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In Which Megan writes an extra sermon by accident

I spent the last few days at the Gathering of Interim Bodies in Baltimore, MD, and came back Saturday night.  Contrary to the way it sounds (like a symposium of plague contagion), it was a lot of fun for those of us who enjoy thinking about church canons and governance (all 3 of us).  And we got a lot done.  For example, I succeeded in getting my commission to rename itself ‘Commission for Law and Order’, and to employ the regular use of sound effects borrowed from the show.

But, the aftereffect of these several days of continuous meetings was that I had the fixed idea that I was supposed to preach on Sunday.  So I wrote a whole entire sermon on the plane ride home, only to land at KCI and realize that no, my rector was supposed to preach.  I had a #bonus sermon on my hands.   Sort of the reverse of that clergy anxiety dream–instead of showing up with no sermon, I showed up and had an extra one.

But I’m rather fond of what I wrote, so I told Twitter I would post it here.

Happy early Thanksgiving, blogworld!  I am very grateful for you.


Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November 22, 2015

Ordinary Time, Proper 29

John 18


(If my kingdom WAS from this world, my followers would fight.  But as it is, my kingdom is not of this world.)


While I was in Baltimore, this past week, I had dinner with my (very Catholic) grandmother and aunt.  Whenever we get together, it’s basically a running ecumenical dialogue, and this time was no different.  They were telling me of this trip they had taken over the summer to York cathedral in England, with my teenaged cousin.  While on the tour, guided by an apparently-quite young English docent, they saw a tapestry of St. Peter, being handed two keys, one silver, one gold, by Jesus.  

The docent remarked that she’d been asking everyone, all the clergy she knew, what on earth the keys were about, and no one could tell her.  My grandmother fixed me with the same glare she gives her parish priest when she is displeased with the sermon, “Do YOU know why Peter would have keys?”

I was pretty sure this was a test.  “Yeah—they’re the keys of the kingdoms—signifying whatever he looses on earth will stay loosed in heaven, and whatever he binds on earth, etc.”

Grandma nodded emphatically.  “Yes!  Exactly!  And Clare knew too.  BUT THIS PIPSQUEAK OF A DOCENT HAD NO IDEA.”


I consoled her by pointing out that I could make no excuses for the English educational system for clergy, but clearly it was an abject failure.  But, I don’t think they’re going back to York any time soon.  


In thinking about it since, I’ve been wondering if in fact the docent’s ignorance of the symbology of Peter’s keys is more attributable to Englishness than an educational gap.  England, after all, is a place where there is only one operational “key”—there’s one law governing both church and state, the church is established, and no separation seen between them.  So perhaps it’s not so natural to think that Christ would pass off to Peter two keys: one for heaven, another for earth.  Perhaps it’s not so natural to think that these would be separate—another Protestant innovation to the faith once handed down.


The danger seeing only the one key, however, is that it lulls you into complacency.  Since the time of Constantine, Christendom has wanted to claim that it’s kingdom is THE ONLY kingdom, that it’s realm can be the only realm exists on earth.  Any other realms, any other kingdoms must either convert, or be subsumed in our wake.  And thus, in our history, we’ve been susceptible to thinking that the way of these earthly kingdoms must be the way of the heavenly.  


I mean, there are kingdoms which claim the name of Jesus.  There are kings all over the place speaking of their prayer life.  There are kings duking it out on the news about how all good citizens were Christians….so, it can be tempting to believe that Christ’s kingdom and our earthly kingdoms are the same.  Or at least close enough for jazz, becoming a mortifying thought, as we watch the kingdoms furiously rage together as well.  


And we should be aware that there are people who have staked their entire careers on continuing that line of thought.  


But we should also be aware of this conversation between Jesus and Pilate.  


Pilate, who decides to have an existential debate with Jesus at his trial, asks Jesus who he is, where he has come from, and how is it that people call him a King?  


Jesus replies, in typical Johannine fashion, that he is a King, but a SPECIFIC KIND OF KING.


There’s a political context here which is important—Pilate is the governor of a rebellious province sent to quell dissent.  (Think Hunger Games.)  For Jesus to stand before him and claim to be a king is as rebellious as you could possibly get.  It is Katniss giving that salute in the arena.  (Just watch the movies.  I think the only people following this sermon right now are tweens.)  


Sure!  I’m a king, Jesus says (Which means that Caesar, Pilate’s boss, is in trouble.  So that’s treason, number 1.)  But I’m a different sort of king. A different sort of Caesar.  


Because if I were a king from this world?  My followers would be fighting right now.  But they aren’t.  Because I’m different.  Because they’re different.  


And therein lies the difference.  Caesar fights.  Caesar kills.  Caesar destroys, and wastes human lives on his own behalf.  


Jesus doesn’t.  Jesus is different.  Jesus is a different sort of king.


Which means that when we claim Jesus as our king, we cannot live by the rules that make sense in other kingdoms.  The standard in this kingdom is different, because it’s measured by Jesus’ self-giving love.  Not fear, not political calculation, not what will keep everyone safe.  


But love.  


This is not a very attractive way to run an earthly kingdom, at least for long periods of time.  Not if you want to be wealthy or powerful.  Not if you want to do well, or get rich.  


This Sunday is called in many places Christ the King Sunday, and that’s actually because in the mid 1800s, the pope felt his earthly power slipping away, worried he was losing his grip on his empire, and created a holiday to remind Christendom who was really in charge.  (Spoiler:  The Pope.)  


But he wasn’t fantastic at holding an earthly kingdom either.  


But my sisters and brothers, we aren’t called to run an earthly kingdom.  When we are disciples of Christ, we aren’t called to figure out the least dangerous path to take, the way to live free of fear, or how to stay safe forever.  


Safety, for the disciples of Jesus, is not our king, and it cannot be our goal.  Love.  Love for every human under heaven.  Near and far, citizen and refugee, documented and undocumented, that is our goal.  


And Jesus is our only king.  





When you can’t hide under the bed

I realized, recently, that I have a habit of compulsively searching for good news.  I have a deep-seated fear of being thought of as a Debbie Downer in conversations, so whenever I vent to someone, or break some bad news, or discuss some awful aspect of the world, I try to tack on something good, however small.

Traffic was horrible, global warming threatens us all, and the American healthcare system is a waking nightmare.  (But cat vs cucumber exists!)

I have 3 conference calls in a row, hosted by people who don’t understand the value of keeping their phones on mute when not speaking. (But, know what’s awesome? The Great British Bake-Off!!)

The good things never cancel out the bad–life doesn’t work like that–but they do help keep focus on something other than the refrain of “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL” all of the time.

But lately, the struggle to find good news has been harder than normal.  My parish is dealing with several parish leaders’ health crises, one on top of another.  Couple that with the spotlighting of racism at Mizzou, and the violence around the world, and by the time word broke about the attacks in Paris, I was about done.  I was ready to crawl under my bed, and listen to Hamilton** until the world decided to get its stuff together.

Then, you know, I had to preach.

There are times, hopefully brief, when good news is difficult to find.  And I’m not a preacher who believes that the job of the pulpit is to dispense sunshine over everything.  Preaching should be truthful, since Jesus is, y’know, the Truth–so ideally, preaching should name where we are,  name where God is, then take a guess at where we’re called to go next.

So, easy stuff.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up saying.


November 15, 2015

Ordinary Time, Proper 28

Mark 13


Every year, when we approach these propers, I think that surely, this will be the year when they seem out of place.  When the world will be so quiet and blissful that the oncoming of Advent and the prophet’s lamenting and calling for justice will just seem off key, because the world will finally know a moment of peace and wholeness, and all we’ll have to worry about is actually who’s done the Christmas shopping.


But every year, when I read over Jesus’s warnings about the end, and the destruction of the temple, and wars and rumors of wars, I wonder again if he had access to Twitter.  Or some sort of  first-century social media.  Because every year, this idea of a world on the verge of collapse seems all too familiar.  


As it does today.  Yet again, we’re witnessing violence and bloodshed around the world–the attacks in Paris Friday night, the attacks in Beirut, in Syria, the earthquakes in Japan, and the hatred that seems to be fester everywhere you look these days.  Not to mention the smaller, more personal earthquakes that affect us as well.  It’s a lot.  And it’s a mess.  

And it has made me wonder several times this past week how soon we could colonize Mars, because that seems like a nice option.  


In this equally-scary sounding gospel, Jesus and the disciples are still hanging out in the temple, where they were last week.  And they’ve just witnessed one of those small earthquakes.  A poor widow (poorest of the poor, last of the least) came in and gave away the last of what she had, to support a rich and exploitative temple system.  Jesus is upset–wouldn’t it have been better if one of the rich priests had given more, instead of this widow giving away all she had?  

And in response, they have this conversation here.  The disciples marvel at how large, how fixed, how immovable the whole thing is–the Greek here (yeah, I know, but bear with me. Because I’m going to talk about the Greek again.)  The Greek here can be read like the disciple is frustrated, and not just in awe.  “Good grief–how big this system is!  How immense!”  How could it ever change?  It’s too big.  It’s too broken.  It’s too much to hope for.


And then comes Jesus’ apocalypse.


Here’s the thing about apocalypse.  Powerful people never write them.  Not real ones anyway.  Powerful people, who have all the money, all the power, all the control, never want the world to change in major ways, because they like the world as it is.  

The people who write apocalypses, stories where the world changes so dramatically as to seem like it’s ending, are people who have no money, no control, no power.  They’re people who have nothing, and are getting kicked around by everything and everyone. Because apocalypses are built around the idea that when everything has gone so terribly wrong that there’s no hope left, God will still come and save God’s people.  God will still turn the world back around.  Because nothing is too big for God.  


So when confronted by the enormity of the corruption in the Temple system, which is basically their entire socio-political structure at the time, Jesus assures the disciples that it’s huge.  And it’s wrong.  But God is still working and God is still here.


In fact, there’s something weird about his little apocalypse speech that he gives.  (And here comes Greek lesson #2!)  The verb tenses start changing around from future to present to future and back to present.  Which is not really what you’d do, if you were Mark (or whoever) writing a speech trying to foretell coming events.  

Scholars think that one possible reason for this is that the writer wrote this part while the Temple was actually being destroyed, while there was a massive war on–when the Jewish people rose up in revolt against Rome, and got destroyed as a result–another small earthquake.  And so, the events described here aren’t misty in the future–they’re happening to Mark’s audience.  They’re happening now.  The audience is living through their own apocalypse–their own enormous big, bad thing.


So it’s in response to an actual war that Jesus gives this speech, reminding them that God is still here and God is still working, and the story isn’t over.


Wars aren’t new.  Violence like we’ve seen this week isn’t new.  The human capacity for brokenness isn’t new.  Suffering and death aren’t new–and we are faced time and again by problems that seem insurmountable, unfixable, and intractable–in the world and in our own lives.  


But what we are promised today is that we have a God who will stay with us through the earthquakes.  Through the wars.  Through the upheavals of our lives.  We have a God who will stay with us no matter what comes.  


Because even though this world can be scary, and it can be,  And even though we can face the worst problems imaginable, God-in-Christ promises that none of this is the end–that God will bear with us through even the worst of it to make a world that is not broken, that is not scary, but that is whole, and fully redeemed.  


And that is where we place our hope.  


**Just through ‘Room Where it Happens’.  I’m not an emotional masochist.  One does not listen to ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ or anything after, and expect to feel better about life; one listens to that and pulls the car over because you’re sobbing too hard about historical figures that you’ve become very emotionally invested in.


It has been quite busy here in Kansas City. We had clergy conference, diocesan convention, and our little baseball team did pretty well for itself (more on that later.)

Our choir was also asked to join with the choir of St. Mary’s downtown to sing the Faure Requiem in an actual requiem service.  To be nice, the rector of St. Mary’s asked me to assist and preach at the service as well.

Now, our choir is awesome, and basically can do anything they set their minds to.  (For the World Series, they sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Latin.).  So I wasn’t worried about them.

But, despite my high-church leanings, I have never participated in an outright Anglo-Catholic, please-move-into-the-eastward-facing-formation-now service.   We had to practice.  I had to study my bulletin.  It was a trip.  So much moving around, and facing inward, than outward, and bowing in unison, then talking to yourself, then bowing again!  I could feel myself steadily becoming more Protestant as the experience wore on.

(This never fails–no sooner do I start to feel overly Protestant, then I go to a low-church style event, and feel my inner Catholic look around for some icons and incense.  I’m a good Episcopalian.)

The service, however, turned out beautifully, and as expected, the choirs were great.  (WAY better than my high school choir when we sang that piece.)  I only made one mistake, and didn’t trip over myself.  I even remembered which lectern I was supposed to go to and when!  #winning!

Here’s what I said.


Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November, 5, 2015

Commemoration of the Dead

1 Thessalonians 13

            If you stand in the Old City of Jerusalem, and look towards the Mount of Olives, you will see what looks like a heap of rubble—an entire mountainside gleaming with heaps of broken rocks.  It breaks up the piles of dirty buildings, apartments, churches and mosques, stacked up on each other haphazardly which marks this section of the city—this stretch of shining, bright white.

            I assumed, when I first saw it, that it was like much else in East Jerusalem—another remnant of fighting.  The remains of something important which was no longer, and just hadn’t been cleaned up yet.

            But when I wandered over one day to investigate, I discovered that it was, in fact, an ancient graveyard. It’s the oldest in the city—at least 3,000 years old—with tombstones heaped upon each other so densely that there wasn’t room for anything else.  Any square inch of space was immediately pressed into service for another marker—which is why, from a distance, it looks like a pile of rubble.

People started to use this as a burial ground because it faced the Temple Mount, and according to Jewish thought, when the resurrection from the dead comes, it begins there.  So those buried facing the Temple Mount have front row seats, and are raised first.

So, It’s crowded.  

And, of course, the end-times obsession can be found over here, on our own shores as well.    The Walking Dead, The Last Man on Earth, The Matrix, Left Behind, The Leftovers, Kimmy Schmidt, preppers on TLC, you name it; countless TV shows, movies and books—all having to do with what happens when the world ends—either by zombie attack, or act of God.  I went to the Royals parade and rally on Tuesday with apparently, the entire population of the metro area, and as a big stream of us walked across the Broadway bridge, effectively shutting down traffic, a kid behind me marveled that it was like the world had ended.

Not that the city had momentarily stopped, not that we had done something cool—“hey, it’s like the apocalypse is here.”

We’re obsessed.  And so, it matters what we believe about the end.  It matters where our beliefs come from.  Because, as you no doubt have noticed from watching the Middle East conflicts for millennia—elbows get thrown over stuff like this.  It matters.

Much of what floats around in the American air right now is actually derived from this 1 Thessalonians text.  A guy in Scotland, named James Francis Darby was reading this passage in the mid 1800s and decided to divorce it from its surrounding verses and interpreted it in a new way.  He used it to describe an event he termed The Rapture, where those alive whom Christ deemed worthy would be physically lifted up into the air to be saved from the coming devastation when Christ returned to destroy the unworthy.

It did not catch on.  But it soon travelled across the pond, and became really popular here—because there is nothing America likes better than when something or someone gets devastated.  Darby invented the whole “Rapture” thing, and it’s entirely based on this one verse in 1 Thessalonians.

WHICH IS NOT AT ALL WHAT PAUL IS TALKING ABOUT.  (As you could probably already tell, using those helpful skills you learned in elementary school known as context-clues.)

Paul is writing to the community at Thessalonica—a city in what is now Turkey.  This community was faced with a growing problem that was causing a lot of distress—its members were dying.  Not necessarily from Roman persecutions, though there was probably some of that going on, but also from normal stuff like sickness, and old age, and the things people die from.  And the church was left wondering if that meant God had forgotten those people.  Maybe they would get left out when Jesus came back.  Maybe these people, their friends and family whom they loved, would get left behind.  Maybe something was wrong with them, so that’s why God had let this happen.

So Paul writes this to them, to reassure them.  To let them know that no one is getting left out.  In fact, God is going to work a new thing, and somehow save EVERYONE—even those who have already died.  Because God’s salvation extends even into the depths of the grave, even into death itself.  And no one is out of reach.

It is, perhaps, a testimony to how insidious the human urge to divide is, that in our times, we have taken this message of hope and turned it into a message of desolation and threat.  Instead of magnifying the good news here, somehow, we got it turned around and made it more of what surrounds us everyday.  More threat and fear and destruction–the rubble we live in daily.

That’s the stuff we’re already acquainted with, it’s the things that make up our world–and perhaps it’s because we’re so well-acquainted with it that we ascribe it to God as well.  We have become so used to being surrounded by these things, to living in rubble, that we begin to believe that it was God who did the destroying in the first place.

Yet Paul reminds us that we have it the wrong way around.  God didn’t make this mess–we have.   God doesn’t want to destroy creation–that’s us, with our weapons, and wars and disregard for the earth.  God doesn’t want to wipe out humanity–that’s our game, in our calculated collateral damage and our insistence that some are just more human than others.God doesn’t want us to overcome our material bodies–that’s our fear, with our constant overwork, and our disregard for our own health.  

But the truth is–God cares deeply for this world.  God has no wish to threaten or destroy us.  Instead, God works through our very rubble to recreate what is, into what God wills it to be.  Every bit of this present brokenness.  All of it–all of our grief, our sadness, our anger, our hurt–God works, bears it with us, through it to bring about the healing of this entire creation.  It is out of the rubble of this world that God brings about redemption.  

Because there is nothing, no brokenness that we can dish out, no hardship that we can imagine, no rubble so great, that God in Christ will not accompany us through.  Not even death itself.  

And so, we can stand at the very center of our rubble, and the edge of the grave, and be confident in the love of Christ, enough to make our song:  “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”


But what happened to the Amazing Wandering Lutherans?

Someone in the comments asked about the Travelling Lutherans, and I thought I would give the ending to that story.

The Lutherans stayed with us that night, and we fed them, watched Guardians of the Galaxy together (as is proper) and put them up in our parish hall.  They ate breakfast and vamoosed in the morning, bright and early.

A few weeks later, I received a really lovely letter from their pastor in Wisconsin thanking me and the parish for our hospitality, which was cosigned by all the kids who had visited.   It was very sweet.

And truthfully, this is how formation works.  It happens in the meticulously-planned programs, and the expensive mission trips and the curriculum we agonize over, but mostly, the things that stick are the small moments in between, when children watch adults make decisions on the fly.   Hopefully, these kids will remember this one.


International Priest of Mystery

Remember when I said that I preached at Robyn’s church?  Robyn (in full-blown Wedding Brain) says to me the day before, “Oh, I told everyone that your sermon would be up on your blog.  Because they really want to read it.” (Then, I made her stand next to a statue of a horse so I could take her picture.  I’m such a good maid of honor–It’s going on my resume.)

I think, “Oh, crap.  This means I actually have to write it all down now.”

Here’s what I said (more or less.)


September 20, 2015

Year B, Ordinary Time, Proper 20

Anglican Church of Canada

Proverbs 31, Mark 8


When I was a kid, my mother looked forward to Mothers Day with great enthusiasm.  She would accept the handmade cards, and the sloppy pancakes and orange juice breakfasts from my brother and I, but her favorite part was her own invention.  She requested that whenever she wanted, on that day, Aaron and I had to stand up, point to her, and say this thing.  


Accordingly, several times during the day, in the middle of dinner, before bed, whenever, Mom would say, Ok, do it!”  And Aaron and I would gamely stand up, point a finger at her, and repeat, like devout myna birds, Blessed!  Blessed!”  


Mom thought this was just the best thing ever.  She was a very literal soul, and she could imagine no higher honor.


This passage from Proverbs 31 has long been held up as the benchmark for successful womanhood in some circles.  I was joking with Robyn earlier this week that evidently, the Holy Spirit has clearly been playing a trick on her, with this passage in the lectionary the week of her wedding, because for a lot of people, this is what the perfect wife was.  Its like the prototypical Good Housekeeping or Cosmopolitan.  Heres what you should be!  Heres what you should aspire to!  


And not unlike todays fashion magazines, its an overwhelming and terrifying standard that probably only imaginary people can actually meet.


This woman here described manages a successful household perfectly, she has happy children and marriage, she cooks, she spins, she manages land deals, she gets up before dawn, she makes clothing and basically runs the city.  No big deal.  Anyone can manage THAT.  

Pardon me Im going to go lie down for a nap.


Its important to note here, that no scholar thinks this laundry list is proscriptive.  That isits not a list of what someone MUST do to be a good woman. Its descriptive:  women who are capableand Im going to come back to that word in a seconddo stuff like this.  Stuff like this is said about them, they manage things like this…but not all of this, not all of the time.  


And note, too, that this is a really varied list.  Trading for land!  Running businesses!  Raising kids!  Supporting a household!  When you separate out the aspirational woman-quality we sometimes read into this, its pretty amazing.  All these different images of women, all being blessed and happy.  


All being capable’—which is not a fantastic word from the Hebrew, actually.  A better word is valiant.  The Hebrew roughly translates as a woman of valor’—this idea that binds that varied list together.  A woman of valor can be found possibly doing all these amazing things, just generally being amazingsort of a murky term, but a strong word.  A strong idea.


A woman of valor is clothed with strength and dignity, she laughs at whats to come.


So instead of glorifying beauty, grace, meekness, or any other stereotypical Good Housekeeping-type wordthis passage praises valor.  Strength.  as the one unifying trait of the righteous individual.


Because if you glance over at the disciples this week, theyre not quite the picture of strength.  The disciples have just witnessed Peters confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesusimmediate announcement that because of this fact, hes going to have to be tried and killed in Jerusalem.  

They react badly to this news (as they do to most things.)  Peter tries to talk Jesus out of it (that doesnt go well) and then, when Jesus reasserts that he actually will have to die, the disciples still wont listen.  They ignore him.  They grumble.  Thinking maybe they can change it, or maybe denial is the way to goand they get in on this conversation about which among them is the greatest.  


Because surely a really great, a really strong man can avoid this sort of suffering and death.  


The disciplesnotion of what constitutes strength and greatness is different than Jesus’.….and I wager it is different than the writer of Proverbs.  

They have been trying to avoid the truth of where Jesus is calling them.  They have been trying to deny, to cover it up, to bluster through it.  They want to find strength where the world tells us it lies–in bluster, in ego, in pushing through it, in force.

Yet Jesus, when confronted with their arrogance, holds up a little child, and asks them, and us, to face the world like that—with vulnerably.  Without pretense or anything the world would call greatness.  To embrace whats coming with vulnerability. Because this is where true strength, true valor lie.


The strength of the child, and the valor of Proverbs dont lie in anything like what the world calls greatness.  They dont like in wealth, or the amazing ability to be better than everyone else.  They lie in a deep sense of knowing who God is, and who you are.  Thats it.


Because when you know that, then what can the world do to you?  When you know who you arethat you are a beloved child of God, made good, made worthy, made in the image of Godwhen you know who God is,  that God loves you indescribably, that God wills the world into goodness and redemption and calls us to recreate it with him, that nothing can separate us from this divine lovethen no power in the world can shake you.  

No laundry list of expectations can trouble you.  No suffering can deingrate you.  No outside voice can make you feel other than what you know yourself to be.

It is that inner certainty, that inner conviction in the love of God, and the worthiness of ourselves that gives us the strength to take up our cross and go to Jerusalem.  To reach out our arms and embrace a suffering world.  To love the world around us, as we are already loved.

It is only when we know ourselves to be deeply loved that we are able to rise and be valiant indeed.




Megan goes to Canada, has adventures**

** Title inspired by this video from the Royals winning the division, wherein Danny Duffy wears a bear suit.

Last week, at long last, I went on vacation.  Or, I made a noble head fake in that direction.

My best friend, Robyn, was getting married up in Canada, so I set forth to be the maid of honor.  And like all good clergy maids of honor, this included supplying at Robyn’s church the next day.   The wedding was fabulous, and her church is made of darling folks who clearly love her a lot.  It was great to see.

This was as far into Canada as I have ever gone, really.  I went to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in middle school (back when the US-Canadian border was basically an affable toll-booth guy), and I went to Montreal once on a high school choir trip.  This was my first taste of pure, unadulterated Canada-ness: post 9/11, post Bush years, post economic crash.

Everyone was exceedingly nice and polite, but I knew to expect that.  What I did not expect was how much free stuff there was.  Starbucks had a basket of free blankets to borrow if you got cold.  WiFi was free everywhere you went.  The airports all had free seating, unobstructed by pesky armrests, and free WiFi.  I contemplated the rows of seats, and realized with a jolt that this airport in Toronto probably didn’t care if someone laid down to take a nap.  They probably didn’t make you pay money for access to a special lounge for that.

I am used to thinking of the US as a very rich country, and so we are.  But, as Robyn pointed out when I commented on this to her, we may be rich, but we’re not very generous.

Other exciting things I experienced in Canada:

–Are you an ex-pat American visiting Canada?  Tell of your experiences with the American health care system to any Canadian you meet, and watch their faces contort in horror!  (Seriously.  This is so much fun/painful.)

–There is tea everywhere.  So much tea.  If you order hot tea in a restaurant, be prepared to be presented with a jewelry box of every tea variety featured in your local American grocery store.  And not the off-brand, herbal teas either–the Twinings-esque good stuff.

–Gas is priced in pennies–a form of Canadian currency that they actually no longer use.  However, this fun fact should prevent you from hyperventilating when you remark the gas station sign that tells you that you have to pay 103 of something for a liter of gas.

–Little old ladies in Edmonton are die-hard Lent Madness fans.

–Getting older is unavoidable.  However, no matter how old you get, so long as you have friends you can dance to “Goodbye, Earl” with, life is very good.

If only it were that easy.

St. Paul’s has been using red vestments each time there is a publicized mass shooting incident in the US.  We’ve been doing this since the Charleston attack, and no, actually, it was not my idea.  This one came from the rector.  As a result, the prevalence of gun violence has been front and center in our congregation all summer.

I should admit here that gun violence was the first political issue I was ever passionate about.  I started following the issue when I was 12, due to some events in my family, and the advocacy of a 7th grade history teacher who kept pointing out how history intersected with current events, and shouldn’t we start forming our own opinions on these things?

So, I have a weirdly specific knowledge of the history of gun control in this country.  Along with the Israel/Palestine conflict, it is one of those topics where you need to be sure you have an extra half hour before you engage me in conversation thereupon.

But I’ve never spoken about it from the pulpit.  Part of that is that Jesus never speaks about guns in the gospel  (swords, though, he has some opinions on.  #swordcontrolnow!)  And part of that is that this is America, and gun control is not an unemotional topic.  In church, or at least in the churches I’ve served, I actually believe it is easier and less polarizing to bring up gay marriage, or racism, or Medicaid expansion, than it is to bring up guns.

Until this week.   I talked about it this week, because I feel like someone needs to talk about it–it’s the elephant, staring in the corner of the room each time politicians lament in the aftermath of another tragedy, and mourn the ‘unforeseen’ and the ‘unpreventable’ events.

So here’s what I said.  (It’s in roughly note form, just for a change of pace. Yay?)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

August 30, 2015

Proper 15, Ordinary Time Year B


—When I spent a summer in Israel and Palestine, my parents were understandably stressed.  They were not huge fans of this plan of mine, but they knew from long experience that talking me out of something I had decided to do was a non starter.

—So the day before I got on the plane, my mother “helped me pack.” 

—She made copies of every piece of paper I had—passport, airplane ticket, medication list, social security card, drivers’ license, everything.

-And what she didn’t make a copy of, she sorted into ziplock baggies.  She would not sit down and SHE WOULD NOT REST until everything I owned was either copied in duplicate, stored in a ziplock, or tied together with rubber bands.

—This made no sense.  It was a weird obsession, and not at all like my mother. 

—But it wasn’t about organization at all, of course.  It was her way of Doing Something to help me, since she couldn’t process the hugeness of me in Jerusalem for 3 months. 

—Big picture was too scary, so she went nuts with the little things.  The things she could get her hands on.  Those would save me!  

—I’m going to venture a guess to say that this impulse is where the Pharisees have their problem.

—We can’t deal with the immensity of what we’re supposed to be facing—so we get caught up in this minute arguments. 

—Rather than sort out how well we’re loving God, caring for creation and loving our neighbor—which are really big things to tackle, and take a lot of work and thought, we get caught on whether the most important thing to talk about is works or grace, or whether being religious means you have to hate these people or those people. 

—and it’s not from a lack of caring, necessarily, these arguments.  It’s from being overwhelmed by the bigger stuff, maybe.  So we get fixated on the tiny stuff.

—And so, behold the Pharisees. 

—Now, the Pharisees get a bum rap, which is too bad, because they’re really rather fantastic.  The Pharisees were basically one of many groups within the Judaism during Jesus’ time who were working really hard for a reformation.

—The problem had come up that the vast majority of Jews living in Judea really weren’t observant at all.  They didn’t have a clue about their own religion. 

—Not because they didnt’ care, but just because being observant of religion back then was HARD. 

—You had to go all the way to the Temple in Jerusalem several times a year, and you had to tote along your live offerings, and it was expensive and next-to-impossible if you lived up north in Galilee (like Jesus—because that’s at least a week’s trek there, then a week’s trek back.)

—So, what ended up happening was that the only people who really WERE religious were those who had been paid for it, and those who could afford it—the priests and those who lived in Jerusalem and who had $$$. 

—That’s hardly what God wants, judging from the prophets, right?

—This problem concerned the Pharisees, so they worked on making Judaism more accessible. 

—They wanted EVERYONE, no matter who, no matter how poor or rich, to participate in the worship and service of God. 


—They worked on teaching the average Farmer Joe in Galilee about the Torah, and how even he! could observe it without a nearby temple.  He can say his daily prayers!  He can assemble in the synagogue!  He can purify himself in the mikveh, which he can build in his own backyard!  EVERYONE CAN BE A GOOD JEW. 

—And, for the record, it’s the Pharisees that save Judaism after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

—So don’t hate on the Pharisees.  Their big idea was great.  In fact, Jesus agrees with the big idea of the movement—

—His problem is that they get caught up in the minutae…because the overall goal is so big.

—Rather than concentrating on bringing the good news of God to the masses, what the Pharisees seem to have ended up doing was getting into fights about handwashing.  And the cleanliness of bowls.

—And that stuff isn’t the goal.  Religious observance—loving God, loving your neighbor is the goal.  And those things are only helpful insofar as they help you reach that goal.

—And meanwhile, the Pharisees largely weren’t addressing the major issues that were rampant in society. 

—The part of the reading the lectionary skips is where Jesus points out that the Pharisees went nuts over handwashing, but had no problem with people dedicating money to the Temple, and leaving their parents and relatives penniless. 

—They’re obsessing over the details, because the wider issues are too big.  Too overwhelming to change.  You can’t change something so big as the economic structure of the Temple, but hand washing?!  LETS GET ON IT.  THAT WILL MAKE GOD HAPPY WITH US. 

—But here’s the thing—when doing the work of God, there’s nothing too big to contemplate.  There’s no problem too overwhelming to change.

—When God calls us into the world, we are called not just to small things, but to big things.  So we can’t let the little things distract us.  The little things cannot save us.  The small things don’t hold salvation.

—It’s in this context that I want to talk about the events of the past few weeks.  We’ve been marking every mass shooting in the US by placing red vestments on the altar.  And as you may have noticed, we’ve been wearing red a lot.  Rare is the week we can keep green up—and in fact, there have not been two sundays together, since the beginning of the summer, in which green has been on the altar.

— It’s not your imagination—mass shootings are on the rise in the US—USA today estimates that mass shootings (situations where someone kills 4 or more people) happen about once every 8 days.  But we don’t actually know how many there are, because there’s no mandatory reporting being done. 

—And each time it happens, the same refrain gets trotted out—oh things would be different if those people had just been armed.  We can be safe if we just have more guns.  Over and over again.  It makes sense—we want to be safe, we want to feel secure, and that’s a big, huge problem that seems too big to solve.  So the temptation is to look for some small thing to fix on. 

—But you know what? Currently, 42% of the guns in the world are owned by civilians in the US.  Think about that.  42% of the guns in the WHOLE WORLD are owned by civilians in the US.***

We have a lot of guns.  And still, we have more deaths through gun violence than any other country on the face of the earth. So the pertinent question becomes–exactly how many guns do we need before we are safe?  Before the shootings stop?  

—But more importantly—we are Christians.  We aren’t called to put our faith in little things, in hand washing, in guns, in things we can hold onto and see. 

—Our safety, we believe, comes from God.  Not a weapon.  God alone makes us safer.  We cannot depend on guns or weapons or more or better armor.   

Because God calls us to love each other.  And serve one another.  And care for one another.  Which we can hardly do when we live in mortal fear of everyone around us. 

So, as hard as it is, we have to put down these small things that consume our attention—these idols that distract from the God we worship.  We have to put down the guns that promise safety, the hand washing that promises holiness.  And we have to embrace the vulnerability of believing that God alone can make us safe, and God alone can make us holy. 

And God alone has already shown us the path of life, stretching out ahead of us.  We just need to put down these small idols, and trust that God is enough.


*** That statistic came from this:


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