January 29, 2017

4 Epiphany

Micah 6: 1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 5:1-12



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Earlier this week, White House Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, was interviewed on Meet The Press, an interview which took place two days following President Trump’s inauguration.   Ms. Conway was commenting on a series of false statements that White House press secretary Sean Spicer had made inflating the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration. Ms. Conway told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.” Mr. Todd responded, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

I don’t know about you, but my facebook feed was full of responses to this interview ranging from the satirical, in which a friend posted a picture of a large plate of French fries and the caption “I’m enjoying my alternative salad,” to the more serious in which others invoked a political and social culture once invoked by author George Orwell in his classic novel, 1984. 

However you feel about alternative facts, the simple reality is that they are really nothing new.  In fact I believe alternative facts are at least as old as the Bible itself, and we know this because the Bible is full of alternative facts.  Take the creation story – most well educated people believe that the universe has unfolded over a period of billions of years, however the Bible teaches alternative facts – the universe was created in seven days.  Who is right – science or the Bible?

There are many other examples of the Bible contradicting itself, offering alternative versions to familiar stories, and today we hear one of these alternative tellings of a familiar story.  Today it is the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus’s unparalled teaching of what it means to live a Christ-like life.    

The problem with the Sermon on the Mount is that there are different, and in some ways, conflicting versions.  The version of the Sermon on the Mount we hear in Matthew’s Gospel is easily the preferred version of this teaching in America, as it lets rich people like many of us pretend that Jesus never said anything woeful about us while also pretending that we’re the intended recipients of the blessings he proclaimed for the poor. 

There is another version of the Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Luke, that is not nearly as forgiving. 

I will give you an example.  In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  In the version from Gospel of Luke (6:20), Jesus says it differently: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  Did you get the difference?  In Matthew, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, and in Luke, Jesus says, blessed are the poor.  Who are the poor in spirit?  The usual answer is that the poor in spirit are people who have more than enough money and material goods, but are lacking… spirit.  Who are the poor?  They are all around us, even in this gentrifying neighborhood - they are the young family Nancy Simpson and I met outside the church last week with two young children, no car, little food. 

So, we have two versions of one teaching Jesus gave, and they mean two very different things.  Which version is the truth and which one is the alternative fact?  It doesn’t matter – we need both.  Luke’s version reminds us of our moral obligation to feed and clothe the poor, period.  Matthew’s version, the version we hear today, reminds us that we are blessed, no matter what condition we are in.  If today you are feeling angry, scared, hopeful, anxious, joyful or whatever condition you find yourself in – you are blessed.  I have found no better response to Jesus’s teaching of blessing than in country singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams in a song she wrote in 2011, simply called “Blessed.” She sings:

"We were blessed by the minister, who practiced what he preached, we were blessed by the poor man, who said heaven is within reach, we were blessed by the neglected child, who knew how to forgive, we were blessed by the battered woman who didn’t seek revenge.  We were blessed by the mother who gave up her child, we were blessed by the soldier, who gave up his life, we were blessed by the teacher who didn’t have a degree, we were blessed by the prisoner who knew how to be free.  We were blessed by the homeless man who showed us the way home, we were blessed by the hungry man who filled us with love, by the little innocent baby who taught us the truth.  We were blessed by the forlorn, forsaken and abused.  We were blessed." 

Our work as people who are blessed people is to go out into the world and to be a become the the blessing the world needs.  That’s what we’re doing on February 18 with our Visioning event – we are coming together as one community, where everyone, and I mean everyone gets to pray and discern how God is calling St. Andrew’s to reach out into the neighborhood and our city, to be a blessing.  I hope you join us.  We need your voice.  We need your blessing.  And for that need, there is no alternative fact.  AMEN. 

December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28


THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

I welcome all of you here to St. Andrew’s this Christmas Eve.  However you got here, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here as a friend.

Tonight we are all gathered here because it is Christmas Eve – we are here to celebrate the birth of Jesus into a world that centuries ago was not ready to receive him.  Even before his birth, his very pregnant mother Mary,likely a teenager about fifteen or sixteen, and her husband Joseph, were not welcomed into any hotel or home in Bethlehem.

No one was going out of their way to open up their homes when they saw this young couple in need of a place to stay.  The hotels were all full, the only place they ended up was a corral for animals. 

From his birth, Jesus was largely misunderstood and often not welcomed.  This doesn’t really change much as Jesus grows into a man.  No longer a small infant sleeping in heavenly peace, as an adult, Jesus spoke truth to power and authority, courageously proclaimed the hypocrisy of the priests in the temple, healed and fed people, and befriended tax collectors and others who were equally outcast. 

At the end of his life, Jesus was murdered by the people he came to save, one final reminder that he was not welcomed by all.  But tonight were not supposed to think about all that.  Were supposed to think of a sleeping infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, angels proclaiming the message of Christ’s birth to the shepherds.  That’s what we want Christmas to be about, not all the messy stuff that happens afterward.  Tonight we want to focus on welcoming the Christ child, we want to keep him in the manger where he is safe.  But we can’t. 

See, this is what happens.  We will all go home, our hearts full, our eyes a little heavy, and we will go to sleep restful and content.  Tomorrow we will wake, spend time with our families or friends, maybe open some presents, and eventually we will move on in our lives, largely forgetting what it means to welcome Jesus who was born.

We will forget Jesus was born until something happens to us that makes us very uncomfortable.  It’s different for all of us, but for me the moment is when I am in the car driving and I pull up at a red light, and there is a person standing on the corner, and they are out of money and like Mary and Joseph, they don’t have a home.  What do you do? 

For me, when I see that person on the corner, I can’t help but to see Jesus in the guise of a homeless person as unwelcome and as much of an eyesore as Jesus was to many.  So, when I am at the street corner and there is a homeless person there, I do my best to roll down my window and I talk to them, to respect their dignity as a human being, made in the image of God.  Sometimes I give them money.  Will they spend it on booze or drugs?  Maybe.    Am I enabling them?  Maybe.  Is it right to do?  I don’t know.  But here is why I do that, and it is because that person on the street corner is no different from the unwelcomed infant child born in the manger in the city of Bethlehem. 

I reach out to them because for me, Christmas is a moral obligation.  We are obligated morally to reach out to the underserved and to the hungry, period.  Because that is what Jesus centered his whole life around – he didn’t reflect back the world’s lack of concern or hospitality that he got and that he endured.  Instead, he modeled, and taught all of us how to model – lives that seek to welcome others.  And the purpose of Christmas, if there is any purpose at all – is to welcome Jesus into our lives and into our hearts, not for one night out of the year, but every day of the year. 

Last week I was loading some food from a food pantry into the back seat of a car, the driver of which was a client at the food pantry.  While unloading the food, I quickly glanced into the back seat and I saw several small children, two of them were watching videos on two different cell phones.  My initial reaction was “what are these people doing getting free food at a food pantry if they can afford cell phones for their kids to look at?  Isn’t there someone who deserves it more?”  And I quickly realized where that thought was coming from: judgment.  I was judging them, and I realized my error: it’s not my job to say who is and who isn’t welcomed.  No one goes to a food pantry because they want to.  They go because they need it.  And in that moment, I realized again, how easy it is to forget Christmas: Jesus born into a hostile and unwelcoming world became the most loving, welcoming person the world has ever known. 

Mercy and welcome without judgment.  That is what Christmas is about.  When your moment comes to welcome Jesus tomorrow or the next day - and it will – how will you respond?  Will you judge?  Or will you be merciful?  I hope for all of us, that we will do the later.  The world has enough judgment.  What the world needs, what we need, is mercy.  AMEN.

December 18, 2016

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7: 10-16; Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18; Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18-25



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  AMEN.

I want to talk about politics this morning (ushers if you don’t mind locking all the doors and not letting anyone out until after the sermon, please?).  Whether you are a republican, democrat, independent, or other – it doesn’t matter – in my short life I don’t recall a presidential election cycle that seemed so negative.  But if we were to press the rewind button and go back in time, we would see that throughout human history there have been untold numbers of rulers, kings, or presidents that were wildly unpopular, ineffective, or otherwise challenged. 

And that is certainly true of the Bible.  Today we hear a story about one such unpopular king.  His name was Ahaz, and we hear about him in the reading from Isaiah.   Ahaz was, during the time of Isaiah, the king of Judah, a small part of what is now Israel that included the cities like  Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and some surrounding areas.  Not only was Ahaz wildly unpopular, he was also cruel. He worshipped other gods, he built shrines and temples to honor gods of other countries, he murdered his own children, he took down the bronze altar in the Jerusalem temple.  Ahaz did everything, according to the Bible, a king was not supposed to do.  To put it in secular terms, Ahaz was a real a – (you know the rest of the word).

You could blame his mistakes on age – he was only twenty when he became king.  What makes Ahaz different from other less than desirable rulers of Judah is that typically in Bible God punishes bad kings like Ahaz for their heathen ways.  But not Ahaz.

I want to tell you a story about Ahaz, that sets up our reading today, and it helps us all understand what Isaiah is talking about today.  When Ahaz became king of Judah, a foreign kingdom called Assyria to the East of Judah was growing in power and in size.  Assyria trumped (no pun intended) everything Judah had.  Assyria had fancier buildings, they had more land, a much bigger army.  Judah was nothing compared to Assyria – but they had one thing Assyria did not have – access to the Mediterranean Coast.  So Assyria starts to encroach upon Judah, while Ahaz is the king. 

As Assyria starts moving east, several small states in what is now modern day Syria and northern Israel start to band together, because they don’t want to be swallowed up by the Assyrians.  Two kings from these small states approach Ahaz and ask to form an alliance against Assyria.  They figure that if enough small states like Judah band together, they might stand a chance against an empire the size of Assyria.  What would you do if you were Ahaz?  Whould you have said yes to their offer?

Ahaz declines their offer, perhaps naively thinking Assyria wasn’t as much of a threat.  These small states whom Ahaz refused to join with, then decide to move against Ahaz and Judah, and Ahaz is scared out of his mind.  He knows there is no way Judah would be victorious in a conflict against other unified states.  So Ahaz, that wretched, good for nothing king of Judah, gets on his knees, and asks God (the God he did not worship, by the way) for help.  Help comes in the form of the prophet Isaiah, who says to Ahaz, “The Lord will give you a sign.  Look the young woman is with child and shall bear a son.”  Ahaz says, “It’s a pregnant woman, big deal.” And Isaiah says, “the name of the child shall be Immanuel, and by the time this child develops a conscience, the states coming to attack you will no longer be a threat.”

Isaiah was right.  Assyria quickly moved, and conquered the states to the north.  But all was not well for Ahaz, who basically handed Judah into Assyrian hands.  But even then, when everything seemed to be lost, Isaiah found a miracle – a woman bearing a child. 

I thought about this story this week as I watched a video of a three year old Syrian girl whose face was covered in blood and dirt following an explosion in her country.  The girl’s lower lip hung low, conveying shock and in inability to articulate the horrors she had witnessed at such a young age.  Adults tried to comfort her, but there she sat, quietly in shock. 

That girl, and millions of similar age across the globe, are our future.  She, with her disheveled hair and bloodied forehead, is our Immanuel.  So powerful was the prophet’s vision of this child to Ahaz, that it was later picked up in the Gospel of Matthew, who incorporates a verse from this strange story of God’s mercy toward Ahaz to describe the mercy of Jesus.  And it is completely appropriate for Matthew to do so, because as we hear in Isaiah and Matthew, the name of this child is “Immanuel.”  “Immanuel” means “God is with us.”

The name of that child, Immanuel, was promised by God to a corrupt king of Judah, just as it is promised to all of us.  And if we are honest and admit our own brokenness, we aren’t much different from Ahaz.  Yet Immanuel proclaims, courageously, that God is for all of us and with all of us, whether we are a corrupt ruler, or a child victimized and physically injured as a result of political conflict and war.  I don’t understand it, I don’t know how God could be for all of us, but somehow I believe it is true, and God must, too – for that is what the name Immanuel “God with us” means.  If God is indeed with us, then this Christmas, will we be with, and for, each other?  AMEN.

December 11, 2016

The Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35: 1-10; Psalm 146: 4-9; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

John the Baptist is in prison.  He was arrested for speaking out against the marriage of Herod to a woman named Herodias.  What was so scandalous about this marriage?  Herodias was formerly married to one of Herod’s brothers, so Herod was marrying his sister-in-law, which John the Baptist declared publicly was immoral.  Was it any of John the Baptist’s business to speak out about this marriage in the first place?  Maybe, maybe not – I just imagine that if John were alive today, in the midst of all our celebrity divorces and affairs that he would have by now thrown in the towel about speaking out on such things.  Nevertheless, the consequence of John the Baptist’s proclamation was his imprisonment.

And now in prison, John the Baptist hears rumors trickling in about all these amazing things happening outside his prison cell.  The deaf hear, the blind see, the hungry are fed, and John begins to wonder is this is the work of the young Jewish rabbi Jesus, whom he baptized in the Jordan River years before he now found himself in a prison cell.  So he sends someone out to inquire, do some research, and figure out what exactly is going on.  One of John’s disciples goes and asks Jesus the question “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Jesus says to John’s disciple, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” 

Well that sounds pretty good!  People are getting healed; Jesus is doing a lot of great work.  That is a reason to rejoice!  That’s why we have this pink candle on our Advent wreath, it is part of an ancient tradition that today, the third Sunday of Advent is a day characterized by joy.  That’s what all the pink is for – levity – to rejoice and be glad.  That all is fine – except while everyone was busy rejoicing at all the good work Jesus was doing, John the Baptist was locked in a dirty prison cell for having the courage to speak out against the corrupt abuse of power, and the price he ended up paying for it was his life! Jesus may have healed many, he freed many people, but John the Baptist wasn’t one.  Or was he? 

Two weeks ago I was at Memorial Hospital to visit a young woman named Amanda.   Amanda was in the hospital because she was pregnant with a boy.  While still weeks away from delivery, Amanda was hospitalized because of intense abdominal pain, which rightfully concerned her.  So she did the right thing, and ended up being looked over by the doctors.  The doctors discovered the cause of her pain – which was that the placenta had separated from the wall of the uterus.  Apparently there is no explanation for why this occurs, but it does. 

The baby boy had maybe fifteen minutes to live once the placenta separated, and the doctors were unable to resuscitate the infant child.  And so Amanda found herself at the hospital to deliver a child she would never know, a child who would never gaze at his mother’s face. I knew all this as I was walking to her room down a hospital hallway when a man – a father-to-be, saw me, and I was wearing priest clothes, and he said – “are you here today to bless a baby?”  And I paused and looked at him, and was silent for a moment, and said, “Yes, I am here to bless a child.”  He smiled and walked away, and I walked into the room and saw Amanda, who less than twenty-four hours ago delivered her still-born son, August Ash, into the world.  Four pounds, fourteen ounces.  Seventeen inches. 

I don’t know how to describe the experience of being in that room other than to say it was holy, it was sad, it was beautiful, and it was honest.   We prayed together, and we were silent.  We blessed August, together.  And I am humbled that on December 20, we will have a memorial service for this beautiful child of God at St. Andrew’s.  At the same time I was struck by the conflict that in the season of Advent, we expectantly await for the birth of the Christ child, and in the hospital room, the reality of a mother waiting for her child to be born, only hers would be a child she would never see grow.

Is Advent about the faithful Baptizer alone in a prison cell, hearing of all the good happening outside prison walls?  What does Advent have to say to the mother of an innocent child that never breathed or opened his eyes? 

We don’t like to talk about that in church because it’s uncomfortable.  We are a culture that denies death and avoids pain and suffering as much as we can.  We stick pink candles on Advent Wreaths to remind us to “rejoice” because if we can fake doing that – then maybe we can get through another holiday season. 

Everyone wants a peaceful manger, with a starry night sky, and three kings approaching on camels.  But not many are interested in thinking about John the Baptist in prison, or about a stillborn child during Advent.  But that’s reality.  And Advent is not about shirking reality, it is about befriending the reality of our lives.  It stares us straight in the face and challenges us to answer the question of where is God for the lonely prisoner and for the mother burying her newborn son?  What color candle do they get? 

I will stand here and say, perhaps audaciously, perhaps foolishly, perhaps for no good reason at all, but I will say it because I know it is true, and it is this: God is the prisoner.  God is the child born without life.  That’s the miracle of Advent: God appears in the most unexpected places, and when God shows up, everything changes.  That is why in the midst of life and death, we rejoice, because God is a part of it all, a part of you and me.  God is the prisoner and God is stillborn, and in being both, redeems them, in God’s time.  AMEN.

 

November 27, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122



THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE

 In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 

            A couple of years ago I received a watch as a Father’s Day gift.  The watch was of a kind I had never owned before, as it was, I learned, a perpetual timekeeping watch. I had no idea what this was, but I learned that it was a kind of watch you wore on your wrist that did not need a battery, because the movement of your arm keeps the gears in the watch turning. 

            Probably a year or so after wearing it pretty regularly, the watch stopped.  I would try to move it, to get the hands moving again, but to no avail.  I thought about taking it to get repaired, and the place I took it told me they don’t these kinds of watches, and they don’t repair them.  My best chance, they told me, was to contact the company who made the watch, which I did, and the company told me they would be happy to fix the watch…for $650.  How did time get to be so expensive?  I chose not to repair the watch, and instead got a Fitbit, thinking digital watches are reliable, and mine was, until several weeks ago when I noticed no matter how much I try to sync this watch with my phone, the time on my watch reads three hours ahead!  So I have decided to go back to my old Timex watch, because it tells time, which says it is… (look at me, looking at my own watch during a sermon?  That’s what you all are supposed to do!

            Like my watches before, the church does not keep time the way the world keeps time.  Today is November 27, but on the calendar of the church, today is the first Sunday of Advent, which is really the first Sunday of a new year according to the church calendar.  You can think of today as New Year’s Day for the church.  It’s weird, I know.  We do things in the church to mark the passage of time like burning candles, changing the colors of the season – which is why you see blue, that’s the color for Advent.  We are going to make/made Advent Wreaths which mark the weekly passage of time of this season.

            For most of us, we like to be in control of our time.  We don’t like our time being disrupted in uncomfortable ways.  Whenever our time does get disrupted for whatever reason, many of us see it as our work to get things back to “normal” – whatever “normal” is.  I think this is one reason why holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas have the potential to be so stressful – they disrupt our normal time.  It’s never much of a surprise for me to hear people say “I am so glad Thanksgiving is over so I can just get back to my normal routine.”  That’s exactly what Advent does.  Advent intrudes upon what we in the church call “ordinary time” which refers to the majority of the Sundays we spend together in church.  I’ve never really liked that phrase, “ordinary time,” by the way, because I don’t know if you’ve been around my kids much, but nothing is ordinary in our house! 

            Advent reminds us that God intrudes on our turf – our time, and in doing so, God reminds us that our time is actually not our own – it doesn’t really belong to us, it actually belongs to God.  It’s so easy for us to forget that, and in fact one of the things we have accomplished in the modern world was basically to remove God from time altogether.  We drank the Kool Aid, and believed the illusion that time was ours, not God’s.  I think we did this as a matter of convenience, because it became easier for us to believe in a detached God – a distant God who supposedly cared for us, but never actually showed up anywhere and would never intrude upon our precious time.  But that’s not how God handles time.  All our attempts to capture time and hold onto for ourselves – those attempts end up as broken as my watch. 

            Today marks the beginning of a new church year, and a new season, Advent.  The word advent means “to appear” or “to emerge.”  It is a season where we leave ordinary time behind, embracing a new kind of time.  A kind of time where we await expectantly the birth of the Messiah, God’s chosen child, Jesus.  It is the strange and peculiar belief of Christians that in Jesus, God became human.  And in becoming human, Christians believe that God entered into our time.  That Jesus really lived during a historical period, and after his death, God raised him from the dead.  What an amazing disregard for time!  It doesn’t matter that you’re dead – in God your death is merely the end of ordinary time and the beginning of a new season of anticipation and beauty – a season outside of all time Christians call heaven.   

            The time we all have – this moment, this year, it all belongs to God, who has made every breath of air we bring into our bodies, every minute, every hour, holy.  In the church, today marks a new beginning, a new year.  In God’s time, every second is a new beginning, a new opportunity to experience things once dead brought back to life.  That is what God does always – resurrection is appearing all around us, all the time.  AMEN.

 

 

November 20, 2016

The Last Sunday After Pentecost - Christ the King

Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23: 33-43



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 

I usually write my sermons at the beginning of the week.  For the most part, that seems to work well for me, as the sermon is done, and the rest of the week I can spend thinking about it if I want to, and can make changes to it over the following days.  That didn’t work this week.  The sermon I wrote for today, I wrote this past Monday, and it was more or less a reflection on our recent presidential election.  It seemed important, relevant, and timely – but it wasn’t very good.

I took that sermon and put into the recycling bin when I heard the unfortunate news this week of the untimely loss of a woman named Brenda Parker - Kelley.  And that’s what I want to talk about today – I want to talk about Brenda, because I believe the life she lived was more important than any presidential election.  For those of you who might feel that I am using Brenda as a smokescreen to avoid talking about the election, I promise I will address the election at the end of this sermon.

But, first – Brenda.  Few, if any of you knew Brenda Parker-Kelley.  She was a close friend of at least two parishioners of this church – Lisa Mustacchia and PJ Arendt-Ford.  I met Brenda only once, and it was just over two weeks ago, during the Fall Bazaar St. Andrew’s held out on our parking lot.  Lisa Mustacchia, who serves on our Vestry coordinated the Bazaar this year, and did a very fine job doing so.  She asked her friend, Brenda, if she would help her out at the bazaar, and Brenda said yes. 

Brenda said yes in spite of numerous health-related complications.  See, much of Brenda’s life was defined by her various health ailments, including temporary blindness and issues with her heart.  And it was her heart giving out earlier this week drew to a close her life here on earth.  But what a heart Brenda had.  Not many of you probably know this, but the drinks we sold at the bazaar, the proceeds of which went to this church – the Coca Colas, the Dr. Peppers, the Diet Cokes – they were donated by Brenda.  That might seem inconsequential to you – many of you have donated things to churches before, but for Brenda, money was tight, and she wasn’t even a member here, but she wanted to give.   Brenda donated those drinks and worked the bazaar all day because it touched her so much to feel that at the bazaar that she was feeling useful for a change.  For Brenda, participating in our bazaar was one way of making her life feel normal again. 

I share all this with you today because her story of quiet generosity deserves to be told.   I proclaim her story because Brenda was a powerful angel of God in our very midst – an angel out there on that parking lot, so lest you feel that parking lots are not divine places, be assured that they very much can be the surface upon which angels walk. 

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the final day of our church’s calendar year.  It is designated a day where we recognize that the authority above us is not in the White House or in any government.  For Christians, our true authority is the cross, and the crucified King upon it.  Christ the King Sunday is a relatively modern holiday in the church.  It was added to the church calendar only in the last century, by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  In creating this day, the pope’s desire was to advance a message of Christ’s power over and against the power of any human president, king, or monarch.

The pope felt that people needed to be reminded after the devastation of World War I that human rulers of countries and nations were subject ultimately to a much greater power – the power and authority of a penniless Jewish rabbi who had no home, who befriended tax collectors, drunks, and hookers, and who proclaimed that they were part of the Kingdom of God, too.  According to the Bible, Jesus never called himself a king.  He was called a king by others, and in today’s Gospel when Jesus was called a king by the Roman soldiers standing beside the cross from which Jesus hung, they called him a king only to mock him.  

Jesus had no ambition or need for political power, and I imagine he would not have desired for people to call him a king.  But he was a king because he understood kingship to mean loving all people - loving the people who were like him, loving the people who were not like him, loving the people who hated him, and loving the people who were killing him.  The world has known no truer king.  Jesus was, and is, king because he loved, healed, and reached out to the sick, the outcast, the dying, and told they too, were part of God’s family.  Jesus was a king, a king with no throne, no army, no government.  Empires, countries, nations, they rise and they fall.  But the Kingdom of God knows no beginning and no end.  It is a kingdom defined by love and subtle, quiet, generosity. 

That kingdom is now, and I saw it through the gentle and giving spirit of Brenda. Brenda held no political office, she never met any president, mayor, or governor, but she did do something far greater: she was an image of Jesus our king.  Through her giving and through her dying, she has brought to us today the precious message that in God every act of self-giving love resonates throughout the entire universe. 

And now, the election.  Please open your prayer books to page 305, to the Baptismal Covenant to the third question from the top of the page which reads: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  What is the answer to that question?  “I will, with God’s help.”  As Christians, that is our proclamation: “We will strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of EVERY human being.”  That means respecting the dignity of a person who voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson.  That means respecting the dignity of your family members who maybe voted differently than you.  That means respecting the dignity of someone who is straight, white, black, Hispanic, rich, poor, kind, annoying, bigoted, hateful, loving, stubborn, addicted, imperfect, broken, sinful, or redeemed.  That is the expectation I have for any elected official, and that is no different than the expectation I have of anyone who calls themselves a Christian, including myself.  All people are created in God’s image, and in the Bible, when God created human kind, God said it was good.

To those who are grateful for the outcome of this election, know that we will pray for our president elect by name every week, and when he is president, we will continue to pray for him by name, weekly.  Know also that there are people in this congregation who are hurting.  I hope that you would be compassionate toward them.  For those of you who are struggling with the outcome of this election, know that we pray for our elected officials whether or not we voted for them, and if we did not vote for them, then they need our prayers even more.  Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus teach us to pray only for those with whom we agree.  For those in this church today who are afraid, or scared, or uncertain, know that I love you.  Know that I will stand beside you proclaiming this sacred promise of our Christian baptism in which every human being has dignity and worth.  

To all of us – I close with the words the angels, like Brenda, always say to us - “Be not afraid.”  AMEN.  

November 6, 2016

All Saints Day

DANIEL 7:1-3,15-18; PSALM 149; EPHESIANS 1:11-23; LUKE 6:20-31


THE REV. CARISSA BALDWIN-MCGINNIS

There are so many things I would like to say to do you today, and there simply is not enough time.

I want to say something about how nervous I feel, wondering how we will treat each other after Tuesday’s elections.   I want to say something about the Episcopal clergy and other faith leaders who gathered this week in Standing Rock, North Dakota to hold open a space for non-violence and to stand with those indigenous persons who are standing for their water source.  I want to say things about Baptism and about the Golden Rule.  I want to say something about why the Bible speaks of the poor as the elect, and why it warns the comfortable of upcoming affliction.

You can see my predicament.  There simply is not enough time.  It is All Saints Day, so we have saints to remember and souls to baptize.

For this reason I have settled on the subject of the enemy and why to love them.  I come to it as I read Jay Solomon’s recent book, The Iran Wars, and am struck by how fickle nation state alliances and antipathies can be.  One’s enemy in politics can be as variable as a game of “hide-the-object under the coconuts.”  For example, during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the US supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  Within 15 years the US invaded Iraq to topple the very dictator we had previously supported.   It is impressive to me how quickly we redefine the enemy; and in our personal lives to.

I am planning a family event for next weekend, and a few weeks ago I was desperate for help.  So, I left a message for a beloved relative asking for assistance.  I received no call back.  I left a second message, asking only for a return call.  That too went unreturned.  In my anxiety and resentment I started to take this beloved person out of my beloved persons column and move them into the infuriating and unforgivable persons column.  Then I found out that this beloved had been sick at the time I needed assistance.  For all I know they have not even caught up on voicemail.  So, with this new information and understanding, I deescalated the psychic warfare I was doing on myself and put my beloved back in the beloved column.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Why?   Because so often who or what we set ourselves against is not the enemy at all.  Rather it is a false face, a decoy, a devilish distraction keeping us from pursuing who we are and what path God is laying for us to take.

A colleague said to me recently about the current political climate in the US, “Honestly, I have no more boxes to check.  I have no more ways to be insulted or discredited in this country and its political conversation.  I am a woman.  I am a Muslim.  I am an immigrant.”  Her words ring in my memory as an affirmation of how easy it is to target some person - or persons - outside ourselves, when our true enemies are always things like fear, greed, apathy, war, and famine.

When I was twenty-one, I came out of a night club and was suddenly surrounded by a no less than six men who threatened to assault me using the most vulgar of language and checking off all the boxes of my identity as their justification.  To this day I have no idea how I walked away untouched.  But because of this experience, I know in my bones what it is to be despised.  I suspect that most everyone here also has firsthand experience with having been despised.  This why we can never, never live out our jealousies and fears and resentments and needs for security in the shallow end of the spiritual waters.

It is only by praying for the targets of our resentment and hate that we can deface the decoys and false fronts of that which we really need to face.   Only by withdrawing from the world to examine our motivations for these separations can we identify what we are truly fighting against or attempting to flee.

Baptism is the place where the church community acknowledges this incredible challenge.  We sing songs and say prayers that uplift us, while we also admit that it is hard to step out of the shallow end of life.   It takes courage to swim into the deep.  Yet in baptism we affirm our conviction that we are born with what it takes to navigate the deep.  That is why the church is willing to baptize infants who will never remember what we did to them or for them this day.

So, whatever it is that you are considering this week, be it the ballot box or perhaps your own consideration of standing at Standing Rock, keep this in mind.  Maybe you are just trying to be a better parent, sibling or spouse.  Do these things remembering that we cannot afford to be fickle and shallow.  We have to move to the deep end of the spiritual pool.  As clergy friend from Detroit said to me last week.  “America has to decide what it is going to do; if it is going to stay in its fear.”  Frankly, that is the baptismal and spiritual question for us all and at all times.   “Am I going to stay in my fear or move off into the deep end of the spiritual waters in pursuit of the true self that leads to quality of life which will in turn allow for dignity in death?”

October 30, 2016

Pentecost - Proper 26

Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  AMEN.

Earlier this week I was up at our Diocesan Camp, Camp Allen, for an annual gathering of clergy from all over the Diocese of Texas called “clergy conference.”  I know – it sounds riveting, doesn’t it?  A certain amount of clergy conference is dedicated to hearing news, updates, etc. from Bishop Doyle, the Bishop of our Diocese.  The way this usually works is that all the clergy gather in a large room, and the Bishop addresses us.

One of the themes of the Bishop’s address this year was a concept he identified as “missional communities.”  He talked about this concept, missional communities, for some time, and I will admit, I was up late the evening before, I probably had not yet had a second cup of coffee, and it was for these reasons (and possibly others) that I turned to the priest sitting next to me during the Bishop’s address and asked “Did Bishop Doyle just say he wants to take the Diocese of Texas into a missionary position?”  The priest turned to me and said, “No, Jimmy, Bishop Doyle said he wants to take the Diocese of Texas into the missional community.”

I said “Oh…what is that?”  Really – what is a missional community?  That was the question I kept asking to myself and to others during my time at Camp Allen, and the answers I sought were revelatory, to say the least.  I think a missional community begins this way, with this kind of question, and the question is this, and it is a big question, and one we need not answer now, but here it is.  Do you believe that God is at work in the world? 

That’s a very big question.  Do we believe that God is living and active in the world around us?  Another way of asking the question is this: is God at work in our community, our city, and our neighborhood?  Or, do we believe that it is our responsibility to take God’s work in to the community, the city, our neighborhood?  There’s a difference.  If we believe that it is our responsibility to take the work of God into our communities, then that implies that God isn’t really doing anything.  That implies that it is our responsibility to make God living and active in our community.  I will admit to you this morning that idea depresses me, and I disagree with it. 

I disagree because my answer to the question I posed moments ago – is God at work in the world, in our community, in our neighborhood – is absolutely yes!  I believe that God is doing great and wonderful things up and down Heights Boulevard, throughout this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, this world.  I love that idea!  That God is already at work in our midst and our job is not to think of what to do, or to invent something new, it is to just open our eyes and see what God is up to. 

I think that’s what a missional community is – an intentional effort by a church to get outside of itself and join in the neighborhood and community and partner with others in the work that God is already doing.  That is exciting to me.  And there are many ways God is at work in this community, and there seem to be at least two that St. Andrew’s is discerning partnering with in a more substantial way.  The first is the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry, which St. Andrew’s supports with the contribution of select items and volunteers time.  Carissa and I are in an ongoing conversation about using a portion of remaining funds in her outreach budget to make an annual financial contribution to help support financially what God is doing at the Heights Food Pantry.

Here’s another one.  Meals on Wheels in Houston approached me several months ago about St. Andrew’s being a “hub” in the Heights neighborhood for volunteers to pick up meals and distribute them to the neighborhood.  One reason St. Andrew’s is geographically appealing to Meals on Wheels is that a number of the meals they distribute in the Heights go across the street to a Section 8 housing initiative called Heights Tower, which was founded by St. Andrew’s and a number of other Heights area churches in the 1970s.  Recently Carissa hosted an meeting of Heights area clergy from all different churches to meet at St. Andrew’s to discuss this very question – what is God doing in your midst, and how can we join in the work?

What does all this have to do with stewardship?  What does all this have to do with those pesky pledge cards that are in all the pews and were mailed to your homes earlier this month?  Everything.  Being missional in our thinking, looking outward, is simply good stewardship.  It is what God is calling St. Andrew’s to, I believe.  More importantly than that, it is what God is calling each of us to do.  The number you may write, or have already written on your pledge card doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you join in this good exciting work – that you pledge – for God is at work in the vineyard, calling us out – calling us to join. 

Will you?  AMEN.

October 23, 2016

Pentecost - Proper 25

SIRACH 35:12-17; PSALM 84:1-6; 2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8, 16-18; LUKE 18:9-14



THE REV. CARISSA BALDWIN-MCGINNESS

Humility…

Humility must be a prayerful light before the dawn of revelation.  It must an open posture in which we receive most directly the energy and messaging of the Divine.  I suppose humility must have the quality of breath or air, even though its name has more to do with earth and mass; humus.  Humility should have nothing to do with humiliation, because humility is light in its load whereas humiliation always brings devastation.  

Humility in the end must be about letting go.

Letting go of expectations.

Letting go of presumptions.

Letting go of false identities.

Letting go of notions about how things go, or ought to go, or should have gone.

Humility must be about letting go of what belongs to us.

Or letting go of the belief that anything is ever purely ours.

A trauma expert and child psychologist tells parents and educators of young people who have suffered abuse or neglect that when they have a problem with the way a child is acting, what they likely have is a problem with their own expectations of the child.

Humility must be receptiveness to curve balls, shocking news, unexpected success, or devastating outcomes.  Humility must be when we find ourselves compulsively, surprisingly, mending fences with our enemy.  Humility must be flexibility for the ups and downs of spiritual life.  And as Sr. Joan Chittister reminds us, in the spiritual life up is down and the down is up.  For St. Benedict said, “We descend by exaltation, and we ascend by humility.”

Surely humility must be about listening.  Like the he old clergyman in Marilyn Robinson’s novels, Gilead & Lila, who marries a drifter, a survivor, a once abandoned child raised on change from chores and potatoes hot from the coals.  The clergyman is the one who prays to God and preaches theology.  His wife, barely literate, with all the scars of childhood abandonment, is the one who understands none of her husband’s ministerial concepts in the abstract but rather is the one who can make them plain for him against the backdrop of real life lived.  He is desperate to know her.  But she carries so much shame from her life that she hardly speaks.  She for her preacher husband is the Bible in context.  And he spends years patiently waiting and listening for the occasional story or question or opinion that she musters out.

Humility must be like presidential candidates back stage at a fund raiser, genuinely connecting with a message of mutual respect and a request to work together.

Humility must be like the moment one hands off the canned goods or the dollar bill or the bag of clothes or the personal check to charity or to church.  This surrender moment - however risky or safe financially - however risky or safe emotionally - is a moment of openness before the spiritual dawn of relinquishment.  It is a way of saying, ‘Here I am.  Here we are together.  I will be with you.’ or ‘I will be among you.’  It is to know that in sharing we make ourselves kin to one another.  A community of letting go and sharing of what we have.  Be it a little.  Or a lot.

October 16, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 24

Genesis 32: 22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3: 14- 4:5; Luke 18: 1-8



THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

What is good stewardship?

My answer is that good stewardship is simply making the most out of God has given you. Good stewardship is being intentional with our time, choosing to spend it in ways that are productive and life giving.  Good stewardship is about love and choosing to love people regardless of whether or not they choose to love us back.  Good stewardship is serving others, whether that is a meal, a listening ear, or a prayer.  

Next Sunday at St. Andrew’s, the bishop will be here at the 10:30 service to confirm and receive twenty people into the Episcopal Church.  One of the ways that we have been preparing for confirmation next week is through a series of classes for adults, and a mini retreat for youth.  Last weekend, Carissa and I met with our four youth confirmands at the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry.  

There we did a short bible study on justice and mercy, and then we volunteered in the pantry, handing out food to clients as they came by.  Because Carissa is bi-lingual, she stationed the front desk and handled intake for Spanish-speaking clients.  All four youth helped load bags with food into the push carts the clients had.  It was an experience of service during which I saw smiles on their four faces many times.  The reason they were smiling was because they were being good stewards of their time – they helping to feed other people.  It’s hard for me to find a better teenage confirmation preparation than watching a teenager with a smile on their face load green beans, rice, and beef stew into a cart for a person dealing with chronic hunger.  If that is not what confirmation and good stewardship is about, then I honestly don’t know what is.  

There is a financial piece to good stewardship as well, as we all know.   One of the volunteers at the pantry named Charlie explained to our group why the shelves of the Heights Food Pantry were not filled as fully as they usually are.  Charlie said that was because theHouston Food Bank is low on food, which is where the Heights Food Pantry purchases their food from.  If the Houston Food Bank is low, then many pantries around the city who depend on the Houston Food Bank end up being low on their items as well – it’s a trickle down effect.  You can probably guess the reason why the Houston Food Bank is low on food, and if your answer is “the economy” you would be correct.  But hunger doesn’t care about an economic downturn. 

Each of us in this church today has received so much from God.  We have received so much life, experiences too many to number of God’s grace and mercy.  But life can be scary, we can be afraid, and our fear drives us to want to hold onto all that we have.  Fear drives us to withhold our hand to help our neighbor.  Fear drives us to not share what we have with others.  But that’s not good stewardship.  Good stewardship courageously proclaims in the midst of economic uncertainty, election uncertainty, global uncertainty: BE NOT AFRAID.  It’s going to be okay.  Share what you have.  Feed the poor.  Make the most of what God has given you. 

Almost two hundred years ago lived a man named Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky.  Good strong Irish Catholic name!  Joseph Schereschewsky was born in 1831 into a Jewish family in Lithuania, and he studied to be a rabbi.  That is until Schereschewsky began reading a Hebrew translation of the New Testament.  And his reading of that scripture inspired him to convert to Christianity, and later to the Episcopal Church.  At the age of thirty-one, Schereschewsky, now an ordained Episcopal priest, boarded a boat for Shanghai, China, responding to the call of his bishop who was desperate to get some priests there.

During his voyage, Schereschewsky learned to write in the Chinese language, and during his thirteen years in China he began translating the Bible and parts of the Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin.  Later on in his life, Schereschewsky was stricken with a grave paralysis, but his paralysis did not invoke fear or resentment that often can be the result of some with this affliction.

Schereschewsky was determined to finish his translation of the Bible into Mandarin.  With heroic perseverance, Schereschewsky completed his translation.  It took him twenty years.  It took twenty years because during the course of that time he typed some 2,000 pages with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand.  Twenty years.  When he finished, he said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years.  It seemed very hard at first.  But God knew best.  He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”  

The name of St. Andrew’s Stewardship Campaign this year is “Living Generously.”  Schereschewsky lived generously, and he lived courageously.  He lived into courageous stewardship because he made the most of what he had.  So what if his body was broken?  He had one good finger, and if it took him twenty years to translate a Bible into Mandarin Chinese, then so be it.  

What do you have to offer to God?  I’ve turned in my pledge card.  And as I said in my letter to you, I’ve increased our families pledge to St. Andrew’s this year 10%.  Some clergy who do this enjoy saying to their congregation “I’ve upped my pledge, up yours!”  I’m not going to do that.  But I invite you to prayerfully and courageously respond to the call God has placed on your heart to do something powerful, to feed those who hunger, to build the kingdom of God.  Are you making the most of what God has given you?  AMEN.

October 9, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 23

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Psalm 66: 1-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17: 11-19



The REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

In less than one month, our nation will have elected its next president, and soon thereafter at St. Andrew’s we will begin praying for our next president by name.  Whether that name is Donald or Hillary, is for the conscience of our nation to decide.   I don’t know about you, but recently I have heard many passing comments ranging from “I don’t see how she can vote for Donald Trump!” to “Is he crazy voting for Hillary Clinton?”  If you are a supporter of one candidate, the supporters of the other candidate are outsiders to you.  They are the people you don’t want to talk to because you disagree with them politically , and you don’t understand how they could possibly vote in good conscience for whatever candidate is their preference.

This ridiculing of the other – the person who disagrees with you, the person who annoys you, frustrates you – well, it is as old, if not older than, the Bible.  Ten people afflicted with a horrible skin disease see Jesus from afar, and they beg him to heal them.  Jesus does, because his ministry is one of reaching out to the outcast, of reaching across political religious boundaries because he had no use for them.  And so he heals ten people who society ignored and kept at a distance.  Out of those ten who were given a new life, a life free of crippling illness, one returns to thank Jesus. 

The one who returns is a Samaritan – a foreigner, an outsider.  A Samaritan in Israel was a like a lone Clinton supporter at an enthusiastic Trump rally.  No one wanted to hear from them.  And so this former leper outcast who was on the wrong side of the religious fence, crosses it and approaches Jesus, gets down on his knees, and says “thank you.”  The only one. 

A year and a half ago, St. Andrew’s started a third service called “Rhythms of Grace,” a weekly eucharistically-centered service for special needs children and adults.   Why does St. Andrew’s offer such a service?  Because in our society, individuals with physical or mental special needs are often relegated to outsider status culturally.  We are the only Episcopal Church in this Diocese that offers such a service.  As Jesus reached out to lepers, we reach out in our context, to people whose needs for community and acceptance are greater than we can imagine.

When we began the service, initially we did not have a collection taken.  The reason for this was simple – as a myself a father of a child with special needs I know all too well the daily cost of care in terms of specialized education, therapies, medical care.  I write the checks – I know what it costs.  And so I didn’t want to burden families coming to this service with already so much baggage and financial burdens with the guilt of putting some dollars in a collection plate.  

But my thinking around this began to change once I heard a former priest of this Diocese and now Bishop elsewhere issue a challenging and provocative statement about the collection plate.  He said that he would never preside over a Eucharist if a collection was not taken.  When I first heard the Bishop say that, I thought it was an awful thing to say, in effect tying a dollar amount to a sacrament.  How tacky, I thought.  How insulting to a person who had nothing to put into a plate. 

But then he explained his point, which was that in the Eucharist, God offers all of Him/Her self to us.  It is grace, it is mercy at its most profound.  The appropriate response to such a gift, the Bishop said, was to offer ourselves to God, to put a part of us on that altar.  That’s why the collection plates stay on the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer.  We offer a part of our selves, as God is offered to us – it is a sharing of ourself with God’s self – it is why we call it “communion” – we and God commune together.

So we put out a small wicker basket (our collection plate) at Rhythms of Grace.  I will admit, I was scared and apprehensive to do it.  I was embarrassed for the parent of a non-verbal autistic teenager to feel burdened with the responsibility for paying more money on an already strained budget where every dollar is stretched.  

But something happened, and the basket began to fill with cash and check donations.  And not just one week, but every week.  The money continues to come in.  I think it is because for some of these families, Rhythms of Grace is their church community.  They drive many miles past many other churches to come here, because they are welcomed, affirmed, and loved. 

And then, a parent who attends the service with her child approached Lisa Puccio with a request.  The parent wanted to know when our stewardship campaign would be, because she wanted to make a pledge to St. Andrew’s.  I think that goes down as a personal record for the first time someone has ever asked about when the Stewardship Campaign begins!  Usually the question is “When is it going to be over with?”  Our stewardship campaign begins today, and ends October 30th.  Over the next few weeks, you will hear from parishioners sharing their story in service, on videos, and on inserts in your weekly service bulletin.

Each story is powerful, and is one part of the story that you all tell about what God is doing in this parish, in your home, and most importantly, what God is doing in your heart.  AMEN.

September 11, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 19

Exodus 32: 7-14; Psalm 51: 1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15: 1-10



THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Theologian and author Diana Butler Bass shares this story of a conversation she had with her young daughter Emma, a few days following September 11.  She writes: " A couple of days after September 11 I was watching the evening news while setting the dining room table. The top story that night was a tape released by Osama bin Laden praising the attacks on New York and Washington.

We had tried to guard Emma from the pictures on television, but she had seen enough to know that some planes had crashed into tall buildings and that people had been killed. Emma came into the room as the Osama bin Laden video was being replayed.

She looked at the bearded face on the screen and asked 'is that the bad man? The bad man who killed people?' 'Yes that is the man who did these bad things. But you know what?  God still loves him and wants him to do good.  But he disobeyed God and did terrible things.'   'Why?' Emma asked.

Diana was silent for a moment, and then offered the best answer she could: 'Because his heart was full of hate, but God wants it to be a heart of love.'

Emma asked her mother: 'Will God change his heart? Can God change it to a heart of love?' 'We can pray for that sweetheart,' Diana said.  'We can pray that God changes his heart.'"

When Diana Butler Bass shared this story later in a sermon, afterward a parishioner grabbed her arm and said, "I don't want to forgive. I'm angry. I want to kill Osama bin Laden." While this parishioner's honesty was refreshing, her theology was deeply disturbing.

Praying for our enemies is central to our Christian life. Osama bin Laden, whatever horrible things he did, was a human being. The Bible tells us that all people are created in God's image and loved by God. Above all else, as Christians we forgive and we trust God to handle the rest.

To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, St. Andrew's in a spirit of solidarity and humility, is hosting a blood drive.  The decision to hold a blood drive at church on this day was not coincidental, it was deliberate. On a day we associate with death, grief, and loss - at this church we acknowledge all of those things.

But the Christian story reminds us that death and alienation are never the end. Death is only a prerequisite for a resurrection. So today this church, is practicing resurrection - we are offering a biological part of ourselves - our blood, our life - that will help someone else live.

Our response to 9/11 is not judgment, it is not political, it is courageous - because our response is resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ which casts aside all death. If you want to join us in this courageous proclamation, the blood van is just outside the church door.

I conclude with an image this morning of what now is in place where the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. It is a memorial fountain, where 26,000 gallons of water are pumped every minute, as water falls over forty feet of recessed granite into darkness below. The image of the water continually falling into that dark vacancy is evocative. The water to me is an image of God's mercy, always flowing continually, no matter how dark the surface it lands upon.  God's mercy is like that flowing water, rushing into the darkness, transforming it and redeeming it, always. AMEN.