The Burden of Miracles


The Burden of Miracles

Mr Will Dickinson
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2018

It seems to me many days that the God who worked the miracles of Elijah has gone missing.  It seems hard to believe in a God who comes down to light a bonfire out of nowhere, bring rain to a Kingdom at a word, let alone a God who personally sends down a flaming chariot to escort a prophet straight to heaven.  No wonder God doesn’t do that anymore, as if He’d be able to find parking in downtown New Haven!

     No, no.  It seems that God has become more subtle of late.  But I confess I miss that God we see in Elijah, the one who sends down rain in droughts, who lights massive bonfires in the blink of an eye, who parts even the rivers of the Jordan.  I start to wonder…is that God gone forever?  Will I ever get to see a miracle like that?  I wonder if you grapple with these questions too, if you stare into the dark corners of your bedroom at night and ask in a quiet voice, “Lord, is my suffering insufficient?  Am I not worthy of a miracle?  Need I be like the widow in the Gospel, giving everything I have to be worthy?  And what if I have nothing left to give?  Where is that worker of wonders, maker of miracles?  When will I too be saved?”  Where do we go with these questions?  To whom do we run?

      This summer, as many seminarians do, I worked as a hospital chaplain.  I happened to be serving the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and the population of the hospital mainly pulled from the surrounding very rural, very Christian counties.  There are a lot of one-line mainstays in a hospital, and one of them I always struggled to hear, was “we’re praying for a miracle.”  It meant that there was nothing left to do, it meant a kind of resignation to the inevitable, and yet for some it seemed to mean something deeper.  I met many patients and families for whom faith healing was a central part of their belief in God.  For those of you unfamiliar, this is the Christian practice that if one is sick, then one can be healed through prayer by the faith of those praying.  There is a direct line between the fervency of belief and the power of Jesus to heal.  Put simply, if you truly believe, your faith will make you well.

     It’s tempting to dismiss this belief as superstition or shallow: “surely God doesn’t work this way – how could it be that simple?” And the complexities of evil in our world would seem to throw a wrench in any one-to-one equation between faith and miracles.  Yet our God is a God of healing, Jesus made his deity known through healings, and I am certainly not in the business of telling people not to pray.  There was something so beautiful and compelling about watching and participating in prayer vigils for dying patients.  It reminded me of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, which is almost entirely words of praise to God.

     Of course, this theology of prayer has its problems.  If God’s healing is based on the faith of those praying, then the failure of God to heal becomes their fault.  This is surely not the will of God.  But at its best…at its best, this kind of prayer displays an utter conviction in the Goodness and Faithfulness of God, even if the miracle given doesn’t look like resurrection or healing or like Elijah’s miracle today.  And how could you not pray for a miracle?  How do you tell someone suffering that the miracle has already happened, that the Promise of God has already been fulfilled? 

     I think this is something like the Christian life – living in the knowledge of salvation and the suffering of Earth, tasting the bread of heaven and then walking back into a world of fallen justice and brokenness.  The Body of Christ does not always sate the hunger in our bellies, nor the Blood of Christ our thirst for love and acceptance.  We pray for miracles even and especially because we know they are in no way guaranteed, even to those of the most ardent faith.

     We must grapple with the fact that our God is not a God who saves all from death, that our God did not send Elijah to the door of every starving widow, that our God did not meet each Nicodemus in a fateful midnight lesson.  I must grapple with the fact that my oil only rarely self-replenishes, my bread acquires mold more quickly than it does more mass. And yet we give this God praise, we name Him Savior of the world, we name Her Messiah, we praise the glory of God’s Name. 

Though God has not seen fit to save us from the brokenness of our bodies, God has endowed me with Her memory, with the sacrality of Her presence.  Though God did not see fit to stop the momentum of bullets a fortnight ago, God was known to those inside that synagogue, through a miracle.  Though God has not yet revived those who died, God still appears in our Torah, on our altars, our streets, our very thoughts.  This is a miracle.  That we are here is a miracle.  That this church still stands is a miracle.  That she does her work is a miracle. That is enough.  That must be enough.

Emily Dickinson writes that

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses



‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the air –


When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

     I wonder if this miracle is such a Slant of light.  The widow eats, and we catch a terrifying, unruly glimpse of the power of God, of God’s hope for we brief and distractible humans.  But this light oppresses as well – in its gift we are given the curse of knowing God’s power – and we despair at God’s seeming unwillingness to prove Himself in miracles, to save all from suffering.  Yet should we dismiss these miracles, should we say begone with you, you are more trouble than you’re worth, what would be left but the look of Death?  What would we be left with at all? 

     These miracles point us to something, point us to the bending of the world toward our Lord.  These miracles are not told that we might expect to experience them, nor that we might believe in God on their dramatic merits, nor that God might be characterized by them.  They are told to remind us that Slants of light appear to us still, in traveling men and women, flitting into and out of our lives just as quickly as the Winter sun.

     Many of you know that I’m a native Virginian, so you might imagine that New England winters are a bit of a trial for me.  But if I’ve learned anything about how to survive them, it’s that one must remember the Spring.  Even on those dark days, there are signs of Spring: when I spot the beginnings of the daffodils’ long march upwards, or an unexpected warm day, or a mug of cocoa waiting for me at a friend’s house, those are slants of light, and they point to a day when the Sun will shine bright and hot and I won’t have to walk like a penguin over icy patches!  Yet even in the bitter cold, even when it chills to the bone, the warmth ahead is promised.  Even in the death of Winter, there is the promise of resurrection.  Even in the desolation of Good Friday, we never quite lose sight of our God’s return.

      So it is with these miracles.  They are not promises, exact foretellings of God will do for us if we but have the faith.  They are reminders of what has already been done for us, glimpses of the Savior we adore, and the same as the invitation that this blessed Church extends us week after week, all these long years at the corner of Broadway and Elm.  That this church still stands as a beacon of welcome is by God’s grace and this community’s faith.  Here is a miracle.  That we are here is a miracle. 

     Like how in the dead of Winter we must remember the Spring, when we see our oil and grain depleted, when we see prayers seemingly unanswered, we return here.  We must look up the slants of light into the blinding white Sun that is our God and remember who we are.  We are not of this world.  This life is not our end.  The widow was given a few cakes of meal and we are given salvation, eternal life, the entirety of Creation.  God sent down flames to light Elijah’s bonfire, and for us God came down to Earth to enlighten our hearts to Him.  God sent down rain to end the drought and in Christ God submerged the works of the devil and refreshed us into eternal life.  We must remember our destinies, beloved.  We must remember that this world shall end, that hunger and poverty and famine are not forever but the love of God is.  And until such a time comes, we too must be slants of light, showing up, feeding others, proclaiming that Good News, as this Church has always done. 

     For we are heirs to that everlasting kingdom where there is neither weeping nor sighing nor hunger nor injustice but instead praise and praise and praise and praise.  This is the true miracle to which all others point.  This is the truth of the Sun in the dead of Winter: that this world is not the end, brothers and sisters, this world is not the end.  Come up those stairs to that altar and see the real thing.  Walk past the slants of these windows, the clouds of incense, the memories of miracles long ago, and taste that for which you were created.  Commune with Your God and remember who you were born to be.

     There is a burden to these stories, to these rememberings of miracles.  There is a burden to knowing what God could do and does not.  But beloved, I pray you know it is a gift.  It is a gift to know our God has overcome the world, that God has redeemed us all, that this world shall burn and be reborn, just as have we.  And for now we watch with sharp eyes for Elijah in our streets and our dreams, we witness what we have seen, and we plead with the world to remember itself.  O worker of wonders, O maker of miracles, O Slant of light, You have been with us always. Remain with us forever.



The Communion of Saints


The Communion of Saints

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
All Saints’ Sunday
November 4, 2018

In the name of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Every All Saints Day I come back to this story--and you’ll have heard it before, so forgive me--but it’s what’s on my mind each year. And it has to do with how I conceptualize of the term “Saint” -- and the thing that we mark on All Saint’s Day--and celebrate this particular Sunday, All Saints Sunday.

When I was a child, my great grandmother died. I remember that people referred to her as a “saint.” “Oh, she was such a saint,” they’d say at the funeral home, at the church, at the covered-dish luncheon after the burial. My great grandmother was a saint.

But I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I knew that she was a pillar in her church, always in the same place and pew. Always ready with a covered dish or a pie for a church social, or if someone had died, some ham rolls or a casserole delivered to the house.

She always kept just the kind of candy each great grandchild liked in a drawer in her living room, and that was the first place we’d go after greeting her when we visited.

Any time I was with her I felt loved.

I knew she was good to me--and to my family. But I wasn’t sure. Was she a saint?

The Saints we think about, the Saints of the Church, the ones on our Calendar and in our windows, the ones known across the Christian faith, are probably equally complicated.

As Fr Scott Gunn has said, All Saints Day is the day when we remember Saint Mary. All Souls Day is the day when we remember Aunt Mary. And I think that’s a pretty good way to think about it.

The Saints of the Church with a capital “S” have revealed God’s grace to us in miraculous ways. Think of St Mary, the Mother of God, as the Church names her, whose “yes” to God paved the way for the birth of Christ--the salvation of the world. Francis, whose love of Christ led him to give away all his many earthly possessions, to embrace the poor and marginalized, to live in voluntary poverty, and to found the order that bears his name. Saint Julian, who saw all of God’s creation miraculously in a hazelnut, and discerned the infinite goodness of God in such a way that led her to understand that evil was no thing next to the mercy and love of God. St Lawrence, the archdeacon of Rome, who, when the emperor Valerian demanded he hand over the riches of the Church, went and sold all the silver and gold and jewels he could get his hands on, gave the money to the poor of the city, and entered the emperor’s court along with the poor and downtrodden recipients of his almsgiving, announcing to the emperor that these, the poor, were the treasure of the Church--and that the Church was far wealthier than even the emperor.

The Saints of the Church are her servants, her martyrs, her faithful who have shown God’s grace revealed in the love of Jesus Christ in particular ways, in particular times.

The Saints of the Church are those who, like Lawrence, like Julian, like Francis, and like Mary, understood that the values of the world, the conventional wisdom that surrounds us, the things we hear each day about what matters have got it all wrong.

Blessed Mary, Blessed Lawrence, Blessed Julian, Blessed Francis realized that the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the righteous--these are blessed. These whom the world has forgotten or ignored, turned aside or shunned, these blessed ones matter to God; God lifts them up; Jesus holds them close to his sacred heart.

Though their plight in this world may be fraught with peril and hardship, they are beloved by God.

And the Saints are the ones who have shown us this, time and time again, in their living--and in their dying. They’ve shown us how to follow Jesus--to live into our baptismal relationship with Christ, to die to sin and self and live for God.

And so we pray for them, and we ask their prayers for us.

But lest we think that somehow Saints are like superheroes, specially gifted with spiritual power far beyond our understanding--lest we think they are so much superior to us, so very different than we are, let’s remember that they were, frankly, a lot like us. And many, many of them were young. St Lawrence was 33 when he was killed by Valerian. Julian was 31 when she received her mystical “showings.” Francis was 25 when he renounced his inheritance before the Bishop of Milan, and 41 when he died. And Mary, mother of our Lord, was probably the age of a high school student when she gave birth to Jesus.

These brave young people, and older people, the Saints of God lived their lives in such different ways--and often at great cost--that they showed us the hope of --the reality of--the kingdom of God. That what we think we know is not the whole story. That the kingdom of God is radically different; that the way of love is stronger even than death. They reflect for us the resurrection of our Lord in their embodiment of God’s grace.

And they’re people just like us.

Just like my saintly great grandmother, who had her moments when she, too, showed God’s love and grace for me.

The Saints show us that the world can look like the beatitudes -- that the values of the kingdom of God include everyone, even and especially the downtrodden.

Friends, in a world that is full of hatred, in a world when even our public figures put down and devalue and rail against the vulnerable and marginalized, in a world when a man spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric can take a gun and walk into a synagogue and murder in cold blood eleven blessed children of God at prayer, we need the Saints to show us that we can live differently. That the love of God can overcome even the darkest hate. That all are included in the love that is the reign of God.

We need the Saints to remind us that, by virtue of our Baptism, we are united with Christ not only in his death but in his resurrection. That we can live differently in the world. That we can share hope and love and embrace everyone whom we meet.

We need the Saints. We need their witness. We need their prayers. And we need the reminder that we, too, can strive to live -- to show the love of God in the world--to be vessels of God’s grace--just as they were and are.

They gather around with us here at this altar as we celebrate this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving--as we receive Christ’s presence in the sacrament of his Body and Blood even as they completely and fully know God’s being now in the life they enjoy in heaven.

And we are joined with them now on earth in the Communion of Saints even as we will be fully joined with God in the life to come.

In a moment we’ll remember the saints who have come before--and particularly those Saints of the Church who have shown God’s grace in ages past. We’ll ask their prayers for us. And we’ll walk together again to the font of our baptism, be sprinkled again with that holy water that drowns us and renews us and raises us to new life.

And as we pray, I invite you to remember the Saints--those known to the Church, and those known to you alone. And as a reminder of what the Saints have stood for, of reign of the kingdom of God expressed in the Beatitudes of Matthew, as a reminder of how broad and encompassing God’s love is in the face of evil and hatred in the world, I want to share a story with you.

It’s a story from Flannery O’Connor, the Southern Catholic writer, who shares an unlikely vision of the Communion of Saints experienced by a character called Mrs Turpin, a good Christian lady--in the sense of the civic religion, not the actual faith of the apostles. A good lady who, as Flannery says, has had “a little of everything and the given wit to use it right.”

You need to know a bit of backstory--the time and setting is the 1960’s or thereabouts, and Mrs Turpin, a white farm lady, has encountered a young woman, a Wellesley student, who has listened to her self-satisfied, racist cant about how she believes the world is ordered. The Wellesley student has called Mrs Turpin a wart hog and thrown a book at her. Mrs Turpin has gone home to her farm, where she’s fed the pigs and is washing out the hog lot with a hose. And standing on the fence, with her sore forehead, with the words of the young woman ringing in her ears, she raises something of a prayer--a complaint--to the Universe. From Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation”:

"What do you send me a message like that for?" [Mrs Turpin] said in

a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force

of a shout in its concentrated fury. "How am I a hog and me

both? How am I saved and from hell too?" Her free fist was

knotted and with the other she gripped the hose, blindly

pointing the stream of water in and out of the eye of the old

sow whose outraged squeal she did not hear.

The pig parlor commanded a view of the back pasture

where their twenty beef cows were gathered around the haybales

[her husband] Claud and the boy had put out. The freshly cut pasture

sloped down to the highway. Across it was their cotton field

and beyond that a dark green dusty wood which they owned

as well. The sun was behind the wood, very red, looking over the

paling of trees like a farmer inspecting his own hogs.

"Why me?" she rumbled. "It's no trash around here, black or white,

that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day

working. And do for the church.”

She appeared to be the right size woman to command the arena before

her. "How am I a hog? she demanded. "Exactly how am I like them?"

… "I could quit working and take it easy and be filthy," she growled.

"Lounge about the sidewalks all day drinking root beer. Dip snuff and

spit in every puddle and have it all over my face. I could be nasty.

… Lay down in the middle of the road and stop traffic. Roll on the ground.’

In the deepening light everything was taking on a mysterious hue. The

pasture was growing a particular glassy green and the streak of the

highway had turned lavender. She braced herself for a final assault and

this time her voice rolled out over the pasture. “Go on,” she yelled, “call

me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell.

Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and bottom!”

A garbled echo returned to her.

A final surge of fury shook her and she roared, "Who do you think you


The color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment

with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and

across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly, like

an answer from beyond the wood.

She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it.

A tiny truck, Claud's, appeared on the highway, heading rapidly out of

sight. Its gears scraped thinly. It looked like a child's toy.…

Mrs. Turpin stood there, her gaze fixed on the highway, all

her muscles rigid, until in five or six minutes the truck reappeared,

returning. She waited until it had had time to turn

into their own road. Then like a monumental statue coming

to life, she bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the

very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs.

They had settled all in one corner around the old sow who

was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant

with a secret life.

Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin

remained there with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing

some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There

was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson

and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending

dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic

and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak

as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a

field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward

heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first

time in their lives, and bands of black [folks] in white robes, and battalions

of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.

And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom

she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always

had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right.

She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind

the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for

good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone

were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even

their virtues were being burned away.

She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes

small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision

faded but she remained where she was.

At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way

on the darkening path to the house. In woods around her the invisible

cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of

the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.[1]

+ + +

[1] Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation,” from The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971. Text accessed online 11/3/2018 at


For All Time to Save


For All Time to Save

The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2018

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

Like no other book in the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews is deeply preoccupied with salvation. The term “salvation” appears in Hebrews more than in any other New Testament book.[1] The author of Hebrews, whose true identity is known to God alone, makes use of this term more than any of the four Gospel accounts. More than in any one of the letters of Saint Paul. One can argue that the author of Hebrews is utterly obsessed with the topic of salvation. However, the author’s preoccupation with salvation is predicated on his commitment to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Whose royal priesthood is everlasting and who is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, for Christ always lives to make intercessions for us.

The author of Hebrew freely uses terms like salvation, redemption, and completion to describe what has already been achieved. And what Christ has achieved is the perfection of life through his death and resurrection, and through his perfection, we are invited to right order and unity in God. When the author of [Hebrews] speaks about inheriting salvation, the implication is not just that the salvation is the future, but that we can be sure here and now that we will finally be saved. Christ brings salvation about in his role as priest.

As I’ve read through Hebrews for the last few weeks in our Sunday lectionary, I found myself realizing that I don’t often think about salvation. While I read scripture every day and say my prayers, the topic of salvation is not one I ponder on frequently. I don’t stay up at night thinking -- What does it mean to be saved? What are we being saved from? How can I be saved?

How often do you contemplate your salvation?

Maybe I’ve taken the topic of salvation for granted and neglected not only to dwell and meditate on this gift, its meaning and purpose, but most importantly to give thanks.

It is my belief that the author of Hebrews deep obsession for the topic of salvation comes not from a place of fear, but from a place of utter thanksgiving. Amidst the temptations to abandon the faith and the persecution and imprisonment of Christians in that Church community, the author of Hebrews repeats over and over again the topic of salvation. Not juxtaposing salvation to damnation or warning people of hell, but to remind us again and again that salvation has been made attainable by Christ’s royal priesthood.

Professor Craig Koester in his commentary and translation of Hebrews, translates the Greek word we use for salvation, sōtēria, as “Completion.” And he does this to focus our attention to the author of Hebrews’ understanding that to be saved means being made complete through and within Christ. And the author of our completion, the author of our salvation, is Christ himself. Professor Koester writes, “Our completion, that is our salvation, is the consummation of humankind in and eternal relationship with God, in which people share Christ glory, enter God’s rest, see the Lord, enjoying in the festival gathering in the heavenly Jerusalem.”[2]

What does it mean to be saved? For the author of Hebrews, it means being completed by God, it means accepting that God is at work in our daily lives and trusting in God’s faithfulness, God’s constant presence. While we cannot save ourselves, we can persevere in faith as Christ did, following his teachings and example, trusting that God will not abandon us, but will bring us into complete and everlasting life as he promised.[3]

And the author of Hebrews makes a radical claim about the ongoing work of Christ stating that “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” The work of the cross, the work of resurrection, the work of salvation, the work of completion, is ongoing. But not by our doing, but by God’s very nature and desire. Salvation is made attainable not by ourselves but by God who seeks to save all who approach him.

I’m reminded of a story shared by a seminary classmate after our summer clinical pastoral education program. Clinical pastoral education, known as CPE, is a program that allows seminarians to be trained as pastors often in hospital settings. My classmate Eric shared with us his encounter with a lovely patient who upon visiting her began to ask him about his own faith. A devoted bible believing Christian woman she asked Eric -- “Darling, when were you saved?” And after pausing for a second, Eric simply answered, “two thousand years ago.”

I have asked myself before the question, “how can I be saved?” But I’m realizing that the better question to ask is “how can I not be saved?”

I’m bold enough to ask this question not because I’m a universalist, I’m far from it, but because of my deep love and commitment to Jesus Christ. A commitment shared with all of you and the billions of Christians around the world, and with those who have gone to meet our maker. Christ has died once for all when he offered himself on the cross, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, opening wide the gate of heaven to us below.

Salvation does not lie in our hands but in the scarred and glorious hands of Christ. We can ask ourselves the question “what are we being saved from?” but again, a better question to ask is “what are we being saved towards?” Salvation is not a contrast to death but the affirmation, believe, and thanksgiving in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  

[1]  Marshall, I. H. (2009). The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (R. Bauckham, Ed.). Grand Rapids (Michigan): William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 255.

[2] Koester, C. R. (2010). Hebrews: A new translation with introduction and commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press. 373.

[3] Ibid, 125.


You Are a Priest For Ever, According to the Order of Melchizedek


You Are a Priest For Ever, According to the Order of Melchizedek

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018

You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:6)

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

As many of you know I once served in a large morning prayer parish attached to a school where I also had the privilege of teaching.  One of the things that happens in parishes with schools is that there’s a broadening of community--there are folks who come to church, and then there are folks who come to school and the requisite chapel services--and then there is a smaller subset of folks who do both. 

And all of those constituencies think of the church as their own.  “This is my church,” folks will say. 

And that sort of identification with a sacred place, with a building, is a good and holy thing--but sometimes it gets separated off from time and space and from the actual community, the Body of Christ, that we’d think of as Church…  And sometimes it leads to some complicated situations, as you might imagine.

Part of my work was often when an old family would come back--that is, someone who had been to the school but hadn’t been a parishioner at the church--when someone like this would come back for a wedding or a funeral, I would often get to work with them to plan the wedding or funeral--and often, because I served both in the church and school, I could make a connection--and smooth out any rough edges--and make sure the planning and the service went well for all involved--the old family--and the current parishioners and staff.

One time this didn’t work as smoothly as I’d hoped.

The granddaughter of an old family came to be married at the church; her grandmother and great uncle had been students in the school, and this was, for an unchurched family, the very best semblance of the church that they could think of--this beautiful building, with an excellent address, that would look so very good in pictures, after all.  And as the planning went on, I got to meet the grandmother, and the great uncle, and we had time to reminisce with them about the wonderful experience they’d had in the school, the warm memories they had.  And everything was a warm and lovely walk down memory lane until the grandmother brought me up short, as she asked, “Now, who are you?”  And I explained that I was, in fact, the priest who would be officiating the marriage between her granddaughter and her intended! 

The grandmother, a very elegant woman indeed, tall and slender, wrinkled her aquiline nose and looked ever so slightly down it at me, questioning, “But what, indeed, is a priest?”  I stumbled, choked a bit, sat there in my cassock and collar wondering what to say to this woman who had just told me her favorite hymns in the 1940 hymnal, thinking that surely she was making a joke, or trying to make me laugh, but no.  As I gazed into her eyes I realized she was taken aback--that she really didn’t know what I meant.  And so I sputtered something about how a priest was a bearer of sacrament, that I preached and taught and celebrated Holy Communion and marriages and…  Then she cut me off and rather helpfully interjected, “When I was in school, we had ministers.  Mr Van der Hoff--he was our minister!  He was a wonderful man!  Whatever happened to all the ministers?”

Whatever happened to all the  ministers indeed.

We can wax on about the Anglo Catholic triumph that is the 1979 prayer book, a book that I’m quite fond of and that I’ve used for all my priestly ministry.

But her question is an interesting one--and I think it was, for her, quite earnest.  Or at least I’m choosing to believe so.  And it might even be a good question for us to ask ourselves.

What, indeed, is a priest?

We hear in the epistle to the Hebrews today the verse, referring to Jesus, “You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” (5:6)  But who is Melchizidek?

If you remember the more obscure bits of Hebrew scripture in Genesis, you may recall a victory by Abram--before he’s called Abraham--against Eastern rulers who had taken Abram’s nephew Lot and his family and belongings.  Abram and his allies prevailed against the invaders, reclaiming his family and his property, and he returned to the valley of Shaveh, where “King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of [El Elyon] God Most High.  He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:18-20)

What we receive in this passage is the image of a priest as one who mediates relationship--who we might say even bears sacraments, bears blessings.  Melchizedek blesses Abram on behalf of El Elyon, the Most High God, and Melchizedek on behalf of Abram blesses God. 

This certainly fits with what we think of as priest--someone who makes the appointed sacrifices, who blesses and gives blessing, who mediates the relationship of the holy and the profane, all on behalf of God Most High. 

Your former interim, my dean, Fr Joseph Britton used to remind us to remember our ABC’s.  Those, Joe said, were the only reasons priests were ordained--to absolve, to bless, and to consecrate the sacraments.  And that makes sense.  Those are the only things bound only to the priestly order by ordination.

But if we’re too slavish in our understanding of what it is to be priest, we can end up subjugating the priesthood to a quasi-professional role.  Priests are strange things with collars that come out of their enclosures to perform mysterious sacramental rites.  The model of priest as professional can go so far that priesthood, like religion, can become separated from our broader lives--tucked back in a corner, a boutique service to visit for weddings and funerals.  I suspect that’s what was going on with our grandmother in the earlier story, and if you haven’t noticed this phenomenon yourself, remind me to tell you the story of how, after a pastoral interaction, and as smooth as if he’d been thanking the maître d’ for a good table at a fine restaurant, palmed me a hundred.

Our focus on priest as profession can sometimes lose track of the main goal of all of what we do as the Body of Christ--the spread of the good news of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ--and can pull us away from the truth of whose job that is.

Last week Martin Seely, the bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in the Church of England, gave the Cheney Lecture at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.  Bishop Martin took as his topic the purpose and nature of theological education.  Digging deep into the history of the Christian movement, Martin suggested that the entirety of theological formation, from the beginning of the Christian era, has always been about the education and formation of the Body of Christ--that is, of all the baptized--in the story of Jesus.  That is to say, everything we write, and preach, and teach, and do is all and only about helping people--the holy people of God--to know Jesus better--so that they may make his love known in all the world.

I found this an immensely helpful reminder--and it’s something we talked about in our acolyte quiet day yesterday.  Everything we do--the liturgy, the music, the prayers, the Sunday forum, the newsletter, the preaching, Church School for children, and even coffee hour--all of it is to help all of us--you and me and the person sitting next to you and even the person who’s not here this Sunday--all of it is to help us come to know Jesus better.  To know the story of God’s incarnate love.  Of God’s salvation for us and for all of Creation.  And to share the story of how we’ve come to know Jesus’s love with the whole world. 

That’s it.  That’s all we’re doing here.

Of course theological education is about all the baptized--because all of the baptized--all of us, you and I together--are part of the Body of Christ.  We die to sin and self and everything else in our baptisms, as Christ has died in his crucifixion.  And we rise with him, joined to him, in our baptisms--out of the waters of the open font as he rose and left the empty tomb--rising to inhabit the world, to fill it with his holy presence, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

So, too, we rise--to carry Christ’s presence into the world.  Fed with the Body of Christ here at the altar, we leave, the Body of Christ, to go into the streets of New Haven, to carry the love of Christ to all whom we meet.

For if Christ is made a high priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, then we too are joined with Christ, through his death and resurrection, through our death and new life found in the waters of our baptism.  We, too, brothers and sisters, are all priests according to the order of Melchizedek--blessing God, and carrying God’s blessing into the world.

Yes, there is a difference in the work that Fr Carlos, Mtr Kathryn, Fr Kent, Fr Ken, and Fr Bob and I are called to do.  We are particular priests that absolve, bless, and consecrate.  But all of us together—you and I and your priests—are the priesthood of all believers--the Body of Christ, who is the great high priest, moving in the world.

What might that look like?

I was immensely pleased that Bishop Martin’s talk dovetailed with another paper--one of three really good papers given at the Society of Catholic Priests conference in Manhattan three weeks ago.  (The papers will be published in an upcoming issue of the Sewanee Theological Review.  Keep an eye out.)  All of the papers were good and helpful.  But the really provocative idea was one raised by Bishop Neil Alexander, the dean of the seminary at Sewanee, an Episcopal school in Tennessee, and coincidentally my diocesan bishop when I was ordained here in Christ Church.  Bishop Neil reminded us that ordination, the thing that makes a deacon, bishop, or priest, comes from our baptism--that the work of the diaconate, the presbyterate, and the episcopate--the work of deacons, bishops, and priests--is just three specialized, particularly ordained orders--but that all people have holy work to which they are called by God.

What is the thing you’ve been ordained by God to do?  Perhaps it’s teach, or heal, or make things, or deliver things.  Maybe it’s to make music to delight God and God’s creation.  Perhaps it’s to be an outside impartial observer and listener--to help organizations do the work the people in them are called to do more effectively.  Perhaps it’s to encourage, or to speak truth to power, or to raise up the lowly.  Perhaps it’s to minister to a family, or a loved one, or a community in need.  All of these things, and many more, may be the work that’s ordained for you to do--or the work that you enjoy right now, for this moment. 

But all of us share in the one great work of our lives--to tell the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ with the world.

If you’re unsure of who can bear Christ to the world, let me share a story that Mtr Margaret Gunter tells in her book Holy Listening.  Mtr Margaret tells of a time when she was ministered to by an unexpected person—a time when she met Christ on the C train:

It had been a long day, filled with intense conversations and other people’s pain.  I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and I certainly didn’t want to listen to anybody…  I was off duty and looking forward to the anonymity of the subway, to immersing myself in my paperback.  Then a shabby, disheveled, not very clean woman sat down beside me.  I thought, “How can I escape?  She’s already eyeing my clerical collar; she’s spotted me for a soft touch.”  Sure enough, “How are you, sister?”  Then the words rushed out.  In a matter of minutes, I seem to have heard the story of her life, her struggle with addiction, her hopes for a new beginning in a rehabilitation center.  I knew that I wasn’t off duty, after all, so I said what I thought were the right things and felt very holy to be so kind.  When she got ready to leave, I knew she was going to ask for money and assure me that it was for nourishing food, not drugs.  I went through my inner argument: should I, shouldn’t I come up with a quarter, maybe two quarters?  Then, as she stood up, she leaned close to me and pressed a subway token into my hand.  “God bless you, sister.”  And she was gone.[1]

That woman had borne blessing for her. She had been a priest of our most high God. And friends, you are priests, according to the order of Melchizedek.  We are the Body of Christ, those ordained as the apostles were to take the good news of God’s love out into the highways and byways, the subways and the underpasses, the homes and the concert halls, the shelters and the hospitals of our place and time.  We are the ones who have been called.  Will we answer?

And lest you think this is easy work, I assure you it will take our whole lives.  Over and over we will come back to our baptisms.  Over and over again we will come to this altar to receive again the Body of Christ. 

When Abram met Melchizedek and received God’s blessing--when Melchizedek and Abram blessed God--Abram gave a thank offering of 10% of all that he had--a tithe.  That’s what that word means.

Will we offer our own lives, our own talents, our own financial gifts--to God?  Will we give our lives as the priesthood of all believers to take the message of God’s love into the world?

We are the unlikely priests that he has called, you and I. 

Let us come to this altar, to be fed once again with the Body and Blood of our Lord.

Let us go forth in the name of Christ to love and serve.

And let us never forget that all that we do here -- all that we do with our whole lives--is to spread the love of God to all whom we meet.

In the name of our Most High God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.  +

[1] Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: the Art of Spiritual Direction. Plymouth (UK): Cowley/Roman & Littlefield, 1992.


Who Is Good But God Alone?


Who Is Good But God Alone?

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018

In the gospel for the day we hear the story of the rich young man who calls Jesus “Good teacher.” Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” The sermon calls into question the ontology of goodness and leads us instead to a reflection on the goodness of God and our own belovedness—to acknowledge that all of Creation, that all humans, are beloved of God—and asks us to consider how, then, we might love one another—and use all that we have, and all that we are, to love and serve God and God’s Creation.


Belonging to God


Belonging to God

The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 7, 2018

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


A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend a friend’s wedding in Northern Virginia. As are all things in Anglican worship, it was beautiful, solemn, and joyous. If you’ve ever witnessed a wedding in the Episcopal Church you know that at one point in the liturgy, the Celebrant joins the hands of the couple, and praying over them concludes the prayer with these words – “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”


These words remind us that in the Sacrament of Marriage, like in all the Sacraments of the Church, while officiated by the couple, administer by the priest, and affirmed by the gathered body, the primary actor in this and all holy unions, the architect of all things, is God himself. God has joined together all those in loving relationships, whether romantic or platonic. God has brought those closest to us not by mistake, but by God’s desire that we, his people, may be in unity.


Our own love and affection towards one another, like the love of a married couple, is a mere shadow of God’s love for us. Our unions of love are a reflection of God’s desire to be in union with us. And God’s desire to be in union with us as we are with others is made tangible and visible in the life of the Church and in her sacraments. In the sacraments we come in union with God and with his earthly body, the Church — through the sacraments we are affirm our identity as children of God through the waters of baptism, we partake in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ through bread and wine, we are restored, healed, and reconciled in the name of Christ, and we come intimate with with God.


In his conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus ends his dialogue by proclaiming, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”


What God in Christ has joined together is us unto himself. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all of creation is reconciled and restored into union with God.


In Christ, God has brought us closer not only to himself, but with one another. Just look around this Church, really look around. What you see around you are not mere strangers, friends, or family, but the Body of Christ. We are the very object, and the subject which God in Christ came to join together with himself – our humanity with his divinity, our suffering with his passion, our capacity to overcome the darkest forces with his resurrection.


What God has joined together cannot be tarnished or defeated. Even if our own relationships which attempt to embody and live out God’s love come to an end, God’s desire for divine union with all of creation continues. Not only does God’s love and grace continue to be present for us, but God’s love and grace surpasses our human separation, and our own limitations and understanding.


Remember our Gospel passage this morning. As the people brought forward their children to Jesus, hoping that he may lay his hands on them, we’re told that the disciples spoke sternly to them. This isn’t simply the story of twelve men who hate children getting upset at annoying parents. Rather, Jesus exposes to the disciples and us, centuries apart and thousands of miles apart, how the deep and radical is God’s love and grace.


In the first century Mediterranean world, the characteristic feature of children was not their innocence, but their lack of status and legal rights.[1] Who Jesus is welcoming, who God has joined together to himself and us, are those with no status, those who are nameless, those whose stories go unheard.


Jesus’ pronouncement that children as such belong to God’s kingdom meant that inclusion in God’s kingdom is not a matter of status or attainment of any kind; it is a matter of unconditional acceptance.[2]


God’s unconditional acceptance is at the heart of what Christ came to reveal and offer. We have been given ways to experience and share God’s love and grace, and even when our wells have run dry and our capacity to share in love may dissipate, God’s love is capable to join us together and offers us the strength to persevere.


What God has joined together, let no one separate.


God has joined us together, and we are the people of God; the Body of Christ; the Church. God has joined us to himself, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.


Thanks be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Eugene Boring. Mark: A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. 281.

[2] Ibid, 289.


The Victory of Our God


The Victory of Our God

The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Octave of Michaelmas)
September 30, 2018

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


Not far from the Island of Patmos, where Saint John received his vision from the exalted Christ, is the Island of Delos. Sacred to the Greeks because in a story known all too well to Saint John and his community, Delos is the birthplace of the Greek god Apollo. The mother of Apollo, Leto, fled there to escape the dragon Python, who wanted to kill the newborn son of Zeus. Instead of being killed, Apollo returns to Delphi and kills the dragon himself.


Eugene Boring, professor Emeritus of New Testament at Brite Divinity Schools, comments, “This Greek tale captures how the forces of darkness, disorder, and death rebelled against the divine king of light, order, and life attempting to overthrow the divine order, kill the newborn king, and seize the kingship and establish the rule of darkness. This story, like all such myths, is an expression and interpretation of the human story as part of the cosmic conflict between good and evil. And it expresses the common experience of humanity that there is always a new day after the darkness of night. The darkness, the dragon, attempts to destroy the sun god, but is himself killed as the new day dawns. Roman emperors found this myth politically useful. Apollo was understood as the primeval king who had reigned over a “golden age” of peace and prosperity. August, the first emperor, interpreted his own rule in terms of this tradition, claiming that his administration was the Golden Age and casting himself in the role of the new Apollo. Nero erected statues to himself as the god Apollo. There were coins on which the radiance of the sun god emanates from the emperor’s head.”[1]


Saint John takes up this story and recasts the whole thing, providing new identities for the characters. And giving the early Church multiple ways to come to terms and process their current condition of suffering and persecution. Saint John’s hearers, members of the Church of God in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, needed no help finding themselves in the story. They needed no help imagining who was the dragon, the source of corruption, evil, and death, which Saint Michael and his army of Angels were sent to defeat. Saint John wanted to expose these rulers for what they were – agents and embodiments of the powers of evil.[2]


The old myth is retold in such a way that the events and institutions of Saint John’s own day echo through its retelling. The mythical story reflects and evokes images and events experienced by those early Christian hearers, allowing them, and allowing us, to see their struggles in a transcendent context. Giving them permission to see their current struggle and suffering, through and within the very suffering and passion of Christ. Giving us the permission to view the brokenness and pain of our time not apart from God’s work of salvation, but within God’s redeeming work.


The human systems, powers, and institutions that exist to promote sin and death, stand in battle against God, his angels, and his saints. Think of the countless ways in which human lives are put on the line in our society, from war, to the prison industrial complex, to drug addiction, to systemic racism, all these forces of Satan stand in opposition to the will of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Who says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NASB).


In Saint John’s telling of the story, Saint Michael acts as a counterpart to God’s saving act on earth in the event of Christ. The war in heaven described by Saint John, in which Michael and his angels fight against the dragon, serves as a metaphor for what’s already taken place on the cross. Saint John is merely reminding the Church -- the Church in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, and the Church here in New Haven, of the passion and triumph of Christ.


But the war in heaven illustrated by Saint John has not only taken place here on earth, in time and space, but a victor has been determined. Christ has exposed the empire, its corruption, its hunger for power, and its denigration of human life. Even as we use imagery of war to speak of the victory of our God, we know that the victory we speak off was not won by violence or sword. Rather, the victory we proclaim this day, the victory we proclaim every Sunday and at every mass, is the victory of the cross where Christ offers his body. On the cross, Christ has exposed humanity’s capacity for evil, not as a way to shame or abandon us, but to diagnose us and offer us a cure. Offering us a way forward as the human family of God. And the source of the antidote is found in what was once a symbol of the venom of death, the cross, which no longer stands as an emblem of death, but as an indication of new life and new possibilities.


We live in a city, a country, and a world which knows sin and death; disunity and evil, all too well. It can sometimes be easy for us to fall prey towards ambivalence or grow towards a disregarded for the suffering of the world.


Every day I walk my dog through the streets of New Haven, and every day I run into individuals battling with addiction and untreated mental illness. Every week I pray for the dead through the Intercession paper of the Guild of All Souls, an Anglican guild of prayer for the dead, whose patron is none other than Saint Michael. And every week, I am reminded of death – the death of loved ones from sickness and old age, the death of the innocent and victims of violence.


And in the face of all these evils we can either choose to stand idle, disconnected, and unmoved, or we can turn 180 degrees towards Christ. Christ crucified, risen, and ascended.


Amidst the suffering, persecution, and death, experienced and witnessed by those early Christians, Saint John turns to the cross and what lies behind it. For it is on the cross where we see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. It is on the cross where we see the battle with sin and death come to a halt. It is on the cross where we find our salvation, and the salvation of the world. It is on the cross where we find the love of God exposed and stretched out for the life of the world.


While sin and death roam among us, depicted in a dragon or embodied in an earthly system, ruler, or judge, we can turn to Christ along with Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel and all the angels and saints, and sing a victory hymn in the face of evil and death to proclaim the reality of the salvation, power, and empire of God in Christ.[3]


The most Christ-like act, the most powerful stance, we can take in the face of evil and death is stare it square in the eye and proclaim the victory of our God. Whatever the battle or struggle ahead of us may be, we are not promised that it will be made easy, but that Christ will be with us.


Christ has fought the battle, he has seen death, he has reached down to the corners of hell, and set a path forward for humanity to be free. The question is whether we’ll join Christ, his angels and saints, and sing hymns of life, love, and victory in the face of death.


“Now have come the salvation and the power

and the kingdom of our God

and the authority of his Messiah.

Rejoice then, you heavens

and those who dwell in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea,

for the devil has come down to you

with great wrath,

because he knows that his time is short!”

(Revelation 12:10,12 NRSV)


Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1]  Boring, M. E. (2011). Revelation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 151.

[2] Ibid, 152.

[3] Fiorenza, E. S. (1999). Revelation: Vision of a just world. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 81.


Fling Wide the Gates


Fling Wide the Gates

Mr Will Dickinson
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2018

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we live in a city full of gates.

Gates guarding colleges, eateries, and parks, gates to churches, to bars, to social clubs, and that’s only the physical ones.

We live in a city in which entrée requires ever more elaborate methods of proving our worth, proving we deserve to be let in.  Even my appointment as your seminarian came with a set of keys.  We must be of greater importance, greater influence, greater worth, and soon it’s not a conversation about the thing itself, but who, in the end, is greatest.  And as best I can tell, being a Christian is quickly losing much of the power and prestige it once enjoyed.  No longer something necessary to gain entry to society, we now must first prove we are the right kind of Christian before the gates are opened to us.

And to be clear, it’s not that I have anything against gates.  I’m totally onboard with gates – they can be quite beautiful, certainly functional, and they’re the only thing keeping the Rector’s dog, little Maggie, from the dangers of traffic on all sides.  I love gates.  But I simply ask us to take note of all the ways in which our city says “No. You are not welcome.  You cannot come in.” And to take note of to whom we say it.

Who is allowed inside and on what basis?  Who deserves to be let in?  We live in a city that trades in the twin currencies of prestige and power.  Prestige is a path to getting on the inside, which is a path to influence, which, I’m told, will make me happy and fulfilled.  But, of course, getting on the inside is never sufficient.  I must also make sure it stays exclusive; I must also ensure that my place on the inside is never in doubt.

Perhaps that’s why today’s Gospel rings so true to me.  You should know, I have a habit of identifying with unsavory characters in the Bible.  My first sermon it was Pontius Pilate, the next it was Cain, and so on.  So perhaps it’s no surprise how quickly I identified with the disciples, arguing over who among them is the greatest.  This is a game we play in the academy, in the church, in our workplaces, pretty much everywhere.  It’s a pernicious game, too, because we don’t get to set the terms, and it turns our they’re totally arbitrary.  We’re at the mercy of what the world deems great, and then are crushed when we inevitably fail to measure up.  


And yet even the apostles of Jesus, like us, are not immune to the illusion of prestige and power.  They too are concerned about where they stack up.  Jesus knows this and even lets them in on the fallenness of human understanding, foretelling his coming betrayal and death by human hands.  Does this illuminate the disciples?  Does it snap them out of it?  No, no.  The disciples instead say, “Yikes,” and move on to more fun things like who’s the best.  He tells them the death he is about to die for them, their friend, their leader, their rabbi, and they get scared and stay silent.  The disciples, walking with the Savior of the World, simply say, that’s nice Jesus, now let’s get back to the things that matter.


How often have we ignored the truth of the passion and resurrection in favor of the truths of the world?  How willingly do I contemplate the cross here without carrying it out into the world?  How often have I stayed behind my locked doors, my many gates, instead of following Jesus to the cross? How often have I locked the door myself, despite Jesus’ protests behind me?


I grew up in one of those classic 1950s A-frame churches in suburban Virginia.  God bless the architects, but sometimes it seems more like an auditorium than a church.  Just don’t tell my grandmother I said that.  Suffice to say, I have learned to appreciate good church design.  And the most striking aspect of Christ Church to me when I first arrived was how the whole of the church points to the tabernacle and the altar upon which it rests.  Standing at the font, one’s eye is drawn irresistibly up the aisle, through the rood screen, to the altar and the Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament.  The church itself exhorts us, like Jesus, to root our priorities in his Passion and not in earthly things.  For though there are many earthly beauties in this church, every single one of them points to him in whose name they are blessed. 


But It’s far from only architecture which underscores this truth, however: the fragrance of incense and the wash of chant marking that which is holy, and the way we ritualize movement, ascending to meet heaven and Christ on our knees at the altar – all coalesce to focus our eyes and hearts on Jesus: he who is what we cannot be, he who is that to which we strive, who is truly, servant, of all.  And we meet him, finally, on our knees, in that holy moment of communion, a moment in which there is no prestige, where there is no avoiding the Passion, in which we equally adore Christ and equally adored by him.  And yet often forget, in favor of the illusions of the world. 


St James exhorts his readers, asking, “these conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?”  One can hear the exasperation in his writing.  How is it that humans are so drawn to unholy hierarchy, to comparison, always drawn into those pointless conversations about who is greatest?  From where does our need to draw distinction come? Why do we put up walls so easily, walls of theology, of social status, of charm, of whatever?  And for that matter, how can we begin recognizing the ones already around us?

Luckily, the saint gives us powerful advice: “Draw near to God,” he says, “and He will draw near to you.”  Draw near to the love of Jesus that has overcome the world, the God who so desires to love us unconditionally that he sent his Son into the world to bang it into our heads directly.  What would change if we believed him?  What would change if we were simply content to love and serve the Lord?  


St. James reminds us that the table is set, the feast is prepared, and drawing near is as simple as saying Amen.  But of course, we must be in the room to hear the invitation.  And churches are far from innocent of building their own gates to keep others out, even while proclaiming a message of love.  Even as we So, my friends, if there are barriers, if there are gates between God’s people and that altar…they are of our own making.  They are not of God.  The God whose love gave birth to all of Creation does not distinguish between those worthy of His love or not.  Jesus has offered it to all.  Whatever barriers there are, they are not of him.  And they must be torn down.


Now rest assured – this is no call to tear down the church or its traditions or wisdom.  It is rather a call to tear down those places within ourselves that separate us from God and keep His people from his saving Grace.  For if we truly recognized the gravity of the Mass, that our God sees fit to give himself to us day after day, would we not run out of this place in jubilee?  Now of course that won’t do anything to improve our standing in the world, this world that would prefer we live our faith behind closed doors, but friends it is our calling.  We who have heard the Good News need not be afraid of Jesus’ message in the Gospel which so frightened the disciples.  We who have taken the divine into ourselves are fully equipped to show Him forth in our lives, leaving behind the worldly conflicts and pursuing Jesus. 


And Jesus’ message for us today is twofold: First, that those who would be first should be last.  It is a call to humility, a reminder that those who are first in this world, those within the gates, shall be last, that we and the disciples must humble ourselves before a world that desperately needs our servanthood.  This is a good and just message, but it is not the whole of it.  Lest we fall into false humility and be content to sit inside our churches, suitably contrite, thinking we have fulfilled Christ’s exhortation, we remember the reverse: The last shall be first.  This message, echoing through the other Gospels’ and in the sermon on the mount, is a call to recognize the validity of the least of these, their dignity, the utterly overwhelming love our God has for all people, in this city and in all.  Humbling ourselves is insufficient without raising others up.  One without the other is only half a Gospel.


But that is the work of this blessed mission church, that there might be a place in this city, a true haven, free of exclusion, free of shibboleth, where the seats are simply free.  This is our patrimony, to be one space where all may simply sit awhile and eat.  Praise God for giving us this call to servanthood, and that rail at which we are at once served and serve.  Praise God for knowing we shall never measure up to that perfect servanthood, that we shall always be sorely tempted to be the greatest.  Praise God for knowing we will fail and for calling us anyway to witness to Jesus’ irrevocable love.  But, my friends, this is too precious a gift to keep to ourselves.  It is not sufficient to know that this church’s seats are free.  We must tell the world.  We must proclaim and exult and, yes, evangelize the good news of Jesus saving love.  In this city full of bodies denied their humanity, full of people who prestige and power are content to ignore, we must be a place of servanthood, a place offering beauty and reverence purely for the sake of God, a place whose holiness spills out the doors, drawing others in. 


And in times such as these, I see a world, a city, a time when those gates will finally open, when the mighty are put down from their seat, when the humble and meek are highly exalted indeed, when the currencies of power and prestige are revealed as farce and all we are left with is love.  When those gates are not just blown open but their very foundations are torn up and utterly destroyed.  When the whisper of the devil in our hearts is finally silenced and we will know in our bones the unfathomable love of Jesus for each of us, when we finally realize there is nothing for which we must compete.  When we all shall be such as children, gaping in wonder at the glory of our God.

 Though that time is not yet, though the Kingdom is yet coming, we see a glimpse still, at the altar, its possibility afresh on our tongues.  As we commune with our Lord, the love of Jesus is enough, simply enough.  We are renewed, we are redeemed, and the mission of this place shall be as it always has been: to proclaim the boundless love of Jesus for all, to witness that Good News to all we meet, and to say and hear mass, that meal which has changed the world.

So throw open the doors, fling wide the gates, go forth in love and welcome that fragile, broken world in, to stand at that font, see that altar, and know its salvation.


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.


Marked as Christ's Own Forever


Marked as Christ's Own Forever

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2018

Have you ever said the phrase, “Well, that’s just my cross to bear.”  It’s not a positive sort of phrase, is it—a “cross to bear” is something bad, something difficult, or even just something annoying—a pain in the neck, we might say.  Something to put up with.  Something you’d rather not have to deal with.

I have to say, that phrase sticks in my mind when I hear these words of Jesus in our gospel reading today.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Mk 8.34b)  I immediately get images of dour-faced disciples, shoulders slumped and heads cast down, shuffling along almost angrily following Jesus—taking up the metaphorical cross they must bear—and none too happy about it, either.

Friday was the feast of the Holy Cross—a day when the Church remembers the roll of the cross, of Jesus’s own crucifixion, in salvation history.  A day when we remember Jesus’s self-sacrifice—Jesus’s self-offering love—that changes the whole creation.

The feast itself is actually a commemoration of the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  In 325 Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, traveled to Jerusalem and discovered, tradition tells us, the true cross on which Christ was crucified.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on that spot in 335 by Constantine and would house the relic of the true cross. 

Even until today the image of the cross inspires devotion—the image, the physical form, of the cross helps us to connect to Jesus’s own suffering and death—to Jesus’s own self-offering.  There are crosses everywhere—on our rood screen, on the front cover of the prayer book—sometimes we sign ourselves with the cross—you may even be wearing a cross as jewelry—a symbol of devotion, or perhaps just a fashion statement for some.  Liturgical theologian Gail Ramshaw has noted that, as an instrument of capital punishment, the cross is a strange symbol to wear around one’s neck—that it’s sort of like wearing a little model of an electric chair or a syringe to represent lethal injection.  But that would be weird, right? Uncomfortable.  I squirm even just envisioning it!  And yet seeing the cross as a symbol, as a piece of jewelry, doesn’t inspire the same feeling.  We have come to understand something positive about the cross—not that it is an instrument of death, but that, transformed by Jesus, it is seen as an instrument of new life. 

The disciples wouldn’t have had the benefit of that image of the cross, that particular hindsight, though—they didn’t know about the crucifixion because it hadn’t happened yet.  They didn’t know about the resurrection—because it was in the future.  They couldn’t even get comfortable with thinking about Jesus suffering—this Jesus, the healer, the miracle worker, whom Peter had just named as Messiah—the anointed one, the chosen one—surely he would lead Israel into a new day.  Surely he would be the savior of his people.

And that’s why, when Peter hears Jesus talking about the suffering he will undergo, when he hears Jesus talk about his own death, Peter takes him aside—and what must he say to him?  Jesus, you can’t be talking like this.  What’s wrong?  This is not what people want to hear—you’ll lose these folks.  They won’t believe you’re the messiah if you keep talking like this.  Can’t you tell them about victory?  How you’ll save Israel?  How you’ll triumph?

But Jesus’s work is not limited to earthly power, to temporal leadership, or even to a ministry of miracle wonder-working.  Get behind me, Satan, he says to Peter.  Jesus’s leadership—his ministry—his life—is bound up in his own self-offering—his death on the cross—the great love that he has for the world, for his disciples, for you and me—that cannot be stopped even by death.  The love that will hang from the cross but then rise again from the empty tomb.  The love that will change everything.

But that day, Peter wasn’t able to understand.  And the disciples must have been confused. They didn’t know, as St Helena did, about the cross on which Jesus would suffer and die.  They didn’t have this symbol that means not death but life.  They didn’t know about the cross and the empty tomb.

Our minds go to the cross of Good Friday because we know the story—we know about Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.  But commentator Reginald Fuller[1] suggests that, in fact, the Greek word stauros, which we translate cross, might have, at that time in history, been thought of not as a physical structure, a cross, but rather as a cross-wise letter of the Greek alphabet—the Tau (T ) drawn as a mark, as a brand on animals, to denote ownership.  That makes sense, Fr Fuller says, because the disciples wouldn’t have already known about the cross Jesus would carry.  Depending on how we understand Jesus’s own knowledge of his impending death, it’s possible Jesus wasn’t thinking about a physical cross but about these markings. 

These marks, or brands, were sort of like the ear tags that marked our cows when I was growing up.  My father explained that these were just like earrings for the cows—that it didn’t hurt any more than piercing an ear—but it identified the cows—whose they were, which cow they were. 

When understood as a forward-looking thing rather than reading backwards from Good Friday, the mark begins to take a different shape.  Instead of thinking about “bearing the cross” as an onerous task, we might understand it as “bearing a mark”—of knowing whose we are.  We are after all “sealed by the holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  We bear the mark of Jesus on our foreheads, on our souls—we belong to him.

What does that mean, to live as though we belong to Jesus? As though we are marked by him?  Are we more aware of the love that he has for us when we think of that indelible mark on our foreheads?  Are we more conscious of our own actions as representing Christ in the world?  Can we re-evaluate our actions, maybe even make different choices, when we realize we belong to Christ? 

Sometimes when I’m driving down the highway I’ll occasionally see a parked police car.  Apparently if you park an empty police car by the side of the road—with no officer in it—rates of speeding in that area will go down.  People will slow down, obey the speed limit, because they think they are being watched.

I wonder if that same effect applies to our faith.  Would we act differently if we knew the world could see that cross emblazoned on our foreheads? 

This is a good thought exercise—to remember the mark of Christ on us—as a devotional act—a way to turn our attention to Christ—a way to pattern our lives after him.  An opportunity to act out of the love that he has given us—to live out our lives in devotion to him.

But I’m not sure the project stops there, however.  The stauros as mark is a good theory.  But I wonder if Jesus suspected how he might die—after all, there were other messianic claimants, even people who were inciting rebellion, some of whom may have been executed by the Romans.  Might he have suspected the crucifixion that the Romans had in store for him?  If so, that puts a little bit of a different gloss on things.  What if Jesus meant exactly what he said.  Take up your cross. 

If taking up our cross means not a burden but a joy, knowing whose we are, being conformed to the life of Christ, living out love in his name, that’s one thing.  But if taking up our cross means the sort of cross that Jesus was crucified on, that’s a whole different matter.  And I think he might have just meant that.

After all, he says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8.35)

And we know from the news that indeed over the past years, each and every year, far too many folks have been killed for their Christian faith.  There have been some martyrs.  I give thanks that I am not one of them.  I feel pretty safe being a Christian in New Haven, and I hope you do, too. 

But Jesus is asking for my life, nonetheless, and yours too.  He is asking for our lives—lived out in the world.  Asking us to live for him.  Perhaps he’s not asking us to die for him, though he was willing to die for us.  But he is asking for our lives.  What would that look like, to give your life to Jesus? 

What is it that you live for?  What does your life mean?

What about work, for example--Working to meet your own needs is a good thing, right?  We need somewhere to live, after all.  We need food to eat.  But what if we flipped the question—what if we were working for Jesus?  To take care of a body that belongs to Jesus?   Rather than working to get what we want, working to get the things that Jesus wants—which includes food for ourselves, but also food for other folks.  What if we thought about the life we have as not belonging to us, but about belonging to God?

After all, we have in our baptisms died to sin and self and risen to new life in Christ—what if we understood that not as a metaphor—but as an actuality.  That our bodies are not ours but belong to Christ.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

We learn in the resurrection that not even death is to be feared.  Jesus takes up his cross—and he rises from the grave—his love cannot be stopped even by death.  When we live in Christ, when we love in Christ, the cross is not a burden—not a chore—but a freedom—a freedom to acknowledge whose we are—to put down the things that bind and hold us—to let go of the anxieties that shackle us—to throw off the things that are death—and to live in new life with Christ.

You and I are marked as Christ’s own forever.  We are called to live out our lives in a cross-shaped life—in the pattern of Christ.  But make no mistake, Jesus is asking for our whole lives—not just part of them, not just an idea.  He wants all of us.

When you come to the altar today, what will you put down, let go, let fall away so that you may live as Christ’s own in the world?  What will you receive from him, as he fills you with his life giving Spirit?  What will your life be like when you take up the cross?  When you follow him?

[1] Reginald Fuller, Preaching the Lectionary: Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984, p 348-350.


Sermon for Holy Cross Day


Sermon for Holy Cross Day

Mr Patrick Keyser
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Holy Cross Day
September 14, 2018

‘He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.’

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

There is, I think, an innate desire within us as humans to mark places of significance. We do so in part to ensure that we do not forget things that should not be forgotten. This impulse to mark place is especially powerful for those we consider holy. Examples from Scripture abound. The book of Genesis tells us that following his vision of a ladder extending to heaven Jacob takes the rock on which he had laid his head, sets it up as a pillar, pours oil over it, and marks it, believing it to be none other than the ‘house of God and the gate of heaven’ (Genesis 28:17). In a similar way, after Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River he takes twelve rocks from the river and sets them up as a monument to mark that spot as the place where God had led the Israelites to safety (Joshua 4:20-22). The monument was to remind the Israelites, their children, and their children’s children that the Lord had provided and protected them in the past and would continue to do so in the future.

The origins of the feast we celebrate today, Holy Cross Day, emerge from this same desire expressed by early Christians to mark holy places, especially those associated with the events of the life of Jesus. In the early fourth century the fortunes of the fledgling Christian movement were radically changed with the decision of the Emperor Constantine to extend religious tolerance to Christians in the Roman Empire. This decision would, within a very short period of time, shift Christianity from the religion of an often persecuted minority to the religion of the establishment. According to tradition, a few years after Constantine’s declaration of tolerance for Christians his mother Helena went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem during which time she discovered the True Cross, the remnants of the very cross on which Jesus had been crucified. An order was soon issued by Constantine and his mother Helena that a grand church be built over this site in Jerusalem believed to be the place where Christ was crucified. Nine years later the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated, with a portion of the True Cross remaining in the new church.

This church, for obvious reasons, soon became a place of great devotion and pilgrimage for Christians, especially during Holy Week, that period in which the Church remembers the passion of our Lord. One of the most valuable accounts of early Christian worship comes from the diary of a Spanish nun named Egeria who traveled to Jerusalem in the late fourth century, just a few decades after Helena is said to have found the True Cross, and recorded her experiences of the Holy Week liturgies in the city. On Good Friday the faithful came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the very place believed to be the site of our Lord’s crucifixion, for worship. At the core of this liturgy was the veneration of the True Cross, a time for the faithful to come and kiss the wood of the cross on which our Lord was believed to have sweat, bleed, and ultimately died. Egeria’s account of this liturgy notes that the bishop sat in a chair holding the True Cross for the faithful to venerate so as to ensure that no one would attempt to steal it. Deacons attended the bishop and were charged with ensuring that none of the worshippers attempted to bite the cross and secure even a tiny portion of it. This act of devotion clearly held enormous power for the faithful of late fourth century Jerusalem.

Those of you who have journeyed through Holy Week here at Christ Church may recognize some similarity between the practice of late fourth century Jerusalem and our own here at Christ Church. It was, in fact, Egeria’s writing that helped to spread this practice of veneration of the cross across the Christian Church. Though undeniably filled with great power, this act of devotion also reveals the depths of the mystery and paradox that is the cross. I was deeply struck by this realization on Good Friday. As we made our way toward that cross situated under the rood screen, as we fell to our knees and bowed down in worship, I was overcome by the power and indeed the absurdity of this act of devotion. I realized that there was nothing else in this world to which I would bow down in such a way. As if for the first time, I realized that we came to venerate an instrument of death. Yet even still I knew that we also came to bow in awe and wonder at the saving power of that cross and the incomprehensibility of God’s love for us.

The great mystery and paradox of the cross is well described in the beautiful language of today’s epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s widely believed that this passage was a pre-existing hymn that St. Paul incorporated into his letter to the church at Philippi. This Christ hymn extols Jesus’ self-emptying death on the cross. Though in the form of God, Jesus willingly humbled himself, becoming human. He humbled himself even more still, for he, of his own accord, willingly submitted himself to death, to a humiliating, brutal, and painful death on a cross. But the story does not end there. An instrument of brutality becomes the means of our salvation, humbling to the point of death becomes an exaltation to glory, the way of death is transformed into the way of life. This, St. Paul reminds us, is the paradox of the cross. This, St. Paul exhorts us, is the mind we are to have.

Jesus knew his journey would lead to the cross– to humiliation and death. And so in today’s gospel we hear Jesus speaking to some Greeks who had come to the Passover festival to worship telling them, ‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ That is an image of perfect love– Christ our Lord nailed to the cross and raised up, drawing all people to himself. This image has particular power for those who worship in this space. The magnificent rood that so captures and demands your attention when you enter this space reminds us of Christ’s crucifixion and of his drawing all people to himself. Look with me at his hands. You might be able to see that they aren’t completely nailed to the cross. They are outstretched and open. They are reaching out, drawing people toward him. Jesus reaches out with words that say: come to me and bring your sufferings and pains; come to me and bring the deepest longings of your heart; I will take away your sins, no matter how terrible you think they may be; come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. There is something about the intensity of this divine love, something about being confronted with the fierceness with which God loves us, with the brutality and violence of the cross and Jesus’ suffering that disarms us. It is not comfortable, and it shouldn’t be. And so the temptation to avoid the cross is always present. We may attempt to speak of love as if it were a cheap, easy, or convenient thing. We can try to avoid the cost of love and the reality of the cross, but we cannot escape it. For the cross is at the very heart of the Christian story. It is the fullest revelation of God’s love for us. Perhaps the only thing we can do in the face of such incomprehensible love is bow down and worship.

For nearly 1700 years pilgrims have journeyed to Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, drawn by the power of that site’s believed connection with the True Cross and the passion of our Lord. Perhaps some of you have already or will someday be able to make that holy journey, but for most of us that is not a reality. This feast is, of course, about so much more than the commemoration of the dedication of a grand church. In some parts of the Church this day is known as the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This name seems to best capture the power and paradox of this day. An instrument of death becomes the means of our salvation and the path to life. We need not visit any place of significance to experience that power. We know its power because we bear that very sign on our foreheads in baptism. Whenever we mark ourselves with the cross we are reminded of the self-emptying humility of the one who hung upon it and are empowered to follow his way. And so we glory in the cross of Christ, and praise and glorify his holy resurrection; for by virtue of his cross joy has come to the whole world. May we be people foolish enough to believe it, and may God give us grace to take up our own cross and follow in the way of the one who emptied himself for the life of the world.

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


The Cost of Relationship


The Cost of Relationship

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 9, 2018

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

There’s a story that friend of mine tells about a third friend--it’s several degrees removed, so it may not be exactly as I relate it--but it’s a useful story for me, and so I like to revisit it occasionally. I hope you’ll indulge me.

A priest and parishioner--we’ll call them Charlie and Dorothy--were traveling from the South to New York via train for a conference. Charlie was well-beloved, and Dorothy was the sort of parishioner that we might call a pillar of the community. She was chair of the altar guild, she served on the vestry, and she coordinated the casserole ministry of the parish, taking food to shut ins and the bereaved. St Saviours Church couldn’t run without Charlie, so he thought, but the parishioners really knew it was Dorothy that kept the whole thing running. She was on every committee there was. She did it all. And so they headed off to the conference in New York, and when they arrived at Penn Station, they came out to hail a cab on Sixth Avenue and, predictably, someone came up and asked them for money. The priest, wise to the world, waived the man away, but the parishioner, a generous, well-heeled woman, pulled out of her purse a fifty dollar bill and gave it to the man, who slipped away as quickly as he’d come.

Fr Charlie, a worldly and wise man, was shocked to see what Dorothy had done, and he upbraided her: “Dorothy, why did you give that money to that man? Don’t you know what he’s going to do with it?” But Dorothy replied with a wry smile, “Father, that may be the case, but I am not on that committee!”

Dorothy was able to give without concern for how her gift would be used--without anxiety about what came next. She did what she could, and she didn’t worry about the thing she couldn’t control.

Now, there are lots of reasons to give and not to give money when folks ask for it on the street, and there’s no one right answer to whether or not to respond for a request for money. Each of us has to discern what’s right for us--what we can, or what we should, do.

But I love this story because it shows Dorothy in the most nonanxious way. She did what she could do, and she left the rest alone. She’s not on that committee. She’s not in charge of what the man decides to do with her gift.

This is not how I usually operate. This is not how I respond to great need. Maybe part of why I like the story is the freedom that Dorothy exhibits. I generally get anxious, frustrated, sometimes even angry, when I’m presented with a need that I cannot meet, a thing that I cannot fix. And I have to work hard to back up and really see the situation--to identify what I can do, and what I can’t. To try to love the person who’s asking, even in the most complicated situations--and to also love myself enough to admit where my limits are.

Maybe I am on the committee and shouldn’t be, but that’s where I am sometimes.

The needs of the world can feel overwhelming sometimes, and I want to step back, to take a break, to escape.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt that way. We hear over and over again in the gospels about Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place; of Jesus moving on when the crowds grew too large; of Jesus going off alone, or with only his disciples. And today’s gospel is no exception:

He’s crossed the sea of Galilee several times, he’s fed the five thousand, the crowds have followed him, and he’s headed northwest from the sea of Galilee to the city of Tyre, on the shore of the Mediterranean, a couple of days’ journey away. He goes to a house there, and scripture is clear that he wants to avoid notice. He wants to retreat. He wants to be left alone, if just for a moment. (Mark 7:24)

But a Syrophoenician woman, that is, a gentile, someone who is not Jewish, seeks him out and finds him and asks him to heal her daughter.

Jesus’s words are harsh: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (27)

Her response, which we say in the words of our own Prayer of Humble Access in the communion service, echo down through the millennia: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (28)

And her persistence pays off. Her unwavering faith is rewarded. Jesus assures her that her daughter has been healed. The woman leaves and returns to her daughter, and it’s true. She is indeed healed.

There are many things to commend this passage to our hearing, not the least of which is the Syrophoenician woman’s persistence. Even though she’s an outsider, not a member of one of the tribes of Israel, even when she is spoken to harshly, she perseveres and asks Jesus for what she needs. She believes that Jesus, whom she’s never met, can heal her daughter. And she’s right. We can learn something from her courage, her persistence, her faith.

And, I suspect, this outsider status is part of why the story is included in the gospels. We learn from her persistence that even the gentiles, even those outside of the tribes of Israel, are included in Jesus’s reconciling work--that all are welcome, all are valued, all are whole in the kingdom of God. This is an important message that our world needs to hear; after all, we are the gentiles--we are the outsiders in every way--that are included in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy,” we pray before receiving communion, usually in this parish during Lent.

It’s important to note this broadening out of the gospel--that all are included, even the unexpected foreigner, the outsider, the gentile--and that we must model our own lives on this principle of radical hospitality. That we are called by Jesus to seek out the other and find our common humanity--to recognize that all are beloved of God.

But I’m also interested in Jesus’s complicated words.

It seems to me that, traveling to a port city, a Roman city, a city that’s not particularly Jewish, Jesus shouldn’t have been surprised to meet a gentile woman. Wouldn’t there have been more Syrophoenicians in Tyre? Is it possible that Jesus and his followers from Galilee would have been the outsiders?

Without having been there, it’s hard to understand the exact context of the exchange.

But Jesus’s frustration is not hard to recognize. And maybe it’s not so hard to understand.

He is trying to withdraw, to keep away from the crowds, to take a break perhaps--maybe to rest--and the needs of the world keep coming, like a wave, a force he cannot escape.

It’s not fair! Jesus actually says. A woman he’s never met, that he has no connection to, that isn’t even Jewish, hunts him down in the house where he’s hiding. “He could not escape notice,” scripture says.

And Jesus is frustrated.

And he heals her daughter.

I don’t know the particulars of the situation; I don’t know how Jesus was feeling at the moment. I only know the brief encounter as it’s reported in the gospel texts. But I know that the woman’s daughter was healed.

When Jesus comes near, there is healing and wholeness. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when the needs of the world are overwhelming. Even in the hard places there is healing with Jesus.

I’m curious about why we expect Jesus to be nice all the time. If Jesus is fully human, as we are, surely there are moments his physical body needs rest--moments his spirit needs a space to stop and reflect. And yet also fully divine, he is always about the work of his Father’s kingdom--love, reconciliation, healing, and wholeness. Even in the midst of the chaos of the world’s great need--especially in that place--Jesus is saving.

Is it possible that, unlike Doris, who could give away money to someone she’d never met with no anxiety whatsoever, that Jesus is genuinely grieved by the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman? Is it possible that he is genuinely frustrated and saddened by the plight of her daughter? That he is also frustrated and saddened that he has to give up a moment of peace, a moment of quiet, a moment of rest and reflection to dive back into the world’s broken places, to confront again the powers of fear and death, and to bring hope and life even in the midst of a fallen world?

Because that’s where Jesus eventually ends up. We hear in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus prays that the cup of his crucifixion might pass--but it does not, and he goes, sinless victim, to an execution, to step again into the breach, to die, but also to rise--to proclaim that life conquers, that love is all there is.

One of the problems of this story of the Syrophoenician woman for me is that it confronts my sanitized view of God’s saving work--of the life of Jesus--that makes it seem easy for Jesus to do the work of salvation.

There is a cost to the work of healing, of wholeness, of reconciliation--there is a cost to salvation.

Jesus bears it on the cross.

He bears it in this moment of healing, even as he gives up a very human need--all he wants is a little time apart.

Why would we expect anything different?

In our relationships, in our lives, we may want things to be clean, comfortable, well-ordered, and there’s nothing wrong with that desire--and it’s wonderful when things can be. But we needn’t be surprised, when we really get in relationship with the world, that we may see things that aren’t as we wish they were. When we see pain and suffering that alarms and saddens us. That our own lives may be made a little more inconvenient when we reach out to others whom we may not even know in love.

And that’s okay.

Let’s don’t make the mistake of avoiding the hard places, avoiding the uncomfortable relationships--let’s not make the mistake of distancing ourselves from difficult things because it seems too hard, or too painful.

God promises that the eyes of the blind shall open, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, the lame will leap like a deer, and even the mute will sing in the chorus of salvation that is God’s redeeming work. All of creation will be healed and whole.

And we know it’s true because we have seen Jesus risen. We know the empty tomb.

So let’s get involved with the world around us. Let’s go out in hope and courage. And let us not be afraid of the cost of relationship with the person who is different, who is other, who is full of need. For Christ has already paid the cost, and he walks with us into those difficult places, bringing health, healing, and salvation.


A God So Near


A God So Near

The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018

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

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

 For ancient Israel, the knowledge that God seeks to be close to those who follow God’s commandments, who obey the law, is a sign of God’s faithfulness. It’s a sign of God’s constant presence and involvement in human life.

For Ancient Israel, in freedom or bondage, at home or exile, in peace or chaos, God is present. The God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to be nearby. In a burning bush, in a pillar of fire, in the spreading of the sea, God is present.

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

 The manifestation of Jesus as the messiah, as the Son of God, expands the scope of God’s desire to be nearby. While God chose Israel to be a beacon for the world, the light that shines through Israel cannot be contained by a sole nation or a single people. There is no doubt that God’s holy covenant with the Jewish people remains intact, and at the same time, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God makes a new covenant with the world. A covenant that invites all of creation into union with God. A covenant, a promise from God that grants us who follow Christ a new identity. An identity that cannot be limited by any human standards. Neither by nationality, class, or status. An identity that seeks to unite us, even across our differences.

After all, our differences are in fact a good thing. I give thanks to God that I don’t belong to a Church filled with 2.2 billion versions of myself. God’s new covenant in Christ, affirms what has already been revealed to ancient Israel – you and I have a God so near that he is able to hear us when we call.

Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University, compares this morning’s text from Deuteronomy to the words of the Psalmist who proclaims, “God is near to all who call upon him, to all who invoke him in truth. (Psalm 145:18).

Professor Levenson goes on to write, “The Psalmist appears to be saying that the presence of God does not depend upon one’s location, but upon one’s willingness to call him from a stance of truth. However, the Deuteronomistic homilist goes further. He implies that God’s ubiquity, [God’s faithful presence,] differentiates him from the would-be gods of the nations [that surrounded ancient Israel], who are not able to draw near in answer to the call of the heart because they are somehow spatially confined.”

Our God is not only capable to hear our prayers of gratitude and supplications, our shouts of joy and our deep cries, but God desires to hear our voice. God desires to hear us for our voice is a sweet melody to God. Our God is not some abstract and impersonal being, somewhere out there, detached from us and from this present reality.

Our God is here.

Our God is made known to us in the physical world. As Christians, God is made known to us in Jesus, who in the words of Saint Thomas, is our Lord and our God.

As some of you know, I’ve had the chance to visit Cuba twice since 2017. A truly unique place to be a Christian. It is probably the only country in the entire Western hemisphere in which being a Christian is not the norm. Yes, this modern reality in Cuba is tied to the communist government’s pledge to a militant atheism, and a once proactive and even violent persecution of the Church.

In 1961, the Episcopal Church in Cuba was left with eight out of its 43 clergy, and with no Bishop. Most of the Church’s clergy fled for the United States and Europe, while some were arrested. Over 80% of its laity fled or fell in line with the government.

But those remaining eight clergy and the small handful of laity, carried the Episcopal Church in Cuba as it operated on the margins of the empire and facing near extinction.

Just a month ago, I was with a growing and vibrant Episcopal Church in Cuba. Surrounded by screaming teenagers and children running around in a field. Surrounded by mothers and grandmothers who for decades preserved the words of the Lord’s Prayer if just in their families. Surrounded by young men and women committed to serve as leaders for the Church of God.

While their earthly nation has condemned and persecuted them for their faith, they know they belong to a greater nation. Empires, kingdoms, governments, and nations have persecuted countless Christians who are now numbered among the noble army of martyrs. Now belonging to a greater nation than this world has ever seen or could ever produce.

As we journey ahead through this thing called the Christian life, let us not forget that our identity is defined by water. Through the waters of baptism, we affirm our status as children of God, and we claim our citizenship as members of the Body of Christ, that mystic sweet communion that challenges and frightens scribes, empires, and rulers.

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?

Thanks be to God who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Words of Eternal Life


Words of Eternal Life

The Rev'd Deacon Armando Ghinaglia
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 26, 2018

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

Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Today as we commission our new Saint Hilda’s House interns and welcome back new and returning students, I urge you all: please don’t read too much into this! You just got here!

But in all seriousness, we are thrilled to have you all here, to worship together in this place, and to share in the work that God has given us to do in this city and beyond.

Going back to our gospel reading for today, I want to draw our attention to that short exchange between Jesus and Saint Peter at the end, because I think it illustrates for us the way that thinking about eternal life bears on the way that we move through our lives, here and now.

Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter must not have been a stranger to the way that the world bombards us with countless messages about how to live forever—or at least look like we will. Go to the gym and eat organic, and you’ll find happiness and health. Do these 10 things and avoid these 12 things, and you’ll find love and friendship. Study this subject and pursue that career, and you’ll find comfort and meaning.

But what the world offers us is often fleeting. A relationship we expect to last falls to pieces. A hope we dream of for years is dashed by tragedy. Minds and bodies we take for granted fail us, and someday, we will all die.

Peter claims he has found something more than this. He has found lasting happiness and health, love and meaning, in the words of Christ. Peter has found the words, not just of life, but of life everlasting.

What are these words of eternal life? These words that are lamps to our feet and lights to our path? Words that are sweet to our taste, sweeter than honey to our mouth?

What are these words that run swiftly from pole to pole? That strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees? That revive our weary souls and delight our fearful hearts?

In the mid-1930s, Pastor Paul Schneider spent years protesting against the violence and immorality of the Nazi regime. He was arrested and interrogated several times for his preaching but continued, despite his friends’ protests, arguing that his job was to prepare others for eternal life. In 1937, Schneider began working to excommunicate active Nazi party members from his church, which earned him two months in jail and a stern warning to leave the area and not return, or else. After his release, Schneider spent two months with his wife and family before coming back to his congregation in October 1937. Some parishioners who welcomed him at their home told him they feared for his life and urged him to flee. Schneider recited Jesus’ words later in the gospel of John: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  The next month, Schneider was arrested by police and sent to the newly-opened Buchenwald concentration camp.

At Buchenwald, Schneider worked to uplift his fellow prisoners’ spirits. From early on, Schneider was given the chance to return to his family as long as he agreed not to return to his congregation. He refused and instead worked the grueling 16-hour days with others, fasting every Friday and giving his rations to those hungrier than him. Moreover, Schneider persisted in his disobedience to the rulers and authorities, refusing to offer the Hitler salute, arguing that one “may only receive Heil—salvation—from the Lord and not from a mere mortal.” In April 1938, several months after his arrest, Schneider refused to remove his hat in honor of Hitler’s birthday and to salute the swastika flag, saying “I cannot salute this symbol for thugs.” As a result, he was whipped publicly and moved to solitary confinement. Schneider’s cell overlooked the location where prisoners were assembled by guards every morning. Using this to his advantage, Schneider climbed up to his window daily at roll call and denounced the mistreatment and murder of inmates while encouraging all who could hear to believe in Christ. SS guards repeatedly tortured Schneider for preaching the gospel and denouncing summary executions at the camp.

On Easter morning 1939, a few months prior to his execution by lethal injection, Schneider, ailing and emaciated, climbed up to his window as thousands of prisoners assembled below. Schneider managed to cry out to them before being silenced by the guards: “Brothers and sisters, listen to me. This is Pastor Schneider. In this place, we are tortured and killed. Thus speaks the Lord: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life!’”

Paul Schneider was asked time and again, “Do you also wish to go away?”

And all he had to do to avoid his fate was say “yes,” and leave.

Instead, Schneider answered in his last sermon as a free man,

“[Christ is] the living God and his word … alone nourishes the soul for eternal life.”

Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

All the disciples had to do to avoid their fates was say “yes,” and leave.

Instead, Peter answered Jesus:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

What are these words that convince Peter and others to stay when the multitudes have left?

What are these words so powerful that they convinced Peter and Schneider and others to follow Jesus to his death, and theirs, to bear insult and injury, to stand courageously against violence and terror, and still to declare with Saint Paul that they would gladly “boast in [their] sufferings” and “rejoice in the Lord always”?

What are these words of eternal life?

Hear them from the lips of Christ himself:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have everlasting life.” And “this is eternal life, that [we] may know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [he has] sent.”

Here is lasting health and happiness, meaning and love, peace that surpasses all understanding. We gather in this place to remember Christ crucified and risen because the God who raised Christ from the dead is faithful, and he will give life to our mortal bodies also if we believe in Christ and follow him. Nothing, then—nothing—not rejection or failure, not earthly powers or human rulers, not illness, not even death itself—can take this life away from us.

Jesus asks us, as he asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

He does not ask us this to make us feel guilty or to express his disappointment. He asks us this to make us consider whether there is something about him, something about what he says, something about who he claims to be, that makes us pause.

If we end up answering like Peter, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” then great. May we hold fast to that confession and live it out in our own lives.

But if we aren’t so sure… If we don’t really know what to make of Jesus or of God… If we don’t really know what to make of churches that so often struggle to live in accordance with the commandments of God, of Christians who fall short of the calling to which they have been called…

Let us consider Jesus’ words an invitation for us to come back, to read the Scriptures, to hear the Gospel, at least a few more times, until we can hear Christ speak for himself.

Let us consider Jesus’ words an invitation for us to seek out a community of faithful Christians who seek to model their lives according to his precepts.

For if we listen attentively, we might just find it possible to embrace a love that restores us to right relationship within ourselves and with others, a love that sets aside what we hold most dear so that others may live, a love that emboldens us to withstand the evil around us, and having done everything, to stand firm.

All of this is possible if we put our trust in God and believe that, in Jesus Christ, there is the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body. All of this is possible if we take Christ at his word and follow his footsteps where they may lead, even unto death, because death is not the final word. This is the fullest happiness and health, love and meaning, peace and comfort, that we may ever know.

As Paul Schneider wrote shortly before he died:

“If we lose our lives here, Christ will safeguard them in life everlasting. He will empower us to behold his glory both here and there: for through our suffering here, we find our way to glory, through the cross to the throne. We will believe, according to his word. We will trust his promises, and we will give him our thanks with joy.”




Bread of Life, Hope on the Green


Bread of Life, Hope on the Green

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2018


In the name of God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.  Amen.

About fifteen years ago I went on the Atkins diet--a low carbohydrate diet that was popular in the 2000’s.  One of the features of the diet, of course, is that you can’t eat bread.  Or pasta.  Or anything with sugar.  But you can eat lots of meat and green vegetables.  And the more fat the better.  I ate lots of bacon while I was on the Atkins diet.  But bread was elusive.  I was hungry for it.  I eyed the basket of dinner rolls with envy.  Never before had I been so hungry for bread.

A few years ago my doctor remarked that my cholesterol was slightly elevated, and so I went to a nutritionist in New York and worked out a low-cholesterol diet.  I could eat most anything I wanted to as long as it was low in fat.  I  could even have a little bread. Just no butter.  And so I lost a little bit of weight.  But on this low cholesterol diet my cholesterol went up by ten points.  I stopped seeing the nutritionist.

I like food.  I enjoy cooking it, and I enjoy eating it--preferably with other people who like food, too.  I’ve always had enough food--and I suspect you have, as well.

 I’ve never known what it is to be truly hungry, and I’m grateful for that.  Sure, sometimes I get a little peckish and eager for my next meal, or sometimes I really want a snack--but I’ve never felt the sort of hunger that leads to despair.  I’ve always known where my next meal would come from.

A friend of mine who loves New Haven and has known the social landscape here for most of her life says that it’s almost impossible to go hungry in New Haven.  There are so many places to get a meal--the Community Soup Kitchen being one of the largest--that starvation is not the issue here.  Housing, healthcare, food insecurity--lots of other issues plague our city, but starvation is not one.  I think she’s probably right.

But there is a hunger here in New Haven.  Part of our city is crying out in hunger, longing for something that’s unfulfilled.

We saw the beast of hunger raise its head this past week when the national media reported on this week’s rash of overdoses in the Elm City.  Over one hundred overdoses in a three day period.[1]  A friend who works on the Green described it as crazy.  Friends from all over the country phoned or messaged to express their concern.  Emergency responders were running as fast as they could between the Green and Yale New Haven Hospital, and staff from Cornell Scott Hill Health were triaging on the Green itself.[2] 

I was sad to hear the statistics, but I was more saddened to realize that many of the people that had overdosed and were taken to treatment had multiple instances of overdosing.  Apparently a feature of K2, the synthetic drug involved in this past week’s overdoses, is that it’s fast acting and short lived.  So after recovering from an overdose, people often use again. 

That may explain why, according to the New Haven Police Department, 47 people were treated for overdoses, but there were about 120 separate ambulance calls during the epidemic. [3]  

It’s easy to wall off the suffering that this latest rash of overdoses represents.  To contain it to a presupposed ideal of “those people.”  It’s “the homeless” that are overdosing. It’s “those people on the Green,” we might say.  But Alison Cunningham, CEO of Columbus House, points out that the problem is much more nuanced than that.  She relates that the Green has become a destination for people who are not experiencing homelessness but are seeking to buy or sell drugs--and how many of Columbus House’s clients who do live on the Green have been just as traumatized and unsettled by this occurrence as everyone else in New Haven and in the country.[4]

Duo Dickinson has written in the Register about the nature of the Green itself--how the Green in New England towns was a place for life, for survival--the place that crops were grown, that bodies were buried, that God was praised in meetinghouses and churches. 

But in the 19th Century, Duo says, Greens became “portals to the time of their creators, rather than to the Creator”--places reminiscent of a history rather than working space offered up to God.  And this shift parallels, Duo says, a declination from our focus on faith in God to faith in ourselves--a faith that seems to have gone awry.  

Part of our national foundational story, the idea of religious freedom, shifted to a focus on personal freedom.  And, Duo says, “that freedom made commerce, education and culture explode over 300 years — most often pirouetting around the hundreds of Greens at the center of everything. Now, that freedom has morphed into a tolerance for self-destruction that screams at us from the New Haven Green this week… If we are truly outraged at the human tragedy and hopelessness of overdosing on toxic drugs, the tragedy happened long before the OD-ing happened. Somehow faith in a future was lost.”[5]

What is it that people are hungry for that they’re willing to risk death, go to hospital, and then risk death again?  What is this great hunger that’s seizing hold of people?  That’s seizing our city?

Is it this great loss of hope in the future?  A chronic despair?

The texts from Proverbs, one of the Hebrew wisdom texts, give us images of a banquet--of a feast.  The portion we read today is the banquet of Wisdom personified:

Wisdom has built her house,

   she has hewn her seven pillars.

She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,

   she has also set her table.

She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls

   from the highest places in the town,

‘You that are simple, turn in here!’

   To those without sense she says,

‘Come, eat of my bread

   and drink of the wine I have mixed.

Lay aside immaturity, and live,

   and walk in the way of insight.’  (Proverbs 9:1-6)

But we don’t hear the passage from the end of this chapter of Proverbs, the banquet of Foolishness personified:

The foolish woman is loud;

   she is ignorant and knows nothing.

She sits at the door of her house,

   on a seat at the high places of the town,

calling to those who pass by,

   who are going straight on their way,

‘You who are simple, turn in here!’

   And to those without sense she says,

‘Stolen water is sweet,

   and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’

But they do not know that the dead are there,

   that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (13-18)

It would be easy to corral, to contain, the devastating behavior of addiction or even escapism to a group that we can regard as other--as not ourselves.  But if we’re honest, as Duo points out, it’s not a problem of a particular group but of our whole society.  We’ve turned from love of God and one another to a love of self that is killing us.  And perhaps turned is the wrong word, because hasn’t it been like this from the very beginning?

Addiction, substance abuse, deleterious escapism affects and infects every place and every culture within creation. 

The hunger to escape the difficulties of life, the pain of existence, the damage done to us by the wickedness of others, by systemic evils, or by our own poor choices--that hunger is deep and ravenous.  “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant, but they do not know that the dead are there…in the depths of Sheol.”

The gospel today points out that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  “The one who eats this bread will live forever,” Saint John’s gospel says (6:58).  Isn’t this the thing that people are really hungry for?  Don’t they need the bread of life?  The very presence of Jesus?  Why won’t they just come to church? Whoever eats this bread will live forever!

I once volunteered with a homeless shelter, a rescue mission, that had been founded out of the 19th Century evangelical movement.  It sought to feed folks, to get them off the bottle--this mission was very focused on recovery--and to lead them to a faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, all of those things were worthy activities. But the particular way the mission went about talking about faith in Jesus was problematic for me; it was largely about belief and assent, about moral behavior and purity codes, and it didn’t leave much room for difference.  Their Christian counselors were unable to embrace glbt and trans folks as created in the image of God, and so I eventually stopped working with this particular agency.

They did good work.  But they couldn’t embrace all of God’s children.  And that worried me, and so I left.

I suspect that, at some level, we are all afraid of telling people they need Jesus -- because it sounds like we’re asking them to sign up to some program, some belief system, that tells folks they’re wrong, that draws lines, that says who’s in and who’s out.  A system that might not include us, or our friends, or our uncle Bob, or whatever.  That makes us nervous.

But the truth is that everyone is included in the love of Jesus.  In the love of Jesus, the person overdosing is just as valuable to God as the EMT attending to her.  In the love of Jesus, the homeless or unemployed person, the hungry and the vulnerable, is just as valuable as the person in political or economic power.  In the love of Jesus, everyone is loved.

Earlier in the spring, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, asked a question in his homily at the Royal Wedding that rang across the world:  “Imagine a world where love is the way.”  What would it look like if the world were ruled according to the principles of the love of God?  What if we made all our decisions through the lens of the good news of the love of God in Christ?

The New England settlers might have thought were aiming for something like that, but Eden has fallen, the Greens have become wastelands, the metaphors could go on.  As Dickinson says, “Greens do not create behavior; they reflect it.”

So what would it look like to live differently?

In the love of Jesus, housing could be more available.  Drug treatment and supportive therapies rather than punitive jail sentences might change lives.  All of those things would be wonderful.

But what about people who are desperate, who have lost hope?  Why won’t they just come to church and hear that Jesus loves them?

It’s not as simple as all that, is it. We can’t institutionally tell a truth that, at its core, is relational.  We have to tell it in relationship.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  This is a relational proposition--we must abide in Jesus Christ in order to share Jesus Christ with the world. To tell the love of Jesus, we have to be in relationship with one another--with the city, with people on the Green, with people in despair. 

That’s why we’re engaging in this Living Local, Joining God project--to get to know our neighborhoods.  To walk the streets and ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  Because in relationship we can share the love of God in Christ with one another--through the gift of the Holy Spirit--in authentic, real ways.  Not a proposition to be believed, or a concept to assent to to get a hot meal and a bed for the night--but a truth told in love and shown in deed and action. 

Jesus is the bread of life.  His love can fill the aching hearts of our cities, of people in despair. 

That’s why we start at this altar--receiving the real presence of our Lord in the sacrament of Holy Communion--his Body and Blood--because we know that Jesus is here, here in this place, here in the streets of New Haven, here on the Green.

And because we know it, because we’ve received this real presence of Christ, we can share it.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. 

If you know Duo Dickinson, you know that his column didn’t end on a note of despair.  On the contrary, he believes that the presence of the Church on the Green--the visible sign of the Body of Christ in the world--is a place of hope even in the midst of fear and despair.  He invited all of New Haven to come to church.

Let us do likewise. May we receive at this altar the presence of Christ--and may we go out into the streets of New Haven and show people Jesus.

+      +      +


[1] Brian Zahn, “Police: 3rd person arrested in K2 overdose crisis,” New Haven Register, Friday, August 17, 2018, accessed online at  NB--A parishioner notes that “overdose” is the wrong word.  “Poisoning” is the better word, she says, because it highlights the activity of the dealer rather than the victim.  I share her comments here and am grateful for them.

[2] Jessica Lerner, “More ODs on Green today, more than 80 so far,” New Haven Register, Thursday, August 16, 2018, accessed online at

[3] Lerner, “Emergency crews, volunteers try to make sense of mass ODs,” New Haven Register, Saturday, August 18, 2018, accessed online at

[4] Alison Cunningham, newsletter from Columbus House, n.d. (circa August 16, 2018), accessed online at   

[5] Duo Dickinson, “Tragedy on the New Haven Green,” New Haven Register, Thursday, August 16, 2018, accessed online at  


Glorious Assumption


Glorious Assumption

The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary -- The Assumption
August 15, 2018


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

In his book entitled Mary for All Christians, Fr John Macquarrie opens up his chapter on the Glorious Assumption with these words:

“In the expression `Glorious Assumption' the adjective and the noun go together...  An assumption could not be anything other than glorious, for it means a taking up from the drabness and ordinariness of earthly life into what we call “heaven,” the unimaginable glory of the divine presence in its immediacy” (78)[1].

An assumption could not be anything other than glorious.

In scripture, the Glorious Incarnation, the Glorious Resurrection, and the Glorious Ascension of Jesus take place as acts and signs of God’s glory. These events take place to reveal, once again, God’s love and power over all creation. 

We know from the Old Testament that resurrection and assumption are part of God’s landscape of radical possibilities. Through Elijah, the Lord resurrects the son of the widow of Zarephath. In Genesis, we’re told that “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. And Elijah is taken up in a chariot of fire, in a whirlwind into heaven.

In all these acts, as in the Glorious Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, God over and over again reveals to us his power and might. But he also reveals his deep love for us, for we are made in God’s image, body and soul.

God resurrects and takes up to himself not only the body of Jesus, but the bodies of the faithful. For God, our bodies and our humanity have value. The God who created us in our mother’s womb desires not only that we have life and have it abundantly, but that we one day return and come into union with God. That our bodies like the body of Elijah, the body of Jesus, and the body of the Blessed Mother enter into union with God.

And today the Church Catholic remembers God’s desire to be in union with us and all creation, as we remember God’s union with the Blessed Mother. As we have prayed in the collect today, we give thanks to God who has taken up to himself the Blessed Virgin Mary. We give thanks for God’s desire to take up to himself not only his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, but his Blessed Mother and one day us.

Today the Church rejoices and sings Marian hymns because in the Blessed Mother we are reassured of our destiny. We celebrate that in the fullness of time, we and all creation will return to God as we celebrate and remember Mary this day. While our Prayer Book marks today as The Feast of Saint Mary Virgin, its designated collect hints at, if not affirms, her Glorious Assumption

And our Lady’s Glorious Assumption affirms, in the words of Fr John Macquarrie, that “the heaven which Jesus ascended to, and into which Mary [and we will be assumed to] is not a region in the skies, but a new level of existence” [2].

Our humanity is transformed already by the Incarnation and Resurrection, and then again by the Ascension of Jesus. In these marvelous acts, we are brought closer to God, closer to God’s purpose for us. “The Assumption is a transformation of the human condition from its familiar earthly state to a new mode of being in which the body enjoys an immediate relationship to God” [3].

While our relationship with God in the life to come promises to be more intimate than we can ever experience here on earth, our Lord’s Ascension and his Mother’s Assumption lets us know that our selves, our souls and bodies, have a place in heaven. That our most beautiful features, our wounds and imperfections are received by God just as they are. And if they need to be transformed, they are not transformed by force but by the love of God which draws us in.

Today, on the New Haven Green at least 30 beautiful and imperfect members of the family God overdosed on a substance. Pray for them, pray for their healing and recovery, and if any are to die, for the repose of their souls. Pray that those who are weakened and consumed, all of us gathered here this evening, and this whole city, pray that we may come to realize how radically loved we are by God. God’s love is so deep that nothing can keep us away from his love in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to be drawn to God, body and soul, as was the Blessed Mother. Receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and rejoice that God is near, and that he seeks to be close to you.

Hear these words from Lord Byron’s Don Juan:

Ave Maria! ‘Tis the hour of prayer!

Ave Maria! ‘Tis the hour of love!

Ave Maria! May our spirits dare

Look up to thine and to thy Son’s above!

Ave Maria!

Thanks be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] Macquarrie, J. (2002). Mary for All Christians. T & T Clark Limited, 78.

[2] Ibid, 84.

[3] Ibid, 85.


Jesus, the Living Bread


Jesus, the Living Bread

The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2018

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

The Gospel reading appointed for this week hits close to home. As some of you may know, I grew up an hour’s drive from New Haven, in a small town in the outskirts of New York City, Port Chester, NY. Where for 16 years I lived on West Street, a block away from my childhood parish, Corpus Christi, that is the “Body of Christ,” and across the street from the famous JJ Cassones bakery.

For 16 years, I lived down the road from Corpus Christi and across the street from the bakery. The imagery of bread and the Body of Christ was everywhere. It is impossible for me to listen to this morning’s Gospel passage and not be drawn to a childlike understanding of God. And by childlike understanding, I don’t mean this in any negative form as if it were irrational or undeveloped, but an understanding that is deeply personal and rooted in experience. An understanding that is enraptured by an experience with God, rather than some mental understanding of God.

I remember a seminary classmate’s story in which she recounted a five year old screaming at his mother, “I want the bread from heaven,” as he was brought up to the communion rail for a blessing. This little boy was done with the blessing. He no longer wanted a blessing from the priest but wanted the bread from heaven, the boy wanted Jesus — the living bread.

While we may not shout as that little boy, “I want the bread from heaven,” when we approach the communion rail, I will argue that we share in that childlike desire to hold and have Jesus. A deep feeling rooted in our earliest memories that God has made himself known to us. That God wants to be close to us, and we want to be close to him.

While some of us may no longer tuck at our parent’s shirt to help us receive Jesus in the Sacrament, that childlike desire to simply be close to him has not dissipated. Has it?

This shared desire to be close to Jesus has brought all of us to this place. From various backgrounds, cultures, and ages. We trust and find comfort in the words of Jesus who says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

While God is able to reveal himself in great and mighty acts, God seeks to reveal himself in bread and wine. For God alone can miraculously provide food for the wandering and hungry, for us today, as he did for the people of Israel, Moses and those in the desert.

But Moses was only able to point to the manna and say, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you for food” (Exodus 16:15), but Jesus points to himself and says, “I am the bread of life… [and] I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:35,50). Moses points outward, but Jesus point to himself.

Jesus is the living bread that is capable of satisfying our hunger and emptiness. Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven, as the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel proclaims, and he was in the beginning with God. And all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

Jesus is the living bread, which not only fulfills our hunger but offers us more then we can handle. Jesus relives our hunger for the living God because in him we meet the living God, made known to us in the flesh.

But Jesus does not only fulfill our hunger but he is able to vanish our gluttony — our hunger for power and control, our hunger to be satisfied and full as those around us beg, our hunger for more than we actually need to survive and prosper. Jesus not only meets our hunger, but challenges the hunger that seeks to fatten us with nothing more than sin and death.

Jesus is the living bread that seeks to satisfy our spiritual hunger and wandering hearts. Jesus is the living bread that seeks to show us the way of love and peace in a world that has forgotten God’s love. Jesus is the living bread that gives us hope in the darkest moments of our lives. Jesus is the living bread that promises that we will not hunger and be left for dead, but that we will be full and raised on that last day. Jesus is enough.

If you don’t believe me, look at the cross. There you will find Jesus, our Lord and our God, stretched out on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

Jesus is enough.

Jesus is enough to draw people to him, and our only job is to tell the world of his love and his saving embrace. Our job is to quite literally share the good news of Christ, yes, to evangelize. And don’t be scared by this task, it is not as difficult as some people make it seem. In the words of Pastor D.T Niles, “Evangelism is nothing more than a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

And we have found the living bread. We have touched, felt, and tasted the living bread. In Jesus, we are filled with enough — enough for ourselves and for others. We have been given an abundance not because we need it, but because God desires that we be filled and share the living bread with others. Because God desires to be known to us as the living bread that came down from heaven. God desires to be know in the simple presence of bread.

Thanks be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Be the Sign


Be the Sign

The Rev'd Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2018


The Mercy of God


The Mercy of God

The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2018


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

We have been traveling with Jesus throughout Saint Mark’s Gospel. We have witnessed his baptism in the Jordan River, we have witnessed him healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead, and we have even witnessed his rejection in his hometown of Nazareth.
Jesus has been on a mission, and the word has gotten out. So much so, that we’re told that “people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
People have come out from the shadows and hidden places, all seeking to be close to Jesus. All seeking to be in his presence and touch him, even if just the fringe of his cloak. And as the crowds move towards him, Jesus does not retreat or run away. Jesus does not ask those who approach him any questions. He does not critique or inquire about their past. He does not preach or teach, nor are there dialogues or parables. Jesus simply heals them without question, without requiring anything of them.
Simply put, Jesus shows them complete and utter mercy.
And God’s mercy is one of a kind. See, God’s mercy does not only make the unimaginable happen, but creates a new set of possibilities never imagined before. It challenges and expands our minds to believe that God can act beyond our human understanding. That God can act through the greatest ailment and hurdles. That God can act even through death itself.
All of the great healing miracles of Jesus — the healing of the sick, the casting out of demons, and the raising of the dead — are meant to prepare and point us to God’s ultimate miracle, the ultimate unimaginable possibility — the Resurrection of Jesus.
The mercy of God transcends our human inclinations and invites us to embrace God’s grace, God’s love, not as things we earn but as free gifts. God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s love, cannot be bought or sold. They do not have a place in the market, it is simply given to us.
The act of self-giving and self-emptying is part of God’s very nature. And we come to see and understand God’s desire to give away his love, mercy, and grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Father Frederick William Faber poetically captures God’s divine mercy in his hymn text, as he writes:
“There's a wideness in God's mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There's a kindness in God's justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.”
The mercy of God offers us a way forward, it offers us life. It allows us not only to conquer that which consumes us, but let’s us hope and reassures us that God will not abandon us.
If just by touching the cloak of Jesus many were healed, imagine what can happen to us who day after day, week after week, touch Jesus in the Holy sacrifice of the mass? Imagine what can happen to us who touch Jesus at the Soup Kitchen and in the streets of New Haven? Imagine what can happen to us if we seek and touch Jesus in our own loving and even broken relationships?
What can happen, what will happen, is God’s mercy will pour out to show what lies ahead.  Thanks be to God who seeks not to abandon but to save. Thanks be to God who seeks to bring life in the face of death. Thanks be to God who is constantly giving and emptying himself for the life of the world.
Thanks be to God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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