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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.


Bishop’s Visitation Postponed Due to Weather

Due to severe snow and ice conditions, our Bishop’s Visitation scheduled for Sunday, January 12 has been postponed. Bishop Hougland will be with us for the Easter Vigil and so we’ll look forward to welcoming him to Grace then! At this point we still plan to host services tomorrow and we encourage everyone to make safe driving (or not driving) decisions.

Christmas Services at Grace

Christmas Services at Grace

The Eve of the Nativity, December 24, 2019: 

Music and Christmas Pageant by Grace Kids & Youth – 5:30pm: Kids of all ages are welcome to participate in the annual Grace Christmas Pageant!

Christmas Eve Service – 6:00PM: Following the pageant, we will have a Christmas Eve Children’s service. All are welcome to this service. The sermon will be geared towards children and families.

Christmas Eve Choral Service of Carols and Holy Eucharist – 10PM: The choral service of carols will start at 10:00PM and will be followed by a Traditional Midnight Eucharist starting at 10:30PM.

The First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 29, 2019: 

Holy Eucharist Service – 10:00AM (One service ONLY today!)

Advent Star Tree

The annual “Star Tree” will be in the Commons for the season of Advent and here’s how it works: There are stars that have an item for you to purchase and return to Grace for the Rodriguez-Matos family, who came to us as refugees two years ago and are preparing for the spring/summer build of their Habitat home. Other stars will ask for gift cards which are given out during the year by our pastoral staff to people in need of food or gas. And some stars ask for a gift to the ‘Beyond Grace Fund’, through which we give to local organizations such as: Out On The Lakeshore, Lighthouse Immigration, Resilience, and Community Action House. Write a check to Grace with “Beyond Grace” on the memo line and place it in the offertory plate on a Sunday. Lastly, next to the tree are envelopes addressed to “Habitat for Humanity.” You can make a contribution directly to Habitat with “Rodriguez-Matos” in the memo line, and those will go directly toward materials for their build. Know that together, we’re reaching out with Grace for the world! The Star Tree gift wrap party will be December 15 after the 2nd service in the Forum Room. There will be Christmas carols, hot cocoa & cookies!

Oktoberfest 2019 is here!

Join us on THIS Sunday, October 20, 5:00-7:30pm for this annual celebration of the mission and ministries of Grace Church.  We’ll kick off the annual pledge drive with wonderful food, music, and dancing for the whole Grace family!  Featuring beef tenderloin, apple crisp, beer from Big Lake Brewery, and local cider with food & fun for the kids too. 


Raise the Roof!

Last summer we raised over $150,000 for roof repair in honor of our sesquicentennial. Phase I of this major project which involves the roof over the sanctuary began on Tuesday, July 9 and will continue for several weeks. Roof tiles will be removed, the sixty year old felting replaced, and any other necessary repairs taken care of before the tiles are put back on.  We should be able to remain in the sanctuary through the entire project  We’ll have a few trucks and equipment on the grounds, but thanks to the parking expansion, that shouldn’t be a problem!  Phase II involves the roof over the entire rest of the building and is planned for Summer 2020.  THANK YOU, to all who contributed to Raise the Roof, making this important work possible!  We are enormously grateful and celebrate that the “Shelter” of that is Grace will continue on.


A liturgy in thanksgiving for the life of former Grace Rector Tom Toeller-Novak will take place at Grace on Monday, July 8.  There will be a visitation in the Commons, starting at 10am, followed by the service, including committal in the Resurrection Garden, starting at 11am. Following the committal, please join Tom’s wife, Deirdre, and other family members for a reception in the Undercroft.

Beginning a New Sesquicentennial

On June 9, appropriately enough the Feast of Pentecost, Grace’s year-long 150th Anniversary Celebration is officially over.  As a newcomer to Grace (I joined the staff as Assistant Priest on September 1, 2018), I’ve enjoyed hearing and reading stories of Grace’s past, and they’ve taught me a few commendable things about the parish.  But now, we’re beginning a new chapter, and I think it’s safe to say that after completing our first sesquicentennial, Grace has launched its second. What follows will make it clear why I’m bold enough to make that prediction.


I arrived last summer not knowing much about Grace, apart from having a budding friendship with Jen Adams, who has just completed 25 years here!  But very quickly, impressions about Grace, itself, began to form, and my initial impressions have only grown stronger. Unlike many churches where I’ve had connections, it’s easy to identify several very distinctive qualities of Grace.


Almost immediately, I discovered a culture of abundance.  The funds necessary for replacing the roof were being raised when I arrived, and they materialized almost immediately.  More impressive, this challenge came shortly after the completion of major capital improvements included numerous enhancements to the physical plant, including a new organ, new office space, and a greatly enlarged parking lot to accommodate a growing community.  Not once did I hear anyone complain that it’s too soon to be asking us for money, again.


Soon after, I encountered another vital quality: a readiness to tackle tough challenges.  When it appeared that by offering a Latino priest a position to head the renewed diocesan Latino ministry we wanted to create, we might have the opportunity to keep him from being deported, I expected the Vestry to worry that raising the necessary funds would be too daunting a challenge to even consider.  Instead, I heard leaders say that protecting a vulnerable immigrant was so much in keeping with our values, we would find a way. This turned out not to be an option, but the willingness was there. And seeking justice for the vulnerable is yet another quality I’ve observed in numerous ways at Grace.


I want to mention yet another quality I’ve found here from the beginning.  It’s so pervasive that one encounters it every day at Grace. Perhaps it should be at the top of this list.  The study of leadership is one of my passions, and something present in every vital church is a culture of gratitude.  This emanates from the head – I’m amazed at how often Jen Adams acknowledges people’s contributions and says, “Thank you” – and at Grace this way of being permeates the community.  


I could say much more, but I especially want to mention how, now that the capital project is behind us, our leaders are already looking to the future.  There is great excitement among us when we discuss what lies ahead: opportunities to expand Grace’s faithfulness by developing a strategy for growth, by strengthening our ministry to children, youth, and families, by evaluating our communications at every level, and by developing a robust Hispanic/Latino Ministry.  This is all about openness to God’s Spirit, as it directs and empowers us to move into the future.  And it is that quality, perhaps above all else, that makes me proud to be part of the community so aptly named Grace.


Submitted by: Jim Steen

One Hundred Fifty-One

If I’ve learned one thing about Grace and our Sesquicentennial celebration over the past 12 months, it’s that our community – like every one of us – can’t be summed up in a few sentences, a few events, or a few months. We have more stories to tell than we have storytellers. And the love, courage, heartache, faith, kindness, doubt, and joy that’s alive in our pews and programs are too deep and complex for words … maybe even for music, though our music comes close sometimes.


I suspect that’s always been true.


We’ve had goofy fun this past year. We’ve talked and drummed and sung and laughed. We’ve blessed, baptized, and buried. We’ve welcomed newcomers and sent beloved family and friends off to new adventures. We’ve fought injustice, we’ve lost and mourned. We’ve lit candles to celebrate those who are living and those who’ve died.


It’s a jumble, and it’s beautiful. And it’s too much to fully take in, even with twelve months.


Thank you for 151 years, Grace Church. For sheltering, celebrating, and sustaining us. For challenging us to continue as Grace. And being Grace for us, always.


Submitted by: Holly Anderson


Reflections on the Grace Blog

This year I had the privilege of serving on the Grace 150th Planning Committee, ably led by Holly Anderson and Dave Masselink. It was a wonderful year of activities, lectures, music, worship, and even parade marching. The part of this that was most fulfilling to me personally, however, was working with Renee Krueger to edit the Stories of Grace blog. Hearing the various stories of our parishioners, past and present, has given me a deeper appreciation for how special Grace Church is.


As a historian, I enjoyed reading how our writers approached the histories of Grace. Paul Trapp, who has researched our history extensively through archival documents, shared the the adventures of Henry Clay Matrau, who fought in some of the most bloody battles of the Civil War and then became one of the most prominent lay leaders of the parish in the late 19th century. I also enjoyed reading the personal histories of parishioners like Jeff Erickson, Judy Linn, and Laurie Van Ark. They have been involved in Grace for decades and have had generations of their families involved in the Church. They show us the deep roots Grace has in our community.


The people of our parish also have a special talent for building community, both within the parish and beyond. Through stories about the Women’s Guilds, Pints and Perspectives, Octoberfest, the Fellowship Commission, and Youth Pilgrimage, I learned about the various ways we come together as Grace outside of worship. The “beyond Grace” stories inspired me. I learned from Robbie Schorle about how our commitment to Feeding America has grown over the years, and I learned from Amber Marie Cowles how our connection with Out on the Lakeshore helped her find a connection to a church, a “small miracle,” in her telling.


The blog posts have also helped me see the multiple ways Grace provides opportunities for prayer and reflection. Choir director Steve Jenkins reflects on the long and complex tradition of music in the Episcopal tradition, and teaches us that “our bodies and voices are the essential instruments of praise in our worship.” Linda and Bob Elder shared how meaningful silence and meditation has been to their prayer life. Paul De Coninck taught me that his job as an acolyte is to help people pray.


These stories have allowed me to see the beautiful layers of our community. Thank you for telling us your stories, Grace. I know there are many others. Let us continue to create and share new stories as we enter our next 150 years.


Submitted by: Jeanne Petit