The Rev. John Taliaferro Thomas
A reasonable facsimile of what was preached on Sunday: always a reflection on the Word, but never the final word.
The Rev. John Taliaferro Thomas
A reasonable facsimile of what was preached on Sunday: always a reflection on the Word, but never the final word.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
Proper 9, Year B
July 4, 2021
In a mere sixty days, it will be time to awaken the nation. We have a ritual for game day. I have a big red G flag that I fly proudly. We prepare special foods. We decorate the house. We wear special clothes. We sing special songs. We chant special chants. In a mere sixty days, it will be time to awaken the “Bulldog Nation.”
For the uninitiated, I am speaking the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team. I grew up right by the campus in Athens. My father taught there for thirty-five years. Our family has had season tickets for more than forty years. Ever since I can remember, fall Saturdays have been reserved for game day. Some of you share passions for other teams. To each her own.
If I am fortunate enough to be in town, I go to the massive cathedral of SEC football. I go to tailgate party feasts. I go to the “Dawg Walk” when the team processes into at the stadium hours before game time. I get in my pew in time to see the Redcoat Marching band spell out G.E.O.R.G.I.A. on the field while playing Glory, Glory to Old Georgia before the team takes the field. We tend to win, but the National Championship has eluded us since 1980. I went to every home game that season. I can still name the players.
For the life of me, it all sounds like an Easter church service. Special clothes, food, hymns, chants and other ritual. More than one doctoral dissertation has been written on college football as modern religion. But we have to remember that these are young men who fumble and drop passes sometimes. Coaches are not perfect. Our devotion to our cause is not ultimate or life giving. Fandom may look religious, but life does not depend on a game. It is important for us remember that.
Incidentally, my father played football for Virginia from 1958-1961. They lost all but one of their first year Cavalyearling games in 1958. In 1959 and 1960, they lost twenty straight. In his fourth year they ended a 28 game Cavalier losing streak which was a dubious record at the time. That year they won four of ten games. Thus, the potential and reality of defeat is part of my DNA. If football is religion, it is a bad one.
As you all know, today is a game day for America. We celebrate the birth of the American Idea, wearing our team colors, feasting on grilled food, singing patriotic songs, and cheering with parades and fireworks. My devotion to our nation is strong, and the national flag is flying at our home. Many have given much more than I to preserve the best of American ideals. And we owe them deep gratitude.
And yet, today is also Sunday, the day on which we remember and celebrate our ultimate devotion. The cross stands above the flag, reminding us that we are but one nation in the Kingdom of God. It is important for us remember that too.
Not without coincidence, the lesson from Second Samuel is all about the formation of a nation: Israel. This is not the modern country of Israel’s founding, it is the establishment of an idea, a nation devoted to God and God alone. The narrative is prescient and powerful. David, who will be the greatest leader of that nation, ever, makes a covenant, a promise to lead faithfully with the people, but more importantly to God. In doing so he is a uniter, bringing people of differing religious factions together for good. All is well. Until it is not. David will come to abuse his power. Subsequent leaders will go their own way. Corruption and greed do their worst. Eventually they all fail. The nation fails too. As nations are constructs of human design, they are never perfect, though they may aspire to the best of ideals. In 586 BCE, the Assyrians and Babylonians wipe out Jerusalem and take them into slavery. While they attempt form again after hundreds of years, it never really works to be a nation and practice faith in perfect harmony.
When God takes human form in Jesus, the people are under the thumb of an elite religious ruling class and the militaristic empire of Rome. As Jesus challenges the powers that be as greedy, self-centered, and oppressive, he gets run out of his own home town. Unfazed, Jesus goes to other towns and villages, and sends his disciples two by two to go tell the story of God as loving, forgiving, and just for all people. He does not hand out jerseys. They are not going out to conquer a foe. They are to take nothing, and depend on the kindness of those they serve. If that doesn’t work, he tells them, they are to shake it off are to keep on keeping on. And when they do, they bring healing and help to hurting people no matter their nation, religion, or station in life. That is what God does.
In this very parish, during World War II, the rector was a known and avowed pacifist. On a Sunday in 1942, The Rev. H Lee Marston processed down the aisle and when he turned to face the congregation, he saw a giant American flag hanging from the middle of balcony where the organ is today. Promptly and with few words, he dismissed the congregation and left the building. He held fast and proclaimed that the parish would worship God and not America. That took courage, and showed deep conviction. While we have an American flag in our sanctuary, it is a symbol, not an idol. We have an Episcopal Church flag here too. It is a symbol, not an idol. There are no adjectives before the word Christian, neither American nor Episcopalian. God does not do boundaries or play favorites.
Thomas Jefferson once said “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” He was speaking of slavery which would not be abolished for another 82 years. It is hard to question Jefferson’s patriotism, and yet his words stand as fair warning that striving for a more perfect union does not make us perfect. Perfection is God alone.
The American idea is worthy of celebration to be sure, but liberty and justice for all does not happen just because we say it. We have to remember that God calls people, not nations to embody God’s love. Liberty and justice for all happens when people, people like us, awaken to seek and serve God’s power, God’s kingdom, God’s glory. Glory, glory to God first and forever. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
Proper 8, Year B
June 27, 2021
I am forever grateful for a number of phrases we use in the south that speak far beyond the few words they utilize. “Bless your heart.” “She’s just not right.” “He’s a mess.” You can purchase signs, doormats, and dish towels that say: “In our family we do not hide crazy. We parade it on the front porch and give it some sweet tea.” Mostly, such things are said out of love or as a way not to dismiss the human behind questionable behavior. I appreciate these phrases as nuanced theological statements as well, not as excuse for outright cruelty or bigotry, but as acknowledgement that there is little bit of crazy in all of us. Life is messy.
Yes, sir, there is a good bit of crazy mess out there these days. As we stumble out of this pandemic, lots and lots of things are opening up again. We can dine indoors at restaurants, go to parties, send kids to camp, and wander around mask free in the grocery store. At the same time, there has been a precipitous rise in gun violence, road rage, and seemingly random assaults in grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. We may be reopening but the new normal includes free floating anxiety, volatility, and misplaced anger.
It does not require deep psychological analysis to identify the source of this messed up behavior. We have endured a traumatic event. It may have been more like a slow drip than a sudden impact, but the effects are real and lasting. My friend, Kevin, is a psychiatrist who works with soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through wartime stresses they have become ever aware of their mortality, deeply suspicious of others, hyper alert, and constantly on guard. His take is that living with a pandemic checks most all of those boxes in the volatile behaviors we are seeing. His patients become his patients because they have come home, just tried really hard to be normal, only to revert to their war-scarred brain unexpectedly. His work is focused on helping them tell their stories, write about what happened to them, and even, with the help of some Nashville song writers, to sing about it.
We read from the relatively obscure book of Lamentations today, and this book was written when the Israelites were off in exile, in slavery in Babylon. It is all about trauma and grief. Even as they return to their homeland, they continued to tell their story, the whole story, to ask God the hard questions of why, and to find comfort together, again, in being and belonging together. The ancients knew that story telling was the best way to acknowledge grief, loss, and begin to rebuild their lives.
We are not very good at remembering. The recent acrimony about telling the story of American slavery and its racist tentacles is white hot right now. My people participated in some of that regrettable story, and I suspect that some of you share in that truth too. There is confusion among many that telling the whole story is about blame or shame. It is not. Telling the story is about doing what the Israelites did: acknowledging grief, loss, and beginning to seek a better way forward. We are not good at this right now.
Like my friend Kevin’s soldiers, it looks like, for all the world, that we are coping with regathering in trying really hard just to be normal again. Instead of whistling past the graveyard of so much loss, we need to remember and tell the story of those who died, and of missing out on vital experiences: funerals, weddings, school years, graduations, family and holiday gatherings. We did not skip eighteen months of living. We spent those months seeing and fearing our fragile mortality, suspicious of who has it and how it spreads, hyper alert to be safe, and constantly on guard. That is exhausting and we need to take a collective deep breath and speak those truths. This is one way church can help.
This week’s gospel is a long one, which is completely atypical for Mark’s style of telling the story. He is a just the facts kind of guy, but this packet of stories must have been really important to his listeners for him to go into so much detail. And these stories are really messy. Jesus meets a rabbi, Jairus, whose daughter is deathly ill. As Jairus pleads for his help, we can hear his parental desperation. As he kneels before Jesus, he crosses a line rendering himself unclean according to strict Jewish purity laws. As Jesus heads off to help, he is interrupted as people are pushing in on him. And when the bleeding woman touches him, he, too, is rendered unclean.
Instead of running off to take on cleansing ritual before going back to work, Jesus stays present in the chaos. He takes time to hear the woman’s story and tells her that her faith has made her well. By this time, word comes that Jairus’s daughter has died. Nevertheless, Jesus stays with it. He goes to the child, and takes her by the hand. The whole story is a hot mess of boundary crossing: touching an untouchable, touching a woman not your wife, and touching a dead body. He speaks to the dead little girl, telling her to arise, and she does. The text says that people were amazed. What it does not say is that they were appalled, but we find that our later.
All of this speaks straight into where we may find ourselves in this time and place. Jesus makes no effort to whitewash pain and suffering. He does not encourage a “just get over” it kind of amnesia. He looks into the deep need to show what God does with grief and loss. God redeems it. God does not deny it or sweep the suffering under the rug. God gets down in the mess with us and helps us arise and be made new.
In these instances, Jesus provides a cure. But as we know, all cure is temporary. The woman’s hemorrhage stopped. The little girl lived. Those things happened for a time, but not forever. But what Jesus shows is how healing happens. Healing happens in acknowledging the suffering, feeling the grief, living with the messy reality, and telling the whole story.
I love nuanced southern sayings, but I am not a fan of dismissive or trite lines to explain away life’s messiness. “Everything happens for a reason.” “God will never give us anything we can’t handle.” “Thoughts and prayers, hashtag blessed.” Nope, we do not get back to normal and just get over grief. Ever. We can frame it, learn from it, and grow from it, but it is never neat and clean. God can be found in the love that surrounds us, the person who listens, and in the truth telling of loss, but grief does not go away. It becomes part of our story.
There is one more detail Mark includes at the end. Instead of carrying Jesus off on their shoulders to celebrate his godly miraculous powers, Jesus turns the attention back to the child. He says “give her something to eat.” Eucharist. Share the feast of life here and now. Take care of her. Take care of each other. Life may be messy, but we gotta eat. And when we do that, we come together, we belong, we take our place at the table, we say our prayers, we tell our stories, and healing happens. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
Proper 7, Year B
June 20, 2021
“There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!”
Saturday mornings always had a ritual. My brother and I would get up as early as we wanted, leaving our parents alone. We turned on the old black and white TV. to warm up, and we poured cereal and milk for breakfast in front of the Saturday morning cartoons. No on TV demand then, just on when it is on, and we had our favorites all mapped out.
Along with Rocky and Bullwinkle, our favorite cartoon was Underdog. Underdog was like a parody of Superman, wherein the lowly Shoeshine Boy would turn into Underdog whenever the forces of evil took hold. Usually, he swooped in to rescue Sweet Polly Purebred, who was a canine television reporter. Obviously, the willing suspension of disbelief was never the problem for us.
By the time our parents awoke, we were all sugared up, and diving/flying from couch to chair, proclaiming, like our hero, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” When my grandparents came, Grandmother Taliaferro took some old bath towels and safety pinned them you our pajama tops, so we would have real capes to help us fly. I think yielded was my brother’s first trip to the emergency room. Maybe they should put a “not for flying” warning label on old bath towels.
The thing about Underdog is that he is kind of a deconstructed super hero. He is not strong. In fact, when he flexes his muscles, the bulge goes down instead of up. He has no lasers or knock out punch abilities. Usually, he prevails through an awkward series clumsy mistakes whereby things get knocked over and fall on top of the ne’er-do-wells. Sweet Polly Purebred is always grateful. Then, Underdog flies off, though awkwardly, declaring “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” When folks look up in the sky, they do not mistake him for a bird or a plane, they think he is a frog.
The lessons for this week are all about underdogs. First, we have the epic David and Goliath tale, where the small and ruddy last child and shepherd boy defeats the massive imposing champion of the dreaded Philistines. This elevates the young nobody to hero status right quick, and the story leads to him becoming a mighty king who will unite the Israelites and build a great fortress at Jerusalem. He does not get there through size, strength, or layers of armor. He gets there through faith in God, l who will prevail through him, and when he is successful, it is always through faith in God’s guidance. When he eventually fails, it is because he goes it alone and abuses his power.
Next, we have Paul writing to the Corinthians who seem to want success, power, and victory in exchange for their good works and obedience. It is a kind of early yearning for the Prosperity Gospel that megachurch stars tend to put forth on TV. Paul writes eloquently about the faithful “having nothing and yet possessing everything.” He tells them that they cannot earn God’s favor or salvation, as that has already been done and assured through the person and work of Jesus. Abundant life is not about earning holy merit badges that exempt us from suffering, it is about accepting the grace of being loved and loving others in kind. It is about reframing what we see as abundance.
Finally, we come to Jesus and the storm. To put this in context, we are hearing from Mark’s gospel near the beginning. Jesus is a nobody from nowhere too. He is still in Galilee, but gaining some notice as he has been casting out demons. His people believed that all forms of sickness comes from some form of evil overtaking a person or people. As love in person, Jesus counteracts such forces and sends the demons packing.
After a long day of that work, he asks to be taken to the other side of the Sea of Galilee where he might rest and refresh. As the story goes, he falls asleep in the stern of the boat, and a huge storm comes up form nowhere. The word for this storm in Greek implies something otherworldly, devastating, and much larger than an afternoon thunderstorm. Such a thing is like the destructive and capricious Goliath. Seen as an evil foe as much as a meteorological event, Jesus rises, speaks of having faith, and stills the thing to a dead calm. And this leaves the disciples wondering… “who is this that even the wind and the seas obey him.” The story sets the stage for more casting out of demons, but also for the constant challenge of those who find Jesus threatening and who plot against him. Such challenges will follow him all the way to the cross.
We cannot help but root for the underdogs of this world. When someone unlikely prevails in sport, or business, or even to get to college from a tough upbringing, we love to hear about it. These events help us see the world turned upside down and shaken out. They give us hope for humanity. They speak to our feelings of never being enough. Many such stories often involve deep faith and good-hearted help from others who believe in the underdog.
Over and over in our sacred stories, the people who go for God, and make a difference, are those who have nothing particularly earthly going for them. At the very least they challenge us not to look at might, strength, status and wealth as precursors for being worthy of love or as signs of holy favor. The bible is not about super heroes. It is about ordinary, flawed people made extraordinary through love and faith.
And who is this Jesus? He travels only on foot around a relatively unimportant outpost of the Roman realm. He never went beyond a 90-mile radius in his whole life. He had no money and no stuff. He hung out with the wrong sort of people. Most of his followers were illiterate. He had no governmental office, no corporate sponsorship, and no mass media publicity. People only heard about him through word of mouth, and they came to believe him as God through personal experience and experiencing the power of love over all. People still do.
Who is this Jesus? He is an unlikely underdog come to save us, all of us underdogs. And there is no need to fear, this Underdog is here. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
Proper 6, Year B
June 13, 2021
Grandaddy Thomas was a grower. He had a farm and, over the course of years, he raised cows, sheep, chickens, horses, and lots of rotating crops. Fortunately, he had furniture store too, because farming is a precarious business. When he retired, he leased out the land for someone else to do the planting, harvesting -- letting them place their faith in forty sacks of seed and good weather. But at heart, Grandaddy Thomas was a grower. When he stopped tending creatures and field crops, his vegetable garden became epic. It’s bounty filled cases and cases of mason jars for the stovetop canner, and boxes and boxes of plastic bags to be filled, labeled, and stuffed into one of the three chest freezers. If a great famine ever came, Grandaddy Thomas was ready.
It all started in the dead of winter. After the Christmas cards cleared out, P.O. Box 35 was crammed with thick catalogs from Burpee, FedCo, and any number of seed club publications. The Thomas garden was hip to heirloom seeds before that was even cool. As hope soared, Grandaddy ordered some of everything. He grew rows of silver queen corn, fifteen varieties of tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pole beans, wax beans, snap beans and butter beans, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, and all kinds of onions. He grew vegetables nobody liked just to see if he could. Thus, a summer trip to the farm meant cool mornings in the garden, picking our favorite foods for supper, oh, and some mandatory weeding.
Right now, we are on the front end of that season when all of that winter dreaming would come to fruition. This is the time of fruition following winter’s dreaming, ordering, and planning, spring’s back breaking tilling, and delicate planting of row upon row of seeds: those tiny little containers of promise, gently placed, and covered, and watered. And, of course, there has been constant weeding and thinning, and more watering, and thank God for good farm dogs who know it is their job to keep the rabbits, moles, and groundhogs running to safety at the margins of the woods.
Even now, though Grandaddy’s garden plot is covered with grass, the heat, humidity, and afternoon storms remind me that it is about time for the produce to come in. It is kind of built into me troll the farmers markets and find what is fresh or just ripe, to find out what is coming in. As important as procuring fresh deliciousness is talking with the growers about what crops are flourishing and what crops are struggling. Inevitably we get too little rain or not enough and we look to the heavens for signs.
So perfectly, produce season always follows Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. This is my favorite part of the liturgical calendar, and I have to admit that though I really enjoy the big church days, there is some sweet relief as we move through the things that are large and hard to encapsulate and fathom. There is real joy in getting back to basics, coming back to earth and where we live and move and have our being. Taking the cue from spring becoming summer, the rhythm of our remembering invites us to hear Jesus teach though the word pictures of parables, opening our mind’s eye to see God’s abundance and grace. As if on cue, today he speaks of the tiny smallness of a seed becoming something great and prolific. He speaks of how the earth mirrors the love and creativity of God, working to make all things new.
In one of his poems about finding the meaning in things, Billy Collins laments that all folks want to do is “tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.” Likewise, we have to remember that a parable is a picture, not moralistic fable. Sometimes we are the seeds, sometimes we are the soil, and sometimes we are the weeds. Most of the time a parable is not about us, really, at all. They are about God, seeking, searching and finding a way through to us. Jesus knows that his hearers are inextricably tied to the land and dependent on it for survival. It is be good for us to remember that too, not matter far removed we may seem.
There are so many things that parables can do with us. This is the genius of speaking and thinking of God in big and bold pictures, opening our minds, rather than narrowing them down. Those little seeds we planted in lent are now bushes of rosemary and blooming marigolds – so long as they were tended and watered.
Today, we are back inside our beloved sanctuary. This space which housed a big wedding yesterday, is a suitcase for growing us in love too. We are back in the space of remembering and a space where we host crucial rites of passage. Here, we plant seeds, we work the soil of our hearts, and we name the weeds and worries that beset us with doubts or uncertainties. Here too, we find comfort, hope, and weekly refreshment to live abundant life.
Emmanuel Church has not been dormant, we have just been doing things differently, improvising where we have needed to do so. I am grateful to all who have schlepped chairs and tables, loudspeakers, boxes of masks and hand sanitizer. With some of that behind us, we are in a new space, a new season, and it is ripe with opportunity. As worship is the work of the people, we welcome all of us into the privilege of ushering, acolyting, welcoming, setting the altar table, and adorning the space with flowers. If you used to do some of these things in here, and want to do so again, it’s time to return. If you never did any of this before, there is a place for you. If you want to do something different do something new, there is a place for that too. We have a nice long summer ahead to plant and grow and weed and water.
From last week’s Book and Author Day, we saw how so many hands and hearts came together for something really special. When the food truck crashed it’s hood and had to shut down, the Emmanuel Hot Dog Miracle came together and folks got well fed. We do not have to do big things like that all of the time, but the ingredients of that day: welcome, play time, feasting, and loving on each other, that is what Emmanuel does well.
We are in a new season. It is time for us to dream and hope and plan. Not everything will just get back to whatever we thought was normal. At least, I hope not. Surely, we have learned from being apart, and outside, and covered up. This is a great season in our life and in our history to fling the seeds of love and faith generously, to pull the weeds that bring us down, and gather whatever produce is ready to come in. We are God’s growers in this world, and the garden ripe. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
Proper 5, Year B
June 6, 2021
When I was little, may parents had one of those really high up antique beds. I think they made them that way to get those poor colonial folks far off the cold, cold floor. Their bed had this white floor length skirt and underneath it was a really great hiding place.
Rumor has it that my brother went missing when I was being born. My grandmother phoned the hospital in a panic, adding a little more tension to the day. Out of her labor haze, my mom told her to look under the bed, and there he was. She stretched the phone cord and handed it to him under the bed, where and he said, and I quote “She won’t feed me. She won’t give me a thing to eat.”
Despite my parents knowing full well that under the bed was our go to hiding place, we sheltered there whenever we needed alone time, or to escape from the wrath of whatever was sure to come our way when we did something wrong. We stocked supplies in there: pillows, books, and a stuffed animal or two for company.
Whenever I read the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the garden, I think of that space. It is a familiar story that, often, passes without being unpacked. I want us to go there today and reflect on how the story tells us about ourselves, and more importantly, about God.
The caper begins when they eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The crafty serpent convinces them that when they eat the fruit, their eyes will be opened and they will be and see like God. The first thing they see is that they are nekkid. I say nekkid because if they were naked, it would just be artistic or freeing. Nekkid is the state of having done something wrong, and being self-conscious about it. So, they hide in the shrubbery – the moral equivalent of under the bed.
As the story goes, God moves about the garden and asks where are you. God being God knows where they are, but Adam says they are hiding because they are nekkid. God asks the following question: Who told you that you were naked? And then, the whole blame game starts. First Adam: “It’s Eve’s fault, she gave me that gosh darned fruit.” Then Eve: “It’s the serpent’s fault because he convinced me to eat the gosh darned fruit.” And so it goes. In that all too human moment, the move to deflect, deny, and blame is set in motion.
In all of the casting out from Eden, and cursing the serpent, and all that stuff about labor pains and the necessity of work for survival, we might overlook the important question. Who told you that you were Nekkid?
Most of go through life figuring that we are somehow broken, guilty, or unworthy. When we are loved, it helps, but the urge to hide, deflect, and deny is in there. It is part of the soup of being human. Largely, that is a prison we build all on our own. Yes, we are sinners, because we are not God and we are not perfect. The rest of the story endeavors to show us where to look for help, and to show us that we are completely and utterly forgiven. All we need do is accept that, stay close to God, and clean up whatever messes we make.
When Jesus comes on the scene and those who oppose him proclaim him mad or demonic, he explains that human nekkidness comes division and distraction. If we will cannot, or will not, work together, we are exposed to all kinds of rotten thinking and acting.
Finally, he looks at those who sat around him, family, friends, foes, scruffy fishermen, squealing children – the whole lot and says “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Those are Jesus’ family values. As I said a few weeks ago, a good translation here is “y’all means all.”
Today, we welcome Roger Hutchison whose published art and poetry and texts invite us into belonging. As crazy as family can be, we are all part of God’s great family. And today’s event with games and art and food and cake is all about being a place and people of welcome, nurture, acceptance, support, and encouragement. This is not a complicated theology. Even though it is hard to be in a world that divides, labels, categorizes, blames and shames at its worst, there is an easier and softer way. Love them all. Feed, clothe, help, and refuse to empower whatever demons work to divide us. We do not have to hide. God knows where we are anyway. In the whole of the story God shows us that we are wonderfully made, and capable of so much creative love, because, plain and simple, God loves us. All of us. That is what we celebrate today, and every day. Welcome to the family. Amen.
May 30, 2021
Let's go Phil! Let’s go Phil! Let’s go Phil!
This was a constant refrain chanted last Sunday, as Phil Mickelson hung on to win the Professional Golfers’ Association Championship, earning him the record for being the oldest golfer ever to win a major tournament. If you are not a golf fan, I get it. It is a sport of privilege, it can be nap inducing to watch, and it is maddeningly difficult. My focus here is not talk about golf, though I can talk about golf a lot. My focus here is on an unexpected human moment, a seemingly random encounter, a relatively little thing that really stuck out last Sunday afternoon on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina; a moment that made a difference, and given my proclivity to watch for such things, a Holy Spirit moment.
Phil Mickelson has not been universally beloved. He emerged on the professional golf scene thirty years ago. He was kind of bratty, mouthy, and very, very talented. Even Phil admits that he is best taken in small doses. On his way to winning 45 professional golf tournaments, and amassing a large fortune, life happened. Phil’s wife, Amy, nearly died giving birth to one of their three children. Then she battled breast cancer. Phil dropped out of the tour to care for her. He gained weight and got arthritis. Together, Phil and Amy established a foundation that funds cancer research and helps at risk youth gain access to a quality education. All the while, Tiger Woods was roaring through tournaments and swallowing up victory after victory. Phil was on his way to becoming a has been.
To his credit, he made some changes. He worked hard, tuned up his body, and his game. He brought his brother along to be his caddy. Even so, the sport favors those with younger backs and much greater flexibility. This year, Phil had not finished in the top 20 even once and his ranking fell to 115th in the world. Last week, he came out strong and had the three-day lead going into Sunday on a kill-you-to-death long and windy course. The big question was could he hold on to the lead, handle the pressure, and finish strong.
On hole number one, he dropped two strokes, and out of the lead. Heads were shaking. It looked like he was crumbling. On hole number five, he landed in a sand trap: another bad omen. But then, he made an impossible looking shot, punching out to within inches from the hole. He made the putt, and took the lead. As he walked to hole number six, he walked by a wheel chair bound fan with cerebral palsy who was cheering “Let’s go Phil!” Phil stopped, walked back, talked with the young man for a full minute, and handed him the lucky ball he had just put in the hole, thanking him for the support.
From that point, Phil Mickelson never wavered. He was strong and confident. And I have to think that his softness in taking a moment to serve someone else reminded him what it was all about. The older Phil knows failure, and disease, and difficulty. He knows that success in not all about him. He was joking around with his brother, the caddy, whose wife was texting them both advice.
That happened on Pentecost when church people celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Phil proclaims Christian faith and speaks openly about it. I know nothing of his heart, but I know what we saw between holes five and six. It was a little moment and a footnote in the bigger story, but that stuff really matters.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It is the only day we give to a doctrine. It is the bane of preachers everywhere as they try to unpack or explain an enormous mystery of the Godhead. Like the Sunday after Easter, it is often handed off to an associate or a seminarian. Properly approached, Trinity Sunday is not a day for explanation at all. It is a day for observation. God shows up as creator, as Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit: all one God, all kinds of expressions.
Back in Isaiah’s day, they did not have the witness of Jesus, but the prophet was not short on God encounters. In today’s reading, we hear of a wild and fantastic experience in the Temple as Isaiah meets some six-winged seraphs who touch his lips with live incense coals. Holy, holy, holy is about all he can say about that until God’s question thunders in the Temple as he says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Wait. Who will go for us? Us? We are part of this? Holy, holy, holy indeed. Without hesitation, Isaiah says “Here am I; send me!”
After that, the rest of the lessons are interesting and puzzling. Romans delivers the word that we are all adopted as God’s family. Jesus plays linguistic ping pong with Nicodemus talking about being born anew. That gives born-again fanatics lots of talking points. But essentially, that is all mystery, better experienced than explained. The Isaiah lesson – though - that one is the one that rings in our ears. It has all of the mystery, but the clear invitation to be sent into this world to go with and for God.
For all of the theologizing and systematizing and liturgizing, we might get caught up in some intellectual spin cycle of trying to figure everything out, trying to create a construct that makes sense, and trying to out holy those who have not digest Augustine’s or Aquinas’s theology whole. It can be daunting to contemplate the big things and the big words and bigness of God’s love for each and every one. We can’t find God through more self-actualization, more deep breathing yoga, or some big plan to fix all that is broken in this world. We cannot really find God at all. The Word of today is that God finds us. God has finds us in making us so intricately wonderful and creative. God finds us in the person and work of a self-emptying love as Jesus. God finds us in the mischievous and persistent Spirit that blows through all kinds of material moments – in bread and wine and hymns and prayers, but also in a meals dropped at the front door, the silence of listening to someone’s grief or anxiety, and the simple moments of saying thank you, I am with you, and I love you.
It was not about the golf ball last Sunday. It was about reconnecting to the ground of belonging and being grateful. It was a moment that got swept away in the roar of the crowd and big excitement - but not for that guy in the wheel chair, and not for Phil either.
As we go into our world to pick up the pieces of what got really broken and disjointed since last March, and we are relearning how to be together, we have an amazing chance to do so with intention, with sharpened attention, and with a pure love of the little things, that are not little after all.
Who will go for us? Send me. Send us. We have hearts to love and hands to serve. Let’s go Emmanuel! Let’s go God’s beloved people! Let’s go! Amen.
Seminarian, Steve Bragaw, Pentecost 2021
It’s been awhile.
I went and checked, and it’s been since January 28th, 2020, to be exact, since we were last able to do this— come together, worship the Lord in prayer, and then join together afterwards to share an old-fashioned fried chicken church supper. I remembered because by chance it was the last time I’ve had the chance to preach here at Emmanuel in person.
It was a joyful day: we welcomed back a beloved member of the congregation from the hospital, we said thanks for an outgoing vestry class as we elected a new one. The words on many of our lips—mine included— was it seemed like our first day “back to normal,” our first day back in port after a long time as a community out at sea.
Little did we know.
Little did we know that day in late January 2020 what was soon in store for us, as a community, a people, and for our nation and humanity.
Little did we know. And yet, as we approach a critical mass in vaccinations, and as the incidence of Coronavirus plummets, and as the public health restrictions that went with them relax and repeal, we feel— in fits and starts—a return to normal. I confess this week getting down on my knees and—through my mask— kissing the floor of the Crozet Library, the first time I could just walk back in. I don’t know what I’ll do when we can officially be back in the sanctuary—all I know is I hope we get to sing Hail Thee Festival Day!
Strange as it may seem, I actually think we’re going to develop a fierce and strange nostalgia for this time we can feel is now passing. I don’t mean the nostalgia where popular culture of today recycles the popular culture of two decades ago, and sees the not so distant past through cheap plastic lenses of a supposedly simpler “Happy Days” that were never simpler or better. I’m talking here of the deeper, original meaning of the word nostalgia: the desire for nostos--to return home again, coupled with algos--emotional pain. Nostalgia is the pain we feel when we desire to return to a home that no longer exists: if the future is the undiscovered country, the past is a shore on the horizon we can see but cannot return to. It is an acute awareness of pain, infused with a happy memory of the joy of fellowship. It is, by definition, bittersweet.
So what is the meaning we’ll take from this? What will we be nostalgic for?
Little did we know, in January 2020, what was in store for this little community of the faithful. And yet, here we are: I think we’ll be nostalgic for all the funny and at times frankly absurd ways we found a way to find a way, as individuals, families, communities, to come through. The graduates we celebrate today are all keenly aware of the things lost and taken away from them, all the important rites of passage and fellowship. And yet, they persisted. And yet, they persevered. As a faith community, we found a way: we persisted, we persevered. We prayed for the day we could gather, worship, and eat together again. We hoped—for ourselves, our families, our community, the world. We hoped, in the words of the Apostle Paul, for what we could not dare to see, and we waited for it with patience.
And the Spirit helped us in our weakness, in the darkest of the dark days of this past fall and winter. We learned again the secret truth of Christian life: we’re in this together, like it or not. We can’t do this alone. There’s a reason why the sacraments of marriage, baptism (and ordination) all involve the community
Steve Bragaw Pentecost 2021 2 of 2
taking oaths too: it’s to remind us that the purpose of this all is come together, and in the process we multiply the joy and divide the sorrow.
Today’s Gospel readings tell us this very story. There’s actually two Gospel readings, because Acts is really volume two of Luke’s Gospel. It’s a sequel: if Luke is “A New Hope,” Acts is most definitely “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Today’s story is the real beginning: everyone is in Jerusalem for the feast that takes place fifty days--pentecost —from the Passover. It’s basically ancient Jersualem’s version of Mardi Gras. Out come the Apostles, enflamed by the descent upon them of the Holy Spirit. They’re speaking so wildly the crowd thinks they are drunk. Peter—who denies they’ve been drinking—proclaims the Gospel—the good news—Jesus Christ is the long awaited Messiah, and has been resurrected from the dead and ascended to Heaven! Acts describes many things of that day, but at its end the Apostles, the Holy women, and the friends of Jesus gathered, worshipped, and then they ate together. Pentecost is the emotional high point of the Book of Acts.
Little did they know.
Little did they know what was in store for them that day. And frankly, who can blame them? In eight weeks they went from accompanying Jesus in procession of hosannas into Jerusalem, to abandoning their friend in his hour of need, only to be met by him on Easter, and seeing him ascend to heaven, and to be now subsumed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s first audience knew, though: The Empire strikes back. Peter and the rest of the Apostles were marked men, heading all to martyr’s deaths. The Book of Acts ends so suddenly, in defeat, that it has long prompted theories of a lost third book in Luke’s story.
Luke’s audience knew whose story was the third book, as should we: it was them, it’s us, it’s the community of the faithful. We have a fierce nostalgia for the early Church, before Constantine’s conversion placed Christianity adjacent to the seductive allure of secular power, precisely because the Apostles and the Holy Women, the mothers and fathers of the church, found a way to find a way. And they persisted. And they persevered. They gathered, they worshipped, they ate together. In community, they found the ways to multiply the joy and divide the sorrow. Deep wisdom from simple truths.
So I do think we’ll become nostalgic for this time now passing, in ways that would definitely seem strange to us now. In ways we can only begin to see, the Spirit moved among us, and with a sigh too deep for words nudged us to find a way, to persist, to persevere. We multiplied our joys and divided our sorrows. In the darkness of this winter past we lit candles of hope to bring light to the darkness, and reminded ourselves the day would come where once again we could gather together, worship the Creator, give thanks for the blessings of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and be witnesses to the redeeming love of Jesus Christ in the world. And join together in a communal meal.
Our prayer is answered. That day is today. Thanks be to God.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
The Feast of the Ascension
May 16, 2021
It is the middle of Act II in the musical, Hamilton. They have won the war for independence, ratified the Constitution, and established the new American nation. George Washington has been president for four years. Mr. Jefferson, his resigned as secretary of State is creating a rival party to Washington’s, and has announced that he will run for president. Washington calls for Alexander Hamilton to help him write an important speech.
Hamilton is really excited. He really does not like Jefferson and has sparred with him politically for years. He believes he has been summoned to fire up his poison pen in opposition to Jefferson and his oppositional activity. The scene changes abruptly when Washington tells him that he is not going to run for president again. He wants Hamilton to write a speech, however it is not to be a scathing critique of Jefferson, it is to be a farewell speech for Washington. Delivered and published in 1796, that address is brilliant, conciliatory, and deeply hopeful for the union. It has some great theology of humility in there too. Of course, in the musical, they sing it, and it is amazing.
The text explains that his decision is to assist this new form of government in transitioning leadership, rising above partisan disunity, and looking forward to unifying national interests. The speech is so revered that in 1862, in a time of great disunity, it was read on February 22nd on the floor of U.S. Senate. The speech has been read on that same day every year since then. One would hope that our representative democracy could listen and channel Washington’s vision, his hope for the nation, and his personal humility before the larger purpose. Alas, people are flawed and politics is messy.
In the musical, Hamilton asks “Why do you have to say goodbye?” Washington responds: “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.”
There are amazing parallels in our lessons for this Feast of the Ascension. For weeks, we have been reading pieces of Jesus’ own farewell address to his disciples. He has been raised from death, he has appeared to folks numerous times, and he sets the stage for Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to work in and through all of us, as a constant, abiding, and eternal presence. Not unlike Hamilton, the disciples are puzzled at why he needs to leave at all. They want him to solve their political problems and establish an earthly kingdom with them at the helm, but this is not what Jesus comes to do. He comes to assemble a group of witnesses to God’s power and help all of us transcend our own personal ambitions and machinations. He is not forming a government; he is commissioning the Church as his living body.
With images of fire, wind, and water, he tells them to think bigger, wider, and far beyond what their limited imagination. And then, as the story goes, he ascends into heaven. His goodbye is a real adherence to the meaning of that word which is a mash up of the phrase: God be with you. Properly seen, as God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, his goodbye is also an empowering hello. God remains, though not in Jesus’ physical form. If we got wrapped up in the whole geometry of the Ascension, we are apt to get lost. If we consider the essence of the Ascension, it is about living beyond the limited physical person of Jesus into deep unity and eternity, which is a big and mighty thing.
We are in an annual season of goodbyes. Graduations are called commencements because they toward beginning again. In our house, we have two graduating from academic programs and heading off to find and inhabit whatever comes next. In our parish, we have lots and lots of families celebrating such milestones. These events bring great joy, but they can be pretty scary rites of passage for all involved. How we will manage new ways of independence and live into that new space creates tension. Well-meaning folks are apt to ask the graduate what is next, but they are not always really sure. Even if they have a plan, it is new, untested, and hovering in the not yet. Just because the metaphorical U-Haul is packed, there is still a journey to be made.
In that, we have a kinship as Jesus’ disciples. God may be working in us and nudging us in particular directions, but the destinations of life are always uncertain and, frequently, changing. Contrary to what it may look like, Jesus’ Ascension is about showing us that we are not going it alone. God is not a local God, limited to appearance in one time or space. God is an everywhere God whose already wherever we are going. Resurrection is not a static thing. It is the dynamic movement of God in our lives. It is not just a Jesus event. It is an ongoing, all-creation happening.
Right after Jesus goes into the clouds, the disciples are standing there dumbstruck looking toward the heavens. Two angelic folks show up, clad in pure white, challenging them immediately. “Why do you stand there looking up toward heaven?” It is a question they never answer, but the point is a good one for us to consider too. If we seek God, a closer kinship with Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit in and around us, it might not be best to look beyond the horizons of an unknown heaven. It might be best to look around to see and seek God.
As the Beatles sang: “You say goodbye, and I say hello.” While we are in a season of goodbyes, we are in a particularly unique season of hellos too. Extended families are beginning to gather again. Masks are coming off. People are starting to travel again. The middle seats on airplanes are being occupied again. Signs of new life are popping up as we move around more freely. This does not come without change anxiety too.
Harkening back to Hamilton, we might see ourselves in some act or scene in life’s drama that is unresolved, but unfolding. Whether it is well into Act II or early in Act I, we will need to say goodbye well and find ways to say hello again too, even as we hover in spaces that an ancient mystic called “the cloud of unknowing.” In our first times, in our last times, and everything in between, Psalm 139 says it well:
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I fly on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You find me in a minute--
You, God, are already there, waiting.
Travel safely. God is with you. Always. Every goodbye is a hello. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
May 9, 2021
“The Lord be with you” should be “The Lord be with y’all.” You see what I did there? I took that pesky indeterminate you and made it plural as it ought to be. I used to say that phrase is the polite Episcopal way of saying: Y’all hush. Nowadays, I reflect that it has a deeper meaning – one of those deeper meanings that familiarity and frequency tend to obscure. Back when we used the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the call was the same, but the response was “And with thy spirit.” My grandfather Taliaferro declared that the 1928 book was God’s Prayer Book and despite the change in our most recent prayer book, he just continued to respond with what he knew.
When I first began to learn Biblical Greek in seminary, after we learned the alphabet, we moved on to the basics of verb tenses and all that. Now, I know that whenever the preacher starts talking about seminary Greek class, the congregant eyes begin to glaze over. I assure you that this is not some erudite attempt to prove some elite smartness. I have forgotten most of the Greek I learned, so whatever I tell you comes from careful Google searching to try and remember what I may have known at one time. Bear with me here. I promise there is something in here for us to consider in our understanding of what Jesus is telling his disciples as recorded in John’s gospel.
So back to those verb tenses. We got the singular stuff straight: I, you, he she or it and all that. Then to the plurals: we, you, and they. Don’t tune out yet, it is getting more pointed here. Our professor, who was old enough to claim that he was there when it was all written, asked us the important question: “How do you refer to others, familiarly, in the plural, like in the phrase “How are you doing?” The southerners all said “How are y’all doing?” Folks from other places inserted you guys, yous or youns. And then, Jimmy, from inner city Philadelphia, said “In the city of brotherly love we just say “How ya doin? Singular, plural, who cares?” And the response is “How you doin?”
The method in this romp through regional parlance served as an important lesson. Whereas our language is a bit imprecise, and has necessitated slang additions, Greek is not. The you in the plural has its own word, best translated as y’all. A contraction of the words you all. Y’all means all. And most of the time, when Jesus says you, he really says y’all. Y’all means all. That same old Greek professor proclaimed that we did not have to know Greek to get to heaven, however, it might prove really helpful to know what is going on when you get there.
It turns out that this particular detail is kind of important. “The Lord be with you” is a declarative statement. Maybe it is best translated “God is with y’all,” and the response might be the affirmative, “God is with you too.” In saying this, we are not making some isolated or individual claim. Remember, y’all means all, not just the good Episcopalians, not just the fervent faithful, but everyone, everywhere, always.
In the lesson from Acts of the Apostles, Peter has been telling Jesus’ story to some Jews, a group of Italians, and other hangers on. This group has a little of everyone in it. They are more folks from the edges of groups than the centers of power. Right there, the Holy Spirit inspires their belief, and Peter baptizes the whole lot. All of them.
When we read this portion of John’s gospel, where Jesus says “As the Father loves me, so I have loved you.” That love is a verb, not a noun. It is an action. And that is another whole sermon that I will spare you, for now. And even more crucial is that the “you” that Jesus says he loves are really “y’all.” And, again, y’all means all.
In this crazy time of pandemic and vaccination and the politicization of science, many have veered or retreated sharply toward individualism. This is not new. It has some claim on the particularly American ethos. It has been rampant in other times of stress, anxiety, and challenge. First, we take care of our own: ourselves, our families, and closest people in our orbit. The fight or flight response we have to real or perceived threat is embedded deeply in our biology. And whatever conflict that pits us against them, is the root of division. It drives suspicion of whoever the other is, and helps us lump them into some amorphous blob of wrongness as opposed to our rightness.
The good news and the hard news is the same. Jesus comes among us to blow up whatever divides us. “Love one another as I have loved y’all.” He doesn’t say this to lead us all to holding hands and singing kumbaya, forgetting the differences or ignoring the challenges. He does this, he says, so that y’all’s joy may be complete. It is a nice thing to say, but this part of the story does not give us anything about what this joy really is.
Later, John gets into joy, which he makes clear is not the same as happiness. Appropriately for this day, John points to women who go through the pain and difficulty of childbirth, saying they do not dwell on the anguish because of the joy of bring new life into the world. Joy is rooted in co-creating, and finding the depth and breadth of self-giving love. The word he uses for love is not transactional, rather it is self-emptying.
My friend, David’s, mother was not all that fond of Mother’s Day. While she loved the Church, she was a rare church goer, and if she came, it was cause for notice. But she never came on Mother’s Day. As I got to know her, I learned that she had lost a son in childbirth and she had a running argument with God over the pain that she said never healed. Being a complicated woman of fierce love and a hidden, but tender heart, I came to see her faith as real and visceral and argumentative. Mother’s Day she proclaimed, is not a thing. She would say “Every day is Mother’s Day for me.”
Joy can be wrapped in pain and difficulty and, even, unresolved grief. As we dig a little deeper into what seems like straightforward life instructions -- love God and love one another -- It is not all that straightforward, and for sure, not all that easy as the world wears on us. What Jesus proclaims for us today is that whatever we have to let go of, whatever we have to undo in our ways of seeing and being, whatever we have to forgive or bless or birth for the sake of new life, it is worth it. Jesus’ love is complete. Already there, abiding. We are beloved so that we can love. And y’all, that is a big deal. God is with y’all. All of y’all. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood, Virginia
April 25, 2021
Today is known, affectionately, as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a good day to engage in a deep dive into the living metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and all of us as sheep.
Here, I quote myself from a year ago:
“(Sheep) are not naturally smart. Apart from being particularly smelly and overwhelmed with matted fur, sheep do not have much in the way of defensive capability. They have no claws, no fangs, or particularly frightening roar. Their panicked and cacophonous bleating only serves to tell a predator exactly where they are.
About the best they can do for defense is to run away and clump up together so the predator can pick out the slowest or fattest one and leave the rest alone. In extreme danger, sheep tend to scatter, and that leads to no good. Sheep have been known to run off cliffs or fall into deep ravines. I will let you do you own interpretation of sheep and the parallels to human nature. It is not such a flattering exercise.”
Here in Easter season, with all of the grace of Jesus suffering to death and coming back to live and forgive, I have seen Good Shepherd Sunday an occasion humble ourselves with an exposition of low anthropology. It is a good time to throw in one of my favorite observations that many want to serve God, but mostly as advisors.
I have not been alone in my estimation of sheep. Here in the time of COVID, we hear cries from folks who are suspicious or anxious or feel done wrong. Here, I quote news story from a large newspaper reporting on a rally against a state mask mandate: "’Don't be a sheep,’ a local sheriff said, to loud applause from a mostly mask-less crowd, gathered in a church parking lot.” How ironic is that?
A quick internet search shows memes and t-shirts and bumper stickers carrying the slogan: “Don’t be a sheep. Think for yourself.” While I am all for critical thinking, and for sure, our systems are imperfect and fail miserably at times, this is not because we need no systems, rather, we need to remember that most things human are imperfect, and respond rationally.
As a result of further study, I have discovered that my estimation of sheep and my yearly harangue about human nature has been unnecessarily harsh. I confess to God and you all that I have been wrong about sheep. An in-depth BBC article, reporting on a longitudinal, scientific study of sheep says this: “Sheep are actually surprisingly intelligent, with impressive memory and recognition skills. They build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and feel sad when their friends are sent to slaughter… [many] were found to form long term relationships… [they] intervened on behalf of weaker colleagues and supported each other in fights”[i]
It turns out that sheep are capable of all kinds of admirable traits, and it is not so bad to be called a sheep. The reason the shepherd is so valued is that the shepherd leads sheep to sustenance and safety. Sheep imprint the shepherd’s voice in their brains, knowing from experience that following that voice is a good thing for their survival.
Rather than lamenting our sheepness as a liability, today, we might reconsider the cultural baggage that being sheep implies. Sheep are not blind followers. Sheep are discerning followers. Thus, we can be sheep and think for ourselves all at once.
This opens up a whole new way of thinking, believing, and following. The wolf, a natural sheep predator looks for the lone sheep, the weakened sheep, and the lost sheep as easy prey. Thus, those who are crying for us not to be sheep might be described more accurately as wolves in sheep’s clothing. I include a humorous cartoon from the Far Side series of comics in your service bulletin for today. This is oddly prescient, as so much of what we hear from the shrill extremes comes from self-styled would-be shepherds, whipping up fear, and excluding so-called undesirables from the herd, mostly to feed their own ego or pocketbook. Radical or rugged individualism finds no purchase in the Gospel. Jesus never asks us to go it alone, quite the opposite, his resurrection life and example invites to go it together with God and one another.
The term “herd immunity” has found great attention these days. It is seen as critical, desirable, and necessary. If we cannot or do not accept that we are, in fact, members of the herd, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the wolves of disease, despair, division, and death. So much of what is afoot in skepticism, whataboutism, all the other isms, and all manners of divisiveness is the work of wolves, not the Good Shepherd.
The whole being sheep and having a Good Shepherd is wonderfully empowering. The image gives us guidance as to where to look for health, safety, leadership, and abundant life. We are capable of so much beauty, creativity, and love. While keeping a healthy view of our weaknesses and foibles is needed and necessary, the Jesus story shows us again and again that we are worthy. We are worthy of Jesus presence among us. We are worthy of God’s infinite love. We are worthy and powerful in our love for others. Resurrection happens because God chooses it for us, and with us.
As it turns out, the revelatory nature of our sheepness is deeply and accurately descriptive. But the fact that we belong to the Good Shepherd is what matters most. While ego and ambition can draw us into more wolfness than sheepness, it is the Shepherd who helps us sort that out. We do not have a crisis of leadership as many decry, we have a crisis of followship that dogs us most.
There are so many voices talking out there, taking up valuable space ion our consciousness. In the wake of the Minnesota verdict this week, we have been bombarded by statements, postures, and positioning from just about anyone who could grab a microphone. Justice does not come from a verdict. Justice does not come from talking. Justice comes from listening to the pain of another and working together to help. The voice of the Good Shepherd calls the herd together. The voice of the Good shepherd proclaims love for every single one of us. The voice of the Good Shepherd calls us to follow. That is the only voice that matters. Amen.
[i] Earth - Sheep are not stupid, and they are not helpless ... - BBC
The Rev. John Thomas is Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Greenwood