Witness

Sometimes my job is just to witness. Sitting in my office, dealing with details before the start of our weekly healing Eucharist, I overhear one soul telling another, “God loves you!” Not knowing this person, unaware of the deep need to hear just these words. Grace upon grace.

“I still live with my parents”

In some ways we all do, right?

I am the child of parents who taught me among so many other things to live my relationship with God by doing what I can to make the world a better place. I’m still working on that.

A sermon for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost

“I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter,” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately Herod sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.[1]

That’s the climax of our reading from Mark’s Gospel for today, the end of a long and detailed account of the execution of John the Baptist.

The word Gospelmeans good news—Mark gives us those words in his very first verse—but it surely is hard to find the good news in this story.

There’s no good to be found in the scheming of Herodias, who wants to get rid of John because his persistent criticism of her marriage to Herod is a political liability.

There’s not much good to be found in Herod himself, though he seems to have some regard for John.

But he doesn’t want to lose face in front of the rich and powerful of Galilee who have gathered to celebrate his birthday, and so without hesitation he sends an executioner with orders to return with John’s head on a serving platter, and his command is promptly accomplished.

That doesn’t seem like good news, not at all.

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Lived, loved, & laughed

What words would you choose for your tombstone? I was taking some pictures at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, and I noticed that there isn’t much room for inscriptions on these military tombstones. “Beloved husband, dad, granddad.” “Never forgotten.” “Forever loved.”

I decided the one on the lower right is really my favorite: “Lived, loved, & laughed.” John Gillis, I think you had the right idea.

Elusive

Fireflies. I tried for two evenings to get this photo, and I’m still not entirely satisfied.

At dusk they appear to be everywhere in our yard, but it turns out they’re everywhere except in the place where I point my camera, wherever that is. Meanwhile, the invisible mosquitoes really are everywhere; worse: they all seem to know exactly where I am.

Funny how some things can be found only where you’re not looking for them, while others manage to find you even when you don’t want to be found.

Territorial

This little birdy has been hanging out on the window looking into the chancel for the past few days. He’s just about the prettiest shade of blue I’ve ever seen. (Those in the know identified him as an indigo bunting.) He made his presence known on Sunday by pecking and flapping against the window all through the service. I’d like to think he was drawn to us by some spark of recognition in his tiny avian heart that all of Creation is one in giving God glory, and all God’s creatures are welcome here. But friends who know birds say it’s more likely he sees his own reflection in the glass and is “fighting” to guard his territory. I guess they’re a lot like us in more ways than one.

A Father’s Day prayer

I spent a few hours yesterday watching my 19-month-old granddaughter play on the floor with her dad while we adults talked: laughing giddily when he bounced her on his legs, commanding him to kiss the tiny imaginary “baby” she rocked in her arms, playing a surprisingly physical game that involved sliding an ice cube up and down the grooves in a metal coffee table, and occasionally throwing her harms around his neck and chanting, “hug, hug, hug!”

Of course I was charmed. One of the most beautiful kids in the world, and one of the best dads. Blessings upon blessings this Father’s Day.

It made the sadness I felt for all those fathers and children who are apart from each other this day all the more poignant. Of course the kids at the border, who did nothing to deserve the terrible thing that is happening to them. But also dads and kids serving their country in far-away places, and those who have lost their lives in service to others. Those whose lives were taken by gun violence closer to home. Those separated by the plague of addiction. Those whose fathers have been unable, for whatever reason, to provide the love and stability they needed. Those remembering fathers who lived long and happy lives, for whom Father’s Day will always be a reminder of both love and loss.

Thank you, God, for all who show a father’s love in our world … for those who are special to us … be close to those who are sad today.

Preach it!

On vacation in Philly, I asked our Lyft driver if she liked the work, and she asked what kind of work Chris and I do. After a while, she took a big breath, said she understood I was “off duty” – are we ever? – but wondered if she could ask me for some advice. Sure, I said, wondering what was coming next.
She told me she’d been a Christian for 25 years, and she still believes in Jesus, but lately she’s been having a lot of trouble with Christianity because of the way it’s being used to justify things that don’t seem Christian to her, and she named some examples. I won’t repeat the entire conversation, but we did think a little about what Jesus would say if he were standing at the border today.
She said she prayed every morning for God to fix this sorry world, and then she prayed for God to tell her what she could do about it. I told her I thought she was asking the right questions, and the only “advice” I had was to keep praying and stay true to her faith in Jesus.
Later, I thought about how much courage it would take to start a conversation like that with a stranger, especially when that stranger just admitted to being a Christian preacher.
And later still, I wondered which one of us was actually doing the preaching.
She does like the work, by the way. Because, she said, I have conversations like this.
Me, too.