Category Archives: Sermon

Harassment No More

November 12, 2017, 23 Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. Luk De Volder

20171112 Harassment No More (1).pdf

Amos 5:18-24
 Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In today’s Gospel we just heard that “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise ” In this time of daily #hashtag-metoo harassment complaints on the internet this scene sounds so not kosher. A bridegroom reviewing ten bridesmaids and judging their wisdom level? Honestly, I did not select this text for today. So wish me luck in dealing with this Gospel. Not to mention, I am standing here as a white male, a white tall man in the US – I had to learn what this entails. But here we are confronted with this wrestling match of a text from Jesus’ time in which cultural status-quos and taboos seem to be preserved while also sending an appeal to declare a key step for exodus from oppression. Let’s take a look and see how far we come.

This text sounds so difficult for us today, because no one can escape the wave of excruciating personal stories pouring in from across all industries and many countries around the world, denouncing against assault and harassment of women. Maureen Sherry just published her own story about what happened at Bear Stearns Bank (a semi-autobiographical book, entitled “Opening Belle”), where she started the Glass Ceiling Club, at the end of the 1990s, with reason using nicknames as a women whisper network. Initially the club was meant to discuss how to make the workplace more female friendly. Quickly the whisper network started functioning as a warning mechanism to alert female colleagues about male harassers. But at the same time, the network also experienced the dangers that women faced in addressing bosses who scoff at maternity leave, managers using ribald jokes, colleagues with outrageous behavior that went unchecked. The whisper alerts remained underground because of the danger of retaliation, being fired, being sidelined, being labeled as troublemakers, while the tormentors faced few consequences. In 2008 Bear Stearns was sold to JPMorgan but Maureen Sherry continues her story to create awareness that two decades later fewer than 2 in 10 female harassment victims ever file a formal complaint. Maureen and so many women have so much work and battle ahead of them.

Striking has also been how rather limited church support there seems to be for the #metoo movement. Most of us know this is no surprise, with many churches still promoting submission of women, perpetuating certain gender taboos, preserving dynamics of secrecy and oppression. Unfortunately, our Christian narrative hasn’t always been clear on gender equality, despite the explicit statements such as “In Christ, there is no male or female” (Galatians 3:28). Gender division or inequality should not have any place amongst Christians.

The Gospel of today is a case in point that illustrates the wrestling that it takes to align cultural preferences with the core of the Good News. While bible scholars try to make the best of it, it remains the case that the female figures in this story are still rather tightly identified with the submissive position, keeping the traditional cultural metaphor of female passivity in place. But then the text takes a surprising turn, when the wise are praised for not share their oil. (For once Jesus is promoting not to share, a shock for the Sunday School curriculum). Meaning, the metaphor of the oil in our lamp points to the importance of self-care. And when it comes to self-care we are first responsible for ourselves. We need to cover this need, no sharing can be of much help. Contrary to the traditional self-sacrificing stance that has been imposed on women for centuries, this Gospel encourages the same women to prioritize self-care. For that time, self-care was a very novel concept, especially as an attitude to promote among women. Even today this is rather new, certainly in many Christian circles.

It is a message that Christianity has struggled to proclaim. Love to God and to others, yes! But that as Christians we should help and promote everyone to secure self-care, healthy self-protection and promotion of our own dignity, especially for women. That concept is still sinking in.

The truth is, Christianity has enough intellectual pointers and behavioral marching orders to claim radical change. Ephesians 5 is the most explicit text regarding male-female relationships. Similar wrestling with culture colors the text, but the opening principle is revolutionary up until today: “Submit yourself to one another out of reverence of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Not just women but also men are called to submit to service, dedicating ourselves to each other so that we all can care for our own dignity and equality.

To apply this call to service we have to address that this “service” and “equality” talk easily risks  sounding like a platitude after so many centuries of failed practice. But with clear theory in hand we can now turn to the failed practice to address the change we need. We have to help our fellow Christians who struggle with this text. Because, even though this message has found its way into mainstream culture to strive for the care and full dignity, equality, and freedom of every person we encounter, we continue to see many Christians, men, ready to hang the ten commandments in city halls, who actively perpetuate socio-political structures of inequality, whether in the realm of race, gender, or in socio-economic environments, contradicting their own message.

In very concrete ways, as Christians we not only should commit ourselves to end any gender inequality, but also to proactively prevent gender wars and promote from early age on healthy understanding about who we are called to be. Women should have the right to hammer into the glass ceiling. But man should have the courage to remove it, wherever they find themselves building such divide and oppression. Christians, both women and men together, should contact HR departments.

Beyond any politics or progressive versus conservative fold-lines, the Gospel of today is calling every Christian to secure self-care, care for the soul and for the body, for the dignity and equality including gender inequality. Because we teach others how to treat us. We need to come to terms that, if we fail to create a context of care that helps each other in this core self-care of our being, then we sow the seeds of resentment and oppression, that in turn create gender wars, self-fulfilling schemes of relational failure. Whether we go for politics of care, advocacy for human capital, in our time it should be evident that, of course we need to rally for each other, to end race and gender oppression.

My point is also: we receive almost daily reports that computer scientists are coming closer and closer to human-like AI – artificial intelligence, with robots soon taking over most basic labor functions. Isn’t it time that we also apply similar research to the human fabric of our daily lives, to design a context of living that secures as best as possible the advancement of the wealth and dignity that resides in each of us. The promotion of our human capital also contains a goldmine of economic potential.

Or in other terms, if we aspire to reverse the cultural decline we sense, then we need to face the call of our times, that our Western culture needs to face its own historical baggage, its social and existential traumatic and inconsistent structures. And if we do so, our culture will regain its strength, we will create a revival.

Practically, Christ is calling each one of us to secure self-care, holistic awareness and assertion of your value in this world, to proudly claim our dignity, with its gender or color. And all of us are called to pray and labor to give each other the space to do so. Let us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.

Amos 5:18-24
 Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

 

Emmaus

April 30, 2017, The Rev. Luk De Volder

Emmaus Sermon 3 Easter 2017 pdf

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-171; Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Their eyes were kept from recognizing him. There are moments in life when we can’t see straight anymore, while we are hoping for some liberation. We can’t find a way to escape out of our frame of mind. At times, real life can have a lot of disillusion, an inventory of bruises and scars, lost hopes, and evaporated dreams. Especially in this season of church decline and political turmoil we may go home at times and wonder: where did all the heroes go? Is there nothing sacred left? Was God not supposed to intervene once in a while?

This past week I attended a Diversity and Integrity training at the Visions worship up in Boston, promoted by our bishop Ian Douglas. I learned a lot, most of all that there is still so much to learn. Most visionary and revealing to me was this one conversation I had with Lawrence, an African-American man in his mid-Twenties, with a heart of gold, a disarming honesty, and remarkable resilience. He decided to share his story with me. Lawrence is the youngest of 7 children, but the only one with a college degree, which gives him tremendous responsibility. Recently the national wave of lay-offs at Macy’s department stores also affected his managerial job. I confess, he said, it triggered in me the reflection of system beating. At first, I thought, the HR system had selected me out because of my color. But now, he told me, I can see how this is mostly due to internalized oppression. I am not denying that at times I do experience exclusion in life. But after internalizing these experiences, I can also frame my own choices in that negative narrative. After reading scripture I come to realize I always have the freedom to step outside of those framing and limiting mindsets. Do you see what I mean? he asked. I was blown away by his honesty, his self-awareness, and his willingness to address what he learnt about himself. And he added another question: do you see internalized oppression in your life? Bam – What compassion & empathy for a white male he had only known for a day or two. I was so moved. We talked for much longer about the future he is hoping to build, the loss of friendships he experiences because he has a college degree, and the support he needs to help others. I couldn’t help but notice our hearts burning. We both walked away, fired up, with a deepened willingness and new insight to address the realities of oppression in our own lives and around us. This conversation made me realize how much frame of mind is keeping conversations about race from evolving; how much certain mindsets could be changed by these kinds of conversations.

The striking part of my conversation with Lawrence was, like the Emmaus-disciples story, we were two guys who went on and on. Men talking about their issues? Our pity-duet, like the despair litany of the Emmaus-disciples, took off, not so much because we like to complain or think we have a license to wallow, but because the anxieties and tensions of all the expectations I fail to meet are running through me, the shadow-side of my personality, all of this can make me feel like life is not clicking, as if my life is at a stand-still. A church without a success Messiah, a life without a career, Where do I go? As burned-out employees, these two Emmaus-disciples are at a stand-still. How do they get their lives back on track?

Luke’s record of what happened on the walk away from Jerusalem, away from the place where God is, shows three steps of recovery and liberation: 1) feeling heard, that someone listens to you; 2) interrupting and transcending our own limited narrative; 3) seeing what you see.

First there is ample time to tell your story, so that you feel heard. This is not simply a matter of feeling understood. It is a moment during which we start to sense that the shadow-side of life, our short- comings, weaknesses, anxieties, do not need to be kept in hiding. In fact, grace is seeking to avoid that split in us, between the ideal me and the failed me. Rather, this is a moment to integrate my shadow- side. God is hoping to embrace me, also in the parts where I feel the Messiah is gone, those parts where I see no light or hope at this moment. Arriving at church should indeed be about your issues, should include where it hurts, where you are angry and sad, what matters to you right now.

Second: Jesus intervenes. O ye fools. It seems at first Jesus didn’t read the communication guidelines to avoid as much as possible the use of ‘but’. You did a great job, but. We like you at the office, but. Oh, that fatal but. In Jesus’s defense, he didn’t say “but”. Nor is this a mere sneer. It is more like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings affectionately saying to Frodo and his friend: you my fools. In fact, the Greek word points to a deeper level: anoèntes can also be translated as “you who are unaware”. Haven’t you read the scriptures?

Faced with a crisis of confidence and hope, the story invites us to match it with a practice of inserting a perspective from outside our frame work. Jesus’s move is a bit like the exercise of Ludwig Wittgenstein showing his students a drawing of a rabbit and when he turns the drawing you see a duck. Wittgenstein’s question was: is this a drawing of a rabbit or a duck. Neither, he said. The lines we choose are the framework we decide on.

At times, we indeed can be so stuck in a frame of mind that renewal is not possible. It takes a kind of mental intervention that lifts us out of that framework to help our awareness to wake up and see that we have the freedom to see things differently, to stop the tape of negativity in our heads. The spiritual practice of reading scripture with Jesus is indeed this moment of increased awareness through which we allow ourselves to be lifted out of our own frame of mind. This is why bringing the book into the middle of our church is meant to express scripture coming into the middle of my life.

Third: the scene goes from a side-by-side conversation to a sit-down dinner. Now the conversation rolls into a face-to-face experience. I no longer have to hide my shadow side, my framework, and my tape repeating my limited conclusions on life has been paused. Now the meeting turns to what Charles Péguy once voiced: See what you see. Only when bread broke in front of their eyes could they realize what they were staring at – the loss, the decline, the finality of it all, and what prevented them from really seeing. And all of the sudden the broken bread created the opening to look beyond their cherished insights and ways of seeing things into a presence. As it happens at dinners, in the experience of eating and being together, a warmth manifests itself. The food is an expression of the bond. We may even sense a certain excess, a sense of exceeding, an evocative sense of communion. Being together just became poetic. The different parts of life have just reach a point of integration. This is why the breaking of the bread, over and over again, is so crucial. In it we are willing to break up our outlook on the world and allow the perspective of grace to insert itself.

As a result, the disciples recognize him. The next thing you know, they are walking again. There is renewal, recovery. There is liberation. Ever since, Christians have followed the same pattern each Sunday: expressing where they are in life; reading scripture as if Jesus is telling us; breaking bread to create communion and an opening in our minds and hearts. There is mission. Let’s do this, live this, carry out this liberation. The Christian writer Max Lucado wrote a book entitled: “It’s not about me.” Sorry Max: It is about me. He has a point against narcissism, but the title is misleading in suggesting that coming to church and having faith would not be about my needs. Christ died for me. In that sense, it is about me.

Also, as it turns out, these steps of practice were never meant to be a ritual only. These are moves of liberation, to come as you are, to spill all your c-r-a-p, to integrate your sense of failure into a path of hope. By allowing the voice and perspective of the Other – with capital O – to come in my life, I, in turn, am lifted up outside the confines of my own reservations, anxieties and limited thinking and I return to the world with an open heart, a heart that is healed and strengthened. Or in more classical terms: the presence of the Lord, not only brings me salvation, Jesus also empowers me to bring others into the hope of love and trust. I hope these practices of liberation will also for you remain fresh, unlock your heart where needed, turn your life back into gear. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Thanksgiving Day Homily

THANKSGIVING DAY
November 26, 2015

Ms. Judith Kniffin-Shattuck

Good Morning.

As some of you may know, I am a “cradle Episcopalian” and a life long member of this church. Most of my childhood was spent at the old parish house at the corner of Church and Wall Streets, where I attended Sunday School, participated in the Girls’ Friendly Society and sang in the first Girls’ Choir at the 9:15 service. (Yes, there was an original girls choir in the 1950’s at Trinity.) Never in my dreams, however, did I imagine I would someday preach a homily here.

I am grateful that my parents felt that I should receive a Christian education, although they rarely attended church themselves, preferring to go out to breakfast with another couple who had a child in my Sunday School class.  My maternal grandmother was also a life long member of Trinity and I usually accompanied her after dinner on Sunday afternoons to the 5 pm Evensong. I remember being awed by the magnificence of this great building, the windows, the organ, the music and choirs, and the solemnity and beauty of the service, the words of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer etched in my heart for a lifetime.

My grandmother was my spiritual mentor and I am grateful to her for showing me the way one lives a Christian life. Although she was often in pain, she demonstrated her faith in the words of the General Thanksgiving, “with a truly thankful heart, showing forth her praise, not only with her lips, but in her life, by giving up herself to God’s service and by walking before God in holiness and righteousness all the days of her life.” I remember that she was steadfast in prayer and singing and playing hymns on a small organ in her bedroom. She was known throughout the neighborhood for taking in stray cats and dogs, stray children and even the stray stranger who needed a meal.

When Joe asked me a few years ago to consider giving a homily on Thanksgiving I declined. This year I felt this was the time to accept the invitation. (Joe can be  really persuasive.) It was not, however, without a “quid pro quo.” If I would preach today, he and our friend Jim would share Thanksgiving dinner with me this afternoon.

Joe  advised that I should not feel an exhaustive exegesis of the scripture readings was required. When I read the appointed readings for today I found they were very familiar.

The first memory that came to mind was of a retreat many years ago at Wisdom House in Litchfield that involved singing hymns regularly throughout the three day weekend. One of the first hymns we sang was “I Am the Bread of Life”, #334 in the hymnal. It resonated with many of us and several times during the weekend someone would ask if we could sing it again. The words of the refrain, repeated several times,  were stirring  – “And I will raise them up on the last day!”

The first reading depicts how even when God’s people were wandering in the desert, God provided manna from heaven. Even though I was  thoroughly churched as a child, in late adolescence, I fell away from the church. After writing an honors paper my freshman year in college on the Holocaust and the position of both the German Protestant Church and the Roman Catholic Church, I became intensely interested in Judaism, attending services at several synagogues and taking classes that explored the history of Judaism. Eventually, I took a number of comparative religion courses  and attended  services of both eastern and western faith traditions. I was, in many ways, wandering in my own desert but I believe now that all I experienced was God’s “manna” to nourish my searching soul.

During the fall semester in 1972, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and I made a decision to return to New Haven permanently  at the end of the semester to be with her and my father. On Christmas Eve I made a last minute decision to attend the 11 pm service at Trinity.

From the moment I entered the sanctuary, choosing to sit near the rear of the church and far over to the left side, I was overcome with emotion and the realization that I had “come home” – home to my church family and to the beauty, power and majesty of a glorious worship tradition.

Lawson Willard, Rector throughout my childhood, had retired and Craig Biddle and Andy Fiddler were the new Rector and Assistant. Craig’s sermon that evening was based on the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, a story about a stuffed velvet toy rabbit loved literally to shreds by a young boy. Eventually, the toy is forgotten and then discarded as the boy grows up, The story ends with the wonderful news that the rabbit, torn, dirty, with its stuffing falling out, goes to a beautiful peaceful place where he becomes”REAL” cavorting with other living real rabbits having been made whole and beautiful once more. I cried throughout the remainder of the service  experiencing a profound sense, beyond description, when I received the Eucharist  that my very soul was being nourished and sustained. I felt then, and continue to feel, that when I am at the altar rail or in the communion circle, that it is there that I am in true communion with Christ receiving the earthly bread and the spiritual food of His most precious body and blood.

The 2nd reading teaches the core of this theology. Christ begins by saying I AM the bread of life. Throughout the Gospels when Christ begins his teaching with the phrase I AM, the name for God in the old Testament, we know these are the elusive yet fundamental doctrinal concepts of his priesthood. Here, we come to understand that the bread of life is not only grain and and the other fruits of creation, but also the bread of life, the gift of Christ himself, to nourish our souls and dwell within us.

These gifts, for the nourishment of both our bodies and souls, are all part of God’s abounding Grace. We know from the the catechism of the church, that Grace means God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved. By Grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

But what should be our response to God’s abundant Grace? The first and greatest commandment tells us to love God with our whole heart and soul and to have no other gods before Him and the second commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. All else flows from the first two. I think we learn and grow in maturity as our faith develops and we come to understand that loving God and our neighbors as ourselves means our response is what my grandmother’s faith embodied, to have a truly humble and thankful heart, and as a result of that understanding  to feel profound gratitude and seek to show forth in our lives that gratitude as the prayer says “by doing all good works that He has prepared for us to walk in”, to give thanks for the very gift of life, and to acknowledge “His immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps today, with so much of the world in chaos, the unprecedented migration of millions of refugees fleeing war, violence and death,  we are more aware than ever of the blessings in our own lives. Last Sunday evening, on the PBS program, Religion and Ethics News Weekly, the results of a recent survey showed that when asked what the Thanksgiving holiday meant to  them, a majority of people said “the need to give thanks for all the blessings in their lives”. The second greatest number said to “spend time with family and friends.” Way down on the list were food, football and shopping.

Today I am thankful for so many things, God’s grace in so many forms, the love of family and friends, the wonder of human expression in art, music and drama , the overwhelming beauty of nature glimpsed fleetingly from time to time, the past opportunities to work for social justice, the gifts of laughter and tears, and to know that through both joys and sorrows, I have continuously learned more about God, myself and others.

As some of you know, three and a half years ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, stage three ( there is no stage four) an incurable type of cancer where a complete permanent remission is considered so rare as to be miraculous; the goal is to halt the progression of the disease at whatever stage it was discovered for as long as possible. After a long acute treatment phase, with infusion chemo and radiation therapy, I have been stable for the past year and a half. I know my faith  sustained me throughout, allowing me to let go of despair, anger, depression, loneliness and fear. I am grateful that this has led me to an understanding that death is but one final part of  our temporal  existence.

A week ago, following a PET scan, I learned that my cancer has advanced.  The scan found tumors in the bones of both legs. The prognosis and treatment plan are still being formulated by the blood cancer oncology team at Smilow.

I find my comfort and solace during this uncertainty in words from Psalm 18. :The Lord is my strength, my stronghold, my rock in whom I put my trust.” Though fear and anxiety well up and roll over me, “I have called upon the Lord, He hears my voice and reaches down from on high to grasp and support me.” I trust that faith and God’s grace will continue to comfort me.

Like the velveteen rabbit of that Christmas Eve sermon – I trust that I will, at death, find myself in a beautiful place where pain and sorrow are no more, made “REAL”, and whole once again. My wounds will be healed, my “stuffing” no longer hanging out, my tears dried and forgotten, at home with God. And so, I am, above all else, profoundly grateful for the promise of life eternal in Christ Jesus.   AMEN

A Thanksgiving Day Homily

Thanksgiving Day
November 27, 2014

Mr. David Rivera —


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Good Morning,

I am here today to talk about giving thanks. God is the creator of all life and the creator of all blessings. He gives us all an abundance of blessings and much to be grateful for. Even the challenges in our lives can be reasons to be thankful to God.

I would like to tell you what I am thankful for. I am most thankful for God bringing me to the Episcopal Church and bringing me to this wonderful community of faith called Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven. I have always been involved with God and his church. I started out at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Meriden. I really liked that church. But then there came a time though that I was not in church regularly, up until about January 2012 when I began to attend Trinity weekly. Now I am proud to be an usher, acolyte, conference call operator and outreach worker. I am thankful to be in the company of my church family, who love God as much as I do. Trinity Church is an important blessing in my life.

This is not all I am thankful for though. I am also grateful for being able to volunteer every weekend. I have received numerous thanks and appreciation from the folks I escort at Yale New Haven Hospital on Fridays. I am like a positive light at the end of the tunnel on their road to recovery. I also receive thanks from the folks at Loaves & Fishes, Chapel on the Green, The Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and Columbus House. God has sent me to all these places to help those in need, and I truly thank him for calling me to do this. I sincerely love serving my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am also thankful for my family and friends. My family has always been there for me. They support me, respect me, value me as a person and love me dearly. They are truly a blessing to me in my life. I think of my friends at church as my second family and am grateful that I can see them on Sundays. I am thankful that I have a house to live in and food to eat. God has been good to me and I trust will continue to be. I will continue to serve Christ through serving others.

Lastly, I am thankful to be asked to deliver this homily on Thanksgiving Day. It was a great opportunity not only for me, but for you as my church family to learn what you have done for me, and what you have taught me about loving and serving God. Amen!

Life’s Double Standards

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
September 14, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Molly F. James —


May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The other day I went to pick up our daughter Katherine from preschool. It was a warm day, and so I had worn sandals (fancy flip flops really). Katherine looked at my feet, and said, “Mom!, No flip flops at school.” Well, she was absolutely right. She is not allowed to wear any shoes to school that do not have a strap around the heel because they would be dangerous on the playground. I explained that my day had not involved any running, so it was okay to wear flip flops. But I give our daughter credit for her desire for fairness and her ability to recognize a double standard.

We all need people in our lives who help us point out when we are living out a double standard. Just as the slave in today’s Gospel had to have it pointed out to him. On the surface the parable in our Gospel is a story about the importance of forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is incredibly important in our lives, and we could all likely benefit from being a little quicker to forgive each other (and ourselves!). Perhaps because I have been so recently been reminded of it, I am even more intrigued by the issue of the double standard in our parable. Jesus lays it out so starkly. The slave owes a debt. He begs mercy from his lord. His lord grants mercy. Immediately the slave goes to see someone who owes him money. We assume he has learned his lesson and will be showing the same mercy to the debtor as he had been shown. But no, he does not. This is all the more remarkable since the debt that had been forgiven was so huge – more than a lifetime of wages, so it was something that could never have been paid back. What the debtor owed the slave was only a few months wages, something that could a reasonably have been paid back. The slave had a huge debt forgiven, a debt that would have been a dark cloud over his entire life, and yet he cannot see his way to forgiving a fellow slave a few months wages. A huge burden has been lifted, but rather than sharing the joy and abundance, the slave seeks vengeance. He has lived out a double standard, and it costs him dearly, for he is now forced to repay his debt.

The starkness of this passage is meant to make us realize the enormous consequences there can be, if we are not forgiving of each other. Yet it also points out that we can do damage by ignoring the double standards we are living out as well.

Of course there are times, like my wearing flip flops, when the double standard seems innocuous and harmless. Parenting is tricky like that. There are lots of things I get to do as an adult – drive a car, use sharp kitchen knives, wear flip flops, drink coffee – that our daughter does not get to do yet. While we need to be firm in our rules, as many of them are for her own safety and well-being, I certainly do not want her to grow up thinking life is one big double standard. I do not want her to grow up always comparing herself to others. I appreciate that Katherine has an innate sense of fairness, and I am grateful for the way her questions and observations, whether they are about my footwear or life in general, help me to see when I am allowing a double standard.

Katherine’s sense of fairness helps me to be on the lookout for ways in which I might be living out a more costly double standard. Do I insist that she stays home from school when she is unwell, but then go to work myself even when really I should take a sick day? Do I lament my husband logging in to his work computer in the evenings or on the weekends, seeming to forget that I was just checking my work email on my phone? I wonder how many double standards we are living out?

Do we rejoice when we get a bonus at work, but rarely leave a generous tip for the wait staff when we dine out? Do we expect a level of productivity or hard work from our co-workers that we don’t expect from ourselves? Do we insist others take their sabbath or their vacation time, but find ways to justify working through ours?

Here and there an occasional use of the double standard seems to just be part and parcel of the human experience. But if we use it too often. If it becomes a staple of our worldview and our general approach to things. If we find ourselves constantly justifying applying a different standard to ourselves than we do to others, we are probably in need of a bit of self-examination. Living in such a way as to constantly privilege our own needs over others will damage our relationships. Relationships are about honesty and reciprocity, and those can be hard to maintain if we are always living by a double standard. If, on the other hand, we are always privileging everyone else’s needs above our own, then we will do damage to our own well-being. Life is not a zero sum game. It is not all or nothing. There is enough love to go around. In fact, we might just find that if we can strive for a bit more balance and fairness in our lives that we, and those around us, are happier!

So my invitation for all of us this week is to be sure that we have people in our lives – best friends, spouses, co-workers, children, especially children, as they have such an innate sense of fairness – people who will help keep us honest and point out when we are living a double standard. May we all be a little better at noticing when we are about to live out a double standard. May we have the grace not to get defensive when one is pointed out to us. And may we all find our lives enriched and our relationships strengthened when we have the courage to let go of our double standards. I have no doubt that when have the courage to step out in faith and live more deeply into who Jesus calls us to be, we will encounter more fully the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

AMEN.

Our Cross Seen Through the Spirit

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)
August 31, 2014

The Rev. Eric Jeuland —


Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering … and be killed, and on the third day be raised. … Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Isn’t this too hard? On first blush, this really does sound too hard.

One of the chief mistakes we can make in understanding the gospel reading today is to conflate Jesus’ cross with our own—to think “Oh, Jesus, he’s so extreme, marching to his death—and look, see, he wants us to do that too?!—No thank you!”

Although this could seem to be the plain meaning of the text, this is precisely the opposite of what we should hear in this passage. Jesus’ primary call to his followers was to intimate relationship. God’s closeness and care must permeate our understanding of all this cross talk. Any discussion of crosses must assume God’s closeness and care.

One key fact to remember is that Jesus’ cross is NOT our cross. We are called to follow AFTER Jesus, not be Jesus. We CAN pick up OUR crosses BECAUSE Jesus first picked up HIS CROSS… AND conquered that cross, paving the way for OUR victories over evil and darkness.

Although the passage today puts Jesus’ self-understanding of his own cross right side by side with his call for us to bear ours, that account is missing something fundamental but often forgotten in many churches: Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s descent; the necessity of the Holy Spirit in making this make any sense.

We are never left alone—without God close at hand—at any point in all this: Jesus—God—went to the cross to conquer all sin, and the Holy Spirit—God—enables us to bear our crosses and live into that victory ourselves.

Thus, the second key fact is that we bear our crosses—ONLY and COMPLETELY—informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We can’t embrace our crosses without the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

So this puts Jesus’ simple and direct words in the context of a more complicated process for the people of God.

Regardless of Jesus’ injunctive to his hapless fishermen friends—and us—in Matthew’s gospel this morning, it is on Pentecost that the call actually gains real traction.

WE would have no inspiration to follow Jesus if it weren’t for the day of Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit empowering those friends to become apostles, and enabling us to step into the victory over evil and darkness that is our inheritance.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he knows we are merely human and he knows we are STAYING human. What he’s counting on, that we so often forget, is that we have the Holy Spirit and THAT makes all the difference.

Obviously then, the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. But how is this real in our lives on a daily basis? What does God’s closeness and God’s care actually look like?

One of my favorite accounts of God’s care and closeness is Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden before the Fall, when they first breathed in life, the very breath of God, the Spirit of God. Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic Cistercian monk wrote well about this:

When God made [humanity], [God] did more than command [them] to exist [like the rest of creation]. Adam [and Eve], were to be the son [and daughter] of God [in a wholly unique way—] and God’s helper[s] in the work of governing the world … “Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7).

The life […], that is to say the “breath” which was to give actuality and existence and movement to the whole person […], had mysteriously proceeded from the intimate depths of God’s OWN life. [Adam and Eve were] created not merely as living and moving animal[s] who obeyed the command and will of God. [They were] created as a “son” and “daughter” of God because [their] life shared something of the reality of God’s own breath or spirit. For breath is the same as spirit [in Latin and Hebrew]. The creation of [humanity] was not only a giving of [biological] life, but also a giving of love and of wisdom, so that at the very moment in which he came into being Adam was, by virtue of the supernatural gifts … which accompanied all his gifts of nature, in some sense, “inspired”. If the expression may be permitted, [humanity]’s very existence was to be a kind of [divine] “inspiration.” God intended not only to conserve and maintain […] bodily life. He would also foster and increase, even more directly and intimately, the spiritual life and activity which were the main reason for [humanity’s] existence. Adam [and Eve], then, [were] meant from the very first to live and breathe in unison with God, for just as the soul was the life of the body, so the Spirit of God, swelling in Adam [and Eve] was to be the life of [the] soul. For [a person], then, to live it would mean to “be inspired”—to see things as God saw them, to love them as he loved them, to be moved in ALL things ecstatically by the Spirit of God. And so for [humanity] ecstasy was by no means a violent interruption of the usual routine of life. There could be no violence, no alienation in such a life: [Merton ends] in paradise ecstasy is normal. (Thomas Merton, The New Man, section # 33)

It may seem odd to you that I chose this account because it is of PARADISE, Eden BEFORE sin and evil enter the world—so of course there is no experience of the cross or sacrifice—so what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? taking up our crosses?

The reason I picked paradise is PRECISELY to counter our far-too-typical assumption that Jesus came to call us ONLY to sacrifice, to give up of things, to a life of trouble. In some sense he did—yes, of course—but not in the most important sense, NOT in the ultimate sense.

The fact is: sin and evil have taken away our life already—our closeness to God and our experience of God’s love—and God is pleading with us to reclaim our true lives by giving up what is only the illusion of life: autonomy, self-righteousness, self-ownership. Sin and evil have HAD their day, they have BEEN HAVING their day.

Jesus came 2000 years ago; and today, August 31st, 2014, the Holy Spirit is back again to tell us that sin and evil have robbed us of our inheritance: everyday intimacy with God, daily experience of God’s love, and, as Merton put it, an “ecstasy [that] is normal.”

It took Jesus’ victory OVER violence to bring us back into communion with God. It is our role to welcome and desire God’s love as THE usual routine of life.

Trusting that God breathed God’s very own breath into us at our creation, AND has paved the way to victory over all evil,

Are we bold enough

To dream of a God THAT relevant and active?

Are we bold enough
To follow through with that ask and expectation? … that God would fill our lives to bursting with wonder, wisdom, and love?

AMEN.

A Surprising Legacy

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
August 24, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Molly F. James —


May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the Living Word who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My husband, Reade, and I welcomed our second child, Halsted, in April. As you might imagine we are having a wonderful time with him. Halsted is a very happy boy who brings much joy into our lives. Of course, Halsted is not always happy. He can get quite upset, particularly when he is hungry. Fortunately, all we have to do is feed him and in a matter of minutes he is back to being his happy self. We get to do the right thing, and receive immediate gratification. We feed Halsted, and he is happy. Would that parenting were always this easy!

It is easy to do the right thing when we get immediate positive results. Of course life is not always easy. We are often faced with difficult decisions where we do not get the immediate gratification of knowing we did the right thing. I cannot help but be aware of how comparatively easy I have it when I read this morning’s lesson from Exodus. There is no edict in America mandating that infant boys be killed. No despotic ruler seeking to limit the growth of our family. Unlike Moses’ parents, we do not have to fear that as soon as word gets out that we have a son, those in authority will try to kill him.

So often in Scripture, we read stories in which male figures are privileged, but this is one story where it is definitely better to be female! Remarkably, this is a story full of strong women. It is a story of women from different backgrounds who unite together to save lives. From the midwives who refuse to kill the male children of the Hebrews, to the Levite woman and her daughter who conspire to give the baby Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter. And finally to Pharaoh’s daughter herself who adopts the baby Moses and raises him as a prince of Egypt.

Each of these women were faced with difficult and risky decisions. The midwives knew that saving the male children of the Hebrews was the right thing to do, but they risked their own lives to do it, and there was no guarantee that even if they saved the babies, the authorities wouldn’t still seek to kill the infants another way. Moses’ mother and sister take the risk of putting the infant Moses in a basket at the river and letting him go. They hoped they were sending him to safety, but any number of terrible things could have happened to him in the river. And, of course, they had no guarantee that Pharaoh’s daughter would adopt the baby. Thankfully, Moses is adopted, but that is not the end of the risk. Pharaoh’s daughter must have known of the edict to kill the male Hebrew children, and yet she defies it. Yes, she is taking him in to be raised as an Egyptian, but still there was a risk that someone would try to fulfill the law and kill Moses.

Despite the risk to themselves or to Moses, these women did the right thing. At every turn they chose to invest in the future, even at the risk of their own lives. At the time they knew they were choosing what was right for this little boy. They were choosing to save Moses. How could they have known that in saving Moses they were saving a whole nation of people?

Those women did one small act of saving a little boy, but those small actions had huge implications. When Moses grew up he would be called by God to be a prophet and a leader who led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Simply put, without Moses, our Bible might have ended at the first chapter of Exodus. No Moses, no nation of Israel. No Israel, no Jesus.

Think about it. Each of our lives have been transformed by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But without Moses, there might never have been a Jesus who lived and died, a Jesus whose ministry changed the world and our own lives. So really, the decisions made by each of those women in Moses’ birth story have ultimately had a positive impact on our own lives, on this community of Episcopalians in Connecticut, gathered for worship thousands of years later. Talk about a legacy!

Well, we might think that is nice, but none of us are likely to have the opportunity to save an infant who will be the savior of a nation. But those women did not know they were saving a nation. They just knew they were doing the right thing and taking care of one child and that was the right thing to do.

It is my prayer that we can see these remarkable women as inspiration. They are inspiration to do the right thing, to choose that which enables the flourishing of others, even when it might come at some risk to ourselves, because we never know how large an impact one small act can have.

Even if our choices are on a smaller scale – putting out the extra effort to smile and be friendly even when we have had a bad day, sacrificing our own money or time to help meet the basic needs of someone in our community, mentoring a child or being the listening ear when someone we know is struggling. All of these acts, all the little things we do to help someone else know that they are a beloved child of God, matter. Even a small gesture or a quick smile can make an impact.

We often think of a legacy as limited to those who have a role on the world stage or enough money to have buildings named after them, but each of us has the power to leave a significant and lasting legacy in this world because of the lives we touch. So keep doing the right thing. Keep choosing that which promotes flourishing. Remind each other that we are all beloved children of God, for you never know how one small act just might change the world.

AMEN.

Profile

Trinity was founded as a parish in 1723.  Its first wooden church was built in 1752–53. The second Gothic stone church, built in 1814–1816—with its carefully maintained and inspiring Gothic revival exterior and interior—is a landmark structure on the New Haven Green at the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets.

Trinity offers compelling preaching, diverse worship styles, and absorbing programs for adults, teens, and younger children.

Trinity’s multiple opportunities for fellowship and outreach are typified by its Chapel on The Green, a weekly Sunday afternoon outdoor service of worship, food and fellowship, open year-round to all and conducted in collaboration with other New Haven area churches.

The church’s strong music program is centered in its choirs: the Choir of Men and Boys, founded 1885 and one of only two such choirs in Connecticut; the Choir of Men and Girls, founded in 2003; and the Trinity Parish Choir, a mixed adult choir that sings a variety of sacred choral pieces.

 

LIfe at Trinity

As we pray, sing, serve others and learn together, we discover more about who God is in our lives. We realize our lives are intertwined with one another and that God is calling us to do something for the world in which we live.

Currently, hundreds of people pass through Trinity’s doors during an average week. We are usually bustling with activities; whether it is one of our three choirs practicing, committees meeting, or a social event, there is always something going on at Trinity.

We invite you to be part of our life together. At Trinity, there are many opportunities for involving yourself, for serving others and for growing in your spiritual journey.

Trinity people take adult and youth mission trips all over the country and beyond its borders. Locally, Trinity people help many important organizations carry out their missions: preparing meals for Columbus House, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and finding numerous other opportunities to serve God in the world.

Trinity offers many educational activities and programs for children and adults. Each winter and spring, we offer different spirituality programs. On most Sundays, we offer exciting Sunday School classes for children and engaging forum topics for adults. We have two active and vibrant groups for school-aged youth.

As the largest Episcopal church in New Haven, we are fortunate to have many active programs and opportunities to see God at work in the world.

Be Good Soil Out of Joy

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 13, 2014

The Rev. Eric Jeuland —


In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN

Be good soil,
and do it out of joy,
not out of guilt.

In his parable and his interpretation of it, Jesus warns his disciples of certain conditions which lead to arrested spiritual development.  Jesus here puts some pressure on his listeners to prepare themselves against 3 challenges:

  1. the evil one                     who snatches the seeds away,
  2. shallow roots                  which cannot support a mature plant, and
  3. the cares of the world     which choke the plant and stop the growth.

As far as it goes, it is a good challenge, useful and true.

But first I want to make sure we hear the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus does put some pressure on, offers a challenge; I want to first focus on the context, which is grace. We do need to be good soil, but for the right reasons. Being great soil for the wrong reasons won’t work either. So we have to back up and start from God’s grace.

To be sure, we definitely need to hear the challenge of the allegory, I personally need to remember daily to make myself receptive to God’s love, to allow that love to go deep, and to be vigilant lest the stress and worry of worldly things crowd out my trust in God.

But there it is right there: my trust in God. At the end of the day, the good news is that God loves us, and has come to us in Christ, and continually returns to us in love through the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments, and through our friends. God gladly takes all the pressure on himself first.

GRACE is that God does this without our help, without our input, without our participation. As Paul tells us a few chapters earlier in Romans 5, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” and a few verses ahead of our reading today he will return to the graciousness of God’s love: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

So, if we are challenged to remain vigilant and wary–and we are–it is a vigilance that is completely powered by our experience of joy and peace from God and our expectation for more of the same. Again, our vigilance need not come from a place of fear of God’s wrath or sense of duty toward a particular set of rules. We have come through the dark cave of judgement and out into the light of Christ’s resurrection into an open space where there is no wrath of God to contend with, no set of rules to get right with God.

Still, If you are anything like me, on a good day when you have said your prayers and pulled the metaphorical weeds from around your heart you might feel a certain satisfaction–I’ve done my part, I am in good shape. Good for me.

That attitude is a huge mistake; it is THE mistake. That’s the trouble with hearing in this passage only a challenge to step up and do our duty–it threatens to allow us to feel secure–again, on a good day–in our own efforts, our own sense of control, our own moral strength, our own natural inheritance.

All of the striving in the world is nothing without the Love of God fueling it with God’s peace and God’s joy. The worst weeds of all are the weeds of self-sufficiency and self-justification. These will eventually circle back upon us in the form of anxiety and perfectionism, not to mention judgmentalism against our sisters and brothers. These leave little room for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience. These leave little room for the growth of God’s love in our hearts that is meant to bless others as well.

So be good soil,
do it out of joy and anticipation of God’s miracles,
not out of guilt or self-justification.

So a good question to ask is HOW? How do we get from here to there? How do we become good soil for a Kingdom that is not in our hands in one sense and yet, we are told, is in some measure up to us?

I can’t give you step by step how to instructions, but I can share a time I think I experienced God’s blessing in such a way that I also became a blessing for others, and how that made me want to be good soil without even really knowing it. It’s less about doing anything in particular as an agent and more about our receptivity as conduits of God’s love passing through us for the sake of others.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Jake, from years ago. We met at church, and we were both lay leaders in different capacities.

We met doing a ministry similar to Chapel on the Green here. Every week, a group of us from the church would carpool over to a local park on a rough side of Chicago, set up a grill, light up the charcoal, and greet whoever we met there.

Jake and I would lead different parts. I felt most drawn to praying for people one on one before and after the service. Jake was much more extroverted and he welcomed–often brought–newcomers, and shared the message, the homily if you will, on many occasions. I loved ministering with him and the other folks at the park.

But guess what? … There was a lot more that differentiated Jake and me than the introvert-extrovert dynamic. I said we’d met at the park ministry–we’d actually met at the park. Jake basically lived in the park. He would always be there when we pulled up our caravan of cars. Once he knew we would keep showing up, HE was THERE to greet US. Jake was a huge part of that ministry, and really more than anyone else, he came to define the tone of the community that gathered there.

Long story short, Jake and I became friends, as I said. He would come to church on Sundays and we would always catch up and laugh together. It was really amazing how good friends we became despite our many differences.

I am sharing this story because it is an example of becoming better soil without it feeling like work or duty. It was a natural byproduct of being part of something great God was doing. Most of all I learned to want to be good soil out of joy and anticipation of the miracles God was doing in and around me.

Because here was the biggest miracle for me: my friendship with Jake, as much as it may have been a blessing for him–and let’s not get ahead of ourselves with that–it was truly a blessing for me. Not because it assuaged my sense of middle-class, liberal arts educated guilt but because God continually reminded me that actually, we are not so different from each other. Most importantly, we are both in total need of God’s charity. Peace, joy, and purpose are God’s to give no matter where you are from or what you do for a living. And God doesn’t hesitate to give, God is eager. Jake and I, we are the same, in the Kingdom of God where it matters most, we are brothers.

The fruit of that ministry for both of us was a joy and peace that we never would have known without God bringing us together. Our partnership with God bore fruit in that growing ministry because God brought us to authentic relationship and friendship. That spirit brought others and blessed them as well.

Whenever we take up a challenge to grow spiritually, it is so important to remember that God loved us first. Anything we contribute ourselves is simply done to make space for God’s love to flow through us for the sake of others. Let’s be honest, God knows we are not all born into this world with the same natural inheritance–but let’s not allow that to hold us back from claiming our true inheritance–the spiritual one, in Christ, the one that matters most–God’s supernatural peace and joy.

So be good soil, but when you have a self-aware moment, take that time to say to yourself not a self-congratulatory “Good for me,” but instead “Thank you, God, for blessing me with these undeserved riches, your peace and joy; help me pass them on and bless others as I have been blessed.” AMEN