Sunday, July 05, 2015


Jesus goes first to Nazareth. After he has been baptized, after he fully realizes what God has called him to do, he takes the message home. It is the first place he goes...Nazareth. Of course he goes there first! If you discovered that you had the best news in the world, the message of salvation itself, wouldn't you want your loved ones saved first? Jesus walked home to begin his ministry.

I can only imagine how excited he must have felt, going home.  He had learned who he was. He was going to share news about God that was so good that it would change the world. And he couldn't wait to go home and share this news with his family, his friends, with the people he loved. Judging from his surprise at their reaction, Jesus expected that everything would go well. But it didn't. Jesus first attempt to tell people about God completely failed. Remember that, if you ever think that following God means immediate success. Remember that Jesus failed the first time he tried to do what God asked, and his failure did not mean that God was not with him. Success does not mean that you have God's backing and failure doesn't mean that you have failed God.

What Jesus found was that the people of Nazareth strangely couldn't hear him. Instead of listening to him, all they could think about was what they already knew about him. "This is the carpenter's son. We know his brothers and sisters. We already know him." They could not hear a word that he said. They had already made up their minds about him because he was one of them. He was, quite literally, too close to home.

The people of Nazareth had watched Jesus grow up. They had watched him play with other kids and get water from the well and work and eat and sleep. How could he be anyone special? He was one of them. Who was he to tell them about God?

We often cannot see the greatest gifts that God gives us because they are simply too close for us to notice. Our loved ones, our homes, our safety...even our country. 

Just a few days ago, there was a scare at the Navy yard in Washington, DC. They thought that a shooter had snuck onto the property. And Luke, my sixteen year old, was there. Luke is doing an internship on Capitol Hill and was working out in the Navy Yard early in the mornings. I woke to the phone ringing. Don't worry! My husband said. Luke left five minutes before the shooter arrived. He is fine.

My heart felt like it might stop. What would have happened if he had been hurt? It took my breath away.

We live and breathe and work and learn in a free country. The ramifications of this great gift are so great as to change the face of the earth, but often we do not stop to appreciate this gift because we simply take it for granted. It is our home. We live here. It has always been this way. This is the air that we breathe, the water that we swim in. Why should we give thanks for it? But every once in awhile we are jolted awake and reminded to give thanks for the great gift of the country and for freedom.

I just spent the past ten days in the midst of a democratic process in our Episcopal church. Once every three years, we meet with representatives from all over this nation. We debate from morning to night. We argue. We pray. We worship. We make each other mad. We vote. Some lose the vote. Some win the vote. But we do not hit each other or resort to gossip or swear words (at least not in public), we stick it out and keep praying together. 

At the root of democracy is a kind of trust and humility. Our country is built on that trust and so is our church. We are called to believe that the wisdom of a whole body of people may be greater than any one individual opinion. Each of us must hold to the humility that we as individuals may in fact be wrong, so when I lose an argument, I can accept the outcome.

Hear me out on this. Let us not forget how blessed that we are. We live in a country where debate and questioning are possible. Just this past week, 75 children were slaughtered in Iraq because they did not practice Ramadan. Some of them were crucified because they had been accused of acts of sodomy.  They are prisoners. They are slaves. They have no freedom. Even their lives can be taken from them if they do not say or act in a particular way.

I am so sorry that we have to disagree. I am so sorry that the world cannot be easier. But I would rather live in a community that disagrees than a community in which everyone thinks the same thing. Church has become the most segregated time of the week in this country. Let us not aim to worship in a place where everyone thinks as we do. Then we might get so comfortable that we miss Christ. Then we might become like the people of Nazareth, so sure of ourselves that we miss out on what God is calling us to do. I am proud to lead a church that is willing to ask hard questions and suffer the consequences. I am proud to lead a church where disagreement is possible, where failure is possible, where we can pray even when we don't see eye to eye.

We look to the founding fathers with a kind of reverence on this day. We admire their tenacity, their incredible wisdom in designing this democracy, their faith in the wisdom of the people. But they were not gods. They were men (and their women were behind them but at the time they were mostly men). And they struggled. They disagreed. They were not always right.

When Jesus came, he ushered in  a radically new way of thinking about God, a new way of worshipping, a new way of praying. But the people of his hometown missed out because they could not listen. They could not open their hearts to his message. They had already made up their minds about who he was. They were too comfortable.

The gospel says that he marveled at their unbelief. He marveled at their unbelief. What is unbelief? I think it is when we start thinking that we know so much that it is time to stop listening, time to stop questioning. Unbelief is certainty without humility. It happens when we become so attached to the world as we know it that we can no longer open our hearts to Christ. Unbelief occurs when you stop listening and watching for what God is doing in the world. It is not only denying faith but perhaps more importantly, believing that you have all the answers and that everyone should think like you think. Unbelief, that is the word that Jesus used when describing the people of Nazareth. Unbelief.

The people of Nazareth were not free so long as their minds were already made up. And that is all that I ask of you on this weekend of our Independence. Give thanks that you are free.  But make sure that you embrace the gift of your freedom by never ceasing to consider other perspectives, to ask questions, to remember that it is God alone who knows all in all. Listen to one another, pray with one another, and give thanks for our freedom. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Unanswered Questions

In 1813, Morris Brown started a church for black slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. He was joined by Denmark Vesey, a man whose name came from the slave owner who sold him. Denmark had purchased his freedom for $1,500 because he was a gifted carpenter. However, the slave owner would not sell him the freedom of his wife and children. So Denmark Vesey began to preach at the church about the Book of Exodus and how Almighty God led the Hebrew people from slavery into freedom.

No one knows if Denmark Vesey ever did anything more than preach about the Exodus. What we do know is that his church grew to 3,000 strong. And in December of 1821, Denmark Vesey was arrested along with dozens of other members of the church. They were tortured and some broke down, confessing a plot to fight for their freedom. All of them were hanged.  They say that Denmark Vesey was stabbed to death but no one ever found his body. And, as a punishment for insurrection, the black churches in Charleston were closed for over thirty years.

After the Civil War, Denmark's son, Robert Vesey, rebuilt the church as an African Methodist Episcopal Church. They named it Emmanuel which means God is with us. Booker T. Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King would later preach in that church. It became a leading church in the Civil Rights movement.

On this past Wednesday, a 21 year old man named Dylan Roof walked into Emmanuel AME Church and joined a prayer group. After almost an hour of sharing and praying in which he was welcomed and included, Dylan shot and killed the participants. He killed them simply for being black.

A storm arose at sea when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus. It was night and it was dark so they could not have seen where the storm came from. It was strong. It blew the water causing great waves and wind. The disciples were afraid. Terrified. And Jesus remained asleep.

I have always wondered how Jesus could have slept through all that. Was he just so exhausted that nothing could wake him? Or was he so trusting in God's providence that he knew he would not die? Or was it that he was not afraid of dying? Could he simply ride the waves without fear? How could he have slept through all that wind and water, while the disciples were scurrying all over the little boat trying to get the water out and talking and praying and yelling to each other. How could Jesus have slept through that storm?

There are so many storms in our lives. Violence that makes no sense. Racism. Terrorism. These evils just seem to rise up and almost swallow us whole.  There are more Christians dying in this century than at any other time. And sometimes it feels like God is just asleep. How could an all-powerful God allow a man like Denmark Vesey to be hanged just for preaching a truth in Scripture? How could God allow the innocent pastor and the faithful members of a Emmanuel Church be murdered for nothing but the color of their skin? Is God just asleep? Does God even care?

The disciples at least had Jesus in the boat. Physically, bodily, their Lord could be woken up. They could shake him awake. They could talk to him, ask him what the heck was going on.  They could ask him how he could sleep through such a storm. "Do you not care about us?" they said. "Do you not care that we are going to die?"

That's what we all want to ask when a storm comes. "God, why don't you do something about this? Don't you care at all? 

When Jesus awakened, he calmed the storm. He brought peace. Just like he healed when he saw someone who was sick or cast out demons when someone possessed crossed his path. He calmed the sea for the disciples but he was clearly disappointed that they asked him to do that. After he calmed the sea, he turned to them and asked them THE QUESTION. 

"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

When we come to God asking God to calm the storm, asking God to save the lives of those faithful at Emmanuel, asking God to simply stop this evil and violence in our world, God responds with a question...Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

It is the same with our brother Job. The storm destroyed his whole life. His family was dead, his wealth gone, his friends were no help. He sat alone in the dust and when he asked God to wake up, God said, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" In other words, "who are you to ask me how this is supposed to happen?" You cannot understand me. You must trust.

There are some questions that cannot be answered in this life. Why are there storms? Why do people suffer? Why is there evil? Why is life unfair? Why do good people like our brothers and sister at Emmanuel AME Church have to die? They did not deserve it. They did nothing but be kind and loving and good. 

And when we say to God, "Please wake up and stop this storm! Please just bring us peace. Please just fix our problems," God answers with a question. One very important question...

"Why can't you trust me?"

Faith is not just about believing in God. Faith is also believing that God knows more than we know. Faith is believing that when good people suffer and die, it is not the end of the story. Faith is ability to trust that something beyond our understanding can come out of violence and hatred and death itself. Faith is believing that the cross can become the resurrection, even when we don't know how or when or why. Faith is believing that God is God and we are not.

My yoga teacher took the day off on Thursday and drove with her husband up to Charleston. There were thousands out on streets. Flowers left at the church. The families of the victims were talking about forgiveness and people were flooding into the city, just to be there, to pray and to eat at the restaurants and offer our condolences. People were so kind, she said. They thanked her for coming. 

And all across the country at 10 a.m. this morning, church bells will ring to remember those who died. Let us not let them die in vain. It is time for this country to unite and vow to serve one another, to bridge racial boundaries, to look out for our youth, especially when they seem lost or disturbed, to take better care of our children, to pray for one another. Out of these ashes, let us rise.

Denmark Vesey dreamed of a time when black people would be free. So long as there is violence and hatred like what happened on Wednesday, none of us our free. So we must put aside our whys and work toward peace and pray. We must always pray to the One who alone can bring peace, to Jesus.

Let us read aloud the names of our brothers and sisters who died at Emmanuel AME Church. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Remembering Bernie

I have never done this before. Never, in all my years, has anyone requested that their funeral be held on Sunday morning at our normal service. And really, this is not a funeral. Father Bernie Dooly didn't want a funeral at all. He wanted us to worship together as we always have, as he did for decades. He wanted us to share in the body and blood of Jesus and to remember him at the same time. He did not want a special service giving thanks for his life. He just wanted us to come to church together and give thanks. He wanted to be with us when we came together to worship. He didn't want it to be all about him. That was so much like Bernie. 

I have known Bernie almost all of my adult life. I first met him when I came here to this very Cathedral to do an internship during Seminary.   He was a new Canon, having served as a chaplain at FSU for two decades. He was really happy at FSU. And so we both felt a little lost in this big Cathedral. I would wander down to Bernie's office and he always had time for me. He would lean back in his chair and just listen. I cried in his office and probably made a fool of myself. When I had to preach my first sermon, he suggested that he listen first. And so Bernie stood in the back of this empty Cathedral when I preached for the very first time to him alone. He just stood there and smiled. I can still see him there.

Bernie was Irish. He was born in Ireland and it was so much a part of him, in his blood. He also loved God and found God particularly in silence. Maybe his exposure to silence happened when he was young and suffered from double pneumonia. He would follow that sound of God in silence into the priesthood, reading and studying about God. He became an Irish Catholic priest and served in the church, finally being sent here to St. Augustine. 

When you love God in silence, it is easy to retreat into solitude, but Bernie's life was not complete with only solitude. All his life, he would struggle to find a balance between his love of people and his love of silence.  

It was in St Augustine that Bernie met and fell in love with an artist. Marcia had two daughters. She exposed Bernie to a kind of freedom and beauty that he had never known.  He gave up the priesthood to marry Marcia. Bernie became a father and he adored his girls.  Bishop Cerveny welcomed him as a priest into the Episcopal Church. 

Bernie loved all people but especially the young. He was so happy being a chaplain at FSU, where he and his students could be creative with all kinds of liturgy. Bernie was not one for tight schedules or hierarchy. He would always give up his seat in the chancel, always make himself available to listen. He had the students at FSU do everything, from having a Vestry to officiating at liturgies. Bernie was always ready to give up his seat. 

Our lives are a balance. We all need the sound of sheer silence that Elijah found when he was searching for God in a cave so long ago. But we also need one another. Bernie's face would light up when he spoke of Liz or Marta or Marcia. He adored Marcia's art. Her paintings gave him joy. But after beholding the presence of God in silence, Bernie could never just surround himself with business and people all day. He needed both, both people and quiet, and so do all of us.

In yoga sometimes we practice balancing. We stand on one foot and stare straight ahead. It is amazing how balance is nothing more than constant movement. The muscles in your foot and leg are always moving, first one way and then the other. After lots of practice, it becomes easier, but the movement from one side to the other never goes away. Bernie's life was spent balancing between his two joys, his need for God in silence and his need for all of you. When he spent too much time around people, he would become quiet, even a soft kind of grumpy. When he was alone too long, he would take joy in people.

At the end of his life, I think that Bernie struggled the most with being so weak. His body was giving out. That pneumonia that he had as a child led to him having a hole in his heart all his life, but he didn't know it until after retirement. He found himself weak and unable to care for Marcia as he wanted to. But he was a giver and he didn't know how to ask for help. I would go to see him for spiritual direction but, although I could always use Bernie's wisdom, I knew that he wouldn't let me come if the visit involved taking care of him in any way. He was terrible at that! 

I feel regret that Bernie did not let us help him more. It is so hard to age. I hope that he didn't feel alone. 

Bernie would want this message not to be just about him but to be about you. What kind of a balance have you found in your life? We all need to hear the sound of sheer silence that Elijah heard, for it will fill our hearts, but most often we run from that silence because before we can get to it, we often must hear our own crazy and disturbed thoughts. So we fill our lives with noise and activity. We run away from God.

If Bernie wanted one thing for you to receive from this service, I think he would want you to receive the gift of silence, to know that deep down, below the chaos of your thoughts and the noise of this world, there is a presence, so deep and so beautiful, so full of love as to take your breath away. And when we can't feel that presence it is not because it isn't there. It is because we are too rushed or wounded or angry to truly listen. Most of us have a storm of sorts in our minds, a storm that moves over the top of silence, making us think that that is all there is, so that when we are quiet, all we hear is worries and regrets and noise. But there is so much more beneath all that.  

The silence waits. It is always there for you and once you touch it, you will want nothing more than to find it again and again. It used to be translated as a still small voice. Then scholars got back together and decided that this translation was inadequate. So they called it the sound of sheer silence. My seminary professor translated it as eloquent silence. But words are still not good enough. There are no words to describe such things. The only thing Bernie would say about it was that it is God.

Bernie gave this Cathedral a few gifts. Along with Louise and Mary Busse, he gave us the gift of the Center for Prayer and Spirituality, a part of this Cathedral that will already remind us of the presence of God in silence.  He also gave us a chapel located on the third floor of Cathedral House. You can take an elevator up to it. It is full of Bernie's books and statues and icons. It is a place to be quiet. The only sounds that you hear are the children playing in the playground of the homeless shelter across the street. Bernie gave it to us, his community, so that we could find a place of quiet, a place to pray, a place apart from the hustle and bustle of life. It is always open to you. 

You have to fight for quiet in your life. It is a battle. But please try. It is vital for your mental and spiritual health. And try to find the other side as well, that balance that is community, the people who make your heart sing, with whom you can be yourself. Nurture those relationships, tell them who you really are. God is Trinity and God cannot be known alone. God must be known also in community. Three in one and one in three. God is all about balance. To try to find God is to dance your way to finding balance in your life. And balance between quiet and community looks entirely different for each and every one of you.

Bernie knew the beauty of loving people. He knew the beauty of time spent alone with God. He knew the beauty of nature and art and music. He lived and he loved. And we give thanks for his life. After all, that is what the Eucharist means...thanksgiving.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


Anna was three. She loved to jump on the bed and into her daddy's arms. She would jump on the bed, higher, higher, warming up. And then she would start telling her dad what to do. 

"Take a step back, Daddy! Another one...another one!"

"Is this far enough, Anna?" He would ask, beginning to get nervous.

"No! Not far enough! Another one!!" And then, finally, she was ready.

Daddy would hold out his arms and she would jump, without hesitation or fear, she would jump. She was like a bird, like a superhero flying through the air. She would jump and he would catch her, every time. It was their game. It was so much fun. He always got nervous but she didn't. She knew that he was there, solid and good. She knew that he would always catch her.

Last Thursday, I went to see George Weller in the hospital. George has been a member of this church for many decades. He was bright and chipper and sitting up in bed, in fabulous shape for 93. He was so happy to see me. We talked and prayed together and I found myself saying, "George, you are 93. If you should see Jesus come and open his arms to you, just go to him. It's OK. Just jump."

The very next day, I got a call from George's daughter. He was dying. Could I come and say the last rites? I drove over to the hospital, marveling that Jesus and come to him so quickly. I arrived in his room and he revived a bit, enough to tell me that he was glad I came. "Two days in a row!"he said. I should have felt sad, but I was not. I felt joyful. We gathered around his bed and joined hands. Into your hands, we commit your servant George, we prayed. And I whispered to George, "Great job! You are getting ready to jump!"

But then I knew that I needed to leave. People tend to get excited when I show up. He needed to not be distracted. He was getting ready to jump, after all. So I gave the family my cell phone and I left. It took him three more days to jump. Just a mystery. They are so much alike, dying and being born. I guess it is also a birth, to eternal life.

George's ancestor, Reginald Heber (1783-1826) wrote the famous hymns Holy Holy Holy from the Isaiah reading that we heard today. Coincidence? I don't think so. I think that is the Holy Spirit moving today, telling us that the one who sees and knows all things is with us, urging us to trust that spirit and to jump.

When God asks Isaiah who will go for him, Isaiah jumps. He does not know where he is going or what God is asking him to do, but he just decides to risk it. He jumps and he says to the angels, "Send me!"

Nicodemus was too scared to trust Jesus so he went to a Jesus at night, when no one could see him and no one would know that he went. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He had a reputation. He did not want to send the wrong message, going to see this radical preacher. Nicodemus was not free to jump. He cared too much about what people thought of him, how to make his decisions, how to be popular. So he snuck to Jesus in the dark to ask Jesus some questions, to see if he was really from God.

Nicodemus asked Jesus about himself and about God and Jesus told him that if he wanted to see God, he must be born of water and the spirit. "You cannot see the Kingdom of heaven unless you are born from above," is what Jesus said. You must be born of water and the spirit in order to know God. You must make the change into another world. You must be born. 

Born into what? That's the tough part. If you are to see the kingdom of heaven, you must be born into something that you cannot see. "The wind blows where it will," Jesus explained, "and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit." They must be born into something that they cannot see and cannot understand, but something that they can feel.

When we are baptized, we are born into something that we cannot see and do not understand. We are born to a life that no longer belongs to us. Outside these walls today, people are sliding down the urban slide, the largest water slide in the nation. But these three children are taking the biggest jump today. They are jumping into eternal life.

Olivia is wearing her princess dress today. She calls this church God's castle, which is perfect since she will be gaining an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Spencer is our baby, happy and wonderful. Show him pictures of this day, the day of his birth to eternal life. And Jamari, his mom works in the nursery and he is big enough to carry the Holy Spirit dove out of here today. 

All three of these children will encounter moments in their lives when they feel terribly alone, when they have to make difficult choices or risk great things. This world is changing fast and becoming Christian is much riskier than going on that water slide. They will grow up in a world where it is no longer standard or normal to actually go to church or be baptized. They may be questioned or even made fun of or ridiculed because of their faith. It may become harder to be Christian. Think of how many people have come here today to slide and how few have come to worship. We are taking risks. We are different. But if you have the courage to live the life of the baptized, Jesus will be standing there always with his hands open, ready to catch you when you are ready to jump.


So I heard a joke this week. There is this young man ushering in church on a Sunday morning and a very elegant older woman walks in. The young man hands her a program and kindly asks her where she would like to sit. "Up front, sir." She says with a smile. And the young man starts to head up the center aisle to seat her. But on the way there, he takes her arm and, speaking softly, tells her, "If I were you, I would not sit too far up front. The pastor tends to preach really boring sermons and if you are seated up front, he looks directly at you from time to time. You can't really space out or read or anything. Let me sit you here in the middle. That way, if you need to just daydream a bit, no one will notice." 

She stopped as he was ushering her into a pew half-way down the aisle, looked at him, and said, 

"Son, do you know who I am?"

"No, ma'am," he said.

She looked at him. "I am the pastors mother," she said.

The young man froze. Then, after catching his breath, he ushered woman to her pew. The woman sat down and he leaned in and said to the her, "Ma'am, do you know who I am?" 

"No, young man, I don't," she said.

"Good!" He said and high-tailed it out of there.

Sometimes we encounter a situation that we cannot wait to escape. There are people who we would be happy to never see again. The student speaker at Episcopal's graduation ceremony, Collin Walker, admitted yesterday morning that there were some students he would miss and others that he felt grateful to leave. 

This weekend is a weekend of graduations and it is not coincidental that the church remembers how Jesus left us. We actually celebrate his leaving. It is the strangest holiday, a holiday that feels more sad than almost any other day.

Jesus returned from the dead and all four of the gospels recount how he appeared to his disciples over and over again. He would appear while they were walking, while they were eating, when they were just hanging out in a room or when they were just out fishing. He came to them over and over again so that they would believe that he was not dead. But then, after a period of forty days, he left. His body literally was lifted up into heaven. 

The scene of Jesus' departure is described in two books: Luke and Acts. The strange thing is that these two books are really volumes one and two of the same book, written to a man named Theophilus from the physician Luke who traveled with Paul. So why would Luke tell the same story twice? It was as if this part, the leaving, was really important to Luke. He wanted to make sure that we remembered that Jesus left us.

Human beings are designed for leaving. Our bodies are built not to last. We cannot hold onto each other, we cannot hold onto our stuff, we can't even hold onto our children. We are temporal beings. We are designed with the one single truth of our existence in mind...we must leave one another. Any attempt that we make to forget this truth of our existence is a waste of time. You and I don't belong on this earth. We simply will not last.

Our lives are a series of changes. We graduate, we move, we age, we retire, we die. We are always moving, we cannot help it. Even if all that we want to do, the world is constantly teaching us to let go.

When I lived in Connecticut, I lived across the street from a woman who tried not to let go. She would not move out of her large home even when she could no longer care for it. She would not ask for help from her neighbors but barked at us when we came by to check on her. She was terrified that we would call social services. When she got a wound on her leg, she denied that it was bad. They found her dead on her kitchen floor after her mail piled up. After all her efforts not to leave, she still eventually left.

Jesus modeled for us how to be human. He was born, he served others, he prayed. He even died and then returned to show us that death is not the end. But then, in order to fully express his humanity, he had to leave. No human being stays on this earth forever. If Jesus was to be both fully God and fully man, he would have to leave us. This temporal life has to end, even for those who are to experience eternal life. All human beings have to die, we have to leave.

So Jesus left us publically, to show us how. He gathered all the people that he loved and he told them the truth, that he was going. He blessed them and gave them the Holy Spirit, the part of God that will never leave us. And then he left, physically, openly, he left.

The harder that you hold onto the things of this life, the more pain you will feel when you have to leave. Love greatly but do not become too attached. Why do we hold on so hard? But the hardest part of this reality is that most people are scared of being left alone.  We are scared that no one will want us, no one will love us. It makes us feel better to be with each other. Even most introverts need company sometimes. That's why solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of punishment. It scares us to be left alone.

Last Saturday, there was a funeral for Charlie Towers just down the street at the First Presbyterian Church. Charlie did something amazing. He knew that he was old and dying so he made a video of himself. Now, I was not there so help me if I get this wrong, but what I heard was that he told everyone to celebrate and to get to know the one who they can hold onto, Jesus. He made an old fashioned altar call from the grave! Now that's evangelism!!

You don't belong here. There is only one permanent relationship for you, a relationship that lasts from this life into the life to come. It is the most important relationship of your life. You must find a way to spend time with God. You must give things away in service to God, sacrificially giving your money, your belongings, your time. Eventually, everything else must either be given away or it will be taken away from you simply because you can't take it with you. Hold onto God when all else fails. It is not your body or your accomplishments or even the people who you love the most who will stay with you. Only ONE knows your name for all eternity. Only one.