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The Rev. Jennifer Adams -August 2, 2015 -Pentecost 13, Year B: Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:24-35

So this mornings Epistle and gospel reading come together for me to form something like a “How to be Church 101”.  Put together these readings give us some of the fundamentals, some of the basics of the what we do here as well as the how to be God’s people gathered.  So let’s dive in and explore a bit about what it means to be church.

In the gospel we have the second in a six-week series that focuses in hard on the presence and the value of bread. And sharing bread is part of what we do here – in all kinds of ways.  Which means that this is all very simple and very not but don’t worry, we’ll unpack it together. 

Last week we heard the story of the Feeding of the Five thousand which as you’ll remember Jesus pulled off with a mere five loaves and two fish.  You heard that story referenced in the opening of today’s gospel when Jesus questioned the people’s reasons for following him, “You’re only here because YOU got your fill of the loaves,” he said in the not most welcoming of opening lines. But apparently he needed to make it very clear right from the beginning of this whole ‘Bread of Life’ discourse that simply getting one’s fill was not in itself a satisfactory goal of a life of faith.  Point taken.

Then after that clarify was offered, Jesus began to take next steps with his disciples and all those gathered as he revealed the key to this whole “Bread of Life” discourse.  Jesus explained to them that he came to feed the world not only with loaves (important but not a stand alone) –  he also came to address another kind of hunger, and he did that by feeding the world with himself. Which makes for a theological mouthful. But we’ll get there today. We will actually feast on bread and Christ as bread. Remember, I said a couple minutes ago that that’s what we do here.  Fundamentally as church we pray and we eat and we feed others here.  

But before we get to that feast– I want to bring in the letter to the Ephesians, because it reminds us that “how” we do all of this matters just as much as what we do here.

Go about your life of faith, we heard from the letter to the Ephesians, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . . There is one Body and there is one Spirit,” we heard and within that Body we all have gifts, we all have callings that involve being people of God within and outside of the church.  We live this faith as prophets and apostles and evangelists, some as preachers and some as teachers, as parents and grandparents and kids.  As musicians and acolytes, bankers and nurses, policemen, poets and priests.  All for the sake of building each other up into Christ’s Body.  And how do we do that again?  By speaking the truth in love to each other. By going about our faith with humility and gentleness, bearing one another in bonds of peace. 

Which means that as individuals and as community, we have tremendous power and responsibility given us by God – the how we go about being church actually has an effect on what we are doing here.  The how we do all of this matters a great deal.  Now we aren’t the only players – the Spirit has a critical role too – but we matter in this whole scheme of being God’s people. 

I’d go so far as to say that how we are together actually effects how the bread tastes- this meal offered with humility and gentleness tastes different than offered other ways.  And how we define ourselves, how we build ourselves up goes so far as to effect who receives the bread- if we see us as all as hungry, all as seeking, all as sinful, all as children of God, all with gifts to offer then odds are better that all are welcome to receive.  Think about that – it’s more power than sometimes I’m comfortable having but we’ve been entrusted with this amazing grace – and that that grace has an effect on the feast itself.  And that in itself is about as humbling as it gets. 

I can tell you that as priest the most profound moments of communion happen not only because Jesus is here in the bread and the wine, but because you are here too in the flesh, at the table with your lives, with your hurts, and your hungers, and your hopes.  When I look around this room on Sunday or whenever we gather you bring out some of the gentleness and compassion that I have to give this world and I become grateful all over again.  And I think that’s how all of this works for all of us.  We come together.  We come together in love.  We come together in peace.  And we offer ourselves to God and one another. And we are fed by bread that is always enough for three or fifty or one hundred or five thousand.  And we are fed by new understandings of humanity and holiness and hope.  And through it all we learn to bear one another, to receive what God has given us because we too are part of what God has given us. 

At this table are the gifts of God  – bread and wine and you and me.  So when you’re up here, look down, look in and look around too.  At this table we open our mouths and we open our hearts to the feast of Christ while also looking across the table at lives different than our own yet bound to ours by grace and in love. At the table the bread is broken and we are broken open to hurts and hopes and hungers similar or different than ours yet bound to ours in gentleness and peace that pass all understanding. 

And so the miracle often unfolds like this: the offering of bread, becomes the blessing of bread, becomes the breaking of bread, becomes the sharing of bread, becomes the feasting on and sharing of lives, the sharing of life.  Lives in the here and the now and the life that is yet to come.

Thanks be to God.


Strength in Need

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams-  July 12, 2015 – Proper 10, Year B: Mark 6:14-29

So I have managed through over twenty-one years of preaching in this place to have never preached on this gospel passage.  And I consider that one of my greatest scheduling victories.  Now this story only comes up in this form once every three years so I’ve only had to avoid it about seven times, but I’ve managed until now.  This congregation has heard Tom, Bill, Henry and Dennis preach on this gospel at least once each and this morning I offer my apologies to both Jodi and Christian for not offering either of them this “learning opportunity.”  Somehow in the midst of General Convention’s calendar and the Barons’ vacation timing, I slipped in what I’ve relied on as my scheduling mastery.  And so here we are with John the Baptist’s head on a platter and me here in pulpit, praying with hopes of avoiding a similar fate.

It is without argument a horrible story. We’d all avoid it if we could. It’s a horrible end to a powerful prophet’s life. But often stories like John the Baptist’s do end this way and I actually think that’s what we need to wrestle with this morning.  Prophets’ stories, at least in a temporal sense, rarely have a happy ending.

And this theme of the lives and deaths of prophets has been in the air now for a couple of weeks.  Last Sunday we heard our Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry preach his closing sermon from General Convention, but the gospel passage that day was about prophets and it was about how prophets can’t be heard in their hometowns.  Even Jesus “had no power” when he preached in his own family’s synagogue, the gospel said.  He was stripped of something there.  And then this week we heard about the death of John the Baptist who had already been stripped of his freedom.  He was in jail the story recalled.  And then from there John was stripped of his life.  Now he was killed for complicated reasons, the gospel said, but they all had to do with John’s speaking the prophetic truths that he’d been given to speak.

So prophets are powerless at home and they’re often destined to meet a painful end. But we need prophets and they play a critical role in the unfolding of the story of God’s people. And so this morning I want us to ask two questions about prophets:  First, if you’re called to be one, what keeps you grounded and strong?  What keeps you going if you’re a prophet?  And then second, how can we be open to receive prophets in our church, in our world better than we tend to do.

First the question about grounding and strength.  What (given other attractive options like “keeping quiet”) what keeps a prophet going?

Well remember that there was nothing about John the Baptist that was overly attached to the things of this world, to put it mildly.  He wore camels’ hair.  He ate locusts.  He hung out in the wilderness.  So, no fancy house.  No overstocked pantry – probably not even a hidden stash of honey.  And obviously, no extensive wardrobe. John the Baptist clearly did not seek his comfort, his grounding in any of the potential trappings of this world.  He wasn’t in this world to fit in it – he was in it to change it and so he didn’t get lost in the temptations that can suck us in.

John was preaching repentance and forgiveness for a living, or maybe better put is that he was preaching repentance and forgiveness to be alive, truly alive.  Remember John was out there at the river every day offering new beginnings for those who had never been offered new beginnings before.  And John knew in his heart and in his soul that he was preparing the way for the one who came after him, preparing the way for the one who would be the way for many.

And my guess is that John got his strength from a couple of places.  First from God, from faith in something larger than himself.  (Perhaps this is a given, but it’s worth noting.)  Remember that it was clear that John had a calling from his very beginning.  He was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah when they were well beyond childbearing years and no doubt John had heard the family story endless times about how he’d lept in his mother’s womb when Mary, the Mother of Jesus had come for a visit to their home.

So John knew all along that he was called by God and so he had a lot to lean into when he hit the tough patches.  Faith was woven into his very bones and he undoubtedly found strength there, even when the walls were closing in around him.

But in addition to his faith, I bet John also found strength from the people he met down by the river. And I think this is an essential dimension in the work of a prophet.  John kept going not only because he’d been called, but because that calling was continually inspired, and re-inspired by the people whom he encountered every day.

Those people down by the river were the kinds of people who were hungry for what the world could be, because the world as it was, wasn’t feeding them.  They weren’t fitting in either, either because of their own sins, or because of something more broadly systemic or both.  And remember that the River Jordan attracted an incredible diversity of folk – there were “the outcasts” and “the sinners,” but Pharisess, religious leaders who had questions came there too.  Even Herod was listening to what John had to say!  I find that an intriguing part of this gospel story: “When Herod heard him he was greatly perplexed,” the gospel said, but Herod “liked to listen to John.”   Herod was even moved in his own limited and lacking way to “protect him.”

So what happened was that over time, John got to know the stories of the people who came to the river. He knew their pain and he knew their hopes; he knew what pulled them out there, or what had pushed them out there.  John knew what they longed for and he knew what the water revealed in them.

And so I think John probably found strength in their need; he found strength in “them” as prophets do.  Prophets come to realize that they have nothing to lose themselves but they also recognize that there are people in this world for whom truly gaining is nearly impossible.

And so John spoke prophetic truth first to them – the truth of God’s forgiveness and the promise that there was more to come.  And then he spoke the same truth on behalf of “them” to those whose power was stifling the world, rather than loving those in it.

I believe that in the hearts of prophets like John the Baptist live the stories of those who long for more.  And within those stories, and in God they find their strength.

Which brings us to the second question I wanted us to ask today:  How can we receive prophets better than we do?  Well, I think the answer is clear; in order to receive the prophets, we need to carry the stories too.  We need to know the stories of the river people, those who hunger, those who thirst, those who question, those who doubt, those who are on the outskirts due to their own searchings or their own sins or the sins of others or some of all of the above.

We need to know the stories, because when we carry those stories in our hearts and then we see or hear prophets speaking on “their” behalf we become cheerleaders rather than threats.   We become the ones helping to clear the way, rather than those who are blocking it.  When we carry those stories, those people in our hearts, we become the ones who dance at the breaking in of the new day rather than those who fear what we have to lose when it happens.

And so one final piece for this morning.  I think that we can be the river, or at least a place that the river runs through. I think this is the collective calling that we share.  We can be that place where prophets meet hurts, meet sins, meet Pharisees, meet questions, meet forgiveness, meet new beginnings, meet God.  We can be that place that helps weave faith into our very bones, however young or old our bones happen to be.

In this place we’ll see not only the needs of the world, but our own needs too and through a grace bigger than any of our callings, the stories will come together and be held as one.  And in these moments of story telling, water sharing, vision bearing, and prophet making –  a new day will begin to take hold.






Small but Mighty

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 14, 2015 – Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34

I love a good mustard seed parable.  Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of that little necklace I had as a child that was popular among some church going crowds right up through the seventies.  It was a sort of globe with a very, very small seed in the middle of it – some of you can probably picture what I’m talking about.  Besides necklace nostalgia, I’m also just drawn to things that start out small but have the potential or promise to be strong – seeds, kids, congregations, hope.  Not to mention that 5’1” soccer player, a defender (and shortest player) on the US Women’s team, who on Friday saved a goal (and the game!) against Sweden with a header on the goal line!  (There, I managed to work in a World Cup reference for those of you who were wondering how I’d do it. And there are still three weeks left in the tournament, so look out.)

OK, back to mustard seeds.  Here’s some detail to remind you of just what we’re talking about here:  mustard seeds are very, very, very small only about 1 or 2 mm in diameter.  And, just for comparison sake, in the world of seeds they’re slightly bigger than poppy seeds and dandelion seeds, but smaller than pumpkin seeds, watermelon, apple or coconut seeds.   Color-wise, mustard seeds can be black, brown, yellow or white.

In terms of the gospels, mustard seed references appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it’s interesting to note that in inter-faith terms, mustard seeds are also used in Buddhist teachings, and appear in both the Koran and various Jewish texts.  So across gospels and across faiths, the mustard seed is that very, very small thing that either grows up into something much larger than would initially seem possible; or it is that very, very small thing that is all we need in order to be faithful people.  The author of Mark put it like this in today’s reading: “It is [almost] the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  So the mustard seed is a small thing that not only grows much bigger than one would expect it to grow, but also within its very own branches it creates space to nurture others too.

And so in some ways the message this morning is very simple:  the kingdom of God has been planted and it will continue to grow among us.  It’s a done deal.  It’s gonna happen because the sower (capital ‘S’) has done his work.  The seeds are here and they’re already taking root, and holding on, and poking through the surface and beginning or continuing to breathe of the air and drink of the water and reach out into this world with God’s mercy and grace.  The kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  Today’s gospel reminds us that that is very simply, a given.

But this also means something else that’s very, very important.  This parable tells us that if we’re willing to look for the kingdom of God, we’ll see it.  That’s the other part of the good news this morning, and this is the piece that’s our work to do.  The seeds have been sown and the Sower will ultimately make this kingdom happen, but we have work to do too.

We have to notice. And we have to tend.

This parable reminds us that we have to take responsibility for how we look at, and therefore engage God’s world.  Do you look out into this world and see something like a garden that’s going to grow big and lush and abundant for all?  Are you willing to see the seeds taking hold and offer yourself to their care?  Are you able to look out into this world and notice the branches reaching out to you, to those who are other than you and tend the growth and expanse of that reach?  Truth is we can be those who see the kingdom breaking through or those who wonder if the seeds were ever planted at all.  And while it’s a leap of faith that we probably have to take over and over again in our lives, the invitation is to believe that the seeds are everywhere. The call is to live and work as if they are.

Know that in their very essence the seeds contain things like forgiveness, hospitality, justice, mercy, grace, and peace.  The seeds contain love and they contain faith and hope.  The seeds were sown in all colors, in all places and reconciliation lives in the core of their being and runs right out through the very tips of all of the branches.  The seeds actually want to grow out into those mighty bushes and trees whose branches provide food and shelter and shade and home and a resting place for all the creatures of this world.

The seeds contain the ability to make the vision of a diverse, peaceable, blessed, loving kingdom a reality right here in this world.

So that 5’1” soccer player (whose name by the way, is Meghan)? When she was asked how she did what she did, she said this, “I was just doing my job on the team.”  And that was that.  I got the sense the reporter was looking for some big explanation when really, her response was about as simple as they come.  “I was just doing my job.”

Well, we all have one – in the church and in the world – a calling or several that are related to helping the kingdom come.  And no matter your height, your size or the amount of faith you’d claim to have – you have enough to do what our post communion prayers calls “the work we’ve been given to do.”

So come on team! Small but mighty seeds have been sown in our midst – mercy, hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness are all longing to break through the surface where they haven’t yet and to reach out more broadly into this world where they’ve already begun to take hold.  So open your eyes.  Open your hearts.  Somebody go get some water!  Somebody make more room for the light to come in!  May God grant us the courage and humility to notice the seeds planted, and the vision and the love to help them grow.










Send us, God. Send us.

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17

Today on the liturgical, church calendar, we’re celebrating Trinity Sunday.  You probably picked that up in the opening collect: “ You have given to us your servants grace,” we prayed, “to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty, to worship the Unity.” A mouthful for sure. A heart-full and mind-full too for that matter. This is the day on which we celebrate the mystery and power of God as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, Sophia; Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; Transcendent, Incarnate, Holy Breath of God. And I could go on and on; there are many other traditional and not-so-traditional ways in which we can talk about what the famous hymn (which we will sing in a few minutes) calls, “the three in one and one in three.”

Now this day seems to bring fear in to the heart of many preachers, and perhaps to congregations also as they wonder how or, perhaps, how long the preacher is going to talk about God today.  My Facebook feed and a couple of the websites and some of blogs I read this week were revealing preachers’ fears right up through early this morning.  “How can we possibly put words on this?” they wondered.  “Who am I to talk in terms of that which is most holy?”  “What resources are you using to preach on this the HARDEST SUNDAY of the year?” one person asked.

We also heard some concern in the reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah who was, at the beginning of that passage, in a place of pure awe and humility as he considered the most holy, “Woe for me, for I am lost!” he said as he gained his own glimpses of God. “For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and here I am, me of all people bearing witness to the King (capital K), the Lord of hosts!”

We even heard a related fear in the story from John’s gospel, which told us the story of Nicodemus who came to talk to Jesus under the cover of darkness.  Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because his experience and understanding of God was changing, and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious leader, was afraid to share those questions, to have those conversations in the light of day.  He had too much to risk to show up at this point in the story in broad daylight.

And so one of the things I learned this week is that perhaps I’m a little foolish.  There are things that scare me for sure. Trust me I have a list that gets updated regularly and as hard as I work, I have yet to clear it. But talking about God just isn’t on there.  I actually love doing this!  And I want us to love this too.

I don’t want talking about God or talking to God to be on any of our lists of what scares us.   There’s enough out there to be afraid of – this shouldn’t be one of those things.  Our thoughts, our prayers, our new insights, even our foundation-shaking questions and doubts can live among us right here in the light.  We don’t have to be afraid of any of this.

Because if we do anything thing in this place on a regular, daily, basis that is our “normal”, it should be sharing our thoughts and experiences of holiness.  That’s what makes this place a little different, right?  Regardless of the specifics of the particular moment, whenever we come together, we come together for the sake of, in the name of, for the purpose of our relationship with God, and to sort out and act on what all of that means.  God-talk is the most normal thing we do here, which doesn’t mean it isn’t holy.  It just means that it’s what we do.

Now maybe one of the important things to know is that our engaging in this ongoing God-conversation, which means our doing theology together, is not about getting it right which I think is where some of the fear comes in.  If it were about getting it right, meaning there would be divine retribution – lighting strikes, destruction etc. – if we got it wrong, there wouldn’t be any people left.  I’m convinced that the pure ongoing existence of humanity is a sign that doing theology is not about perfection.

Perfection on all things God is just not a part of our history of either society or church, nor is it our goal.  The holiness that is God is in large part mystery and the best we can do is allow ourselves to be taken in to it, to be held by it, created and re-created by IT, healed, fed, nurtured, turned around, forgiven, loved, sometimes even resurrected by this mystery – doing our best along the way with whatever words we can find, whatever song or prayer or doctrine or art we can find to talk about and share those dimensions of our lives.

Now the other important thing to remember in this God conversation of which we’re all part, is that the sources for helping us in this work are endless.  We’re chalk full of them in this place – take the Bible for starters.  “In the Beginning God created” is how it opens.  “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,” we heard today from John. And last week, “The Spirit came among them filled with grace and truth.” Creator.  Redeemer. Sanctifier laid out quite clearly (and not so clearly at times but present) in the stories and letters and gospels within Scripture which is source number one.  Then there’s The Book of Common Prayer, the Episcopal/Anglican source that’s right here in our pews and whose contents are printed in our bulletins.  Hymns and ancient prayers and stories and psalms, all right here at our fingertips at Grace, in our memories, in our hearts, on our lips. Sources galore!

But even more than that, there’s also all of us, sources one and all, to help us with this conversation, the theology we do as God’s people:

One of the wonderful things about Grace is that I can sit with seminary faculty who have degrees in Scripture and theology and I can sit with three years olds who haven’t been to school yet and with each of those groups, in each of those conversations I/we we can learn something about the wonder and power of God.  One of the most profoundly theological observations of the year came from a five year old who after hearing the story on Good Friday asked me, “Why do we call this good?”  And he meant it.  Church itself is an intergenerational theological endeavor.

I (you too) can sit in the presence of someone who is dying or in the presence of someone who has just been born. And at any given moment those two what we would call ‘extremes,’ thinking linearly, are present within the breadth that is Grace Church.  In either of those circumstances, in either of those profound experiences there is an absolute and sometimes even palpable sense of a divine holiness greater than us all.

We can also stand in the streets and we have, outside of this place with those who are working for justice and peace, as those who are working for justice and peace and we can catch on to a dream that is still being given life and breath among us.  We can catch that Spirit that blows where it will or maybe better, it can catch us, blowing us back into the kind of dream that allows the whole world to be made new, “born again” if you will.

So the sources that shape and re-shape and feed what one theologian famously referred to as “faith seeking understanding” are endless.  We have nothing to fear.

Although I bet, even after all of that we think we do – have something to fear, that is. And so I want to circle back to the mention of that list, those lists of things that scare us just to make sure they aren’t left hanging. Because they shouldn’t be.

Now I’m not going to lay out my list this morning, nor am I going to ask you to but I’d place bets on some overlaps, at least in terms of themes.   Each our lists probably contain things that have to do with unknowns, or loss, or darknesses of the literal and/or metaphoric sort.

The good news on Trinity Sunday, and every Sunday really is that that God is bigger than all of it, whatever it is.  Always. And God is present in all of it, whatever it is. Always.  And God is blowing like the Spirit does through it, whatever it is in ways that surpass our understanding, shaping, reshaping and making new. Always. And so we pray and we sing and we talk and we hope and we love and we hope and we dream.

“Who will go, forward from here?” God asked the prophet Isaiah.

Send us, God. Send us.