will not find the answer to that question today.

So, what does all of this have to do with us? Are we supposed to see fire on each other’s heads? If we did, we would rightly run for the closest fire extinguisher. Like John in Rome, do we throw open the windows and allow the fresh air in? Maybe all of these.

The Spirit does not always come as a rushing wind; most of the time, the Spirit comes as a calming presence, as Jesus did when he first appeared after the resurrection. Jesus’s first words after his sudden appearance was, “Peace be with you.” Yes, the Spirit brings boldness and Reformation, but the Spirit also brings peace. When the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, it was to bring order out of chaos, not the other way around.

The Christ who came to them and breathed on them is the one who comes today into our broken lives and broken world and offers us that same grace and that same peace. So we need to make room for that same Spirit to come and bring peace to folx who are hurting or afraid and into a community where there has been conflict or concern, in other words, into our lives and the lives of those in our community.

But the Spirit is also a unifier. We heard how everyone could hear the message in their own language; the Spirit unified them to make this possible. We need that Spirit of unification. Our Church and our nation are all being pulled apart, and we need to unify our prayers so that we all start to listen to one another and, rather than focus on what divides us, work for what brings us together.

But all of this begins with us and our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. If we desire to be agents of change, then we need to be willing to change. If we want peace, we need to be peaceful and work for things that bring peace. If we want the world to be more loving, then we need to work for things that bring that love. All of this is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles were all gathered in that Upper Room. They were scared and confused. Sure, Jesus had returned and brought his peace, but now he was gone again. Just a few days ago, he had left them, and they were once again on their own. But Jesus promised that the Spirit would come and bring them peace and bring them strength. So did their life get easier? Nope, in fact, it got worse.

The promise is that God will always be with us in the good times and the bad. I hope we truly believe that. Will the Spirit help us to change the world, maybe? But the world that needs to change is inside each of us. So let the Spirit warm your heart, and that spark of warmth might just change the world.


Meditation for Ascension

In the English town of Walsingham, there is a Church. And inside that church is a chapel dedicated to the feast of the Ascension. Now, there is nothing unusual about that except hanging out of the ceiling in the center of that chapel is a statue of the feet of Jesus in a cloud. It may seem strange, but Scripture tells us that as the Apostles watched, Jesus rose into the clouds and out of their sight.

The Feast of the Ascension is an important feast on the church’s calendar. This fest is one of only a handful celebrated by almost all Christian denominations and ranks with Easter and Pentecost in importance.

The feast commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. As far as historians can tell, this feast has been celebrated since the 4th century. The three days leading up to the feast are called rogations days and often involve prayers for a good harvest. Following the feast, an octave is celebrated leading up to Pentecost.

Ascension is a word that carries with it a sense of elevation, transcendence, and spiritual growth. This speaks to an innate desire to seek a higher purpose and connect with something greater than ourselves.

The Ascension must be considered more than the day Jesus physically left the earth. Ascension represents the soul’s journey, the awakening of consciousness, and the realization of our divine potential. Ascension is the process of moving beyond the limits of earthly existence and reaching for something, well, heavenly.

The significance of the Ascension is to remind us that our faith is not built on a book of a historical figure but rather on a living, exalted savior who intercedes for us at the right hand of God. The Ascension calls us to be faithful witnesses to the teachings of Christ, namely, the love of all. We are faithful when we bring our light into the world for all to see. And in this way, we build up the kingdom of God here on earth.

This path will not be easy. We will encounter various challenges along the way. We may face doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We may stumble, and we may fall, but it is in these moments that we are given the opportunity to rise again, learn from our mistakes, and grow strong in our faith.

The spiritual journey is not solitary, and we will not be alone on this quest either. We are surrounded by fellow travelers and pilgrims on the path to provide support, guidance, and encouragement. Together, we will uplift one another, inspire each other to persevere and continue to ascend towards the divine.

Friends, let us always remember that the spiritual life is not a destination but an ongoing process. It is a lifelong commitment to growth, a continuous seeking of divine truth, and a deepening of our relationship with God. It is a journey that transcends the boundaries of time and space, for it is the very purpose of our existence.

May our hearts be open to the call, may our spirits be uplifted by the divine presence, and may our lives be a testament to the transformational power of the spiritual path. May blessings and peace be upon you all, Amen.

Like Living Stones

One of my favorite buildings in Washington, DC, is The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, or the Washington National Cathedral. The Cathedral is the second-largest Church building in the United States. In New York City, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the largest. The Cathedral is also the third largest building in the City of Washington.

Although it is the Cathedral Church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, by Congressional Charter, it is a house of worship for all people.

It is an imposing structure. Construction began on September 29, 1907, with the laying of the cornerstone after a ceremony attended by President Theodore Roosevelt. Construction ended in 1990 at a ceremony attended by Present George HW Bush. If you have not done the math, that is 83 years. We replaced the floor in the first Church I served in, which took two weeks, and I thought that was a long time.

I have visited the Cathedral several times, and two of those visits stand out in my mind. The first was when I was able to step into the Canterbury Pulpit. The Pulpit stands six steps above the congregation and is an imposing carved stone structure. Standing in the pulpit, you get a sense of history and can feel the spirit and energy of those who have stood there before you.

But the most memorable occasion for the consecration of my friend Joe as bishop. During the consecration, I was honored to serve with him at the High Altar. It was an amazing and spirit-filled day that I think I will remember for my entire life.

Cathedral Churches are important places in the lives of people. Yesterday, we witnessed the Coronation of the King of the United Kingdom, an event that has not occurred for 70 years. Westminster Abbey, The Cathedral Church in London, hosted this event. The Abbey has been the place of Coronations for at least 1,000 years, so it’s been around a long time.

Like cathedrals, the coronation ceremony blends the sacred and the secular. The King cannot be legitimized until he is anointed. It is that anointing, and not the crowning, that makes him a King. And notice that the crown is not placed on the sovereign’s head by some government functionary. Instead, the crown is placed on the King’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury after a prayer is said over that very same crown. Of all the oaths sworn by the new King, the most poignant is the one when he swore to protect the faith of the Church and the faith of his subjects.

But why all this talk about the cathedrals and kings, after all? We are Americans; we have thrown all of that off. Our denomination doesn’t have cathedrals or anything close to them, but we do have sacred space.

One common thread in all cathedrals is stones. Stones make up the construction of the walls of most cathedrals. From those ancient buildings in Europe to that one in Washington, DC, one stone was placed upon another stone until the building was complete.

Each stone is handled by a skilled craftsman and fitted perfectly into place. No two stones are alike; that is why it took 83 years to build. Yesterday, after the Coronation, I continued working on my Cathedral, which I hope does not take 83 years to finish.

Yesterday, I was closing in a few walls that we had to open to fit the plumbing in. As anyone who has worked on old structures knows, nothing is straight or plumb; everything seems to be a little off. As is fitting for the cottage, I am closing in the walls with wood. In new construction, one would cut a bunch of pieces all the same length, and off you go. In an old structure, each piece must be measured, cut, and sometimes recut to get it to fit. Sometimes, I would cut a piece twice, and it was still too short.

Unlike wood, stones do not burn or rot. If the foundation of a stone structure is done correctly, that structure should remain standing for thousands of years. Another Cathedral, Notre Dame in Paris, is a good example. We all witnessed the devastating fire a few years ago that destroyed that beautiful place. When the fire was out, the stones remained somewhat weakened because the structure holding them together was gone, but they stood there in defiance of the trauma that the fire caused. Stone lasts a long time.

In today’s reading from the First Letter of Peter, we hear a lot about stones. The writer of the Letter refers to Jesus as “a living stone.” The author later quotes Jesus himself when he mentions, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

One thing I should have mentioned was rejection in the building process. Not all stones are acceptable for building in their present state; most, if not all, need to be worked, especially the cornerstone. The foundation is the most crucial part of any building project, whether a cathedral or an outhouse. Get it wrong, and everything will be wrong. But get it right, and you have a masterpiece. And the cornerstone, the first stone laid, is the most important, for all others are placed of that stone.

But Peter is not writing about building; Peter is writing about faith, your faith, and my faith and how it should be built.

We need to begin with a solid foundation. Usually, this starts when we are children, but not always. However, what we learn as children needs to be updated. Children think in concrete terms; they do not understand allegory and nuance, so we tell them stories that they can understand. Two people in a garden eating fruit. A boat filled with animals and a few people, etc. But as we get older and understand more, how we understand those things needs to change. But a solid foundation is essential.

What we put on top of that foundation is also essential. We need to use the best materials and take our time assembling them. If you use junk, junk will be produced, and you will spend many hours fixing things. If we take time, we will build it right the first time. And, like any old structure, our faith needs renovation and sprucing up occasionally. Maybe we have outgrown our faith or need to make more room. So, we renovate, remove walls, and fix broken things. Just because something worked for you years ago does not mean it works today. It is okay to undertake a renovation.

Here we sit inside a building only partially made of stone. Those who came before us worked hard to build this place of worship that they have left in our care. But this building is not the Church, something COVID reminded us. Although I appreciate the simple beauty of this place and the magnificence of Cathedrals, they are not the Church either, and if they were to all crumble tomorrow, the Church would continue because we are living stones.

On Easter night, the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge burned and cannot be used. However, the congregation did not disperse; they found alternative ways to worship. When Communism rolled across Eastern Europe and destroyed most, if not all, churches, faith did not disappear as they had hoped it would. Faith in Eastern Europe went underground and became stronger, and when the Church emerged after Communism fell, it was stronger because the people were the stones, and they rebuilt.

But Peter also cautions us in his Letter, for he says that sometimes, stones cause others to stumble, so we can either be a path of safety or a path that makes others stumble; I hope we are working towards being a path of safety.

Just like the construction of the Washington National Cathedral, our faith can take a lifetime to build. We have to sort through many different stones to find the ones that fit together perfectly. We have to move things around and renovate from time to time. But, just like we need to change out the avocado bathroom fixtures, we need to update our faith, and we cannot be afraid to do just that. Amen.

The Day that Wasn’t

John 20:1-18

Our journey is complete. Some 40 days ago, we began a spiritual journey that has brought us to this moment. We started this journey by being reminded, on Ash Wednesday, that we are mortal and that our time here on this earth is short. Then, we witnessed Jesus calling his Apostles and the start of his ministry. This ministry would include healing a blind man or two, cleansing leapers, making water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, and his great political stunt last week, his entrance into Jerusalem.

And this week, we witnessed his final days. So many of us skip Holy Week and go right from the joy and celebration of Palm Sunday and skip right over to the joy of Easter. We skip the messy bits in between. We skip the betrayal by a close friend. We skip another friend denying Jesus three times. We skip the command to “do this.” We skip the forgiveness given from the cross and the final breath of the one who gave us all breath.

But regardless of how we got here, what is essential is that we are here and have witnessed the victory of life over death. Today we see the result of ultimate love and the gift of forgiveness. Ultimate love and forgiveness for all of us, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him may have eternal life.

But today, we need to back the story up just a little. The story begins early on that first Easter morning. We meet Mary on the road. We hear in another Gospel that she is bringing the spices necessary to complete the Jewish burial ritual. You see, they had to remove the body of Jesus and place it in a tomb so quickly because it was the Sabbath that they did not have time to prepare, and now they had to complete the task.

Perhaps while she walked, she reminisced a little about the last three years and maybe even thought about her grief over what had happened over the previous twenty-four hours. She continued her journey mentally, preparing for the task ahead.

She arrives at the tomb, and the stone has been rolled away. The confusion comes over her, and a touch of concern. She fears the Romans or the Temple authorities have come in the night and stolen his body. We have the benefit of knowing how this will all end, but Mary, standing there looking at the empty tomb, has no idea what is happening.

We read that Mary Magdalene was among the first to arrive. There are many stories about who this Mary was, but regardless of her past or what she had done, she was one of the first to arrive and, might I add, was the first to preach the good news of the Resurrection. But then, we read that she ran back to tell the others, and by others, I mean the men hiding behind locked doors; she comes to tell them that the stone has been rolled away and that Jesus is not there.

In Mark’s Gospel account, we read that this same Mary encountered a man she thought to be the gardener who told Mary that Jesus was not there, that he is risen, and that she was to go and tell the others and Peter the good news. That same gardener, the Risen savior himself, asks Mary why she is weeping. For Mary, Jesus was the only one to accept her as she was. Jesus was the one that protected her and brought her love and forgiveness, and now, not only was he dead, but his body was gone, and she did not understand.

Why do you weep, the gardener asks, and she tells him it is because Jesus is gone. Then the man calls her by her name, and instantly she knows it is Jesus, and her tears of sadness turn to tears of Joy and hope, hope in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and she is so full of this joy that she runs back to tell the others.

When we strip it all away, the entire story of Lent and the entire story of Holy Week, actually, the whole story of Christianity is about hope. Jesus came and walked among us to bring us hope and to show us a way of life that would bring us hope and teach us how to bring hope to others.

Sitting in that upper room, the place where only a few short days before Jesus had shared the Passover with them, the Apostles and the others had lost all hope. Their teacher, their leader, and their friend had been taken away and murdered right before their very eyes. Peter had lost all hope recalling that he had denied Jesus when the going was difficult for him. They recalled that one of their own, who had been with them from the start, had turned him in to the authorities, and he was also now dead. They had lost all hope until someone brought them the good news that Jesus is Risen from the dead.

Right now, maybe even sitting here among us, are people who have lost hope. Right now, maybe even among us, some people feel they are not loved. Right now, perhaps even sitting here among us, some people do not think they can be forgiven for their actions. But right now, in this special place, we hear the good news that Jesus Christ is Risen, and because of that, you are indeed loved. You are indeed forgiven. And we have hope. Hope that things will get better, maybe not tomorrow, but they will get better because Jesus is not some distant far-off God, but a God who humbled himself to share in our humanity, our grief, our pain, our anguish, and Jesus understands and loves us unconditionally.

The story of the Resurrection does not end here. The story of the Resurrection has to be taken from this place, just as it was taken from the tomb and loudly proclaimed so that all will hear and have hope. We need to proclaim the Resurrection with our very lives because we have been forgiven and we are loved, and we need to show the world that they are as well.

Let us find that Easter joy, a joy so complete that it transcends all hatred and bigotry, and that we can see each other as loved and forgiven and take joy in that knowledge.

Why do we weep? We weep because God loves us to such a degree that no matter what, God loves us and forgives us.


Palm Sunday ~ This is the Day

Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 27:11-54

This is the day! This is the day we have been waiting for these last five weeks. Finally, what started as a reminder of our own mortality is coming to a close on this day with shouts of hosanna in the highest heaven.

This is the day. A day of contrast, a day of raw human emotion that will turn the world on its ear.

This is the day. This is a slash day, passion/palm Sunday, when in one liturgical service, we move from shouts of joy to cries of murder and revenge. This is the day.

Jesus knew his time was coming to an end, and he knew not only what was coming as an end for him but how he had to make it all happen. Until then, he was a mere annoyance, a preacher/do-gooder from the back of the beyond preaching about love and helping people. Okay, that is all well and good until it starts to interfere with those in charge.

Jesus had been to Jerusalem before, so it was no big deal for them to go back. Passover was coming, and he wanted to celebrate it in the Holy City. There is nothing unusual about that. For Jesus, this would be his last Passover with his disciples, but they did not know that. For the disciples, this was just an ordinary Passover.

In our first Gospel reading this morning, we heard of Jesus sending two unnamed disciples into the next town to, for what it looks like, steal a donkey. They were simply to tell the owner that “the Lord needs them” and take it. I can tell you this does not work in today’s world, so please, don’t try this at home.

Rather than walk into Jerusalem, Jesus is going to ride. But this is no mere ride; this is the ride that will put things in motion, for this will be the “ride heard round the world.”

When one city loses a battle with another city, and it will be taken over, the King or ruler of the victorious city enters the conquered city riding on a horse. The horse is an animal of war and battle. The horse is a powerful animal, and the bigger the horse, the more powerful. The horse symbolizes the rider conquering the city they are entering.

On the other hand, the donkey is an animal of peace. Also, Matthew mentions that the Donkey would have a colt with her. The donkey has recently given birth and is still caring for her newborn. This is no war animal; this is an animal of nurture and support.

When a king from a neighboring city came to visit another king, they often entered that city riding on a donkey showing that they came in peace and not war. The donkey is a work animal designed to bear a burden. Donkeys are, for the most part, docile and stubborn animals, not really one can rely on in an attack. Donkeys are smaller than most horses and do not threaten anyone.

Although Jesus is coming as a conquering king, he comes in peace and love, so he has chosen the donkey. Unfortunately, those around him completely missed the nuance of the situation as they usually do, but the religious and political leaders did not.

Jesus climbs upon the donkey and heads toward the city gate. People start to gather as usual when a parade is going by. Many are wondering who this is and what all the fuss is about. Remember, Jesus is relatively unknown still. The crowd grows, they don’t know why, but they start to sing. Many take off their coats and lay them on the ground with branches from nearby trees.

They start to shout “Hosanna,” which by Jesus day has become more of a greeting like “howdy,” but the original meaning was “God be with you.” Then the crowd calls Jesus the “Son of David,” and eyebrows start to rise. David was the King, the great King, and all of the kings of Israel have come from his line; they are calling Jesus king!

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. There was no mistake, since Lazarus had been dead for four days, that Lazarus was dead. We heard in the Gospel that a decision was made that this Jesus needed to be destroyed. He was doing too much good, and the authorities could not have that. There was no way to control him, and the authorities did not like that it made them uncomfortable. But their discomfort was about to get worse.

There was a fine line between the Roman and Jewish authorities. For the most part, as long as there was peace, the Romans allowed the Jews to do whatever they wanted. Of course, they had the temple guard to keep the peace, but the Roman soldiers always lurked just out of view.

Jerusalem was not a plumb assignment for a career diplomat like Pilate. He must have done something wrong to get assigned to this backwater, one donkey town. He needed to get back into Caesar’s good graces to get a better post. He needed to make sure things stayed peaceful, whatever the cost.

Then along comes this guy named Jesus, who has just been declared King by the crowd, riding on a symbol of kingship and entering the capital city of that region. This was a powder keg ready to blow, and something had to be done.

But it does not end here.

Remember, Jesus knew what had to be done. He needed to be killed, not as some payment for some debt, not because some heinous bloodthirsty God required that his flesh and blood be destroyed. No, Jesus suffered and died for us so we would know that Jesus understands what humanity goes through. Sure, Jesus could have lived to old age, but what would that prove? Jesus was killed, at the hands of the government, after a sham trial because he made them nervous with his revolutionary talk about love and equality. It is incredible how a little equality talk cause people to do all sorts of crazy things.

Later this week, we hear the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard. This act of rage and anger confused those following him. He had never done such a thing. How could the one who preaches love, acceptance, and peace become so angry? But the authorities saw this differently. For them, this was an attack at the very heart of their economic system. Jesus exposed corruption in the system, and they did not like this. This was the final straw; they had to do something.

In the second Gospel from Matthew, we hear of the authorities conspiring to arrest and kill Jesus.

This is a story of how easy it is for a crowd to believe something just because someone in authority told them it was. This is a story of a group of people so desperate to stay in power that they lied and rigged a trial to execute someone who came in peace, preaching love and equality. This is a reminder of how quickly things can go from good to bad.

Today is a day of contrast, and we must ask ourselves where we would be. Would we go along and follow the crowd? Would we be the ones shouting Hosana today and a few days later be crying, crucify him? I urge you to take time this week, this Holy Week, to meditate on all that we will see and hear. I ask you to come and spend time with Jesus and the others as he walks willingly to his death. We cannot celebrate the resurrection if we do not experience death.

Let us enter this Holy Week prayerfully and in expectation of all that is to come.


Sermon: In the Presence

In the Presence
John 9:1-41

How do you see the world? This is an interesting question to ask right after we hear the story of the man born blind. Until he encountered Jesus, he had not seen the world. Sure, he experienced the world through his other senses, but he had not seen the world. He had only imagination and the description of other people to inform him of how things looked. So he saw the world in a certain way.

When Jesus and his disciples first encounter the man, they ask, who sinned him or his parents? 1st-century medical knowledge was limited in relation to what we know today. It was thought that disabilities such as being born blind were a reaction to sin rather than some medical explanation. Obviously, it was someone’s fault, and the disciples wanted to know the answer.

If we see the world in black and white, we always look for the cause, but if we see the world as shades of gray and other colors, a world of opportunity opens to us. It is no longer good vs. evil or us against them; it becomes something much more.

There is an interplay here between light and darkness. In one sense, the man born blind is symbolic of the world. Jesus has encountered a world that is blind, blind to the suffering of others and he hopes to change that. Jesus is bringing light not only to the man born blind but, through his actions, to the entire world. He is opening not just this man’s eyes but the eyes of all of humanity.

As you have heard me say in the past, very often in Scripture, when a person is not named, it is because the person represents something larger than themselves. In a sense, we are all born blind. Although we can see we need someone to care for us in every way and provide all that we need. As we age, those needs change, and we become more resilient.

Not long ago, Nicky and I switched out Oonagh’s crib for what we call her big girl bed. Physically it is the same bed with a different side. She was so proud that first night and a little concerned when she saw the larger piece at the bottom of the stairs. She entered her room, looked at it, and then looked back at me. I told her it was ok, and she ran over and climbed in. As a result, our evening ritual has changed; she can now climb into her bed by herself and does not need me to lift her in any longer. She is moving too fast for me anyway, from dependence to independence.

But back to the blind man.

A couple of things to notice. The first is Jesus does not ask if the man wants to be healed. In fact, he announces that this man exists solely for the purpose of this moment in time. Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind, so God’s works might be revealed in him.” So he does not ask permission to heal; he just gets to work.

Healings in Scripture take on many forms. Sometimes Jesus is present, and sometimes he is not. Sometimes he touches the person, and sometimes, the person touches him. He heals with words, with his presence, and his touch. But his time, Jesus goes a little further and uses an outside element to heal. He uses dirt and spit.

Remember, there is symbolism in everything.

Dirt is, well, dirty. If it gets tracked into your house, you sweep it out. So one of the first things that would happen when you entered a home in Jesus’ day is your feet would be washed to remove the dust and dirt from the road. Dirt is what is under our feet, but dirt also provides life.

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, the day of equal light and darkness. In the Norse and Celtic traditions, it was also the day that seeds were planted, and prayers were said that the harvest would be plentiful and get them through the long winter ahead. Seeds hold life, but that life only begins when buried in dirt or soil. The very thing that is alive must first die to be born.

Jesus stoops down, gathers dirt on the road, spits in it, makes a paste, and places it on the man’s eyes. This should remind us of the creation story from Genesis. God fashioned humanity out of the dust of the earth. We began the season of Lent with the words, “you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” Jesus is using the elements of creation that makeup humanity to restore humanity to what it was created for, to worship God!

But it does not end here.

Another first. This is the first time that the person being healed has to do something; Jesus tells the man to go and wash in the pool, not just any pool, but the pool of Siloam, which means sent. The base elements of creation have been applied; the man has been told to go and wash after he washes; he can see. The one sent by God has come not to judge, not to save the world from sin, but to restore humanity to that relationship that existed in the beginning. Jesus has not come to save us from sin but to save us from blindness.

Jesus came to open our eyes to another way of seeing the world. We no longer see the world through the lens of rules and regulations, but we see the world as God sees the world with mercy, compassion, and love. Rather than destruction, God chose love, God chose to send Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but to show the world a different way. To open the world’s blind eyes and point them away from the darkness and towards the light.

But the story does not end there.

Our friends, the Pharisees, witnessed this little miracle and have some questions. Talk about a group so blind by their own rules that they cannot see the glory of God! Anyway, they hall the man in to question him. Of course, Jesus cannot be who he says he is because not only did he uses dirt and spit, he did this on the Sabbath. Jesus knew what he was doing when he did it. Jesus knew what day it was and that his actions would invoke a response. In a sense, Jesus was poking the Pharisees in their collective eyes!

The Pharisees don’t believe him and actually get enraged when the man, “formally born blind,” presumes to teach them. They don’t believe his story, so they haul his parents in. His parents throw him under the bus and say he is old enough to answer for himself. So they ask the man again, who asks them why he is asking again since they did not answer the first time. Then he gives the best sarcastic answer in all of Scripture, “why do you ask?” he says, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” They become unhinged and throw him out of the temple. They call him a sinner and banish him forever. They think they are casting him into the darkness, but he has witnessed the light, and darkness will never overcome it.

He encounters Jesus and tells his story. Jesus asks if he believes in the Messiah, and the man asks who that is. Jesus tells him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And the man believed.

The Pharisees question Jesus and insist they are not sinners. Jesus tells them that those who see and reject become blind. Those who cannot see the suffering of others, those who set up rules to keep others out rather than welcoming all, are the ones who are blind, and the sin of ignorance causes their blindness. There are none so blind as those that refuse to see.

What blinds us today? Do pride and arrogance blind us? Does a lack of knowledge blind us? Is it fear that blinds us? Whatever it is, Jesus can and will heal us from that blindness and bring us back into the light.


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