This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on the Seventh Sunday afte Pentecost, July 11, 2021.
You know it is going to be bad when your favorite organist sends you Sunday’s hymns with the added note, “I'm just thankful I don't have to preach on this Gospel...sorry for you!”
And, of course, when I read it, I was sorry for me, too! The Days of Our Lives couldn’t compete with this Bible story which is clearly more soap opera than fairy tale. I can think of a few other heads that might have been better served up on a platter. But John the Baptist’s who was just an eccentric prophet paving the way for Jesus to come and be the Saver of Souls? So where is the Good News in all of this? I promise to try to get there in the next 8 minutes.
You know the comic strip, “The Family Circus,” by Bill Keanes. There is one where the little boy is saying the Lord’s Prayer. “…forgive those who trespass against us. And leave us ninety-two temptations….” Perhaps that is what Mark’s gospel is about – 92 temptations and NONE of them avoided!
Scott Hozzee from the Center for Excellence in Preaching writes, “How sordid. How tawdry. How stupid. How tragic. It’s all here in Mark 6 where we learn to our shock and sadness that …, John the Baptist himself, was done in because of a boozy promise made by an oversexed older man who had been turned on by a scantily clad teenager - niece turned stepdaughter - who did a dance for him and his equally besotted party companions.”
The reason John was in prison in the first place is because he confronted Herod and told him it was wrong for him to marry his brother’s wife. Herod wasn’t really sure what to do with John. He believed John was a prophet and was even intrigued by the things John preached, but he did not like being told that he was wrong about anything, especially about his heart’s desires. Herodias obviously had feelings about John’s confrontation as well. She held a grudge because he dared to point out her wicked ways, a grudge that led to John’s demise.
“According to an article by Craig Keener in The Lectionary Commentary (Eerdmans, 2001), “John the Baptist was probably the only figure who had the courage to stand up to Herod Antipas. This is not the Herod who was around when Jesus was born nor is this the Book of Acts Herod who later persecuted the church and killed James, among others. But what this middle Herod shared with those other two was a real nasty streak of immorality, self-aggrandizement, and corruption. (Sounds like a politician!)
Herod had been married originally to a Nabatean princess whom he later dumped in favor of marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. As Woody Allen might say, the heart wants what it wants, and Herod’s heart wanted Herodias. So even though it made him guilty of multiple sins (adultery among them) and even though it angered the king of the Nabateans (to whom Herod’s first wife fled in humiliation after Herod took up with his sister-in-law Herodias)—and even though this later led to a military conflict with the Nabateans in which Herod was roundly defeated and embarrassed—nevertheless Herod married Herodias, and no one except John the Baptist had the moral fortitude to point out how wrong it was.
Perhaps if John had just stuck to baptisms and some harsh pronouncements about the Pharisees…, he might have been OK. But John landed in prison because he confronted Herod’s immorality…” and his head on a platter was the final dish served at the party.
If you were to be reading the Gospel of Mark straight through, this grotesque story of evil desires and corrupt behavior would seem abrupt and out of place which may point to its significance. Immediately preceding this recounting of John’s murder is Jesus’ sending of the twelve disciples – you recall, when they were sent two by two with nothing but the clothes on their back and sandals on their feet. They were out and about doing ministry - healing the sick, casting out demons and anointing with oil.
Herod had heard of Jesus and all that his disciples were doing. He believed in resurrection and his guilty conscience kicked in. He thought Jesus must have been John the Baptist resurrected. This causes the flashback telling of John’s demise. Immediately following this account in Mark, we have the disciples returning from their travels, gathering around Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000. (Now, this is beginning to sound like Good News…)
So why did Mark place the story of John the Baptist’s death between two happy, hopeful events?
Do you know anyone who has been through life unscathed? Anyone who hasn’t been met with challenge, disappointment, loss or unfairness? Do you know anyone who hasn’t been impacted in one way or another by the evils in our world?
I can think of one evil event almost 20 years ago now that impacted all of us that are old enough to remember – 9/11, when evil came into our country and murdered over 3,000 innocent people. Evil exists and will sometimes get close enough to disrupt our well-being. Our hope in the midst of evil is Jesus, the Christ. This account of Herod and John the Baptist foreshadows what will happen to Jesus. “Herod, like Pilate with Jesus, wishes to protect John but ends up killing him; the ones responsible for engineering the death, Herodias in John’s case and the Jerusalem religious leaders in Jesus’, do not themselves have the power to accomplish their goal and must exert external pressure on the governing official to do it for them. In John’s case, however, the almost whimsical nature of the events that lead to his gruesome beheading portrays a level of evil that is chilling in its pervasiveness. Placing this episode right in the center of the disciples’ most positive activity to date shadows their success with a foretaste of failure.” (NISB, p. 1819)
Life happens. Evil is real. But the Good News is that good is real, too. Did you catch the compassion at the end of the reading? Did you hear the good? John’s friends, the disciples, came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Yes, something horrific, unfair, tragic and evil happened to John, but love buried him. The loving community gathered together and tended to their friend.
Now, please do not go out and lose your head, but know when you are going through tough times, unfair experiences, encountering the evil that exists in our world, we are in this together. We are here for each other, whether going on a solo mission or going out two by two. Whether at a feast for 5000 or simply breaking bread together, Christ is in our midst. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection are our comfort and our hope. There is nothing we experience in life that is beyond the Good News of God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ – the Saver of our Souls.
This is the sermon the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor preached at St. Luke's in the Meadow on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 4, 2021.
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, writes about the Baemba tribe of South Africa. “When a person in that tribe acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he or she is placed in the center of the village, alone and unbound. All work comes to a stop, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then, each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time. They speak about all the good things the person has done in his or her lifetime. All the person’s positive attributes and good deeds, all the strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”
When I read about this custom, I experienced a waterfall of thoughts and feelings. I was immediately moved by the deep respect for the individual this practice demonstrates, and I thought to myself that calling people into their best selves is surely the most productive way to respond to wrongdoing. Fast on the heels of that feeling and thought, I had a pang of regret and grief for the many times I’ve focused on the wrong that’s been done rather than look for a way to help someone—including me!—be the person God creates them to be. Then my thoughts wandered to the enormous difference between the Baembas’ approach to wrongdoing and our own laws and customs. That thought led me to imagine what kind of change it would take for such an approach to become part of the way we live. My mind played for a while with the system changes that would be necessary to implement such a positive process. Then I realized that the power of this process lies not in the way they confront the accused, but in all the days that come before that event—all those days when all the people in the village—men, women and children—are paying attention to the person’s behavior. Paying attention, being attentive, taking time to notice and appreciate goodness of action at that deep level that leads to long memory.
The seeds for the Baembas’ response to wrongdoing are planted long before the day when the accused stands inside the circle. The seeds are planted in every day of the person’s life, nurtured by the love each person holds for the other, and it’s at this moment when those seeds, planted by the whole village, bear fruit.
I can imagine that everyone who hears or reads about the Baembas’ response to wrongdoing by one of their neighbors might say, “Well, that sounds just fine, but it sure couldn’t happen here. That’s not the way it works—that’s not the way people are. It just wouldn’t work for us.”
I can imagine any one of us saying that—and I can imagine what people said when Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I can imagine what they said, because they—we—are still saying it. We may not use the word enemies. Frequently, we prefer to think of those people as they or he or she. We don’t have to name the demon who makes our world a little—or a lot—less comfortable to live in. We know who we mean, and we don’t have to speak their names. We hear Jesus’ words, and there’s a part of us that acknowledges—perhaps a bit grudgingly—that God’s sun does light their days and that God’s rain does fall on them, but another part of us believes, deep, deep down where we keep those unspoken thoughts—those things that we don’t even say to ourselves—that God simply hasn’t yet figured out a way to prevent all those good things from happening to them. That same part of us thinks that if they ever had to stand in the center of the Baemba village circle, the talk wouldn’t last very long.
Loving our enemies—the practical application of the great commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves—is perhaps the most difficult part of living our faith. It’s not the way we work. It’s not the way people are. But there it is. We are bound by our baptismal covenant—those promises we make at least four times a year—to seek and serve Christ in all persons. All persons, not just the ones we like. To seek and serve Christ in them, not just to tolerate them. And you know—tolerance looks a lot like prejudice—like looking at someone we’ve never met and thinking we know all about who they are. We try to keep those promises. Some days—and some years—are better than others. On those other days, we just keep trying, because we are called to pay attention, to notice, to care for the tiny bit of God that each of us carries with us, that little bit of God that makes each of us holy.
Two hundred and forty-five years ago, fifty-six men signed the document that is the birth certificate for this nation—the Declaration of Independence. It was not simply the beginning of our country. It was also the beginning of a new way of life—a radical departure from the way life had always been, led by a group of revolutionaries and certainly doomed to failure. Everyone knew it wouldn’t work, that it couldn’t work, that it was against the laws of God and nature. People in other countries laughed at us. In the face of this impossibility, fifty-six men signed the document which includes the words that can be best understood as the creed of our country, the words that describe the dream—the belief—that guides us: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are impossible words to live into. The men who signed the declaration didn’t believe that all men were equal. They only thought that they were equal. Women and people of color were not even part of the equation, but for two hundred and forty-five years, we have worked to make these words ring true.
Every year brings us closer to making the dream a reality. The going is slow, and we sometimes despair that we will ever reach the day when justice walks every street and peace lives in every home. Sometimes we despair, but we continue to try, just as we try to live into our covenant, just as we try to be the people God calls us to be. We struggle to have courage—to make the right decisions—to do what we can for our country.
And dearly beloved, the good news—the very good news—is that God’s blessing is with us in our struggle.
And to that, we can say thanks be to God.
I spent many hours by the sea last week, now it wasn’t the sea of Galilee, but the Caribbean Sea. It was the most beautiful color sea water I have ever seen. It was similar to the vivid aqua color of glacier lakes in Canada or Montana. Unreal to our eyes. I even overheard one visitor ask a worker if there was a filtration system in use to create that clear, turquoise water along the shores.
I spent hours simply listening to the waves rolling in and crashing on the shore. I imagined the waves washing away the stress and strain of the past few months. I slept with the sliding glass door open so I could hear that rhythm all night long. It was a balm to my weary soul.
The disciples obviously had a very different experience on the sea of Galilee that night so long ago. The waves were not a welcomed, soothing in and out, rocking their boat and lulling them to rest after a long day of work alongside Jesus where they had been surrounded by crowds of people and listening to Jesus teach them in parables about mustard seeds and the kingdom of heaven. They were no doubt tired, but rest was not in the cards for them. A storm blew in and the tumultuous waves “beat into the boat, so that it was already being swamped,” causing them to fear for their very lives. And where is Jesus? Lying on a cushion in the stern, sleeping through it all. That is until he is rudely interrupted by the fear-filled disciples.
And notice, Jesus did not say, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” The storm was no doubt dangerous, even fearsome – just as some of the waves and winds that threaten us are. Rather, Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
There is a difference in saying, “There is nothing to be afraid of,” and “Why are you afraid?” There are certainly things to be afraid of which we all know too well after 15 months of dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic that has now claimed some 600,000 lives in the US alone. The pandemic has led many into other things we fear: isolation, loneliness, meaninglessness, loss of jobs, financial stress, emotional and spiritual dis-ease, and many other rippling effects.
Yesterday was Juneteenth and for the first time in our country, it is a national holiday – a true Independence Day where the word of emancipation finally reached the shores of Galveston, some 2 and a half years after being signed into law. Fort Worth’s own Opal Lee, a force to be reconned with, who at 94-years-old got to see her determination and persistence pay off in being right at President Biden’s side as he signed the bill making Juneteenth a national holiday – acknowledging that our country’s ‘original sin of slavery.’ The seas of race issues continue to crash on the shores or our nation, tapping in to various fears for us white folk that often go unnamed – fear of addressing white ignorance as it relates to the struggles of our black and brown siblings (for as Maya Angelou said, ‘when you know better, you must do better’); fear of saying something ignorant, or unintentionally racist because it is the water in which we grew up and live; fear of recognizing or admitting racial biases in the very marrow of our being; fear of change. (I applaud the Tuesday night folks that have been on the anti-racism educational journey for the past year – and I thank you for allowing me to learn and grow with you. It is important and humbling work.)
Juneteenth as a National recognition is an important step in the healing and restoration process. But it is only a step – we still have a lot of work to do in this sea of racism that continues to be an undercurrent in our country.
And you all are living through another fear realized, the loss of your beloved building on Meadowbrook Drive. Jesus poses a second question, to his “Why are you afraid?” -- “Have you still no faith?” Your faith has been on strong display through the upheaval, disorientation, loss and change that this year has presented. “As we continue living our faith, we grow to understand that even though such fearsome things are very real, they do not have the last word. They do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is God who is mightier than they. Time and again in Scripture the word is, “Do not be afraid.” It is, you might say, the first and the last word of the gospel. It is the word the angels speak to the terrified shepherds and the word spoken at the tomb when the women discover it empty: “Do not be afraid.” Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, not because there are no storms, fierce winds, or waves that upset our lives, but rather, because God is with us.
We don’t have to dredge up some kind of superhuman power or courage. We simply keep the faith, call on the name of God, the name of Jesus, when the seas of our lives are pummeling us. Just visualize curling up next to Jesus on that cushion in the stern and ride out the storm, for while scary and unwelcomed, storms do not last forever.
You recall Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast in 2005, devastating New Orleans….. After the last winds died down from Hurricane Katrina, there was little optimism among those who remained in New Orleans and could venture out to see what had happened to their city. A photograph taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit shows the devastation of a cemetery in the historic district of the city, with trees topped, debris covering the ground, and several burial vaults broken and smashed. But in the middle of the devastation, untouched by the storm, stands a statue of the risen Christ, arms extended wide, offering a benediction of calm amid the chaos. Such is the image conveyed by this text: the image of Christ with his arms extended wide over the chaos of our lives and world, saying, “Peace! Be still!” Peace. Be still.
Whether on a beautiful Caribbean Sea, with calm and beautiful waters, or on a tumultuous sea of upheaval and disruption, may your faith remind you that the very Creator of the winds and the waves is present in every storm and Christ’s response is always the same:
“Peace! Be still!”
This the sermon the Rev. Canon Janet Waggoner preached on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021.
Year B, Proper VI - Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4,11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17; Mark 4:26-34
I speak to you in the name of the Living God - holy Trinity, ever one. AMEN.
If I were to name the theme of today’s Gospel lesson, it would be
“God is in charge, and we are not.”
God means for that to be good news for us, words of comfort to us as God’s beloved children.
But some of us get all tangled up wondering, if God is in charge and we are not, what does that mean about the role each of us is supposed to play. I mean, we hear all the time that we’re the hands and feet of God in the world. And in the collect this morning, we prayed that God’s grace would allow us to “proclaim God’s truth with boldness” and “minister God’s justice with compassion.” How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what it looks like for God to be God in our lives. Seeds are scattered on the ground and just left there. Meanwhile, the sower goes about his or her business, sleeping, rising, working, playing, doing whatever is next on the endless list of things that need to be done on a farm. The seed draws what it needs from the earth and then does what seeds do, it grows. When the sower next encounters the seed, it’s ready to be harvested as food for his family or seed to start next year’s crop.
I grew up on a farm. Chores started before dawn. When chores were done, my dad would often wash up, hop in the pick-up, and go to town to Ted’s Café to have coffee with the farmers gathered there. There were farmers there every single morning except Sundays. Mostly, they talked about the weather. The sun, the wind, the rain, how their crops did last season, how their crops might do this season. Then they would get back in their pick-up trucks and go home to work in the barn or in the fields or on whatever else needed building or fixing that day.
As a child, I was mystified by this practice of “having coffee.” First of all, it seemed like a waste of time - not to mention gas money - to drive to town to have a cup of coffee, especially when Dad just drove right back home, to have another cup of coffee with breakfast. Second of all, the weather was the weather. Talking about it didn’t change it, so why talk about it all the time?
Years later, I realized that daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the farmers’ way of coping with the fact that they poured their lives and their money and their blood and their sweat into the soil - and yet had absolutely no control over whether or not they would end up with any harvest at all. Rain, wind, heat, blight, bugs, hail, anything could happen - and often did. Daily coffee at Ted’s Café was the way these farmers practiced surrendering to whatever was to come and supported each other in the midst of it all.
Some people practice these same things in AA. Some wrestle through to them in Bible Studies. Some people hash through their struggles in counseling. Some take in the body and blood of Christ and find in it the strength they need to get through another day, another week.
God is in charge, and we are not.
So, if God is in charge, why bother to do anything? In today’s story from the Book of Ezekiel we hear God saying that God’s got this. When God wants a tree, God just plucks a sprig off of one tree and plants another, and it grows on its own, without any tending. Not only that, but if there’s leveling out or pruning or watering to be done, God can do it.
God doesn’t need us, but God wants us. The God-who-is-in-charge loves us and the rest of all creation. The God-who-is-in-charge longs to be with us - so much so that God sent Jesus so that we “might live no longer for ourselves.” And if we give ourselves over to God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s way, our lives are hidden in Christ who died and rose for us. And then, as the apostle Paul says, “there is a new creation” - meaning God’s love makes us new and then we get to work with God as God creates newness around us.
Sounds pretty good, eh? All that goodness, all those promises, all of that hope . . . But did you notice, all that still doesn’t answer the questions: How are we supposed to know what we’re supposed to do? How much giving and striving and working is enough?
Here’s a closing thought about that - from the farm and from the Gospel.
If you follow a farmer around all day, you’ll notice that the farmer isn’t doing a lot of running. Even though she has an infinitely long list of things that “might should get done,” she’s walking at a moderate pace, going from one project to another - “easing along,” as my father used to call it - so that at the end of the day, the farmer still has enough strength and energy to do the chores and then make supper.
In the parable of the seed, what does Jesus say the farmer is doing while the seed is growing? “Sleeping and rising.” Nothing heroic. Nothing out of the ordinary. Taking care of business and taking care of himself, so that when the grain is ripe, he’s ready to harvest it.
Our crazy Protestant work ethic might lead us to believe that every minute of our lives needs to be accounted for, every day has to be full. But the God-who-is-in-charge can manage things without us, while we are resting or reading or hanging out with friends or doing whatever refreshes us, so that when the God-who-is-in-charge calls, we are ready for God to create new things through us in our neighborhood or elsewhere in our world.
May it be so. AMEN.
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021.
Proper 5B – Mk. 3:20-35
June 6, 2021
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
I had a spiritual awakening in my mid-20’s which left me completely filled with joy and excitement about this new-found grace of God I had experienced, this new-found love of Christ. It was all I could think about, all I wanted to talk about. I discovered an entirely new genre of music -- Christian pop – and I wanted everyone to listen to it. My family was convinced I had lost my mind, gone off the deep end, become a bonafide holy roller, a Jesus freak. I really just wanted everyone to experience the grace and love that I had discovered, but I was too over-the-top for my family and friends’ comfort level.
That is my personal point of connection with the confusion and misunderstandings that are part of Jesus’ story in Mark’s gospel.
It might be helpful for us to get a running start on this one, remembering that on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we heard the beginning of the “good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” and John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. Through the season of Epiphany we heard from the Gospel of Mark each Sunday, including Jesus calling the 12 disciples and performing healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Mark, the emphasis is on Jesus as prophet, teacher and healer – the human Jesus whose work can be seen. The lens through which we might approach today’s lesson is verse 15 of chapter 1: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Now, to be honest, I wrestled with this reading all week in order to find the “good news.” The Rev. Susan Butterworth’s words helped me. She writes, “In today’s passage, we have it all. Human Jesus misunderstood and at times impatient, and divine Jesus, actor in the eternal drama of good versus evil, conqueror of Satan.
By the time this passage begins, chapter three of Mark has established Jesus as prophet, teacher, and healer. He has cast out unclean spirits and appointed twelve apostles to aid him in his work.
Ironically, in Mark 3:11, the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as the Son of God, while in today’s passage, the crowd, the family, and the scribes just do not get him at all. “He has Beelzebul, (which is literally “lord of the flies; lord of death and decay”) and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” They see Jesus as out of his mind, possibly even possessed by evil spirits. As he has done so many times in his earthly life, Jesus is called to respond to the confusion of friend and foe alike. He teaches, in a parable about Satan, and calls the scribes and his family to account.
The structure of the passage is interesting, important, and enlightening. We have a story within a story: the controversy with the scribes about exorcism and the parable of defeating Satan inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family. The structure is called chiastic, meaning that ideas are introduced in order, then developed in reverse order. In this case: Crowd, family, and scribes are introduced in that order. The parable of Satan is the story at the center. Then, in reverse order, scribes, family, and crowd are addressed.
The structure is important and enlightening for the way it focuses on the central idea at the heart of the pattern – the conflict with Satan, the cosmic battle of good and evil. First, the crowd gathers, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his deeds and teaching. Then family and scribes put forth the misguided, mistaken accusation that his power to exorcise demons comes from Beelzebul. We can almost hear Jesus’ frustration in his words: How can Satan cast out Satan? Carefully, he explains, if Satan is divided, he cannot survive. In casting out unclean spirits, Jesus defeats Satan bit by bit, undermining his power.
But Jesus draws the line at confusing Satan with the Holy Spirit. Being misguided, blind, mistaken can be forgiven. The people may be slow to comprehend that Jesus, the man who heals, is in fact the Son of God. Make no mistake, however – Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. To call the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit is a blasphemy too far. Jesus is called upon to speak with authority yet again.
So, in the reverse order of the chiastic structure, Jesus reprimands the scribes, then his family re-enters the scene, and the passage resolves with Jesus addressing the crowd.
Does Jesus reject his family, his mother and his brothers and sisters, when he asks rhetorically, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Rather, when Jesus looks at the crowd and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” perhaps he is connecting his earthly self with his divine self. He has a human family, and he has a spiritual family. And that spiritual family includes us, part of the crowd, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his gospel.
Today’s complex and rich passage from Mark’s gospel reveals the tension between the human and divine aspects of Jesus. He has a family that doesn’t understand him, that doesn’t see him clearly, or fully. A family, friends, a religious establishment, that do not see that he goes beyond humanity, and is the eternal Son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, healer of bodies, healer of souls, destroyer of Satan, the Messiah who overcomes death to usher in the kingdom of God.
The power of the Holy Spirit is a strong message. It is a Pentecost message. We are in the season which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people, the moment when the Spirit empowers God’s people to be witnesses and spread the Good News. Jesus’ ministry is outward-looking, expansive, as Christ welcomes all.” Therein lies the Good News. The Holy Spirit helps and empowers us in our own struggle against sin and brokenness. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be receivers and bearers of the grace of God and the love of Christ. So share that love and grace, even if people think you are out of you mind. Go ahead, be a little crazy for Christ’s sake!
Susan Butterworth, M.A., M.Div, is a writer, teacher, singer, and lay minister. She leads Song & Stillness: Taizé @ MIT, a weekly ecumenical service of contemplative Taizé prayer at the interfaith chapel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She teaches writing and literature to college undergraduates and writes book reviews, essays, and literary reference articles.
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.
A new preacher in town was trying to find his way around. Finally, he asked a young girl for directions. “How do you get to the Town Hall?”
The girl gave him directions, then asked, “Why do you want to go to the Town Hall?”
“Because I’m to give a speech there.”
“What will the speech be about?” the girl asked.
“How to get to heaven.”
“How to get to heaven? And you can’t even find your way to the Town Hall?!”
I feel a bit like that today in addressing the concept of the Trinity. I don’t even pretend to fully know my way around this God who is 1 in 3 and 3 in 1, so let’s not even try to define the Trinity, but more see what we can glean from the readings and from our own experiences about our Trinitarian God.
I visited with Linda Taylor last week about the Trinity. This is how she described her experience: I am “filled with wonder for the beauty of this world and by the presence of the CREATOR who is always with us, always creating, always bringing new life into being. In times of sorrow and distress, I have been comforted by the compassion of the CHRIST who lives with us in suffering and brings us through the difficult times into new life. And I remember all the times when the power of the SPIRIT has brought goose bumps to my arms and filled me with new life and energy.
Energy and creativity are part of my experience of the Trinity. I think that is why the image of dance resonates with me in relationship to the TRINITY. The Divine Dance, the dance of our faith, that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God.
Richard Rohr writes, “In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasize the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!”
You have seen the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— where people are holding hands or locking arms and moving about together in a circle, swaying together - side to side and in and out - but together in one connected circle. I believe that is what the Divine Dance is like - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the Creator, the Christ and the Spirit - united in love, purpose, energy.
My favorite image of the Trinity is Rublev’s icon. The three figures are present to each other and invite us to join with them at the table. It is thought that on the original icon, there was a mirror at the table where the viewers would see themselves at the table with the Trinity.
We are invited to participate in the Trinity dance, to be part of the interaction that brings continuous renewal and fresh new life…. The dance where we are invited. God in three persons invites us to experience the Holy in whatever way is most accessible to us. The great good news is that God continues to seek us out. God continues to woo us into ever-deepening relationship. That is why the icon, simplified on the cover of your leaflet, is my favorite depiction of the Trinity. Being circled up, creating together… connected and related… welcoming.
Theology Professor Ginger Barfield says, knowing where to start with the Trinity is key. It is difficult to grasp and difficult to explain, but the best starting place seems to be with "the reality of God’s activity in Jesus."
So, what is God’s activity in Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus and what might it teach us about the Trinity?
Nicodemus comes to meet with Jesus at night. We don’t know why he chose that time. It has been said that he was concerned that he would be seen in Jesus’ company, but it may be that he was simply a very busy man who came when his workday had ended. Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees, highly educated and who well grounded in the teaching of his religion. He knows a lot of stuff. This learned man recognizes that Jesus is a holy man, and he begins the conversation by acknowledging that God must certainly have sent him. Jesus responds by telling him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they have been given new birth by the Spirit, then goes on to tell Nicodemus that he has knowledge without understanding. It is the action of the Spirit that brings us understanding, and we can easily imagine that it was the action of the Spirit that called Nicodemus into this encounter with Jesus.
It must have been quite unsettling for Nicodemus to approach Jesus, for Nicodemus is viewed as an expert on God so perhaps it was humbling or maybe even embarrassing, for him to ask Jesus anything about God; he may have even feared Jesus’ response to him -- a Pharisee, who Jesus regularly scolded for their self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes toward others. But it seems Nicodemus was so moved by the Spirit he could no longer resist talking to Jesus. The conversation is something of a riddle.... Jesus says one must be "born from above" and Nicodemus takes the "born" part literally, apparently not wondering what "from above" means. Jesus ignores his question and goes on with the explanation of "being born of water and Spirit." ... We might learn from this that Jesus does not answer all the questions we ask. "Jesus does more. He tells us what we need to know, not what we think we need to know." (Ron Lavin)
You see, we are called to know God, not simply to know about God. Our experience of God changes in every moment, with every change in our awareness of the world around us. We are called to be in relationship with God, just as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship - a relationship that is a never-ending, ever-changing dance. The Creator, the Christ and the Spirit are in continuous movement—always changing, yet always the same.
Jesus, the Christ, who did not lose patience with Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, also does not lose patience with us in our human struggles – whatever they may be. So as you move through this week, may you have moments of dance. May you be awed by something in the world of the Creator; comforted by the compassion of Christ; and inspired by the energy of the Spirit. May you grow not necessarily in knowledge, but in the experience of the Holy Trinity.
As you approach God’s table today, place yourself in Rublev’s icon -- imagine yourself in that Divine Dance with the Trinity, where there is always, always room for you.
This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on Pentecost, May 23, 2021 - St. Luke's first worship service in their new worship space. [Note: the congregation occupying the building at 4301 Meadowbroook Drive is not an Episcopal Church affiliated with The Episcopal Church.]
May 23, 2021
Karen A. Calafat+
I have felt a bit like Dorothy this week. You know, Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz -- blown to and fro, occupying a strange land, trying to find something that feels like home. I think we could all be good companions with Dorothy and her friends, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.
The winds of change have surely been relentless the past several months, the past year plus, really. Many of us are struggling to come out of a Covid pandemic fog. Others are reeling from the unfavorable litigation results that, like Dorothy, have knocked our foundation out from under us and landed us in a strange land. Then there is the ongoing
tornadic activity of racism across our country and before our eyes on a daily basis. We might feel Dorothy’s words, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore!”
I can’t help but think that those disciples gathered on that Pentecost described in Acts must have been feeling some of this same disorientation that we are experiencing. Now, Pentecost was nothing new to them because as faithful Jews, Pentecost was one of the major pilgrimages of their faith. The Book of Leviticus describes Pentecost, which was originally a harvest festival observed on the 50th day after Passover. There are detailed instructions about the way the harvest is to be conducted and the way offerings are to be made to God. It was essentially a tithe of the harvest, giving to God 10% of the profits. But there is more to the harvest as well. God’s instruction was for the farmers to harvest only so close to the edges of the fields, leaving a portion untouched for others – for those who didn’t own land or have harvests of their own. Out of thanksgiving for God’s presence with them, delivering them from slavery and providing them a promised land, they fed those who were struggling. The Book of Ruth is usually read during Jewish Pentecost because of its emphasis on caring for the lost and for those on the fringes, as well as welcoming outsiders into the faith family.
An additional focus of Pentecost was the celebration of God giving the Torah. There is a rabbinic tradition that says when the Ten Commandments were given, it was with a single sound, but the sound went forth and divided into seven voices and then seventy tongues, so that every people heard the law in their own language.
This sounds similar to the Pentecost the disciples experienced after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. People from foreign lands gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit showed up and all kinds of strangeness broke loose. People were suddenly fluent in foreign languages and those from far lands and other cultures felt right at home as their language was spoken and understood. It must have been a perplexing experience all the way around as the Spirit fell upon them and moved through them. The Spirit moved through the first disciples – Jewish disciples and Gentile; male disciples and female; rich and poor; slave and free; old and young. The Holy Spirit flowed through everyone without discrimination, without judgment. The Spirit empowered those first disciples to proclaim the Good News of God’s love through Jesus Christ – crucified and resurrected! The Holy Spirit moved in and through those disciples and empowered them for mission. You might say our presence here in this place today is a direct result of that same Pentecost Spirit. That same Holy Spirit flows in and through you today – you gathered in this one place today.
Theologian Bruce Epperly says, “The Spirit’s “intention is always the creation of wise, compassionate, and healthy people and communities.” That is certainly what St. Luke’s is – what you are – “a wise, compassionate and healthy community.”
Epperly continues, “Peter’s sermon… describes God’s embrace of all the people of the earth and enjoins us to cross every boundary to fulfill our role as God’s partners in healing the world. The Pentecost(al) church … embraces diversity in all its many forms. This is what it means to be church, for Pentecost – to be unity in diversity, moving outward in ever-expanding circles of grace.” I love that! That’s the church I want to be part of: a church that is “moving outward in ever-expanding circles of grace!” That is why I love St. Luke’s. You live into ever-expanding circles of grace -- in your faith and in your actions.
We are one and many in God’s ever-surprising Spirit.
Dr. Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine Oblate says, “Pentecost is a story of the courage that comes from breaking established boundaries. Life is not about knowing with more and more certainty. Life is about moving more deeply into the mystery of things.”
I would say we are pretty deep in the throes of mystery right now, discerning the future for our church and mission. Like Dorothy, we are searching for that place called “home.”
Together, we will find our way forward. We have everything we need to do that because of the Spirit that shows up with us week after week, empowering, enlightening, encouraging. We may lack awareness at times, but we really have everything we need.
You recall the Scarecrow in search of a brain, the Cowardly Lion in search of courage, and the Tin Man in search of a heart. And what happened in the end? They all discovered they already had what they were searching for.
What St. Luke’s needs is already here, in and through each one of you, the Holy Spirit lives. That Spirit is present in your unconditional welcome of all God’s children; in your choice “to be about the loving and leave the judging to God.” The Holy Spirit empowers your generosity and care for those in need, especially those in need of food. The Spirit flows through your gifts – gifts of music and song; finance and organization, creativity and worship; in your hospitality, service and leadership.
On Pentecost, we remember the power and presence of God’s Spirit. We may live in times of mystery and unknowing, but the Spirit always shows up right on time – not usually our time, but in God’s economy, right on time. So as we move through the mystery of our current circumstance, remember you already have what is needed – you have the heart, the mind and the courage that makes you St. Luke’s - that makes you bearers of the Good News of God’s love for all! Like Dorothy, we are on a grand adventure where we will learn a lot along the way, and by the guiding of the Spirit, we will find home.
Final Sunday in St. Luke’s
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
"Oh, that we might see better times!”
I think that line from the Psalmist was meant just for us, for our tenacious little diocese and its faithful parishes. “Oh, that we might see better times” - from the words of the Psalmist, through our lips to God’s ears. "Oh, that we might see better times!”
It has been a rough couple of months for the Episcopal Church in North Texas. Actually, it has been a longer rough season than that as you stood up for your faith over 12 years ago, vowing to love as Jesus loved, respecting the dignity of every human being and striving for justice for all God’s children.
Your convictions lead you to love and welcome all.
You treat women equally and support God’s divine call of women to all orders of ordained ministry.
You throw open your arms to God’s children in the LGBTQ community, both as your fellow parishioners and even as your clergy. You feed those who hunger. You love as Jesus loved. You welcome to your table the people reduced to the fringes by segments of our society and, yes, even by some churches.
You are beautiful in the expanse of your love.
In this diocese, that kind of love has come at a large cost as we lose 5 of our beloved, beautiful and sacred church buildings to people who do not love as you love.
We must leave these holy places where, in love, you have baptized babies, confirmed youth and adults, ordained women and LGBTQ folks, married your beloved, given your children in marriage, and returned to God’s care and keeping the dearly departed.
We lose sacred altars where we are invited by our very Christ to break bread in Christ’s name and dine with whoever happens to be at our side, because that is what Jesus invites us to do. That is what Jesus commands us to do. Love. Love God, love your neighbor.
You will come to this altar today. You will receive spiritual food to sustain you on the journey. This will be the last time at your parish altar.
This is hard. This is unfair, unjust. This hurts.
Jesus knows something about the hurt you are experiencing. Jesus knows how you are suffering. Jesus, too, was persecuted for the way he loved. He suffered at the hands of those who judged him for welcoming the outsider and dining with sinners. Jesus suffered even unto death for the sake of love.
You suffer a death today – the death of your sacred church home. It is painful. It is maddening and sad. It is wrong. It hurts.
This is like a funeral. When people die, we think about how much they meant in our lives, remembering joys shared and challenges endured with them. We celebrate lives lost, treasure memories made and release them to God’s eternal care.
I wonder if we might use the funeral model for our church building today, remembering joys shared and challenges endured in this place. Look around you at the beauty of the stained-glass windows, recall baptisms and weddings, think of the countless saints commended to God’s care in this place.
Remember the times you have been fed at this altar – times where you were struggling and especially needed that sustenance for the days and weeks ahead, times where your heart was troubled and you came to the table with Jesus, seeking peace; times you came in grief or joy or simply as a matter of routine, a discipline of your faith, because it is Jesus who welcomes any and all to dine with him.
We not only carry our memories with us when we leave a funeral, but the impact a loved one or friend had on our lives. We carry whatever our hearts and minds contain, but we also live our lives differently because of the experiences we have had.
We will do the same as we leave this building today.
We will take not only our memories and as much faith and courage as we can muster to move on, but also the transformation that has happened in our lives over the past 12 years of litigation.
I have witnessed some of the transformation in this parish.
You have learned who you are as church – that you, the people, are the church. You have learned to love more deeply, give of yourselves more freely, take leaps of faith with a little less fear. Your determination to carry on and let the light of Christ shine through you to your neighbors is an inspiration to me and to many who watch you in action – who watch you living out the call of Jesus to “love.”
Before we gather around Jesus’ table, I encourage you to remember. Remember your days and years and for some of you, many years in these places. Feel whatever feelings surface, whether a doubtful heart, a troubled mind, a flash of anger or a downright flood of righteous indignation. Feel your sadness. Feel your pain.
During the Offertory, I invite you to come and light a candle as a symbol of your offering to God of any thoughts or feelings that burden you. Light a candle as a symbol of what you want to leave behind as we move forward from this building today. Leave here, in this space, anything that robs you of the joy of being St. Luke’s.
And when you leave this space today, light a candle from the Paschal candle taking the light of Christ from this place into the communities where you live and move and have your being.
Jesus suffered for love’s sake. Jesus dined with the disciples who were confused and disillusioned and scared. Jesus suffered deeply, even unto death. But Jesus did not stay dead -- on the 3rd day, Jesus was resurrected.
On the 3rd day. “Oh, that we might see better times!” We will have our 3rd day! St. Luke’s will experience resurrection!
In the 1st letter of John we hear, “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
I wonder if these 12 years might be likened to a long pregnancy – where something is happening in mystery that has not yet been revealed; something that cannot be rushed or forced. Something is taking place that we cannot see until it is ready to be birthed, ready to be revealed.
God’s purpose for St. Luke’s will be revealed. You are beloved children of God and God’s plan will be brought to life for you – for you are the church.
I say, “Watch out Fort Worth, St. Luke’s in the Meadow is experiencing a funeral today, being forced from our nest, but we have wings, and we are going to soar!”
You are resurrection people! You love like Jesus loved. You are Christ’s light in this world. I have seen it in you! Boldly let your light shine and do not let anyone put it out!
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
April 26, 2020
Barbara Brown Taylor, a wonderful theologian and author, reminds us, Jesus gravitates toward those whose lives are split open, either by sickness or loss or disappointment. It is in the cracks of our humanity that divine, resurrected life shines brightest.
On this Third Sunday of Easter, we need that ‘divine, resurrected life to shine’ through, perhaps like never before, into this weary, worrisome world experience. Our lives have been split open to a new way of living, to a new way of being, in which we really do not know how long it will last nor what the lasting results will be.
Stay with me now as we take this journey down the Emmaus Road. I want to address our real-life experiences, current and past, but will not leave you without a word of hope, a word of Alleluia!
Dreams have been dashed for graduates at every level of education - high school seniors likely hurting the most, missing proms, senior events, graduation ceremonies and parties. For all graduates missing pinning ceremonies, degrees being conferred and celebrations with loved ones - the disappointment is real. May the light of that divine, resurrected life shine into those disappointed spaces. As well as into the disappointed spaces of weddings postponed, funerals delayed and any other life events on hold. And may it shine powerfully for all who are grieving the immeasurable losses of these days when we find ourselves on an Emmaus Road.
We are not unlike Cleopas and his companion, followers of Jesus, walking along the road to Emmaus the day Jesus tomb was found empty. Their hopes in who they thought was the Messiah had been crushed by crucifixion. Their despair even greater when Jesus’ tomb was found unexplainably empty. They were likely discussing this news – THE news of the land – that Jesus, their Rabbi, their leader, their friend – who threw open wide his arms of love and acceptance to all, even reaching to the farthest fringes, had been brutally taken from them and now had even been taken from the tomb. It was the news of the day, the talk of the town, even along the road to Emmaus.
And we all know that Emmaus road because we have walked it at some point in our lives, even as we are walking it now in this pandemic. The Road to Emmaus, the one with potholes of pain and disappoint.
The Road of scary diagnoses, defeat, divorce, even death.
The Road of loneliness, depression and grief.
This is the very road on which Jesus met his friends. Where Jesus met them in their confusion and dashed dreams. Where Jesus met them and walked with them.
Imagine today that you are taking a walk with a friend, socially distanced and wearing masks, discussing the harrowing experience of living in a pandemic. How this far reaching, highly contagious, unknown virus has affected every aspect of our lives. How we are stripped of life as we have known it and removed from the freedoms we love and enjoy, (and perhaps take for granted.) You discuss how there is no level of life that has not been impacted to some degree. Imagine you are sharing this conversation as you walk along and then a stranger approaches and asks what you are talking about, why your are wearing masks, why you are walking 6 feet apart from each other. Your response would likely mirror the disciples: How in the world do you not know what is going on? Have you not listened to the news? How is it even possible that you have not heard?
And then you tell this stranger about your experience with this all-consuming pandemic – how it has impacted you, what hopes it has dashed, what your fears about it are and about how you are managing day by day as you continue your walk on this Emmaus road.
And this stranger listens - Jesus listens. Jesus is present to them in their disbelief and dismay. Jesus remains with them. Stays with them in their bewilderment and heartache. Jesus stays with them in the unknown, in the darkness. Jesus stays with them until they recognize him, until the divine, resurrected life shines through – until they see the light break in through the cracks of their humanity.
Therein is our hope in this season of challenge and change - this season of disappointment and difficulty. Through these cracks in our humanity, the Divine, resurrected light will shine. We may not recognize it for a while, but based on Cleopas and his friend’s experience, we can trust that the resurrected Jesus is with us in the darkness and will stay with us until we recognize his presence to sustain us and to empower us to carry on.
We may recognize this divine, resurrected life in listening to the birds who bring music to our days, or in the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings. Perhaps it will shine in through reconnecting with friends who we have not talk to in a while, or even making new friends in a virtual way. You may come to recognize this divine resurrected life in the sacrifices of healthcare workers and doctors. Perhaps you will see that divine life shine through researchers and scientists who are diligently working for our good. And we know they are because they have in the past – this month is the 60th the anniversary of the polio vaccine, now a disease that is prevented. Some day we will say the same of this dreaded coronavirus, because the divine, resurrected life will break through the cracks and remain with the professionals until a prevention is discovered.
In this unusual Easter season, Embrace your Emmaus Road experience and hold tight, Jesus is with you whether you recognize it or not. ‘Jesus gravitates toward those whose lives are split open; and through those cracks divine, resurrected life will shine!’ Alleluia!
Where do you stay?
Schools were integrated, but the town was not. Classmates from the other side of the tracks would ask, “Where do you stay?”
May have been on to something, because where we “stay” matters a great deal.
Word play going on here in this unusual conversation between Jesus and John’s disciples: John has just told them, “Yesterday, God showed me who Jesus is – the Lamb of God.”
So, his disciples follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks a strange question, “What are you looking for?”
These are the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John: “What are you looking for?”
Not “What do you want?” or “Why are you following me?”
But “What are you looking for?”
Then the disciples answer Jesus’ question with a strange question, “Where are you staying?”
What they are looking for, what they seek, is not so much the information of the teacher, but a chance to get to know him. The word we translate as “staying” refers to the source of one’s life and meaning.
So when these disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” they are asking, “What is it that sustains you? What power do you have? Where do you remain? Where do you live? How do you live? Who are you really? Where do you stay?”
It’s the same word used in John later, over in chapter 15, when we are told we are to abide in Christ. Abide, stay, remain, reside, dwell….
These disciples want a teacher, but more than that, they want a relationship. Then comes Jesus’ answer, Jesus’ invitation: “Come and See.” Jesus invites them to journey with him and hang out a while.
John says, “They remained with him that day.”
A careful listener would notice the repeated use of “remain” and “stay” in this passage:
The Spirit “remained” with Jesus;
God said, “The one on whom the spirit remains….”;
where are you “staying”;
they came and saw where he was “staying”;
they “remained” with him;
The Greek word is meno, “m-e-n-o”. It is sometimes translated “abide” and is used over 40 times in the Gospel of John. Meno is about relationship, being together with God, being sure of a future with God, experiencing a real connection to God.
Where we stay – where we are connected to God – informs how we live our lives. Where we “stay” is critically important.
This is Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. We know where he ‘stayed’: he stayed in the place of equal rights for all; he stayed in the place of ‘love overcoming hate and light driving out darkness.’
I opened the Standing Committee meeting this week with this quote from MLK:
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
“We must meet hate with creative love. Love is the most durable power in the world. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
Jesus stood for LOVE and for justice.
And what was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Where are you staying?”
“Come and see.”
They “went and saw” and then left there telling others, “We have found the Messiah!”
I wonder what would happen if we slowed down long enough to ask ourselves, “What are we looking for?” and then accepted Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.”
This is the season of The Epiphany, the time in the church year when we hear and see more and more about who Jesus is as revealed in scripture…. Jesus - God manifest, Incarnate, in our presence.
In this season, “Where do we stay?”
“What are we looking for?”
If we don’t know what we are looking for, how will we recognize it when we find it???
We must know where we “stay” for that will be our anchor in this tumultuous, divisive times. Know where you stay and out of that relationship with God, let that foundation of love and justice inform your words and your decisions in 2020.