Blog | Diakonos


The Path of Discernment

Diakonos (Greek): a servant, minister

From An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: "In the ancient Greek-speaking world the term “diakonos" meant an intermediary who acted or spoke for a superior. Christian deacons were agents of the bishop, often with oversight of charity. Since ancient times the liturgical functions of deacons have suggested the activity of angels. As they proclaim the gospel, lead intercessions, wait at the eucharistic table, and direct the order of the assembly, deacons act as sacred messengers, agents, and attendants."

January 22, 2018 was the day I went to my priest to tell her I’d like to explore discerning my call to diaconal ministry. Once I cracked the door open I couldn’t push it shut, even if I wanted to, thanks be to God. 

The process to ordination in the Episcopal Church begins with discernment. For Christians, each of us is called to serve as members of the body of Christ whether clergy or laity. (1 Cor 12) Once a person steps forward and expresses a desire to openly explore a call to ordained ministry, next steps are taken to gather a group of parishioners to help the inquirer discern that call.

Throughout the summer and spring of 2019 I met regularly with my discernment committee, a group of five thoughtful, prayerful, and inquisitive parishioners. In our meetings, the committee would pose questions to me to help suss out the depth and breadth of my call to ordained ministry and to even help me discern if there was in fact a call at all. The process was intensive and, at times, exhausting. It was also life-giving and inspiring. I’m grateful to my committee for their intentional work and commitment. 

In the fall of 2019 I, along with several other discerners, was invited to a weekend at St. Margaret’s Convent in Duxbury to be interviewed by members of the Diocese of Massachusetts Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee, along with The Right Reverend Alan M. Gates. This was an opportunity for the Commission to get to know me a bit better and to further understand my call and how I might answer it in the diocese through ordained ministry. Then in December I was formally invited into postulancy for holy orders to the diaconate, beginning officially June 1, 2020. 

Fast-forward to October 29, 2020 and I am well into my postulancy. I’m an intern for a year at Epiphany Parish in Walpole, MA under the supervision of the Rev. Christen H. Mills where I have opportunities to participate in the liturgy each week by reading lessons, assisting with set up for communion, preaching, facilitating formation activities, attending business meetings, leading morning prayer, and so on. Additionally I’m in ‘deacon school’ through the diocese. My cohort meets once a month for three days and we worship together, study scripture, liturgy, homiletics, theology, history, etc. with some of the most knowledgeable members of the diocese. 

The postulancy process is about a year and a half and then I will apply for candidacy which is also about a year and a half. The Canons of the Episcopal Church state that candidacy is “a time of education and formation in preparation for ordination to the diaconate, established by a formal commitment by the candidate, the Bishop, the Commission, the Standing Committee, and the congregation or other community of faith” (III.6.4). During this time, education will continue and I will pick up an internship with a secular institution or other project that’s suitable. At the end of candidacy there will be an examination to test proficiency in several areas of theological study.

Finally, God willing and the people consenting, once I’ve made it through postulancy and candidacy, I will apply for ordination to the diaconate.

Deacons in the Diocese of Massachusetts are placed into parishes that have expressed the need for a deacon. Once placed, posts usually last a few years before the deacon moves on to another church, though that’s not always the case. Some deacons stay with the same parish for quite some time. 

To learn more about the diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts, please visit this website.


Election Prayer

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer p. 822

I Will, With God’s Help

Homily 11/8/2020
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God,
our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I will, with God’s help.

These words are so familiar to many of us. We’ve spoken them countless times on days just like this. We’ve said them in the presence of a crying baby or maybe a sleeping one. Perhaps we’ve said them in the presence of an adult at an Easter Vigil. I said them to my own baby back in January.

I will, with God’s help.

What are we saying when we agree to this? What do we mean by publicly proclaiming these words?

We’re in fact making a pact. We’re taking vows. We’re entering into a covenant. We might not even know the parents. Many of us certainly haven’t held this lovable baby yet. And yet, here we are, speaking these words. These incredibly important, weighty words.

I will, with God’s help.

In this morning’s fiery reading from Amos we see a prophet who’s expressing that God is fed up with the people of ancient Israel. Amos, a shepherd, was called by God to become a Prophet. Amos took this call very seriously and began to prophesy to the ancient Israelites who’d lost their way. They had become swallowed up by pursuit of the wrong things. The people were following the laws by having rituals or liturgies, making burnt offerings to God, observing the Sabbath, etc. but their intentions weren’t authentic. They were going through the motions and doing the bare minimum while the poor were abused and taken advantage of and the wealthy were living extravagantly. People had fallen short of God’s expectations for them and righteousness and justice were nonexistent. And they had stopped caring for those who needed care the most. In his book,
The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel explains the mutuality of the covenant between God and God’s people, “There is a living God who cares. Justice is more than an idea or a norm. Justice is a divine concern. What obtains between God and God’s people is not only a covenant of mutual obligations, but also a relationship of mutual concern.”1

Basically, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) 

Now, fast-forward almost 2,600 years and we find ourselves in the presence of this special child who is about to be baptized and with whom we will create a covenant and in doing so reaffirm our own covenant that was made when we were baptized. God trusts that we will keep our covenants out of love for God but also out of love for one another. In our desire to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being”, will we fall short? Will we hurt one another? Will we become blinded by our own self-serving desires? Of course we will, often. But God expects we will confront our mistakes, confess our sins, make relationships whole again, and get back on track. But, we can’t do this alone. Especially in times of great fear, uncertainty, selfishness, and hate we cannot depend on ourselves alone to stay out of the path of giving in to the things that separate us from the love of God. And so by entering into a covenant together we’re stating that we will support and hold up one another and in so doing, we carry this commitment out into the world.

I will, with God’s help.

When we arrive at The Baptismal Covenant in today’s service, I encourage you to pay close attention to what it is you’re committing. Not just as your commitment relates to Mabel, but also as your commitment relates to God and the world around you. This little child will grow up in this world. How can we better live out our baptismal covenant in ways that will make this world a better place for Mabel and all children?

I will, with God’s help.

Amen.

__________________________

1 Heschel, A. J. (1969). Amos. In The Prophets. New York: Harper Colophon Books.


Mikvah

Homily 12/6/2020
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Here we are, talking about baptism yet again. Quite honestly, baptism is one of my favorite things to talk about. 

Baptism comes from the Greek word, Baptizó and it means “a thorough change of condition accomplished through immersion.”

The scene described in today’s gospel isn’t actually that unique. John’s followers, being Jewish, were familiar with baptism, or ritual cleansing. Mikvah is a Hebrew word that means “collection, or pool, of waters.” Mikvah has been used for centuries for ritual cleansing before prayer, before marriage, after menses, and so on. A 2014 article from the Washington Post states, “In recent decades, the mikvah has enjoyed a revival among less observant Jews who see it as a way to mark transitions in their lives. “Open” mikvahs — those that welcome Jews for reasons not required by Jewish law — encourage people to immerse after a divorce, after chemotherapy, to celebrate a new job or to find closure after an abortion, among other reasons."

So, John wasn’t introducing something new in this ritual cleansing per se, in fact, he was imploring his followers to do something that they were already doing regularly. But what John was preaching was new. His Messianic message was to tell these followers that this time, this cleansing, this baptism was preparation for an entirely new beginning. In this story of John the Baptist we see a prophet bringing comfort to a people yearning for God to intervene. This evangelist was bringing hope through assurance of the arrival of the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And further, John was telling his followers to basically get their stuff together and repent in preparation for new life in Jesus Christ. 

So what does this mean for us? For modern Christians? What does this mean for this second week of Advent as we find ourselves still in the grip of this pandemic, wandering in our own wilderness? We’re still in lockdown, some of us are even quarantined. Each of us likely knows someone who has or has had the virus. And some of us know someone who has died from it. How do we, in the midst of this turmoil, pause to remember the Holy One who came to be with us? How do we glimpse the hope that John proclaimed and how do we prepare for the arrival of this one whom John the Evangelist, the Baptizer, the Prophet, so greatly revered? How might we cleanse ourselves to invite the incarnation?

The season of Advent for Episcopalians also marks the start of a new year. It might still be 2020, but at least in the church we’re moving on! This new liturgical year offers us an opportunity to reset, reevaluate, and repent. To clear the pathway between ourselves and Jesus. To create a way for God to enter into our lives. I encourage each of us to strip away the things that come between us and the coming of Jesus. Send that kind letter you’ve been meaning to write. Clean out that one closet where stuff piles up week after week. Set up a video chat with someone you haven’t laid eyes on in a while. Call your loved ones. I desperately need to clean out my car that’s been decorated by my toddler. Between straw wrappers, cheerios, and Pepperidge farm goldfish, I’ve managed to lose my sense of self, I think. And above all, continue to pray. The wilderness, whether literal or metaphorical, represents the fringe of society and the place where one can encounter God. This wilderness can be our opportunity for transformation if we clear pathways for Christ to enter in. Even in these days there are ways to find hope and renewal, and opportunities for us to help others find hope too.

I’d like to share this poem with you written by one of my favorite writers, Mary Oliver:

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice — it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances — but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Amen. 

 


Speak, Lord, for Your Servant is Listening

Sermon 1/17/2021
Deacon Formation Retreat, DioMass

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern and help us always always to answer you by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.

My mind and my heart have been greatly troubled since the insurrection that took place on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. My soul traveled through a frustration and rage that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Violence, both symbolic and literal through gun blasts, confederate flags waving, noose and gallows on display, renegade law enforcement standing by and watching, and so on plays over and over in my mind. I have been dumbfounded that a group of people can be so full of rage and so incredibly divisive. And I can’t help but wonder how a group of people, some run-of-the-mill stereotypical Americans, gathered themselves into such an angry mob. When I hear leaders repeat, “This isn’t us!” “This isn’t America!” I’m deeply unsettled. Our own Bp. Gates’s response helped to settle me some, “...if we are to move forward as a nation with determination and hope, we cannot begin with a categorical denial–“This is not who we are!”–which is manifestly not true. Rather, we must look ourselves in the mirror and say, “This is part of who we are; let us repent and change.” 

But it’s also more than that. We, I, have to remember my call. Our call as Episcopalians and our call as baptized Christians. Our Baptismal Covenant plainly lays out how to respond to times like these. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

In order to carry out this call we must first be confident in the fact that we are loved and known. God tells us time and again we’re loved, valued, needed. Psalm 139 tells us we are known, we are loved and indeed we’re “marvelously made.”

Lately I’ve spent some time reminding myself about the ministry of The Rev. Dr. Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers. As a child, my mother wouldn’t let me watch shows like Sesame Street on television. She said that shows like that were anxiety-producing and too quick for developing brains to follow. She much-preferred shows, like Mister Rogers, that were thoughtful, calm, and quiet. What made Mister Rogers so special was his grounded ability to respect the dignity of each and every living creature he encountered. And, in particular, children who were so often ‘unseen.’ Mister Rogers deeply understood that in order to be a healthy, functioning adult, a growing child must first truly know that they are loved, known, and respected. In an interview that was highlighted in the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Mister Rogers says, “Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All parenting. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it.” He then went on to talk about the importance of reflecting that in the thing that everyone has in their home: the television. But, what he says about love is so true and quite profound. 

So, this has led me to wonder in what ways does this angry mob, which represents a swath of America, feel unloved? Unknown? Unseen? 

In an article published on January 11 in The Boston Globe entitled “What drives the pro-Trump mob” Dr. Arie W. Kruglanski, distinguished professor in psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, talks about the three Ns of violent extremism. They are: Need, Narrative, and Network. Summarized thusly: Need: a need or motivation to feel significant and respected, Narrative: ties the need for significance to a course of action, and, Network: — people’s communities — affirms the narrative and validates it. It also bestows respect and admiration on those who do what the narrative tells them. In the article, Kruglanski’s final paragraph was what really came as a punch in the gut to my rage-filled self and sent me reeling back to my call as a Christian. He says: “What lessons are we to learn from Jan. 6., and how can we prevent a repeat? Understanding the ubiquitous need for significance that fuels extremism is fundamental. This means appreciating the grievances and anxieties that threats to dignity entail, and focus on inequalities, intolerance, and disenfranchisement to create a society where such threats are minimized. We must forge networks within various community institutions, schools, social services, churches, and law enforcement, and task them with initiatives that lend all people significance and dignity. Such initiatives would need to rebuild the trust people have in society, educate Americans to appreciate differences, and focus on tolerance. It has to be a whole society effort for building an inclusive and humane America, one that resists attempts to split our nation asunder.”

He’s so right. And what he said undergirds our own call as Christians and what Jesus asks of each of us. And it’s what we’ve vowed to do. 

The events of January 6, 2021 should serve as a wake-up call. There’s much work to be done. I’m not seeking unity so much as healing. My prayer for those who feel angry and become violent is that they will find healing, love, purpose. This is not an easy prayer to pray. Anger seems easier sometimes. Often.

Tomorrow we direct our attention to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a true embodiment of non-violence and love. From his movement, his disciples went on to achieve great things and to carry on his vision, Christ’s vision, of love and unity. {pause} In his poignant reflection published by The New York Times following his death this past summer, Representative John Lewis’s words help to remind us of our call, “Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. 

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

So, friends, what is the “highest calling of your heart”? In what ways are you, like Nathanael, being invited to “come and see”? Knowing what God sees in you and how deeply you’re loved and known, how will you, how will we, seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves? How will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? May we all begin by having the courage to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 


Yes, Lord, I Will Follow You

Homily 1/24/2021
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, hearts to discern and help us have the courage to leave our nets behind and follow you. Amen.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my Name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Whenever our lectionary brings us the story of these two sets of fishing brothers, soon to be disciples, I find myself in utter disbelief. I picture myself in that scenario and have a difficult time believing I would just drop what I’m doing and follow this guy who was running all over town saying that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

And yet, at the same time, there’s a still small voice inside me that whispers, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you.” 

It’s that voice, inside each of us, that needs to be listened to. It takes courage to listen to that voice. And once we start to listen, it’s very hard to stop. Once we begin to see the ways that we turn away from God, we can choose to live more fully into the life that God is calling us to live. But it isn’t easy and often it’s painful. Truly repenting, acknowledging the ways we separate from God, can mean opening a part of ourselves that we have worked very hard to keep shut.

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Repenting of one’s own sin doesn’t automatically fix the larger problems...the larger sins...the Social Sins. These are the sins we have committed as a society and, at times, by not necessarily doing something wrong but rather by standing by and not doing something. Roman Catholic priest and theologian Gregory Baum said, “Personal sin is freely chosen; social sin is collective blindness.” This is where repentance gets really hard and starting to turn back can seem easier. 

Right now many of you are participating in Sacred Ground as part of Becoming Beloved Community, the Episcopal Church’s long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in our personal lives, our ministries, and our society. This curriculum, specifically intended for white people, can serve to peel back the layers of the ways we as Christians perpetuate the sin of racism.

If we let it... If we allow ourselves to inhabit the uncomfortable space of feeling empathy and accepting responsibility, we can move forward to repent and repair the sins committed against others, specifically persons of color.

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoner free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

January 6, 2021 can seem so far away from us now. We have a new administration, the Capitol Building has been reclaimed. Swastikas no longer mar the hallowed halls of our nation’s historic institutions. And yet... The evil that reared its ugly head that day still lurks around the corner. We can’t deny that there still remains a swath of Americans who feel unseen. Unheard. Perhaps even unloved. As we know, most, if not all the rioters who stormed the Capitol Building are white people. Angry white people. People who in some way feel threatened. So, now that we’re past that awful day and we have a new administration, new curtains in the White House, new policies, or old policies renewed, how should we reflect on what happened? How do we keep a riot like that from happening again? In an article published on January 11 in The Boston Globe entitled “What drives the pro-Trump mob” Dr. Arie W. Kruglanski, distinguished professor in psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, talks about this very issue. He says: “What lessons are we to learn from Jan. 6., and how can we prevent a repeat? Understanding the ubiquitous need for significance that fuels extremism is fundamental. This means appreciating the grievances and anxieties that threats to dignity entail, and focus on inequalities, intolerance, and disenfranchisement to create a society where such threats are minimized. We must forge networks within various community institutions, schools, social services, churches, and law enforcement, and task them with initiatives that lend all people significance and dignity. Such initiatives would need to rebuild the trust people have in society, educate Americans to appreciate differences, and focus on tolerance. It has to be a whole society effort for building an inclusive and humane America, one that resists attempts to split our nation asunder.”

Will you love the 'You' you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Turning away from the things that separate us from the love of God and choosing to turn toward God mean taking a good hard look at the ways we hurt one another. The ways we allow our fears, insecurities, grudges, and pain to dictate how we interact with one another and as a society. The good news is that we have the tools necessary to heal, to repent and to follow Christ. In fact, we’ve vowed to do this. Every time we repeat our baptismal covenant we’re vowing to repent. We’re vowing to do the hard work. We’re vowing to, “...seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we’re vowing to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” And, I might add, we’re doing this together. As the body of Christ. If one of us struggles, and each of us will, there are others around to help and to show love.

Christ, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

The five poetic verses I’ve inserted throughout this homily are from a hymn entitled, “The Summons” by John Bell who’s a member of the Iona Community in Scotland. The first-person conversation between Jesus and a follower serves to pull us in and remind us of who and whose we are -- beloved children of God. Jesus calls to us time and time again and it’s up to us to listen and act. To act individually and to act corporately. What is done to one of us is done to each of us -- good and bad. Love spreads. Hate spreads. 

So, friends, what are you being called to do? In what ways are you, like these fishermen, being invited to drop your nets and follow Jesus? Knowing that repentance is required, how will you, how will we... seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves? How will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

May we all begin by having the courage to respond, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you.” Amen.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus

Homily 2/28/21
Epiphany Parish, Walpole

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us to have the courage to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

In Mark’s gospel up until now we’ve been content with stories of Jesus’s baptism, his gathering of the twelve apostles, all the people he’s healing, demons he’s exorcising, and so on. And then we get to chapter 8, verse 31 and we’re abruptly alerted to the harsh reality that Jesus is going to die. Jesus tells us, “quite openly,” according to Mark, that he’s going to be killed. And not only that, he’s going to... “...undergo great suffering.” Jesus: Leader. Teacher. Friend. The one whom the disciples have grown to love deeply and have given up so much for, is going to be killed.

In a flash, Peter tries to get Jesus to stop talking. Poor Peter is already in denial mode. He petulantly doesn’t want to hear what Jesus is saying. But Jesus scolds him and continues with his teaching. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

It seems that Jesus has resigned himself to the reality that his earthly life will come to an end. He will literally take up his cross, that instrument of torture and death. But he obviously isn’t asking his followers to get themselves crucified alongside him. No, rather, he’s commanding those who are serious about discipleship to figuratively take up their cross and follow him…...To deny themselves and to lose their lives and, because we know that Easter comes after Lent, be reborn anew. Lent is the time in our Christian year when we walk with Jesus and his disciples through the desert toward Holy Week. Our Ash Wednesday liturgy lays out our Lenten charge so plainly, we’re invited, “...in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.”

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Each Lent I wonder about what it must’ve been like to be one of Jesus’s followers back then. What must it have been like knowing that Jesus was going to die and yet, as a disciple, still be expected to carry out his ministry? Jesus didn’t have to tell his disciples what was going to happen to him. He could’ve just let them continue doing what they were doing and then trust them to deal with the aftermath of his death. But he didn’t do that. SLOW He wanted them to know so they could begin to prepare for their own ministry. This was their moment of self-reflection and discernment. They had to think of their own role in this ministry without Jesus there to throw out illustrative parables, Socratic teaching, or words of love and support. 

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

I’ve heard from several of my friends and colleagues that this year has already felt like Lent. We’ve given up so much during this pandemic. Each of us, I imagine, is ready to hear some trumpets and celebrate Easter right now. It’s coming. Easter is coming. There will be Easter. There is a vaccine. There will be fewer illnesses and deaths. There will once again be handshakes and hugs. There will also be opportunities for doing things differently. 

Because of the pandemic, churches all over the world have had to learn how to continue to remain in community while being physically separated. Countless religious organizations that at one time would not have ever even considered live-streaming a service are now loud and proud on social media for the world to see, occasional technical difficulties aside. What an incredible opportunity for evangelism!

It is possible, even in the midst of Lent, to feel the hope of Easter. And it’s that hope of resurrection, renewal, and rebirth that can give us the courage to take time to self-examine what it is that still separates us from the love of God. And, as we know so well, we can’t get to Easter without first going through Good Friday.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Take up your cross.

Take up the thing on which a part of you will die.

Carry it.

So, what does all this mean for us? What does it mean to take up your cross? If, for Jesus, the cross is a symbol of his willingness to die for his cause, what are the crosses that we need to take up?

What parts of yourself are you willing to let die so that you can live again? 

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.




From Darkness Into Light (and shades of gray)

Homily 3/14/21
Epiphany Parish, Walpole

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us to have the courage to move from darkness into light. Amen.

When we arrive at today’s gospel in our lectionary, we enter in the middle of a conversation that Jesus is having with Nicodemus, a Pharisee. It’s like we’re in a movie theater (remember those?!) and decide to step out to quickly get more popcorn and we get back moments later yet somehow we’ve missed an entire scene that ends up being incredibly important to the plot. Anyway, moments before the serpent on a stick verse in today’s scripture, Nicodemus has come to Jesus in the cover of night with some questions. Nicodemus willingly admits that he believes Jesus was sent from God but he just can’t wrap his brain around some of Jesus’s abstract teachings. Some preaching commentaries about Nicodemus paint a picture of a dimwitted old man who’s set in his ways. I prefer to think of him as someone who’s accustomed to the way things have always been but who also knows, in his heart of hearts, that there’s more. He’s searching and asking Jesus for guidance.

This gospel lesson, made up of polarities: believe, don’t believe; be condemned, don’t be condemned; love light, hate the dark; good, evil and so on, can be overwhelming when I imagine most of us feel like we live somewhere in the middle with shades of gray, not black and white or either/or. And this is precisely why we have Nicodemus. Nicodemus is our shade of gray. We might be on our way out of the dark into the light, but many of us are moving along in the gray.

By the time we get to chapter 3 verse 14, Jesus has already talked to Nicodemus about what it means to be reborn in the Spirit, and what it means to have faith. He has also managed to insult Nicodemus’s intelligence by saying, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” Jesus is knocking Nicodemus off his pedestal a bit. He’s shaking him up. Trying to get him to be vulnerable enough to search his own heart for what he likely already knows to be true. And then Jesus ends his teaching of Nicodemus by ribbing him a bit about his sneaking around in the cover of darkness by implying he’s a lover of darkness, not the light. It’s not an incredibly comforting gospel passage but then, the gospel writer didn’t write it for our comfort. However, there is hope when we consider the totality of John’s gospel as it relates to Nicodemus.

Nicodemus shows up two more times in John’s gospel. First, he sort of defends Jesus by pointing out that Jewish law states that a person can’t be tried and found guilty by a crowd but rather one should first be allowed to have a hearing and then be judged. He’s obviously hesitant to defend Jesus outright because he could lose his job and what would the neighbors think?! Then the final time we hear about Nicodemus is following Jesus’s crucifixion when Nicodemus joins others in helping to dress Jesus’s body for burial. To the tomb, Nicodemus brings an enormous amount of expensive myrrh and aloe. This was clearly an act of deep love and adoration. He had been transformed by Jesus’s ministry and was no longer that questioning, rigidly law-abiding Pharisee sneaking around in the dark.

By following Nicodemus’s path we can see that, while this part of the gospel deals in dichotomies, or black and whites, there’s space for believers to come to their own conclusions. Nicodemus was transformed. And for us, this is a really important point. 

God, who loves us unconditionally, invites us to grow and change. God wants us to ask questions. To desire better understanding. And God meets us where we are. Each of us is on our own journey. Sometimes venturing out into a deeper way of following Christ means that we’re afraid and so we step out slowly. When no one is looking. Under our own cover of darkness. And that’s ok. Under the cover of darkness is how it needs to begin sometimes. 

Nicodemus went from only being brave enough to engage with Jesus under the cover of darkness, to coming as close as he possibly could to standing up for Jesus without getting himself in trouble with his fellow Pharisees, to finally demonstrating outward and visible love and affection for Jesus. 

It’s hard to know where we might end up when we start out in the cover of darkness but as long as we keep asking questions, wondering, seeking the truth, and being open to the work of the Spirit, we will eventually make it past the gray area and into the full presence of the light and love of God.


Love

Homily April 1, 2021 - Maundy Thursday
Epiphany Parish, Walpole

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us to have the courage to love and be loved. Amen.

Here we are. We’ve arrived at the start of the Easter Triduum: the three holiest days of the year wherein we commemorate and celebrate Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. We start with Jesus and his disciples in that upper room where they’re having their intimate supper, the last supper. The meal is followed by an incredibly vulnerable moment when Jesus teaches his students their most important lesson and gives them their final mandate. In the submissive act of kneeling down and washing his disciples' feet Jesus is embodying his commandment that they love one another. Next, we head into Good Friday - that deeply solemn and painful scene where Jesus breathed his last breath. And finally on to the Easter Vigil with the lighting of the Holy Fire and celebration of Christ’s glorious resurrection to round out this triptych.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a little emotional as I walk through these liturgies. To empathize, even just a little, with the pain, both physical and emotional, Jesus experienced, or to imagine and feel what it must’ve been like to be Peter or John, or better yet, Mary Magdalen, to have your heart broken and experience that nearly unbearable pain of grief, is enough to make me weep openly. 

The emotional extremes we bear witness to during Holy Week each year go to the core, quite literally the “heart,” of what it means to be human: Love, loss, pain, grief, sacrifice, rage, hate, and so on. The one theme that weaves this entire passion play together and helps to keep us focused on just what the point of all this is, is Love. 

Love. The simplest and yet somehow most complex four-letter word we know. 

At that last supper Jesus is commanding his disciples to love one another the way he has loved them. As is typical of the disciples, they don’t fully understand what he’s saying to them. He’s their Lord and teacher and yet he also wants to become like a servant and wash their feet. Each of them swears allegiance to him. They deny they will betray him. They don’t fully understand that the love Jesus freely offers is the love that God offers. Even the ones who horrifically betray Jesus will still continue to receive this holy love from God. 

When we think about all the ways we hear about love in scripture, some scholars and theologians have helped by sussing out four different types of love, and each, of course, has an original Greek word: Eros, Philia, Storge, and Agape. 

Eros is romantic love. It’s intimate, it's sexual, it’s very much “Song of Solomon.”

Philia is love between close friends. Your very best friends. Think of Ruth and Naomi, John and Jesus, poor old Job and his friends, and so on.

Storge is love between family members - siblings, children, spouse, etc. Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, Abraham and Sarah, etc.

And finally there’s agape. Agape is the most intimate form of love and it’s what God offers to us. Offers to humankind. Unconditional, sacrificial love. God is love. Agape. Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins is agape love.

So, now let’s return to the scene in that upper room where the disciples have dined with Jesus. Feet have been washed, and now Jesus is teaching that one last lesson: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is asking his disciples to practice agape love. And the implication, if we tie it to the rest of Jesus’s formation of the disciples, is that these disciples will continue to practice agape love toward all those whom they encounter even after Jesus has been crucified and resurrected. And, and here’s the tricky bit for us. Jesus says to love one another just as he has loved us. Ok. Great. Jesus...God...is love. And God’s love for us is agape love. Sacrificial love. Unconditional love. This is how we’re called to love one another. All those other forms: eros, philia, and storge, are important too and we need them. We need all of that love, but sometimes those other forms of love can distract us or pull us away from pure agape love. Agape love can also be hard to receive. It can be overwhelming. Particularly for those who haven’t experienced much love to begin with. Perhaps one of us had a parent who wasn’t capable of giving love. Or perhaps we’ve done something that we believe to be so horrific that we’re convinced we don’t ever deserve to be loved. These are the kinds of things that trap us and keep us from the full, open-armed, open-hearted love of God. But the thing of it is, is that the more we open ourselves up to the all-embracing, all-knowing, all-seeing agape love of God, the more we’re able to love others and the better we’ll be at injecting God’s agape love into our relationships with one another.

No doubt some of us have struggled on and off with feelings of being unloved. When we’re at our best, we know God loves us and wants only the best for us. When we’re at our no-so-best, we believe we’re unlovable and that we might not even deserve God’s love. Perhaps we know in our head that we’re loved and maybe we just forget to remind our heart that we’re loved. A helpful tool to remember how God loves us can be to take gospel readings and replace the words Jesus and God with the word Love. Afterall, we know that God is love. Listen to this from tonight’s gospel, “After love had washed their feet, love said to them, “Do you know what love has done to you? If love has washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, in love. For love has given you an example, that you should do the same.”

Just as you’ve been loved, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

God is love. And God loves you for no reason other than the fact that you are you. And you, we, each of us, we’re called to seek out and practice that same agape love, hard though it may be sometimes, ever mindful of God’s unwavering, unconditional, sacrificing love for us. 

I’d like to close with a poem entitled, Maundy Thursday by English poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and academic, Malcolm Guite. 

Here is the source of every sacrament,The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

Amen.


“Peace be with you."

Homily April 24, 2022 - The Second Sunday of Easter
St. Anne’s-Bethany, Arlington, MA (Deacon Formation)

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us always to have the courage to be at Peace in you. Amen.

And Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.”

Three times Jesus said this to those terrified disciples locked together in one room. Three times Jesus was telling his most beloved followers to settle. To be calm. To be at peace. But not in a way you might tell a room full of preschoolers to settle down. This was more than just sitting still and turning on your ‘listening ears.’ Jesus was calling for his disciples to take on the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians) The peace that “guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And, as we are reminded in the Maundy Thursday liturgy, Peace is Jesus’s last gift to his disciples, his own peace he left with them; peace which the world cannot give, Jesus gives to his beloved followers. (John) The peace that comes from deep abiding faith, belief, and trust.

Some scientists have said that we humans basically have between 6 and 8 emotions that we can experience. More recent research posits that there are actually 27 emotions we can experience. Can you imagine what the atmosphere was like in that locked room before Jesus appeared the first time?! The room must’ve been steeped in emotion. Buzzing and spinning with all sorts of human feeling from terror, grief, maybe some shame, anger, confusion, anxiety, the list is endless. And four simple words are employed to begin to reign in the chaos: peace be with you. Then Jesus nipped any doubt in the bud by showing his wounds thereby moving things along so he could get on to the next step of getting the disciples out, doing the work they were called to do.

And yet, of course, the heightened emotions still remained. So, Jesus addressed what might’ve been the loudest emotion in the room aside from fear: anger. Anger toward Judas, toward Peter, toward Pilate, toward the entire political system, and so on. And what is Jesus’s advice about what to do with this anger? “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Basically, let it go. It will tear you up inside to retain…to hold onto…the sins of others. Forgiveness is the way forward.

In order to do this, Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assuming each of the disciples was baptized, in a way, this moment was a sort of reaffirmation of their baptismal vows…just not with the hearty asperging like some of us received in this very space last week. 

And so now we move on to Thomas. Poor Thomas. Poor, poor Thomas. I didn’t want to preach about Thomas but in my prayer and writing I just kept coming back to him. I say “poor Thomas” because I actually think that he’s the braver disciple in the story but, as we know, he usually gets a bad rap as ‘doubting Thomas.’ He’s the one who tells it like it is. He’s blunt. Doesn’t hold back. He won’t believe Jesus is alive unless he sees the proof for himself. I find Thomas’s type of stubbornness to be really… relatable. (LOL) I can’t help but also think that Thomas desperately wanted Jesus to still be alive but was too afraid to even hope for such a thing…it was too painful to consider. But I realize that’s reading an awful lot into the text. 

So here we encounter Thomas finally reunited with the rest of the crew. The disciples, still hunkered down in fear, need to hear those four words yet again. “Peace be with you.” And, just as Jesus had done with the other disciples, Jesus showed Thomas his wounds and further, in what is purely an act of Jesus’s love for Thomas, invites him to touch. And Thomas’s immediate and unwavering response, "My Lord and my God!" is the whole point of the thing.

Thomas, the faithful, who was ready and eager to die with Jesus in making the trip to raise Lazarus. Thomas, the student, hungry to understand, who in all openness and vulnerability, asks Jesus at that Last Supper, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” So that we can learn from Jesus that he is, “the Way, and the Truth and the Life.” And finally, Thomas, the pained and grieving, whose mind and heart can only believe that Jesus is alive when he can know him by his wounds.

In meditating on Christ’s love for us through death on the cross, The Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon, celebrated 19th-century British orator (Baptist), reminds us that, “There is no restorative for a sinking faith like a sight of the wounded Saviour. Look, soul, and live by the proofs of his death! Come and put thy finger, by faith, into the print of the nails, and these wounds shall heal thee of unbelief. The wounds of our Lord are the tokens of his love.” 

We can only be at peace with our own anxieties, emotions, angers, fears, and so on when we fully believe—with or without seeing—in God. Faithfully trust and fully believe in the power of the resurrection and what it means for us to be, to live as, a resurrection people. Jesus isn’t telling the disciples to block out what has happened, to bury their feelings, seek revenge, or to distract themselves with quick fixes or easy outs. Jesus is telling them to be at peace. {slower} Only when we’re at peace, a peace which the world cannot give, thinking clearly with uncluttered emotions, can we truly get out from behind our locked doors and go out into the world to do the work that we as Christians are called to do.  

Let us pray.

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts. Amen. (Prayer for Peace. A New Zealand Prayer Book p. 142)


© Margaret Lias 2022