The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Bishop of Chicago

Proper 6B - June 17, 2018

Weed Seeds

Who doesn't love the parable of the mustard seed?  It's almost become a cliche, one of those images from the bible that has infiltrated our consciousness so deeply that we don't even wonder where it came from.  There's this parable this morning about that tiny little seed producing very big results, and Jesus' related saying to his first friends that if they only had faith the size of a mustard seed, well then, they could move mountains.  And we get the point, right?  Good things come in unsuspectingly small packages, God doesn't need obviously important looking things to make something great and good out of them, that sort of thing.  Just remember the reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning.  All those big, strong sons of Jesse pass by the prophet, all obviously looking like possible king material.  And yet the one God was really interested in making king was the youngest kid, David, out there on the hillside throwing rocks at his father's wayward sheep.  That's the one, says Samuel.  And the rest is history.

We like this kind of stuff.  At least I do.  It is of great comfort in those times when we feel insignificant or not quite up to a task.  When life seems hard and faith is far away, it's good to remember that God doesn't need much that's great and glorious to get us through and work his purpose.  David didn't look like much of a king.  The littlest bit of faith can move mountains.  The smallest seed, says Jesus, can produce astonishing results.  Just consider that little bitty mustard seed.

Well, yes.  All that is or can be comforting and assuring.  Nothing wrong with interpreting Jesus's stories that way ... Except I'm not quite sure that those common and comforting ways of listening to the mustard seed parable are right.  I'm not convinced that's what parables are for and I'm not at all sure that cozy and reassuring is what Jesus meant to be in telling them.  Parables are stories designed to upend our normal assumptions, their purpose is to get us to view the world differently and to shape our actions in new ways.  Think of that other beloved story of the Good Samaritan -- the star, the Samaritan, is the one person in all the world a good, church-going Jew would not have expected to be cast as the hero.  Jesus tells that story to explode his hearers' narrow definitions of who my neighbor is.

So back to mustard seeds.  In ancient Middle Eastern culture, while there were some medicinal and culinary uses for mustard, it was definitely not something a careful gardener would ever have intentionally planted in a cultivated bed.  Mustard bushes grow wild, quickly covering hillsides or taking over abandoned parcels of land.  It is a wildly invasive species and would easily overrun and ruin a carefully laid out garden. 

So pick your favorite weed – crabgrass, dandelion, buckthorn – that’s pretty much what Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God to. Oh, and that part about the birds finding a place to build their nests?  Maybe Jesus meant it to be a comforting image – shelter from the storm and so forth. But in the parable he tells just before this one, he describes birds in less than favorable ways – they eat all the good seeds off the path.  You don't really want too many birds around your strawberries do you?  I wonder if Jesus is suggesting that once mustard shrubs take root, all kinds of things happen including the sudden presence of “undesirables.”

Looked at this way, Jesus’ parable is challenging, even ominous. As one biblical scholar puts it:

The point ... is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses-if you could control it. (Crossan, The Historical Jesus).

In other words the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims isn’t something we can control. It’s not something we’d even want, at least if we’re even a little satisfied with the way things are. No, the kingdom of God comes to over turn, to take over, to transform the kingdoms of this world. Which is why, of course, Jesus’ preaching and teaching stir things up, both then and now. Maybe that’s why we prefer again and again to domesticate the scriptures and even distort them - sometimes with blasphemous results - like the way a certain reading from the Letter to the Romans is being used to justify the outrages taking place on our border with Mexico. I can hardly imagine any practice sanctioned by the government of this country more clearly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus than what’s going on now.

I've often thought that we don't exactly practice the best principles of truth in advertising when we baptize people.  Typically enough we welcome parents and godparents to the font as they bring their small and beloved baby for holy baptism.  We ought to spend a lot more time warning them about the way of life they're about to commit this child to living.  We sign the newly baptized with a cross after all, not a smiley face.  The promises and vows of holy baptism we're all about to renew in a few minutes commit us to something wild and uncontrollable, to a way of life empowered by the Holy Spirit who blows just when and where she will, we promise to live in ways that will invite the Kingdom of God to become just that much more real in this world.  Listen to those promises:  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  These are not the values most of this world lives by.  They're not much of a game plan for getting ahead and staying there.  They aren't guaranteed to ensure my personal security and safety.  They will not bless the status quo of who's in and who's out, who is acceptable and who is not, who wins and who loses.  It's not the world of Wall Street and Presidential policies that we're after - it's the reign of God.  And if we are to believe Jesus this morning, then we must be prepared for that Kingdom to be on God's terms and not our own.  It will not be neat, it will not be tidy, it will not be tightly controlled. The most unlikely people might well show up, and who knows who we'll find beside us at the dinner table? The short answer is one you know well here: Everybody. Everybody. Everybody.

So dear friends here at St. A’s, let's throw some seeds around, no matter how small they may seem.  There's no telling what God will do with them. 

Friday, May 25, Celebration of the Book of Common Prayer


Oremus. Exultate, iusti in domino rectos decet laudatio... NO!

I am Prayer. By archbishop’s hand and king’s decree, English now my tongue shall be:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous;
it is good for the just to sing praises...

I am Prayer. In 1549 Ano Domini, Thomas Cranmer first prayed me. Our Lord Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him.” I was composed for that cause. I have old Sarum’s Latin Rule, some Reformation theology and even Eastern Orthodoxy for my roots. Martyr Tyndale and Mr. Coverdale did provide the Great Bible from which my English came: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallow-ed be thy name...”

I am Prayer. That Tudor king who broke with Rome had a son who sought a Prayer that would be in common for all his subjects. So Bishop Cranmer’s Prayer, not “common” by any means, became the Prayer I am, to be prayed in-common by those of the English tongue.

ALmighty God, whose kingdom is euerlastig, and power infinite, haue mercie upon the whole congregacion, and so rule the heart of thy chosen seruauunt Edward the sixt, our kyng and gouernour: that he (knowyng whose minister he is) maie about al thinges, seke thy honour and glory, & that we his subiectes (duely consydering whose auctoritie he hath) maye faithfully serue, honour, and humbly obeye him in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed word and ordinaunce....
––In truth, a prayer for anyone who may govern, of whose authority one reigns, “knowing whose minister he is...”

I am Prayer. Poor Mary and her kin tried to destroy me and bring back Rome’s prayers again. But neither she nor Puritans grim could take away the Prayer that Cranmer began to Pray. The Virgin Queen’s “Settlement” did make me to be mostly what I remain (with some revisions, alas) for her Church of England and her present and former commonwealth to this day. I am spoken of in this fashion in “Concerning the Service of the Church.”

THERE was never any thing by wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: As, among other things, it may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service. The first original and ground whereof if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find, ... they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over every year; intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers in the congregation, should... be stirred up to godliness themselves and be more able to exhort others by wholesome Doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the Truth; and further, that the people... might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

I am Prayer. Kings and Queens have proclaimed that all should follow me. As with Solomon, they too are wise to pray:

Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the LORD, be that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. Therefore devote yourselves completely to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8)

I am Prayer. At Shakespeare’s Stratford I am found in Elizabethan form I am on display; to note the bond of Prayer and Bard. No quote is found and yet Daniel Swift takes note of phrases here and there: “As modern readers, we may miss these echoes, but the crowds who gathered at the Globe to first hear these common phrases, as well known as any other words. The Book of Common Prayer is one of the hidden ingredients of Shakespere’s plays. It is a skeleton beneath the skin of the best-known works of our or my time.” (My emphasis)

I am Prayer. I have traveled far and wide. Just three decades from my creation I travel with Father Fletcher as Francis Drake roamed the world’s seas. So Mr. Fletcher prayed me in California first in 1579. He prayed for those in peril on the seas:

O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end: Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy; that we may be safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH, and her Dominions, and a security for such as pass upon the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of Island may in peace and quietness serve thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of thy mercies to praise and glorify thy holy Name; through jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I am Prayer. Under that same Majesty came I to the Eastern climes of that same American continent. Within century’s time even a German follower of Martin Luther sought me out as he sought to plant new churches in this land. Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenburg proclaimed my language could be a common bond for Christians from Germany and Scandinavia who brought Luther’s Reformation to these shores. He did borrow my Baptismal and Burial rites. First inquiring, “Wilt thou continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers?” And in time declaring thus: “We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” Many centuries before our Call To Common Mission, I might have been prayed by those who now share Word and Sacraments.

I am Prayer. Alas that reunion was not to be. A Revolution swept the land and I was forced to flee, as before in Cromwell’s time, carried by those who favored royalty. My public prayer was seldom heard until such time as persons loyal to my form made Mr. Samuel Seabury, bishop for this new land, and sent him to Scotland to restore me for the American form of democracy. So, the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1789 sounds a bit like the Declaration of Independence:

But when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respectful churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future posterity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country.

I am Prayer. And in that revised Episcopal form I came of late to John, in 1968, a seminarian visiting an Episcopal church, my Morning Prayer he came to love:

O Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: O come, let us adore him.

And first hearing Chrysostom’s Collect prayed:

Almighty God, who hast given us the grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication unto thee, and hast promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name thou wilt be in the midst of them: fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

I am Prayer. In this new land of the free they said I needed new words to be prayed and sung. And so in in the year of the nation’s Bicentennial, in General Convention they proposed and I became Rite One for those who favored me as I was, and Rite Two for those who preferred more the language of today. ––Including, at times, a note of compromise:

In any of the Proper Liturgies for Special days, and in other services contained in this Book celebrated in the context of a Rite One service, the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.

I am Prayer. ’Twas a decade later that then Pastor John rediscovered me, in ’76's provisional form, at St. Martin’s of Monroeville in that same commonwealth where Muhlenberg first prayed me. By agreements provisional I was prayed with Episcopalians and Lutherans at Pittsburgh’s cathedral. And then by way of change of call in Kalamazoo’s cubed cathedral hall. Alas, there soon that tentative bond sundered for a time because some of Luther’s band did not want anything to do with those called “Bishops.” Neither Alden Hathaway nor George Lee had seemed such awful folk, but the bond was lost and he moved back Lincoln’s Land in southern county Cook.

I am Prayer. “Called to Common Mission” restored the bond between Episcopalian and Lutheran; but not until the eleventh year of this new millennium did John pray me again in this august company. He with roots in old Augustinian Luther’s tribe was drawn by Friday’s invitation to the church of St. Augustine in his new home. And even more he prayed me and even came sometimes to lead that Friday company in and with me, the Prayer that Cranmer made in 1549. Then, grace of Bishop Jeffrey Lee, John who found me long ago is now licensed as priest to pray all the more; loving best my Communion Prayer:

Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in His name. After which the people say:

“Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.”

I am Prayer. I place my blessings on weddings even to tis very day. And so they prayed me at Windsor last week over Harry and Meghan:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, for you have created joy and gladness, pleasure and delight, love and fellowship. Pour out the abundance of your blessing upon HARRY and MEGHAN in their life together... ––and–-

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully grant you the riches of His grace, that you may please in both in body and soul, and, living together in faith and love, may receive the blessings of eternal life.

I am Prayer.
I am liturgy.

I am rites and Sacraments. I am Psalter.

I am Articles of faith. I am history––

The Book of Common Prayer I am called. “Common” I am not. For all in common I would be. Oh, they think again to study and to alter me, to more inclusive make, and yet I live on in use –And now today the Anglican Community word-wide remembers me and sets a day apart, commemorated “on the first convenient day following Pentecost” A day to recall my history and let one pastor/priest say thanks be to God for me.

Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your church: make us always thankful for this legacy, and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who abides with you and the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John Lang +
Retired ELCA pastor
Licensed priest, Diocese of Chicago
In thanksgiving to God for seventy-three years of life and in thanksgiving to the people of St. Augustine’s Episcopal church who make me welcome.

Sunday, May 20, 2018, The Feast of Pentecost and the Baptism of Barbara Brandt

Kristin White

The Feast of Pentecost | May 20, 2018

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.[1]

Those words are not part of today’s readings, they are taken from the Song of Solomon. The last time we heard that passage read in worship here at St. Augustine’s was at your wedding, Barbara and Jason. And, it happens, that same passage was read again across the ocean yesterday at the wedding of Prince Harry and, now-Princess Meghan.

Love is strong as death. Passion, fierce as the grave.

Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are the continuation of his long goodbye to the disciples in John’s farewell discourse. “I have to go,” he tells them. “I have to go, so that the Advocate can come. And when the Spirit of Truth comes, she will guide you into all truth.”

“I have to go,” he tells them, and he tells them again. And they don’t understand. And no, in the words of today’s gospel passage, they cannot bear it.

But love is strong as death, and passion as fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire.

And the fire is coming.

Since Easter Day, the first lesson read in church every Sunday has come, not from the Old Testament, as is our custom throughout the rest of the year, but from the Acts of the Apostles. That is the fifth book of the New Testament, directly after the first four, which are the gospels, the stories of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor is a powerful preacher and an Episcopal priest, who likes to refer to the Acts of the Apostles as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit[2] – because this is the book where the Spirit shows up, lighting the church on fire for the good of the world. This is the book that tells her story.

Everything has happened as Jesus said it would, when he said, “Father, the hour has come.” The hour had come when he was nailed to the cross. The hour had come when he gave up his spirit. The hour had come, three days later, when he saw Mary at the tomb, when she heard him say her name. The hour had come, as he ascended.

And now, that hour has passed. Those disciples are gathered together in one place, in their grief, I imagine, that he is gone…in their fear at what might happen to them, now…in their confusion of all that they have seen in these past days, in these past three years, with the teacher who has called them friend.

What is this Advocate who is supposed to show up, now that Jesus is gone? Who is this Comforter, anyway, and where is she?

But love is strong as death, and passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

And that is how God comes to them, this time. Not as a baby to hold, but as fire to be kindled, as light to be shared.

The wind fills the house where they are gathered, and tongues of fire rest on the disciples. They speak languages they do not know, and the people who do know those languages hear and understand them. They do things they cannot do, those disciples filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. At least, they do things they think they cannot do.

And when others would sneer about it, would dismiss them, Peter – the one who denied Jesus at the cross and then had the chance to reconcile, after the resurrection – Peter reminds them of the prophet Joel’s promise: “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.”

Yesterday, as he preached the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, our Presiding Bishop talked about the power of love, which is the power of God – the source and light of life.

If ever we need that power, it’s now…it’s here. Friday morning, another school shooting – this time in Texas, this time ten people killed. And now, Never Again has become Once Again. And as the words of the Thomas Tallis motet echoed through that beautiful chapel yesterday morning: “If ye love me/keep my commandment/and I will pray the Father/and he will give you another comforter/that he may abide with you for ever/even the Spirit of Truth…” as I heard those words, which our own choir sang here just days ago, all I could think about is the question of what comfort those ten families in Santa Fe, Texas, are supposed to find today? Where is the advocate for them, for their friends? How will we blaze a path for the Spirit of Truth in this moment, for the people of that community, or this one, or the next? For our children? For our country?

Presiding Bishop Curry preached on fire yesterday – literally and figuratively. He said that our ability to harness the power of fire has made possible so much of what we do, has galvanized us to become who we are. He quoted the priest and scientist and mystic, Pierre Teillard de Chardin, who said that if we can ever find a way to channel “the energies of love, then for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”[3]

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

Barbara, you have stepped into the life of this church to make a life of your own, right here in our midst, among God and these people, as you have married your beloved Jason, as the two of you prepare together for the birth of your twins. Now you come to the waters of baptism, as Jesus did, as the disciples did.

May this sacrament you receive here today, which we will renew right along with you – that outward and visible sign of God’s inward and spiritual grace – may it galvanize you, with power, as you step into the life you are creating. Because I know that you know this already: you will need it. Because, as one of my favorite writers shares: “This life is so beautiful. And this life is so hard.”[4]May you find, like those disciples all gathered together in one place, that you are able to do things you thought you could not do. May you know that you have the power of fire, the power of love, the power of God, and all of us with you, through it all.

And so, as the Easter fire burns a little while longer in that tall candle at the font, and as the children pour water in preparation, and as Andrew baptizes you, at his first baptism, and anoints you with oil that — I promise you — smells like heaven, know that the power of our love surrounds you, and will continue to, that the power of our God enfolds you, and will continue to.

Know today, again and always, that love is strong and fierce, that it is unquenchable. Know that it is ours to kindle, ours to share, ours to carry out into a world that so desperately needs its light.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

Let us go, now, to the font of our salvation.


[1] Song of Solomon 8:6-7

[2] “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit” Home By Another Way. Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 1999. 143.



Sunday, May 6, 2018, The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Kristin White

The Sixth Sunday of Easter | May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17

Dear Sugar:

I’m afraid to be alone, and I can’t find anyone that measures up. And my friends are all settling down with their boyfriends and starting to talk marriage. Please help!

Sincerely, Scared & Confused[1]

Dear Scared & Confused:

You aren’t torn. You’re only just afraid. And fear of being alone is not a good reason to settle. Trust yourself. And know that trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

I’m writing this from the little couch/bed at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. My husband and I just found out that our six-month-old daughter has a tumor. She is having brain surgery tomorrow. If there were a God, why would he let my little girl have to go through life-threatening surgery?

Signed, Abbie

Dear Abbie:

What if you allowed God to exist in the simple words of compassion that others offer you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the worst thing happened, and you rose anyway? Could you see the miracle in that?

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

What the heck? What the heck? What the heck?
I’m asking this question as it applies to everything, every day.

Best, WTH

Dear WTH:

Ask better questions, sweet pea. This is your life. Answer it.

Yours, Sugar

Dear Sugar:

I’m 29 and dating a man that I adore. I have family and friends and hobbies and interests and love. So much love. And I’m desperately afraid that I’m going to have cancer, as both of my parents have, as so many members of my family have. I’m terrified that sooner or later, I’ll be diagnosed.

Signed, Scared of the Future

Dear Scared of the Future:

You’re here. So be here, dear one. You’re okay with us for now.

Yours, Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things is a book which is a compilation of advice on love and life from Dear Sugar. Originally an anonymous advice column, and now a podcast, the writer at the time the book was published is Cheryl Strayed – also the author of the book Wild. Now Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the original Sugar, share the podcast.

It’s a salty book, peppered through with language and circumstances that can make a person alternately blush or cringe or laugh out loud or weep. It’s real. It’s excruciatingly honest.

In his introduction to the book, Strayed’s colleague and friend Steve Almond writes:

“I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we, as a people, have bought in to the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives.

“We’re hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster…but at the same time we’re falling away from our families and neighbors and ourselves.

“(Sugar) understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement is not cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.

“(I believe we need Sugar. We need her) because we are all, in the private kingdom of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true friend…someone…who recognizes that life is short and that all we have to offer, in the end, is love.”[2]

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel lesson. “I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends.”

Jesus is leaving, and he knows it. In the gospel of John, Jesus knows everything that will come to pass. He is the one who was in the beginning, the one through whom all things came into being, without whom was not anything made that was made. In the chapters beyond this one in John’s gospel, Jesus will not be surprised by Judas’ betrayal; he anticipates it. Later on the same Maundy Thursday that is the time of this gospel passage, Jesus will step forward in the Garden of Gethsemane, toward the soldiers and the officers, the scribes and the Pharisees. He will tell them to leave his friends alone, that not one of them might be lost. As he is crucified, he will give his own mother into the care of the disciple he loves: “Behold your son,” he will say, “…behold your mother…”.

But that is all still to come. Today’s gospel lesson is Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for the times that are ahead of them.

Scholars refer to this section of the Gospel of John as Jesus’ farewell discourse. It spans a good long length. Of the 21 chapters that comprise John’s telling of Jesus’ life and ministry, fully four of them are him saying goodbye to the disciples who have given their lives to follow him.

We are right in the middle of this discourse – his extended advice to them on how to live and who to love. We are right smack in the middle of this series of tiny beautiful things…which it turns out aren’t so very tiny after all.

At its heart, here is the advice Jesus has for the students who have become his followers who have become his disciples who have become his friends…whom he will soon have to leave: “As God has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. Keep my commandments so that my joy may be in you, so that your joy may be complete.”

It will be just a few short chapters from now that they will come for him, Judas with a kiss, and the soldiers with torches and swords. Just a little while longer, this very night, and his friend Peter will lose sight of this call to abide in friendship and trust and love…and instead, he will say three times: “I do not know the man. I do not know the man. I do not know the man.”

“Abide in my love,” Jesus tells them. “Keep my commandment, that your joy may be complete,” he promises.

In the end, it’s what we have, isn’t it? Our salty stories, peppered through with circumstances that make us blush or cringe or laugh out loud or weep. Our hopes, our failures, our denials, our dreams, and the ever-present promise of reconciliation: “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus will ask his friend, when he appears there on the shores of the Galilee, after that awful night and the three days and now this mysterious presence. When Peter responds yes, Jesus will say:  “Feed my lambs.” And again: “Peter, do you love me? Tend my sheep.” And still once more: “Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

In the end, it’s what we have: at our core, the longing for a true friend. At our center, that deep desire for the promise of a love that will hold.

Today we will enfold and lay hands on and bless young people from this parish who will be leaving us in the months ahead. We’re preparing for the time that we will send you out into a big world of hope and possibility. You are a reminder to us, Ella, and Lucy, and Franklin, that this time we share with you is precious, that it will always feel like it is not enough. I have all these bits of advice which you haven’t necessarily asked for, all crammed together to give you, these tiny beautiful things to share: Trust yourself – go live out what you already know to be true. Ask the best and most real questions you have, the ones that scare you; and listen well for the answers. Know that you are okay with us…you always have been, you always will be, and this will always be your home. Look for miracles – because they’re right there, ready and waiting for you to see.

And I guess that inside and underneath it all is a desire for mercy. The hope of good friends. The knowledge that life is short, and that what we have to offer, in the end, is love.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus says to the friends he loves, the friends he will have to leave.

“I appointed you. So go. And bear good fruit, fruit that will last. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


[1] This and the paraphrased excerpts that follow are taken from: Cheryl Strayed. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. New York: Random House, 2012.

[2] Steve Almond, ibid. 5-9.

Sunday, April 22, 2018, The Fourth Sunday of Easter and Welcome Sunday

Kristin White

The Fourth Sunday of Easter | April 22, 2018

John 10:11-18

There’s a certain beauty to be found, I believe, in those things we know by heart…those things that are so familiar that they come to us seemingly unbidden, and in coming to us, they return us to ourselves.

The smell of a baby’s head.

The cadence of your feet striking pavement as you hit your stride.

The words of a song you have sung for so long that you can’t remember learning it.

The crack of a baseball bat hit well on opening day.

The feel of your beloved’s hand as it holds your own.

The recipe that someone who loved you took the time to teach you.

What are the pieces of your familiar? What happens, for you, when you return to those pieces of yourself? And when do you find yourself yearning for them?

One of the blessings and privileges of this life as a priest is the opportunity I often have to spend time with people…at the beginnings of their lives, and at the ends of their lives. At both junctures, in those special and excruciating moments, people tend to be surrounded by the things they know by heart, or will, one day…beloved members of their families; photos; blankets or shawls that cover them in love and prayer and memories; shoes that their feet have worn a hole into in that one peculiar spot, or socks to keep little toes warm.

People at the ends of their lives often seem beyond the point of recognition or speech; but sometimes a piece of their familiar will find words that are still in their mouths: like with the Lord’s Prayer. Or today’s psalm.

Do you know the old version? Pray it with me, if you do:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;

he leadeth me beside the still waters

He restoreth my soul;

he leadeth me in paths of righteousnss for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil.

For thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;

thou anointest my head with oil;

my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There’s something in the knowing of that – a consolation that people find they have the vocabulary for, because they know it by heart. Even at the ends of their lives, they can find the words of a promise that they shall not want…the image of walking in the shadow of death and knowing that they are not alone in it – the movement from “he” to “thou” as the psalmist faces God directly. You are with me, we pray in that 23rd psalm. You comfort me. You prepare a table for me. You anoint me. Goodness and mercy shall follow, and I will dwell at home.

Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter season, our gospel and psalm and prayers and music are marked by images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We pray this most familiar psalm. We hear Jesus talking about knowing his own, about his own knowing him.

My guess, you have heard your share of sermons about what it means for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd. You have heard about the dangers of those hired hands that run away at the first scare. You have heard, no doubt, about the sketchier qualities of sheep…and, my hope, you’ve heard some defense of sheep as well.

I know this, because I have preached all of those things, and I have heard them, too.

It’s difficult to get a real sense of this passage, and easy to get all wrapped up in the talk of sheep and shepherds and who represents which, because we just get this little slice of the story. And, well, the imagery certainly lends itself. But as cute and fluffy as sheep can be, and as great a villain as we have in the hired hand who doesn’t protect them, this lesson Jesus teaches is not finally just about sheep. But we have to step back, in order to find the context for it.

A chapter before today’s lesson takes place in the gospel of John, Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. That condition in that place at that time separates the man from the community. It prevents him from doing work, requires that he must sit in public and beg for anything he gets in life. As Jesus and the disciples pass by this man, one of the disciples asks Jesus what the man has done wrong, or what mistake his parents must have made, for him to deserve this separation – as though it’s his fault. Jesus responds: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

The work of God at that moment, then, is for Jesus to make mud out of dirt and spit and rub it on the man’s eyes, and then tell him to go wash in a nearby pool of water. There, his sight is given to him, for the first time in his life. So now the man can take part as a participant in the community. It is possible for him to be returned to a familiar that has never been available to him before now.

But not so fast. Because the Pharisees are on the scene, and they’ve got some questions and concerns. The Pharisees, remember, are the enforcers of Jewish order and rules. They find their power in the fact that they know how things are supposed to work, and they keep track and try to make it so.

So first, the Pharisees debate whether the man who now sees really ever was the man born blind who used to have to beg. Next, they ask the man himself about the healing, especially taking issue with the fact that it happened on the Sabbath, which, by law and custom, would be sinful. Then, they check references by bringing in the man’s terrified parents for questioning. And finally, they bring back the man whose sight has been given to him…along with some healthy wits…the man who finally gets fed up with this repeat interrogation and says to those Pharisees: “I told you this already, and you didn’t listen. Why do you need for me to tell you again? Do you want to be his disciples too?!”

It is only after all of this that Jesus tells the story of the Good Shepherd, the one who enters the sheepfold with trust, the one whose sheep know his voice by heart, who comes that they might have life abundant. Only then – still in earshot of the Pharisees – does Jesus say the words of today’s gospel lesson: “I know my own and my own know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Only then does he tell those who listen: “I have other sheep, not of this fold; I must bring them also. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” Dare I add: for everybody, everybody, everybody.

In speaking those familiar words, Jesus seeks to reconcile and restore – to restore the people to themselves, to reconcile them to one another in their community, and to join them together to their God. I wonder if there might be something for us, in that lesson underneath and inside of the story of the Good Shepherd today.

Today is also Welcome Sunday here at St. Augustine’s, a day we set aside to introduce and bless and give thanks for new members of this church. You all have come to us for reasons as different as each one of you, all seeking a new familiar, here. I pray that you will find and share pieces of yourselves, in the life of faith you begin and continue and embody here. I pray that as you join in worship and fellowship, in learning and service, this community will become one that you know by heart – a place where, again and again, you find that the words of God’s promise are in your own mouths, as again and again, you are restored to yourselves.

And so welcome, you who choose newly to be part of this congregation today. And welcome, you who have chosen this church and chosen this church and chosen this church again, through years and decades, you who already know St. A’s by heart, and now make room for others to join us.

We belong to each other. And together, we belong to the One who gives us the familiar pieces of ourselves, that, together, by heart, will help us to find our way home.

Sunday, April 14, 2018, The Marriage of Barbara Kutis and Jason Brandt

Kristin White

Welcome, all of you, to the joy of this day. Thank you, Barbara, and Jason, for entrusting it to us to share.

This is a part of the reading you chose for today, a reading that is a song: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”

And this is a part of the blessing I will pray over you in a little while: “Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death.”

I hold these two pieces together and offer them to you, as you begin your married life together today. I invite you to remember what you are saying about what love is: a seal upon your hearts, something that is uniquely emblazoned on you. And it is powerful: strong, and fierce, and unquenchable.

Your lives are testimony to that power, to that determination. You are strong people, and clear.

I first met you just three months ago. You had moved to Wilmette on a Tuesday, your moving truck arrived on Wednesday. Barbara, you emailed me about church on Friday, and I met you both for the first time that Sunday. It was a delight to welcome you, as you were in the process of moving to a new place, as Jason began this new job as fire chief, and as the two of you prepare to become parents of these twins that our whole congregation so looks forward to meeting.

It’s a lot, though – which I know that you know – and it is good, also, to know that you are strong and clear people. When I said something off-hand in one of our first conversations about how amazed I was that you managed to do all this and still make it to church your first Sunday here, Jason, you said something like this: “You know, I saw one of those motivational posters once about people saying they don’t have time to go to the gym. And it said ‘Don’t say you don’t have time…just acknowledge that you’re choosing not to do that.’ We have decided that it matters to us to be here, and so we are.”

Well, Jason and Barbara, it matters that you are here; we are glad and grateful for your presence here at St. Augustine’s Church. And I tell you that this community will surround you over these next months, and years, and be ready to support you as you welcome your babies into the world, as you continue in your life as a family.

You have chosen each other. And today you choose each other again, before God and these people as witnesses, with our love and support. And the work of a lifetime will be found in your choosing each other and choosing other and choosing each other again.

So let that choice of love be the seal on your heart and your arm, on your shoulders and foreheads. And know that I am not talking about love in the way that the world would sell it – romantic and fleeting and fickle. I am talking about the kind of love that calls you to persevere through the bleary-eyed weeks of not so much sleep that will be the early days of your babies’ lives. The kind of love that calls you to find grace and kindness for each other when it would be easier to snap back with a sharp word.

Choose each other and choose each other and choose each other again, and be blessed. “Bless them in their work and in their companionship,” we will pray in just a little while. I love that you met doing something you love, training for a triathlon, and that your relationship began from a place of friendship. I love that the picture you chose for the front of your bulletin today is a tandem bicycle. I don’t know if you actually have one of those, and I’m imagining whether it would work to attach a baby bicycle trailer to the back of it, which is just kind of a fun thing to think about. Whatever the case though, remember that companionship is part of the blessing we will offer you today. Nurture that with each other in these coming days, even when you’re tired, even when it seems you don’t have enough time. Whether it’s bike rides with trailers or walks with the babies in front packs or a sitter with them at home so the two of you can have a night out and enough time to complete your sentences, nurture your care for each other as sacred – because it is.

Barbara and Jason, I wish you the love that God gives us to share in this life you begin today – love that is strong and fierce and unquenchable, love that finds grace and forgiveness and hope and humor. Let that love be a seal upon your hearts, a mantle upon your shoulders, and a crown upon your foreheads. And be blessed in your work and in your companionship; know that you are blessed as you sleep and as you wake; be blessed in times of joy and in times of sadness, and in all the times that fall between; know yourselves blessed and beloved of God and of one another, in your lives, throughout the rest of your lives, and forever. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018, Easter Day

Kristin White

The Feast of the Resurrection

John 20:1-18


Shortly before the time that the March for our Lives event officially began in Washington DC eight days ago, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walked in a line through the crowd on their way to the platform. They passed very near to where our group stood, near enough that we could see them, near enough that if I had stretched, I could have reached them.

As they walked, they held up the student identification cards of their friends who had been killed in that short and horrible six minutes and twenty seconds at the end of school on Ash Wednesday. They held up those badges that bore the names and images of their friends: Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang. They carried with them the names of the adults who died that day trying to protect their students: Scott Biegel, Aaron Feiss, Chris Hixon.

In the substance of that act and many others before and since, I found a defiance of inertia, an unwillingness to accept that this is the way it all has to go. Instead, I saw – I see – this nation’s young people insisting upon hope. I see this nation’s young people demanding resurrection.

This day we celebrate right now began so many years ago in the dark. Mary Magdalene, the one who is too often held wrongly in suspicion, the one from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, the one with means enough to finance Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry…Mary walked to the tomb before the sun had risen. I wonder: had she slept in those three days since she saw Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross? Did the darkness and her own bleary-eyed grief add to her to her confusion? Whatever the case, what she found when she got there was not the thing she had expected. The stone had been rolled away from his grave. He wasn’t there.

So she ran back and told the disciple Jesus loved, together with Peter: “They have taken our Lord from the grave, and I don’t know where.” So Peter ran. And the beloved disciple ran. And somehow it was important enough to someone along the way to record the fact that Peter came in second in that race to the tomb.

The confusion did not belong only to Mary, though, as that beloved disciple and Peter looked into Jesus’ grave. Peter looked in, and the beloved disciple looked in, and the scripture tells us that the beloved disciple saw and believed (what exactly he believed we do not know)…but that neither of them understood, and so…they left.

Mary Magdalene stayed, though. She refused to accept whatever it was that compelled the others to go. She stayed and she wept as she spoke to the angels who she didn’t seem to know were angels. She stayed and she wept as she spoke to the gardener…who, as it turns out, wasn’t the gardener after all.

“Mary.” he said. And she knew.

He named her, and she knew him.[1] She saw him, and suddenly the confusion and the fear and the way that all of this had seemed to go…it was all turned upside down, by the God who loves her, the God who loves you, the God who loves us all enough to split heaven and earth to be with us.

Mary stayed, and she wept. And she was witness to resurrection.

This feast that we celebrate today, which lies at the very heart of our faith, makes no intellectual sense. We cannot think our way into an understanding of a person – fully human, scripture promises – being resurrected to new life. We cannot comprehend it. And yet the story of our faith insists that this is so.

So we pray our creeds. Maybe some folks leave out those parts you can’t assent to, and I think that’s alright. And maybe some work it into a part of a narrative that you can live with, and I think that’s alright too.

We are reasonable people, after all, aren’t we? We go to work, we raise our kids, we pay our taxes, we try to be kind, we talk to our neighbors, we walk the dog, we try to take care of ourselves, we try to take care of each other.

So what does it say, that the heart of our faith rests on this completely unreasonable event? And especially the way John’s gospel tells it: with the running, and the who-got-there-first, and the who-went-in-and-saw-the-linen-wrappings…when you think about who wrote down the words of this gospel in the first place, and then the generations upon generations of scribes who copied and copied and copied them…those details have to have merit to have made it through, right? But who decided which pieces mattered so much?

The beloved disciple saw and believed, but neither he nor Peter understood. And so they, in their not-understanding-ness, went home.

But Mary stood. And she wept.

None of it makes sense, really. Ours is not a reasonable faith. It’s mysterious. It asks us to follow those disciples running in the dark to an empty grave. It asks us to notice and to care about who got there first, about the linen wrappings that covered him, and the fact that the one from his head is lying in a separate space. It asks us to care about a woman who wasn’t believed…even by her friends, who had to go see it for themselves, and even then, well…it asks us to care about a woman who, people at the time, and in the thousands of years since, have sought to discredit and dismiss. Ours is a faith that asks us to care about that woman, the one who stood weeping, the one who would be the first witness to the resurrection.

That’s a lot to ask of reasonable people.

And yet, here we are.

And yet, we reasonable people now find ourselves in the midst of a world that does not make sense.

We live right now in a world where our children have become experts in the differences between a soft lockdown and a hard one – terms that did not exist when I was in the classroom as a student, or, more recently, as a teacher.

We live in a world in which a friend of mine recently overheard her eleven-year-old child talking about which classroom he hopes he’s in if there is ever a shooting at his school, because he knows where the best places are to hide.

We live in a world where a teenager who was a literal target in his high school on Ash Wednesday has earned enough traction in his effort to be heard on this matter that he has become a threat, enough of a threat to have been targeted by a pundit…who would mock him.

We live in a world, on this Feast of the Resurrection, that through some act of poetic strangeness also happens to be April Fools’ Day, in which a generation of young people sees the violence of mass shootings and the gun violence found every day, every hour, every minute…and says to the powers that be: this world you have created is in fact entirely unreasonable. And we insist on changing it.

A child shall lead them.

That’s what Jesus does, isn’t it? He goes first, through the crowd. He goes first, naming the outrageousness, upsetting the order that isn’t really order after all.

He goes first, to the cross.

First, to the tomb.

We prepare the way for him, so that he can make a way for us to march for our very lives.[2]

He shows us that anticipating the new life of resurrection is the one sane choice in the midst of a crazy system that can expect only death and the grave.

He teaches us to demand resurrection, at the very moment it would seem that death has won. And then he invites us to step into that resurrection and keep going, because resurrection alone was never the end of the story anyway.

Those high school kids whose names and pictures were carried through the crowd last Saturday had lives to live – lives cut short on the first of this 40 days’ journey we have been privileged to share. The young people who carried them have lives now shaped forever by what they witnessed.

They are asking for the freedom to live their lives.

They are insisting upon hope.

They are demanding resurrection.




[2] Thanks to Karoline Lewis for this commentary, pieces of which are threaded throughout this sermon.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 - Palm Sunday

Texts: Mark 11:1-11 (Processional Gospel); Mark 14:1-15:47 (Passion)

This has been a weekend of rallies and marches across the country. Hundreds of thousands gathered in “Marches for Our Lives” in Washington, DC, Chicago, and other cities. Led by our nation’s youth people came together in response to the latest school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida to demand changes in our gun laws as well as other changes in our political and social culture.  The youthful leaders saw these gatherings as the beginning of a movement for a better future for this nation. Chicago area Episcopalians who gathered with Bishop Jeffery Lee ahead of joining the Chicago march heard our bishop say that the march yesterday was the beginning of our Palm Sunday procession, and some carried and waved palm branches.

Indeed, I think there are some similarities between the marchers for our lives, who chanted concerning politicians held captive by the National Rifle Association, “Vote them out, vote them out,” and the marchers who accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem chanting “Hosanna!”

Jesus had been making his way from Galilee through Judea, teaching and healing and casting out demons and collecting followers, and was about to enter the holy city at Passover time.  Arrangements had been made for a parade to call attention to his entrance. Those arrangements included securing a colt on which Jesus could ride and cutting leafy branches in the fields. Jesus’ followers spread their cloaks on the road to make a kind of royal carpet. And waving their branches some went in front of him and some followed him shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!”

This was not a surge of people coming out of the city to greet Jesus. How would they even know who he was or that he was arriving? This was a demonstration by Jesus’ many followers to announce his arrival. It was a political demonstration because they were hailing Jesus as the one who would restore the Davidic kingdom. You can be sure that this caught the attention of the authorities in the city, particularly the Temple authorities---the priests and scribes. They lived in a delicate balance with the occupying Roman administration. Rome was always respectful of local cults and cultures; that was one of the reasons for their governing success. In return for religious freedom the Romans expected priestly support of the imperial administration. Jesus’ entrance into the city upset the status quo. In fact, upon entering the city he went straight to the Temple and assaulted it by overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out the sellers of sacrificial victims. He made claims about replacing that Temple with himself, with his body. “Tear it down and in three days I will raise it up.”

The priestly and scribal authorities needed to get rid of him. But there had been that demonstration by his followers. How many followers did he have mingling among the many pilgrims and visitors in the city for the National Passover? Given this uncertainty, the priests had to make arrangements to grab Jesus under the cover of darkness and have a quick trial and execution. A traitor in Jesus’ inner circle conveniently played into their hands. Jesus was arrested outside in the garden after the Passover Seder, given a trial of sorts in the middle of the night, and delivered to the Roman governor early in the morning.

Here we meet a second demonstration. Some locals turned out at the residence of the Roman governor to ask him to honor of the custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover time.  Pontius Pilate, perhaps sensing an easy way to get Jesus released (since he didn’t find him to be a threat), presented Jesus to the crowd, along with a known insurrectionist named Barabbas. If the crowd gathered before the procurator had included Jesus’ followers who accompanied him into the city the previous Sunday, they surely would have shouted for Jesus to be released. But this was a different crowd and the priests stirred them up to ask for Barabbas.

Why would they choose Barabbas over Jesus? Probably because Barabbas was a troublemaker they knew rather than a troublemaker they didn’t know. Yes, Barabbas had murdered a man, but Jesus had assaulted the holy Temple---the primary shrine of their nation. So when Pilate presented Jesus, they cried out “Crucify him, crucify him.” They were insistent on it and Pilate finally gave in and had Jesus flogged in preparation for his crucifixion.

Where were Jesus’ followers when this dirty deed was being done---all those people who had marched in with him shouting “Hosanna”? We know that Simon Peter had followed Jesus when he was taken away from the garden. He was hanging around the fire in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Upon questioning by a servant girl, “Weren’t you with that man from Galilee?,” he denied knowing him, and hurriedly left the scene.

Since Jesus was on the cross by nine in the morning, his followers either didn’t know what was going on or, if Peter had spread the word, they were purposely lying low. But according to the evangelist Mark, none of Jesus’ disciples were there. At the cross only a Roman centurion was astute enough to recognize what was going on. “Truly this man was the Son of God.” This is the only statement about Jesus in the entire Gospel of Mark that the evangelist left unchallenged.

We proclaim both the Palm Gospel and the Passion Gospel on this Sunday because we need to see ourselves at both ends of the week. We need to ask: where are we in this story? Are we with the supporters of Jesus who hailed him as king and thought they had a movement going to renew their nation, but weren’t around when they might have made a difference? Or are we among those who felt a need to support the established order by asking for Jesus to be crucified? Will we who marched for the lives of our youth yesterday continue to do what it takes to support their aspirations? Or will we return to our daily affairs and leave the status quo unchallenged and unchanged. Or…are we like the soldier who had a glimmer of understanding about what was really taking place---that the world’s mess is so intractable that God needs to be involved, even unto death on a cross?

This is a story we need to follow throughout this week because it’s important that we know which group we identify with. And if we’re with the group that calls for the affirmation of life rather than the group that accepts death as the price for maintaining the status quo, then we need to gather at the font at the end of this week to renew our baptismal covenant and commit ourselves anew to the kind of Kingdom Jesus ushered in by his death and resurrection. Amen. 

Pastor Frank Senn