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 

Sunday March 11, 2018 - Fourth Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

Ever since I was a child, I have had a disdain for Snakes. Gartrer Snakes. Grass Snakes. Tree Snakes. Ribbon Snakes. Water Moccasin Snakes.  Rat Snakes. And Corn Snakes. Growing up in Maine, those are the Snakes I knew, and there were plenty of then given all the fields, brooks, and swampy marshes that made up our area. They didn’t bother my father so much, but my mother could not stand the sight of a Snake, much less being in the presence of one. So, whenever she encountered one, she made it known by shouting what many of us might: SNAKE! 

In the back of the property, there was an old, open bed trailer used for hauling small things. On it, was a gate that served as a ramp and very often this gate rested on the grass. Once when I was younger, my mother and I lifted the gate preparing to move the trailer, and under the gate were a handful of different snakes. SNAKE! My mother yelled, and we jumped away and changed our plans until we thought they probably slithered away. Since then, childhood curiosity always had the best of me, and I couldn’t stop wanting to find them—even though I was completely disgusted and frightened by them. I wanted to feel my heart beat rise just a little, to feel the adrenaline, because surely—if I hung around them—they would strike me. So on some of summer’s hottest and most humid days, my brother and I would go to the trailer…. He would lift the gate…and I would stand back. The adrenaline was palpable, and I swear there was a smell. “Are you ready,” my brother would say. Laughing and anxious, he would lift the gate and I would look down and my eyes getting bigger before I could even shout: SNAKE! After, I would run back to the house, shaking them off me as if they flew and landed on me—because at 8—you can get away with stuff like that. Now, reality says they were probably more scared of me than I was of them and sought shelter more quickly than I did.

Something about this encounter kept me coming back; it kept me curious. Perhaps it was perhaps the adrenaline, the did have a game like feeling to it. Perhaps it was just that it was an activity my brother and I shared. But, regardless, images of snakes still give me pause, and if I am honest, they still cause me to want to yell SNAKE and run away! And so snakes, whether they be encountered in their natural habitat, in scripture, in film or in story, I still find myself getting tense about their very nature, their slithering ways and their scales, their predator tendencies, their mere intimidation. When I think of snakes—I don’t recall the ones used in God’s story throughout scripture; I certainly don’t think of the advantage they are to the eco-system, to pest control, or even their presence in the history of medicine.

Snake oil, or venom, has for centuries been used by cultures throughout the world as a form of medicine for a myriad of ailments. It is thought that small doses of venom, a fraction of the amount one would receive through a snake’s bite, is thought to have healing powers. This has been so much a part of culture since the ancient of days, that it has become the understood symbol of medicine. The Ancient Greek god, Asclepius, was called the god of healing and medicine, and it is his ruling staff that the snake is wrapped around.

However, despite the snake’s possible healing agents, its needed place in our eco-system, and its often underrated help—I still find them bothersome. Scripture does not have them too elevated, either. Most notorious is the serpent in the garden of Eden. They find Paul on the beautiful island of Malta; we have seen them mentioned in the Psalms, and in the stories of the Prophets of old. And we see them here today.

Commentator Elizabeth Webb says,

What kind of God is this who inflicts death on people for their lack of trust? Recall that the people have been to Sinai; they have received the law and are bound in covenant with God. Their lack of faith is, to the writers of this passage, a violation of the covenant, and therefore worthy of punishment. But God does also provide the remedy. It is notable that God does not remove the snakes but provides a means for healing in the midst of danger. God brings healing precisely where the sting is the worst.[1]

And this is just one example of the ways in which God has called us into Covenant—and it is just one of the ways in which God has given mercy in our doubt, our questions, our fears—even if they have not been completely removed.

Several books later, in 2 Kings 18, we come to see the snake Moses made, has one final appearance. Over the years the people had come to give this snake much more power than it deserved, becoming an idol. The king at the time, Hezekiah, found it a complete distraction and had it destroyed as a step of faithfulness toward God.

Now, this kind of a story sounds so familiar to the gospel narrative. Through Jesus, God incarnates the world with grace, with mercies, with hope—all of which criminalize him and see to his death. In our gospel lesson today, Jesus confirms this when he says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”.

In a way, God’s judgment is represented in Jesus Christ—just as it was in the snake Moses made. Our involvement in God’s story—in the life of Christ—is a way in which we share peace, grace, light—but more importantly perhaps it is the lens through which we find our own way, and our own healing. And just as the snake who once served this need, a means of salvation for all who gazed upon it, and was destroyed, Jesus is preparing for the same outcome. Even the Apostle Paul today points to the value of Christ’s passion—which is so that no one may boast, so that no one may be left out—so that this world might learn another way to live and to love, together, so that we do not destroy one another.

This week, I attended the village meeting about the new low-income housing that was being planned for Wilmette. While it passed, it was not without controversy, and there were good arguments on both sides being presented. Now, there are ways to present opinions, regardless of what they are, that are both helpful and harmful.  Helpful ways might include the sharing of real data, informed facts, and even remaining questions, but all in a civil and well thought out manner.  Harmful ways might include: the sharing of biased opinion, uninformed facts, and even remaining questions, in demeaning, unkind and uncivil tones. Truth be told, I heard good arguments, kind ones, with meaningful points, from both sides of the matter. However, what bothered me most were some of the ways in which people with lower incomes were talked about.

At least one person referred to people with low-incomes as, “those people,” questioning their character as possible citizens here. Another pointed out that those who could move here might not even “drive nice cars.” Another implied doubt that the potential neighbor would probably not have the skill or desire to care for their property. Another spoke about the privilege it is to live in this community and that it just wasn’t for everybody… everybody… everybody.

Beloveds, the ways in which we talk about or value others has so much power. We can come to believe narratives about people or things, and potential outcomes of situations that just aren’t always substantiated because of our fear, and overtime, I have to wonder of these are the kinds of fears, the kinds of misgivings, that disconnect us from God, enabling us to put faith in our own merits—rather than in God’s good graces.

This isn’t only about the town hall meeting. This is about the ways in which we advocate for others, come to understand people different than ourselves, and live in graceful and compassionate ways that project the love of Christ in a conflicted world. It is about looking at the face of Christ and working together to build a kingdom where bit by bit, we can heal those things that beset us, tear us down, tear one another down, and dispel hope.

Part of our narrative as Christians in this world, is to walk into a marked season where for forty days, we journey. We journey deep into our hearts to look for and work out the fears and misgivings we have against those things which give us un-holy pause. We look to love the person we hold in judgment and see what it is in us that allows us to keep them there. We pray to let God’s love change our hearts, as we live into the love we profess, the love we affirm, and to behold the world—the world that God so loved--and died for. 

My prayer for you, for all of us this Lent is that we live into a light that allows us to be saved from ourselves, saved from our biases, and those things which are different than we know--because God did not come into the world to condemn it—but to Love it—with everything she has.   Amen.





Sunday, March 4, Third Sunday in Lent

Kristin White

John 2:13-22


Preparing for baptism feels like one of the most important things I do as a priest, and I love it. I love talking with parents about their hopes for their children, about their relationships with the people they ask to serve as a child’s godparents. I love sharing about the life of this congregation, and the choice that parents and adults deciding to be baptized have made, to take a share in this community of faith here at St. Augustine's. I love walking through the service itself ahead of time, sharing the theology of why we do what we do and the pieces of history we still carry from the earliest days that the church was church.

And…that is not all.

One of the lessons about baptism that I can’t stop thinking about right now has nothing to do with white dresses or liturgical preparation. Instead, this lesson, one that I’ve taught, one that was shared with me by a friend and mentor, talks about baptism as entering into chaos.

It teaches the reality that the world began in water and darkness, but that none of us can live without shape and form and substance. It shows that the stories of the Bible are really stories about how people have dealt, throughout the millennia, with that chaos.

And we do, too. The darkness and the waters and void exist, at some point, for all of us. So we create ways of building barriers that hold it off and give our lives shape and form: we study, and get a good education; we floss our teeth; we wear seat belts and drive (close to) the speed limit; we exercise; we get to know our neighbors; we eat vegetables; we save money; we choose a safe neighborhood to raise our children; we buy insurance; we get a flu shot; we go to church; we get regular checkups; we read the newspaper; we vote.

And most of these barriers work. Most of them help most of us give our lives shape and form, most of the time.

Until they don’t.

Until the chaos hits, and the thing that wasn’t supposed to happen, does.

You get hurt by a driver who never should have been behind the wheel. After years and years of clean tests, your screening reveals a diagnosis that terrifies you. You do good work at your job…and lose it anyway. Your kid gets into some kind of trouble that you can’t fix. Or your kid is in danger, and you don’t know how to keep them safe.

Is that the real moment that I'm preparing people for in their lives, as we come to the waters of that font? Is that what baptism is for? The time when we find ourselves asking, demanding, in a thousand different ways and at elevated levels: what is real, and who can I trust, and where is God?


This is our opening prayer from the beginning of worship today:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul…

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.


John’s gospel gives us a word about bodies in today’s passage. But before we even get to it, the poetry of that otherworldly evangelist echoes into the conversation: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John says, “Full of grace and truth…and from that fullness have we all received, and grace upon grace.” The irony of that beautiful and ethereal account is that it describes the very earthy fact of God taking up space in this world with flesh and blood and bone. God is word and God is more than word. Because in the person of Jesus, God has a body.

God is fully human. God is fully divine.

Two chapters into that gospel lands us in today’s lesson. In a discussion with the powers that be, Jesus says by word of a sign that if people destroy the temple, he will raise it up in three days. The authorities are confused by such a statement, confused by such a teacher who disrupts the shape and form that they have known to make their own lives make sense. They don’t understand that Jesus is not talking about the temple of marble and gold that has been under construction in Jerusalem for 46 years. They don’t know that he is talking about the temple that is his body; the temple that for 33 years on this earth showed us what God looks like.

And this is what God looks like, what the scripture before us in these next weeks will reveal: “A body anointed, a body beaten, a body on a cross, a body laid in a tomb.”[1] Through it all, and through the 33 years that his body was a temple in this world, and beyond, Jesus shows us that his body is what God looks like. And yours is too.

The word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. “We are baptized into that word made flesh, that we might become the flesh made word,”[2] that we might embody the truth of the gospel, become agents of the fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.

The grave danger in this is that we get fractured and lost, that somehow we get separated from who we are, body and soul. The danger of believing we can control the chaos is that our baptism becomes more about that white dress (which is of course lovely), and less about knowing our need of God.

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves…” that’s a terrifying thing to pray, and entirely contrary to the narrative that this world would strive to teach us.

And yet:

Keep us, we pray.

Defend us from adversities, which may happen to our bodies.

Defend us from evil, which may assault and hurt our souls.

Be with us in the chaos we inhabit, O God, and help us to see you right here.


When I meet with people preparing for baptism, usually with parents getting ready to have their children baptized, our conversation includes what we call the “renunciations and affirmations”: six questions from the earliest days of the church. They begin with these three:

·      Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

·      Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

·      Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

It’s not the kind of language we tend to use in our day-to-day lives. And so what I say to parents and godparents if they ask about it (and sometimes even if they don’t) is that, whatever you believe about the personification of evil, my guess is that we can agree that the world as it is is not the world of God’s promise. That there are forces striving to keep us fractured and separated, and those forces are what we renounce in these prayers.

Which is to say, there is chaos.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum right now, I believe that we find ourselves in a moment of collective chaos the likes of which I have not known in my lifetime.

Things are not as they should be. Kids should not have to text their parents from a closet during lockdown, but they have. Teachers should not have to identify themselves as first responders, but now they do. Parents, you should not have to clutch a little at your throats when you drop your children off at school, hoping that you will pick them up again safely at the end of the day, and yet my hunch is that – at least at the back of your minds, at least a little bit – you do.

Churches should not have to be a space with a contingency plan for what if…but Mother Emmanuel, Charleston, and First Baptist, Southerland Springs, would teach us otherwise. I did not know this might be asked of me at the time of my ordination, but I know it in my bones now, that I would put my body between yours and a gun.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.

We inhabit a time of chaos. But take heart – because in the person of Jesus, God chose to come into the chaos we inhabit. Take heart, because God chose to take the same frail and fleshy form that we do, in order that God could be with us.

“He was speaking of the temple of his body,” the gospel tells us. And it’s true – his body was destroyed. Death is real. Still, our faith teaches us that it is not ultimate.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he said. And they did. And God did.

Keep us in our bodies, we pray. Keep us in our souls.