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The Theology of Crowd Control, and also the IRS

Donald Trump came to Kansas City on Saturday night.  My rector texted me and informed me that he was headed to the rally, to protest, and if he was thrown in jail, I had to come and visit him.  And also handle church the next morning.

The rallies in Chicago and Ohio have become increasingly violent; protestors have been beaten by rally attendees,.  Two days ago, the event in Chicago was cancelled entirely, and the two angry crowds came to blows in the streets.  I find a lot to be scary about Trump, but this is what I find most terrifying.  Even if he doesn’t win, even if most Americans listen to their better, calmer angels and vote another way–how do we put this violence that has been unleashed back in the bottle?

So I figured I should say something in a sermon.  Problem is, there are actually rules for things like this.  The IRS does not allow churches to either endorse candidates for public office, or to urge a vote against them.  (Please note:  this rule is interpreted pretty literally.  Which is why you see religious groups putting out voting guides all the time–“Those are on issues!  Not people!”–and why candidates for public office speak at religious institutions–“because they don’t ask for a vote, technically”.  I’m not arguing the rightness or wrongness of this law; I’m just stating it exists.)  All this is to say that I joked prior to the first service today that I really hoped I had threaded this needle carefully enough.  Otherwise, I would probably get some calls from a Trump lawyer, and wouldn’t that be fun to explain to the bishop?

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 13, 2016

Lent 5

John 13

The NY Times had a story this week about how to explain this election to your children.  And while I assumed that this would be another usual hand-wringing that parenting articles can sometimes fall into–is peanut butter killing us all?  Which is better? Organic kale or organic quinoa?–turns out, this one had a point.

Think about it–really, imagine watching these Republican debates with a 7 year old kid.  Think of the interesting topics of conversation that would arise….See?  There are unexpected landmines in the educational process this year.  The Times interviewed all these teachers, who suggested that the candidates be used as object lessons in bad manners.  Or not playing well with others.  Or not saying things nicely enough.  

One teacher opined that children would be confused to see adults behaving in ways that they were explicitly told never to behave–no making fun of people who are different than you, no interrupting, no name calling, no threatening others with violence.  

But then, in the interests of balance, I guess, the Times found one guy who was a fan of one politician in particular, and whose 10 yr old son was as well.  “My guy does those things because he is bigger and stronger than the others, and he just wants to prove it.” The kid explained.  

Seems fair.  And if you watch the news, or the internets, or the social media, then there are a lot of voices insisting exactly that– that power lies in strength.  And more strength.  In hitting harder, in yelling louder, in hating more, and in having the best, biggest, and most expensive things ever.  And if you do that, then, congrats, because you’re the best leader of all of them.   And in our world right now, the path to greatness is found after you beat everyone else up. Or at least have them locked up somewhere.  Stronger is better.

So that makes arriving at church and hearing these readings all the more strange.  From Isaiah all the way to the gospel–even including Paul!  Paul, who lists out all the many ways that he is better than absolutely everyone else–he is a Roman citizen, he is Jewish, so better religiously.  He is a Pharisee, so better educated.  He even killed Christians, so better with lions, even, probably.  But, all of those ways in which he was stronger/better/greater he has come to see as loss, because that is how Jesus has taught him.  

And then, there’s this gospel story right?  Because there’s really nothing strong or macho about this story.  It’s downright embarrassing, in fact.

Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha , who are probably Jesus’ best friends.  Whenever we see them, they take care of him and feed him and the disciples–they feed them, they house them, they share hospitality.  And let’s face it, they’re way less idiotic than his actual disciples.  And now, in his last days, Mary does this outrageous thing and spends all the money, wastes all her money, to buy perfume to anoint his feet.  (Really.  All the money.  Nard was the most expensive stuff you could buy.)  

It’s extravagant, it’s costly, it’s sort of borderline gross, and kinda indecent.  She’s wiping his feet.  With her hair.  This is probably the most evocative image ever, precisely because PEOPLE DONT DO THIS.  It would have scandalized everyone in the room–this wasn’t the sort of thing that happened at a dinner party.  And it’s emotionally evocative too–because nard is used for funeral rites.  And Mary, Martha and Jesus have to confront the reality of his coming death.  It’s sad!  Mary and Jesus are both vulnerable here.  


There’s a parallel here between what Mary does, and what Jesus will do later, to wash the disciples’ feet.  That, too, is vulnerable, it’s slightly disgusting, and it’s messy–and will freak out most of the people in the room.  And both are acts designed to exemplify the service Jesus calls us to; the kind of life Jesus asks us to undertake.  


And, no, they don’t make a whole lot of sense.  Logic would be in the voice of Judas, who protests that it’s wasteful.  That the money could be better spent.  That this is pointless, and weak, and a better leader would be strong and tough and not allow this sort of nonsense from his followers.


Eh, he’s right.  But that’s not the point.  Judas, actually, is the guy who is usually right, but also usually missing the point.  Like here, sure–the money could be given to the poor.  But how rich, precisely, is Jesus in this moment?  How much money does Mary have?  No one in that room is anything other than poor.  So Judas’ protestation, and Jesus’ rebuttal, is not so much a prediction, as it is a description.  They’re poor.  They’re poor for the sake of the gospel.  They’re poor, because they, like Paul, have come to see all that the world counts as strength, as barriers to the love of God that they are called to share.  


The love that Christ calls us to is vulnerable.  And costly, and wasteful.  It involves risk and danger, and most of the time, looking foolish. We aren’t called to build walls, we aren’t called to be strong at all costs, we aren’t called to protect ourselves with jeering shouts at those we imagine are weak.  


I watched the Trump rally here in KC last night on TV last night.  And what I was most struck by was not his policies, not his verbal tics or even his hair–of course, he’s entitled to all these things.  What I was struck by was how he dealt with the crowd.  Every few minutes, protesters would erupt again, and interrupt Mr. Trump, and instead of calmly waiting, Mr. Trump began to taunt the crowd, saying that the way to deal with protesters, with people who disagree with you, is to arrest them.  “That’ll ruin their lives.  They’ll never do it again.”  Each time someone stood up to chant something, Trump gestured, and yelled for the person to be arrested.  “They’re bad people.  Just bad bad people.  We have to take America back from these people!”  And he stood onstage and proclaimed that he was a great Christian.  

Look–we can talk about his policy ideas all day.  We can talk about the ethics and the effectiveness of his suggestions regarding immigration and racial and ethnic profiling.  But it is patently unChristian and wrong to urge violence against human beings like this.  It is unloving to treat people who disagree with you like this.  It’s wrong.  It’s dangerous.  It’s irresponsible.

And most of all, it is not what Jesus calls us to.  Jesus teaches us that the truest power isn’t in the greatest display of strength, but in vulnerability.  In listening to others.  In serving others.  And in costly extravagance of love.  When we’ve knelt at the feet of another, as dirty and smelly as they are, and we still care for them.

That’s where we’re called to be.  Not heaping strength upon strength, building new walls for ourselves, but knelt at the feet of one another.  Like Mary.  Like Christ.  That’s where we should be.


Hype Babies, Part 2

I took a week off which wasn’t really a week off.  I went to the Forma conference in Philadelphia and introduced my WeMo colleagues to the joy and wonder of Wawa.  Then I took a train up to NYC for a few days because it has been over 2 years since I have been in the city, and that is just plain unacceptable.

I saw lots of friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and wandered aimlessly around Central Park and the Met.  I ate egg and cheese on hard rolls and drank cheap diner coffee (breakfast of the gods, I tell you) and rode the subway like a pro.  And oh yes, I SAW HAMILTON.  (Will probably write more about that later. Will probably also goad every single person I know into going back to see it with me for as long as it runs.)

Now, back in the swing of things, everything has picked up pace again.  Lent Madness is back up and running (go vote!! ) and they are foolishly letting me write for another year.  And we’re packing up the office to relocate to the 4th floor tomorrow for a series of months as the east wing is renovated.

On the preaching front, Hype Baby got some competition on Sunday.  Behold, the advent of Hype TODDLER!

I don’t know what is happening, but evidently, my manically-waving hands and odd faces attracts the attention of small children, who then feel free to chime in loudly.  Which makes for a pretty epic church experience.  Longer story at the asterisk.

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 14, 2015
Lent 1
Luke 4

Conflict between Satan’s idea of who Jesus is, and how Jesus sees himself (existing to serve God/others)—Who are you?

This passage from Deuteronomy is a lot of fun, though granted it doesn’t immediately sound like it.  It’s one of the many passages that feature heavily in the traditional Seder meal, and has coordinating action that goes along with it—as a big part of that service, the people all recite the formula “My Ancestor was a wandering Aramean,” and then you dip some matzoh and trade it around.  You say it several times. (The other really fun charade-like passage is “God saved us with his mighty arm, and outstretched hand.—and overtime you talk about the mighty arm of God doing something, the leader is supposed to either point to or wave their lamb bone around emphatically.  See, liturgy is fun, y’all.)

Now, I grant you—this, like most liturgical actions, can seem slightly strange to outsiders; it’s not quite clear what this is talking about, since Abraham isn’t an Aramean insofar as we can tell, and who knows why the writer of Deuteronomy thinks he was?
But the sense of it,  the overall meaning is clear—because it neatly sums up who God wants the Jewish people to see themselves as.  When this line was recited at the Temple, and even now at the Seder meal, Jewish people recall the same story: They were descended from wanderers, had been saved from oppression, and now, their job was to protect and save others.  Bam.  There it is in one.  My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, so I might save others who wander.  

That’s part of why we have holy texts—to remind us of who we are, since we’re liable to forget.  The scriptures we have collect for us the record of other people’s relationship with God and who they were—how they struggled and what they figured out, or didn’t figure out.  The goal is that we can take all that knowledge—that huge story— and use it in light of our own story.
Problem is that scripture is confusing.  There’s some weird stuff in there—giants, sea monsters, and a dragon at one point.***  And also, scripture is contradictory.  One moment, there’s a story about being kind to the widow, orphan, and alien in the land—the next, there’s a story about driving a spike through the head of an enemy.  The idea that the Bible speaks with a unified voice on much of anything is pretty odd.
And exhibit A of this is the Gospel
Where, hello!  The devil himself quotes scripture to Jesus.  Who quotes it right back.  
Please note that neither of them quotes it incorrectly, or twists the meaning—they’re both pretty much correct.  Though, this is a good argument for why prooftexting is going to land you in trouble.  
In this episode, the devil comes to Jesus and starts to tempt him with some really nice stuff: free food!  Unlimited power!  Flying!  
And for each temptation, Jesus argues back with a nice scripture quote.  But Satan is ready with some of his own.
It’s worth noting that ‘satan’ here isn’t quite what we think of as the devil—the embodiment of all evil.  It’s pretty close, but the Hebrew ‘ha-satan’ was originally a courtroom term which meant “The accuser.”  The idea was that heaven was set up like an actual courtroom, and God needed someone to argue with, so there was this prosecuting attorney figure.  They weren’t good or bad, necessarily—they just were there to argue the other side of things.  Largely because God was always the one who judged, and interceded for humanity—something that couldn’t happen if God just talked to himself all the time.  (See, they had thought this out.)
Satan comes in, and does his arguing thing, but it’s a little more than that.  He offers stuff.  And all the stuff that he offers is predicated on the same idea—Jesus should really be way more flashy than he currently is being.  He’s the Son of God?  (Which Satan doesn’t dispute, BTW) then he should make himself some magic food!  He’s so smart and wise and loving?  Then he should take over the world and coerce EVERYONE into knowing and loving him!  He’s so holy?  Then he should make God prove how much he loves him!!!
The through-line here is that Satan has a clear idea of who Jesus is—a wonder-working, glory-seeking, magic worker who is out for himself.  Self-focused.  Self-involved. The definition of sin.
But Jesus knows better.  Jesus’ idea of himself comes not from himself alone, but from his relationship with God—from the knowledge that it is this relationship that gives him identity—not himself alone.  Jesus repeats the idea that he’s great, yet he’s still dependent on God.  
Jesus by himself is awesome, and could totally make himself a magic sandwich.  But it is through his relationship with God that he is able to become more.  Able to reach people, and realize his vocation to be the Messiah for a whole world.  It’s through being humble, and relying on God, not just himself, that he becomes more.  That’s who he is.  

As wonderful as we are,  and we are, we aren’t the be all, end all.  We need other people and we need God.  
We need other people to give us different perspectives and to challenge  our preconceptions.  We need them to be vehicles of God’s love for us.  
And we need God to remind us of who we are.  We need God to be bigger than we are, —to lift some of this weight off our shoulders, and to inspire us to do better.  We need God to knit together all of our stories.  
We are never who we are alone.  We are always who we are in connection with others, and with God.  It is these other relationships that help guide us to who we are, that help us construct our stories. In the midst of competing voices and claims about who we might be.

Lent is a time to reconnect with who we are. To recall our story, in relationship with God. In service to others. To tease out the story of ourselves as we truly are, and not as the accusers around us would have us be.

A time to reconnect with our core identity and story as beloved children of God, who don’t have to save the world, but do have to love it.  Who were chosen by God in baptism, and never have to be any more or less, than that.


***It was at this point that a 3 year old boy in the front row turned around and loudly whispered “SEA MONSTERS!!!!!” in great excitement to his parents and assorted family members.  I didn’t hear until later that he proceeded to hush them quiet, and comment that “Wow, she really knows some deep stuff!”

After church, he approached me with great trepidation, and at his mother’s urging, told me that I did a good job.  I returned the compliment, and thanked him for listening to what I said so attentively.

Hype kids for the win, y’all.

Hype Babies, and Reassurance

I would like to make it clear that I did not plan on preaching on the Primates communique.  I was pretty much over it by the time I got to Friday, and I assumed most everyone else would be too.  (A tiny amount of projection helps in preaching, don’t you know.)  As I commented to someone over the weekend, I haven’t spent this much time explaining the workings of Anglican polity since the GOEs.

But when I went to look at the lessons, there was that piece from 1 Corinthians, as if the Holy Spirit herself had planned this whole thing, and was off in a corner giggling at us.  And all day Saturday, as I was handing out food to the hungry and cold of Kansas City, parishioners asked me, “So why are the Anglicans being so mean to us?” “What happens now at church?” “Are we really being kicked out?” All the social media that flows past my eyes daily bore witness to a heightened level of anxiety about this which, frankly, really surprised me.

I think those of us who are enmeshed in church geekery assume that these squabbles are just that, and no more.  We forget that there are times when our political arguments are not just theoretical, but they do affect real people, who really care what happens.

So, dear reader, I preached about the Primates.  And parties.  And wine.

Here is what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

January 16-17, 2016

2 Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

John 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians


So there are good things and bad things about preaching from a lectionary.  Sometimes, it’s your week to preach, you look up the gospel, and discover that Jesus has just told a story about a servant who embezzled cash, then gets rewarded.  (Thing that happens!)  That’s a downside.

Then, sometimes, the media spends most of the week deciding that your worldwide Anglican Communion is on the verge of collapse, OMG, and the lectionary assigns this reading from 1 Corinthians.  

I haven’t decided if this is a good thing, or if the Holy Spirit is just cheerfully trolling us.  

So, a few notes for background:

If you weren’t anxiously glued to the #primates2016 on Twitter this week (and why should you have been? You have lives, you have jobs!), then you may not be aware that this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury called a meeting of the different heads of the different Anglican churches from all around the communion.  For what amounts to a very large tea party, as is their wont.  

The stated purpose of the meeting was to work through the conflict in the Communion which has been festering for some years now.  Or decades.  Or even longer, depending on how you’re measuring. The conflict can be traced to a lot of things: colonialism, western imperialism, differences in scriptural interpretation,  differences in authority, but where most of the blame has been focused is the church in the US’ openness to women’s ordination, ordination of LGBTQ folks, and willingness to bless same-gender marriage.

In the run up to the meeting, everyone was doing that whole chest-out, I’m very tough, routine.  The conservative group of primates released a statement threatening to boycott, and/or walk out.  The English media wrote a lot about how this would be the END OF ANGLICANISM, OH NO.  

It was dire.  

But you know what happened?

None of that.  Pretty much none of that.  

No one walked out, except one guy from Uganda, and he apparently forgot to tell anyone about it until Thursday.  On Thursday, the primates leaked/released a statement which affirmed the primates’ commitment to stick together–but also said that many of them were worried by what the US church had done, so it recommended that we take what amounts to a time out for 3 years–not representing the Anglican Communion on ecumenical dialogues (which we haven’t been doing anyway, since 2009) and abstaining from some internal votes.  Now, we’ve pretty much been doing those things already, so this is not actually as big a deal as it  sounds.  It has not affected our life here in Kansas City, because I daresay none of you even noticed.  

The statement went on to say that the primates were against the criminalization of homosexuality, and believed in caring pastorally for all people.

So that’s what happened. It’s not the greatest possible outcome–it would have been wonderful for the primates to have agreed, to have immediately gotten on board with what we did, when they heard our explanations.  But I don’t think that this is the worst possible outcome either.  It’s not the death knell for Anglicanism, it doesn’t mean we have been kicked out of the global church, or punished, or sanctioned, or anything like that.  We. Are. Fine.  

There’s a lot still that’s unknown.  Stan and I have been arguing about what is supposed to happen in three years–both because we don’t know, and we disagree in our theories, and because we are clergy, and so are paid to argue about things like this during the week.  What’s clear, though, is that right now a few things are true:

  1. The churches of the Anglican Communion have said they are committed to sticking this out together.
  2. The Episcopal Church isn’t changing its stance on the full inclusion of GLBTQ people.  The Presiding Bishop told the other primates that, and he reaffirmed it in his statement to the church.  We are doing what we believe God has called us to do, based on how we have experienced the Spirit at work.  And certainly, our life at St. Paul’s here in KC isn’t changing.  

It’s like all these member Anglican churches, together at a giant party.  A wedding, why not, since we are all called to the wedding of the Lamb, says Revelation.  And yet, the wedding has hit a snag.  A crisis.  And the whole thing is thrown into a shambles.

Yet we know, from today’s gospel, from that tricky lectionary, that Jesus has a thing about parties it would seem.  Parties need to go on.  *****

Running out of wine at a wedding feast may seem like an incidental problem, but it would have been a huge crisis.  People saved their whole lives long for weddings–they lasted several days, up to a week, and you invited literally everyone in town. Wedding banquets were the one time in a person’s life where you had to rub elbows with people you may not know–people different than you, because EVERYONE was invited.  To run out of food or wine was to show that you were failing in showing hospitality to these people you lived with.  It was a loss of honor–which is why Jesus’ mother is so perturbed by the situation.  The party is in danger of shutting down before it starts.  She’s looking out for the bride and groom.  And so Jesus does something unexpected.  Instead of giving a speech, or running to the wine merchant, he provides the best wine.  And a lot of it–Jesus churns out 120 gallons of it.  

An unexpected miracle.  And so the party continues.  

It’s not comfortable to be in this place where we are right now in the church.  It’s not a great place.  But I do believe that our call is to be right where we are.  Because for as uncomfortable as it is to be at this particular party we find ourselves at, with this particular guest list, I do believe that St. Paul is also right–we all need each other.  And for as painful as it is at this particular moment, I think our particular gift at this time, like our Presiding bishop has said, is to bear witness to the gifts we have received through the presence of our LGBTQ members.  That’s the gift that we–and no one else, right now!–has.  We need to share that–and we also need to listen and receive the gifts of the other Anglican churches.  Something that we, who benefit so richly from the presence of our South Sudanese community, know very well. Their presence with us and their perspective make us better able to see the God of infinity.

We need to stay at this party.  Even when it hits a bump.  Even when Real Housewives-type drama breaks out.  Because if we stay here faithfully long enough, sooner or later, there’s going to be a miracle.  



****Very important NB.  At the 10:30 service, it was at this point, when I paused to let the importance of parties sink in, that a baby from the very back screamed “YAAAAAASSSSS!” at the top of her lungs.  The congregation burst out in laughter and applause.

This has given me a new idea:  I will haul a baby around with me to all future preaching appearances, in order to have Adorable Affirmation of all of my homiletical points.


What comes next?

For the past week, the primates from around the Anglican Communion have been meeting in England to discuss the state of the church, and drink tea. (Please note: these are the heads of regional churches, not the monkeys.)

In the run up to this meeting, the churchy media went a bit nuts with speculating.  What would happen? Who would storm out?  The conservative primates had all threatened to storm out, at one point or another.  Would so-and-so get an invite?  Would this person wear appropriate vestments?  More fussing than normally happens at a middle school party.

We found out what actually happened today.  The primates, in what seems to be an effort to quell the rumor mill, put out a statement.

And the frenzy ratcheted up another couple notches.

The secular press immediately declared that we had been SUSPENDED FROM THE COMMUNION (no, that’s not a thing that can happen.)  Some of them declared that SANCTIONS HAD BEEN IMPOSED (again, nope, not a real thing.) All in all, it was pretty breathless and frantic, and please to recall, the secular press in general has a horrendous track record of reporting on the Episcopal Church because our polity is wackadoodle.

So, some things to bear in mind, now that you’ve read that statement for yourself:

(If you haven’t, go back and do that.  Good Lord. Primary sources are important.)

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury ‘fired’ our representatives on all Anglican ecumenical and interfaith dialogues a few years ago.  That was already a reality. (And not a great one either, but neither was it the kiss of death, because few people noticed, other than those affected.)
  2. Up until now, the previous archbishop had wanted to solve this problem by instituting that old chestnut, the Anglican Covenant.  Under the terms of the Covenant, if a province does something unpopular, they lose all representation until they repent.  So the understanding, in many quarters, had been that the suspension we’d been under was just infinite. Or until Jesus returned and sorted this out himself.  The fact that we now have a 3 year time frame WITHOUT an attached expectation of repentance is a rather big deal.
  3. It’s not altogether clear how the primates can manage what they’re proposing.  They don’t get to determine membership on the ecumenical dialogues, or on any voting groups.  Up until now, the primates met together to plan the Lambeth council. Probably, this statement is referring to a voluntary abstention from certain votes on TEC’s part.
  4. Weird how no one’s mad at Canada, huh?  Considering that Canada was blessing same-gender unions, and had legalized same-gender marriage before we did, and that New Zealand is now also doing both those things, it’s rather fascinating that the Episcopal Church alone is the one in trouble.

Let’s talk about that last one, because it’s that last one that’s really where this gets interesting.

Way back in ye olden times of 2003, when we ordained +Gene Robinson, and this whole thing kicked off in earnest, the Anglican Communion responded by issuing the Windsor Report.  Among other things, it said that Canada was also in trouble for being troublingly nice to LGBTQ people,  as well as Nigeria, Rwanda, and the Southern Cone, who had crossed into provinces that weren’t their own and stolen churches–a no-no since Nicea.  (Literally.)  The Episcopal Church got the biggest talking-to out of the report, but everyone else was also in trouble.

Interestingly, in the ensuing years, in the ensuing statements and actions, no one ever came after Canada.  But the Episcopal Church got nailed.  We lost representation on ecumenical groups, like I said, and we were called out in document after document.  What had started out as a pretty widespread communion breakdown shifted into something we did, by ourselves.

I have a theory.

Up until very recently, there really was no Anglican Communion to speak of.  There was us, and the UK churches…and a bunch of colonies.  That was it.  Then, around the 1980s, those colonies in Asia and Africa started to gain their independence.  And all of a sudden, these people had the ability and wherewithal to express their own thoughts and ideas, independent from the mother church.  Suddenly, it became very important for them to have their own voice, their own identity, beyond that of a British colony.

Fast forward: The OTHER thing that happened in 2003 if you weren’t myopically gazing at the church was the invasion of Iraq.  American cowboy president unilaterally takes over another sovereign nation preemptively.

Now, if you are a bishop in a postcolonial state, worried about the reach of Western imperialism and global capitalism, this is pretty much the nightmare scenario for you.  Because those hot-headed Americans are now running amuck across the globe taking whatever they want with their giant military, and who knows who is next.  And by the way, those Americans also went and ordained this gay bishop in New Hampshire.

I would argue that for many in the global South, the two events were fused.  Just as our understanding of politics in South Sudan is usually without nuance, the suggestion that the American Episcopal church (which, let’s remember, was also spread around the world through the military) would have a different approach than our government might not get picked up. The refrain that is frequently heard around this is that “Those Americans are trying to force everyone else to do it their way”.  While that’s both not true and pretty impossible, it does reflect the perception of America…which got thrown back onto the church.

All of which is to say that what’s happening right now is all about the US, and not about gay marriage.  It’s about churches and people long denied a voice now finding one, and using it to express their anger.

What’s frustrating, of course, is that this is anger directed at the exact wrong thing.  Seriously, Uganda!  I hate colonialism too!  Ask me about Yorktown sometime!  Rwanda, I agree, global capitalism is horrible and we need a better option.  We should work on that.  And Nigeria, none of us like the British, so let’s just shake on that right now.

But could we name this what it is, rather than misdirect it at LGBTQ people who didn’t do anything?  This isn’t about them.  This is about the scars of our mutual history coming to the surface.

The good news is 1.) that this post is almost finished, and 2.) that it now seems like everyone will get to stay at the table to figure this out together.  Because while we may be angry with each other, it is now looking like there is definitely light 3 years out on the horizon.

And we will get to find out what we have to argue about next.


A Place of Animals

As is our custom, St. Paul’s Anglo congregation combined with the St. Paul’s South Sudanese congregation on Christmas Eve at the late service.

I love worshipping with the South Sudanese community.  I have found them to be funny, brilliant, faithful, and some of the best cooks around.   And one of these days, I am going to learn Dinka, because that is a really neat sounding language.

Selfishly, I love being around any community that is unlike me, because it reminds me that the salvation of the world is not solely up to me.  There are countless others in this, too, contributing things that never occur to me.  Thanks be for that.

This year, the Sudanese choir and dance team performed a series of songs about the birth of Christ at the service.  One of which, the leader of the choir announced, was translated “Jesus came in a place of animals.”

I love this phrasing so much that it ended up being the foundation of my Christmas 1 sermon.  Christ came in a place of animals–both literally and metaphorically.

See what you think.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 27, 2015

Christmas 1, Year C

John 1


The beginning of John’s gospel is like music, like poetry.  The words flow together so nicely that it almost doesn’t matter what they actually say.  And like poetry, the language is so evocative that it’s hard to pin down what, exactly, the writer is talking about, and it almost seems a shame to try.  

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

This lovely ephemeral poetry that just trips off the tongue.

John does that a lot.  While Matthew, Mark and Luke want to tell you the straight-ahead story about what happened to Jesus and his disciples, and how they lived and what they preached, John on the other hand, is like that emo goth boy from freshman year of college.  He wants to sit around and talk about WHAT IT ALL MEANS.  

This both means that the Fourth Gospel is profound, incredibly confusing, and very dense.

In this particular section of poetry here, in the way of all poetry, the writer is referencing a whole bunch of ideas, all at once. His community would have heard this, and immediately thought about Wisdom, which in Jewish thought, helps God to create the earth, because she (and Wisdom is personified as a She) is so powerful.  

They also would have thought about creation itself, since God creates through speaking–Let it be light, and it was.  So words are inherently creative. And there’s also that whole light/dark thing happening at creation as well.

But John takes all those ideas and moves them one step further.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  

That was the wrench in the works.  That’s the big deal.

None of those ideas being alluded to include the idea of incarnation.  That’s too icky.  That’s too lowly and messy.  Yet, here it is.  

The daring idea that God became one of us, in one of these weird, fleshy, leaky bodies.

That idea would have been something close to revolting to much of the ancient world, and really–it still sounds a bit weird today.  Remember, Plato had already written his philosophical treatise on the lies of the material world.  The dominant Roman culture of the time did not care overmuch for the material world.  True enlightenment, true spirituality was going to be found by working out philosophy in your head, by ignoring the material world.  And it was Plato’s Hellenistic thought that led to Gnostics running around the ancient world, promising a deliverance from the sinful world of the flesh, to the holier realm of spirit.  

Today, we don’t quite have Stoics standing on street corners, quoting Plato anymore.  However, you don’t have to look far to hear someone ignoring the material, because heaven makes it all worth it.  Or ignoring their bodies, because the spirit is what lasts.  

Yes, that’s true.  But the Incarnation means that God, in the person of Jesus, was born in a human body, here in this material world.  So, that makes these human bodies of ours important.  If God liked them so much as to get one for Godself, then they must be pretty great.  

Part of what the Incarnation did that was radical was to insist that these things ::wiggles fingers:: we have are important, are holy.  Not just souls, and not just heaven.  But all this material stuff too.  The earth.  These bodies we inhabit.  These things are precious.  These things must be cared for, and enjoyed for the gifts that they are.

Even though we grow old and we break down, there is still something of value to our physicality.  It is still a blessing to us.  It is how we can interact with the world around us, it is how we recognize each other.  It is how we interact with God, when we come to church, and take the bread and wine, smell the pine, and incense, and see the beautiful building around us.

For as much of a pain all this embodiement can be sometimes, it is still a gift we have been given. The physical creation is blessed by God’s presence in it–shining through it, and making the poetic concrete and real.  

So on this third day of Christmas, rejoice, at the poetry made flesh!  Rejoice in the poetry all around us, and the concrete, messy ways we experience the transcendent.


Christmas Pageants, Joseph, and Peace

We don’t have a true Christmas pageant at St. Paul’s.  What we have is a pop-up version, where all the children in attendance at the early service of Christmas Eve are given a costume upon arrival, and conscripted into being one of the characters in The Friendly Beasts, which the choir sings in the middle of the service.  They then walk forward, looking adorable, and stand there as the gospel is read.  It’s pretty foolproof.

But this year, one of our resident 5 year olds became alarmed that we were lacking a Joseph.  Deciding to take matters into her own hands, she raced out into the congregation, and cornered every boy she could find of reasonable age.  “Could you please be Joseph for us?  Because we need one VERY BADLY.” she explained to everyone, eyes wide in the do-or-die seriousness of small children.  After she had approached about 5 boys, and left one crouched in the corner of his pew in terror (she really was quite persistent), I finally figured out what she was doing, and suggested that we might leave him alone to think about it for a bit.  She brightened, “Ok, Mother Megan! He can come and find us when he’s ready. Maybe there are more people on the street outside who haven’t come inside yet!” To the front door she ran, the flock of costumed children trailing behind her, to shout an invitation to everyone outside.

I told my rector later that she should probably be put in charge of PR relations and evangelism for St. Paul’s, if not the diocese.  I was only half-kidding.  Children haven’t learned yet that religion isn’t polite to talk about in public, lest you offend someone, or that you shouldn’t tell everyone you know about this wonderful place you go to every week because you might get laughed at.  Really, we should let them do evangelizing.

Here’s what I said Christmas Eve.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve, Year C

Luke 3


The opening of the Christmas gospel is just plain weird.  The real opening now, not the part that Linus starts with, in A Charlie Brown’s Christmas, because he’s a kid, and he’s allowed to cheat.

The writer of Luke’s gospel starts out, not with that peaceful scene in a pasture somewhere, but with announcing a census.  Not exactly an attention-grabber. “In those days, there came a decree from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”  Well…alright.

This seems neither Christmas-y, nor very interesting, and yet, the writer is VERY CONCERNED ABOUT IT.  This census, we are told, was so important that every person had to return back to their own town and village–their ancestral home.

And so it is that Joseph and Mary hit the road for Bethlehem, along with a thousand other people.  It is this census that gets Mary and Joseph stranded in a barn for their baby’s birth.  It is this census that starts the whole thing moving in the direction we know so well.

If you know a lot about history, then you know that this emperor mentioned here was real, and really important.  Caesar Augustus reunited the Roman Empire after his uncle–another famous guy named Julius Caesar, was assassinated.  Augustus ushered in what’s been called ‘the pax romana’–those two centuries where Rome itself considered itself stable, peaceful.

Rome was the strongest thing in the world, able to conquer almost anything in its path.  From one end to another, Rome proclaimed that it had finally established peace on the earth.

They had to announce this pretty loudly, you see, because there was a lot of fighting happening.  The way Rome held onto its empire was through constant expansion–invading and subduing new people and new territory.  And then, of course, they had to put down the constant rebellions, which they did in brutal fashion.  Stomping down the various conquered peoples until everyone was frozen into compliance.  Augustus Caesar had brought peace, all right–but it was peace at the end of a pretty bloody sword.  

The gospel writer takes pains to remind us that it was THIS emperor who is the background here…so recall Augustus Caesar, when you think about that lovely scene with the shepherds in the fields, watching by night.  Now, shepherds, despite how idyllic they seem to us busy city folk, were not popular back then.  They were dirty, smelly people at the lowest level of society, who grazed their sheep on other people’s land, and neglected their families in order to hang out with barnyard animals.  They were nobodies.  Literally.  Because while Mary and Joseph have to report for the census–the shepherds haven’t gone anywhere.  The census hasn’t included them–they literally do not count in Rome.  The pax romana, the glories of the empire do not include them.

And yet.  

And yet, it was to those who didn’t count that the angels brought the message of the holy birth.  It was to these uncounted people that the angels announced the coming of peace on earth.  

And how did that peace arrive?  Did it arrive with military might and power, crushing the weak and laying low the countryside with fear?

Not at all.  This peace arrived in the person of a tiny, helpless baby. It came born to a young couple, scared and alone, left homeless.  It came among the left behind and the lost.  

The peace the angels proclaimed was worlds away from the pax romana.  The peace that Jesus brought into the world at his birth rests, not in the power of weapons, or the rule of fear.  It rests instead in a tiny baby, born to us, into this terrible and wonderful drama of humanity.  

When God became human in that manger in Bethlehem, the human experience changed forever.  No longer would we be alone in our human joys and sorrows.  Now, God would know what it felt like to grow, to learn.  To laugh and to cry.  To love, and to grieve.  Now, there was nothing in all creation that could separate us from the love of God, because that love had come down to where we are.  And that love would prove to be stronger than anything.  Even stronger than death.

The shepherds must have been entirely confused, when they got to the stable and saw what was going on.  What sort of king was this, that was just a baby?  What sort of victory, what sort of peace could this baby, hours old, red and squalling, possibly offer?  

But it is Christ’s peace that comes to us where we are, that gathers us all in, villager, shepherd, wandering traveller alike.  It is Christ’s peace that proves more persuasive than armies, and more mighty than emperors.  It is that humble, vulnerable peace of Christ that nothing can shake.

Christmas this year finds us again facing a scary world.  Everything seems frightening and off-kilter right now–even the weather.  There’s violence on the news at night–wars around the world, and the threat of sudden catastrophe again looming here at home.  So there are many who would urge us to be afraid.  Politicians march across the screen and tell us that the only answer to an uncertain world is power, strength, and more of both.

But the truth of Christmas, the miracle of Christmas, is that neither power, nor unlimited strength, nor unending violence make for peace.  For everything that Caesar Augustus tried, lasting peace eluded Rome.  

Peace, true peace, comes to us on this night, in this way, in the shape of a helpless, tiny baby.  It comes to us as God comes to earth, becoming human, so that God might better love us.  It comes to us in humility and weakness.  It comes to us as the nameless are seen, and the poor are glorified.  It comes to us as God’s love shines bright upon the earth as the stars above. It comes to us as we embrace that love, living out our lives in the way that Jesus Christ showed us.

This is the peace the angels sang about, the peace they proclaimed to a bunch of smelly shepherds in a field.  This is the peace that nothing can shake.  This is the peace that appears in the midst of chaos, war, and brokenness.  And this is the peace that God gives to us tonight.

So glory to God, and peace to all on earth.



A Long, Long time ago

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying a well-deserved rest over these holidays.

Advent ended for me in a whirl.  I had grand plans this year of doing so much holiday baking, of discovering new cookie recipes, of wandering aimlessly through the Plaza lights, reveling in the scenery….absolutely none of that happened.

Instead, as my parish admin put it, “People just people-ed all over everything” as is wont to happen around major Church feasts, and I did absolutely no baking whatsoever.  I managed to ship off my family’s presents on the absolutely last day possible, and I did no aimless wandering anywhere.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is always one of my favorites.  We get to read the Magnificat and talk about Mary, Mother of Jesus, who is easily one of the most kickass women in all of scripture, and a good model of the priesthood**

So despite the fact that my brain had reduced down to mush, and I was amusing myself making lists of biblical mascots for the deanery***, I wrote this.  See what you think.

December 19-20, 2015

Advent 4

Luke 1:39-47


So, I, like the rest of America, has been obsessed with the musical Hamilton for a few months now.  It’s the story of Alexander Hamilton–American founding father–as told through hip hop.  Believe me when I tell you that it works.  

One of the central themes of the show–all of which: book, music, lyrics, everything, is written by a young Puerto Rican man–is that who tells the story is important.  Easily the most important thing.  The show is narrated by Aaron Burr–who shot Hamilton, but it’s sort of meta-narrated by Hamilton’s wife…who, in history, survived to tell Hamilton’s story….never mind.  Just go see it.

Here is why I’m telling you this.  There are two stories about what happens to his parents before Jesus is born–one in Matthew, one in Luke.  Two versions of the annunciation.  
Matthew tells it from Joseph’s perspective.  Joseph is hanging out, minding his own business, when he hears that Mary, his fiancee is pregnant.  Joseph decides to be nice about it, and break up with her quietly, rather than make her go through the (literal!) public stoning which would otherwise ensue.  Sweet guy.  

Then, he gets an angel appearing in a dream, which tells him, not so fast.  “Do not, in fact, be afraid to marry Mary, because she’s having a special kid.”  So, Joseph changes course, and all is fine. (Until the magi and Herod, and that’s later.)

But Luke is another story.  Luke’s gospel tells us about the angel that appears to Mary, informing her of the coming birth.  It’s Mary’s story here, rather than Joseph.

And that makes a difference.


We see, from Mary’s perspective now, as she hears the news of the angel, processes it, consents to her role in this weird little adventure, and immediately, as our story kicks off today–races off to see her cousin.

And it’s detours like this one which are instructive.  Mary could be heading off to see her cousin for any number of reasons–we aren’t told why she’s going exactly–she misses her, she just likes visiting Elizabeth, she wanted to empathize with another relative who was also pregnant, she wants to fact-check the angel, who told her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy…but it’s worth noting too that there’s also a less cheerful possibility for her trip.  Like we saw in the Joseph story, there was a harsh penalty associated with young women turning up pregnant out of wedlock.  So Mary just might be following the age-old tradition of heading out of town until the scandal had died down, and her life was no longer in danger.

Regardless of whether this was the case–the stakes were higher for her anyway.  She was involved in this story in a different way than Joseph–she had more to lose.  No one’s going to be hurling rocks at Joseph because of what they assume about his life choices any time soon.


Perhaps this is why Mary plays twenty questions with the angel once she hears the news.  The angel tells Mary she’s blessed and highly favored, and Mary wants to know what on earth this means.  The angel tells her she’s about to have a baby, and Mary wants to know exactly how.  Mary, in other words, is not going into this blind or uninformed.  She’s doing her homework.  She’s asking questions, taking notes, voicing opinions.

So when she says that she’ll do it, it’s not passive–it’s the furthest thing from it.  Mary’s obedience here is active.  She actively engages with what she’s been tasked with.  All right, I’ll do it!  And we’re off to the races.


Because as soon as she sees Elizabeth, Mary takes the opportunity to sing out the news of what has happened.  My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  


Mary’s song recaps what has just happened to her, but it also goes a bit farther.  Mary’s song–and you can think of this as Mary’s own Broadway style show stopper, where the character becomes so filled with emotion that they have to start SINGING–basically sums up the whole gospel that she, Jesus, and the disciples will spend the rest of the gospel trying to live out.  This is the gospel message Jesus preaches.  This is the good news the apostles later tell.  But it starts here–with Mary’s agreement.  It’s Mary’s “I will” that starts the ball rolling–her consent to be an active partner in this unfolding plan.


God, after all, isn’t all that interested in passive obedience, in passive followers.  God wants us to think, to question, and to figure it out as we follow in the way.  Our relationship with God is a two-way street, founded on our free will, and our ability to engage with God’s mission in the world.  

When God lifts up the lowly, when God casts down the proud, and feeds the hungry, that requires our engagement.  That requires our participation.  

When Mary says that her soul magnifies the Lord–that means that she’s doing something. So when we echo her language, we’re committing to the same thing.  Both that we would be willing to be lifted up, fed and used in such a way, but also that we would give ourselves to take on this mission as well.  That we would promise to be co-agents of this mission along with God.  


There are, after all, enough puppets in the world.  There are enough idols begging for blind faith and obedience.  God doesn’t need any more.  What God wants isn’t puppets, but Marys.  People willing to be bearers of good news on the mountain.  People willing to risk for the sake of the gospel, and participate in God’s plan of a new world.  God needs us to birth a recreated world as a teenaged girl did so long ago.


FURTHER IMPORTANT AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This is where my original sermon ended, as given.  However, my rector commented, in the 10:30 announcements, that while he had never, in over 30 years of ministry, corrected nor challenged a fellow cleric’s preaching, wouldn’t it have been better if I had ended with “as a teenaged girl did, a long long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away”?

So I promised that I would make the addendum on the blog.  Because Star Wars fandom is JUST AS VITAL as the Hamilton fandom.


**And it’s not just me saying this–it’s the pre-1920s Vatican saying it as well.  Long story–I will unpack in a later blog post.

***A real thing!  When I get punchy, I get creative and punchy.  Occasionally, the entire clergy of the metro KC area bears the brunt of it.



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