Talking about Tomatoes

A piece I wrote about what growing tomatoes can teach us about living a full life was published by Faith + Lead. You can read it here.

In the News

I was recently featured in the Free Press about an event I am planning this fall.  You can read the article here and learn more about the retreat here.  I hope you'll join me!

No Doubt: A Sermon for Sunday February 28, 2021

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on February 28, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I spoke in some detail about our gospel reading two Sundays ago. This reading details the events that occur before Jesus and a small handful of disciples climb the mountain and see Jesus transfigured.  That sermon is available online if you want to go back and look at this passage again.

Our second reading tonight comes from Romans.  Once again the lectionary drops us right into the middle of a larger argument with no context. It feels a bit like being thrown into a cold pool – shocking, confusing. We need a bit of time to adjust to these new surroundings.

Romans is a letter, written by Paul to the people in Rome. It covers a lot of ground but essentially Paul is trying to make one single point: God’s love is for everyone. No one is to be left out. No one.

Modern bibles divide the letter into 16 chapters and tonight’s text is from partway through chapter four, so, not the beginning, but fairly early in the letter.

We enter into the text partway through the letter and also partway through a thought, the first sentence is, “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  (13)

Abraham and his descendants have been promised an inheritance, one that comes not through law, but through “the righteousness of faith.”

The promised inheritance is the entire world and everyone in it.  Abraham and Sarah’s legacy will extend beyond biology and geography, everyone who wants to be included is included. Everyone.

This inheritance, this promise is not based in the law, it’s not based on a set of rules and how well you follow those rules. It’s based on the righteousness of faith.  So it’s pretty important to understand what Paul thinks the word “faith” means.

Listen again to how Paul describes Abraham: “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  (19-22)

Just pause for a moment with me to delight in Paul’s no-nonsense writing style. Paul say that Abraham was so old that his body was “already good as dead.”  That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?  Rather blunt? That’s Paul.

Abraham was a man of faith. Nothing could weaken his faith, not the decline in his own body as he aged, not being unable to have children with Sarah, nothing.   “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” (20) Not one.

Because of all of this, Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness.” (22)

So folks, there you have it. If you want to have faith, be like Abraham.

Are you overwhelmed yet or do you feel like this is a challenge you are able to meet? To never, ever waiver in your faith no matter what happens to you.

Because that’s what this passage seems to be saying right?  At least on the surface.

We need to dig a bit deeper.  If we stop here, if we don’t think more about what Paul is saying, if we don’t go back and remember key stories from Abraham’s life we are going to miss what Paul is really trying to say. And he is not saying Abraham was perfect, so we need to be perfect.  Not at all.

The text tells us that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (20-21)

So the first thing I want to point out here is that Abraham’s faith was not a static unchanging thing, it could grow. It became stronger.  Abraham’s faith could change and develop. The reason Paul praises him is because those changes and developments were usually in the direction of having more faith in God, not less.

Secondly, the term translated as “grew strong,” is an interesting one   (enedynamothe).  Adam Hearlson points out that this is a passive verb. Abraham’s faith didn’t grow in strength because of anything he did or didn’t do, it was made strong[1].

Abraham doesn’t do anything, doesn’t have to do anything, in order to make his faith grow. That’s God’s job not Abraham’s.

I think this is an important truth to hold onto especially during Lent when so many people decide they are going to give up something or take something new on as an act of faith.

It’s really important, especially as we move deeper into this season, to remain curious about our motives. Whenever we are engaging in a specific Lenten practice, what are we learning about ourselves and about God in the process?

Is the focus still even on God at all?

It’s easy for “isms” to slip in our Lenten practices – individualism, consumerism, idealism, workaholism.

It’s easy for pride to creep in if we feel things are going well –  “I choose a really tough practice and look at how successful I am. Look at how strong and how powerful and how disciplined I am.”

It’s also easy for shame and self-doubt to creep in.  “I am finding this hard, I am failing at Lent.  Look at what a loser I am.”

Be mindful to watch out for both tendencies in yourself. Neither are helpful, neither are what Lent is about.

Abraham can be a reminder for us of this.  His faith was described as strong and an example to be emulated not because of anything he did, but because of God.

And let’s look a little deeper into what Abraham’s faith was like and when we do, remember that Paul knew all of this and expected that his audience would also know all of this.  Paul isn’t forgetting these things, he’s assuming it’s common knowledge shared between himself and the recipients of the letter.

When I read Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith in Romans I feel overwhelmed – it feels like an impossible standard.   When I go back and read the stories of Abraham’s life – stories Paul and his original audience would all have been very familiar with, I feel a lot better.  That kind of faith begins to feel like an attainable goal.

Abraham has faith in God and also regularly questioned God’s plans. Abraham regularly asks God, “but how can this be?”

Having faith includes having questions.

Abraham has faith in God and also, not once, but twice, Abraham was so afraid he passed off his wife as his sister and gave her to another man.

Having faith includes experiencing fear and making bad choices.

Abraham has faith in God and also … do you remember when Abraham and Sarah were told they would have a child despite the fact that such a thing was impossible given their age and the fact that they’d never been able to before? Do you remember what Abraham did?

Probably not.   Do you remember what Sarah did? That’s more likely.   Sarah laughed and people have been making a big deal about it ever since. When Sarah learned she was going to be a first time mom at the age of ninety, she laughed.

But so did Abraham. We just don’t talk about it.

In Genesis, when God promises Abraham, who is 99 years ago, that God will make of him a great nation and that Sarah will have a child this is Abraham’s response:

“ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (17:17)

Abraham laughed.  Abraham wondered how all of this could be possible, just like Sarah did.

Abraham doubted, and lied, and laughed and also, Paul lifts him up as an example of faith that we should all seek to emulate. And Paul does not see this as a contradiction.

Let’s go back to Romans. Working only with the English translation we read tonight, a phrase in Paul’s writing jumped out at me this week. “No distrust made him  - made Abraham -waver concerning the promise of God.” (20)

No distrust made him waver.  It doesn’t say Abraham was so full of faith and trust that he never doubted.  It couldn’t. Paul knows that’s not true. We know that’s not true.

It says that none of the ways that Abraham experienced distrust  or doubt made him waver in his overall belief that God would keep their promise.

Paul knows all of Abraham’s story.  He knows about the times Abraham questions God, he knows about all the times Abraham lied about who Sarah was. Paul knows about the time Abraham laughed at God. Paul knows all of this and still describes Abraham as an example of faith man who we should emulate.

Could Paul be saying it’s not that Abraham never felt feelings of distrust, it’s that he didn’t let them because the overarching narrative?  It’s not that Abraham never doubted or gave up, it’s that he continued to believe despite those feelings?

I like to think so.

It reminds me of another story from Mark that occurs just after the transfiguration.

Jesus is surrounded by a crowd and a man brings his son who was possessed by spirits to Jesus and says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)  Jesus replies, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes. Immediately the father of child cried out, I believe; help my unbelief!” (23-24)

I believe, help my unbelief. This is the kind of faith I resonate with. One that says “I am certain, I believe, and simultaneously, I doubt. God help me, I can’t do this alone.”

Paul does not say Abraham never doubted God. Paul says that, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” (20)

I believe, help my unbelief.

May you continue to have a good and holy Lent, full of curiosity, release from burdens, and continual new discoveries of just how much God loves you. Not because of anything you have done or not done, but simply because you are you.

In the strong name of the triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.



It's... a lot: A Sermon for Sunday February 14, 2021

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on February 14, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

If you were in a class I was teaching, and I told you that your next assignment was to write an essay describing God, what would you write? What kinds of words would you use to describe God? What sources would you reference? What stories would you tell?

Who do you think God is?

I don’t know what you would write, but I do know that my comments on your paper would most likely reflect two major themes.

  • I am so sorry that your life experiences and the people around you have taught you that God is like that. God is not like that, God is so much more loving and compassionate, and wonderful than that.
  • Your description of God was fairly accurate. God is like that, but God is also so much more than that. God is more powerful, more loving, more merciful, more well… more than what you have written in your essay.

My essay would look the same. Some of the ways I perceive God require healing because people have done some truly awful things to me in God’s name and those experiences negatively shape my image of God.

Some of the ways I understand who God is are more accurate, you can find them in a theology textbook, back them up with scripture and personal experience, but they are also not entirely accurate.

At saint ben’s we regularly refer to God as being able to do more “than we can ask or imagine.” God can do more than we can ask or imagine because God is more than we can imagine.

Which is important to remember.  You can always get to know God better, but you will never fully know God. There will always be more to discover.

Tonight’s gospel reading is the story of the transfiguration. We always get this story on the Sunday before Lent.  Lent begins on Wednesday, and if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to check out the Feasts and Fasts section of our website. In particular, there are posts about Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday which both happen this week.  I also hope you’ll join us online on Wednesday at 5pm and 7pm respectively for Evening Prayer and our Ash Wednesday service.

I’m going to talk about Lent a little later in this sermon, but not only do we get this story every year on the Sunday before Lent begins, we will also get it again in August when we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Which means that if you are the kind of preacher who preaches every single week, you could wind up preaching on this story twice a year, every single year of your preaching life.

It’s a challenge to not simply repeat yourself, many preachers struggle, but we do it.  We look to this story for something, not necessarily brand new, but for something important or timely to say about God and this story, and we find it.

Everytime you approach the story and think, there can’t possibly be any more that this story has to teach me about God, you find out that there is.

Here’s a quick recap of the story and its context. Our reading begins with the phrase “six days later.”

Six days prior Jesus had shared that he was about to undergo great suffering and rejection. He told his disciples that he was going to be killed and rise again in three days.  (8:31)

Peter didn’t take it well and decided to rebuke Jesus resulting in a counter-rebuke where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (33)

Jesus then tells all of them that if they want to continue to follow him they will have to take up a cross, an instrument of torture and execution.  If they want to follow him, they will have to be willing to lose their lives. (34-36)

It’s a lot.

Most friendships don’t come with the promise of torture and death.

Six days is not a very long time, so Jesus and the disciples are likely still actively processing what Jesus has told them, Peter’s response, Jesus’ response, their own responses. The disciples are probably still trying to make sense of what Jesus said, and I imagine Jesus is feeling fairly vulnerable. He’s shared something deeply personal and he’s still not entirely sure of the disciples’ response.

Will they understand? Should he have trusted them with that piece of his story? Maybe he should have just kept it all to himself?

They’re carrying all of that with them while they are hiking up to the top of a high mountain. When they reach the top, Jesus is transfigured, Elijah and Moses appear from out of nowhere, and the voice of God speaks from within a cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  And just as suddenly as all these things occur, they stop, and Jesus and the disciples are alone on the mountain top again.

It’s… a lot.

It’s important to note that Jesus was transfigured, not transformed.  Jesus didn’t change, he didn’t transform from one thing into another.  Jesus stayed the same, he just revealed something that had always been true about himself.  He didn’t change, but for the first time he allowed the disciples to see a part of himself he had never shown them before.[1]

Have you ever had a moment where you decided to trust another person enough to reveal something private about yourself to them?   Have you ever trusted someone enough to appear transfigured before them? To say, you may never had noticed this before, but it’s true of me.

Think about how you felt in those moments leading up to deciding to trust this person.  Think about how you felt as you were sharing this truth about yourself. Think about how you felt in that moment of silence after they heard what you had told them but before you knew how they were going to respond.

How did you feel? Scared? Hopeful?  Vulnerable? Most likely you felt vulnerable. At this moment you have entrusted another human being with something precious, a truth about yourself, and you don’t yet know how they are going to handle that gift.

For it is a gift. You are a gift. Being brave and bold enough to share more of yourself with another human being is a gift.

What’s hard – what is so very hard - is that it’s not always treated like a gift.

If a memory of a time when you were vulnerable and shared a part of yourself with another person and they did not treat you and your story like a gift is surfacing for you, be gentle with yourself.

Jesus understands that experience. He lived it over and over. The disciples don’t have a good track record of being able to handle these sorts of situations well. They have a track record of completely missing the point. Jesus is taking a huge risk here.

This time, the disciples do a little bit better. I mean, at least Peter doesn’t try and rebuke the transfigured Jesus.

They do better, but better still isn’t best.

The disciples are terrified and Peter tries to manage his fear by talking. We’re told that, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (6)

It’s a good idea when you don’t know what to stay to stop for a moment to think about what to say, but that’s not what Peter does, he just starts talking without thinking about what he’s saying. He suggests that they build shelters and stay on the top of the mountain. Spoiler alert: This is not a good idea and it’s not what happens. They will descend the mountain and continue their journey.

Lent is a season that lasts for 40 days. If Advent helps us prepare for Christmas, Lent helps us prepare for Easter. In Lent we are invited to consider fasting from something or taking on something new. The idea is to choose something that can help you engage the season and prepare for Easter, but even more importantly, the purpose of Lent is to see what new truth you can discover about yourself and about God by changing your regular patterns of behavior.

Where are you operating on autopilot, and what might you discover if you changed up the route?

It’s good to choose something, to fast from something or to take something new on, but whatever you chose, it’s also important to be mindful that the point is to choose something that will help you to explore something new about God, about yourself, about your relationship.

The point is not to lose 10 pounds.

If you haven’t already decided how you will be observing Lent this year I encourage you to take some time over the next few days to think about it.  Think about it prayerfully and allow yourself to be surprised by what you choose.

One of the key ways you know that God is at work in your life is if you’re pleasantly surprised. That sense of delight is a good indicator that God is at work both because God is good, and because it suggests that it’s not something you could have come up with on our own.

This year may be the year to give up chocolate, or screen time or to take on a new prayer practice.  There are no limits to what you can choose. I find it helpful to sort out my Lenten practice with the help of my spiritual director.  In doing so, I both have someone who can keep me accountable and a greater sense of confidence that I’m picking the right thing, and not the safe or easy thing.

One year, in consultation with my spiritual director, I gave up being nice. That Lent was a tremendous journey of discovery.

This may also be the year to say, “I’ve given up more than enough this year,” in Lent I will make space to grieve and lament those losses.

Or “I’ve given up more than enough this year, I’m giving up giving up for Lent.”

Lent is a season to be embraced freely and with curiosity, not with guilt or a heavy sense of obligation.

One final note. I have found that when I have chosen to share openly and vulnerably people do not always treat that like the gift it is. It’s incredibly painful when this happens. But I have also noticed, that when people hurt me in this way, God has a way of showing up somewhere else to show me that I am not alone, that I am in fact gift.

In the same week where someone will betray my trust, someone else who has no idea what I’ve been going through will send me a note of encouragement, or I will experience a moment of peace on a walk where I know that the betrayal was not my fault, or I’ll just get this deep sense that I am not alone.

God also does this for Jesus in our passage.  Jesus is moving towards one of the most difficult phases in his ministry, he’s moving towards humiliation, torture, and death.  The people he is surrounded by aren’t fully equipped to understand everything that is happening, let alone adequately support him.

And knowing all this, God appears in a cloud and declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”

That’s a message for the disciples to be sure, but it’s also a message for Jesus. A reminder of his identity, a reminder that he is beloved.

May you have a good and holy Lent and however you choose to engage, or not engage with this practice, may you come to realize in new and surprising ways just how much God loves you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.





Taking Sides: A Sermon for Sunday January 31, 2021

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on January 31, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen

A few years ago I was teaching a class on Indigenous/settler relations and was reviewing vocabulary with the class. We were going over a list of words that can be used to describe Indigenous people and I was explaining why some words were good to use, some not so good, and some to be avoided entirely.

A student, who was born in India, raised his hand to interject and I paused to let him. “I understand what you are saying professor,” he said, “but also I really hate it when people use to the word ‘Indian’ instead of ‘Indigenous’ because I am Indian!”

And in that moment, I felt the difference between someone who taught as the scribes taught – me – and someone who could teach with authority.

In tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus and his followers go to Capernaum, and then on the sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach.  We are told that the people who were listening were “astounded” by his teaching because he taught as “one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (21-22)

Jesus may have looked like everyone else around him, but when he opened his mouth to speak, it became clear that he was not like everyone else. He spoke with authority.

What does it mean to speak with authority, to have authority?

In our reading from Deuteronomy we get a brief description of how to identify  a specific type of authority - prophetic authority.   A prophet will speak words given to them directly by God, they will speak in God’s name and will be accountable to God.

This lectionary reading ends very abruptly with the warning that anyone who speaks as if they were a prophet but has not actually been given authority by God to do so will die.

This is a rough place to end a reading, especially because the next few verses provide this helpful advice: “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.” (21-22)

I’m not sure why the lectionary omits these verses - “do not be frightened” seems like a much better place to end a thought than, “they will die.”

How do you know someone is really a prophet? They speak for God and what they say will happen actually happens. That’s the litmus test.

And Jesus passes this test.  Jesus does not simply speak with an air of authority, when he tells an unclean spirit to leave, it leaves.

Matt Skinner says that, “Mark depicts Jesus as the one uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to declare and institute the reign of God. Through Jesus, then, we glimpse characteristics of this reign. It is intrusive, breaking old boundaries that benefited another kind of rule. It is about liberating people from the powers that afflict them and keep all creation — including human bodies and human societies — from flourishing. It is about articulating God’s intentions for the world, defying or reconfiguring some traditions to do so, if need be.” [1]

According to the traditions of that time and place, a man with an unclean spirit should not have been allowed into the synagogue.

But Jesus doesn’t tell the man to leave, or tell the people assembled that it’s just fine to have unclean spirits in their midst, he tells the unclean spirit to leave, and in doing so, makes it possible for the man to be restored to his community.

So many things are happening all at once –  this man is no longer possessed, he has been freed, he has the chance to be restored to his community. Additionally, Jesus has given everyone present a glimpse of a hopeful new future.  The way things have always been, does not have to be the way they will always be.  A better way is possible.

We are in the season known as Epiphanytide. This is more than just the season that begins by remembering when wise travelers presented gifts to Jesus. Epiphanytide is the season where we begin to reflect on what is means that Jesus not only came and was born as a human baby, but what it means when people began to see him as a young adult moving through the world with purpose and authority. People began to listen to his words, observe his actions and develop a sense of who he was. Epiphanytide is a season where we are invited to reflect on implications of Jesus’ early ministry. What changed when people began to recognize Jesus’ authority?

Matt Skinner invites us to ask, “Where are we still amazed by Jesus’ authority, by his teachings and deeds’ potential to upend our assumptions about what’s possible? Where can we see souls set free from destructive tendencies and powers that we thought were beyond anyone’s control? … Epiphany is not just about longing for and acknowledging past manifestations of Jesus’ greatness and the gospel’s power; it’s also about discovering what deserves our amazement in our current and longed-for experiences.”[2]

Where are you still being amazed by Jesus’ authority, by his teachings and deeds’ potential to upend your assumptions about what’s possible? What additional expressions of Christ’s power do you long to see?

In our reading we are told, twice, that Jesus has authority. The people say it at the beginning and end of our reading.  Sandwiched in between those assertions is a story that illustrates the same point.

A man with an unclean spirit enters the temple and cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (23-24)

They know who Jesus is, but they are not sure what Jesus is up to.

The phrase translated here as “What have you to do with us” is a tricky one to translate.  Matt Skinner suggests two alternate translations, “Why are you picking this fight?” or “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?” Jesus, by his sheer presence in this synagogue, has upset the order. He has crossed an established boundary.” [3]

Jesus has transgressed the status quo, he has stepped over an established boundary but he has done so as “one with authority” and so the unclean spirits are trying to level the playing field by naming Jesus.  “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (24)

Names have power. Naming is a form of power. Just ask anyone who has ever been called by the wrong name or referred to with the wrong pronouns.  Been called “Sir” when they are in fact a “Madam.”  Ask them how quickly the balance of power can shift in those moments.

When the spirits say “I know who you are,” and call Jesus by name, it’s a power move. Or more accurately, an attempted power move. An attempt to assert power. An attempt to gain the upper hand in this encounter.

But the attempt fails.

Jesus isn’t even willing to give this exchange the time it would take to answer the unclean spirits’ questions.

Instead Jesus simply says, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (26)

And the spirits obey.

No fancy incantations, no magic tricks. Jesus speaks and the spirits obey.

Jesus doesn’t answer the unclean spirits questions, but if he did, what do you suppose he might have said?

Ched Myers observes that the opinion expressed by the unclean spirit is shared by the scribes. “Have you come to destroy us?”[4]

And in some ways,  Jesus has indeed come to destroy them. Not the literal scribes.  Repentance and a chance at new life are always available, but Jesus did come to destroy any institution, any idea, any power that does not bring life.  The kingdom Jesus came to establish is one of liberation, not oppression.

Jesus is not neutral. He takes sides, and he calls us to take sides as well.

Although the people recognize that Jesus speaks with authority,  this does not mean that everyone automatically accepts or welcomes his authority. Here and throughout Mark’s gospel we will see that Jesus’ authority is a contested authority.  Matt Skinner points out that, “Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds threaten other forces that claim authority over people’s lives. These other authorities have something to lose.”[5]

If you are being oppressed, then it is good news to learn that Jesus has come to overturn oppressive systems.  If you are an oppressor, or even someone who benefits second hand from oppressive systems, then Jesus words will likely feel threatening and not like good news at all.

In Jesus’ time, enough people found his message threatening that they crucified him.  I don’t think we are all that different.

Although we are all gathered together as a Christian community in this time of Christian worship, we need to be careful not to become complacent or pat ourselves on the back. All too often our institutions, our churches, and our own individual lives reflect the very values Jesus came to overthrow.  All too often we are on the side of oppression, and not liberation.

Right now, I am aware that many of us are struggling because we want to believe that we are nice people, good people, and therefore we can’t possibly also be racist people.  But we can, and each one of us needs to decide what is more important to us – our image of ourselves as nice people, or doing the work it will take to create a society where people of all races are treated with equal dignity and respect.

My colleague Scott Sharman points out that stories like today’s gospel reading, where Jesus encounters an unclean spirit take seriously, “the very real fact that there are systemic evils which exercise influences on people and societies which are beyond their ability to control or break free from. These "principalities and powers" hold our spirits and hearts and minds and relationships locked in patterns of injustice and oppression and inhumanity.

If and how they are related to personal spirits I cannot say, but I believe [that] bigger-than-me-or-you-can-explain forces do very much exist and weigh things down: The spirit of white supremacy, the spirit of misogyny, the spirit of ableism, the spirit of bigotry, the spirit of sexual exploitation, the spirit of domination over the earth. The list could go on.

Whether we participate [] as direct perpetrators, as passive benefactors, or as the one's they prey upon, these things control our lives and our world, and we are not able to untie ourselves from them on our own.

Scott continues -The voice of Jesus commands such spirits to depart, and does so with authority. The way of Jesus is stronger -- strong enough to break the bonds that hold us down. And those who follow in that Way are empowered by grace to proclaim those liberating words to our communities and societies through speech and action which transforms and heals beyond what we could even imagine. We can't do it alone. We need God. We need each other. Together, let us rebuke the evil that traps us, and with a louder voice. Let us go out to set and to be set free.”

Amen. May it be so.

In the strong name of our Triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains.











[2] [2]




Speak Lord: A Sermon for Sunday January 17, 2021

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on January 17, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It’s not always possible, or even necessary, to find a common theme in our lectionary readings, but today there does seem to be a fairly obvious one – both readings are call stories - stories of people who God tasks with a specific role to fulfill. The lectionary is actually going to have us revisit the story of Jesus calling his disciples several more times over the next few months so we’ll get to those, but tonight we’re going to do a deep dive into Samuel’s story.

Samuel’s story begins, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli.” (1)

This is a classic Sunday School story. It appears in most children’s bibles and that makes so much sense. Here we have a story about a kid, a kid who learns to listen when God talks to him. It’s a perfect fit, if you only read that part of the story.

Like so many bible stories, we skip over the tricky bits when we tell stories to children and tonight, the lectionary skips them too.

Tonight’s reading tells the story of the first time God spoke to Samuel, but ends right before we learn what God actually said to Samuel. It also doesn’t tell us how it is that Samuel came to be in Eli’s house in the first place.

The book of 1 Samuel is set in a time when the people of Israel are beginning to shift from people governed by judges to people governed by kings. They haven’t had a king yet, Samuel will grow up to be their last judge and will appoint their first king but in tonight’s reading he is still a young boy. Transitions are often difficult especially when you are slowly moving from a system you are not satisfied with to one you have never tried before. This is a time of unrest and uncertainty.

The book begins by telling us about two families. The family of Elkanah, which includes his two wives Peninnah and Hannah, and the family of Eli which includes his two songs Hophni and Phinehas.

Eli and his sons serve as priests in Shiloh where Elkanah and his family regularly go to offer sacrifices to God.

Eli is a complicated figure, but his sons are not.

The Inclusive Bible translation, which I’ll be using this evening, pulls no punches in its description of Eli’s sons: “Eli’s sons were thugs. They had no regard either for YHWH or for the duties of the priests toward the people.” (2:12). Not exactly an ideal description for two priests.

1 Samuel then goes on to explains that when a person sacrificed an animal to God, a portion of that sacrifice was given to the priests. The fat of the animal belonged entirely to God and was burned, then while the remaining meat was boiling, the priest’s attendant could come and jab a fork into the pot and whatever they fished out belonged to the priest.

This is what was supposed to happen, but Eli’s sons would send their attendant out before all of this had occurred and demand the raw meat with the fat still attached. If people refused, they would take it by force.

In doing so, they thought only of their own stomachs, abused their positions of authority to take what did not belong to them, mistreated the people and treated sacrifices to God and by extension God with contempt.

Their contempt also extended to the “women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” who they were known to assault, and to their father Eli whose warnings that they should repent and change their ways were ignored. (22-25)

This is where Hannah and her family have come to worship God. This is where Hannah meets Eli.

The first recorded encounter between Eli and Hannah occurs when she is praying to God in a manner that seems normal enough to me, but was clearly unusual at the time. She’s moving her lips, but she’s not making any noise. Her later description also suggests she may have been quite emotional. This leads Eli to assume she is drunk and to greet her with a lecture.
But Hannah pushes back and says, “Oh no! It isn’t that! I am a woman with a broken heart! I have drunk neither wine nor liquor. But I have been pouring out my heart before YHWH. Don’t judge me a terrible person. I am simply pouring out my feelings of grief and misery. (1:15-16)

I love that Hannah does not crumble when lectured by this priest. I love that she trusts the power of her own relationship with God, her own prayer, her own way of praying.

And Eli believes her, and without even asking her what she has been asking God for he tells her that he hopes God will give her what she wants. (17). Eli doesn’t try to determine if her request is worthy and neither of them suggest that it would be better if Eli, a man and a priest, offered prayers on her behalf.

If Eli had asked, he would have learned that Hannah has been asking God for a son. When the first audience would have heard this story, they would have known that this son will replace Eli’s corrupt sons as leader of the people. Hannah is praying for a son who will be the end of the house of Eli, an end to his sons, their lineage, and their power. A little later, Hannah will sing a beautiful song, a song which we can see echoes of in the Magnificat. A song of praise to a God who is powerful and just. Here’s just a small piece of it:

It is YHWH who both humbles and exalts.
YHWH lifts the weak from the refuse dump
and raises the poor from the cesspool,
to place them among the mighty
and promotes them to seats of honour.” (8)

This description of God is not reflected in the behaviour of God’s priests, Eli’s sons, but they will not be priests for much longer, and Hannah’s son will have a role to play in their demise.

God gives Hannah a child and Hannah keeps the promise she made to God. When Samuel is still very young, she returns to Shiloh and releases Samuel into Eli’s care so that he can be trained into God’s service.

Which is an amazing thing to do. To beg for a child, have him with you for a very short time, and then return him to God.

I don’t want to undercut the difficulty of Hannah’s sacrifice, handing your child into someone else’s care is an incredibly difficult thing to do and even though Hannah has been planning this from the very beginning it still must have broken her heart. But Hannah knows that Samuel needs to be where he can learn how to be a priest and a leader and that is not in Hannah’s own household. In order for Samuel to become all that Hannah dreams for him he needs to be with Eli.

Eli is a complicated figure. If you had seen his son’s behaviour, would you have given your child into his care?

Some theologians want to dismiss Eli as a bumbling old man. Not dangerous, but not someone to admire or emulate. Just, you know, old and therefore unimportant. Others, like Cory Driver will argue that the blame for all of Israel’s problems are to be laid at Eli’s feet. He says, “Eli is a terrible leader. He mistakes Hannah’s silent prayer of deep devotion for drunkenness (1 Samuel 1:13). Nowhere in Scripture is Eli, the leading priestly and prophetic figure of his time, said to hear from God…The worst crime of Eli was that he did not control his sons, who were also his subordinate priests.”

Terrible leader. Doesn’t hear from God. Worst crime. Those are some pretty harsh accusations, and I don’t think they’re fair as we will see as we move deeper into the story.

I’m uncomfortable with any interpretation that suggests that Eli is to be dismissed simply because he is old. That’s smacks of an ageism that I often see reflected in our culture, but not in scripture. I’m also uncomfortable with the idea that Eli is responsible for his adult son’s bad choices. Perhaps, as their priestly superior, upon learning of their behaviour he could have suspended their right to serve as priests, but as a parent, he is not responsible for his adult children’s choices.

Additionally, in tonight’s story, Eli is depicted as a wise and skilled mentor. His life experience is a gift, not a liability.
The last thing that is recorded to have happened before tonight’s reading is that Eli receives a prophecy that his sons will die and that God will replace them with a faithful priest from a different household. (34-35). It doesn’t say, but I suspect that Eli knows this new priest is likely to be Samuel, the young boy who lives with him, who Eli himself is training for the priesthood.

One night, Samuel hears a voice calling to him. Assuming its Eli, Samuel goes to him but Eli says he has not called out and tells Samuel to go back to bed. (4-5) The same thing happens a second time. The third time it happens, Eli realizes that it must be God who is speaking and, as any good mentor should, he tells Samuel what to do. Samuel should go back to bed, but if he hears the voice again he is to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel does what Eli tells him to do. Our reading ends with Samuel, having heard the voice again saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Which is quite a cliffhanger.

But fortunately, we can read further than what the lectionary has set out for us this evening.
God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” (11, NRSV). Not just one ear, both ears. What is God up to?
God tells Samuel that the prophecy that has already been delivered to Eli will come true. His sons will die, his lineage will end, and there is nothing, no sacrifice, no offering, that can change things. (13-14).
God delivers this message and then we are told, “Samuel lay there until morning…” (15) Which is impressive because I think I would be tempted to hide or at least pace the floor. The first time Samuel hears God speak, he hears a message about the destruction of his mentor’s family. A message he is expected to deliver to Eli.

God really didn’t let Samuel ease into his prophetic calling. If Eli becomes angry Samuel stands to lose his home, his livelihood, his relationship with both a mentor and a father figure. That’s a lot to expect of a young boy delivering his first message from God.
But Eli will respond to Samuel in a way that shows that he is in fact a good mentor who we should not dismiss because of his age or his children’s actions. I imagine Eli also lying awake, perhaps hoping for good news, a reversal of the earlier prophecy, but also reminding himself that whatever news God is delivering, it is not Samuel’s fault and he needs to behave appropriately.
Eli makes it as easy as possible for Samuel to deliver this difficult news. Eli calls Samuel saying, “Samuel, my son…” (16) Eli reminds Samuel that he is like a son to him. He listens to all that Samuel has to say and he accepts the truth of God’s message. He does not punish or reject Samuel.
And all that God said will come true. Eli’s sons will die. Samuel will become a leader of the people, trying to keep the people in line with God’s dream for them.
Callie Plunket-Brewton writes, the message Samuel will grow up to proclaim “and the message of his mother, is still, sadly, pertinent. The poor and powerless are still at the mercy of the strong. Human appetite still destroys lives and livelihood. The task of the church is twofold: (1) to cry out against injustice and the abuse of power in the world, and (2) to hear and respond with humility to the message of judgment that challenges our own practices…
She continues - There are many voices competing for our attention and how many of us can say that we really know God well enough to recognize a word as being from God or someone else? There is one thing we can know, however. The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry. Perhaps the difficulty of this message is how easily it can apply to us. Are we in the position of Eli or, worse, his sons, eating our fill and denying both God and our neighbors their share?”

Although we like to imagine we are Samuel, or Eli, far too often we are more like Eli’s sons and if we don’t admit that, it will be easy to rest in our self-righteousness and assume that the world’s problems are not our problems, not our responsibility. It’s not hard to see our world is rife with problems, will we explain them away as someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility?

Or will we choose to seek the guidance of wise mentors who can help show us the way, to learn to tune out the world’s noise and tune in to God’s voice. Will we learn to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” I hope so. I hope we learn to hear clearly what God is saying to us, what God wants us to do, and do just that.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Home by Another Road: A Sermon for Sunday January 3, 2021

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on January 3, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are still in the 12 days of Christmas for a little bit longer.

The Feast of the Epiphany actually falls on Wednesday and marks the end of the Christmas season, but tonight we are following a common church practice and moving the feast to this evening so we can celebrate together.

So if you were planning to wait to take your decorations down until after Epiphany you still have a few more days to enjoy them. Personally, mine are staying up for another month until Candlemas. I’m hanging on to that extra light for as long as I can.

Tonight we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, a feast which features the story of magi who travelled from the east in search of Jesus.

Maybe the magi literally came from east of Jerusalem but the word used in the original  (plural anatolai, singular antole) also has another meaning.  The word we have translated as “east” means “the rising” as in the rising of the sun.[1]

Matthew’s original audience would have heard multiple meanings in this description:  east as a geographical location and also the image of the sun rising in the morning which they would have connected to the idea of salvation.  Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has come.

Our reading from Isaiah also picks up this theme beginning “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (1)

Isaiah then goes on to describe a time when nations and kings, sons and daughters will come together and gather around, all drawn by this light. (3-4) And Isaiah tells us that when the people come, they will not come emptyhanded but rather will bring  “the wealth of the nations” which will include gold, frankincense, and also, rather fancifully, a promise that the subject of this passage will be covered with a “multitude of camels.” (5-6)  Apparently that’s a good thing.

Why will all these people gather and bring these gifts?  To “proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (6)

OK it’s time for a pop quiz:  How many kings are in today’s gospel reading?


Jesus and Herod.

The magi, sometimes referred to as kings, aren’t kings at all.

The word used to describe them in the original Greek (plural of the Greek magoi) does not mean “king.”  This word could be used to describe magicians or diviners or could refer directly to Zoroastrian priests from Persia. These priests were known to pay particular attention to the movements of the stars and planets.

They are not kings, they are astrologers who can “interpret the movement of the stars.”  The Collegeville Commentary explains that, “Magi were often associated with sorcery and magic, and were not always held in high regard (e.g. the magicians of Pharaoh, Exodus 7-8). Matthew, however, portrays them very favorably.” (11)

Whoever the magi were, they were not kings, not locals, and they were not Jewish.  Matthew is pointing us to the fact that Jesus’ birth has universal impact and significance.

We also have no idea how many of them there were. We do know that they brought three gifts, but that doesn’t mean there were only three of them. These could just as easily have been group gifts not individual ones.

Our group of  pilgrims are not necessarily even all men. New Testament scholar Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder argues that it’s “doubtful” that there were only men in this group because it was common for caravans travelling from Persia to include women practitioners as well. “Yet, Matthew clues the reader into the patriarchal context that often privileges male voice, male characters, and male presence.”[2] Just because women aren’t explicitly mentioned doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

In our gospel reading the magi are not kings, the number of people in their group isn’t mentioned, and there are also no camels.  Kings and camels are, however, mentioned in the passage from Isaiah we read tonight and it’s possible that some of these details are an extrapolation from that passage.

The magi are outsiders from another place who practice another religion and yet they seek to find Jesus so they can worship him or “pay him homage.”  Their motives are sincere and when they find Jesus they follow through. Matthew tells us that “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (10-11) Gold and frankincense were also mentioned in the Isaiah passage.

Matthew’s gospel has a lovely circularity to it. It begins with magi who represent nations other than Israel coming to worship Jesus, and it ends with a call for Jesus’ disciples to go out to all the nations (Matthew 28:19).  At no point in this story is Jesus depicted as the leader of an exclusive club.

Although not explicitly described in the actual gospel text, it’s interesting how throughout history our art and  traditions have tried to reflect this idea. Not only have we historically turned this band of travelers into three kings, we often depict them as kings from different parts of the world as if one travelled from what is now Africa, one Asia, and one Europe. It’s not factual, it’s sometimes done in cringeworthy and racist ways, but this practice is seeking to capture the same truth that Matthew is trying to get at. Jesus is for everyone.

While we certainly don’t have time for this this evening, it is interesting to compare Jesus’ origin story in each of the four gospels – examining what each writer viewed as important.

For example, tonight’s reading is from Matthew and Matthew doesn’t include any details about Jesus’ birth. That’s not what interests him. What interests Matthew is the way various people react to Jesus’ birth.

The magi are sincere in their desire to worship this new king and they are willing to make sacrifices in order to do so - traveling a great distance, enduring hardships along the way, endangering their own lives.

Herod, on the other hand, responds in fear and self-interest. Matthew tells us that when Herod learns that the magi believe the Messiah has been born he was “frightened.” He views a new king – even one that is still a small child - as a direct threat to his authority and that’s not a threat he takes lightly.

First he calls his own team of experts who confirm the magi’s story and state that the child will be in Bethlehem. Then Herod arranges to meet the magi in secret, informs them of this location, encourages them to search “diligently” for the child and to report back to Herod with the child’s exact location.

Herod claims he also wants to worship this new king but what he really wants to do is find and eliminate this new threat to his authority.  Three times in this story, (2:3, 2:8, 2:11)  Matthew uses a term we translate as “pay homage.” (proskeneo). The wise men pay homage to Jesus, Herod claims he wants to. To pay homage is to fall on your knees or prostrate on the ground before someone with more power than you have. It also carries the implication of submitting to political authority.[3] Herod is claiming he is willing to submit to Jesus’ authority, but it’s a lie.

We don’t get this part of the story in tonight’s reading, but when Herod realizes that he will not get the child’s location from the magi he orders that all of the children “in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” are to be killed.  (16). We refer to this part of the story as the “slaughter of the innocents.”  That story deserves to be given more attention at another time, but for tonight, I’ll just highlight a few key details.

First, although we often think of the events of these Christmas stories as happening in short succession from the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem to the appearance of the magi, they likely took place in a span of about two years, as indicated by the age range of the children Herod arranged to murder.

Second, when an unhealthy and fearful person in a place of power and authority believes they will have to give up that authority, there is no end to the amount of damage they are willing to inflict on others to try and maintain that power. This is as true now as it was then.

You also need to choose your king, and choose wisely.  The magi travelled in order to worship a king. Herod was a king, and as an adult with an established kingdom he appears to be infinitely more powerful than a child from a poor family in Bethlehem. It would have made sense for the magi to either return home and continue to serve their own rulers, or to serve Herod.

But they don’t.  They disobey Herod’s direct orders and pay homage to Jesus. We all have to choose who we are going to serve, whose authority we are going to submit to.

Choose wisely.

After the magi have found and worshipped Jesus, Matthew tells us that “warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (12)

This is actually one of my favourite lines in all of scripture. The specific details aren’t important, but about 15 years ago I was struggling with a challenging situation where I had thought things would go a certain way, and they didn’t. My goals had not changed, but it was clear that my plans to achieve those goals were never going to work.

When I was telling all of this to my spiritual director, she suggested that I spend some time meditating on this story, and specifically on this line, “they left for their own country by another road.”

What I learned from that process was that there is often more than one path to our destination and sometimes it’s OK, or even necessary to take another road.

If 2020 taught me anything it’s that it’s not possible to predict the future. I have no idea what 2021 will hold but I am hopeful that things will change for the better.  Someone said that the changes that are possible in 2021 will not be like turning on a light switch but will be more like slowing turning up a dimmer switch. If we all make good choices, the change will be real, but gradual.

I suspect when the magi returned home they discovered that life had not simply stood still while they were away, their home was still their home, but it had also changed. The people had changed. Things at home were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.

I think this will be true for us as well in 2021. We are traveling towards a time when things we miss deeply will be both restored to us and changed forever.  The ways we are used to doing things, the roads we are used to traveling to get where we want to go may no longer serve us.

We can get where we want to go by a different road. An unfamiliar road. But maybe also, a better road.  A lot of our old familiar roads were built on self-interest, economic injustice, racism and misogyny.  We can all choose to travel a better road going forward.

May we all learn to travel it together.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.





My Most Memorable Memory: A Sermon for Christmas Eve 2020

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Christmas Eve 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Merry Christmas everyone!  It’s so good to be with you this evening.

This fall I took a film course taught by Gareth Higgins and Kathleen Norris.  It was a great opportunity that would not have been available to me if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic.

One of the films we discussed was After Life by Hirokazu Kore-eda which is available on Youtube.[1]  The premise of the film is that after you die, you are given three days to choose one memory from your life. That memory will be the only thing you are allowed to take with you into your afterlife.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help wondering what memory I would pick if I was ever in that situation. Should I choose the moment where I felt the happiest? What would that even be? Maybe I should pick a milestone like my wedding or my ordination in order to be able to include the maximum number of loved ones in a single memory. But I wouldn’t be able to include everyone, and the nature of those events tends to be that while you are glad that everyone is there, you’re so busy with the ceremonial aspect of celebrating a milestone that is no time for a sustained meaningful conversation with anyone.   Maybe it would be better to focus on a feeling – when have I feel the most contented, or at peace?

I thought about this for quite some time, long after the movie ended and I just couldn’t decide. So then I thought, OK, if you can’t figure out what single memory you’d choose from your entire life, how about just thinking about Christmas. If you had to pick a single Christmas memory, what would it be?

Christmas is a season filled with memories that are built on the power of repeated rituals.  Every year at Christmas I… you can fill in the blanks.  This year – in what is a truly unusual Christmas I will actually still be able to do many of those things – my home is decorated with the same decorations, I will eat the same foods, watch the same movies, and connect with all the same people – albeit this year over Zoom.

These are good memories and also good things to do again this year.  But I think if I had to pick one memory, one thing I wanted to remember about Christmas forever, it would be a memory that took place in this building.

It would start with bundling up to head into the cold to try and get here, to this church building,  to get here early enough to get a good seat and then spreading out my coat to save space for my parents to join us. It would include the comforting feeling of siting in the near dark while looking at the warm glow of the lights from the Christmas tree and the choir stalls finally all lit up after four weeks of waiting through Advent.  It would be the way that the space would gradually fill with the sound of other people quietly trying to take their seats until there were no seats left.

And then there would be the whooshing noise as we all stood up, and Jamie would come carrying a candle and walk up the center aisle of the church stopping at each pew to light the first person’s candle who would then turn to their neighbour to light their candle and the warm glow would spread throughout the room.

And we’d all be singing Silent Night.

That’s it, that would be the memory. Standing in the middle of this building surrounded by all of you and the comforting safety of the dark and the warm glow of the candles singing Silent Night.

If I could only have one Christmas memory, that would be it.

What would yours be?

What memory do you suppose Mary would choose? Or Joseph? The Shepherds? Jesus?  If they could only choose one memory, would it be a memory connected to Jesus’ birth or something else?

I think Mary would like this question but like me she’d also have a hard time picking just one memory. Scripture tells us that she was the kind of person who liked to reflect on the events of her life. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Would she choose the moment when she was minding her own business and an angel appeared to tell her that God had a plan that would change her life forever?  The wave of fear, and then awe, and then resolve as she listened and then consented to be a part of that plan?

Would it be a quiet moment not recorded in the gospels? The first time she felt Jesus kick? A conversation with her own mother? The feeling of excitement as she gathered swaddling clothes and other things this new life would need?

Perhaps it would be the feel of the warm glow of the fire as she and Elizabeth spent yet another night staying up late and sharing their hopes and dreams for their unborn children.

Or maybe it would be the look on Joseph’s face when he came to tell her he finally understood and accepted what was happening. That he loved her and this child and would be with them no matter what happened.

How about the first time she held her son and he wrapped his pudgy fingers around hers? His shaky first steps?

Or maybe Mary would choose a memory that took place late in the evening after Jesus had fallen asleep and she and Joseph would quietly talk about their days.

 What would Joseph choose?  The feeling of love and pride that swelled up until he thought his heart would burst as Mary gave birth to their son?  Teaching Jesus how to look carefully at a piece of wood, to notice the grooves and the grain, and then to transform it into something beautiful?  The sound of Jesus’ peals of laughter when they had a tickle fight?

How about the shepherds?  Imagine it. There you were, just a lady minding your own business. And yes, despite what you have been led to believe by Nativity sets and Christmas specials and church pageants,  shepherding was a family job so there were women and children tasked with taking care of the sheep. So there you were, just a lady minding your own business, maybe struggling to stay warm or stay awake and suddenly an angel appears and you feel yourself wrapped in the blanket of God’s glory and you have never been more awake or more terrified in your entire life. And then you hear the angel say:

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom [God] favors!”   (10-14)

And you and your fellow shepherds rush off to find Mary, Joseph and this child and you don’t really understand what is happening but you can tell that with the birth of this child a new way of being has been ushered in the world because this child, who was heralded by God’s angels not to the powerful and the wealthy but to you and your family, this child lying in a humble place, a place that looks a lot more like where you live than where a king lives. This child is a king like no king you have ever known.  Something is changing, more than just a child has been born this night.

And the joy and the awe and the excitement burst forth as you tell everyone you meet about what you have seen that night.

A night you would never, ever forget.

And Jesus, what about Jesus?  I’m not sure I want to try and guess what one memory Jesus would choose if he had to pick a single one, but I was recently reading a lovely children’s book called Jesus Grows Up and it got me thinking about the impact of Jesus’ childhood on his earthly ministry as an adult.[2]

In this story, the young Jesus watches his father Joseph light a lamp each evening, and he notices that Joseph doesn’t hide the lamp, but rather places it up high in a prominent position so the light can fill the whole room.

Jesus watches his mother make bread and observes how the yeast makes the dough rise so that the bread becomes light and fluffy and tastes delicious.

He watches how the shepherds all around Nazareth care for their sheep, even going so far as to leave 99 of their sheep to find one that has been lost.

He watches farmers sewing seed in their fields and later noticed how some seeds grow, and some do not.

He discovers how fun it can be when the whole village gathers together to share a feast, and how that feast is so much better when everyone is included.

All of these experiences helped to shape him and he took those memories with him when he ventured out into the world. And he turned those memories into the parables he shared with the people who slowly began to follow him wherever he went.

Those memories shaped Jesus. Our memories shape us too. I suspect Christmas 2020 is one we will always remember.  I’ve heard some people say that Christmas this year is a write off or it’s been cancelled but that’s not the case.

Our celebrations look different this year but the reason for those celebrations is still the same. The Christmas story is all about how God loved each one of us so much that they wanted to be near us, they wanted to be with us and nothing could stop them.  God’s love is unstoppable. God’s love cannot be cancelled.

Years from now I hope we will sit around our Christmas trees and say, “Remember Christmas 2020? Such a strange year that was! But we still found ways to remember that Jesus, Immanuel, God with Us was born.  We still found ways to celebrate, to reach out, to show love.”

Merry Christmas everyone.  Jesus is born. God is here.  We have much to be thankful for, much to celebrate, and much to ponder for years to come.

In the name of the Triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



[2] Jesus Grows Up by Pilar Paris, Josep M Lozano and Maria Rius

Enoughness: A Sermon for Sunday December 21, 2020

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday December 21, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Our first reading tonight came from 2 Samuel.  The people of Israel are no longer enslaved in Egypt, no longer wandering in the wilderness, no longer a loose federation of tribes. They are starting to settle down and transition into a single nation with a monarchical system of government.  This emerging form of government and way of being God’s people are both very new.

Here is how the Collegeville Commentary describes this period. It may sound vaguely familiar:

“The certainties of the old ways have been giving way to an uncertain future. The old ways were not ideal: change is needed to save the people from injustice and oppression. Yet there are aspects of the old ways that must not be left behind: the fundamental nature of the covenant society must be retrieved and represented in the new order.” (439)

Things are changing. The Israelites are sifting and sorting from their past – what to keep, what to leave behind – and all this without being certain what the future will bring.

It’s a description that could also accurately describe our own moment in time, 2020.  We have all been changed and our future is uncertain. What do we need to leave behind, what do we need to keep, and what new things are waiting to be born?

It’s a description that could also be used to describe the work we began as a community through our Advent Retreat which invited us to begin to explore the question, “Who do we – as saint benedict’s table - want to be when we grow up?”

I hope that like Israel we want to be a people who follow God but I also hope we don’t decide we want to be a monarchy.

The people of Israel want to be a people who follow God. That relationship had long been symbolized by the ark – the physical representation of God’s presence with the people. The ark had been captured by the Philistines and was being held as spoils of war. In the events leading up to tonight’s reading, David leads the people into battle, defeats the Philistines and recovers the ark.

Our reading from 2 Samuel begins, “Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies…” (7:1)

David is “settled in his house” but he is also unsettled about something. Looking around his house he cannot ignore the fact that his house is nicer than God’s. He calls the prophet Nathan and says, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2)

Nathan, understanding that David wants to build God a house and encourages him to do just that, even going so far as to tell him that God approves.  It seems like this plan to build God a house is such an obviously good idea that both men forget to actually check to see what God thinks about it.

And God does not think it’s a great idea. Or at least God doesn’t think it’s a good idea for David to be the one to build God’s house.

That night, God talks to Nathan and says, “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? … Did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, who I commanded to shepherd my people Israel saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (7)

Basically God is saying, “Have I ever, even once, told you that this is something I wanted you to do? No, no I have not.”

God is saying, “David, it is not your job to build me a house.”

And what’s more, God tells Nathan to remind David that God doesn’t need to live in a house. God cannot be confined to a building; God goes wherever God wants to go and God always wants to be wherever the people are.

One of the ways our community is shifting right now is that some of you who are worshipping with us tonight miss this building, but some of you have never been here and probably never will. That doesn’t make you any less a part of this community. It’s a relatively new thing for us to think of our community as much larger than just the folks who – when we are not in the midst of a pandemic – are able to make it to this building on a regular basis, but it’s a good thing, an exciting thing.  We are so glad that you have joined us.

Many of us miss being gathered together in this space. I miss it too. There is something beautiful and irreplaceable about what happens when there are people gathered together in this space.

But God doesn’t live here. We don’t have to be inside this building to be a community, and I know that God is present with each and every one of us right now. That’s just who God is.

God cannot and will not be contained by a building.

It’s not David’s job to build God a house but God wants to build a house out of David.

The lectionary does some editing with this story, having us read up to verse 11 and then skip to verse 16.  In those skipped verses, God tells David that his ancestors, the house of David, will have an important and lasting legacy. God promises that, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (16)

One of the amazing things about this promise is that it’s not conditional on David or his ancestors’ behaviour.  God doesn’t say, “If you obey my commandments I will make you a house,” God just says, “I will make you a house.”

God will build a house out of David – which is not something David has to do anything to make happen. God will make it happen.

David’s job is not to keep doing more and more for God. David’s job is not to constantly strive to build bigger and better.

Bigger is not, in fact, better.

Sometimes, oftentimes in fact, the simple things are good enough.  Sometimes, oftentimes in fact, what we already have is all that we actually need.

David doesn’t need to build God a house or earn God’s promise. Can we also lower our expectations of ourselves and of each other? Not everything is ours to do.

David did not need to keep doing more and more for God, and neither do we. It’s OK to say we can’t be all things to all people. It’s OK if this Christmas looks simpler than last. It’s OK for us all to lower our expectations.

In fact, I think it might be essential. I can’t speak to the individual situation of every single person who is participating in this worship service, but on the whole, as a society we are doing too much, pushing too hard and it needs to stop.

It can be so hard to know how to slow down, to stop, to say “that’s not mine to do,” but my dream is that saint ben’s will be a community that learns to value and model “enoughness.”  A community that creates space for people to discover their enoughness in a world that screams that they are never enough.

It’s my dream that we will be a community that learns to embrace and then proclaim the good news:

You are enough. Exactly as you are. You don’t need to do a single thing to prove your worth to God. God loves you, exactly as you are and, like David,  you do not need to do anything to prove you are worthy of God’s love.

This Christmas season – the whole twelve days of it – and on into Epiphanytide and beyond it’s my hope that we won’t feel driven to constantly have to take things to the next level.

Many of us were overworked and overburdened before living through ten months of a global pandemic and we’re weary. The last thing we need is to feel pressure to make this the “best Christmas ever” or to race into 2021 living our “best life now.”

As God firmly reminds David not everything is ours to do.  We need to “slow down and let God build us – dwell in us – in humble, simple” everyday ordinary ways. (Thornburg Sigmon)

As Casey Thornburg Sigmon writes, “God takes the covenant to the next level (not us). That’s the awe of Christmas... When did I ever demand a temple from you? I go where you go. I am with you.”[1]

 God’s promise to build David a house is fulfilled when Mary recognizes what is hers to do and says yes to God. Yes to being the one who will be the mother of God.  This child who will be God with us, will also be from David’s house.

Unlike David, Mary doesn’t strive to do more and more for God. Mary doesn’t make plans to do things without even stopping to check if they are things God wants her to do, but when God makes this huge, unimaginable ask of Mary, she says yes.

And it’s not easy, and it has real consequences for her.

Realizing that angels haven’t also been sent to every single person in her town

to let them know that the changes in Mary’s body that will soon be visible are part of God’s plan and not a reason to treat her with scorn and ostracize her from their community, scripture tells us she leaves “with haste”  to go and visit Elizabeth.(39)

When she arrives Elizabeth greets her with words that let Mary know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is safe and not only is she welcome in Elizabeth’s home, she is wanted. [2]

Mary’s presence is not an inconvenience Elizabeth will endure out of duty, she wants Mary to be there.

And Mary will stay with her for three months. Long enough for her to have some time to wrap her head around all that is happening. Long enough for her to spend time swapping pregnancy stories and bits of advice with Elizabeth. Long enough to prepare and begin to feel as ready as any human being could possibly be to be the mother of the son of God.

The mother of Jesus. Of God with Us.  The God who cannot be contained in a house. The God who loves us and came to save us and to be with us.

What a gift. And what wisdom.

Unlike David, who seems driven by a need to rush from one accomplishment to another, Mary will take her one – admittedly awe inspiring – task from God and do it well.

She will take the time she needs, she will seek out the people she needs to help her on her journey – Elizabeth, Joseph, Bethlehem’s midwives.

And in a year, when Jesus is approaching his first birthday, she won’t waste time wondering how she can outdo herself this year, what new and amazing thing she can do to top giving birth to the son of God. She will know that she is already doing what she is called to do, and that it is enough.

May we all learn to discern what is and what is not ours to do. May we reach out and seek the help and the companions we need on that road. And may we be those sorts of companions to each other.

In the strong name of our Triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.




[2] The idea of being not merely welcomed, but wanted, comes from the Evolving Faith Conference.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough: A Sermon for Sunday December 7, 2020

The following sermon was preached at saint benedict's table on Sunday December 6, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church's FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

When I open my Bible to the beginning of the gospel of Mark, the first thing I read is the title, “The Proclamation of John the Baptist,” followed by this opening sentence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1)

As opening sentences go, it’s not the best one I have ever read, it’s not even in the top 10.  It’s actually a little confusing given that I’ve just been told I am about to read the proclamation of John the Baptist only to then have read several more sentences before John is even mentioned.

But that’s not Mark’s fault. He couldn’t have known that a future editor would see the need to add the title about John and turn the title he had written into a first sentence.

Mark is writing “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that’s the title.  The next few sentences are the introduction:


As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”


For Mark, the story of the good news of Jesus Christ begins with Isaiah’s prophecy that a messenger will be sent to prepare the way. A messenger who will cry out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (3)

This prophecy should seem at least vaguely familiar to all of us because the lectionary had us read a longer section of it as our first reading.  In that first passage from Isaiah, not only is a path to be made straight, but the mountains are to be made low and the valleys raised so that God’s glory can be revealed to all the people.

Mark Allan Powell says that God in this text reminds him of Diana Ross singing, “Ain’t no mountain high enough.”[1] If you’re familiar with the song you’ll know that Ross sings about her love with a passion and a conviction that requires her to use every cell in her body.

By comparing God to Diana Ross in this way, Powell shows us a God who is so in love and so desperate to get to her people that she will not let anything stand in her way. “Ain't no mountain high enough, Ain't no valley low enough, Ain't no river wide enough, To keep me from you.”

I will never be able hear that song without thinking of this interpretation. And I’ve added it to my Advent playlist.

The good news in the gospel of Mark begins with a God who is so desperately in love with us that nothing will stand in her way. Nothing will keep her from getting to us – not the highest mountain, not the lowest valley, not the widest river. This is the story Mark wants to share with us.

God is coming, whether we want her to or not. Whether we are ready for her or not. There is nothing we can do to stop her.

So, what should we do?


Get ready.

Anticipate God’s arrival.

This is what both of our readings are pointing to this evening – the need to prepare for God’s arrival, not because there is anything we can do that would either encourage or prevent God from coming - God is coming. We prepare because the preparation is beneficial. It is good to be ready when God arrives.

Advent is a funny season. It’s my favourite season, but it is also rather bizarre that we spend so much time preparing for an event that already happened.  The story we will remember and celebrate on Christmas Eve already happened.   It’s old news.

But it’s also good news and, in some ways, new news.  It seems to me that every year during Advent as I prepare to remember something that already happened a long time ago, God also finds a new way to break through and be born all over again.  I can’t explain it, I definitely don’t understand it, but it is true.

I usually learn something new in the preparation as well. It doesn’t matter that I know how the story ends, Advent always has something new to teach me.

I’m not going to do this conversation justice here, but yesterday as part of our Advent retreat, several folks pointed out that it’s not always helpful to think of time as a linear thing with a singular starting point and ending point. Time is often circular. Our liturgical calendar is circular, as soon as we end we begin again.

Every day is Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter and Ordinary Time and also we suspend our disbelief to lean into these particular seasons and stories and ideas at particular times because the church has learned throughout its history that there is a deep wisdom in doing so.

This spring, summer and fall have felt in many ways like a perpetual Advent as we wait, not for just for Jesus, but for a vaccine, for an end to this pandemic, for an end to so much sickness, suffering and death.

Advent waiting has a particular heaviness to it this year.  One of the key features of traditional Advent waiting is that we can rest safe in the knowledge that we are waiting for a fixed period of time and that Jesus will be born on December 25th.  That is still true this year, but this year we are also in a season of waiting that lacks a clear horizon, a clear end date.  We do not know when this pandemic will end. We don’t know how much longer we are going to have to wait.

What might we learn, what might be illuminated if we fully embrace Advent in 2020?

We won’t know, unless we try.

But we also need to feel the freedom to be discerning in how we practice Advent. Some of you have decided that there has been enough Advent waiting this year and you now need an extra dose of cheer so in your home there are lights and decorations and Christmas carols on repeat.

Which is great.  There is a defiance and a willingness to take your mental health seriously in that decision which I really appreciate.

And as a community we will hold tight to many of our traditions, even as we innovate to take into account our current reality.  We will have a Christmas Eve service in this livestream format, and we will invite you all to eat treats and sip sherry together after the service, but we’ll use Zoom to gather.

And as a community, we’ve also decided that despite being in a season of waiting, there is something that we have all waited for long enough and there is no need to wait for any longer –


We have not celebrated Eucharist together as a community since March. That’s longer than the liturgical seasons of Lent and Advent combined.

That’s too long.

And so our wait will end next week on the third Sunday of Advent.

If you’re wondering what took so long, there were a host of factors at play that for tonight I will simply summarize this way – this was a decision not entered into lightly and was not one that Jamie or I could simply make on our own. It took time. If you want to hear a bit more about how this process unfolded,  we released a podcast[2] about it last week and there are also a series of other articles and resources available on our website.[3]

If you’re wondering HOW we’re going to be able to do this in in the middle of a global pandemic in a city that is currently in Code Red, the short answer is right where you currently are, in your own home, participating in this online gathering.

Next week’s liturgy will include the eucharist.  It’s Jamie’s turn to preside so as part of the service he will stand at the table for the first time in a very long time and the rest of us will gather in our own homes and together we will speak the words of the prayers, bread and wine will be blessed, and we will all be invited to consume “the body of Christ, broken for each one of us.”

You’ve likely never done this before. I’ve only done it once before as part of an online conference, but I did learn a few things in that process that I want to share with you to help you prepare.

First, just as my experience of Christmas is always deeper and richer when I fully engage in Advent, my experience of participating in an online eucharist was deeper and richer because of how I prepared for it.

It was deeper and richer because I took time to prepare, to think about my surroundings, to think about the elements I was going to use.

I set up my computer on the same plastic table I’ve been using almost non-stop since this pandemic began for Zoom calls and livestreams, but I also found a runner that my grandmother had embroidered and covered the table with that.

I used the same kind of bread we use here at saint benedict’s table and poured wine into a pottery cup similar to the ones we use here as well.

I also used incense. Lots of it.

I took a picture of my set up and texted friends who were also participating. They did the same. We told each other we were so happy to be able to do this together. We reminded each other that we were not alone.

It was not the same as a eucharist service with all of you in this building, but it was good, and Jesus was present and, just like with Advent, the experience was enhanced because I took the time to prepare.

A I mentioned earlier, we’ve put together a page of resources for you. One of those resources is the bread recipe that we typically use here.

If it appeals to you, I’d encourage you to take a look and try your hand at baking some this week as part of your own preparation.

But you don’t have to.  You don’t even have to participate in the eucharistic portion of the service if you don’t want to.  As we have regularly said here at saint ben’s, all are welcome, but no one should feel obligated.

You are all welcome, but you are certainly not obligated to participate.

If you do choose to participate, I strongly encourage you to engage in some thoughtful preparation this week. I encourage you to prepare, but I can’t tell you exactly what that should look like, just like I will never tell you that you should not have your Christmas tree up before December 25th. These things always require some personal discernment and an understanding of your own context.

I shared the example of my participation in an online eucharist as precisely that, one example. The takeaway is not that you also need to find a runner your grandmother embroidered or use the saint ben’s bread recipe in order to participate.

The takeaway should be that there is a benefit in thoughtfully preparing.

Perhaps the idea of preparing bread using the saint ben’s recipe is energizing to you. If it is, please do so.

But perhaps that fills you with a sense of obligation or panic. Groceries are hard enough to get right now and you don’t have those ingredients in your house.

But you do have some crackers. Would those crackers be OK?

Absolutely. Use the crackers.

Perhaps you need to eat gluten free. Well then our bread recipe definitely won’t be helpful for you.  Find something that you can eat.

And here is one final thing I want to encourage you all to consider doing.  We will not be the first people to celebrate the eucharist in this way but it is a fairly new practice, particularly in the Anglican church, and people are going to be interested in our experience.

In fact, we have a unique opportunity to share what we are learning through this practice for the benefit of the broader church.   Early this week we’ll be posting a series of reflection questions that you are invited, but again not obligated, to engage with. They will appear on the same page as the other online eucharist resources. Those questions will invite you to think about your own experience and understanding of the eucharist right now before we begin and then to reflect on your experience of this online practice over the next few months.

You may want to engage with those questions on your own as part of your personal spiritual practice or, if you feel comfortable, we’d love to have you share some of those reflections with us and the broader church.

God is coming, there is nothing we can do to stop her. God is already here – whether we notice her presence or not.

Nothing, not the highest mountain, not the lowest valley, not a global pandemic that keeps us physically separate from one another, absolutely nothing will stop God from coming.

That is how much God loves us.

In the last verse of our reading from Isaiah we are told that Christ when he comes will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.” (11)

He will gather us, and he will feed us.

So let us anticipate his arrival and prepare the way.

In the strong name of our triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.