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“Talkin’ ’bout Sin”
“Talkin’ ’bout Sin”

The Rev. Jennifer Adams

Sermon preached on March 1, 2020

Lent I, Year B

“Talkin’ ‘Bout Sin”

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm 32 

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, * and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” * Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *

when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

Romans 5:12-19

As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned– sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

This morning we’re going to talk about sin. And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, while I’ve made huge steps post surgery, I still have what my speech theraptist calls “turbulent s’s.”  So what better time to talk about SIN, and really hit it. Sin is sort of a turbulent ‘S’ itself and so personally, I’m feeling some resonance. Second, is that you might have picked up on ‘sin’ as one of the themes that runs throughout this entire service, Lent 1.  In case you missed it, a quick recap:

In just the first few biddings from The Great Litany we heard: our offenses, the offenses of our forefathers, our sins, evil, wickedness, assaults, inordinate and sinful affections, deceipts, hardness of heart, contempt, blindness, pride, vainglory, hypocrisy, envy, hatred and malice, and everlasting damnation. Spare us we appropriately prayed in response.

Then in the reading from Genesis we heard the story of what some call “the explanation of how sin came to be.”  God told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Then God created Eve. The serpent showed Eve the tree.  She “saw that the tree was good for food,… and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” (thereby getting a hugely bum rap throughout nearly all of Christian tradition – but that’s another sermon).  Today, we’ll suffice it to say that Eve ate the fruit, gave one to Adam who ate it too, and it was downhill from there.


From the Psalm we heard “sin”, “sinfulness,” “guilt”, “transgressions” times many.

In the Letter to the Romans Paul wrote, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned –And law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased” Paul wrote, “grace abounded all the more.  Paul, what does that even mean?

And finally from Matthew Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights where he fasted.  At the end of that time, Satan presented him with three temptations – changing stones into bread, jumping off a cliff for the angels to respond with a catch, and bowing down to Satan in order to be king of the world. And Jesus resisted. He remained sin free.

We need to dive into all of this and so the first thing I want to say is “Yes, Episcopalians talk about sin.”  We seem to take the wrap occasionally for being so into inclusivity that we neglect conversations about sin. I would propose that they are not mutually exclusive topics.  You can be welcoming and inclusive and still teach about sin. You can be liturgical, diverse, mutual in ministry, non-authoritarian in leadership style, preaching love instead of hellfire, and still talk about and teach about sin. And we do.

We have confession in almost every service of worship for a reason. We acknowledge the need for forgiveness here.  Nobody here is perfect nor do we have to pretend that we are. And that’s important. Almost every Sunday together (on our knees no less) we confess “those things done and left undone;” we confess “that we have not loved God with our our whole heart” nor have we “loved our neighbors as ourselves.” “Have mercy on us and forgive us,” we pray.  Here we name sin, we confess it, collective sin too! And we understand that sins are a burden. And so here we’re invited and encouraged to lay them down.

Now I would imagine that behind God’s anger in the garden there was grief. That’s often true with anger and this was grief, deep grief of a holy sort. By eating the fruit, humanity came to see too much.  We would now live with this awareness of good and evil, light and darkness, joy and pain, and the mix of it all…and maybe what this story is telling us is that awareness itself was a burden God had hoped to spare us. And I can understand why God would want that for us. It hurts to watch sin unfold – the effects can be devastating.  And it hurts to know when we’ve participated in it.

In this place, we offer absolution following the confession. For a reason.  Because what we believe about sin is not only that we do it, but that God wishes of all things to set us free from sin. We’re not meant to hit each other over the head with how bad we are or to compete for how good we are; we’re meant to set ourselves and others free.

Which means that when we talk about sin, or walk through a season devoted in part to acknowledging the reality of human sinfulness, it’s not meant to be a hammer or become more of a burden than sin already is.  Lent is not meant to be a season by which the church scares people into place.

As confusing as Paul was in his letter to the Romans he is talking about in his own words “the free gift” and the “abundance of Grace.” Any conversation of sin must have phrases like those woven into its heart.  We heard a bit of a circular theological argument this morning with Paul tying together Genesis and the coming of Christ (more than once in fact,) but in those verses he too was talking about the freedom God hopes for us and offers to us.

In his book The Good News of Jesus, New Testament scholar, Bill Countryman wrote that “[In Romans] Paul was saying that in Jesus, we discover something fundamentally important about God: God’s love takes us up precisely when we are least deserving of it, when we are least lovable.  God expresses his love specifically for those who don’t deserve it… Take yourself down to your lowest…most undeserving state and there is God’s love for you, as alive as ever.”

We talk about and pray about sin in this place, so that we too can be present in those kinds of places, not as our shiny selves, but as the selves that need forgiveness and care.  We welcome those selves here too. “The point Paul is making,” Countryman says, “is not that we are grotesquely sinful, but that God is astonishingly and unfailingly generous.”

And we can be too…Enter the Christ.

Who as the collect, creed, and Lenten preface in the Eucharist Prayer say, “did not sin.”  During this time in the wilderness and throughout his entire life, Jesus resisted the temptation to prove himself “Son of God” in ways defined by the devil. Jesus was sin free and in this story, resisted changing stones into bread, coming to us not as a magician but a Savior.  He resisted throwing himself down, choosing instead to simply offer himself and walk among us as gift. And finally in this story having been promised all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus refused that kind of power, revealing over time that “servant” would be his way of ushering in a new kind of kingdom.

Now there is a lot in all of that for all of us.  Which is perhaps why we’re given 40 days and 40 nights to sit with this, to be present with ourselves, each other, and God and this “free gift” this “abundant grace.”  This deserves time and as I said on Ash Wednesday, it also takes some courage to be present with the the good and evil we see and do, and to allow ourselves to be embraced by God’s desire to set the world free –  with forgiveness and with love.

So as we close today, I want us to see just one more thing.  I want us to take another minute or two and consider what the Messiah did to communicate to this world that God created, what the Messiah did to reveal to this world that God so loved – what sin free looked like, what “astonishingly and unfailingly generous” looks like.  It’s important for us as church to not only name sin but also to make note perhaps in very large, bold letters that which God considers “not sinful,” simply by virtue of having had Jesus do those kinds things. We need this list in front of us this season too. So here we go…

Eating with outcasts and touching untouchables. Not sinful.

Challenging those who insisted on their own righteousness. Not sinful.

Inviting women to preach and to lead. (We’ll hear about one gospel woman in a couple of weeks. And on Easter morning too!)  Not sinful.

Healing on the Sabbath.

Prioritizing love above all things.

Challenging (and expecting) religious leaders to learn and to grow.

Asking people to lay down stones instead of teaching them to throw stones at each other.

All – not sinful.


Showing widespread, seemingly random, and yet surprisingly effective mercy.

Turning water into wine to share at a celebratory feast.

Speaking against religious authorities and religious law when it was used to divide and unfairly burden people, rather than uniting and setting people free.

Not sinful.

Blessing (therefore prioritizing) the poor, the meek, those who mourn, and the peacemakers.

Asking people to share their food, their clothing, their homes.

Serving the least of these my brothers and sisters.

Not sinful.

Note too that while in the story we heard today it was considered a temptation for Jesus to make bread, later in the very same gospel (and all of the other gospels too) it was considered a miracle when he multiplied loaves in order to feed over 5000 hungry people. And Christ himself became bread for the world. So when talking about temptation and sin, context matters, purpose matters, even for the Messiah.

I invite you this Lenten season to be aware of both kinds of lists – ‘sinful’ and ‘not sinful.’  Name what it is you need to lay down and release the burdens you carry. Pay attention too to that which God considers “not sinful”  because it’s a very long and beautiful list. And more than being “not sinful” those kinds of Christ-like actions can be life-giving, new-life giving.  Risk mercy. Offer love. Receive the astonishing and unfailing generosity of God, this season and share it with others too.

For together we will rise.


Ash Wednesday 2020
Ash Wednesday 2020

The Rev. Jennifer Adams Sermon preached on February 26, 2020 Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left

hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We’ll hear that Ash Wednesday phrase over and over again starting in just a few minutes. I’ll say a prayer over the ashes and then everyone will be invited forward to the altar to receive them. These ashes are to be “a sign of our mortality and penitence” we’ll say. “So that we may remember that it is by God’s gracious gift that we are given eternal life.”

So this is not your normal, “Hey, let’s hang out on a Wednesday night,” sort of activity. It’s not even like the beginning of other liturgical seasons. Advent begins so nicely with the lighting of a candle. Christmas starts with an angel and a message of “great joy!” Epiphany opens with the shining of a star that reaches to the ends of the earth. But tonight we get ashes. And our own mortality. Which perhaps explains the difference in attendance between Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday.

Really, this is a courageous thing for us to do tonight. It’s a countercultural thing for us to do tonight. We are gathered around the language of sin and brokenness, wretchedness, and failure. Remembering that we’re dust take guts!

But none of this is meant to make us afraid or even anxious. The season isn’t meant as a threat. Just the opposite actually. Lent invites us into places we don’t normally go and into time that we don’t normally make for ourselves. And we’re invited for the sake of very simply, gaining perspective.

Lent is an opportunity to re-prioritize things of life and faith, relationships, and meaning. That’s what happens when you acknowledge your own dustiness, really acknowledge it. You right-size yourself, one might say. And you can re-order the contents of the life you’ve been given, the faith too. Acknowledging right up front that none of us has it right. Nor will we obtain perfection. That’s not even the goal.

What we can do this season is begin again. That’s what Lent invites us to do.

Remember that God chose to take dust and make something of it. Us! This whole night is as much about our beginning as it is about our end (which is also its own beginning.) Remember that God took dust, breathed life into it and created us in his image. In her image. So we have the capacity to sin, to break, to be wretched, and to fail. And naming that helps. We can also love. And forgive. And show mercy. And share hope. We can even rise. An naming that helps too.

Lent reminds us that we’ve got options when it comes to this life of ours. This faith of ours too. And we’ve just been offered 40 days and 40 nights to see those options more clearly than we normally do. It might take guts to look right at all of this, but one could also say that tucked inside of this challenging Ash-filled evening, there is an incredibly grace-filled question to be embraced by. It’s the question that poet Mary Oliver put into the words of poem, “Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with this one wild and precious life.” Precious because it’s a gift. We’d go so far as to say it’s a holy gift. Breath has been given us. Forgiveness has been given us. A new beginning has been given us! What will you do with that?

Now according to Isaiah, one highly recommended option is for us to become what he called “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to live on.” Given the quantity of breaches in the world today we won’t get bored or run out of things to do if we choose that path. In fact if the world needs anything prioritized right now, repairing breaches is a good one to put at the top. And there are so many ways to give your life to that work. Isaiah lists some: loosing bonds of injustice, letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread, inviting the homeless poor and the refugee inside, for food, for shelter, for home, for friends. You can come up with more, on large and small scales, there is so much to offer in directions that heal.

In Matthew, Jesus encouraged his disciples to use prayer and giving as a means by which they would come to treasure that which God does. That encouragement is related to the prophets’ words and our work this season. Jesus encouraged prayer and giving not for the sake of gaining attention. He spoke strongly against “being seen on street corners” simply for the sake of being seen on street corners shouting our prayers. (Not that Episcopalians generally error on that side of thing.) Jesus spoke about prayer and fasting and giving as means by which new perspective would come and a faithful re-prioritizing could take place. He spoke of prayer and fasting as giving as means by which one could come to treasure that which God treasurers. It’s a beautiful way to approach all of that – our Lenten practices as means by which we come to treasure that which God does. Which according to Christ, is us. All of us. And all of them too.

This season tells us that we are dust. And that we are treasure too. It’s the miracle of the season – with more to come. We’re dust into which God breathes life and will breathe it again. We are treasure which is held in the heart and life of God’s Son. May we allow space and time in our own hearts and lives this season to give and receive such grace.

What are you looking for?

Rev. Jennifer Adams – January 19, 2020 – Epiphany 2, Year A

Epiphany 2, Year A: Isaiah 49:1-7, John 1:29-42

Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

John 1:29-42

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

What absolutely beautiful readings we’ve been given this morning, the Second Sunday after Epiphany! They’re invitational readings. Hopeful readings. And we’ll take it. In particular, I want us to focus in on the Isaiah and gospel passages. They work well together – so let’s dive in and see how.

“You shall be a light to the nations!” God says. And this is actually God upping it a bit from what we’ll say were “previous understandings of calling.” The assumption was that this people would be the ones who were to essentially bring their own nation back together. They were called to a reunion of sorts where those had been scattered would be brought back together once and for all.

But what we hear in this passage is far more than that. “You will be a light for the whole world!” God told them. You will gather not only yourselves, but others too. “ You as a people will lead,” God said to the prophet, “and you, Israel, will give this world what it desperately needs, what it deeply hungers for you will offer to this world something of God’s dream as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would say. This is not just any family reunion, the is the pulling together of God’s family – finding each other, reaching across divisions – participating in reconciliation which is a few steps beyond reunion, right? It’s a related but different calling. Through Isaiah, the people were called to be light, grace not only for themselves but for the whole world.

Now note who it is whom God is saying this to. God is not speaking to the one who is perennially the victor or the biggest or the strongest or the fastest. It’s not the most powerful who were called to make this happen. God is speaking here to the one who is “abhorred” and “despised,” the one who was historically and repeatedly powerless, beat up, and on more than one occasion, lost. God is speaking to the one who had taken tons of hits, because of the horrible tendency to need someone to hit. So what’s happening in this passage and many others too is that the kid who is always bullied is called to be a light to the nations. The people who are enslaved are told they will shine. The smallest, weakest, slowest will lead us, according to the prophet Isaiah. And they are to do it with mercy, forgiveness, and love. And God will help it happen.

It’s a flip on its head of how we envision power, leadership, even light. And so when Jesus came on the scene he was tied into this dream of God, he had came to fulfill this promise of God, this dream of God who had dreamt and still dreams reconciliation writ-large. And in Christ, God invited all people into this light-filled mission and the hope it inspired. The author of the Gospel of John is clear from his opening chapter that Jesus is the light of the world, the one who has come to shine in a way the world so desperately needs.

And so today we hear about these two encounters with John the Baptist, which took place just shortly after Jesus baptism which we heard about last week. In the first encounter, John saw Jesus walking toward him and proclaimed him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John then said a little more about how he had come to know this to be, how he, John had seen the Spirit descending on Jesus at baptism and went on a bit about how this is the guy for whom they have been waiting. John is like this huge, living arrow pointing to Jesus as THE ONE. THE LIGHT. THE LAMB OF GOD. THE SON OF GOD. There was nothing subtle about John the Baptist.

So then came the second encounter in which John ran into Jesus again, so presumably these guys were just wandering around town every day and “happened to bump” into each other. This second time John was with two of his followers. John again proclaimed Jesus to be Lamb of God, and in that moment his followers quickly shifted their attention from John to Jesus.

And Jesus did sort of an amazing thing. He didn’t exactly pick up where John left off. Given that there was this arrow-shaped-camel-hair-dressed- prophet shouting about how he, Jesus was LIGHT and LAMB and SON of GOD, Jesus could have run with that. Sort of filled himself up and risen to the occasion of the spotlight as perhaps many expected him to.

Instead, Jesus in that moment showed them how this light would shine, how this light would lead, how this light would reconcile and heal this world. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked them. These were the first words he spoke to his disciples. Not “Sign up now!” or “Jump on the bandwagon of this hugely popular thing that will be great or mighty!”

Instead, Jesus opened with a question, an invitation really, a genuinely kind beginning for the disciples. And through this question they were given the privilege and also the responsibility to name their own searchings, their own seekings, their own hurtings and hungers. “What are you looking for?” is a big question, if we let it be. It’s a kind one too, an empathetic one, a loving one.

It’s a question that we can ask ourselves and allow to sink in in order to know how God is leading us. What are you looking for, individually and as Grace Church too – what are your/our searchings, seekings, hurtings, healings? Jesus then followed up with the phrase, “come and see.

“What are you looking for?” followed by “Come and see” was the flow. Those were the only two things Jesus said in this entire passage until the renaming of Simon. And so those phrases are linked and probably should be for us too. In those two phrases Jesus invited the now his disciples to an encounter, an encounter that would unfold over the next several chapters, for the rest of Jesus life including resurrection, and the rest of their lives too.

Perhaps this is the invitation at the heart of it all, the heart of the gospel anyway and perhaps the heart of reconciliation too. I’d go so far to say that it’s at the heart of evangelism done well, lovingly well. “What are you looking for?” is an offering of sorts. It’s an “I am willing to listen to you,” question. An “I am willing to listen with you,” question. And it was offered by the LAMB OF GOD, SON OF GOD, LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

So this whole evolving encounter – God with the world in Christ and then Christ in the world with all – was like one big open door through which light could shine, through which a profound mercy could flow, mercy that had the power to literally, miraculously transform not only the lives of the disciples, but the world too. Come and see! He said.

Martin Luther King Jr, whose memory and ministry we celebrate as a nation officially tomorrow knew well the words of the prophet Isaiah and spoke of light in darkness as he fought the injustice of racism as he invited us all into a vision that went beyond reunion into the life-giving grace of reconciliation. As he invited us all into the calling of the prophets the calling of the Body of Christ, “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” King said first in a sermon in 1957. A sermon on loving your enemies. “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Into which King wove in the vision of the prophet Isaiah, a vision of reconciliation writ large, a vision that took on darkness head on and called this nation to a more just, merciful way. Called us all to a more just, merciful way.

Now I believe that there are moments in which such transformations takes hold in remarkable and noticeable ways – we’ll hear soon from the gospel of John about being born again – about personal transformation that take place in the blink of an eye. But for most of us this is a life-long experience of “come and see,” of allowing the question of What are you looking for to sink in over and over again, and to listening deeply for how others in this world answer this question, how other children of God answer this question. The work is not done. The calling has not been fully lived into by the Body. I can share data and stories and images but you already know we are not yet there. This is not the promised land. Because there are so many ways in which the question in this gospel is still being answered: I’m looking for…Freedom. Equality. Kindness. Shelter. Wisdom. Breakfast. Supper. Forgiveness. Friends. Community. Courage. Understanding…sometimes even the deeply honest, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”

And so this takes time, all of it, but the question will hold us and guide us if we’ll let it, because the light of the world has us too. And them too. The invitation never goes away – come and see! This light never goes away. Darkness cannot over come it. We can’t extinguish it but we can help it shine. We can participate in helping create and recreate that which God would have us come and see. The work is in ourselves, here at Grace and out in the world too. The light of the world merciful, powerful, here and now, AND eternal.

So allow it to speak to us. This light has a voice! We hear it occasionally through prophets given this world as they help us hear what those who are other are looking for. We can hear it in each other too, and in ourselves if we’re willing to listen. Allow the question in this gospel to enter your hearts and the heart of Grace too. Invite others to come and see and know that Christ is calling us through open doors that lead us to that which we need, that which we seek. There is light and healing for all.


Pangs of Birth

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 18, 2018 – Proper 28, Year B

Proper 27, Year B: 1 Samuel 4:1-20; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

1 Samuel 4:1-20

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore, Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore, Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”


Hebrews 10:24-25

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Mark 13:1-8

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Well we’ve entered those weeks when the gospel passages focus on “end times” which we heard more than alluded to this morning in the gospel of Mark.  Next week is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday on the liturgical calendar. Then we move into Advent and begin a new church year.  And as we end one year and begin the next, the passages are more “apocalyptic” in their tone and in their message.  We hear of wars and earthquakes and famines, the throwing down of buildings and the presence of false prophets. We’ll hear of Christ coming in the clouds, stars falling from the sky, and all of the tribes of the earth wailing!  And in the midst of all of that, we’ll hear the message, the promise that Christ himself is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

So hang onto your hats! It’s going to be a bit of a ride in here for these next four weeks or so.

But really, that shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock.  Because it’s true out there too.  It’s a hold-onto-your-hat kind of world and so we need to know how to live in it, how to be people of faith in the midst of strong winds and changing skies.  Knowing how to interpret what appear to be life-ending or world-ending events and storms is an essential skill of faith. In response to those apocalyptic types of experiences, the gospel invites us to do a challenging but holy thing.

In all of these passages we’re being invited to see our endings as our beginnings.

The challenge is that endings can look to us like that’s all that there is. (Hence the language of “end.”)  But according to the gospels, an end is never all there is. There is always more to come. The other challenge is that when we’re living through one of our own perceived or actual endings, we’re inclined to try control it, to assume we know how the ending should go.

Now one of the things that I appreciate about these apocalyptic passages is their honesty.   Sophisticated folks (as we tend to see ourselves to be) often approach readings like these as “not meant to be taking literally.” We emphasize using our imaginations to engage these readings, in effect keeping them at a safe intellectual distance from us and us from them.  The problem with that approach is that we know wars and we know famines. They’re real. We know what it’s like to be led astray and need to regroup again.  That’s real too.  I haven’t necessarily seen stars fall from the sky, but technically, they do.  And if we’re listening at all, it doesn’t take much to know that the tribes of the earth are wailing, loudly, every day.

In fact the hard truth is that we can add to this list of apocalyptic images, because life often resembles these passages.  We don’t need imagination to engage that part of these texts.  We all have stories about one dimension or another of our lives, or several dimensions all at one time being completely shaken to the point of introducing an ending that we didn’t see coming – as if an earthquake had erupted in our living room.

It’s true of the world also. The images of boats overflowing with people as their nations struggle and ours does too; the news of treaties being shaken to their core; images of famine, hunger, and hurt are all around us.  And these stories are hard because they remind us of the fragility of it all. But they are also important to let in, because they make us honest about the fragility of it all.

If there is a positive to the last many years and I think there are many, it’s that we can no longer deny the presence of the kinds of very real earth shaking experiences that apocalyptic passages reveal.

What’s funny is how even given all of that, we still tend to be surprised when life takes a turn from the pastoral vision of green pastures and still waters into something that involves tumults and falling objects.  But remember that that vision of green pastures is a vision of heaven, not the world.  Which doesn’t mean that life here is completely devoid of green pastures and still waters, it’s just that those places and moments of calm and the occasional glimpse of eternal peace they give us, have a more limited place than they eventually will have.  Apocalyptic is perhaps more the norm.  And so, we need to be equipped for those things too.

And we can be! That’s the good news today. We are fragile and we break, but that’s never the end of the story.  We simply need to hone the skill of seeing our endings as our beginnings and we’ll be fine. We’ll be more than fine.  We will “be well,” in a way that is a holy well, as Julian of Norwich once said.

Which doesn’t mean that we’re called to deny the pain of the endings that come, just the opposite.  Apocalyptics are full of human anguish which is why they are so very hard to read. But they can also be comforting, because we know pain and being honest about it can help a process of healing begin.

Take Hannah, whom we heard about in the first reading today.  Hannah was living through the ending that was her not being able to birth a child which meant that the family line would come to an end.  There is a sermon here about the pain carried by many women who struggle to have children, and if that’s what has jumped out at you this morning, let me know and we’ll talk more.  That’s not the specific sermon I’m preaching today, but we can go to that place together. Just let me know.

Now in the face of this terrible loss, Hannah was ridiculed by “a rival” who for whatever reason, continued to kick Hannah while she was down.  There were no green pastures in sight and the waters were more like rapids going over a fall, than they were like stillness of any kind.   And so, one day, Hannah let it rip on the steps of the temple.  She “wept bitterly” the story says, and she also prayed.

This is a story of one individual’s apocalypse.

Hannah’s stars were falling and her entire world was quaking.  So much so that Eli the priest “thought she was drunk” based on the words she was uttering in prayer.  Note: prayers uttered while weeping bitterly don’t come out in fully coherent, collect or litany form.  And so, Eli’s first move was to confront Hannah about her supposed drinking problem.  Which was not the most pastoral of initial responses. But it was a good example of how the quakes that ran through living rooms then were no better interpreted than they are now.

But then when Hannah explained, Eli got it.  She shared her story with him and Eli was willing to receive it.  And then Eli did a beautiful thing.  He helped Hannah see that there was more to come, that there was hope to be had. And maybe that’s one the greatest gifts we can give to each other.

We can offer a presence in grief that allows whatever needs to flow to flow, but also communicates a gentle hope that this ending is not all there is, it’s never all there is.  This isn’t the kind of presence that denies another’s pain, but that through a kind and loving presence offers another piece to it all.  Now I want to be careful here not to imply that that’s why this story moved in the direction of Hannah having a son.  Not every story moves that way.  What I want us to hear is that Hannah’s ending was not an ending.  There was a new beginning on its way.  It’s that birth of “more” that I want us to hold onto.

“Birth pangs” are actually what Jesus called these apocalyptic kinds of experiences in today’s gospel passage.  Something is ending, but something is getting born, and this side of heaven, both of those things are true all of the time.  We’re always ending, sometimes more obviously and blatantly than other times, but it’s always true.  And when we come together, we’re even more aware of that then when we’re alone, which is an important reason to come together. There are those among us who have an earthquake running through their living room right now.  And there are those among us welcoming new life right now. And many of us are trying to integrate either end of that spectrum.  And all of that is true out in our world too.

The gospel reminds us in these stories that because we are held in hands greater than our own, while things may appear to be an apocalyptic mess, something, someone, maybe you, maybe me, maybe all of us are always trying to be born.  The end is simply never the end.

Padraig O’Touma, one of my current favorite theologians put it like this in a poem:

And I said to him:

Are there answers to all of this?

And he said:

The answer is in a story

And the story is being told.

And I said:

But there is so much pain

And she answered, plainly:

Pain will happen.

Then I said: Will I ever find meaning?
And they said:
You will find meaning

Where you give meaning.

The answer is in a story.

And the story isn’t finished.

What we are invited to do as community of faith is a beautiful thing.  We’re being called to hone the skill of holding our endings as beginnings, letting the anguishes we know also be heard as pangs of birth.  It’s easier said than done, but it gets easier if we remind ourselves that the story isn’t finished, yet. Yours, mine, ours – not done.  It never is.  And as O’ Touma says, we can “find meaning.” We can always find meaning, because we can always find love.  And with love no matter at what point in our stories it comes, there is hope to be had.

Paul said this in the Letter to the Hebrews, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us consider how to provoke one another” (which are great words,) “let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

As wars rage and earthquakes abound, as nations rise against nation we’ll gather on the temple steps with those who weep.  We’ll embrace one another in the living rooms we know.  And we’ll meet the boats overflowing with those seeking hope on our shores. And together, alpha and omega holding us all, we’ll help birth a new day for us all.


The Wind In The Sails

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 11, 2018 – Proper 27, Year B

Proper 27, Year B: Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44)

Once every three years in the lectionary cycle we get this story from the gospel of Mark, the story that tradition calls, “The Widow’s Mite.”  Which roughly translated means the widow’s very, very, little bit. It’s a tiny story really, only six verses in Mark and so comparatively speaking, this is a very, very little story about the widow’s very, very little bit.

But even given all of that which has to do with size, this story shows up in almost every curriculum there is from those geared toward the very youngest of us to those geared toward the very oldest.  And there are actually portraits of this story that have been painted in various times in history.  One artist depicted the widow with a gentle glow around her head as she reached out with the coins.  The artist obviously making the statement that there was a saintly quality to her actions.  Another artist quite movingly portrayed the woman as a young widow, which hadn’t occurred to me until I saw it.  In this painting, the woman comes forward with a baby in her arms and gives her coins while holding the child.

There is much that we don’t know about the details of this story – her age, her particular life circumstance, were there any other family members or not? And yet, we know enough to make this story matter to us.  So, let’s listen to what it has to say.

“Many rich people put in large sums,” the gospel says. Contributions were apparently pouring in! And as we sit here early in the pledge drive, I would imagine there was some relief among those synagogue leaders who were watching that happen. Who am I to knock contributions coming from wherever they come from, whomever they come from? Such contributions help the sails rise a little higher in support ministry and in support of mission.  “Please give all you have!” is a sentiment to which I can relate.

But that system was different in ways that need to remain different. This is a story about what is given, but even more so it’s a story about what and whom the community values.

In the approach of the temple in that time and that place, everybody saw what everybody else put in and all of the leaders knew all of the details.  Giving was a public act which is not in itself an entirely bad thing, but at times giving was a comparative and even competitive ritual. Right there are some major differences from here.  Here at Grace, by policy, only a few people actually know the details of financial amounts pledged and contributions given, and that’s for the sake of making sure our records are accurate and Grace remains accountable to all of you.  It’s also a pastoral gauge so that we can know if people are hurting.

In that system, comparisons were made and the competition could be public too, all based entirely on what one might call “worldly standards” of quantity. And assumptions undergirded the system so that often, the more given by an individual, the more that person would then receive – more attention, more access, more religious honor and prestige.

And theology played in there too. In that belief system, to have “more” was a sign of God’s blessing.  And that perhaps was the most dangerous assumption of all.  The slope in that system was a very slippery one:  to be able to put more into the treasury could also be an opportunity to show publicly how well one was with God.

And before we go too far talking about “that system,” we should say that this approach isn’t entirely foreign to us, culturally anyway some of the language rings true. We can be a little loose with the language of “blessing,” equating blessing with abundance or quantity.  And it just isn’t so.

So enter Jesus into the system. And after commenting on the hypocrisy of the scribes, he decided one day to sit down right next to the place where the contributions were being given.  That’s an image, isn’t it?  And Jesus, being Jesus, happened to catch a moment when a widow did a very brave thing.

She “put in two copper coins,” the gospel says.  A little more on that:  The coins were “lepta” and they were the very, very smallest and least valuable coins in all of Judea.  In our terms, this woman’s donation totaled about a dollar.  Which was significantly less than the “large sums” which were put in just ahead of hers.  So, this pledge wouldn’t have moved the sails much, right?

Again – to us. Sometimes people like this widow don’t even come forward in communities of faith, because they know that comparatively, their gift is “less.”  But to those widows and others out there hear this: After that woman gave her gift, Jesus said loudly, “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.” MORE than anyone else. Jesus flipped the whole financial and theological system on its head and suggested it was time to value gifts in a different way: “For all of them have contributed out of their abundance;” Jesus said, “but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

While our approach to giving isn’t quite what theirs was in the synagogue, (hopefully it’s not much like that at all… There is very genuine gratitude that runs through this place and while we miss at times, we do everything we can to keep that spirit alive.)  And yet, this gospel passage gives us important things to remember, perhaps even to learn.

We will be pushing this congregation to give we you can in support of the mission and ministries of Grace and I am thankful for the people who coordinate those efforts.  We will continue to raise the sails on the Steward-Ship in the Commons, as we hope to reach the goal we’ve set for this year’s pledge drive. And sometimes the sails will leap, sometimes they will inch up, and occasionally they’ll crawl.  We might even get stuck before we reach the top, but stubborn flock that we are, we will remain explicit about the goals we’ve set and the reasons for them.  We’ll tug on the ropes bit to help raise those sails as absolutely fully as possible.

And yet, I promise that there will be no comparisons made.  This is not a competition. It never is.  The numbers are communal.  You give from your place and I give from mine, but what we share is ours.  And what keeps all of this in the right place among us is what we heard from the gospel today: we need to also invite each other to give out of our poverties.  That invitation might be the most important check and balance of all.  And so we need to have a sense of what it actually means.

For some that poverty is financial. There is a wide range at Grace and that’s good. Remember that every gift makes a difference and that amounts aren’t signs of how much an individual has been blessed.  Instead, each gift, regardless of worldly size is a sign of Grace being blessed.  By the giver.  By you.  If we don’t hit our goal, we are still blessed. If we far surpass our goal we are still blessed. We are those whose very central act is thanksgiving. And that thanks runs through Eucharist, and pledge drives too.

Our poverties, like our wealths, come in different shapes and sizes and categories. And according to this gospel, we’d be wise to know the shape our own poverty comes in.  This is a story about giving from empty places –  and for the widow it happened to be her checkbook.  For some it’s a poverty of time, or friends, or voice, or direction, or hope.  For some it’s a poverty of health, or understanding, or vision.  And so what does it mean to give from those places?  What does it mean to give while on empty?

It means that we have to be not only generous but brave.

A story for you that I heard on the radio this week.  It’s a story that comes from a recently published book called, “Postcards from the Trenches.”  It’s a book about a man named Auto Schubert whose poverty came from being a soldier in WWI.  Given the anniversary of Armistice Day this weekend, the story is timely.

Auto was about twenty years old and a soldier on the front in the war.  He had no money.  He had given his life for a cause and so there was an absolute poverty of certainty.  Auto’s world was being destroyed around him and so he didn’t know if he even had a tomorrow to offer.

He was far from home with no money to send, but, Auto had stories to tell.  And so Auto collected blank postcards that the army distributed to soldiers.  And while in the trenches, literally in the trenches, sometimes for hours and hours at a time, Auto would watercolor on those cards.  And he numbered each card, and addressed each card, and he sent each card.  And Auto’s fiancé received them as the most precious gift you could imagine.

She knew some of what he was experiencing and feeling and got to hold the color and shapes he was seeing.  Out of Auto’s poverty, came gifts that told stories and embraced love.  The two were married when Auto came home.  And they lived for decades together until she died.  Auto remarried and when his second wife found the postcards, she recognized the treasure that they were.  She convinced Auto to share them beyond their own household and that’s why his art is in a book that’s available to us now.

These postcards and so many things like them aren’t the kinds of gifts that raise the sails, but they are the wind that fills them.  And the boat, our boat won’t move without them.  We won’t have life without such gifts. And we all have them to give.

Please pour in the largest sums you can into this pledge drive!  I’m not going to discourage that.  But there is more to all of this, there always is.  Give from your poverty too. And help us help one another do that.  If you are in foxhole, share your art.  If you are low on health or on hope, tell us and the words you speak from those places will breath something holy among us.  If you are down to one dollar to live on, tell us your story and that will be a gift that blesses Grace Church. These are the gifts that fill the sails. They help get us all where we need to be.

The gospel tells us that the little, little bits we offer from our poverties are of unsurpassable value in the eyes of Christ. In such giving, the Body learns a new way to count, a new way to set sail. And then the winds carry us to holy sorts of places we never imagined we’d go.


All Saints Day 2018

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – November 4, 2018

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. (John 11:1-45)

Well we have a beautiful passage to reflect on today, which is All Saints Day on the Liturgical Calendar, one of the high feast days of our church.  This passage has got just about everything going on in it, so let’s fill up with some of its pieces and then I’ll offer some reflections.

A friend of Jesus’ was ill, his name was Lazarus and he was the brother of Mary and Martha.  And because of this illness, the sisters sent a message to Jesus who was moving about various towns with his disciples and the message said, “The one whom you love is ill.”  And so Jesus made his way to Bethany and when he arrived, he found that Lazarus had already died, and that he’d been in the tomb for four days.

Martha met Jesus on the road as he approached their home and said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Martha then, after a brief but significant theological exchange proclaimed to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha then went and got her sister, Mary.  Mary came out of the house to meet Jesus and many followed her because they thought she was going to the tomb to weep there.  When Mary got to Jesus, she opened with the same line, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And at this moment Jesus was “disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” and Jesus wept.  Which was also a theological conversation of sorts, just without words.

They all went to the tomb and Jesus told them to take away the stone. Martha (who had just proclaimed him the Messiah) reminded Jesus of the practical reality that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and that there would be a stench. And so Jesus reminded her of their earlier conversation. And they took away the stone.  Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  And I find that last line to be one of the most powerful in all of Scripture.

Now part of why I love this passage and find it perfect for today is that running throughout the entire story there is this beautiful presence of that which is human alongside of, even woven together with that which is holy.  This gospel story is both messy and miraculous all at the same time.  And so is life!  And so this story resonates in profound ways.

There was the death of someone who was brother and who was also friend.  We know that story, each of us knows that story of grief and loss.  And in the midst of weeping, there was the embrace of those who had become family to each other. We know that story too.  When love meets loss. There is that beautiful moment when the whole community followed Mary and they followed her “to weep with her at the grave.”  They followed before they had any idea that they were actually processing their way into a miracle.  We know that story of “being with.” And we need to also go beyond my own story or our story with this, because this week when I hear about communities and loss and love, I think about the people of Tree of Life Synagogue who have spent the week processing and weeping and mourning, after the deaths of their brothers and sisters too.  And I think of the embrace offered them by the Muslim community in that city who raised tens of thousands of dollars to care for their Jewish neighbors, and in their gifts vowed to process forward with them.

I also know as this gospel story laid out what it’s like to proclaim the presence of the Messiah one moment and then later that very same day feel concern about the stench that could be released if we open our tombs.  I know what it’s like to be called out of a place that feels like death, to take the risk of walking forward and to allow others to unbind me.  I know the story too where we all come together to unbind one who needs to be set free.


We know this story, the mess and the miracle of it all, the profound integration of that which is human with that which is holy.  And maybe saints are the people who remind us of this. They manage in extraordinary ways to shine light on the messy and the miraculous all at the same time. And saints help hold us in those places, because saints know or at least trust that in those places there is amazing grace to be had.


A few weeks ago I read an article about an extraordinary person.  He’s not on the calendar of saints.  I don’t actually know what religion he followed if any, but this man was a saint in this world.  I’ll close with his story.


His name was Chiune Sigahara.  He was born in Japan and he ran the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania during World War II.  And as the article I read stated, “He saved 6,000 Jews with his handwriting.”

Soon after arriving in Lithuania in 1939, Sigahara was confronted with Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland. His country discouraged him from offering what would very literally be life-saving visas.  Sugihara talked about “that refusal to receive” with his wife, Yukiko, and their children and decided that despite the inevitable damage to his career, he would offer these people safety and freedom.

The author of the article described it like this, “Most of the world saw throngs of desperate foreigners. Sugihara saw human beings and he knew he could save them through prosaic but essential action: “A lot of it was handwriting work,” he said.

Day and night, he wrote visas. He issued as many visas in a day as would normally be issued in a month. His wife, Yukiko, massaged his hands at night, aching from the constant effort. Maybe she was a saint too.

“When Japan finally closed down the embassy in September 1940, “Sugihara took the stationery with him and continued to write visas.  When the consulate closed, Sugihara had to leave. .. and while leaving, he literally threw visas out of the train window to refugees on the platform. At least 6,000 visas were issued for people to travel through Japan to other destinations, and in many cases entire families traveled on a single visa. It has been estimated that over 40,000 people are alive today because of this one man.”

After the war, Sugihara was dismissed from the foreign office. Not suprising.  He worked at menial jobs for the rest of his working life and it wasn’t until 1968 when a survivor, Yehoshua Nishri, found him that his contribution was recognized. Nishri had been a teenager in Poland saved by a Sugihara visa and was now at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo.

The author speaks of “moral courage” in this article, but I think can be described by us today as “what saints do.”  Sugihara saw the mess all around him and the miracle that was being asked of him.  He saw the life-saving unbinding that was being asked of him. And the ability to respond in the way that he did requires what this author called, “mysterious and potent combination of empathy, will and deep conviction that social norms cannot shake.” But I would add, communities of faith can help teach and nurture

“How would Sugihara have responded to the refugee crisis we face today, and the response of so many leaders to bolt the gates of entry? There is no simple response adequate to the enormity of the situation,” said the author. “But we have to keep before us the image of a single man, overtaxed, isolated and inundated, who refused to close his eyes to the chaos outside his window. He understood the obligations common to us all and heard in the pleadings of an alien tongue the universal message of pain.”

Finally from this article says its author, ‘When I was telling this story to college students I told them that there would come a time in their lives when they would have to decide whether to close the door or open their hearts.”

Saints help us decide which of those options to take.  They remind us of what is possible when we process together with empathy and love.  The don’t pull the shades, they look out their windows and notice the mess and the miracle, the human and the holy.  And they give whatever gift they have to the ones seeking to be unbound.  They embrace the neighbors with whom they are faced and offer the gift of presence, joining in the procession that longs to bring us all into miracle.

For Sugihara it was handwriting. For Martha it was proclamation.  For Lazarus it was allowing himself to be called out and unbound.  For Mary it was a quiet embrace and a community that gathered with her.  Years after the war, Sugihara spoke about his actions as natural: “We had thousands of people hanging around the windows of our residence,” he said in a 1977 interview. “There was no other way.”

May there be no other way for us.  May that mysterious and potent combination of empathy find its way into our hearts and out through our actions.  May we be the saints God is calling us to be.


The Goodwill of the Other Side

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – October 22, 2018 – Proper 24, Year B:  Job 38:1-41; Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

I am just back from a week away. Some of that time was vacation, some of it was catch up, some of it was time to read and write a bit.  On the weather front, it was sort of a boring 90 plus degrees every day in Gainseville. And then within the first 45 minutes of driving away from the airport in Grand Rapids we experienced sunshine, rain, hail and some slushy stuff that could have been called snow or sleet or both. And so, it’s good to be back immersed in some extreme and rapid seasonal variation, and as always, it’s good to be back at Grace Church.

While I was away, I had time for some good reads and some good conversations too. And one observation I’ll make (and note this is backed by the statistical accuracy of a pastor on vacation which means no statistical accuracy at all, this is more like a heartfelt guess) and that is that about ninety percent of those conversations and reads at some time circled through frustrations, anxieties, and fears, about current events, political realities, and the tensions that are no longer on the rise but always at a state of “overflowing.”

Now just so you know, I did spend time floating down a river, time walking and hiking and sitting poolside, during which none of this input was pouring in. But I’m going to save “floating on water” for another sermon, because these days, I think it’s almost more important to talk about how we can hold each other.

And so I want to share two insightful summaries that came from beautiful people, one on what people now call either fondly or disdainfully depending on your positions- “the right” and one from a person who has firmly established himself on “the left.”  (To assure you that my pastoral motivated sampling remained statistically sound and somewhat balanced.)

From the left came an article that talked about our current ability and complete lack of ability to connect with each other, with world events, national events, even with our families and things going on in our own back yards.  The author explored the gains and losses to human intimacy brought on by modern means of communication and our implementation of those means.  Full discloser: I found this article because it was posted on Facebook.

One of the powerful quotes in this article and the quote that was posted by my fried was this: “The incipient political catastrophe in the United States [meaning this atmosphere to which all sides have contributed] can be summed up in a phrase: nobody believes the other’s pain is real.”  Nobody believes the other’s pain is real.  What an awful yet true statement.  Hold that.

Because then, from the right – a phone conversation I had with someone here at home during which we both shared our frustrations and longings and rants. At the end of that conversation I asked what he thought could help us move forward in any semblance of productive ways. And he said this brilliant thing: “We have to able to accept the goodwill of the other side.”  We have to be able to accept the goodwill of the other side. Please hold that too.

Because both of those statements have to do with the gospel we just heard read.

James and John schemed between them and at one point, they came up and requested the seats closest to Jesus, and not just for supper, for eternity.  So first note is that competitions or claims over who is more deserving of proximity to the Christ?  Probably not a good conversation topic ever.

Because in that very conversation of setting themselves up as “right next to the Christ,” James and John lost the essence of what they had been called to do.  In fact they had come to resemble, “the rulers who lord and tyrant over each other,” Jesus said. They were competing rather than disciple-ing. And so Jesus invited them back the place he was creating for them all, the way he was opening for them all.  Jesus talked about drinking the cup he had been given, the death and resurrection involved with following him, and the self that would be given for others.

We cannot fight so hard for the right and the left hand side that we lose the essence of what we’ve been called to create, to give, to offer, to receive.  When we can’t believe the pain of the other.  When we can’t receive the good will of “the other side,” we’re in trouble.  The fight over who is closer to Christ or truth or even basic human decency isn’t going to get us anywhere.  Because too soon we see only emptiness, or worse “evil” in those with whom we disagree.

And ultimately we’re in this together, and God is in this with us – and with “them” too.  This doesn’t mean that all choices or all sides are equal on any given issue.  But we need to regain the ability to discern a more common right and wrong.  Nor does it mean that as church, and as people of faith, we aren’t called to stand for a common good – in fact that’s exactly what we’re called to do. Through common prayer to stand and offer a common and shared good.

But in order to do this, we need to re-hone our skills in some very basic areas of common life.  We need to be able to believe the other’s pain, whoever that other happens to be. And we need to be able to receive goodwill, to foster it, and dig beneath the headlines to see who on either side is offering it.  “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers said.  No qualifiers there in terms of where you might find them. Always look for the helpers.

“Whoever wishes to become great among you, must be your servant,” Jesus said.  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for many.”  To serve is in so many ways to respond to the pain of another.  It is to see that that other is hungry or thirsty or hurting or imprisoned and that that person needs something from you, because for whatever reason, they can’t give it to themselves.  And you have food, or water, or safety, to share with them – at the very least you have yourself to give and Jesus reminded the disciples of that too.

The flip side is that to be served means to receive the goodwill given by another, to foster it and allow it to flow regardless of who it is coming from.  It is very possible that those who believe differently, think differently, live differently, vote differently have something to offer too.

We need places and people who are not caught up in fights for the right and the left, which doesn’t mean there aren’t things and people for whom we as a community need to fight. We can cry out and stand up for justice and peace and still be able to listen to pain on all sides, fostering goodwill from wherever it happens to flow.

There is a larger good for which we are all longing.  And according to this gospel, competition won’t get us where we need to be. But service will. We need to be those who hear and believe others’ pain. And those who foster just very basic, and loving goodwill unclogging the channels that need to flow far better than they are for anyone.

That is our work now, and in some ways it’s harder than it was twenty years ago.  Facebook is a blessing and a curse, so we need to be smart, maybe even kind about how we use it. Same with other means of communication and engagements with one another. Complications abound. And on any given day we can experience extreme heat and cold and ice and rain of all kinds, everybody can and sometimes in a matter of minutes.  So the pace is rapid too and the needs are in many cases genuinely extreme and immediate.  All of which makes it even more essential that we hone the kinds of basic faithful skills that allow us to share ourselves, and to receive pain and goodness from beyond.  Listen for the hurts.  Be on the look-out for goodwill.  Notice the helpers and be one. Serve.

Wolverines serve a Spartan!  Spartan serve a Wolverine!  Buckeyes get in there too, because we are going for it here!  Hoosiers. Badgers. Hawkeyes. Those of you who don’t care and don’t have a particular favorite mascot, hop in too.  Democrat serve a Republican.  Republican serve a Democrat.  I’m serious. And keep on with that list.  And for the next several days and weeks do that.  If anything can remedy the level of division and lack of coherence we’re experiencing this just might be it.  Serve.  And serve across the lines we’ve been falsely led into believing define us.

May we live the baptism to which we have been called, remembering that there is a river that flows through us, carrying us all and inviting us to “seek and serve Christ in one another, loving our neighbors as ourselves.”  May we “preserve” and embody what this morning’s collect called “the works of mercy” that this world so desperately needs.



One Flesh

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – October 7, 2018 – Proper 22, Year B: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.            (Mark 10:2-16)

So one of the ways that I’ve come to think about Jesus’ message, is that he came to reset the ground rules, the ground rules for how we operate here.  Here being “in the world,” and for that matter, “in the church” too.  Now that’s a pretty basic interpretation of Jesus, and I have more to my Christology, should anyone out there be concerned about heresy. I do believe that the Son of God offered eternity in beautifully holy and life-giving ways. But deeply related to that vision and that salvific promise was Jesus’ presence and voice; alongside the gift of forever was his deep concern and compassion for the here and the now. Because the here and the now wasn’t working very well.

And so sometimes I need to go basic, and maybe you do too. I need to remind myself that God-who-so-loved-this-world (and loves it still,) responded to human pain and human need and human desire and capacity for joy.  God sent Jesus into the world with ideas, and suggestions, some of which were given as commands or even offered as actual manifestations about how the here and the now could be better. And not just better but there here and the now could be more loving, more holy, more good in the way that “God saw it to be good” in the first place.  Jesus came in part to reset the ground rules so that we could operate better here.

And today’s gospel is one of the passages that does just that.

Now I’ve printed copies of a sermon I preached a few years ago that addressed the issue of divorce head on. I’ve preached on that several times, because all of us whether directly or indirectly have been touched by divorce as children of divorced parents, or parents of divorced children, or as couples who have lived through divorce, or as friends or family of a couple who have, or simply as people who have remained married for entire adult lives yet have walked through extremely challenging times and know what it’s like to wonder.

Both life and this text have more going on than may initially appear.  And so if you have questions or personal experiences that were touched by divorce and would like a sermon explicitly dedicated to that experience and this text please pick up that sermon and let me know if you’d like to talk some more. And remember that ultimately whatever your journey happens to be, this church community is committed to healing and offering faithful support.

In this passage, it was the question about divorce that Jesus used as the means by which to offer a reset. And that’s the approach I want to take today. The Pharisees, asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Note first that they were trying to set Jesus up, and sometimes understanding the motivation behind the questions matters. The Pharisees didn’t come to Jesus asking how to build healthy marriages, or how to strengthen them.  They didn’t come asking how to care for people who were struggling with marriage, or how to help people heal when marriage broke, because sometimes they did.

The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus and Jesus knew that and so in good Jesus fashion, he gave the question right back to them. “Well, what did Moses command you?” he asked.  And they responded, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife.” And that’s when Jesus said No.  And he offered an opportunity to reset.

Because to divorce a woman was to cast her out, to exile her from her family, her community of faith and any means of support she had – financial, communal, spiritual. A woman literally had no means of recourse in the society nor in the religious community. She had no power in the decision-making process. It was very simply, legally and in terms of religious contract a process of dismissal.And that’s what was wrong. I really want us to hear that.  There’s a lot to talk about in all of this, but this morning we can go right at the heart of this gospel.

Through this conversation, Jesus exposed the truth that there was a legal and a religious means by which one human being could dismiss another and to that Jesus said, “No”  And he offered a reset.  And he talked about belonging to each other, being created for each other and then he talked about being one flesh.

It’s a No we need to hear, not because divorce can never be a healing option. Not because to be divorced is to be placed on the list of “outside of love and God and church.”  There is no such list – that’s part of the point.  And sometimes, rarely, but sometimes in order for two human beings to stop dismissing each other, they need to stop be married to each other.  But Jesus’ point is actually bigger than the question the Pharisees asked, and Jesus was in his response, crying out for them to let it be.

Because in some ways, we are all one flesh. I actually think that’s the point of this gospel.  I think that’s the understanding that is the reset being offered by Christ.  And that is a reset that we so very deeply need today, and so we should probably take up his offer.

We are all one flesh.  Explained through covenant and new covenant if we speak in the language of our faith. Explained by the deeply intertwined realities of action and effect if we speak in terms of quantum physics, (which I obviously don’t.)  Explained by the innate drive for human connection, if we speak in terms of secular humanism.  I can go on and on with the list of religions, and areas of study, the bodies of people, and the deep longing for wholeness that proclaims not only a vision but an argument for this “one-flesh” insistence and why we hunger for it and really should live that way.

I can also make lists of what happens when we don’t function that way.   But I don’t want to add to that list, because every day adds to that list.

What Jesus says in this passage is that we have options for how we understand the relationships we have with each other.  We always have options and in today’s passage Jesus offered an option to what was so very wrong.  And we need to hear it to. There can be no dismissals.  Of any kind.

Which means that the questions themselves change.  It is no longer “Who has a right to dismiss whom?” Instead the question is, “What can we do to strengthen the relationships we have, and establish those that we don’t, and heal those that are broken.?” And the “one flesh” idea might help us.

Because then one person’s hurt is ours too.  Another person’s life is ours too.  A brokenness in one body is a brokenness is ours too.  And together being one flesh we can create something new.  Something this world desperately needs but has not yet come together to make.

May the dismissals stop now, the inward and outward dismissals we make.  It’s time to be one flesh, to create a new way together.  With God’s help it can be so.


A Powerful and Difficult Grace

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sermon preached on September 30, 2018 – Proper 21, Year B: Mark 9:38-50

Esther 4:1-17; 7:1-10; 9:20-22

James 5:16, 19-20    Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective… My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Mark 9:42-50  Jesus said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.  “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

This morning I’m going to dive into a hard story.  I’m asking that you hold this with me and that we wrestle with it and seek meaning in it together.  If we keep talking to each other, together, over time we’ll get somewhere new.  And we need to get somewhere new.  As a people, we need to get somewhere new.  Let’s start now.

This is a story about a woman who was invited into the highest courts of a land and while there, she took a stand for her people. Because of injustices that had been done to others, and political games that had been played along the way, the process by which this woman gained fame was not a perfect one.  But she was given a position of access to leaders, and therefore, she had power and used it well. The “saving” in this story was messy and it was achieved by a process that nobody would endorse as good, or even just, or “the way it should be.” Lives were lost along the way and at the end of this story, there was peace granted to a people, but the citizens of the land were left wondering what had happened, how it had happened, and if they could even begin to trust the promise of peace that had been given them.

In case you’re wondering, this is the story of Esther, Queen Esther, from the Old Testament lesson we heard read a few minutes ago.  Here’s a little background and some more detail now that you know who I’m talking about:

Before there was Esther, there was Vishta, and she matters too.  Vishta was the first queen to King Ahasuerus. One night the King got so drunk at his feast that he asked Queen Vishta to come and dance in a room full of the King’s colleagues and friends.  And Queen Vishta, for good reason, refused the request.  And she was, therefore, banished from the kingdom.  It was an extremely high price for her to pay, an unfair and unjust price for her “No.”  But she held it.  And so Vishta is one of those people in Scripture whose name we should know.

Then Esther was brought in to be queen, because the King had declared Esther to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.  What King Ahasuerus didn’t know (because he was overly focused on other things,) was that Esther was not only beautiful, she also happened to be a Jew.  And the Jews were living in King Ahasuerus’ land as exiles with little power and few protections. And because of the tensions among the peoples of this land, some of the leaders were plotting to literally have the Jews massacred.

And so through a very complex series of events that involved Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, a plot by Ahasuerus’ right hand man, Haman, and Esther risking her life by appearing in the court and asking the King for mercy, Ahasuerus decreed peace rather than death for the Jews. And Esther was given credit for saving her people.  She is a hero in this Biblical tradition.  And the Jewish feast of Purim is in remembrance of this story.

Now there is a very high “ick” factor involved when you read all of the verses of the many chapters of the book of Esther. It is not pretty.  In the end, an entire people who were in the process of being completely wiped out were saved.  But the process of getting there was at times a pretty ugly one. And this wasn’t the last time these people would face the challenge of annihilation. But they got through that moment in time, and were able to give thanks.

So this week I went to Scripture to read this story while being full our stories too, which is how I always go the Scriptures.  I am present to them and present to now, as much as possible anyway. And from that place I listen. And this week like most of us, the stories I brought with me to this task involved the process of confirmation for Judge Kavanaugh.  I carried the testimony and presence of Dr Ford.  I was full of the images and voices of many of our leaders, and Judge Kavanagh too.

And here was the story of Esther.  And Vishta.  And King Ahasuerus.  And Haman.  And his family.  And the people.  All the different kinds of people – of different backgrounds, and different faiths, and different experiences and privileges and hurts and fears. And so as I listened to them and to now, it was like we were all in one huge ugly yet ultimately redeemable mess together. Mess? Obviously.  Nobody would argue that. Redeemable? I believe it is. Because I believe we are, we always are.  That’s why we’re here, wherever here is. It’s why God is here too. Trying to help redemption happen.

Now I want to be very clear that I’m not making direct correlations between the people in the story of Esther and the specific people involved in the process we are currently watching play out as a nation, the story of which we are all part.  I also want to be very clear that the themes involved in both stories are remarkably, and in some ways devastatingly, similar.  And we have to look at those. Because redemption involves looking into and talk about the very, very hard themes we know and live, those that Esther did too.

And if we keep talking to each other, together, over time we’ll get somewhere new.  And we need to get somewhere new.  We might as well start now.

We need to talk about how political games are being played while the stories of real human beings are tossed around not for the healing or freedom of a people, but for gain of one side or another.  We have to consider the abuse of alcohol and how too often, related to the abuse of people. We need to talk about the very hard choices women have to make, and the vulnerabilities, unfair consequences, and inequalities woven into our many systems.  And the very hard choices men have to make. And the vulnerabilities, unfair consequences, and inequalities woven into our many systems.  Truth is, we don’t have this set up well for anyone, for some better than others to be sure.  But it’s not set up well for anyone.  Even those for whom it seems to be set up well, aren’t well.  We can do so much better than this.

Like in the Book of Esther, we have to make room for the occasional voice, the occasional voice whose risk in speaking helps us at the very least to see something we need to see about our collective selves, even if the means of that voice coming forth are far less than ideal. We need to listen and we need to engage, even if more hurt occurs before we establish a collective means of causing less pain.

And so, this is a very hard story.  It’s two very hard stories.  Actually, it’s a bunch of very hard stories. Esther’s and ours, all of ours.  James suggests in the Epistle we heard read today that the way forward into the healing and redemption for which we long, he suggests that the way forward begins with a confession of sin and a commitment to prayer.  Not because such an approach is magic. Not because it removes accountability or action from the process of healing, but because such an approach will frame the conversations we need to have within a frame of humility, honesty, and hope. Because that’s what confession and prayer do. James then says an amazing thing.  He says that we actually have the power, “brothers and sisters,” to bring one another back to the truth.

And this week I realized what a powerful and difficult grace that is. We have the power to bring one another back to the truth.

To bring one another back takes time.  It takes the commitment of many and it requires that we hold a communal desire to acknowledges our sins as a people and a communal desire to heal as a people. This begins, as James said, with confession, a willingness to say that something is very wrong and if this week didn’t reveal that or the past many months didn’t reveal that, I’m not sure what will and I’m even more afraid for what it will take.  Today let us hear that the story of Esther is not that far off, which in itself should be revealing to us all.

In the gospel, Mark says that our work is to remove stumbling blocks from getting in the way of the little ones. And perhaps that’s is a good place to start; it’s related to what the Epistle told us too. We have stumbling blocks all over the place, and perhaps our first confession can be that we’ve made causing each other to stumble into a fine art.  It’s like we’re actually trying to trip each other up, rather than build each other up.  It shouldn’t be this hard to be good, to be caring, to not hurt each other as much as we do. We’ve gotten too good at banishing from the kingdom, rather than building the kingdom to which we have all been called.

And so our work is to make time, to make space and to foster desire for healing to come.  It’s to remember in the words of Brene Brown (whom we listened to in Forum this morning) that “We are inextricably bound to each other.”  And in the words of our Baptismal Covenant that we are “to respect the dignity of every human being.”

We have the power to bring one another back to the truth, and that is a powerful and a difficult grace.  But it is a grace given us, over and over again. Because we need it given to us over and over again.  And so, as church, let’s remove whatever stumbling blocks we’ve put in the way, so that the little ones which are all of us and those who differ from us can be present with the truth we carry.  And if we keep talking to each other, with stories and confessions and prayers, we’ll get somewhere new.  And we need to get somewhere new.  Let’s start now.


A Change of Heart

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – September 2, 2018 – Proper 17, Year B: John 6:51-58 Mark 7:1-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them….5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:1-23)

Ugh. This gospel passage is a hard one, actually it’s a is a tricky one, isn’t it? Just as this passage gets rolling, just as the blame is finding a focused place to land, just as I and perhaps the crowd in this passage are becoming sure that “if only the pharisees would change their ways everything would be OK” and the anti-Pharisee movement is gaining momentum, Jesus changes direction. And that shift is a hard one, I actually sort of feel it in my gut. About half-way through this passage, Jesus makes a hard shift from speaking about the Pharisees as hypocrites to implicating us all. And so I think this passage is inviting us, all of us, to take a much needed pause.

Because dang it, I want to say it’s their fault! I really do. Here is Jesus who has come into this world with a profound message of forgiveness and love, mercy, and peace, and the Pharisees stand up try so very hard to interrupt that amazing grace at every turn. Passage after passage, after hungry people are fed, and they’re on the brink of widespread celebration, the Pharisees say things like, “Why didn’t you wash your hands?” Really? They’re actually looking for ways to restrain the grace.

Passage after passage when hurting people are healed and the lame are just beginning to dance, the Pharisees interrupt the whole scene by asking, “Why did you heal them on the Sabbath?” And I want to scream. They use religious law as a means by which to limit Shalom.

Throughout the gospels Jesus offers mercy and the Pharisees find a reason to stifle it. He opens a a door and they insist using religious reasons on keeping it closed. Jesus embodies a wide-embrace and the Pharisees justify their distance from that other. There is abundance offered and they emphasize a reason not to share. And I can hardly stand it.

And so this morning, I want to stand up and cheer Jesus on as he exposes their pattern:

“Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

To that I want to say “Hah, finally, they are getting put in their place!”And then sit down, smugly. And so I admit to appreciating passages like this one, perhaps a little too much. The passages where Jesus lets them have it. That time Jesus calls them a brood of vipers? Just for the record, I like that one too.

But here’s the thing, and why this passage is so very hard: I have my patterns too. Hence the call to pause. One of my patterns is that they so very quickly become a “they,” and it can all fester in that place inside of me that is in the grand scheme, in the kingdom scheme not a good place at all. Because it can come out it harmful ways.

The Pharisees are an easy target on which to hang the woes of this world. And I can go on for hours about how I think this connects with our world today. Trust me I have an internal list of who falls into the Pharisee camp these days. But as I said, I have my patterns too and one of them is that I can come pretty close to convincing myself that if only the Pharisees changed their ways, everything would be OK.

And while this gospel is challenging those who lean toward the Pharisaic end of things to take a hard an honest look at themselves, there is challenge in this for us all. This is a hard passage for everyone. Notice that while Jesus is shouting in a very focused way for about three verses at “them” he then invites “the entire crowd” and for four verses says things like, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

And so while Jesus is telling the Pharisees to let go of purity codes as a means by which to discern who is worthy and unworthy of holiness, he’s telling all of us that what comes out of us matters. And what comes out of us shapes whether or not we are able to love that neighbor; it shapes our experience of the kingdom of God.

How we speak to that person who is hurting matters. And how we speak to that person whom we perceive to be inhibiting wholeness matters. How we speak to that person who has never been welcomed to the table matters. And how we speak to those whom we perceive to have had too much control over who is welcomed at that table matters too. Jesus is telling the Pharisees to celebrate the wide embrace, the hospitality, the feast, to which they are also invited. And the same is true for us if for no other reason than the table and the experiences of wholeness and so much else that is a means by which the kingdom is proclaimed has come for us all – them too.

And so we are to seek a way that is genuinely reflective of the mercy, forgiveness and love of Christ in every direction. In every direction outside and inside of ourselves. In every direction politically, religiously, neighborly and otherwise too. We need to carry the awareness that what comes out of us can do harm.

But what comes out of can also do good. What comes out of us can do love.

And this is so very hard today because the lines have been drawn and it’s so very easy to fall into patterns that do not invite this embracing Shalom which is the peace of God, that one that “passes all understanding.” We go so easily now to, “It’s their fault,” but this gospel reminds us that that is never the whole story. We can’t find one category of people who are entirely responsible for the woes of the world and that approach has in itself led to some of the most heinous acts every done.

I think this week we’ve celebrated voices in our country who have attempted this approach certainly imperfectly, but at times with strength and with grace. John McCain. Aretha Franklin. R-E-S-P-E-C-T all around, please.

What comes out of us no matter who we are matters. Created in the image of God we have power and we let it go when this becomes of matter of simply placing blame. We pick it up when we learn to speak with strength that is fueled and tempered with compassion, compassion frankly for all.

This passage invites us to pause, perhaps every day. To pause and re-center ourselves as they say to seek a way that is genuinely reflective of the mercy, forgiveness and love of Christ. As hard as this passage is, the good news is that this way of grace is open to us all. Everyday. We have the power to do harm, and sometimes we do. And we have the power to do love, and sometimes we do. Our work is to keep it heavily weighted in the direction of mercy, forgiveness, peace.

May we be a people willing to acknowledge the ways in we have said things, or done things or perpetuated patterns that hurt others. And may we be a people willing to receive forgiveness and to help make change, even in ourselves.


Bread and Bette

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – August 19, 2018 – Proper 15, Year B: John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58)

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus said. Which makes this the fourth of five weeks we’re hearing about bread, and the third of four weeks in a row that comes directly from the gospel of John, chapter 6: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

Last week the oldest member of Grace Episcopal Church, Holland passed away. And I’m going to tell you a bit about her, because it pertains to bread. Trust me on that. I promise to bring it around.

Bette Comport, age 95, died very peacefully last Sunday at Holland Hospital after being sick for only a few of days. In a way that very few, (but Bette Comport among them) are able to pull off, she decided just about a week before her death, that she was ready to go. And according to Bette, she let God know that. Bette then acquired bronchitis about Wednesday which became pneumonia by about Thursday. She was taken to the hospital and was admitted, and from that point on, Bette pretty much guided her family and the hospital staff through a meaningful and peaceful process of dying.

Now those who knew Bette, knew her to be a feisty and faithful soul. She was a “Rosie the Riveter” in World War II, who although having come from this area, riveted planes for Douglas Aircraft in California. She worked for years for West Ottawa Schools. And in her “retirement,” Bette became a world champion golfer. She won the gold medal in the Senior Olympics at the very-senior-even-for-Senior-Olympics age of what she described as, “in her 80’s.”

Bette had two sons, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She lived her final forty years as a widow and stayed in the house in which she and Warren had raised their family. Life wasn’t necessarily easy for Bette, but she never said anything like that. She was as feisty and as faithful as they come, right up to her final hours.

I shared last Sunday morning that I had just seen Bette the night before, and while I visited her in the ICU, I spoke a little with her. But mostly, since she seemed to be unconscious, and unlikely to come to again, I sat with her in silence. Bette’s family had left for the night. And I allowed myself to fill with memories and with prayers. It was holy time.

And then at one point I said, “Well, Bette, you’ve had an amazing life. 94 years.” To which much to my surprise she responded, “95!” And that scared me nearly to death because I didn’t really think Bette would speak again. But that was so very Bette. She then smiled a little and received my apology for not adding that final year. She opened her eyes a bit and added, “That’s almost a century.” Which is if you’re doing the math is almost two thirds of Grace’s 150 years.

After setting me straight, Bette went on quietly and slowly to very beautifully speak of her gratitude for Grace Church. Now it’s a profound privilege for me to share those kinds of moments with people, but I am very aware that those moments aren’t mine, they’re ours. And so sometimes you should hear them too. Bette was thankful for what she referred to as “her pew” which was her spot for decades. Two or three or four pews up from the back, and right on the aisle. Bette, while here every Sunday, was not a front row type.

And then Bette went on and talked about how grateful she was for visits over these past few years when it had gotten harder for her to leave home. She was grateful for St Martha’s Guild, St Mary’s members, Eucharistic visitors, neighbors, various Grace clergy, and her Stephens Minister who saw her almost every week for years. And as sort of a summary statement, Bette was thankful for communion. Which made sense because over the years, I think that was her most important lesson to me – the value that this bread has in the lives of so many.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t value it already. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t value and find meaning in this bread. But Bette was adamant that she needed this bread and in some ways she made it clear that she also deserved it on a very regular basis. If there had been too many weeks between visits, Bette let us know, and we needed to hear that. Now she wasn’t deserving in a privileged or even righteous way, but in a clearly “I’m hungry for this bread,” way. In a “this-meal-is-central-to-our-life-together-and-it-gives-me-something,”way. Bette wanted and needed this meal and the church that offers it present to her. And she wasn’t shy about letting us know that. And that clarity helped us serve her.

There was nothing magical about any of this for Bette, she was far too sensible and practical for that. But in ways that none of us can explain for Bette, or ourselves, the bread was Christ for her and so were we. The holiness that we lean into and that shapes us here was present for her there, wherever her there happened to be, which was usually her home. And that holiness brought things and people together that otherwise wouldn’t be one. Bette Comport among them. Bette Comport among us.

In the Eucharistic meal–the community that housed the pew, that mourned Bette’s husband’s death with her, that cared for her kids, that was present no matter the weather or the wartime or the peacetime, that encouraged the golfer to gold, that looked at pictures of the grand-twins whom she loved so very much, that prayed and served the world about which she cared deeply, that visited her right up literally until her final day – in all of that, Christ was with her. In the Eucharistic meal, that bread and those people that gathered and visited were the Body of Christ, the presence of God.

And so Bette Comport, Riveter, wife, mother, grandmother, educator, gold medalist, back pew sitter, taught us all something about the life that comes when we share this bread. She reminded us that when we offer this bread, bless it, break it, share it, become it, and then go out into the world nourished and transformed by it, we are Christ for the world! We become able to acknowledge our own hunger here, which is in itself gift. We are nourished and we are formed. We allow ourselves to be fed and in that become more able to feed others too with the holiness we have been offered.

And so here, our response is thanksgiving. Which is what “Eucharist” means. Thankful not because we understand what’s happening here or because we control what’s happening here. Thankful not because John Chapter 6 makes sense to us. We give thanks because all of this makes bread into life for us. Which makes us into life for each other. And which in ways that are both mysterious and tangibly experiential, we then give life to the world. We’re thankful because all of this helps God be here among us in ways that gather, nourish, strengthen, sustain and send us out to the work God has given us to do. Scattered and yet one Body.

So today, or sometime soon, be sure to walk out into Resurrection Garden which is out the door by the baptismal font and just down the steps from the courtyard. Resurrection Garden is the place of interment for generations of Grace folks. And on Wednesday, Bette’s ashes will be put into the ground there.

Go down there today or someday soon and notice the statue of Jesus there. Christ is there – arms open, alive, open to and resurrected for all! And when you look, see that the statue was given to Grace by Bette Comport, many years ago. And know that in a literal but not always so literal way, that’s how it works. Christ is given. Christ is received. Christ is present. Christ is visible, shared, and taken in. And through it all we become a Body that offers Christ’s gifts to others, generation after generation. Bread of Life and hope for the world.


“Members Of One Another”

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – August 12, 2018 – Proper 14, Year B: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, John 6:35-51

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life… Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves..Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35-51) 


Every now and then we get a passage that I think I should just stand up here and read over and over again a few times and then sit back down. Some passages speak for themselves so easily. And we hear them so quickly that they’re easy to miss or we forget about them by the time we get to this point in the service, especially at the second service where there’s a few hymns woven in here too.  The passage from Ephesians is one of those passages, and so I want to give you a bit of background on the passage itself, repeat most of it again, and see if it has anything so speak to us.

First a little background.  The letter was written for the people of Ephesus but it was probably also sent to many of the Christian communities in that region, because they were all struggling with similar issues. Everywhere from Rome to Ephesus to Galatia, to Jerusalem and throughout budding Christendom, the people were struggling with how to be a multicultural and diverse church – no kidding.  The wrestle is not new to us and it’s important for us to remember that we are not the first age of church to struggle with Christian identity or Christian unity. The particular triggering issues might be different in each day, but the challenge itself is not.

In the context of the Letter to the Ephesians, they were working through how to integrate Jewish, Hellenistic, and Christian thought and in doing that, how to bring a breadth of people with various cultural backgrounds and beliefs together as community, one which would at least at times be recognized as the Body of Christ.

And so in this letter, the author who was Paul or a student of his, addressed things like division and self-interest, greed, the need to let go of many things and to occasionally make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole. He spoke a lot about “unity” and the call to “come together.” “Made alive together,” he wrote. “Raised up together,” “sitting together,” “built together” and so on.  He repeated phrases like “one body,” and “one spirit,” and “one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and he emphasized the unity of the church.

And in this letter he also offered the kinds of behaviors that would help unity happen.  Behaviors like we heard spoken of in today’s passage: kindness, forgiveness, tenderheartedness, sharing, and speaking truth, (thus differentiating between the things that make for good community and rocket science.)  And apparently because this letter spoke to the heart of the people’s hopes and needs, it went the first century’s version of viral.

“So then, putting away falsehood,” we heard today, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” What a beautiful phrase – we are members of one another. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” So that your words may give grace to those who hear… Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (meaning don’t make the Holy Spirit sad…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Simply put, the passage concludes: Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul’s point is that church is where we are to practice all of that, not because we have it down, but because even Christian’s don’t. And the worlds needs it – togetherness, unity, love.

And so our work here is to receive these gifts of God and create the kind of environment that fosters such grace.  We are to practice a broad and multi-many-things kind of unity as church.  This is where we make room for forgiveness, kindness, and tenderheartedness.  It’s the means by which we give this world some of the together it so desperately needs.

And we practice this way of being every time we worship, in part because this kind of “together” is the gift which our liturgy gives us.  We gather, we sing, we pray, we pass the peace and then share in a feast which is open to and receiving of all who come, a rarity in the first century and a rarity still today.

In here we re-become those people who are “members of one another” in intentional and sometimes surprising ways.  This place brings me into communion not only with God but with people whom I would not otherwise ever share a table, with whom I would never otherwise pass the peace, for and with whom I would not otherwise be able to pray.

This is where we are working out the hopes and vision of Paul’s letter.  This is where we offer to God the works of our hands and our hearts too.  This is where the needy (which on some level is all of us) are fed. No evil comes out of our mouths and we try to make all of the words we speak, words that are for building up so that our words may give grace to those who hear.

And not for the sake of this place alone, by any means, but for the sake of the world too.  We practice here to get better at things needed everywhere. We let go.  We offer. We receive. We become a Body that longs to be grace. And in that sense, this place is like no other place. But only so other places more closely resemble this in terms of the kindness shared, the forgiveness offered, the tenderheartedness encouraged.

So that may we help these actions themselves go viral and as beloved children learn to live in love.  Amen.