Learning to Listen: Mary, Martha, and our Great Societal Problem

This is the text of a sermon preached at Hamline Church on July 17, 2016. The two texts were the Parable of the Leaven, and the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus.

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[a] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Dear Saint Paul: Let us be the city that says “No More.”

Now that Saint Paul and Falcon Heights are synonymous with an image of a gun trained on a man who is bleeding out, synonymous with one of the worst police shootings in America, and the incredibly strong woman who filmed it all—now that this is who we are, can we, Twin Cities, can we be the city that pulls together and says, “No more”?

Dear city of mine, let us be the ones who do this differently.

Let us be the city where the whole community arrives at the Black Lives Matter protest, where white and black and Asian and American Indian can say alike with pride that “Black Lives Matter Here.”

Let us be the city where the governor comes out of his house, listens to the family. Just listens. And then to the people of Minnesota, he says: “He would be alive if he were white.”

Let us be the city where the officer apologizes, where there is no attempt to smear the character of the man who died, where this officer can say: “I’m sorry. I tweaked. It was wrong, and I can’t take it back.”

Can we be the city that admits, collectively, that we have a problem?

And then, can we be the city where we rise above the vitriol of opposing positions, the city that can say “I am pro-Black Lives, and I am pro-Police.” Can we be the city that says together, “I care and love the police here so much that I will demand that they be of the calmest, and strongest, and best among us.” Can we be the city that says together, “We are all weaker when our Black brothers and sisters are treated as though they don’t matter”?

Let us be the city that says together, “I will interrogate my suspicion of black bodies—I will notice when I am afraid, and I will pledge to be afraid no more.”

Let us be the city that says, “I will notice, and I will interrogate, the schools where white children and black children never take a class together, because of the disparity of wealth between us.”

Let us be the city that says, “There are too many guns here, and everywhere, and we pledge to remove them from our streets—whatever way we can, so that fewer people die.”

Let us be the city that listens, unconditionally, when the Black community says, “Stop killing us.”

Let us be the city that simply does the right thing.

And when the going is too tough, and we want to sink into violent rages of anger, or when we want to despair and go back to living as though it never happened, let us be the city that asks the God we worship to hang onto us.

Let us acknowledge that we cannot do this alone, that our strength comes from the God we know—in whatever faith we practice. Let us rest in our God, knowing that trusting only our selves and our own experience is the sin that got us into this predicament.

Let us know that whatever we must confront as a city, especially as the white people of this city, that we are safe in the incredible and unimaginable power of the One who loves us enough to demand better of us. Let us ask this God to love us into strength we need to take off the blinders we all have been wearing.

Dear Saint Paul,

Let us be the city that does not shy away from this, that cannot ignore it, that cannot sweep it under the rug. Let us be the city that interrogates the status quo, and interrogates the privilege of whiteness, and interrogates the proliferation of firearms that make it so easy to kill each other.

Let us be the city that rises above and says never, never again.

Sermon from 5/29: On the 7th Day, God Rested

This sermon was preached at Hamline Church, using the text Genesis 2:1-3 (the 7th Day):

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Continue reading Sermon from 5/29: On the 7th Day, God Rested

Embrace the Awkward this Palm Sunday–our faith needs it.

This Sunday in Minnesota, Christians are going to congregate around their churches, maybe in the street–maybe in a public park across the street–with palm fronds. They’re going to start singing some weird, old school hymn, waving those palm fronds around (or maybe just holding them anxiously, since they’re Minnesotans) and walking around–processing. The priests and pastors will be in their regalia, white robes and strange colored scarves, and the acolytes, the choirs–wearing church clothes outside the church, singing church songs from a thousand years ago, re-enacting (badly, probably) an event that happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East.

With palms. In Minnesota.

Back up and think for a second, church people: it is going to be one bizarre sight to our Muslim neighbors–confusing to Buddhists and Hindus, perhaps threatening to our Jewish neighbors, and maybe just dumb for the atheists and agnostics peering outside.

Palm Sunday is awkward. It’s ridiculous. The whole world is watching, and it’s just weird.

Palm Sunday is the first service in the most important week of our year. And, it’s an emotional whirlwind, a bait-and-switch Sunday. We as the congregation play the role of the masses of Jerusalem, the people hungry for salvation, and the people hungry for blood.

In the span of an hour, we glorify our savior, begging him to lift us up from the powerlessness of our lives–and then when it becomes clear what this means, we turn on him, and we demand that he be killed.

Tradition requires that we meet outside for this Sunday. Not in the safety of the church, but exposed, for all the world to see, on this remembrance of one of the most deplorable moments in our story.

Palm Sunday doesn’t feel good, to stand outside your building, looking around to see who in your neighborhood is watching you. It doesn’t feel right, to do ‘churchy’ things in a public place–where the ancient rituals we take for granted are visible for anyone to judge.

We’re forced outside of our safe walls, and its not for a picnic or a blessing: it’s the  part of our story where we praised a man as our king, and then killed him a week later.*

On this Sunday, we’re terribly exposed, and not in a way that makes us look like the heroes.

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Well, I think you have only to look around at our current political climate to know why we should be warned about the fickleness of a crowd of downtrodden people. We don’t have to look far to see the way that a few fears can turn a crowd into a murderous bunch–and how it can happen to any of us.

We live out this story, we play these characters, so that we can remember how strong and how dangerous our power as a people can be.

We do it so that we can never be truly complacent about who we are as people of faith: to remember that we must always remember how vicious blind following can be.

And we do it on the steps of the church, in the yard, maybe in a city park, so that we can be exposed to all the prying eyes of the rest of the world. It’s incredibly awkward, stupid, and frightening, to Do Church this way. But we have to.

We have to do it, because this exposure holds us to account: our traditions demand that we do this so everyone can see, to remind us that the seeds of such destruction reside in all of us.

It is important for religions of power to remember how destructive they can become if they do not remember to diligently seek the truth. If we listen rightly, Palm Sunday is a very hard Sunday for those of us who walk in power and privilege.

None of us are too good for this part of our story.

We need Palm Sunday to keep us accountable, now more than ever, to the parts of us that succumb to fear, to the parts of us that say “Messiah!” only when it is convenient for us. We need Palm Sunday to make us look awkward to others, to keep us from thinking that what we do is ‘normal’, that being a Christian is ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’, to remind us of how quickly we, too, might turn to destruction.

So, this Sunday, dear Christians, I hope you stand outside–where it is awkward, anxious-making and uncomfortable.

I hope together you shout “Hosanna!” and together you shout “Crucify!” and together you remember the power of a people whipped up into a frenzy.

I hope you remember collectively as a people how quickly we can be turned against others, how quickly we can sow destruction when we cried “Hosanna” a moment before. I hope you remember in pain how this story has been transformed into a way to hurt Jewish people.

I hope you embrace this opportunity for public remembrance that the Christian faith is far from innocent.

For all of us who might be willing to listen, in that garden of Gethsemane, Jesus yanks on our sleeping ears and says, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

Palm Sunday is here to remind us that the time of trial is now. Go outside of your church and do something ridiculous, remind yourself that this is a weird, strange faith, that shows us the viciousness of power, and calls us to account. Feel awkward, outside the safe confines of your beautiful, quiet buildings.

Remember that we all have a vigil to keep against the viciousness of the mob–and that we are all only one step away from it. It is in all of us.

And keep awake. Pray that we all might be strong in the time of trial.


*I am very adamant that this is a part of the Christian story, that this is a WE moment. There is rhetoric out there that says that “The Jews” did this, but we should never forget, and never stop reminding ourselves, that this is a part of our CHRISTIAN story, and never an us vs. them tool. I also believe that churches have a duty to remind their people of this–to put their congregations in the role of the crowd. It was never ‘the Jews’ that cried “crucify!” It was us–the idiot masses–that turned on a man whose message threatened them. Or, ironically, the idiot masses who did whatever the man with most recent power grab told them to do. We as leaders have a duty to make our congregations remember.

This post is a continuation of an idea from three years ago, posted here.

Marker Art #73: Queen

queen w1000

This one is called Queen. It’s obviously taken a while to get it all together. It’s a big one, and I’d say the details are worth a second click. 🙂 I promised myself that I’d complete an image in Lent. Been drawing a little bit more than usual, so I’m hoping to have more to share soon.

My Episcopal Identity

The Episcopal Café asked folks recently to answer the question—how do Episcopalians understand their Identity as Episcopalians?

So here’s my response: #MyEpiscopalIdentity

First and foremost, to be an Episcopalian is to be a Christian, and so my Episcopal Identity is about believing in Jesus the Christ:

that God decided to become human to live through the struggle and mess of this life, and ultimately redeem it. I believe that God loved us so much, with such a ridiculous and catastrophic love, that God actually became one of us in order to live, die, and then conquer death itself–just to love us better. I believe that God chooses to take what’s dead and make it new again, and that we have the beautiful opportunity to work alongside God in this.

My faith as an Episcopalian is how I choose to respond to that love. Why have I chosen to live out this belief in this way, rather than any other church?

Well… Continue reading My Episcopal Identity

The Transfiguration is about Peter–and imperfection.

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke’s Account, found here.

“It is good for us to be here! Let us build three dwellings! One for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah…

 He babbled, dumbstruck. His eyes were heavy, his body heavier—he was tired, our Peter—and he was blinded. Here stood his teacher, dazzling white in this inexplicable light, white like lightning, speaking with the two most important men in the history of Israel. He saw them turn, and perhaps Moses lifted a hand to Jesus, reached to touch him in with some sort of comforting hold—and Peter knew that they were turning to leave. He blurted it out, leaning forward, nearing peeling after them:

“Let us build three dwellings!” Continue reading The Transfiguration is about Peter–and imperfection.

Marker Artist, Youth Director, and general Smarty Pants