Living in the Time Being


Living in the Time Being

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Feast of the Epiphany
January 6, 2019

In this homily the Rector reflects on TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi and WH Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. The world—all of Creation—is changed by the revelation of God’s presence in the person of Jesus Christ in the world. Our job becomes to live in the time being and proclaim the time that is coming—the kingdom of God come near—and to live within the realm of God’s love even as the whole world is coming to know it—to be transformed. The Rector asks, “How will we live differently in the face of this great revelation?” Or as Auden writes, “Love Him in the World of the Flesh; / And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”


The Greatest Gift


The Greatest Gift

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018

When I was a child, we had a ritual on Christmas morning.  We’d wake up early and go and find that the stockings with our names on them had been filled with treats and small gifts by Saint Nick or Santa Claus during the night, and we’d open those gifts.  Then we’d move onto the tree, where we’d open the larger gifts that had mysteriously appeared during the night.  After the great unwrapping, we’d move on to breakfast, and after breakfast to a series of phone calls.  My sister and I would first call our grandmother to wish her a Merry Christmas and to detail the list of gifts we’d received—in great detail.  I remember writing down these lists just so I wouldn’t forget anything.  After we phoned my grandmother, we would phone my great-grandmother, and she would hear the same list.  The afternoon was usually spent assembling some toy or game and then visiting family, often taking one of the gifts we’d received along to play with and share with cousins or aunts and uncles.

There was something exciting about receiving those gifts; I looked forward to it—so much so that it was always hard to go to sleep on Christmas eve night—and I also looked forward to telling my family about what I’d been given—to playing with toys or wearing new clothes that were my Christmas gifts.  “What did you get for Christmas?” was the question on every relative’s lips.  I wonder if you’ve been asked that already—what did you get for Christmas?  What was your answer?  What was on your list?

It seems easy to talk about the boxes that we unwrap from beneath the tree as gifts; they’re so tangible and so much a part of the holiday season.  But the great gift, the gift of Christ’s incarnation, is perhaps not as tangible, not as easy to comprehend as something that comes in a box and wrapping paper, tied up with a bow.  And yet it is the greatest gift—the thing which we celebrate, even in our own gift giving—the thing that changes our lives.

Saint John reveals the great mystery of the Incarnation in these words:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.” 

I want to share with you another sermon that describes the Incarnation this way; these are the words of another Saint John, Saint John Chrysostom, 4th C archbishop of Constantinople, which he preached on Christmas Day:

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants' bands. For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking our flesh, He gives us His Spirit; And so, He bestowing and we receiving, He prepares for us the treasure of Life. He takes our flesh, to sanctify us; He gives us His Spirit, that He may save us.[1]

 John Chrysostom says, “This wonder fills me with astonishment.”   This gift, this child in a manger, very God become flesh, is unwrapped!  Christ gives himself to us; God gives us his eternal Word.  When we receive a great gift, it’s an exciting moment, isn’t it?  It’s an exciting moment, a good feeling, and in that moment of excitement, we say thank you to the giver.  Take some time this Christmas to give thanks for that great gift—not only to say thank you, but really to rejoice—to delight in the wonder and astonishment of the Incarnation.  God desires you so much that he condescends to take on flesh—to live among us—and even to die a death on the cross.  What greater love is there than this?  Friends, there is no greater gift than the gift of God’s love.  If you have any doubt about who you are or how you feel today, remember that you have received—that the world has received—the greatest gift imaginable—God’s own presence with, in, and among us.  Our God is not a God who is far away or a God who is inaccessible.  Our God comes among us with power and might as a little child.  Our God rules with a rule of love.  Our God, in Christ, has a fleshly body that knows our own sufferings, our own griefs, our own hopes, and our own joys.  Even in the midst of our sinful state, God loves us and comes among us.  You are beloved, brothers and sisters.  Unwrap that gift, revel in the sheer wonder of it, give thanks, and rejoice! 

When you’ve received a gift you really love, a gift that shows the love of the giver, you want to share that joy.  That phone call to my grandmother on Christmas Day wasn’t about listmaking—it was about a genuine and authentic response to the delight of having received a gift—a genuine chance to give thanks in the telling of someone else.  And we are called to do the same—to tell the story of God’s love for us—sometimes using words.  Spend some time this Christmas reflecting on God’s love for you, delighting in it.  Really let it sink in.  Unwrap that gift and revel in it!  You won’t be able to help but share God’s love with your friends, your family, your neighbor, your coworker—just in the way that you live your life, in the way that you rejoice in being loved.  And it’s okay to use words, too—to tell yourself and others of God’s love—that they are loved.  Even if you can’t feel that inside, take some time to focus on it anyway—to pray about it.  Maybe your prayer to God becomes, “Help me to receive your love.”  And follow up with a “Thank you.”  A friend recently reminded me that the writer Anne Lamot has two great prayers:  “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”[2]  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  If you can’t feel “Thank you” today, try out “Help me give thanks.”  For that’s part of what we are here to do, isn’t it?  Every liturgy of Morning Prayer and every Eucharist begin with thanksgiving and praise.  We bless God, we sing the Gloria or a hymn of praise. We give thanks for God’s great goodness in making us and in being known to us.  John says, “This Wonder fills me with astonishment.”  We say, thank you, thank you, thank you.

That gratitude, friends, is a spiritual practice.  Like Anne Lamot says, it is a prayer, and it changes us.  “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”  That grace changes us.  Listen again to what John Chrysostom says is going on in the incarnation:  “For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking our flesh, He gives us His Spirit; And so, He bestowing and we receiving, He prepares for us the treasure of Life. He takes our flesh, to sanctify us; He gives us His Spirit, that He may save us.”

He assumes our body that we may assume his Word.  He gives us his Spirit.  He sanctifies and saves us.  Do those seem like powerful words to you?  John seems to me to be referencing Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, only a few decades his elder, who wrote, “God became human that humans might become God.” [3]  Do those words cause you to sit upright?  They seem almost heretical at first, don’t they?  Athanasius is not suggesting that we are God—or even like God.  God is God, and we are not, and don’t we know it all too well!  But Athanasius’s claim is even more provocative than that—God is about the work of drawing us to himself—of enfolding us into the divine heart.  God is making us a part of God’s own kingdom, God’s reality, God’s own self.  We are being recreated, renewed, and restored.  “He takes our flesh to sanctify us.  He gives us his Spirit, that he may save us,” John says.  

The great gift of the incarnation, friends, is not only that God comes among us—but that God is drawing us to himself!  That we are coming to be among God!  That in the fullness of time, we will be with our Creator, who made us and loves us and desires us.  There is no greater gift than this.  The Eucharist today shows us again that great love—God’s love in coming among us through his incarnation; his self-emptying, self-offering sacrifice in his death on the cross; his triumph over sin and death in his glorious resurrection, and his present and abiding Spirit—present in the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood that we receive, the real presence of Christ with us to feed and sustain us.  When you receive the consecrated host today, the sacrament of Holy Communion, the priest will say, “the Body of Christ.”  You, brothers and sisters, are the Body.  You are becoming enfolded into the divine will—into the very heart of God.  Receive that gift in love and gratitude, and remember Christ’s presence with us. 

We rejoice in God and receive as a gift that grace upon grace.  We can say thank you, and tell and show others that great gift of God’s love.  And in that gift—by its very giving, we are changed.  Saint John the Evangelist tells us that “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.”  That same God desires to enfold us into his own heart.

Let the light of Christ shine in your hearts.  Rejoice and give thanks.  Revel in God’s abundant love.  And be restored in him.

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




[1] John Chrysostom, "Christmas Morning," Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation,” Volume 1, trans. and ed. M. F. Toal (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000) 110-117, as published online at,-John-on-the-Incarnation,-Sermon-on-Christmas-Day.php (12/28/2012).

[2] Anne Lamot, Traveling Mercies.

[3] Athanasius, On the Incarnation

A version of this sermon was first preached at Grace Church in New York on 12/30/2012.


The Love of God


The Love of God

The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Christmas Day
December 25, 2018

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


Merry Christmas!


This morning, we hear not the story of how shepherds in a field received a message from an angel that a Savior, wrapped in bands of cloths was born in Bethlehem. That wonderful story retold in hymns and songs, depicted in art and paintings, and, of course, proclaimed on national television every year in A Charlie Brown Christmas.


An essential Christmas staple in my home, along with my own Charlie Brown Christmas tree.


No, today we hear the story of the Word made flesh, which is, in fact, one with the story we hear in Saint Luke’s Gospel. However, while Saint Luke shares with us who Jesus is and what he will do, Saint John in his prologue answers an otherwise unanswered question:


How did this action of God in human history take place?[1]


Saint John appeals for us to understand the birth of Christ not only as a scene in a manger, but as an act predestined, pre-formed, for all creation. The birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, is rooted in God’s constant desire from the story of creation in Genesis to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem to this the 25th day of December 2018, God’s constant desire to show us his love. To show us how great and vast a treasure is God’s love for us and for the world.


While Saint John dives deep into the how this day came to be, what lies at the extremity of Saint John’s question is love: God’s love.


A love made known to us not merely in thought or romantic idealism, but in a person, Jesus, born this day in Bethlehem of Judea. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


I’m not sure what time your Christmas Day began this morning, but maybe like my own, it began roughly around 7am. And maybe you too stumbled upon the Today Show this morning and their Christmas Day special featuring the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.


As always, he was asked something about the Royal Wedding and the Royal Family. However, at just the right time he shared with show’s hosts and with millions of people watching at home these words:


“The truth is, if love is just a sentiment then it doesn't matter. But love is a commitment and one of the passages that speaks about Christmas is John 3:16 [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 eternal life] It speaks about the crucifixion of Jesus but it also speaks about Christmas, 'God so loved the world that he gave his only son.' It is love which is tied to giving, not taking. Giving. We give gifts as a symbolic way of reminding us that God showed us the way of love, which is to give and not to count the cost.”[2]


For Christians, the love of God, which is the source of all love, is not an idealism but a reality. A reality made flesh in the person of Jesus. The person we have come here to adore, the person we sing hymns for and about this Christmas season and every Sunday for the last two thousand years, the person we are invited to receive in Holy Communion.


In seeking to answer how this has taken place, Saint John ends his prologue with the affirmation that we and all creation have seen the glory of God which is full of grace and truth. As we celebrate this glorious day, whether with presents and great food and in prayer and song, I invite you to seek and see God’s love in and among you. Behold God’s Son, behold God’s love, it has been revealed to us and all creation this day and forevermore.


Glory be to God on high. May you have joyous and a very Merry Christmas!



[1] Moloney, F. J. (2005). The Gospel of John (D. J. Harrington, Ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 34.

[2] CORRECTION | The quote is from CBS This Morning |


Come to the Manger


Come to the Manger

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2018

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.


A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.  It’s a joy to be together and to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.  And it’s a greater joy to realize what that means for us today, for the world, for you and for me--for us together. 

I caught a glimpse of the joy of Christmas this evening when we were putting the crèche together with the children of the parish--when we told the story, simply and slowly, just as in the gospel texts, of Mary, and Joseph, and the newborn baby Jesus visited by shepherds and angels.  We almost skipped ahead to the wise sages from the east who come to visit--but you’ll have to wait until Epiphany--January 6--to hear about them!  (I’ll let you in on secret, though--they have already begun their journey to visit the baby in the manger--and if you look closely--maybe even in the Lady Chapel as you return from communion tonight--you may see them starting off together!)

The wonder of the crèche--of children’s faces carrying the holy family, the animals, the sheep, the little dog that’s a part of our scene--the wonder of it all is captivating.

It takes me back to a time from my own childhood--a story that I may have told you before of a nativity scene, a tableau, that I was a part of!  In my little town in middle Georgia, at the Methodist Church, for several years we had a living nativity.  Now this is just as exciting as it sounds.  It’s a nativity scene--a crèche--but with live people--and live animals!  Who doesn’t like a donkey and a sheep and a cow on the front lawn at Christmastide?! As an eight year old I was really excited about this.

For weeks we prepared. One of our parents found some small bales of hay to line the inside of the crèche--and to provide some concealed seating for all of us nativity actors.   A few handy carpenters built a wooden structure with boards and logs--a rustic shelter to frame the scene.  Someone else called around and got friends to volunteer livestock.  Mary and Joseph were chosen, and a few real live babies were recruited to work in shifts.  No one wanted a baby to be out in the cold December air for long.  And the cast of shepherds and angels was endless.  In bathrobes with crooks made of pipe and wired tinsel wings the shepherds and angels filled in among the live animals and around the manger itself, trading in and out for shifts, warming up with cocoa in between back in the parish hall.  There on the main street, cars slowed and stopped, driving around the block and around again to witness this living nativity, the story of our Lord’s birth played out in our town, on our block, with people we knew.  And with live animals! 

I don’t know how our parents felt, but for us children, it was great fun!  We were so excited!  We could hear the animals around us breathing and didn’t even mind the itchy scratch of the hay bales, the dust from the donkey’s coat, the really awful smell of the livestock around us.  The baby--whichever baby Jesus was on call at the moment--would squirm and cry--or snuggle and sleep--and it all felt very real and wonderful and full of joy.

Eventually the spotlights were turned off, the animals led away to their trailers and pens, and children wrangled to head home to wrap presents, or unwrap them, or wherever it was in the progression of days until Christmas.  I can’t recall what happened after.  But there was a joy, a feeling of possibility, of hope, of wonder, that left with us from that little makeshift stall there on the corner of main street in our home town.  And we held onto it through the Christmas season.

I’ve been listening to Christmas music on the radio and at parties over the past few weeks and have been struck by two things--how relentlessly optimistic and cheerful and full of hope these songs are!  Just think about a couple of songs you’ve heard on the radio, or in shops, or that you’ve sung at Christmas parties.  What are they about?  Shopping.  Decorating.  Food and drink and mistletoe.  Peace and goodwill and love and joy and hope.  Warm fuzzy feelings that we revel in this time of year.  People are just nicer to one another at the holidays--or at least it seems so to me--and I give thanks for this little break, in the midst of the mad world, when we can with the angels declare “Peace on earth.”

The other thing that strikes me about the sort of Christmas music that I’ve been hearing outside these walls is that it is very often just generally about peace, goodwill, and good cheer.  There is little mention of the source of that peace and joy.  Much of this Christmas music--in fact most of it that I’ve heard this year--doesn’t mention God very much--or Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, at all! 

Now, we’ve heard that there’s a war on Christmas, and I don’t buy it.  The cheerful, relentlessly optimistic good cheer that surrounds us--this benign idea of peace on earth and goodwill towards all--isn’t a war on Christmas at all.  I think it’s actually pointing towards something.  The culture around us--and we ourselves--are crying out for the reality of these good things.  We may pause culturally, whether we’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or whatever else, we can’t get away from Christmas music and decorations in our country--and so we wrap ourselves culturally in this warm fuzzy blanket of soft lights and decorations and gift giving and goodwill--because we are longing for those things to be true.  We are longing to know that the madness of the world will be made right.  We are longing to know that people can actually be generous towards one another.  We dare to hope that the hungry may be fed, the humble lifted up, the mighty who abuse their power brought to heel.  We are longing to know hope for the hopeless, release for the captives, good news for the poor.  We are crying out in our chains of despair to know that we are loved. 

And so we cling to the good feeling of this time together.  The warmth and joy of the Christmas season.  And by the middle of February--or maybe by next week--we may have forgotten it all together.

Friends, there is no war on Christmas.  There is a world longing for the love of God revealed in this gift of God’s own self come among us.

That’s what we’re celebrating today.  That God made us all and is there in our joys and happiness--but also sees our sufferings, our longings, our fear, our despair.  That in the madness of this world--and the world of first century Palestine was just as mad as ours today--that in this madness, God comes in the form of a baby, weak and helpless, to join us in our plight.  To walk alongside us.  To heal crowds of people.  To speak good news.  To give hope. 

That message of hope was so revolutionary, so earth shattering, that it threatened the order of civilization--that all people were loved, that all people had equal value in the eyes of God, that all were to be cared for as brother and sister--that message was so threatening that the powers of the world tried to take it down.  And the messenger, the prophet, the God-made-man, Jesus Christ, was killed by a government executioner.  But God’s own Son couldn’t stay dead--and rose again to be with his friends--eating and drinking with them--and ascended to be with us all, to fill all things, through the gift of the Holy Spirit with us even now, in his Body and Blood of the sacrament, in the fellowship and communion of this place, in the awe and wonder of this holy night, and in your hearts and lives even now.

That’s the story of Christmas.  It’s very specific. 

The hope and joy and good will we feel is real because it’s about something.  It’s about God showing us how much God loves us.  It’s about God’s love that will not let us go. 

I didn’t tell you another thing about that living nativity scene.  I failed to tell you that, as exciting as it was, it was also really cold.  My velour bathrobe was no match for the falling temperatures. And the hay was really itchy and made me sneeze.  And the animals that I was so excited about were not excited about me.  They didn’t want to be petted, and they smelled really, really bad.  Why didn’t someone think to give the donkey a bath? I wondered. 

But it was still wonderful.  Even in its cold and smell and chaos there was something wonderful and real.  Just like the world we live in.  Even as it seems to fall apart, there is God, right with us, holding onto us.  Coming in clouds with power and great glory.  Coming in the person of a little baby.  Coming again--defeating death--and never letting us go.

The shepherds ran and told everyone what they’d seen.  But Mary pondered all these things in her heart, waiting and watching as the salvation of the world unfolded.

What are you longing for tonight?  What’s underneath the soft lights, the glow of the candles, the music and the feelings and the warmth?  Or if you’re not feeling the peace and goodwill of Christmas this year, perhaps you’re feeling loss, or aloneness, or despair.  Surely some of the shepherds felt that, too.  Maybe even Mary felt fear.  And Joseph certainly was anxious.  What were they longing for?  What are you longing for?

Come to the manger.  Find in the face of the Christ Child--find in his Body and Blood of this feast of thanksgiving--find the love that you seek.  Find the hope that will not let you go. 

If you’re still looking, hold on.  You’re in the right place.  Ponder all these things in your heart like Mary.  God has come to you.

And when you’ve seen it, go and tell like the shepherds.  Tell the whole world.  That peace on earth, that goodwill, is real.  It’s the way the kingdom of God works.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise--even in February, or next week, when the glow fades.  Come again to this font and be refreshed, to this altar and be renewed--to the crèche again and be reminded that God has come and will never let you go.


The Song of Mary:  A Revolutionary Cry


The Song of Mary: A Revolutionary Cry

The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2018

In this reflection on the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, the Curate invites us to consider Mary’s call for the renewal of the world—an anthem of revolution, a hymn of praise, an anthem of hope and possibility of the renewal of the world in Jesus Christ.





Mr Patrick Keyser
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

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

A few years ago I led weekly chapel services at an Episcopal elementary school for an academic year. I quickly learned how challenging it is to stand in front of 100 children ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade and attempt to teach them something about God. The children asked the most pointed and difficult questions that cut to the very heart of a theological matter, and they always knew when I had oversimplified something. Thankfully, I learned as I went along, and one of the most valuable things I learned was the importance of signing. Children love to sing, but it was often difficult to find appropriate songs. The text needed to be both theologically sound and simple enough so that they could learn it without the words in front of them. It was no easy task. One of the children’s favorite songs is based on today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Perhaps you are familiar with it. The words are quite simple– ‘rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice; rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice; rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice.’ It was easy to sing, the words come directly from Scripture, and the kids loved it. Overall it was a solid choice, but I sort of hated it. I didn’t like the idea of repeatedly being told how I should feel. What if I don’t particularly want to rejoice? What if I’m not feeling very cheerful?

The same feelings emerged as I read today’s epistle from Philippians, which has historically been associated with this the Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday. That name comes from the opening line of the Latin introit of the mass appointed for this day, which takes its text from this same passage from Philippians. Gaudete means rejoice. Our hymns have reflected this focus, and the shift in color from the typical purple of advent to rose is meant to further invoke this theme. It’s all very exciting, or is it? What exactly is the cause of this rejoicing?

This theme of rejoicing may seem to sit a little uneasily with the message of John the Baptist we hear in today’s gospel passage. John’s message from the wilderness sounds particularly harsh. He calls the crowd a brood of vipers, warns of the wrath to come, and tells how those trees that aren’t bearing fruit will be cut down and burned. John is inviting, exhorting the people to repentance. Now repentance is a word that can be a bit of a stumbling block, I think. In the Southern Baptist context of my childhood, repentance was what you did when you did something bad. Say you’re sorry and then don’t do it again. This narrow and rather unhelpful view of repentance is not what John is describing. There is no doubt that the call to repentance requires acknowledging and accounting for our own sins and shortcomings, but it is much more than that. Repentance is a complete and fundamental shift in orientation. It is a turning away from one thing and toward another.

The crowds were not offended by John’s message. They were deeply curious. ‘What then should we do?’ they ask. They want to know what they are to do in face of the coming reality. They want to know what repentance requires. John’s message is simple: share what you have. If you have an extra coat, share it with those who have none. If you have extra food, share it with those who are hungry. He gives the same advice to the tax collectors who come to him asking what they should do. Tax collectors often made money by charging folks more than they owed and then kept the extra for themselves. John tells them not to do so. ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also came to him, and John told them the same thing. ‘Be satisfied with your wages.’ Don’t extort others. The repentance John preaches requires a fundamental shift in the way in which relationships work. We cannot live for ourselves alone. Selfish ambition must give way to deep acknowledgment of our interconnectedness.

John’s message excited the crowds and filled them with expectation. They knew he was a unique figure. He had a powerful presence. He offered a vision of a new reality of how life could be. Quite naturally the people began to wonder and ask John if he might just be the Messiah, the chosen one for whom the people of Israel had long waited. Here John displays what might be his most remarkable feature of all, more amazing than his clothing or his strange diet or his biting exhortations. John knew exactly who he was, and he tried to be nothing more and nothing less. He had been called to speak in the wilderness and prepare the way for another. He came not for his sake but for the sake of one much greater than him, and he knew that. In response to the crowds he tells them, ‘one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the throng of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3:16). John points beyond himself to the one who is to come, the one whose very presence causes us to fall down in reverence.

John tells the crowd that Jesus, the whom they are truly seeking and longing for, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. What might that mean? Fire is complex and associated with a variety of things. Perhaps you associate fire with warmth and comfort, with a cozy fire on a cold winter night or with the comfort of companions gathered around a campfire. Fire can be comforting, but it can also be incredibly destructive. Many of my family members are firefighters. My brother is a professional firefighter in a city near where I grew up, and my father and grandfather are loyal and dedicated volunteer firefighters in the sleepy town where I grew up and my family continues to live. It has been a part of my life since before I can even remember.

My brother, who is three and half years older than me, has wanted to be a firefighter since he was about three years old. My mother has childhood videos of my brother forcing me to play pretend firefighter when I was no older than two. He was very enthusiastic; I was at best a disinterested participant. The sounds of blaring radios throughout my home summoning my father, and later my brother, to respond to a fire were a fixture of my childhood. I learned to associate fire with danger. As the very name of the profession suggests, fire is often something to be fought. Those who are committed to that work put their lives at risk whenever they undertake their work. Fire destroys and kills. The recent devastating wildfires in California have reminded us of the destructive and often uncontrollable power of fire. And so it is that John’s words about the coming of Jesus can sound quite terrifying. To be baptized with fire sounds like it leads to death and destruction. It sounds like something to be greatly feared.

Fire, however, is not only something that can comfort and destroy. It also purifies. Many metals, for example, are purified and refined through extreme heating. Another example is the paradoxical idea that a wildfire actually produces some beneficial results for ecosystems. It rejuvenates soil, and some plants have adapted themselves to release seeds in the face of such heat. The world of mythology offers the example of the phoenix, which bursts into flames only to emerge with new life from its ashes.

The fire of Jesus’ baptism that John references is a purifying fire. John tells the crowds that Jesus’ ‘winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Luke 3:17). Jesus comes with his winnowing fork to clear away the chaff from our heart, to take away those sins, fears, and anxieties that enslave us and cling to us so closely. He comes with his purifying fire to cleanse our hearts, until those sins are turned to dust and ashes in its heat consuming. That’s what it means to be set free. That still might sound a little terrifying. The process of purification and preparation is rarely comfortable, but it does set us free to live as God created us to live. We repent, we reorient ourselves to live differently in this world, to live not only for ourselves but for Christ and for the world he came to redeem. And that it is the good news John proclaimed to the people. Our joy and expectation in Advent is inextricably tied to our need for repentance in the face of Christ’s coming.

Rejoicing is fundamentally about joy, which is not so much a temporary feeling as it is something that settles deep within us and gives us that peace that St. Paul speaks of, the type of peace that far exceeds human understanding. Today we rejoice as we expect and long for the coming of Jesus, who comes with a purifying fire to cleanse our hearts and free us from our sins. We rejoice at the call to repent, to reorient ourselves toward God and toward a restoration of the life God intends for us. We rejoice at John’s proclamation of this good news. The advent of our Savior sets us free. That is indeed reason to rejoice.

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


Judgment & Redemption


Judgment & Redemption

The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2018

A friend of mine has a saying, when I am telling her tales of woe…  She’ll stop me as I’m telling her my problems and ask, “Now, do you want me to just listen?  Or are you asking me to do something about it?” 

Usually it’s just that I want her to listen. To know that someone hears. That someone else is there in the mists of uncertainty, the pathways of anxiety, the valleys of the shadow of death.  And she’s good at that.

But last week, as I heard the lessons again at our Advent Procession with Carols at 5pm on Sunday, I was moved by the prophecies and grieved by the plight of our common lives together.  This season of Advent, of expectation, was turning out to be less a joyous anticipation of the birth of a sweet baby in a manger--and more a time of impending dread at the unmasking of the evil of the fallen world around us.  I wanted someone not just to listen but to do something about it!

Looking back over just the last week, I’ve been astonished at the revelations coming out of the court filings surrounding Michael Cohen, the President’s personal attorney.   I’ve been grieved to hear of the violence surrounding the yellow vest protests in Paris, where police deployed teargas against French citizens--and the deployment of tear gas on our southern borders against people ostensibly seeking asylum.   I’ve heard stories of loss from parishioners--loss of life, loss of health, loss of relationship--and known that there was nothing I could do about any of it except listen.  I’ve worried about potential loss of our resources in this place as the market has swung wildly back and forth over the last few days, fueled by news of trade wars and interest rate shifts.

I’m sure your list is even longer--for there is much to worry about.  There is much that is wrong.

We might not be wrong to think that things are falling apart.

That line--“things fall apart”--do you remember it?  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”

It’s from a poem “The Second Coming” of WB Yeats, a line that apparently in 2016 was quoted more times than any of the thirty previous years[1]--that claim from a book review in the Times of Richard Haass’s discouragingly titled work, A World in Disarray:  American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

Things fall apart.  The centre cannot hold.

Yeats wrote the poem in the aftermath of the first World War and the beginnings of the Irish War of Independence--another time the world might have seemed to be falling apart. 


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.…[2]


Yeats, who was certainly acculturated to Christian theology, was himself an occultist with a highly developed personal philosophy, had a particular world view centered on interlocking, or stacked, gyres--conical shapes that represented the flow of world events, of history.  In Yeats’s philosophy, as one age came to an end, the point of the cone, another began to emerge.  The collapse of the world order was giving rise to something new.  What rough beast, indeed, was on the move and about to be born?

I love Yeats’s imagery. I love this poem.  I love the idea and even the optimism that it espouses--as one thing dies, another is born--and we can watch the mystery unfold.

So much of ancient and even modern thought is based on this premise--that in collapse and chaos something new rises. 

The Christian story is different, however.  For us, there is not a mere cycle of death and new birth, decay and recreation, going on as though perpetually propelled by some mysterious life cycle, in the Christian story.  There is only a story of creation--and a story of salvation.  And here’s why that difference matters.

There is a tradition in Advent of preaching what is called the “Four Last Things”--Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell--on the four Sundays of Advent.  If last Sunday was Death, today is Judgment, friends.  That’s a word that we shudder at.  Don’t judge me! we say to one another. 

We are so afraid of judgment.  But what if that’s what the world needs?  What if we NEED a divine judge to help us see where we have fallen short of the goodness of God’s creation?  What if we need someone to come among us and say, Look!  There is something better! 

What if we need to know in our hearts, in our souls, in our very bones, in the flesh of this world, that the broken things, the sadness, the destruction we see is in fact not how things are supposed to be--that there is hope for something better--and that, in the fullness of time, all things will be restored to the fullness of God’s good creation--restored in right relationship, righteousness, with that which is the ground of all being, that which is love, that which is the very action of creation--God God’s own self.

That’s what John the Baptist is coming to announce.  John the Baptizer comes, rough clad and loud and strange, into our lives in this time of preparation to cry out, “Repent!” Turn, change, be baptized, be aware of the things that aren’t in alignment with the kingdom of God.  Repent, and prepare for the one who is coming--the one who ushers in the kingdom of God.

Look into the cracks of our social fabric and see the people who’ve been left behind by health care, by housing, by basic plumbing.  Look at the places where people have lied or cheated or stolen to accumulate power or wealth for themselves.  Look at the places where people have been discarded, or exploited, or abused, or marginalized.  Look at the places where creation has been devalued, harmed, or pillaged as a commodity to be burned up or sold for profit. 

Look at the wasteland we have created.

And repent.

Walk into the waters of baptism.  Wash your participation in systems of evil and oppression away.  Wash away the evil that has been done to you.  Walk out from the river, from the font, into a new alignment with the right-wise-ness, the righteousness, of the kingdom of God--and know what it is that you were created to be--and live into that fullness, the wholeness, the goodness of the thing that God has made you.

Wash it away.

And prepare the way of the Lord. 

Prepare the way of the ruler that will conquer--not with a sword, but with love.  Not with violence, but with a new way of being.  Prepare to join in that new revolution of hope and love and wholeness that is the kingdom of God come near.  That is the kingdom of God that is coming.

And the thing that gives us hope, the way we know that the kingdom of God is near, is that Jesus, as a child in a manger, comes to us, the Word of God made flesh, God God’s own self incarnate and among us as one of us, into the mess of the world.  Loving it--and loving us--for God is the maker of all things and will not let us go.

That’s the difference.  Jesus the judge doesn’t stand afar off and wag a finger.  Jesus the judge of all creation, the ruler of all things, comes among us--to be with us--to love us and all things--even in the midst of the falling apart.

And in his light our lies and deception fall away.  We see where we have failed.  And we can change, and turn, and live anew in his glorious presence.

There is no mystical gyre of destruction and renewal.  There is nothing Creation itself can do to save itself.  There is nothing we ourselves can do to save ourselves from the mess we are in.

There is only Jesus, who comes into our fallen world.  Jesus, who shows us what we can be.  Jesus, who heals us and invites us into wholeness, into full relationship with the one who has created all things.  Jesus, who saves.

That’s the judgment of this Advent.  And it’s terrifying.  And it’s full of hope.

What we are waiting for, friends, is not the chance to hear again the sweet story of a baby born in a manger.  That’s already happened. 

What we are waiting for is Christ’s coming again in power and great glory. 

That’s what we are preparing for. 

That’s what we wait for. 

That’s what we expect.  That all things shall be healed.  That all things shall be made whole.  That all things shall be brought to perfection in him through whom all things were made.

And that is our hope.

Now, as good Catholic Anglicans we might be a bit worried about waiting for the Messiah who will save--for his second coming. After all, don’t we leave most masses hearing the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”?  Aren’t we to be doing the work of the kingdom here and now?  Why are we waiting for Jesus to come?  He’s not here yet!  Hadn’t we better get busy?

Yes, of course!  Why wouldn’t we always be about the work of the kingdom?

To be sure, all the things we do are mere band-aids on the wounds of the world.  We won’t solve the problems of creation.  But they are vital.  These works are lifegiving.  They are salvific in that Christ uses them. 

As a colleague likes to say, when the kingdom of God comes, it ought to look familiar.

That is to say, we are about the work of the kingdom here and now because we are people of repentance.  We are people of Advent. We are people who live differently in the world, who expect things to look differently, because we have seen what they can be and what they are.

We won’t save the world. But we may help to show, here and there, how the kingdom of God has come near.  We may help to show the love of Jesus as we have come to know it.  And Jesus’s love will save.

So friends, pay attention.  Be alert this Advent season.  Listen to John calling out the evil in the world around you--and let’s together rebuke it!  Let’s live differently, through the grace of God.  Let’s show people that the kingdom of God has come near.

And even as we wait for the story of the coming of that sweet baby in a manger, let’s also await with hope and expectation the judgment of the world in the second coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.

With confidence, let us work. Let us wait.  And let us hope in the sure and certain knowledge that Jesus Christ has and is redeeming the world.

[1] This according to Michiko Kakutani’s review “’A World in Disarray’ Is a Calm Look at a Chaotic Global Order,” NY Times, Feb 13, 2017, accessed online 12/8/2018 at

[2] WB Yeats, “The Second Coming,” as printed in The Collected Poems of WB Yeats, ed Richard Finneran.  New York:  Collier/McMillan, 1989, p 187. 


The Beginning is Near


The Beginning is Near

The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018

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

Earlier this week, during one of my daily Facebook scrolls where zoom down the great litany of Facebook posts, I ran into an image that caught my attention. The picture was that of a young man in gray pants and a white shirt, wearing a black bow tie and black-rimmed glasses holding a sign that read, “The Beginning is near.” The beginning is near.

And the photograph seemed to be replicating an image of a picketer holding a protest sign or warning message. Virtually mimicking that of an angry and fanatic Christian demonstrator holding a sign that might read “the end is near” or “repent for your sins, the end is at hand” or something along those lines.
As I continued to scroll through Facebook day after day for the rest of the week, and as I began to read and dwell on today’s Gospel passage – the words on the man’s warning sign echoed over and over again in my head. The beginning is near.

The message on the sign – The beginning is near – continually rang as I read in Saint Luke’s Gospel a whole other set of signs prophesied by Jesus – That there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. [And] people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [And] then people will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.”

These vivid signs prophesied by Jesus can be simply terrifying and discomforting. Especially if we simply recount our human history, and remember both natural and human-made disasters. From the great wars that pinned nation against nation, sibling against sibling, to those battles and wars that continue to be waged as we gather in this place to pray for peace and justice in this world. To the wildfires, tsunamis, and earthquakes that pillage the earth. Often destroying the lives of those already in great need.

The signs in Jesus’ prophecy is not implausible or unthinkable, but our reality. Two thousand years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, Jesus’ prophecy of this world still ring true, but so does our great hope that amidst the chaos of this world, the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory will bring the earth to a halt and redeem creation.

Up to this point in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ opponents have asked for a sign from heaven, even his disciples have asked for a sign of things to come.[1] I’m sure we can all join Jesus’ opponents and his early disciples in the overcrowded club of people who have once or twice uttered, “Lord, just give me sign.” Give me a sign of what I must do, of how I should deal with this difficult situation, or better yet, this difficult person. Lord give me a sign of how I might be able to deal with the evil and hatred that roam around in our neighborhoods and the world. Lord, just give me a sign.
Today, Jesus gives us a sign. And the sign Jesus gives us today acknowledges our human reality and our human capacity for sin, that is our capacity to be out of right relationship with God and our neighbor. It also acknowledges our fragility as a people. It acknowledges that they very things we need to bring forth life in our world can also endanger us. Water and fire two essential elements needed for childbirth, can be the very elements of human destruction. A destruction we cannot seem to control.

In his commentary on Saint Luke’s Gospel, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson of Candler School of Theology at Emory University points out that is Jesus’ prophecy there is no temporal reference or timetable.[2] I’m reminded of Harold Camping and all of his end of the world calculation and how they were all wrong. The irony, one of many, is that Jesus himself does not bother with specific calculations because Jesus is not warning us of a destruction that’s to take place at a specific time or location. No, he is alerting us that the beginning is near.

While signs may appear in moon, sun, and stars, and chaos may continually arise on earth, the Son of Man will appear and bring forth his judgment, his mercy and redemption. And this will be as obvious to us as a fig tree or any other tree for that matter sprouting leaves as the summer season approaches.

This season of Advent reminds us that all of creation from the worms of the earth to birds of the air will one day return to God the creator of heaven and earth. That we God’s beloved children will one day return to our maker, and until that day comes we can trust that God is at work in the world. That God is at work in our lives. That the beginning is near.

Our lives up to this point, even our human history as flawed as it’s been, are simply the opening chapters of God’s great cosmic reorientation. And we and the world are not far from God’s judgment, God’s mercy, and God’s redemption.

Whenever we speak of God’s mercy and redemption, we cannot do so without speaking of God’s judgment. The Season of Advent, its prayers, its scripture, and hymns remind us of that. We can choose to ignore it, but that’s on us.

From scripture, it is clear that there will be a day, a moment, of judgement. A day in which all creation will face God and give an account, one which will already be known to God himself. And from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we know that this account will always be received with love, mercy, and redemption. Because this is who God is. True faith is believing that God will judge all of creation, and bring forth mercy and redemption, justice and restoration, equity and wholeness. True faith is believing that this work is at hand here on earth, and that we can join in this work, even as earth shakes with uncertainty and fear, and signs appear in the sun, moon, and stars. It is believing that beginning is near.


Jesus ends his prophecy with these words: Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Those of us who endure, who bear witness, who remain alert in prayer, have nothing to fear from the coming of the Son of Man. There is no distress or confusion or dread.We can, therefore, stand up straight, hold our heads high in happy in anticipation before the Son of Man.[3]

This is what Saint Paul is referring to when he speaks of freedom in Christ. This very commitment towards God’s justice and mercy compels Saint Paul to write, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us... We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:19, 22).

The Christian life, after all is said and done, is not one of speculation or of observation but of behavior and relationship.[4]The promise of eternal life is our radical religious view that this life we live on the earth is not the end of the journey. It’s as if death itself is a stop on the road to eternal life. Jesus himself does not avoid death, he doesn’t kind of die. Jesus dies. And then he is resurrected. There is no resurrection without death. Death is merely a marker on the road to eternal life.

And likewise God’s true justice and mercy can not be made be manifest without judgement. We need God’s judgement, we need God’s redemption.


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

[1] Johnson, L. T .(2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 327.

[2] Johnson, L. T. (2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 329.

[3] Johnson, L. T.  (2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 330.

[4] Craddock, F. B. (1990). Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press. 248.


Christ the King


Christ the King

Mr Patrick Keyser
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King
November 25, 2018

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.”’

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

American political scientist Harold Lasswell once defined politics as ‘who gets what, when, and how.’ This definition is helpful, I think, because it highlights the fact that power is fundamental to politics, and as another political thinker, Lord Acton, famously noted, ‘power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ We recognize truth in this statement, and I also suspect it is this reality of politics that makes it a topic that is greeted with great enthusiasm and fascination by some and with equal dread and contempt by others. Perhaps this dynamic played itself out over your Thanksgiving table this week. Those who approach the topic with dread might well be wondering why I am beginning this sermon by talking about politics. ‘Don’t we already hear enough about it on the news?’ one may reasonably ask. Some may also believe it best to keep politics and religion separate. I am unconvinced that such a separation is desirable or even possible. And given that politics infuses all of our lives, it seems all the more important for us, as people of faith, to speak about it.

As an undergraduate I studied political science. I loved the intellectual exercise of studying political behavior, history, and political principles, but at the same time I had a general distaste for the lived reality of politics. I had little patience for the antics of politicians in Washington, most of whom seemed to prefer political posturing to a genuine desire to govern the country for the good of the people whom they had been elected to serve. Of course, these actions were situated within the well-documented and undeniable trend in the politics of our country away from consensus and compromise toward greater division, animosity, and demonization. Disagreement on issues has become grounds for hatred. Compromise across party lines has become a sign of weakness or betrayal of one’s party allegiance. The consequences of this toxic way of operating, which, it’s worth noting, is followed by politicians of all ideologies and parties, have become all too obvious for us.

As an undergraduate student, I told myself that I could be an engaged student of politics while simultaneously staying out of the realities of political life. I wanted to simply be an observer and act like a scientist in the lab, observing and gathering data. The issue with a social science like politics is, of course, that these experiments take place not in the controlled environment of a laboratory but in real life. The results cannot be carefully controlled. Peoples’ lives are changed by the actions and decisions of our government. No matter how disinterested or disengaged you are from the political process, it is a reality that we all are constantly affected by it.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. In the church’s system of keeping time it is also the last Sunday of the year as we look ahead to the start of the new liturgical year next week on the First Sunday of Advent. As we begin to turn toward that season and its call to consider Christ’s coming in great power and triumph, this day invites us to consider a similar theme, the kingship of Christ. Today an important question is set before us, one that Christians have grappled with since the emergence of Christianity in the midst of empire– how are we as faithful followers of Christ to interact with the politics and powers of this world? Despite the perennial nature of this question, the origins of this particular feast day are actually quite modern. Pope Pius XI introduced the observance of Christ the King in 1925 in the midst of a complicated world political environment. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and subsequent developments in Russia had led to the establishment of the communist regime of the Soviet Union. Fascism first emerged in Western Europe with Benito Mussolini seizing power in Italy in 1922. As we know all too well the trend toward authoritarian and violently repressive regimes only accelerated in subsequent years. It was in this environment that Pius XI introduced this day of remembering the kingship of Christ. Some might say the circumstances we currently face are quite similar, with so much uncertainty and concern pervading the political environment of our world. Perhaps we especially need the reminder this day offers.

What does it mean, then, to celebrate the kingship of Christ? And what sort of king is he? Today’s gospel passage is a scene from the passion narrative of St. John’s gospel. We hear this story every Good Friday when we remember Jesus’ betrayal, trial, journey to Calvary, crucifixion, and finally his death. It is an intense and sweeping story. Today we find ourselves placed within one brief but important scene between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea. Prior to this moment, Jesus had been arrested and brought before the high priest, who had questioned Jesus and then ordered him to be sent to Pilate, who alone could authorize Jesus’ death. Pilate enters the praetorium and asks Jesus the question that goes directly to the heart of the matter– ‘are you the King of the Jews?’ It is a political, not explicitly religious, question. Pilate’s sarcastic statement, ‘I am not a Jew, am I?’ reveal his utter disinterest in the inner workings of Jewish religious life. He does not care if Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the anointed one of God. He does, however, care if Jesus is claiming to be a king who may rival the power of Rome and thus threaten Pilate’s position.

Pilate continues and asks Jesus, ‘What have you done?’ Jesus response tells all– ‘my kingdom is not from this world.’ Pilate’s initial fear are misguided. Jesus is not seeking to take power from the Roman authorities using the traditional means of politics, much to the disappointment of many of his followers. We hear throughout the gospels how many of the disciples expected Jesus to be a figure who would fight to overthrow the Roman authorities and restore the kingdom of Israel. They are repeatedly disappointed, for Jesus is not this sort of king. His kingdom is not from this world.

Pilate then asks Jesus, ‘so you are a king?’ Jesus gives what might seem to be a frustratingly indirect response– ‘you say that I am a king.’ Jesus does not deny his kingship, but neither does he cling to his title as a source of power and prestige. He came ‘to testify to the truth’ (John 18:37), which he does not through clever argumentation but through his actions. We know how this story continues beyond this encounter between Pilate and Jesus. He was beaten and then clothed with a purple robe, a color associated with royalty, and crowned with a crown of thorns. He was mocked and forced to carry his own cross to the place where he was brutally put to death. And then he was nailed to that cross and lifted high to be mocked further still, as Pilate made a sign and affixed it to the cross with the words, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19). Here is our king at his moment of coronation. Humiliated, mocked, beaten, yet crowned in glory for all the world to see, Jesus is a king unlike any other king. Here is one whose kingdom is not from this world.

In the midst of our broken political environment, here is a reminder of our king, the one who demands our ultimate allegiance. Jesus is a king who chooses the way of self-emptying, of humble submission to the Father, and of loving self-offering for others. It seems hardly necessary to note the difference between the example of Jesus and the realities we experience in our political world. Does that mean we can disassociate ourselves from this world and wait with expectancy for the world to come? Throughout Christian history there have been various groups who have chosen to isolate themselves from the structures and political systems of this world and have refused to participate in politics. As Anglicans, however, and particularly as people rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, we assert the fundamental importance of the incarnation. God loved us and this world so much that God came to dwell among us. Creation has been hallowed, and as such we believe ourselves called to be deeply invested in this world. We are not asked to ignore the realities of this life as we wait for the bliss of the promised life to come. No, we must be faithful followers of our Lord now, in this time and this place.

But what might that mean, and what might faithful witness to our Lord look like? As people whose ultimate allegiance is bound to the King of kings and Lord of lords, we are invited to be people who are always cautious of identifying too closely with any particular personality or ideology. We know too well the failures and brokenness of humans and our political systems. Our identity as Christians invites us to be people who are always showing the powers of this world a different way of being– a way that does not seek to accumulate power but instead offers ourselves joyfully in service to God. We can be people who seek to hold up the way of self-emptying love as a different way of being, one that does not corrupt but leads to life. This, it seems, is a glimpse of what it might look like to be faithful witnesses to Christ in the midst of the hostile political environment in which we find ourselves. For no matter how much trust we place in any one person or one party, and no matter how convinced we are of the validity of one particular ideology, we know they will not save us. We are citizens of another kingdom not of this world. Our salvation comes from our true king, Jesus Christ.

The psalmist tells us, ‘put not your trust in rulers, nor any child of the earth, for there is no help in them… happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! whose hope is in the LORD their God’ (Psalm 146:2,4). History and our own experience teach us that the rulers and kingdoms of this world, no matter how benevolent and beloved or evil and despotic, will all pass away. Christ our king and his reign, however, will never pass away. And there we can find our deep and abiding hope. The LORD is King, let the earth rejoice! (Psalm 97:1).

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


Try to Remember...  and Follow


Try to Remember... and Follow

The Rev’d Bonita Grubbs
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Feast of Saint Hilda
November 18, 2018

The Rev’d Bonita Grubbs, Executive Director of Christian Community Action in New Haven, Connecticut, celebrates the Feast of Saint Hilda with the House and Christ Church. Rev’d Grubbs uses the lyrics of a song from the musical “The Fantasticks” as an entry into the gospel passage; reflecting on the life of Saint Hilda of Whitby, Rev’d Grubbs invites us in our own day to follow our Lord Jesus Christ—to remember his life and calling—and to follow ourselves.


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.