Author Archives: maxgrantmg

Pentecost Sermon: Love’s Revolution


How many of you got up early to watch the Royal Wedding?

I admit that I myself did not.

But I followed with great interest the wedding sermon, which was delivered by an American pastor, Bishop Michael Curry, who is a gifted preacher.

The Bishop did not disappoint.

He gave a deep and thoughtful reflection on the central hope underneath each and every Christian claim.

He talked about the power of love to transform the world.

It is a great sermon, and I recommend it to you warmly.

But if you look it up online, you will see that the sermon was not entirely without controversy.

Well…controversy may be too strong a word.

When a preacher preaches, there are some people who focus like a laser beam on that.

There are others who seem more interested in how the sermon appears to be connecting with the congregation.

And apparently….apparently…if you looked at the Americans who were actually in the congregation at the royal wedding, you could see that they were focused on that sermon.

They settle right in and nod and smile at all the right places.

But not so for the Royal Family.

If you watch them, you can see that they seemed to find it all a tad long. Worse, they seemed to find it all a tad sincere.

You can see it on the tape.

You can see them exchanging side-eye glances, even shifting in their seats a bit.

The speculation is running that from their point of view, a sermon about the power of love to change the world is not really their kind of sermon.

Maybe not for a wedding.  Maybe not for anything.

They’re the Royal Family.

Maybe to them, talking about “changing the world” through love or through anything else is like quoting that verse in Luke that talks about how God “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble.”

My guess is that you hear that sort of differently if you’re a member of the British Royal Family.

Because it’s one thing if you come to a wedding and the preacher stands up and tells you that love abides…that love is eternal.

And if he or she goes on to say that love is from God, well, a lot of people probably shrug and say that’s just part of the price you pay.

It’s a preacher up there preaching…what do you expect?

Love abides — that’s nice to be reminded about.  Those are good words to hear.

But it’s something else when somebody gets up and says that love changes things.

That’s not necessarily all that great to hear.

Because that’s revolutionary.

And by God, it’s supposed to be.

Some people aren’t prepared to say that.  They don’t really want to take it that far.

I mean, many of us think, sure, it’s fine for love to change some things.

That’s great.

Sometimes you hear stories about someone who had a near miss with mortality…how at the moment when it seemed like the end they saw the faces of their children…and how then when they survived, they had a new lease on life.

That reminder of the love of their children means that from that day forward, they have decided to change some things.

That’s great.

But when the Church says that love changes things, or when Jesus says that love changes things, and the Church is tasked with trying to think through what that means, the point is not that love only changes some things.

The point is that love changes everything.

The task of the Church is about trying to discern what God wants love to change next.

And then the next task of the Church is to discern what God wants that love to look like.

And so if somebody hears that and thinks that God’s love isn’t revolutionary, well then…somebody wasn’t really paying attention.

Of course, this is not to say that the Gospel is somehow on the side of worldly revolution in any simple sense of that term.

Some people can be quick to baptize any revolution…every revolution…and that’s not right.

That’s not paying attention, either.

The point of this revolution is not regime change.

That’s thinking too small.

The point is regime transformation.

The point of this revolution is a world where love is not only the final destination.

Because in this revolution, love is also the way there.

It changes everything.  And everyone.

That’s what this is.


Now the story of the first Pentecost is a wonderful story.

It’s as if the miraculous signs drop down from Heaven like fireworks, one after another.

Boom, boom, boom.

The disciples are together in a room, somewhere in Jerusalem, when boom… there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house.

And you get the feeling like they’re all looking around like, “What in the world??” when boom again, “divided tongues as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

Now these were miracle people, witnesses to the resurrection, the people who had journeyed with Jesus…Christianity’s first All-Star team…and yet this was unlike anything even they had ever seen.

“All of them,” it says, “were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages….”

And the story goes on to say that “at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

Each one, heard themselves, not only being spoken to, but being spoken to in their mother tongue.

It’s an incredible moment. An unprecedented moment.  A major God-moment.

So it’s probably no surprise if I tell you that this moment is considered to be the birth of the Church.

But you know, it occurs to me that there are two ways that we can hear this story.

Because I think some people who hear this story probably place themselves in the gathered crowd.

They think back on that first Pentecost and say “Wow…

wouldn’t be incredible if God spoke to me that way? Wouldn’t it be amazing if God reached out to me, speaking my language?”

“What a difference it would make if God reached out to me, just like that…here in my little world…to hear God’s voice call to me….”

But then there are those who approach this story from a different angle.

Because there are those who hear this story and go, (MG: whew), “What new language is God challenging me to learn?”

“What are the words that God has placed on my heart?”

“What message do the tongues of fire resting over my head tell me to offer to the world?”

And I want to suggest that it’s those people who are truly engaging with the revolutionary loveof God.

It’s those people who are learning to ask what it is that God wants love to change next.

It’s those people who see that part of what God also wants love to change next isn’t just the world out there.

It’s the world within each of us, too.

Because the world changes as we hear the Spirit’s call and learn to love in new ways.

In learning new languages, we will both transform and be transformed.


In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God tells his people: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

And God says, “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

On Pentecost, two things happened.

The Church learned for the first time that it was the Church….that it wasn’t just a random band of Jesus people, or people who got it, or whatever.

It was called to be a new thing: the Church.  As such, it was a large part of God’s plan for the healing and redemption of the world.

Second, if you think about it, making ways in the wilderness and springs in the desert sound pretty close to impossible.

These things are contradictions in terms.

Or at least, they are if all you speak is the old language…they are if all you see are things in the same old way.

God asks, “Do you not perceive it?”

Do you not perceive it?

It is nothing less than a revolution.

What does God want love to change next?

What new language do you need to learn in order to be part of that change?

To be a Christian is not just to believe that love would change the world, or that love will change the world.

To be a Christian is to believe that love is already changing the world.

Love brings down the mighty from their thrones.

Love exalts the humble.

This might be hard for some in the British Royal Family to hear.

But it is good news.

In truth, it is the very best news that ever was or will be.



Sermon: Mothers and God-mothers (John 17: 6-19)


Mother’s Day is a day when we lift up our moms.

For some, that comes so naturally that it scarcely rates as a day.

There are some families where, on Mother’s Day, the grandmother shows up unannounced with dinner already made in pots covered in tin foil, along with flowers for her daughter, and all anyone has to do is go get it from the backseat.

These are families where motherhood has become a form of sisterhood — a powerful shared experience of family and what it is to be “the mom” and of all that demands.

There are families where mom gets breakfast in bed, made by everybody else, on Mother’s Day.

I have a feeling that in a lot of those families, mom may be a lot more awake than she pretends to be — that upstairs she is listening with her “mom ears,” those ears that always hear everything that goes on — and that the gift is not so much the breakfast she is served, but more the pleasure of listening to somebody else having to wrangle the children through an exercise involving open flames, getting things out of the knife drawer, and adjudicating who gets to carry the tray.

Of course, there are families where a phone call pretty much does it.

And there are others for whom even that might be asking too much.

My own grandmother was like that.

If you called her on Mother’s Day, you had to do it before the Mets game, or you wouldn’t keep her attention long enough to say thank you.

You’d be like, “Happy Mother’s Day, Nanny! I just wanted to call and say how much I…”

And she’d be like, “Wait, Mookie Wilson is coming up! Come on, Mookie! I just love Mookie!”

And you’d maybe try to fight that for a minute or two, but it never worked, and finally she’d say, “Well, this is long distance, so….” And that was your cue to hang up and let her get back to her game.

Which was always funny because if you were sitting in her living room, watching the game on some other day, her phone would ring constantly, and she had no trouble whatsoever talking and watching.

I think I was in my late 20s when I realized that it wasn’t her love for the Mets that was the issue.  It was this particular kind of “thank you” that was the issue.

That if you wanted to thank my grandmother…if you wanted to show her love… to say “I love you” outright was not the way.

She was also not the kind of grandmother who wanted a hug ever, or who wanted a handmade card.

But a New York Mets cigarette lighter?  She would have gone on and on and on about that.

It occurs to me that this is one of the great challenges of a day like this.

Because each one of us has their own particular language of love…our own particular ways in which we feel seen and appreciated and known for who we are.

That’s important.

It’s important because I’m not entirely sure that Mother’s Day leaves a lot of room for that.

Cards, flowers, breakfast in bed — those things all have their place, to be sure.

But if there is really anything to this day, it is because it offers us the chance to say to someone that they are noticed. They are seen.  They are appreciated not just for everything they do, but for who they are.

You’ve heard about the mom whose family got her a new vacuum cleaner for Mother’s Day?

The good news is that the jury acquitted her of all charges.

If all we have noticed about our mothers is how much cooking and cleaning and carpooling and caretaking our moms do–if the only part of who they are that we’ve come to know about them over the years is the part about the logistics of taking care of us–well, shame on us.

If that’s all we’re celebrating on Mother’s Day, then we’re not celebrating our mothers much at all.

Really, we’re just finding another way to celebrate ourselves.

And that’s not the point.

I mean, is that who God sees when God looks down at your mom, or mine?

Does God look down at them, doing all the things they do, going all the places they go, spinning all those plates they spin and wearing all those hats they wear…does God look down at them and say, “Hey there’s whatshername, Max’s mom?”

Or does God look down and say “There she is.  There is my child…who is doing so much…who is making it work in so many ways…She may be far from perfect and yet…Isn’t she amazing….”?

Isn’t Mother’s Day really supposed to be about giving thanks for that person…that person that God knows?

Do we see her today? How does she want to be loved today?

Do we really even know?

And not just her.

Another thing it’s important to mention today is that motherhood takes many forms.

Each of us is nurtured in so many different ways, and by so many different people.

On this day when we are called to see our mothers more deeply…more completely…let’s acknowledge how important it is for us to have people in our lives who see us with that same kind of profound insight.  Who see something in us.

Today, I’m thankful because I’m aware, not only of my mom, but also of other mother-figures I have had in my life — especially spiritual mothers.

You see, my mother is not a particularly inclined to talk about religious things, and I grew up in a home without much, if any, God-talk.

There was a great deal of talk about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, and kindness and unkindness.

That has shaped me profoundly, and looking back on it, I feel very clear that the Holy Spirit was hovering over a whole lot of that talk.

But my spiritual life really came together because at various points in my life, other mother-figures appeared.

Other women, my true God-mothers, came along, and they shaped me decisively, and reshaped my thinking in important ways.

My God-mothers were women who were willing to talk about God…and prayer… the strength it takes to turn the other cheek, and to render to no one evil for evil.

There have been those God-mothers in my life who were not just willing to lift me as a spiritual person, though I’m grateful for that, too.

But what was even more important were that they were willing to level with me…they told me, not only about grace, but about the work of learning to carry their cross.  Every day.

That’s formed me, too.

Some of them are in this very room right now.

Who are your God-mothers? Who has played that role in your life? Someone, right?

Who’s on your heart this morning?

A Sunday school teacher? A praying or a meditating person? The author of a book you read years ago but have never really forgotten?

Or maybe the person you’re seeing wasn’t even explicitly churchy…she was a God-mother of a different kind…maybe a beloved aunt who didn’t see things quite the way your parents did? A friend’s mom with a million bumper stickers on the back of her station wagon? The teacher or the boss who loved you dearly but rode you hard and didn’t see those things as opposites?

Didn’t these people give us life, too? Wasn’t the Spirit moving in them, somehow?

To me, Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without them.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to put someone on a pedestal than to listen to what she has to say.

If you think about it, that’s something that Jesus and many women have very much in common.

Let’s not do that today.

Instead, let’s listen.  Let’s ask ourselves how the people in our lives want to be loved today.

If we do it today, maybe we will make a point to do it again tomorrow, and so on.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus lifts his eyes to God and says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

It is a prayer for his disciples — a recognition that even though he is soon to depart, his work continues in the lives of those who stay and carry on.

Today, I hear it also as a particular prayer for the many ways in which the love of our mothers and God-mothers continues the work of Christ in the world.

Hard as life can be, confusing as it can be, unjust as the world can be…nevertheless, there are those who have found a way to give us life in all its forms.

And the point, simply, is that God is glorified in that giving.  God is present in that giving. God is transforming not only us, but all creation in that giving.

The job of Mother’s Day is to name that as we give thanks for our mothers and our God-mothers in whatever ways we do.

However we express it, may we always be grateful for the love in their labor and the labor in their love.




From the Newsletter: “Sushi and Becoming”


Dear Friends of Second Church,

With Grace away overnight on a Girl Scouts camping trip last weekend, Liz and I decided to take Emily out for dinner so she could try sushi.
Both of us remember this part of our childhoods fondly — when our parents buckled down to the task of introducing us to grown-up things for the first time.  Foods from new places.  Different kinds of music.  Museums with no running or talking loudly. Every sport they played in New York City at every venue where sports were played.
This occasionally backfired.
For example, there was the family reunion dinner with all my cousins, when I raised my fork and said, “My compliments to the chef!”…which made several of them spit out milk. I was ten years old.
Earlier than that, there had been the day my mom came home from work and saw an open beer can on the kitchen counter.
Terrified that someone had gotten into our apartment, she came into the living room.
“What’s this?” she said, holding the can.
“I was thirsty,” I said, scarcely diverting my eyes from a rerun of the “Carol Burnett Show.”  “I thought I’d try it.”
Clearly, there’s more to sampling grown-up things than just an attitude of “try it and see what happens.”
Even so, these things are easy to overthink.
After all, the real thrill is seeing someone make a genuine discovery for herself, and not just watch approvingly as she is dutifully initiated into our own prejudices.
So on Saturday night, off we went to try sushi with Emily.
Wasabi aside, it was a hit. As were the pork dumplings Liz was having.  As was the pad thai I was having.   As were the chop sticks, masterfully bound together by a rubber band at one end for the beginning user.
But the biggest hit was having ginger ale with a straw in a tall glass (made of actual glass).
“BEST. DINNER. EVER.” Emily pronounced, reaching into her glass to slurp the last ginger ale off of the ice cubes.  “Can we come back again tomorrow?”
We may have created a monster.
Is there a dosage at which ginger becomes toxic? We don’t know.
But we’ll risk it.
Learning to control our enthusiasms is important, but not more so than having them, in the first place.
Finding what we love is so important.  It teaches us not only what it is to encounter the world, but also ourselves in surprising ways.  Loving something teaches us that we are, it turns out, a certain kind of person — a someone who loves this more than that, these more than those.
This can be nothing sort of astonishing.  Learning who it is God made us to be is one of the most wonderful but challenging tasks of our lives.
Moreover, it reminds us that faith may not be living “up” to something so much as it is a process of living into something ever more deeply, authentically, and joyfully — not only the teachings of Jesus, but our own skin, and the dazzling promise that God intends that the two shall meet and journey together.
What is God inviting you to try? To discover next? To become?
May the blessing it proves to be fill you with joy and new energy in the days and weeks to come.
See you in church,

From the Newsletter: “What Lies Within”


Dear Friends of Second Church,

Last week, I was blessed to preside at a wedding in San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico.

What an adventure!

My last visit to Mexico was a four hour trip to Tijuana with my dad when I was eight, so I had a lot to see and learn. It was delightful.

I learned that Mexican children have the same loyalty to their mom’s mole recipe that Italian-American kids feel about their mom’s Bolognese.

I learned that weddings involve not only the ceremony, itself, and of course the reception, but also a parade through town led by enormous puppets and a mariachi band.

Most of all, I learned that the anonymous street scape of heavy doors and shuttered windows still offered momentary sightings of interior courtyards with bright tiles, gurgling fountains and hanging curtains of flame vine — places where anyone could happily hole up for the duration.

You don’t need to convince me that houses can have souls — or spirits, anyway.

I’ll save talking about the churches and what it’s like to pray in them for another post.

Eventually, though, it was time to go.  As it always does, getting home involved waiting for a while in any number of lines — check in, security, boarding “zone,” immigration, customs, etc.

But I found myself thinking about the streets of San Miguel as I waited.  About how the impatient guy in the Barca soccer jersey and the older couple in matching Travelsmith khaki vests were, in their own way, like those enormous doors and closed windows I had seen.

Any of us presents a face to the outside world that gives little clue to what might be found inside.  Maybe we are carefully tended, manicured to the hilt.  Or surprisingly unkempt, disordered in one part and wildly beautiful in another.  The fountains flow with abandon in some; in others, the pools are melancholy and stagnant.

This is what God sees.

These are the courtyards He would tend with such patience and love, if we were willing…or where God sees His own handiwork already in blossom, creating a peaceful place where the soul dwells.

It makes me wonder what I need to do to welcome in the gardener — what needs tending to — and what it might be like to open the doors so that others might see.

See you in church,

From the Newsletter: 50 Years After



Dear Friends of Second Church,

After the great joy of Easter last Sunday, today interjects a somber note, as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many of you will remember those days.

As it happens, I don’t.

My father had returned from Vietnam only a few months earlier; my mother was back in school, hurrying to finish a teaching credential and get a job—they were busy starting out and hadn’t yet started a family. So I arrived a little later — about two weeks before the shootings at Kent State in 1970.

But I have lived in the shadows, both of Dr. King’s moral vision and of the violence of those days, for much of my life.  As we all have.

What I find myself pondering this morning is King’s tremendous hope for the Church, precisely in the face of turbulent and frightening times.

King spoke often about the call to be part of the “beloved community,” by which some understood him to be speaking directly about the Church—a community formed by and for the love of God and one another.

Actually, King’s hope went further than that.

He believed deeply in love of neighbor, and in the Church’s call to love and serve the world far beyond the walls of any particular community, or for the benefit of any one group—even a Christian one.

He believed that all people were loved by God and had a place in the beloved community, and that the charge of faithful people was to work together to ensure each person found that place.

He set a high bar back then.  Perhaps it’s even higher now.

But in the days after Easter, I’m reminded that we stand under not only King’s call, but Jesus’ call to love and serve the world beyond the walls of any particular community.

The disciples were in complete disarray after Jesus’ death, miracle or no miracle.  Yet they heard the call, and their mission grew clear.

We may feel scattered, ourselves, by a thousand different things, each important, too.  Yet the call—and the vision of beloved community—still echo.

Imperfect as we are, burdened and busy as we are, may we seek to follow it.

See you in church,

Easter Sermon: “The Uprising”

holding hands

Several years ago, in my first Easter here, we were scrambling to take care of some last minute details in the office.

It was in the early afternoon on Good Friday, and in most years, it’s around that same time that we send everyone in the office home for the weekend.

But not this particular year.

This year, all hands were on deck.

The bulletins were assembled in particular piles on that counter in front of Gloria’s desk, Easter egg supplies were getting stowed, there was music being copied in the copier — things were humming.

And all of the sudden, two young men came in.

Dark suits, white shirts, silk ties, loafers, leather briefcases.

For a moment, I thought they were missionaries.

“Good afternoon!” said one brightly. “Is your Office Manager here?”

There was a pause.

“Yes, I’m the Office Manager,” said Gloria warily.

“I’m David and this is my colleague Kevin, and we’re associates at Bank of America, how are you today?” began the first one.

“I’m fine,” said Gloria flatly.

“Great…that’s just great,” said David. “We’d like to talk to you about how Bank of America can partner with your organization to unlock the resources you need for exponential expansion here in lower Fairfield County.”

(I think we all died a little when he said that.)

But then it got even better, because his colleague Kevin chimed in. “We’ve come here because, guys, we understand your business.

That was, you know, comforting.

It was comforting, there among the bulletins and the Easter eggs and the busily churning copier, in the very hours that our blessed savior hung upon the cross, to know that Dave and Kevin from Bank of America understood our business.

Now, it would be incorrect to say that they were laughed out of the office.

However, those of you who have done cold-calls will know this.

If you’ve ever done cold calls you know that sometimes people don’t need to come out and actually say no — there’s a moment when it just becomes clear that they’re not buying.

This was certainly one of those moments, and off they went.


In any case, their visit only helped to make one point even clearer: here in the church, Easter is our business.

Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus is our mission, and our product (if we can call it that) is the transformation of people’s lives in the light of his resurrection.

What might seem on the outside like just another organization…another tastefully landscaped office park around a historic structure on Putnam Avenue, a place just waiting to unlock its resources and seek out strategic synergies that will empower its customer base and establish it as a best of breed nexus within its particular ecosystem…well, that’s how it may seem.

It’s actually a very different kind of enterprise.

Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

And we say that because, after all, we Christians are a very different kind of people….or at least, we’re supposed to be.

Moreover, it is what happened on this day that is supposed to make that possible.

That’s what Easter is.

Because on this day, so long ago, Christians began, however slowly, to understand that brokenness itself was broken. Death itself had breathed its last.

In the words of Frederick Buechner, “there no evil so dark and so obscene…but that God can turn it to good.” For Christians, that hope comes out of today.

It’s a hope the world needs more than ever.

We do.

As hatred and division seem newly emboldened all across the globe; as the technology that puts us in such constant touch with each other turns out mostly to narrow and reinforce our existing views; as addiction claims people from every quarter and walk of life; as the vulnerable and displaced suffer; as schools become battlegrounds.

So much seems so much harder right now.

Why care about any of it if we don’t have to?

The answer is: because of Easter.

The psalmist writes, “I lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my aid?”

As has been said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are called to be part of the solution.

I believe that the moral imagination of the world is in urgent need of renewal.

The world urgently needs the power of the church’s witness. We need it to take hold.

Because it is that witness that engages all people of good will.

It is that witness that strengthens our capacity to work together…to imagine a different world…a better world…together.

Because we know.

We know that no matter how powerful the darkness may seem, God has shown that it can be turned to good, and you and I are called to be part of that project.

Easter is our business.


It always has been.

For the early Christians, a central part of the Easter story focused on what Jesus actually did during the three days after he was crucified–a period that the Apostles’ Creed describes succinctly, saying just “He descended into Hell.”

The Gospels don’t tell us anything about that.

Other letters mention it only briefly. The First Letter of Peter tells us the most. It says only that Jesus “preached to the imprisoned spirits” in Hell.

Yet the early church came to believe that after the Crucifixion, Jesus descended into Hell, where He shared The Good News with all those who had died, from Adam and Eve on forward, offering them the salvation they had not been offered in their own earthly life.

And what happened next was an “uprising.”

The Greek word is anastasis, literally, the opposite of stasis, a not-staying-still.

Early church images of Easter show not just Jesus being lifted up, but a great uprising of souls to Heaven from the very depths of Hell, with their arms all linked together as they rise.

For us today, it’s a reminder that the Christian vision encompasses something more than just how each one of us comes to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Important as that is, we’re also invited to join “the people of God.”

And it’s a reminder that Jesus expects us to “rise up” in loving service to the world, with arms linked, showing what it is to live the Gospel together, because it’s not enough just somehow to “believe” in it for ourselves.

We must be witnesses to a new and more excellent way.

There’s plenty of Hell right here, and there are plenty of people who need lifting. We should start with that.

Easter is our business.


How do we make it more of our personal business?

There is no magic to it. I suspect that, for the most part, we know what we are supposed to do.

Jesus shows us, in life and even after death.

Reach out.  Lift others.

Spouses for whom love and understanding and companionship have given way to texts about soccer practice: lift each other.

Seniors feeling unseen or unremembered after moving to assisted living: lift someone.

In the relative abundance and safety of this place, remember those in another place who have neither: lift them.

The discouraged, the sick, those who suffer from injustice: lift them.


Generosity takes many forms in the Kingdom of God, but all of us are called to give.

All of us are called to leave the world better than we found it, and to lift as many as we can in whatever ways we can.


And so, this morning, we remember what John’s Gospel tells us about the morning of that first Easter, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed.

She sees that the stone in front of it has been rolled back, and she runs and tells Peter.

Some time later, she stands in the garden alone once again, weeping quietly, and for the first time, she looks down into the tomb for herself.

There she sees two angels dressed in white, one at the head where Jesus lay, and the other at the feet.

And they look up and ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“Mary,” they say, “we know your business. And from now on, you and all who follow will proclaim the power of the risen Christ.”

“It is the power that will transform the world.”

And so it was. And so it is.

May this Easter remind you of the transforming love of God at work in and through you.

May it lift you and lift me, and as we rise, may we reach out to grasp another and another and another, until all are lifted, and all are held, and all are made free in God at last.


Good Friday: “Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit”


Of all the words that Jesus speaks in the final hours of his life, the single word that I keep thinking about this week is the word “hands.”

He says it in his final sentence. He says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

That resonates for me because I’ve been remembering just how many sets of hands have been part of the story of his final night and day.

There were the hands laid on him since his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before.

There were the hands of Judas.

The hands of the Temple authorities who arrest him, put him on trial, then strike him, taunting him after his conviction, saying “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:68).

There were the hands of the Roman soldiers, who literally strip him, beat him, and mock him.

There were also the hands of Pilate, which he washes before the crowd, declaring that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood, and that they are the ones who have convicted Jesus to death.

There were the hands that crucified Jesus and cast lots for his clothing.

The hands of injustice and cruelty have been hard at work to discipline this body…this bad subject of the Emperor…so that any others tempted to make their own unfortunate little displays of whatever might think twice.

These are the hands that hit and strangle, the hands that serve to administer injustice. The hands that so easily wash themselves of any of us when they start to feel unclean.

Many of us know these hands.

Yet as Jesus feels himself getting weaker…as he recognizes perhaps that it is getting harder and harder for him to breathe…that the end is not far off…it is not those hands he talks about.

Instead, he talks about God’s hands.

Jesus proclaims that it is God’s hands that will hold him now — that now his spirit is in God’s hands alone.

There is defiance in that.

It’s a proclamation.

He’s proclaiming that the agents of Empire, with all their violence, with all their rigged systems, with all their hypocrisy, selfishness and sin, might have taken his poor body, but despite all that, they have not taken his soul.

They have not won.

He has not been silenced. He does not love Big Brother.

That makes me think.

Because you know, we say that there are things far worse than death in this world. It’s easy enough to say.

It is easy enough to say that the things that kill our souls are worse than anything that might happen to our bodies.

But what gives us the strength to live that out?

Especially, what gives us the strength to proclaim it with our lives when the hands of hatred have been…are…on us?

That kind of defiant hope can only come out of the spirit.

It can only come as this voice, this sense, this inner certainty that whatever might befall us, truth still matters. That goodness still matters…that who we are before God still matters.

Even when darkness has us in its clutches, it is the something that reminds us that the Kingdom of God is never as far away as we might think.

It’s what holds on for dear life, knowing that the power to change hearts and minds and even the work of hands is far greater and far closer than it might first appear.

Eternity is already at work.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” it has been said, “but I know who holds the future.”

Good Friday pushes us to reflect upon the work of our hands — our own shortcomings, our own sins, our own dark inclination to join the crowd.

Defiant hope is what life looks like when we know that we are in God’s tender hands, come what may. And that the world is in God’s hands, too, whatever may happen to us.

So today we remember that, with his hands outstretched upon the cross, Jesus reaches out.

Jesus reaches out to lift us all.


Maundy Thursday Reflection: Being Human in the Face of Inhumanity


There’s a story in the Old Testament that we don’t usually tell as part of Holy Week or as a moment that seems to anticipate the person of Jesus.

It’s a story from the life of King Saul, who was the first king of Israel and had the dubious distinction of being selected and then un-selected by God for the job.

Power corrupted Saul — it made him not only less inclined to trust and to follow God, but more narrowly paranoid, and murderous even toward those who wanted to help him.

When the young shepherd David is first brought into Saul’s court, it is David’s music, indeed, perhaps David’s music alone, that seems to soothe Saul’s troubled mind, if only temporarily…and yet before long, David becomes such a figure of envy for Saul that he ends up turning David into the very enemy he most fears.

They begin to fight a civil war for control of the country.

And then finally, on the last night of his life, Saul does a very strange thing.

He knows, for the most part, that his cause is doomed, and that likely he will die.

But he breaks his own laws and seeks out a soothsayer from outside Israel…a woman who follows other gods…a woman who could be put to death for practicing her own faith openly in the neighborhood…a woman with little to gain by helping Saul, and everything to lose…

It’s an odd choice to go ask her for help, but that’s what Saul does.

He is hoping she will be able to raise the ghost of the dead prophet Samuel…the prophet who had originally been led by God to find him, and to crown him king.

Saul disguises himself and knocks on her door, on the outskirts of the village of Endor. But the woman is the real deal, and she knows exactly who he is, and how risky it is for her that he is there.

Nevertheless, she lets him in, and she conjures the spirit of Samuel, who is perhaps even less delighted to see Saul than the woman had been.

Samuel gives it to Saul straight. He is doomed. God has un-chosen him. There is no path forward. By that hour on the following day, his ghost will be down in the underworld with Samuel’s.

Saul is devastated.

And then the story offers a curious detail.

It says that the soothsayer of Endor, this foreign woman who lives on the edge of town, trying to keep a low profile just to survive, actually takes pity on King Saul.

She cannot change the future. She cannot change the truth. That he is there with her, at all, is dangerous for them both, but especially for her.

Nevertheless, she shows him kindness. She gives him something to eat. She sits with him. She lets him grieve.

This is all the more remarkable because he doesn’t entirely deserve it.

If you read his story, it will be clear that while Saul is a tragic figure, he’s not a particularly sympathetic one. Too many of his wounds are self-inflicted…too much of his bravado has rung too hollow for too long…too many of his choices have led to the deaths of too many.

But that doesn’t matter in this particular moment.

In this moment, he does deserve it. He deserves care. Because any of us would.

Because what matters in this moment is that she recognizes him, not as an enemy, not as the follower of a different God, not even as a dangerous, flailing, broken king.

She recognizes him simply as a person in pain.

It’s something, let’s admit, that he would likely never have done for her.

But be that as it may, what matters is that in this moment, this woman, in her own small way, stands up for life. She stands up for decency. She tends to his soul.

In a very pointed irony, her gentle hospitality shows more about what faith is supposed to be about than Saul has seen from the so-called religious people all around him in a very long time.

It’s a story worth remembering.

It’s a story not unlike the one Jesus would tell in Luke’s gospel, when he talked about the Good Samaritan — another outsider who showed more of the true spirit of faith than any of the people who passed by.

Moreover, it’s a story worth remembering tonight, when we tell the story of the last night of Jesus’ own life.

Jesus experiences fear, too. He clearly understands what lies before him.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks God for some sort of path forward — to no avail.

But unlike Saul, Jesus is not a perpetrator of violence…he is not a corrupt king.

There’s a more fundamental difference too.

Because if Saul’s visit to Endor is able to humanize him, then the story of Jesus from his arrest until his death is a story of being dehumanized — in being mocked and beaten and jeered at and killed.

It’s horrible because it is so easy to picture: in the eyes of the Romans, and the Jewish leaders, Jesus is not a man, but a problem to get rid of.

In the eyes of the crowd, Jesus is not one of their own, anymore; he’s something between a scapegoat and a cheap thrill.

How stupid they had been to cheer for him earlier that week. Well, no more.

Goodness can be so fragile, and fear so powerful for any of us.

When you put them up against our fears, virtues such as kindness and restraint, patience and perspective can come to seem like luxuries we don’t have time for.

They can seem like the paths of dangerous weakness.

And there is no disputing that they make us vulnerable. They are risky ways to live.

And yet, Jesus believed such vulnerability was the only way forward for us.

He believed that it was only in our willingness to risk such vulnerability that the Kingdom of God could ever take hold.

In the face of the world’s dehumanizing tendencies, the choice to be human…the choice to be kind…the refusal to hate…the refusal to be afraid… all that was a radical way to live.

Who would love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them? Who would offer supper to a doomed king?

It was crazy. It is crazy.

And yet, Jesus teaches us that this is the holiest life. And it is through such holy lives that God is actively tending to the world.

We remember it tonight because it was tonight that our dehumanizing tendencies led to the arrest and death of God’s own Son.

That should remind us of other things we need to remember tonight.

Tonight, there are people on t.v. saying any form of extremism is permissible, so long as its Christian.

Tonight, there are people saying that our enemies, foreign and domestic, are little more than animals.

Tonight, there are children hurting physically and emotionally because someone has seen fit to punish or diminish them, perhaps acting out of their own brokenness or merely out of a sheer love of doing the punishing.

Dehumanizing in so many forms is alive and well tonight–a perennial temptation before us and within us.

What can we hope to do in such a world as this?

Jesus taught that we can start by pushing ourselves to see, by committing to engage, and so far as we can by risking to love–enemies and friends, strangers and kinsmen, victims and perpetrators.

It is a vulnerable way to live.

But tonight, we remember that it is the only way forward.

It is the only hope there is.

Tonight, we remember Jesus gave his life to point us not to death, but toward building a world finally worth living for at last.

It is the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome.

It is the light of Christ, who comes to redeem the world.





From the Newsletter: Palm Sunday and the Victory of Nuance


Dear Friends of Second Church,

Palm Sunday is such a strange, even ironic holiday.

It’s ironic because it is such a celebration — Jesus and his followers enter the capital city to great fanfare.  The crowd looks on and cheers, reveling in the thought that, one way or another, it’d be a hot time in the old town tonight — and yet, within days, all appearances will seem to suggest that the party’s over. Jesus will be dead, his disciples hiding, the would-be revolution stopped in its tracks.

Palm Sunday invites us to rekindle the hope and joy of freedom on that first march. For many of us, it’s not all that hard to do.  After all, it’s a hope that so many still yearn for, and it doesn’t take much for most of us to imagine being in that crowd, cheering ourselves hoarse for the great reckoning that it seems to promise.

But of course, now we also know how the story unfolds from there.  We know that the road to the future has not turned out to be nearly as simple as it might have seemed on that first Palm Sunday.

Most of all, we know what happens next to Jesus.  The first reckoning turns out to be his.

Which means, in part, that the ultimate reckoning isn’t only Rome’s.  It’s also ours.

We know that because the freedom Jesus wanted us for us was, in the end, something much bigger than simply throwing the bad guys out and putting the good guys in.

But the crowds weren’t interested in that kind of complexity.

Instead, what interested them was religion’s power to simplify — to curse — to demonize.  They craved righteousness, but sadly, the only righteousness they seemed to recognize turned out to be of a kind made in their particular image.

Jesus had no time for ersatz righteousness.

He wanted to offer us nothing short of a new world — and one that operates according to different rules entirely from the old world.

He saw a way of living with compassion and sacrifice, truth and fairness at the center, not only of our personal lives, but of our common life.

As we know, that’s not the kind of life that everybody has in mind, or the kind of freedom that animates them. That’s always been true.

In the last week of Jesus’ life, it became clear that liberation — liberation in the way he meant it — turned out to be a much bigger proposition than many in that original Palm Sunday crowd were able to imagine, or were prepared to work for.

It asked them to imagine a world wise enough, patient enough, and confident enough to love enemies, pray for persecutors, and stand up for nuance.

He knew that to live that way was to live unshackled by fear and ignorance, and the self-interested persuasion of the wicked.

When the crowd cheered him on Palm Sunday, little did they realize that it was this deeper kind of freedom that Jesus was proclaiming.

As he rode on the back of the donkey along that royal road of palms, Jesus went straight into the heart of the city.

But more than that, he went straight into the heart of God — praying that we might follow and seek him there.

That’s where he waits for us even now.



See you in church,

“Far and Away” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)


Personally, I have never had much of a relationship with St. Patrick’s Day.

I mean no offense by that.

To those among us who remain rooted emotionally to the old sod, I think that’s great.

I’m looking forward to corned beef and cabbage and dancing right here later today.

I grew up watching movies like “The Quiet Man” — we always liked the Duke in my family. And later, of course, “Far and Away.”

The Irish-American writer, Frank McCourt opens Angela’s Ashes, his wonderful memoir about early life and of his mother, by noting that “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Who isn’t hooked by a line like that?

But there are things I’ve never really understood.

Once when I was in college, I went to a winter formal or something, and someone’s date who I didn’t know was sitting at my same table, wearing an elaborate white dress covered with Kelly green shamrocks …and it was like old home week to sit with her. All kinds of people, most of them strangers, came over to pay their respects, as if she was some sort of celebrity.

Likewise, early in my teaching days, I had a boss who had been surprised with the gift of a doll with bright red hair and a green dress with a tam o’shanter. The doll was sitting up on a chair in her office, and if you were there for a meeting, which I was, the doll was sitting there kind of as if she was part the meeting, too, with her head turned as if she was thinking about the last point someone had just made.

I said something non-committal about like, “Nice doll,” and my boss picked it up lovingly, with her eyes suddenly a little moist, and said meditatively, “Isn’t she Just. So. Beautiful.”

And still to this day I have no idea what that was about…but on some level, it seemed to be vaguely about Ireland.

All nations have their quirks, of course. I grew up with people who seem to feel kind of the same way about Red Label.

Over the last several weeks, you may have seen the movie, “Black Panther,” or read about its incredible resonance with many, particularly in the African-American community, and particularly in its portrayal of the mythical African nation of Wakanda.

Wakanda is a place of tremendous beauty and unique natural resources, deliberately cut off by its leaders for its own protection from the rest of the outside world, except for its scholars, who are sent all over the world to learn and return, which has made the nation one of the most technologically advanced on earth.

Closed and therefore free to flourish, Wakanda is able to give birth to and to nurture men and women who become remarkable heroes and heroines.

On some level, of course, this is fairly familiar science fiction kind of fare, and yet you’ve probably seen that for many viewers, the movie “Black Panther” has tapped into something very real…something very personal.

It has tapped into a particular kind of dream of home — a dream of a world that should be.

If you see it that way, it seems clear that the nation of Wakanda is much more than a comic book kingdom.

It is a myth in the best and deepest sense.

Some people seem to think that to call something a myth is a put-down. It’s a way of saying that a story isn’t true.

But that’s not right.

It’s much more accurate to say that myth is a way of talking about what things mean, instead of simply about what happened when…which if you think about it, is often really the least of it.

Think what a profound question it actually is when someone asks us, “Where are you from?”

The true answer to that question can be so hard to explain.


It can be especially hard to explain in the case of Jesus, of course.

Jesus was sort of from Nazareth, but sort of from Bethlehem; sort of from Galilee, but sort of from the Jerusalem Temple, which as a young boy, he called “his father’s house” and seemed surprised that anyone would be looking for him anywhere else.

To his own disciples, he was clearly from God, although they weren’t entirely sure what that meant while he was with them, and as it turned out, Easter ended up showing that because he was from God, he still was with them…but that’s something that turned out to introduce a lot more questions than it answered.

Jesus’ mother and siblings seem to have been part of his circle at least now and again during his ministry, though at one point early on, we’re told that they show up to try and take him home to Nazareth — and it’s at this moment when he says that they aren’t his true family, at all — that now he sees that his true family is not his flesh and blood, but really the company of seekers he has begun to gather.

His true family is the circle of those in search of what things mean.

Blood may be thicker than water, but for Jesus, insight into the true meaning of things is stronger than death.

As he would prove with his own life.

But through it all, there shines this longing for home.

A home that Jesus understood we could only truly find in God.


We should note in passing that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, thought that, too.

You don’t need to believe in the traditional understanding of saints to recognize that by any standard, Patrick was a remarkable person.

Patrick lived in the late fifth century, not in Ireland, but on the island of Great Britain, and he was captured around the time he was sixteen by Irish pirates and taken as a slave for six years, during which he mostly cared for animals, before escaping and finding his way home.

He came from a Christian family, although his faith before his enslavement had not been particularly strong. Yet his time in exile was important for his faith, and when he returned home, he decided to become a priest.

One day, he had a vision. He saw a man coming and sensed that he was coming from Ireland, and he was bearing a letter to Patrick that said, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

And so he did, becoming the most important apostle to the Celtic tribes of Ireland… the very place of his own abandonment and enslavement.

Where do the courage and commitment come from that would enable someone to do something like that?

Why didn’t he just go home and find some very safe place that was sure to be beyond the reach of any pirates and live out his days there?

We don’t know — not in terms of the historical record, anyway.

But it seems clear that for all that Patrick had been through, he knew that his true home was not Britain, or even Ireland.

His true home was in God.

And he knew that whatever fears he might harbor given all that he’d been through, even so, the place where he belonged now was among the people who longed for their own true home in God.

Back to Ireland he went.


This morning we heard the words of the prophet Jeremiah from the Old Testament.

He preached, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

It’s a vision, not unlike Patrick’s vision.

It’s a vision of a world where law of God isn’t found in the words written in a book, but rather found in the longing that is written on our hearts.

That longing for our true home.

Admittedly, we are complicated people.

But today we are reminded of how important it is to listen for the longing in our hearts — to open ourselves to the dream of home that lies within us.

Maybe we know it well.

Maybe that longing is even as yet unspoken, unimagined, dormant as Sleeping Beauty, waiting only to be loved into waking at last.

But as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, may we hear God’s invitation to listen for it, remembering how it is through that longing that God calls each and every prodigal back home.