Friday, May 11, 2018

The Seventh Sunday of Easter -- Sunday After The Ascension

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

-- BCP, page 226


Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;
1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
"Do not leave us comfortless," we pray in the Collect.  In our church calendar, we are living in that odd time between the Ascension of our Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit -- the 10 unusual days when the apostles were, according to the verse immediately before our story in Acts, "constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers." (Acts 1:14)

Do not leave us comfortless. I wonder if their prayer was of the frantic, anxious, and near-panic kind? Forget what you and I know -- that the Holy Spirit came upon them. For all they knew, the Descent of the Spirit could be eons away. It was a time of great uncertainty.

Do not leave us comfortless. Their prayer also takes place in a time of great embarrassment, maybe even shame. They had to come to terms with the fact that Judas, one of Jesus' own hand-picked Twelve, had betrayed their Lord. The community was not at full strength. And the missing one had not honored the cause. I wonder about the urgency in their prayers and their recognition of brokenness and incompleteness.

Do not leave us comfortless. I wonder if we can identify with that? Uncertainty is indeed part of the human experience. We could easily muse philosophically about the vagaries of existence. And there are times in our world -- maybe even now -- when we can identify with the humorist George Carlin's question: "Where are we going? And what's with this hand-basket?"

The reality is that on any given Sunday when we come together to pray, not a few of us are dealing with particular uncertainties or pains or shame or facing hard choices in seemingly intractable circumstances. Or like the disciples, we might be looking at a future without the tangible presence of a loved one. 

The 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost are reminders that our experiences of uncertainty, loss, grief, pain, and even shame are part of the life of our faith community, not just of human life itself. Their euphoria over Christ's resurrection turned to the aloneness that goes with the physical departure of Jesus. There are seasons in life when even God feels absent. The palpable absence of Jesus during those ten days ... I wonder how the apostles and the disciples, including the Blessed Virgin and the brothers of Jesus felt. Have you ever had a time like that? Has God ever felt absent from your life?

Lean into it. Denial does no good. Name the anxiety or loss or pain or uncertainty or embarrassment or shame. Whatever the feelings in our own circumstances, let us name and accept that this is where we are, maybe for more than 10 days. We know not how long.

We can learn from that first band of people bereft of comfort: Name it in prayer. And pray in community. Paradoxically, when we least feel God is when we most need to pray. When we least feel comforted, that's when we need to be together to comfort one another. We need each other. We need to come together Sunday after Sunday to pray. To lay the matter before God. To wait for God's promised Spirit to descend on us with comfort and strength.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 225


Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98;
1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
The Collect of the Day asks for God to give us the kind of love towards God that we may love God "in all things and above all things." Loving God in all things and above all things -- that is the objective.

Charles Williams, a lay theologian and novelist who was close friends with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers, looked at all creation as embodying something of God's nature. Our human understanding also, however dimly, partook of the divine light. He was not one to discard any thing or notion out of hand but rather took time to look for truth and beauty within them. This collect reminds me of Williams because he had a wonderful saying that can be a guiding post for us in our search for God and all things godly: This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.

This also is Thou: Creation itself is the first Scripture we meet. "The heavens declare the glory of God..." (Ps. 19:1). Nature is our first teacher -- our first awareness of a gorgeous full moon or the sound of the sea or the majesty of mountains -- in these and more the world gives us glimpses of God's glory. Everything created partakes of the heavenly DNA. We experience it when we behold beauty and are awed into silence. The material world discloses the spiritual reality of which it participates.

This also is Thou: Mother and Father's first embrace and kiss when we are born; being loved and affirmed, being provided for and kept safe. Experiencing goodness and compassion from anyone, perhaps even in unexpected places and from unknown persons; meeting people whose morals and ethics lift us up; hearing or reading poetry or experiencing all the arts-so many ways in which through other people we experience something of the One whose self-revelation is Love.

At the end of his letter to the Church in Philippi, St. Paul says: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil. 4:8) Because This also is Thou.

Neither is this Thou: We do not worship creation but the Creator who is in all things but is never limited to all things. (If you care for the fancy words, our theism is of the panentheistic kind; we are not pantheists). We seek to love God in all things and above all things. Nothing -- not creation itself; not our noblest ideals; not our truest theology; not even our purest beliefs -- can contain God. Flee any religious community or persons who suffer from unassailable certainty in their convictions about what they claim to know. God cannot be put in a box. Any god who could be so contained is not worthy of our worship, allegiance, and obedience. Giving our ultimate commitment to anything other God as God -- who is beyond all our knowing and understanding -- is to fall into idolatry. Neither is this Thou.

This also is Thou; neither is this Thou. May we rejoice in the sacramental quality imbuing all things and all people. May we never mistake anything or anyone for the Divine reality to which they point and in which they participate.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 225


Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30;
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
This may be the boldest collect yet for Eastertide. Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus, the Christ, ...that we may steadfastly follow his steps. Wow. It asks not that we may believe things about Jesus but that we may so perfectly know him as to be able to follow him.

And how may we do that? How can we know Jesus like that?

In Luke 24:13-35, Jesus, disguised as a stranger, meets two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus on the evening of Easter Day and speaks to them as they walk. In the story, Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, so they could begin to appreciate the pattern central to true life-suffering, death, and resurrection-that the Messiah would reveal.

(Messiah, by the way, is the Hebrew word that means "anointed." Its Greek counterpart is the word Christ.)

We are told that though their hearts were burning inside them, they did not know that it was Jesus. The story goes on to tell us that when they reached Emmaus the disciples insisted that the stranger stay the night with them, even though he looked like he was going to keep on walking.  It was while he broke the bread at table with them that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. 

He then vanished from their sight and they rushed back to Jerusalem that very hour to tell all the others.

Here is the thing: None of this would have happened had they not insisted that the stranger stay with them.

Our own Carol Sethman pointed this out to me in a conversation a couple of years ago: it was their compassionate action, it was their hospitality to the stranger, it was their insistence that he not spend the night walking in the dark, that gave those disciples the opportunity to know Jesus in the opening of Scriptures and the breaking of the Bread.

How do we know Jesus? By doing acts of compassion.

Compassion is the gate to perfect knowledge of Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. Compassion is not a sequel to knowing Jesus; it is the entryway. Orthodoxy follows Orthopraxis. Right believing follows from right doing. Ours is a hands-on faith, not a set of statements tucked away in a dusty book. Begin by loving the neighbor and you and I will come to the perfect knowledge of the Christ.

Begin by doing that which upholds the dignity and worth of the person in front of you.

Compassion is concrete, not abstract.

Direct and immediate, not postponed to a better time or more appropriate moment. Compassion is embodied behavior, not pure thought.

Knowing by doing. Embodied knowledge.

Rolling up our sleeves and engaging in acts of compassion: This also is, as Eugene Peterson would say, to practice resurrection.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Easter: Jesus, The Good Shepherd

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 225


Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23;
1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Jesus calls himself The Good Shepherd, in this week's Gospel. This title, if you will, is claimed in the context of a conflict with the religious authorities of his day, whom he bluntly calls hired hands -- earlier in the passage, he calls them thieves and bandits..

Let's back up a minute. One of my earliest book memories comes from an illustrated children's Bible. It is a picture of a contented ewe lamb, cute as a button, held in a sweet, all-encompassing embrace by a rather Scandinavian-looking Jesus. A man and his pet, it would seem. It stayed with me. As a young child, being cuddled like that was the warmest and most wonderful of feelings, and I readily identified with the ewe lamb.

Most shepherds, in any age, would be unlikely to look at their animals as pets, to be sure. Whether for their wool or their meat, sheep are a highly valued commodity. At the same time, shepherds are fiercely protective of their sheep because they are their livelihood. Against predators of any kind, four-legged as well as two-legged, they stand willing to do anything for the protection and well-being of their flock.

Jesus, in a long line of prophetic tradition, calls out the religious leaders of his day as shepherds who have deserted their duties. His critique is that the people in their care were to them little more than sources of power, prestige, and revenue. They cared more about protecting their place under occupying Rome, preserving their position, and lining their pockets with the business of the temple while promulgating a burdensome piety they were themselves unwilling to maintain. Therefore, Jesus calls them hired hands who flee in the face of trouble rather than protecting the sheepfold, as proper shepherds would do.

It would be tempting to turn Jesus into a belief system about who is in and who is out of the sheepfold. But if we turn the things we believe about Jesus into Shibboleths that determine belonging, we miss the point of the parable of Jesus, The Good Shepherd. To Jesus, the sheep are elevated from mere commodities to the proper position of beloved creatures to whom he gives life, and for whom he desires and provides abundant life.

The Good Shepherd gives his life to empower the safety and wellbeing of the sheep. Whether we are in his sheepfold is not determined by what we say or believe about Jesus --important as that is. Rather the decisive issue is how we relate to other sheep, both in and beyond Emmanuel. Do we see people as commodities, as so much of the world does in our day? Are we interested in people as ends in themselves or as means to our own ends? Do we treat people as persons to be met, cherished, and loved or as objects to be used and discarded when not useful?

We are all part of God's sheepfold to the degree that we seek to love and serve one another, nay, the entire creation and all its creatures, which is indeed God's sheepfold. This is our motivation to invite other people to come to Emmanuel. In a world bent on commoditizing human beings, we want everyone to know that they are cherished and beloved, that their very existence is a sign of God's delight in them.

At Emmanuel, the lower-cap shepherds, under the Good Shepherd, are your rector and vestry. We are committed and strive to do everything in our power, by God's grace and with God's help, for your well-being.

All of us are here on God's green earth to help one another grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

You are not the commodities of any institution or enterprise. You are not objects to be used and disposed of; you are God's own beloved creation, souls embodying God, holy sacraments of the living God.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

The Third Sunday of Easter

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 224


Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4 or 116:1-3, 10-17;
1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

In his daily meditation for Easter Monday, Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF, writes:

When God gives of Godself, one of two things happens: either flesh is inspirited or spirit is enfleshed. It is really very clear. I am somewhat amazed that more have not recognized this simple pattern: God's will is incarnation. And against all our expectations of divinity, it appears that for God, matter really matters.

This Creator of ours is patiently determined to put matter and spirit together, almost as if the one were not complete without the other. This Lord of life seems to desire a perfect but free unification between body and soul. So much so, in fact, that God appears to be willing to wait for the creatures to will and choose this unity themselves-or it remains unrealized. But if God did it any other way, the medium would not be the message: God never enforces or dominates, but only allures and seduces.

God apparently loves freedom as much as incarnation. This is the rub of time and history and our interminable groanings (see Romans 8:18-25). Jesus trusted God's slow process of incarnation instead of demanding an immediate conclusion. The result was resurrection and the realization of eternal union between body and spirit, human and divine.
Resurrection tells us that "matter really matters." A spirituality that does not concern itself with the material -- this world, this place, these creatures, these humans -- cannot be Godly. Unfortunately, it is quite prevalent in our language (including in the Book of Common Prayer) to speak of "the salvation of our souls." This could make us think, with Manicheans and all dualists of ages past, that God only cares about the spiritual realm and considers only the soul to be worth the hassle. Thanks, Plato.

But the story of our faith in the Scriptures, culminating with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, very clearly asserts that the material world, including our very bodies, matter greatly to God as a primary concern.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War Two, said that "Christianity is the most materialistic of the world religions." I don't wish to get into invidious comparisons, but you get the point. God is concerned with the whole person. God cares about the well-being of all created things. After all, God made the world with bursts of delight that culminated in: "God saw everything that [God] had made, and, indeed, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).

That "either flesh is inspirited or spirit is enfleshed" is the consistent insight in the Scriptures. Incarnation and Resurrection are not freakish exceptions to the rules but rather revelation of the true pattern of the Divine activity in creation. Incarnation matters. Resurrection matters.

I close with a brief poem I wrote a long time ago, paraphrasing my friend and poet Carl Johnson, of blessed memory:




, a flaming bird

against the


This blood of


(I can love

my toes

I dream,

indeed, I dream

-- DDRH, 1976

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

The Second Sunday of Easter and Commemoration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 224

 Easter II Texts

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133;
1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Lesser Feasts and Fasts, page 227

 Dr. King's Texts

Genesis 3:17b-20; Psalm 77:11-20;
Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 6:27-36

In an eloquent letter to the clergy of the diocese, our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, recently wrote:

The 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will occur on April 4 of this year. Of course, Dr. King's story is now deeply woven into our hearts and minds. The pre-eminent leader of the Civil Rights movement, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his prophetic and courageous ministry. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, at age 39 in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers in their struggle for better wages.

Dr. King's life was devoted to encouraging all in America to stand up for equality, justice, and peace. He wielded those tenets of the Gospel to lead a nonviolent movement in the late 1950s and 60s that sought to end racism and provide for legal equality for African-Americans, to end economic injustices, and to oppose international conflict. He is enshrined as a "Modern Martyr" in England's Canterbury Cathedral, one of only two Americans so honored, the other being Jonathan Daniels, the Episcopal seminarian who died protecting a young African-American girl from a shotgun blast (you may remember that the Diocese of Virginia commemorated the 50th anniversary of Daniels' martyrdom in 2015). Dr. King's words inspired Jonathan Daniels, and they continue to inspire those who seek justice and an end to inequality around the world.

Therefore, I am permitting, and indeed strongly encouraging, churches across our diocese to designate Sunday, April 8, being the Sunday closest to Dr. King's day on our Church calendar, as our diocesan-wide commemoration of the life and legacy of one of our nation's most inspiring witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, we know that Dr. King's dream of equality and opportunity for men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, is rooted in the knowledge that we are all God's children. We also know the dream is not yet realized for all. So, let us reflect upon, honor, and, with courage, follow the example of a man who showed us how to live into our Baptismal Covenant. May doing so help us grow in love and become the "beloved community" he hoped would be achieved.
Following our Bishop's encouragement, we will commemorate Dr. King this Sunday.

I rang the church bells 39 times on Wednesday evening, as did many churches throughout the country. No, he was not perfect; none of God's people ever have been nor will be on this side of the Communion of Saints. But God used him; and he still speaks to us today with words that convict and convert us. May we consecrate our lives to love God and love our neighbor with all our hearts, our minds, and all our strength.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Triduum: 'Stay awake with me'

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-- BCP, page 220


Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11;
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Mark 16:1-8

"Triduum," a Latin word that means three days, refers to the holiest days in the Christian family's memory. From the time of the Last Supper and First Eucharist through the Empty Tomb, the story of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord is the central narrative that shapes our own story of faith.

[How do we get three days from Thursday night to Sunday? Liturgical calendars, following Jewish calendars, mark sundown rather than midnight as the beginning of a day. So, Thursday night is the beginning of Friday. Thus, the Eve of a feast, like Christmas Eve and Easter Eve, can be celebrated as part of the following day.]

The three days belong together. Consequently, we have a single word, Triduum, to refer to them as a unit. We rob ourselves of a great blessing if we simply skip to Easter Sunday. Yes, it is very difficult to keep them together and to observe them. I wonder if there are deeper reasons for our difficulty than the practical ones of attending worship for the long stretch of Thursday through Sunday.

The story of the three days shows us why. After supper and while Judas was gathering a rabble to arrest Jesus, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane in the Mount of Olives to pray, taking Peter and James and John with him. He asked them, "stay awake with me."

Which they could not do. Twice he found them asleep. "Could you not stay awake with me an hour?" The question rings through the centuries and resonates in our ears.

In the face of deep suffering, it is hard to stay awake, to remain present.

Compassion, which often gets reduced to feelings of pity, is in fact a difficult deed that requires both an open heart and a resilient will. You must be there to be compassionate. Jesus was in dire need of compassion --people who stayed present with him in his anguish and, yes, fear. But his most trusted friends had a very hard time doing that. In fact, they failed miserably.

As do we. It is very difficult to be in the room with someone who is suffering, when all we can offer is the seemingly scant comfort of our presence. Compassion means to suffer with the sufferer. To allow the pain of someone else enter you and change you. Being there with one who suffers also most peculiarly puts us in touch with our own vulnerabilities, our own pain, our own suffering. And this is very hard to do.

The Three Days are an opportunity to train our souls in compassion. To attempt to stay awake with Jesus in the Triduum is to work on opening our hearts and strengthening our wills to sufferings -- in others as well as in ourselves. The great mystery is that the path of suffering leads to the empty tomb and the promise of resurrection, of new and transformed lives.

We are invited to keep the Triduum. May we stay awake.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+